Ramblings from another nerd on the grid
Last weekend was typical. I was preparing for a couple of seminars for this week on some pretty intense topics. The wireless security session I delivered today was attended by some influential IT Pros from around the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area. I also had the pleasure of having a number of people from the United States Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
There’s more to this story…
My preparations for these types of session usually involve research, printing, unpacking or uncompressing archived content, tests, etc. It’s a long process and eats time. Fortunately, uncompressing a huge virtual machine leaves time to multi task.
So I was surfing some of my favorite internal distribution lists. Someone posted a link to a blog post from gapingvoid.com. There was an excerpt from the blog and it’s obvious from what I’m reading that someone is pretty pissed off at Microsoft. I didn’t recall at the time anything about gapingvoid.com, but I did notice the cartoon style. I had seen those somewhere.
So I followed the link to Hugh’s blog and dug around a bit. It was already March 5th so I noticed there was a newer and more pointed post. Hugh had posted a challenge, so I figured I’d respond and see what happens. He didn’t really notice my first comment, or he probably ignored it because it was the typical Nick Burns the Computer Guy style post. Someone inside my company mentioned it may not be apparent I was offering to help to I blasted off a quick email directly to the gapingvoid.com email address.
Hugh called me back in five minutes. We talked briefly and he wanted me to use Skype to call him back. So I downloaded the software, grabbed a headset and five minutes later I was talking to Hugh Macleod in London from my palacial Texas ranch. You’re allowed to say that if you have an acre and can at least hear a cow or horse nearby. One of the reasons I wanted to help was because I liked the picture in the post at http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/002369.html although the Red Axe picture probably expressed his frustration better.
We messed around for a bit and compared the drivers and software he was using to the way I am setup. It so happens that two of my laptops use the same Intel wireless chipsets as his tablet pc. That was pretty much a waste of time because we didn’t spot anything apparent. I then started to ask some of the key questions that helped determine at least one fix. We got one of his components, a D-Link wireless bridge to reset and start providing a wireless network signal. Hugh was happy. I didn’t really know all of this until later because you see, there’s a small time difference between London and Dallas. Hugh needed to crash and get some sleep, and I needed to cook for my family. So I typed up some instructions and shot them of via email. I checked my smart phone the next morning at 6am to see if there was a black cloud or nuclear mushroom cloud cartoon waiting for me… Fortunately my instructions worked and he was a happy camper.
I got another email Thursday and apparently his wireless is down, again. There are a number of possibilities left. He could be cooking some popcorn in a microwave oven and cooking his signal at the same time. The 2.4gHz spectrum is crowded with interference and his access point uses that spectrum.
It could be that because we reset the wireless bridge to default settings, the name the bridge is broadcasting is also used by another wireless access point in the area. This can wreak havoc because it is assumed that the access points are on the same network.
It could be a number of other possibilities like:
We’re going to change the SSID (network name) as soon as I can get in touch with him Friday or Saturday. Any suggestions? How about darkcloud?
I started this story talking about wireless security, my session on Thursday with the feds in the room, and the email's I got. Sorry, I could tell you about the session, but I’d have to shoot you. I’m teasing of course. You can see the session I delivered in April and I promise to add a bunch of stuff I learned from the federal agents.
This week was a sad week for me. I jumped on one of those 40% off coupons for a Dell Dimension E510 desktop machine. In the frenzy to buy, I broke one of my cardinal rules. Research thoroughly… The machine I ordered was an Intel Dual Core 2.8GHz PCI Express based machine with 3gig of memory, 250gig hard drive, ATI X600 video card with 256meg of memory, Windows XP Media Center, 16x DVD burner, etc. delivered to my door for $850. Not bad?
From the time I ordered the machine to the time it was at my door was 48 hours. That is freaking amazing. Ever wonder why they have grown their business so fast? That is why. They have build-to-order down to the science. It was pointed out to me the machine I ordered was probably already built. Ok, I’ll concede that. At worst, they needed to configure the 3gig of memory I wanted. It’s still amazing that from the time I hit the submit button to the time my doorbell rang was 48 hours.
