Tech Conferences in Las Vegas for Newbies

As June is here we are deep into tech conference season already so I find myself behind the curve somewhat with this post, but here we are. I am extremely fortunate to have an employer who understands the value of attending Tech Conferences for IT Professionals and I’ve been able to attend at least one each year since 2014; going back and forth between CiscoLive and VMworld with a sprinkling of VeeamON and more local events such as vBrisket and VMUGs for good measure. As a “Hyper-Converged Admin” my choice of which “biggie” conference is done each year by looking at where my projects land; last year was CiscoLive due to a lot of Voice and Security Projects, this year VMworld due to lots of updates coming down the pike there and a potential VDI project.

The problem when you have a conference with north of 25,000 attendees is that you are limited in where you put these on. While Cisco does tend to move around some, VMworld has typically either been in San Francisco or Las Vegas. With the Moscone Center closed again this year for renovation we find pretty much all of the big guys are back in Las Vegas, with both CiscoLive and VMworld at Mandalay Bay once again as well as AWS re:Invent and Dell/EMC World in town this year as well. If you haven’t been to one of these Tech Conferences before or to Las Vegas both can be both exciting and overwhelming, but with a little help from others and some decent tips neither are that big of a deal.

Las Vegas Basics

So for a small town guy like me Las Vegas is very cool town, but tiring. The common thread I feel and have heard others voice as well is that Las Vegas is deceptively large because all of the hotels on the strip are so massive. While you can see from your Mandalay Bay window that New York New York is just the next block, it is probably about a mile away if walking there. Why this is important is that if you look at the list of hotels on each conference’s list you’ll see lots of options, but getting to that 8AM session may require a 30+ minute walk or even longer shuttle ride if you chose to stay at the Cosmopolitan (my personal favorite of all Las Vegas hotels but prohibitively far away). Couple that with temperatures in the triple digits during summer and proximity becomes more important.

Hotel Choices

So the first tip for any of these conferences is get a hotel as close as possible. For CiscoLive and VMworld keep in mind that you can move freely between the Mandalay Bay, Delano the Luxor and the Conference Center without ever stepping foot outside.  I would highly recommend trying to be in one of these. If you are booking late and the conference is out of rooms it’s worth trying to book directly through the hotel as they don’t let the events have the whole place. That said you are still going to be in for a hike. For example I stayed in the Mandalay Bay last year and it was approximately 1800 steps from my room to the entrance to conference.

Many of the vendor types that seemingly live their lives at these types of events like to opt for either the nearby Marriott Courtyard Las Vegas South or the Holiday Inn at Desert Club Resort for those that like a kitchen. From either of these you’re a quick Uber or Lyft away from the Conference Center entrance but don’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle of staying on the Strip if you don’t want to.

Getting Around

Speaking of Uber and Lyft, getting around with out walking is a bit of a consideration as well, both for the daily commute as well as for the various events. Traffic in the afternoons into the early morning is pretty impressive on the actual strip so to be honest I’ve not heard good things about trying to rely on the conference shuttles when available. Further I’ve heard many complaints from those who are locals that drive in and try to find parking.

Where that leaves you is 1) ride sharing service, 2) using the monorails, or 3) walking. Uber is nice because they are pretty knowledgeable about routing you around traffic regardless of time of day. Keep in mind when it comes to this and Mandalay Bay there are actually two defined Uber pickup/drop off spots, one outside of the conference center and another around the valet area underneath the hotel drop off area. These are impressively far apart so be sure you know where you want picked up before you request a ride.

The monorails are also nice but short. For those of you going to CLUS this is a good way to get to the Customer Appreciation Event as it will drop you off close to the T-mobile Arena.

Finally walking is a decent option, especially after dark for the various vendor events, but I do recommend if you are going to do it find a buddy or 3 or 4. I’ve never personally seen violence on the strip but you hear about it and there are lots of “character buskers” dressed like everything from Michael Jackson to Spongebob that will harass you.

One final note, while first impressions are important there really isn’t any point to being that person in the fancy shoes unless you’ve got booth duty. I typically while go buy a new pair of good running shoes a week or two before the conference so I can break them in and then that’s what I wear. If you are a step tracker kind of person like me expect 20,000 and up each day so take care of your feet.

Things To Do

Seriously, there’s plenty to do even if you weren’t at a conference already providing lots to do. Regardless of your interest if the conference doesn’t have you jam-packed enough you can find something you like here.

