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June, 2012

UK  TechNet Flash Newsletter
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  • Hyper-V Snapshots in Production

    It’s sometimes quite difficult to talk and think at the same time, and at our camps last week I think we may have caused some confusion around snapshots for virtual machines (VM) that are in production so I wanted to write this up from first principles so that I have somewhere to refer to in future.

    All server virtualisation vendors have a way of creating a file that represents a physical hard disk – a virtual hard disk.  In Hyper-V in Windows Server this is referred to as a “VHD” and currently has a .VHD extension limited to 2Tb in size.  In Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 you can use this version of VHD so your existing VMs will work, but there is also the newer VHDX format which goes up to 64TB.

    VHDs come in three flavours:

    Fixed. You declare their size and this space is reserved at creation time. This is the fastest VHD as there is no overhead in growing the disk and if the VHD is created on a well optimised physical disk it will reside on contiguous blocks as well. You can expand these disks later if needed, but remember you will also need to go into the VHD and extend the volumes on it to get the operating system to use it as well

    Dynamic.  As the name suggests these expand as required, and in fact they are tiny to begin with no matter what size you declare.  There is a background process to expand them as needed so the guest operating system is never aware that the specified maximum size isn’t really there yet.  However there may come a moment when the physical disk may run out of space in which case your VMN will stop gracefully until this is resolved.

    Differencing.  In this scenario you have a parent VHD from which you create a new child VHD into which any changed data goes. For example my parent VHD might have a sysprepped Windows Server installation on and then as the VM comes up for the first time all the changes get written in to the child VHD, the parent never changes.  This is important as you can then create another child form the same parent to create another windows server VM.  This saves me loads of disk space on my demo rig, but the performance is not as high as it would be for a fixed disk and the savings in disk decline over time as each child VM would need to patched and service packed, as the parent cannot be changed.  Differencing disk really come into their own for Virtual Desktop infrastructure where you have lots of windows 7 VMs that are little different form each other.Note also the at a differencing disks themselves can

    I mention this because taking a checkpoint/ snapshot of a VM is like using a parent disk -  all the changes to a VM after a snapshot is taken are written to a new VHD (You’ll see this on your physical disks with a .AVHD extension where you specified to save your snaphots).  If I create a subsequent snapshot then another AVHD is created and changes are then written to this newer AVHD file.  If I delete a snapshot on a VM running in Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2 nothing really happens until the VM is stopped and restarted. At that time the data in the AVHD is merged into the parent be that an earlier AVHD representing a snapshot or the actual VHD itself.  In other words you wont get the disk space back from a snapshot until reboot and moreover Hyper-V needs some additional disk space to do this merging.  This changes in Windows Server 2012 in that merging will occur as soon as you delete the snapshot i.e. whether the VM is running or not.

    So having understood all of that what about snapshots in production?  Yes definitely as a fall back for applying changes to production but NOT as a backup or your only DR  solution for mission critical services, which was the point Simon and I were trying to make at the IT Camp.  For one thing you may have a multi-tier service that will respond well to rolling back one of its constituent VMs or there might be time sensitive code in there that will be confused when you revert to a snapshot.  Also having a disk with snapshots in is slower than a fixed disk so there might be performance considerations until you can restart the VM and remove the snapshot.  As I say this last problem goes away in Windows Server 2012 as snapshots get deleted while the VM is running, so you only have to retain a snapshot until you are sure the change you have made is working as expected.

    The definitive Q&A on Snapshots is here on TechNet, and you can find out more about what’s new in Windows Server 2012 here as well as download the Release Candidate.

  • Windows Azure is changing the start-up paradigm


    James Varga is CEO of miiCard (My Internet Identity Card), a service that lets you prove your real identity purely online and in just a few minutes. James founded miiCard in 2011 and is now focused on bringing trust to the internet and giving us back control of our online identities. miiCard is a revolutionary "digital passport" service that enables users to prove they are who they say they are for the first time purely online with no offline processing to the same level of authority as a driving license or passport would do offline. James can be contacted on and found on twitter @jamesvarga

    The future of the Internet is here and it is made up of services hosted on services…and fuelled by services. The industry has been building for Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) for years but only now are we seeing the concept come of age. Services are being weaved into everything we do and are changing the world we live in, providing a unique opportunity for the modern start-up.