The problem is that after cracking open the case, I discovered to my chagrin that the power supply would not support a video card upgrade. I had planned all along to purchase the BFG Technologies NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT and pull the ATI card. However the power supply cable octopus didn’t have a power connector for that. Heck the card I am interested in needs two power connectors but the Dell E510 doesn’t even have one. Technically, there are a couple of connectors available. One for another SATA drive and one for a CDROM drive. I should have known when I read 305 watt output. Let that be a lesson to me and you.
So I called Dell Tech Support and inquired about a power supply upgrade. Nope, nada. Decision time. Do I buy an after market supply and void the warranty or return this puppy? Return it is. One thing to note about returns. You pay for return shipping and possibly re-stocking fees.
Dell, please discount the XPS 400. I read somewhere they aren’t doing deep discounts on the XPS line. Bummer.
I may end up building a custom machine this time around. I am worried because if I do, I know I’ll be itching to build an iSCSI SAN to go with it. FYI, in a few hours, I’ll be posting a detailed post on Windows Server 2003 R2 storage management. The research is done, the post is written, but I still need to record the screencast. I’ll do that tomorrow unless I play Easy Rider all day on my Harley. Vroooommmm
Microsoft has made some recent bets on storage management. That is good news for me for a variety of reasons. First, it offers a glimpse of my HDTV future. What? Yes, you read that correctly. I’ll get to the explanation in a little bit. Second, it means our customers will have a broader range of storage support in Microsoft products.
One of the recent acquisitions we made was from String Bean Software. We acquired their WinTarget iSCSI Target software. I don’t know all of the details of the contract so I can’t cite the terms. The acquisition brings some fascinating technology to the Windows Server 2003 platform. With any luck, we’ll see the iSCSI Target code show up in all of the Microsoft server products. I have my fingers crossed.
Introduction and History
You might be asking yourself what the hell is iSCSI, an Initiator, or a Target? Well, most of you are probably familiar with SCSI. It’s been around for over a decade and most likely you’ve used a SCSI CDROM. In the early days, the 5meg speeds of SCSI were perfectly fast enough for the CDROMS and hard disk drives of the mid-1980s. But as hard disk and optical drive technologies got faster, SCSI needed to evolve.
As disk drives got faster, and as more disk drives could be coupled together to service I/O requests, bigger pipes were needed to transfer the data. Fibre systems were developed to handle the large I/O bandwidth needs typical to clustered database and messaging systems. Fibre Channel fabrics provide a highly scalable and path redundant mesh desired in storage network back-ends. The downside to fibre based systems is the cost and complexity to implement. This makes the entry point too expensive for a small or medium business (typically).
Fortunately, lower cost networking technologies burst on the scene right around the year 2000. Gigabit Ethernet (also known as 1000Base-T, GbE or GigE) uses standard Category 5 or Category 6 cable. Today, you can buy GigE switches and network cards at modest prices. I use multi-port gigabit nics in all of my servers. I pay a “little” extra to save a PCI slot by doing that, but it comes in handy.
iSCSI hasn’t been around that long. The standard was ratified in 2003. iSCSI rides on top of the ethernet and TCP/IP protocols and uses them for data transfer. iSCSI implementations use Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) ethernet. You can build an iSCSI based SAN out of some relatively cheap hardware components. On the software side, Microsoft is providing some of the components for free. Let’s take a look at what you can get your hands on right now, so that you can start testing the technology.
Windows Server 2003 R2 shipped with a new SAN Management console. If you’ve been to any of the in-person TechNet Seminars here in the USA, you see us demo that console. How in the world do we demo a SAN inside a virtual machine? Smoke and mirrors of course! Actually we are using an internally written service to simulate either a fibre channel attached rack of disks, or an iSCSI connected rack of disks. I’m told the programs we use are on the MSDN download center, but I don’t have a subscription so I cannot confirm that. Look for simhwprv.exe and simiscsiprv.exe. Those programs are mostly just stub programs so they can’t be used for anything real. But as a training or developer tool, they are rather useful.