If you are new to IT or are just starting to get your name out there the most important things to do outside of the sessions is to get out there and be social. Both of the conferences we are talking about here have a great community that surround it with some wonderful people in it. The first step if you aren’t already would be to get yourself on twitter and follow the hashtag stream for your event (#CLUS for CiscoLive US, #VMworld for VMworld) , not only while you are there but before especially as many outside events will be planned then. Be sure to find the social area for your given conference and go make friends. Outside of the standard conference hours you’ll find that many of the Vendors will have events planned for attendees. If you have partners or vendors you work heavily with its worth asking your SE if they are doing anything.

CiscoLive Basics

CiscoLive will be held this year June 25-29th and promises to be a great show once again. While I have really enjoyed all of the conferences I’ve attended CLUS  was my first and near to my heart. First off of all those I’ve been to this one feels more academic than others. There aren’t really as many softball sessions and the sessions are a bigger part of the focus for the event than other. That said, they do a very good job of supporting the social community by having a Social Media Hub right in the middle of it all with special events for the twitterazzi most days. I highly recommend showing up and if nothing else walking up and just introducing yourself, trust me, you’ll fit right in there somewhere especially if you bring a Kilt. 😉 If you can come in early on Sunday the annual Tweetup Sunday afternoon is always a good time to make friends.

If you are going to CiscoLive you should have at this point booked most of your sessions. A couple of points here. First do not overbook yourself on sessions. While the pressure is always there to make sure you are getting all the education out of it as possible every session these days is recorded and can be watched later. My decision on if I’m going to do a particular session is based on if the subject is directly related to something that’s got me stumped and I want the opportunity to touch base with the speaker. Past that I’ll watch most after the fact. A better use of your time is getting out and networking, soaking up some of the distributed information there and will in many cases serve as a resource after the fact. I’ve yet to leave an event and not come home to do some kind of redesign based on things I’ve learned from the community.

A highlight for anybody who’s been to CLUS is always the Customer Appreciation Event. This year Bruno Mars will take over the T-mobile Arena and I am legitimately bummed that I will be missing it. The celebrity keynotes are always very good as well and usually provide a different view on how technology interacts with the world. I truly enjoyed listening to Kevin Spacey last year and this year they’ve booked Bryan Cranston.

Regarding keynotes, I typically like watch these in the social areas rather than packing myself into the keynote halls. The seating is better, there’s fewer people and usually refreshments are close at hand, plus you can find a surface to put your computer/iPad on to take notes and/or live tweet the talk.

VMworld Basics

As much as the focus on CiscoLive is on the direct educational benefit the focus from VMworld is more on learning from the community. With the conference officially running from August 27-31 there just as many official conference sessions as there are at CiscoLive, but I find there to be more lower level, marketing style sessions at VMworld. What makes up for it though is any number of community learning opportunities surrounding it. If you can swing coming in either Saturday or very early Sunday the vBrownbag/VMunderground Opening Acts is always a great place to learn about what is coming next in virtualization and technology. Speaking of vBrownBag, these guys have a stage running concurrent to the conference with session about anything you can conceive of all week long. Historically the vBrownBag stage has been found in the Hang Space (VMworld for social media area) but this year is still to be determined.

Another thing you’ll find is the potential to have your evenings books is exceptionally high with multiple vendor events every single night, traditionally starting with vBeers on Saturday evening. At some point as we get closer to the conference VMworld will fill a website with information and registration links for many of the gatherings to make scheduling easy. The Veeam, VMunderground and vExpert/VCDX/VMUG parties are always the most talked about. There is also the annual VMworld Party with typically big name acts but at the time of this writing there really isn’t any information about this yet. Be sure to follow along online and on social media to find out soon enough.

Conclusion

With all that being said, just go enjoy yourself as you are meant to do. There’s a reason that Denise Fishburne refers to CiscoLive as “Geek Summer Camp” because it does feel that way, regardless of the conference you’re attending. Everybody does things their own way. As I’ll be attending VMworld this year if you are there and want to say hi feel free to reach out and find me on twitter @k00laidIT.

Cisco Voice Servers Version 11.5 Could Not Load modules.dep

About 6 months ago we updated 3/4 of our Cisco Telephony environment from 8.5 to 11.5. The only reason we didn’t do it all is because UCCX 11.5 wasn’t out yet so it went to 11. While there were a few bumps in the road; resizing VMs, some COP files, etc. the update went well. Unfortunately once it was done we starting having a glorious issue where after a reboot the servers sometimes failed to boot, presenting “FATAL: Could not load /lib/modules/2.6.32-573.18.1.el6.x86_64/modules.dep: No such file or directory”. Any way you put it, this sucked.