    It’s with the emergence of true web services that we are now seeing a new paradigm form. In this future Internet it is all about services, functionality, the internet of things and the data it produces. This movement is creating an opportunity unlike any experienced before – an opportunity to create unique global services that do one thing – but do it well.

    miiCard is an Identity as a Service (IDaaS) provider that proves your real identity, that you are who you say you are, purely online and in just minutes. We are competing against everything from traditional offline processing, big data providers and public sector organisations – and we are winning. As a small team with a global proposition we knew that we had to do something different if we were going to be successful in an industry that was traditionally owned by large corporates. This is why we are using Windows Azure to power miiCard, increase our competitiveness and offer a unique service not only to consumers but in an industry that demands performance, scale and resilience.

    Windows Azure can be described primarily as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) and therefore requires you to take a fresh approach to designing an application. It’s not just enough to copy your relational database and port it over to the 'cloud' - you have to design for the cloud.


    A New Approach

    In building a IDaaS offering in miiCard we knew we had to take a new approach to supporting the demands of the Internet. While platform agnostic it is Microsoft’s take on cloud computing that makes this possible and has changed the way we build software. Long gone are the headaches of system administrators, load balancing, failover, resource planning and scaling. We just build it and it works!

    But it has meant changing our views on many of the traditional approaches to building software. Gone are the relational tables, large storage arrays, performance bottlenecks and load balancers. It is an internal mash up of services, processes, partitioned tables and distributed content.

    miiCard utilises the purest elements of Windows Azure to deliver our service. We store our data in Azure Storage with a focus on large-scale partitioned tables. Traditional complex application structures have now been broken down into discrete web and worker roles – processing data and information requests from a range of internal and external service requests. All of this is connected through the Azure Service Bus and distributed regionally where required through the Content Delivery Network and cached as and when required. In essence it’s a ‘loosely-coupled’ set of services that are distributed globally to provide a new set of services based on the sum of its parts.


    So what does this all mean?

    To answer this let me describe what we have. As an online identity service we currently support seven countries and expect to extend this to ten in the next year. This is a fantastic level of coverage in an industry that struggles to support a single country. By leveraging a range of external services and data sources we gain wide geographical coverage but more critically our chosen infrastructure, Windows Azure, provides miiCard with a unique set of core capabilities.

    miiCard is a scalable, always-on, identity service for both consumers and businesses that scales linearly in capacity and cost in direct relation to market demand, take up and usage. As a service it’s distributed regionally when and where it is needed within a few minutes to support 10, 10k or 10m users as required. It is a service that provides the scale, resiliency and flexibility that means we can compete in an environment dominated by large system integrators and technology companies.

    All of this with a small team of developers focusing on building great functionality, solving business problems and creating strong user experiences. As a start-up it’s all about focus, doing one thing and doing it well. Gone are the distractions and everything non-core or critical to our success. We have no system administrators, no servers, no maintenance or capital expenditure on infrastructure. Not only are we are free to do what we are good at, build a great service, but we get to leverage what Windows Azure is good at for low cost of entry, scaling and an extremely fast route to market.


    Final Thoughts

    For years we have been building applications based on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), a methodology for designing and developing software in the form of interoperable services with well-defined, reusable, business functionalities. It is this services-based approach that we are now seeing transcend into both infrastructure and computing solutions and that is creating a catalyst, a spark, that will ignite life into a new breed of start-up. miiCard is an example of this new breed of start-up, a pure service based approach to solving one of biggest challenges on the Internet – how to create trust online.

    I would normally caveat that it may not be for everyone, and while I could have said this a couple years ago, I just don’t think it’s true anymore. This is the future of the Internet and regardless of what you are building the concepts and resources of Windows Azure, of Platform as a Service, still applies.

    And it’s not just a platform for infrastructure – it’s a platform for innovation. Removing the traditional barriers to software development allows us to focus on what counts - great experiences, benefits and business gains.

  • UK TechEd Europe Attendees–Join in the Fun!

    If you are coming to TechEd Europe this year then you’re in for a treat!  Not only are there hours and hours of awesome content but you’ll get to meet the whole of the TechNet UK team and a few extras from Microsoft UK. 