However, there is a ton of stuff that is highly useful. First, go grab the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator. You can install this component on our most popular operating systems and use it to consume data from an iSCSI Target computer. If you are running Windows Vista, you’ll notice the iSCSI Initiator is already built into the product and the UI sits off an applet in control Panel. I had planned to capture a demo on that, but Vista doesn’t seem to like Camtasia right now (with the build I’m running). I’ll get that demo captured eventually and will update the links below.
Next you are going to want to grab the Microsoft iSNS Server. Think of the iSNS server like you would a DNS server. It is used for discovery and management of iSCSI devices on a network. iSCSI clients query the iSNS discovery domains for storage nodes and portals.
And lastly, you’ll want an iSCSI Target. If you are purchasing a SAN solution from a storage vendor, most likely they’ve engineered the iSCSI Target into their solution. You can see a list of iSCSI Initiators and Targets at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISCSI. Unfortunately, you won’t see a bunch of free Windows iSCSI targets listed.
I’m hopeful we’ll make WinTarget available for download soon. Soon is of course relative. The press release on microsoft.com says, “Going forward, Microsoft will not sell WinTarget as a stand-alone solution, but will release the WinTarget technology with Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. Additional details on product availability will be provided in the coming months.” This of course means Windows Storage Server R2 is a possible candidate for our iSCSI Target implementation. I would imagine it’s going through a code review as we speak and it will take a few months before that process is complete. So hang tight.
Think about all of the types of data that are popular and prevalent today. In cubes of the USA we are all too familiar with spreadsheets, documents, email, databases, etc. But think about the data types used outside the corporate cube maze.
Many of us have digital cameras, iPods, Video cameras, Home Theatre PCs, etc. Think about how much storage space is consumed by all of those rich data types. How do you manage the storage sprawl today? How do you plan your growth? How do you migrate unused data to other slower cheaper storage media types?
Doesn’t that sound just like a business? Heck, I was talking about my house! I have about a terabyte of virtual machine images. I have close to two terabytes of HDTV recordings. With HDTV recordings clocking in at about 8–10gig per hour of programming, is there any wonder?
We have a modest collection of pictures and music, but my ripped DVD collection is growing. I think it’s hovering around 300gig right now. All of that data is across multiple internal and external hard drives. I have some friends that have some amazing music collections. Thousands of albums in ripped form.
That is going to change…
Think about having a home, home office or small business server with all of that digital goo on an array of disks. That home server could be a multi purpose machine. It could be a firewall, parental control and desktop policy machine, HDTV CableCard recording monster, file server, game image server or whatever. We are constantly thinking about the emerging trends. No promises for a product release, but you would expect us to be testing the waters, right?
Considering Windows Vista has a built-in iSCSI initiator, the client side plumbing is there. We just need some server side integration, and we’re good to go. This is really more than just a storage area network device.
I’m going to do several demos. The first demo is the Storage Management for SANS (SMfS) demo. This will give you an idea of what is already in Windows Server 2003 R2 in case you want to build your own SAN and use our console. It’s a quicky (8 minutes).
See mms://wm.microsoft.com/ms/inetpub/keithcombs/SMfS.wmv for the SMfS demo.
The next demo will show you how to setup the Microsoft iSNS Server, String Bean WinTarget iSCSI Target and the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator for Windows Server 2003. Keep in mind the WinTarget product no longer exists and it does not have a SKU. I am using it for demo purposes only. As soon as I can get my hands on a non-NDA iSCSI Target implementation of our software, I’ll probably re-record the demos.
See mms://wm.microsoft.com/ms/inetpub/keithcombs/iSCSI.wmv for the iSCSI demo.
NOTE: I am having some issues getting Camtasia Recorder to capture the iSCSI Initiator demo inside Windows Vista with the build of Vista I used to create a VM. The iSCSI demo works nicely in Vista, I just can’t show you yet so you are just going to have to trust me (grin). When I get the capture done, I’ll add the link here.
Storage consumption or use is growing at a rapid pace. Easy access from a wide variety of client operating systems and devices is necessary. Small and Medium business owners don’t have big bucks to shell out for a fancy fibre channel based Storage Area Network (SAN). We need to build the plumbing and infrastructure to make “Simple SAN” and iSCSI successful, affordable, easy to use, reliable and pervasive. Microsoft is making some strategic investments in those areas.