The first time this happened I call TAC and while they had seen it, they had no good answer except for rebuild the VM, restore from backup. Finally after the 3rd time (approximately 3 months after install) the bug had been officially documented and (yay) it included a work around. The good news is that the underlying issue at this point has been fixed in 11.5(1.11900.5) and forward so if you are already there, no problems.

The issue lies with the fact that the locked down build of RHEL 6 that any of the Cisco Voice server platforms are built on don’t handle VMware Tools updates well. It’s all good when you perform a manual update from their CLI and use their “utils vmtools refresh” utility, but many organizations, mine included, choose to make life easier and enable vCenter Update Manager to automatically upgrade the VMware tools each time a new version is available and the VM is rebooted.

So how do you fix it? While the bug ID has the fix in it, if you aren’t a VMware regular they’ve left out a few steps and it may not be the easiest thing to follow. So here I’m going to run down the entire process and get you (and chances are, myself when this happens in the future) back up and running.

0. Go out to the cisco.com site and download the recovery CD for 11.5. You should be able to find that here, but if not or if you need a different version browse through the downloads to Downloads Home > Products > Unified Communications > Call Control > Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) > Unified Communications Manager Version 11.5 > Recovery Software. Once done upload this to any of the datastores available to host your failing VM resides on.
1. If you’ve still got the VM running, shut it down by right clicking the VM>Power>Power Off in the vCenter Web UI or the ESXi embedded host client.
2. Now we need to make a couple of modifications to the VM’s settings to tell it 1) attach the downloaded ISO file and check the “Connected at boot” box and 2) Under VM Options> Boot Options to “Force BIOS setup” at next boot. By default VMs do not look at attached ISOs as the first boot device. Once both of these are done it’s time to boot the VM.
3. I personally like to launch the VMware Remote Console first and then boot from there, that way I’ve already got the screen up. After you power on the BIOS in a VM is the same old Phoenix BIOS we all know and love. Simply tell the VM to boot to CD before hard drive, move to Exit and “Save and Exit” and your VM will reboot directly into the recovery ISO.
4.  Once you get up to the Recovery Disk menu screen as shown to the left we need to get out to a command prompt. To do this hit Alt-F2 and you’ll be presented with a standard bash prompt.
5. So the root cause of all this issue is that the initramfs file is improperly sized after an automatic upgrade of VMware tools has been processed. So now that we have our prompt we first need to verify that we are actually seeing the issue we expect. To do this run the command “ find / -name initramfs* .” This command should produce the full path and filename of the file. So to get the size of this file you now need to run an ls -lh against it. In my example your full command would be “ ls -lh /mnt/part1/boot/initramfs-2.6.32-573.18.1.el6.x86_64.img .” If you aren’t particularly used to the Linux CLI once you get past …initr you should be able to hit tab to autocomplete. This should respond by showing you that that file is incorrectly sized somewhere between 11-15 MB.
6. Now we need to perform a chroot on the directory that contains boot objects. In most cases this should simply be “ chroot /mnt/part1 “

7. Finally we need to manually re-run the VMware Tools installer to to get the file properly sized. These are included locally on the Recovery Disk so just run the command “ /usr/bin/vmware-config-tools.pl -d ” There are various steps throughout the process where it is going to ask for input. Unless you know you have a reason to differ just hit enter at each one until it completes.

Once the VMware Tools installation is done up arrow to where you checked the size of initramfs…img file above and rerun the command. You should now see file size changed to 24 MB or so.

8. Now we just need to do a little clean up before we reboot. You need to make sure you go into Settings for your VM and tell it not to connect the ISO at boot. Once you make that change you should be able to flip back over to your console and simply type reboot  or shutdown -r 0  to reboot back to full functionality.

 

Learning To Pick The Right Tech Conference at vBrisket- TOMORROW!

Hey all, just a quick post to mention that the fine folks at vBrisket will be having a get together February 24th at 2 PM at Grist House Craft Brewery in Pittsburgh. If you work in the virtualization industry and haven’t heard of vBrisket yet you should get to know them because they have a great thing going.  vBrisket takes the typical User Group back to its vendor independence roots, allowing you to focus more on your general virtualization career and less on the path of any particular vendor. At the same time it gives Clint, Gabe, Jaison, and John a great reason to bring out the smokers and prepare enough meat to feed a brewery full of techies.

I’m honored to have been invited to join the panel discussion this time. The topic is “Tech Conferences – What are the right ones for you?” This will be moderated by the vBrisket team and includes myself, John White, Mike Muto, and Justin Paul. As I see my attendance at various conferences as a big driver in the success of my career and my growth as a technology worker I’m excited to be included.