    So that you can find us all really easily at the delegate party we’ve decided to have some fun and have a theme!  You can blame the theme on Dan!  He was getting all depressed at the cold, wet windy English weather and has been craving sunshine for weeks!  So he decided on a Hawaiian theme!  We are hoping that with the theme comes sunshine!

    Get your Hawaiian shirts to the ready, bring your lei garlands and grass skirts!

    If you can’t come to the TechEd Europe in person why not be there in spirit by send us your pictures of you in your Hawaiian shirts by sharing them on Twitter or Facebook! We’ll be wearing them next Wednesday!

  • The week that was 11th - 18th June

    Last week was a quiet one with many of the team having a break before we head over to TechEd in Amsterdam next week.  Here’s what came up last week on the blog:

    We’re looking forward to catching up with many of you at TechEd Europe so if you are heading over let us know and we’ll look out for you! If you aren’t heading over why not set us a challenge or two with suggestions for content or questions that you are looking for answers to!

    Let us know what content on the agenda is of interest to you and we’ll try to cover the topics that interest you most!

  • Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager IT Camp - An evaluation from TechED Europe 2012

    The IT Pro Team are either on holiday or at IT Camps at the moment so I’m left holding the fort.   I thought I would use this as an opportunity to let you know about an event we are running on the 2nd of July with Wally Mead from Microsoft HQ, Seattle

    We know that not everyone is able to attend TechEd Europe this year, therefore we thought we’d bring TechEd Europe to Reading.  Reading doesn’t have tulips or clogs but it will have Wally re-delivering his sessions on Configuration Manager as part of the System Center 2012 group of products:

    Click here to learn with our experts


    08.45 Registration

    09.15 Welcome

    09.30 Introduction to 1E

    10.15 Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012: Deployment and Infrastructure Technical Overview

    11.15 Break

    11.45 Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012: Plan, Deploy and Migrate from Configuration Manager 2007 to 2012

    13.00 Lunch

    13.45 Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012: Patch and Settings Management

    15.00 Break

    15.30 Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012: Deep Application Management

    16.45 Q&A

    17.15 Networking Reception

    18.30 Close

    Spaces for this event will be limited so please register early to avoid disappointment:

    The event is being run in partnership with:

    1E – 1E is the pioneer and global leader in Efficient IT solutions. 1E’s mission is to identify unused IT, help remove it and optimize everything else. 1E Efficient IT solutions help to
    reduce servers, network bandwidth constraints, software licenses and energy consumption. To date, 1E has helped more than 1,600 customers make £900m in efficiency savings. This includes £500m in energy costs alone and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 5.8 million -,one of the longest running and most popular websites for Microsoft Systems Management-related informationwhich provides hints, tips and answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), relating to Microsoft ConfigMgr and SMS.

    I look forward to seeing many of you there.


    Dan Pilling | Microsoft | IT Pro - Audience Marketing Lead |


  • Bring Your Own Network

    Some thoughts on another form of the Bring Your Own trend that you may have missed and how to take it one step too far (although this is probably already happening).  A mobile hotspot, a strict web filter and an a social networker inadvertently crack a hole in IT policy.

    Last week I was doing a tour of the UK seeing friends and generally having fun.  I met a friend of mine who happens to be a gadget geek, he has everything for the latest TV to a thin tablet device.  We got to talking about how his wife uses the tablet and where and she said that she’d love to use it more at work, but her company ban anyone from attaching devices to the network.  Incidentally they also ban Facebook, YouTube and other “fun”, non-work stuff. 

    She still takes this device to work though, and just occasionally takes work home on it – I found how fascinating.

    My friends company aren’t entirely stuck in the dark ages, so they give her a laptop (it’s black and boring but solid) but it gets locked in her desk drawer over night because it’s too heavy to bother taking home.  They do let her take it home and to enable that she can connect to WiFi networks of her choosing.

    When she does take it home it works just fine on their home network (which by the way is 50mb fibre and faster than the office).

    She wasn’t overly impressed by the idea of the tablet when they first got it, so to save money she insisted her husband only got the WiFi version, which he did.  A couple of days later they realised it was a bit limited when they went away with the kids for a few days camping so they got a MiFi adapter and were happy campers again.

    A few days later she took the tablet to work, along with the MiFi adapter and was using it at her desk to check Facebook etc. So that policy of stopping access to Facebook because it distracts employees just shot out of the window.  Nothing new there, she’d had a smart phone for a while and had been doing that anyway.