Start your training and testing now. Use the virtual machine technologies to test the products and your designs. As soon as we make a iSCSI target publicly available, I’ll come back and update this post.
Essential Reading and References
Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/wss2003/default.mspx
Boot from SAN Whitepaper – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/wss2003/techinfo/plandeploy/BootfromSANinWindows.mspx
Microsoft Storage Technologies – iSCSI http://www.microsoft.com/WindowsServer2003/technologies/storage/iscsi/default.mspx
iSCSI Cluster Support FAQ – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/technologies/storage/iscsi/iscsicluster.mspx
SAN Integration Technologies – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/storage/sansupport.mspx
Here’s a quick reminder of what it’s like at my house. UPS anyone? Seriously, I live next to Keller so in this picture, I’m in the heart of the red splotch of rain. In the past 48 hours we’ve received a few inches of rain. The rain is sorely needed since we are still behind our annual rainfall by about 20 or more inches. Careful what you wish for…
In a couple of weeks, all of the folks from my team are headed here. They have been properly introduced to the subtleties of Texas springtime weather. You see, a couple of years ago, we were all out at David and Stacey Copelands house and it began to rain. The rain started coming down hard. Then harder… Then even harder!!!
My G35 Coupe was parked in the driveway at the front door and I swear I thought the rain was going to take the paint off. It was raining so hard, it sounded like hail which of course was totally freaking me out.
To give you an idea of how hard it rained, we ended up getting between 16–18 inches of rain, THAT NIGHT!!! Imagine getting approximately a half year of rain in a ten hour period of time. We did make one feeble attempt to leave her house and try to get out of Ceder Hill.
I was following John Weston and his big Chevy Suburban. I still remember the tidal wave he managed to produce. He hit this dip in the road and the water came up over his hood and vehicle and arched backwards. Wanna guess where it landed? You guessed it, right on poor little G35. Scared the crap out of us.
That’s enough… we turned around. We turned around right at the freeway which was totally under water. The Texas DPS troopers were trying to figure out what to do. They had a ton of stranded motorist to deal with. It was a bad scene.
So we all went back to Stacey’s house and had a “slumber” party. Fifteen 30 and 40 somethings snoring away…
Yes, you read that correctly. The Exchange 12 CTP is being mailed to a bunch of lucky Microsoft IT Pros. There is a catch however… They are being mailed to TechNet Plus subscribers. In fact, they started shipments on 2/28 so some of you may get the goods tomorrow. Now in an evil twist of irony, the MSDN subscribers expecting it on the download area will have to wait. What? Yes, you read that correctly as well. It gets better…
This morning I went and registered as an attendee for the webcasts running 3/14 – 3/17. As I was registering, I recalled that I had heard they were dropping Exchange 12 to the MSDN download area. I thought to myself, self, we need to fix this for our beloved TechNet IT Pros. I mean, what are we, chopped liver? So I started making some not so subtle queries to find out if we could load the TechNet Plus user ids into the MSDN download center.
I found out that instead, the Exchange 12 CTP is already being mailed out. This is great!!! So here are the registration links for the webcasts and some other resource links:
Exchange '12' Preview – Live Webcasts
TechNet Webcast: An Overview of Exchange “12” (Level 200)Tuesday, March 14, 20061:00 P.M.–2:30 P.M. Pacific Time
TechNet Webcast: Giving the Administrator More Control in Exchange “12” (Level 200)Wednesday, March 15, 20061:00 P.M.–2:30 P.M. Pacific Time
TechNet Webcast: Client Access and Web Services in Exchange “12” (Level 200)Thursday, March 16, 200611:30 A.M.–1:00 P.M. Pacific Time
TechNet Webcast: Message Security and Active Protection in Exchange “12” (Level 200)Friday, March 17, 20069:30 A.M.–11:00 A.M. Pacific Time
Exchange 12 Preview Area – http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/preview/default.mspx
Exchange 12 Overview – http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/preview/overview.mspx
Exchange 12 FAQ – http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/preview/faq.mspx
Looking back over my posts last month makes me want to hurl. Way too much marketing stuff and lacking in strong technical content.