Of course this meeting wouldn’t be possible without the sponsorship from Zerto. At the meeting they’ll be talking I’m sure about their new conference, ZertoCON in Boston May 22-24th.

So if you are in the Pittsburgh area tomorrow and would like to attend just be there at 2, I look forward to meeting up!

Windows Server Deduplication, Veeam Repositories, and You!

Backup, among other things, is very good at creating multiple copies of giant buckets of data that don’t change much and tend to sit for long periods of time. Since we are in modern times, we have a number of technologies to deal with this problem, one of which is called deduplication with quite a few implementations of it. Microsoft has had server-based storage versions since Windows 2008 R2 that has gotten better with each release, but as any technology still has its pitfalls to be mindful of. In this post I’m going to look a very specific use case of Windows server deduplication, using it as the storage beneath your Veeam Backup and Replication repositories, covering some basic tips to keep your data healthy and performance optimized.

What is Deduplication Anyway?

For those that don’t work with it much imagine you had a copy of War and Peace stored as a Word document with an approximate file size 1 MB. Each day for 30 days you go into the document and change 100 KB worth of the text in the document and save it as a new file on the same volume. With a basic file system like NTFS this would result in you having 31 MB tied up in the storage of these files, the original and then the full file size of each additional copy.

Now let’s look at the same scenario on a volume with deduplication enabled. The basic idea of deduplication replaces identical blocks of data with very small pointers back to a common copy of the data. In this case after 30 days instead of having 31 MB of data sitting on disk you would approximately 4 MB; the original 1 MB plus just the 100 KB of incremental updates. As far as the user experience goes, the user just sees the 31 files they expect to see and they open like they normally would.

So that’s great when you are talking about a 1 MB file but what if we are talking about file storage in the virtualization world, one where we talking about terabytes of data multi gigabyte changes daily? If you think about the basic layout of a computer’s disk it is very similar to our working copy of War and Peace, a base system that rarely changes, things we add that then sit forever, and then a comparatively few things we change throughout the course of our day. This is why for virtual machine disk files and backup files deduplication works great as long as you set it up correctly and maintain it.

Jim’s Basic Rules of Windows Server Deduplication for Backup Repositories

I have repeated these a few times as I’ve honed them over the years. If you feel like you’ve read or heard this before its been part of my VeeamON presentations in both 2014 and 2015 as well as part of blog posts both here and on 4sysops.com. In any case here are the basics on care and feeding your deduplicated repositories.

  1. Format the Volume Correctly. Doing large-scale deduplication is not something that should be done without getting it right from the start. Because when we talk about backup files, or virtual disks in general for that matter, we are talking about large files we always want to format the volume through the command line so we can put some modifiers in there. The two attributes we really want to look at is /L and /A:64k. The /L  is an NTFS only attribute which overrides the default (small) size of the file record. The /A controls the allocation unit size, setting the block size. So for a given partition R: your format string may look like this:
  2. Control File Size As Best You Can. Windows Server 2012 R2 Deduplication came with some pretty stringent recommendations when it came to maximum file size and using deduplication, 1 TB. With traditional backup files blowing past that is extremely easy to do when you have all of your VMDKs rolled into a single backup file even after compression. While I have violated that recommendation in the past without issue I’ve also heard many horror stories of people who found themselves with corrupted data due to this. Your best bet is to be sure to enable Per-VM  backup chains on your Backup Repository (Backup Infrastructure> Backup Repositories> [REPONAME] > Repository> Advanced).
  3. Schedule and Verify Weekly Defragmentation. While by default Windows schedules weekly defragmentation jobs on all volumes these days the one and only time I came close to getting burnt but using dedupe was when said job was silently failing every week and the fragmentation became too much. I found out because my backup job began failing due to corrupted backup chain, but after a few passes of defragmenting the drive it was able to continue without error and test restores all worked correctly. For this reason I do recommend having the weekly job but make sure that it is actually happening.
  4. Enable Storage-Level Corruption Guard. Now that all of these things are done we should be good, but a system left untested can never be relied upon. With Veeam Backup & Replication v9 we now have the added tool on our backup jobs of being able to do periodic backup corruption checks. When you are doing anything even remotely risky like this it doesn’t hurt to make sure this is turned on and working. To enable this go to the Maintenance tab of the Advanced Storage settings of your job and check the top box. If you have a shorter retention time frame you may want to consider setting this to weekly.
  5. Modify Deduplication Schedule To Allow for Synthetic Operations. Finally the last recommendation has to do more with performance than with integrity of data. If you are going to be doing weekly synthetic fulls I’ve found performance is greatly decreased if you leave the default file age before deduplication setting (3 or 5 days depending on version of Windows) enabled. This is because in order to do the operation it has to reinflate each of the files before doing the operation. Instead set the deduplication age to 8 days to allow for the files to already be done processing before they were deduplicated.  For more information on how to enable deduplication as well as how to modify this setting see my blog over on 4sysops.com.

Well with that you now know all I know about deduplicating VBR repositories with Windows Server. Although there is currently a bug in the wild with Server 2016 deduplication, with a fix available, the latest version of Windows Server shows a lot of promise in its storage deduplication abilities. Among other things it pushes the file size limit up and does quite a bit to increase performance and stability.

Veeam Vanguard Again in 2017

It has been a great day here because today I learned that I have once again been awarded acceptance into the excellent Veeam Vanguard program, my third time. This program, above any others that I am or have been involved with takes a more personal approach to creating a group of awardees who not only deserve anything good they get out of it but give back just as much to the community itself. In only its 3rd year the group has grown; from 31 the first year, 50(ish) the second, to a total of 62 this year. There are 21 new awardees in that 62 number so there really isn’t a rubber stamp to stay included, it is legitimately awarded each year. The group has grown each year but as you can see not by the leaps and bounds others have, and for good reason. There is no way this experience could be had with a giant community.

At this point in the post I would typically tell you a bit about what the Vanguard program is and isn’t but honestly, Veeam’s own Dmitry Kniazev really put it best in a couple recent posts, “Veeam Vanguard Part 1: WTH Is This?” and “Veeam Vanguard Part 2: What It’s Not.”  What I will add is that as nice as some of the perks are, as DK says in the Part 1 post the true perk is the intangibles; a vibrant community full of some of the smartest, most passionate people in the industry and in many cases access right to the people approving and disapproving changes to their software. These are the thing that made me sweat approval time.

Once again I would give a giant thank you to Veeam Software and especially the whole Vanguard crew. This includes Rick Vanover, Clint Wyckoff, Michael White, Michael Cade, Anthony Spiteri, Kirsten Stoner, Dmitry Kniazev, Andrew Zhelezko and finally Doug Hazelman. Without these people it wouldn’t be nearly as nice.

Why Is My Nimble Storage Firmware Update Not Available

Today, like everyday as a technology professional, I got the opportunity to learn something new. After seeing posts on social media and articles that Nimble Storage with their NimbleOS version 3.6 supports the shiny new features of VMware’s vSphere 6.5 release including VVOLs 2.0 and VASA 3.0. After reading through the release notes and not seeing anything to really stress me out in the known issues I went to begin the download for an update in the off hours. To my early adopter horror I saw there was no download available! Had I misread the releases, did I imagine that the release notes really were for 3.6? No, those were real and it should be there. After asking around I learned that Nimble in a notable effort to save us from ourselves will from time to time blacklist you from receiving updates due to things they observe through their excellent InfoSight analytics system.

The problem with this is they don’t really make easily apparent that you are blacklisted from anywhere close to the download screen. In order to see if you are blacklisted  you have to switch over from the array management screen to InfoSight, go to Manage > Assets > Click on the Array, and then at the top where it says “Version: ….” click on the version link. There finally you will either see the new version in black if you are good to upgrade or as shown in my image, in red if blacklisted. Even with this it still doesn’t tell you why you are blacklisted, you have to call support to learn that.

Blacklisted

Not Blacklisted

Conclusion

The idea of blacklisting arrays that show signs of things known not to play well with future versions of software is a noble idea and has the potential to keep the load off of your support staff. The problem is the current way it is shown to the user almost ensures that a support call is going to have to be made anyway to either a) find out why the array is blacklisted (OMG, what’s wrong with my array that it can’t be upgraded!?!?) or b) find out why new software isn’t available. I would recommend that if an array is blacklisted and an admin attempts to download software let him know that he is blacklisted, and why, there on the array’s download software dialog. This would save everybody a good deal of time.

As an addendum as I post this I see that 3.6.1 has been release as well and my time on the blacklist is over. Off to upgrade!