Ok, take some IT Pro cred points from me. In fact, make me take a day off. Dare me, double dare me. If it just happens to coincide with the release of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, trust me, it’s purely coincidence.
Back to the original subject, I promise that for the months of March, April, May, June and beyond, I’ll focus more on killer screencasts and less on marketing fluff.
We’ll do current and future products. Since we have Security as the focus of our live seminars in the April-June time-frame, I’ll do a couple of things around that. Everyone wants to do Windows Vista and I plan to tackle a couple of complex issues there. I also plan to do some DNS and DHCP stuff. As many times as I do a webcast on the subject, it always amazes me how much demand there is for training and information on those subjects.
So if you want fluffy marketing stuff for the next few months, sorry, look elsewhere. I’ll still post stuff about Vista, Exchange 12, Office 2007 and Longhorn server, but I’ll throttle my coverage since it seems there are plenty of other folks doing those type of posts anyway.
I am currently working on a really long set of documentation. It’s an internal doc on how to create a blog, create blog posts, create audio and video for pod and screencasting, tools, techniques and publishing methods. I am far from being an expert, but it’s time to get what I’ve learned on paper so it can be leveraged inside Microsoft. Hopefully I’ll get it wrapped up pretty soon. As I write it, the scope keeps expanding. Scope creep. I hate that…
How many topic areas can a person be considered a subject matter expert at? Do you have the luxury of focusing on one or two things? What is the brain really capable of? It’s a pretty well known issue in my ranks, and I’m not just talking about Microsoft employees. I remember when I came to Microsoft almost a decade ago. We hadn’t yet shipped Exchange Server 4.0 and Outlook. Since that time, think how the Internet has changed, the number of products Microsoft alone has shipped and the pace of innovation.
Can I get a “Pace Of Innovation” hamster wheel inserted here please? UPDATE: LOL. Someone is reading my blog. Thanks for the pic.
The IT Pros I work with are laughing at me. Many of them don’t get the luxury of running a pure Microsoft shop so they have to be experts at a variety of products from a variety of suppliers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Microsoft employee? Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Warning, Microsoft time isn’t on a solar clock and is not derived from UTC. You can work as much as you want here and never be an expert at everything or anything.
I work with some really bright people. But even if you are in the upper percentiles of memory storage, retrieval and correlation, where is the threshold? No, I am not talking about a new kewl computer. I am talking about the careers we’ve chosen in the world of information and entertainment technology. Notice I threw in entertainment? Think about the pace of innovation in consumer electronics, games, HDTV, and all of the fun gadgets we buy. I am asked all the time how I keep up. Answer: Microsoft Time.
The guys on my team worry about this a lot. We have several excellent subject matter experts. Kai Axford is fast becoming known for his mad security skillz. He needs to market that a bit more so I created a blog for him. Don’t worry about Kai’s blog… it’s brand spanking new and we are dragging him kicking and screaming into the bloggesphere. I have a secret weapon… his wife.
Harold Wong is an expert at Exchange Server. Bryan Von Axelson is a well known SQL Server evangelist. Matt Hester is a Windows Active Directory Group Policy wizard. Those are just a couple of the subject matter experts on my team and that’s just the close circle of TechNet Evangelists I work with. There are 63,000 other Microsoft wizards at my company.
The problem is that my role is a morphing multi dimensional monster. Sound familiar? Across one dimension are the customer segments. Another dimension are the product launches and the hunger for information relevant to those products. Another dimension is the information need for products that have been around for some time that still need to be maintained, monitored and tweaked to keep them running securely and efficiently. Add dimensions for my personal passions, what my management wants, what my managers managers want, what the business units want, etc. etc. etc. Now add relevant content as a dimension.
Remember I mentioned customer segments? Can a person be a subject matter expert to our Enterprise customers as well as the small and medium business customer segments? This is precisely why I mentioned relevant content. Presenting a block of content is part science, part art. Good presenters pick up the pulse of an audience early and take advantage of information they’ve gathered. Making information relevant is hard. It’s especially hard if I have a a presentation on enterprise products and demos but my audience for the day is 50% small and medium sized businesses. Fortunately for me, my wife has a small business so I can relate to the mom and pop shops. I also used to work for one of the “Big 6” systems integraters before I joined Microsoft so I know all about big enterprise. Have you ever had to build a network to support 500,000 machines? It’s a scary thought isn’t it?