Fixing Domain Controller Boot in Veeam SureBackup Labs

We’ve been dealing with an issue for past few runs of our monthly SureBackup jobs where the Domain Controller boots into Safe Mode and stays there. This is no good because without the DC booting normally you have no DNS, no Global Catalog or any of the other Domain Controller goodness for the rest of your servers launching behind it in the lab. All of this seems to have come from a change in how domain controller recover is done in Veeam Backup and Replication 9.0, Update 2 as discussed in a post on the Veeam Forums. Further I can verify that if you call Veeam Support you get the same answer as outlined here but there is no public KB about the issue. There are a couple of ways to deal with this, either each time or permanently, and I’ll outline both in this post.

The booting into Safe Mode is totally expected, as a recovered Domain Controller object should boot into Directory Services Restore mode the first time. What is missing though is that as long as you have the Domain Controller box checked for the VM in your application group setup then once booted Veeam should modify the boot setup and reboot the system before presenting it to you as a successful launch. This in part explains why when you check the Domain Controller box it lengthens the boot time allowed from 600 seconds to 1800 seconds by default.

On the Fly Fix

If you are like me and already have the lab up and need to get it fixed without tearing it back down you simply need to clear the Safe Boot bit and reboot from Remote Console. I prefer to

  1. Make a Remote Console connection to the  lab booted VM and login
  2. Go to Start, Run and type “msconfig”
  3. Click on the Boot tab and uncheck the “Safe boot” box. You may notice that Active Directory repair option is selected
  4. Hit Ok and select to Restart

Alternatively if you are command inclined a method is available via Veeam KB article 1277  where you just run these commands

it will reboot itself into normal operation. Just to be clear, either of these fixes are temporary. If you tear down the lab and start it back to the same point in time you will experience the same issue.

The Permanent Fix

The problem with either of the above methods is that while they will get you going on a lab that is already running about 50% of the time I find that once I have my DC up and running well I have to reboot all the other VMs in the lab to fix dependency issues. By the time I’m done with that I could have just relaunched the whole thing. To permanently fix the root issue is you can revert the way DCs are handled by creating a single registry entry as shown below on the production copy of each Domain Controller you run in the lab.

Once you have this key in place on your production VM you won’t have any issues with it going forward as long as the labs you launch are from backups made after that change is put in use. My understanding is this is a known issue and will eventually be fixed but at least as of 9.5 RTM it is not.

The Most Magical Time of Year: Influencer Program Selection Season!

Each year many of the major companies in the tech industry allow people to be nominated, by themselves or by others, to be recognized for the contributions to the community that surrounds that company’s products. These people are typically active on social media, in both online and in person forums and user groups and often will write blogs about their experiences with the products. In return for what is essentially free, grass-roots type marketing the companies will provide awardees any number of benefits; access to licenses for products for homelabbing as well as sometimes access to engineers, preferred experiences at conferences, NDA level information, etc but in some cases the biggest benefit is the recognition itself.

As of today (November 10, 2016) two of the bigger and in my opinion one of the best programs are all open for nominations.

Program Name Program Leader Nomination Link
Cisco Champions Lauren Friedman Nomination Link
VMware vExpert Corey Romero Nominations Accepted until 12/16
Veeam Vanguards Rick Vanover Nominations Accepted until 12/9

I’m honored to be both a vExpert and a Veeam Vanguard and like to think of myself as an honorary Cisco Champion (they can’t accept government employees) so I have some experience with each of these programs. Let’s take a look at all three.

vexpert-624x111VMware vExpert may not necessarily be the oldest influencers program but it is probably the one socially active technical people know except possibly the Microsoft MVP program. In many ways vExpert is not only an honorary of its own right but a launch pad towards acceptance into other programs. vExperts are as far as I know the largest such group with around 1500 members world-wide, it also boasts some really good benefits not only from VMware but from other companies in the virtualization ecosphere. There are many webinars and meet and greets throughout the calendar year which are either vExpert only or vExpert preferred and the vExpert party at VMworld is well-known as one of the best. The distinction I make most about vExpert is that while it is for and by VMware, some years much of the educational focus is on the ecosphere and community that surrounds it.

The vExpert program offers 4 paths to membership. The one most are in is the Evangelist path. These may be customers, partners or VMware employees themselves, but they are people speaking the good word of VMware. There are also specific paths for Partners and Customers but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who was awarded in those tracks. Finally if you have achieved the highest level of VMware certification, VCDX, you automatically are awarded vExpert status.

ciscochampion2016-512-nodateCisco Champions contrasts from vExpert most because it is a self-contained program with all the educational opportunities and benefits being from Cisco Systems itself. With the Champions there aren’t so many of the freebies with the notable exception of some nice perks if you attend CiscoLive, but what they do offer is exposure of your personal brand. Between the weekly Cisco Champions Radio podcast and the regularly featured blogs on Cisco’s website if you are working to make a name for yourself in the industry for whatever reason it is a very good program for that. Further Cisco gives you access to developers and program  managers within the company so that you can not only gain greater understanding of the products but in many cases have the opportunity to weigh in on technology decisions during the development process.

Cisco breaks their program down into business segments in regards to your qualification for the program with tracks in Collaboration, Data Center, Enterprise Networks, IoT, and Security. If you have expertise in any of these by all means apply.
veeam_vanguard-700x224In my mind I’m saving the best for last. The Veeam Vanguard program opened its nominations up today for its 3rd year and I’ve been honored to have awarded each year (so far). It is by far the most exclusive; there are currently only 50 members worldwide and I believe the philosophy is to keep it on the small side with only people who truly understand what the company is about. There are a lot of swag type benefits to the Vanguard to be sure, most noticeably something really special that revolves around  their VeeamON conference (NOLA this year baby!), but to be honest what I most get out of the program is the distributed brain of not only the Veeam employees affiliated with the group but the group itself. On a daily basis it seems sometimes somebody’s technology issues, Veeam related or not, are being sorted out through Vanguard communication methods. Long story short, in the Vanguard program they simply take care of you and I’m happy to call all of them not just my peers but friends.

Because Veeam is a much tighter set of products than the other two there aren’t any official tracks within the program. That said they are very good about selecting members who affiliate themselves with each of the hypervisor companies they support, VMware’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. This diversity is part of what makes the discussions between us so good.

Conclusion

Over the course of the past week I’ve heard various people talking about strategies regarding getting awarded to any number of these. I’m not going to do this one so I can focus on that one and so forth, and honestly all I can recommend to you if you are interested in applying to any of them is look at where your focus is or where you focus should be and apply. There is no thing that says “you belong to too many programs” or anything like that; if you feel you are qualified for any of these or any other by all means go apply. The name of the game is to grow your involvement with the technology community, regardless of what type of technology it is.

Installing .Net 3.5 on Server 2012/ Windows 8 and above

Hi all, just a quick post to serve as both a reminder to me and hopefully something helpful for you. For some reason Microsoft has decided to make installing .Net 3.5 on anything after Windows Server 2012 (or Windows 8 on the client side) harder than it has to be. While it is included in the regular Windows Features GUI it is not included in the on-disk sources for features to be installed automatically. In a perfect world you just choose to source from Windows Update and go about your day, but in my experience this is a hit or miss solution as many times for whatever reason it errors out when attempting to access.

The fix is to install via the Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool better known as DISM and provide a local source for the file. .Net 3.5 is included in every modern Windows CD/ISO under the sources\sxs directory. When I do this installation I typically use the following command set from an elevated privilege command line or PowerShell window:

installedWhen done the window should look like the window to the left. Pretty simple, right? While this is all you really need to know to get it installed let’s go over what all these parameters are that you just fed into your computer.

  • /online – This refers to the idea that you are changing the installed OS as opposed to an image
  • /enable-feature – the is the CLI equivalent of choosing Add Roles and Features from Server Manager
  • /featurename – this is where we are specifying which role or feature we want to install. This can be used for any Windows feature
  • /all – here we are saying we not only want the base component but all components underneath it
  • /Source:d:\sources\sxs – This is specifying where you want DISM to look for media to install for. You could also copy this to a network share, map a drive and use it as the source.
  • /Limit Access – This simply tells DISM not to query Windows Update as a source

While DISM is available both in the command line as well as PowerShell there is a PS specific command that works here as well that is maybe a little easier to read, but I tend to use DISM just because it’s what I’m used to. To do the same in PowerShell you would use:

 

 

 

Setting Up External Access To A Veeam SureBackup Virtual Lab

Hey y’all, happy Friday! One of the things that seems to still really fly under the radar in regards to Veeam Backup & Replication is its SureBackup feature. This feature is designed to allow for automated testing via scripts of groups of your backups. An example would be if you have a critical web application. You can create an application group that includes both the database server and the web server and when the SureBackup job is run Veeam will connect a section of its backup repository to a specified ESXi host as a datastore and, start the VMs within a NAT protected segment of your vSphere infrastructure, run either the role based scripts included or custom ones you specify to ensure that the VMs are connecting to the applications correctly, and then when done shut the lab down and fire off an e-mail.