So back to the original question… How many areas can a person be a subject matter expert at?
To give you an idea, in the past couple of weeks I’ve delivered talks on Windows Vista to a bunch of IT Pros, Wireless Network Security to the FBI and US Secret Service, Security for Windows 2000 and Windows XP desktops, Securing MOM 2005, UNIX Interoperability in Windows Server 2003 R2, Keeping SBS 2003 Free of Viruses and Worms, Windows XP Media Center Edition and those are just the formal events from my calendar and don’t include the virtual teams and discussions. I also wrote a thirty five page paper on blogging, screencasting and tools Microsoft employees use. Did I mention Microsoft Time?
I’m good, but my subject matter dam is breaking… What about yours?
There is a saying in the world of IT technology… “When Pigs Fly”. Actually the term has been around for a long time and is used in a variety of situations. Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover has a pig flying over the Battersea power station in England. According to the article on wikipedia.org, they diverted air traffic at Heathrow airport to shoot the picture. Can you imagine flying for 12–16 hours and finally getting to England only to look out the window and see a flying pig?
Most people use the term to refer to something that will never happen. It’s a pretty cynical view of the situation being discussed, but hey, we aren’t the most optimistic carbon life forms now are we?
According to Michael Quinion, the phrase dates back to at least 1586. Quoting his webpage on the subject, “It seems to have been a traditional Scottish proverb, which was first written down in 1586 in an edition of John Withal’s English-Latin dictionary for children. This had an appendix of proverbs rendered into Latin, of which one was the usual form of the proverb in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: “pigs fly in the air with their tails forward”. If they did indeed fly, the proverb argues, flying backwards would seem a small extra feat.”
If you happen to find a reference that goes back further in time, let me know. It would be kewl to find an Egyptian hieroglyphic of a flying pig.
I thought the “When Pigs Fly” game at the Discovery Animal Planet website was a cute idea. It’s interesting that there are all kinds of organizations, music CD’s, and movies that use the term.
I guess that’s what I get for picking a picture to use in a blog post that will be part of some documentation. I’ll be done with the documentation, my mid year review, and have all of my expense reports submitted by Monday. Yea, right… “When pigs fly!!!”.
Next time you are getting on an airplane, take a look at all of the pilot controls. If you see a CTRL, an ALT, and a DEL key, be afraid… very afraid.
See Rick’s story at “Dark spots at 34,000 feet”. I almost wet my pants I laughed so hard.
Hopefully there are no dummies guides laying around…
I think it’s extremely kewl to see the various implementations of Windows CE. Our operating systems are starting to make some significant headway into a variety of applications.
The Windows Mobile products are really starting to take off and if the North American market is any indication, there’s no holding things back.
I look forward to the day when I have a wireless connection wherever I’m at and it’s coming from my cell phone at 2meg+ speeds. Today, I have to accomplish that with a PC card in my laptop but now that EVDO, UMTS and HSDPA hand sets are starting to ship, I see a single plan in my future.
Anyone know how to reboot the internet?
Remember Chris Farley? Of course one of the props Chris used during his tenure with Saturday Night Live was his weight. The skits with him as a Chippendale’s dancer are historic and vividly etched in my mind. Another character Chris did was Matt Foley. Tragically, Chris died when he was 33. It was a combination of things but mostly drug abuse. Sad. Keep reading… there’s a happy ending.
Brian LaMee is another presenter on the Microsoft Across America team. He is currently working in the MBS group of presenters. Brian is one of the funniest people I’ve met and his Matt Foley impression is spot on. He did a skit on a cruise we were on and played a motavational speaker (Matt Foley). The trouble is, that the resemblance to Chris Farley was uncanny. Pound for pound. I can still remember to this day thinking what a shame it would be to lose a talent like Brian to the weight demons. That was a couple of years ago.
No more. Check out Brian’s blog about his quest to lose weight. You’ll be amazed at the transformation. If you do nothing else, just check out a few of the pictures.
Get On The Bike!!!