That workflow is great an all but it only touches on the edge of the power of what SureBackup can do for you. In our environment not only do we have a mandate to provide backup tests that allow for end-user interaction, but we also use SureBackup for test bed type applications such as patch tests. An example of the latter here is when I was looking to upgrade our internal Windows-based CA to Server 2012 R2. I was able to launch the server in the lab, perform the upgrade and ensure that it behaved as expected WITHOUT ANY IMPACT ON PRODUCTION first and then tear down the lab and it was like it never happened. Allowing the VMs to stay up and running after the job starts requires nothing more than checking a box in your job setup.

By default access to a running lab is fairly limited. When you launch a lab from your Veeam server a route to the NAT’d network is injected to the Veeam server itself to allow access, but that doesn’t help you all that much if you are wanting others to be able to interact; we need to expand that access outwards. This post is going to walk you through the networking setup for a Virtual Lab that can be accessed from whatever level of access you are looking for, in my case from anywhere within my production network.

Setting Up the Virtual Lab

 

The first step if you haven’t setup SureBackup in your environment at all is to set up your Virtual Lab.  The first of two parts here that are critical to this task is setting up the Proxy IP, which is the equivalent to your outside NAT address if you’ve ever worked on a firewall. This IP is going to essentially be the production network side of the Lab VM that is created when you setup a Veeam Virtual Lab.

1-set-nat-host

Next we need to set up an isolated network for each production port group you need to support. While I use many VLANs in my datacenter I try to keep the application groups I need to test on the same VLAN to make this setup simple, but it doesn’t need to be, you can support as many as you need. Simply hit add, browse out and find the production network port group you need to support, give the isolated network a name and specify a VLAN.

2a-setup-vlans

The last step of setting up the Virtual Lab in this regard is creating a virtual NIC to map to each of your isolated networks. So where I see a lot of people get tripped up with this is always make the proxy appliance IP address here map to the default gateway of the production network it is reflecting. If you don’t do that the launched lab VMs will never be able to talk outside of the lab. Second, in regard to the Masquerade IP try to aim for some consistency. Notice that in my production network I am using a Class B private address space but with a class C mask. By default this will throw off the automatic generation of the Masquerade IP and I’ve found it isn’t always consistent across multiple Virtual NIC setups.  If you setup multiple isolated networks above you need to repeat this process for each network. Once you are done with this you can complete your Lab Setup and hit Finish to have it build or rebuild the appliance.

2-create-nat-network

Tweaking the SureBackup Job

For the sake of brevity I’m assuming at this point that you’ve got your Application Groups setup without issue and are ready to proceed to fixing your SureBackup job to stay up and running. To do so on the Application Group screen All you have to do is check the “Keep the application group running after the job completes” box. That’s it. Really. Once you do that this lab will stay up and running until you right click on the job in the Veeam Backup & Replication Console and choose stop. I’ve been lobbying for year for a “stop after X hours” option but still haven’t got very far with that one, but really the concern there is more performance impact from doubling a part of your load since you are essentially running 2 copies of a segment of your datacenter. If you have plenty to burn it isn’t an issue.

3-keep-lab-up

Fixing the Routing

Now the final step is to either talk to your network guy or go yourself to where your VLAN routing is taking place and add a static route to the IP range of your inside the lab into the routing table through the Proxy Appliance’s IP. For the example we’ve been working through in this post our Proxy appliance has an IP of 172.16.3.42 and all of our Lab networks are within the 172.31.0.0/16 network. If you are using a IOS based Cisco switch to handle your VLAN routing the command would be

After that is done, from anywhere that route is accessible from you should now be able to pass whatever traffic inbound to the lab network addresses. So sticking with our example, for a production VM with the IP address 172.16.3.10, you would interact with the IP 172.31.3.10 in whatever way needed. Keep in mind this is for lack of a better word one way traffic. You can connect in to any of the hosts within the lab network but you can’t really have them reach directly out and have them interact on the production network.

4a-testing

One More Thing…

One final tip that I can give you on this if you are going to let others in to play in your labs is to have at least one workstation grade VM that you include in each of your Applications Groups with the software needed to test with loaded. This way you can enable RDP on that VM and they user can just double-click an icon and connect into the lab, running their tests from there. Otherwise if you have locally installed applications that need to connect to hosts that are now inside the lab you are either going to need to reconfigure the application with the corrected address or modify the user’s hosts file temporarily so that they connect to the right place, neither of which is particularly easy to manage. The other nice thing about a modern RDP session is you can cut and paste files in and out of it, which is handy if the user wants to run reports and the like.

4-connecting-into-the-lab

As an aside I’m contemplating doing a video run through of the setting up a SureBackup environment to be added to the blog next week. Would you find such a thing helpful? If so please let me know on twitter @k00laidIT.