    Then it happened.  A brain wave.  She connected her work laptop to the MiFi and got on Facebook.  You see the company does require everyone to go through a proxy to control access when they’re on the work network – very sensible for security and stopping dropped productivity of employees.  The proxy was set to autodetect because people with laptops go mobile.  Then she worked out that she could get to her web based email too, so she emailed over some work documents and received them on her tablet.

    I found this interesting because rather than just taking her own device to work, my friend took her own network.

    It’s worth pointing out that this is no different to her going into a coffee shop or using her laptop at home.  She can still get to “fun” sites in both of those cases too and she can still email documents home, the difference being that it’s now easier for her to do, she doesn’t need to lug a heavy laptop home.

    What could IT do differently: they could manually (group policy) set the proxy and force everyone through the VPN, but what would that achieve…no access to “fun” sites, yes.  It would also mean the end to their mobile working policy since so many coffee shops and hotels require you to sign into a webpage to gain access to the Internet. 

    Really what IT need to do is review their mobile working policy and their web access policies and make them congruent.  IT rules have gotten in the way of the user, who found an easy way around the policy.

    I wonder what else you could do by taking your own network to work…

    Ok if this was was me I’d do one thing more than my friend, I’d go into the network adapter order and make sure the wireless NIC is of higher priority than the  wired NIC, then I’d plug the laptop into the wired network.  What would happen?  My internet traffic would route through the MiFi and my local network traffic would route through the wired NIC, I’d have free reign to get to anything on the internet and my work network.

    Things would get seriously hinkey if I bridged the two networks, but I might not bother to do that.

    So if you’re blocking “fun” sites, are you really blocking them or making users more “creative”?

  • The weeks that were: 28th May – 8th June

    My, what a busy fortnight. So busy in fact we seem to have overlooked one issue of ‘The week that was’, so welcome to this plural overview of the weeks that were! Must have been all that Jubilee excitement.

    Without further ado, feast your eyes on what we’ve been talking about below.

    It might be a slightly quieter week this week as everyone seems to be escaping the drizzle for sunnier climes, nonetheless we’ll be bringing you great content when we can and will be back with a bang before you know it! In the meantime, if you would like to get all the latest TechNet news direct to your inbox why not sign up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

  • Windows Server 2012–Good News & Great News

    The new product milestones are coming thick and fast, and the Windows Server team reached another one last week. In a post on the Windows Server blog, Jeffrey Snover announced the availability of the Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate!

    That’s the good news, the great news is that there are a limited few places remaining at the Windows Server 2012 Community Roadshow in London next Thursday! The Edinburgh event has been a sell-out, so if you’re an IT Pro or Microsoft Partner don’t miss this chance to get bang up to date with all the latest Windows Server announcements with MVPs Damian Flynn , Aidan Finn and Alex Juschin.

    What’s more, as this is an evening event there’s no need to ask your boss for the time out of the office and you can still be ahead of the crowd. The guys will be covering a range of subjects including:

    • What’s hot and new in Windows Server 2012
    • Manageability
    • Virtualisation
    • Storage and Availability
    • Networking

    For more information, click through to the registration page here.

    Event Details

    Date – 14th June 2012
    Location – London, Cardinal Place, 80-100 Victoria Street
    Time - 17:30 - 21:15
    Register Here

    Date – 15th June 2012
    Location – Edinburgh, Waverley Gate, 2-4 Waterloo Place
    Time - 13:00 - 17:10
    Wait List Here

  • Tech.Days: Visual Studio 11 Online Event, 28th June 2012, 1pm to 3pm

    This event will cover the key new features and capabilities that Visual Studio 11 offers software development teams, and the opportunity to ask questions to the UK Developer Tools team and partners. There will be something for almost anyone involved in software development, from Project Managers & Scrum Masters to developers and testers.

    The focus areas for discussion will be:

    • Agile support, including the new Scrum template, planning tools, taskboards and real-time burndown and velocity charts.
    • Storyboarding, feedback tool and IntelliTrace in production to help involve more people in the development lifecycle.
    • Changes to the Visual Studio IDE to help simplify using the Visual Studio environment.
    • New developer support for code reviews, context switching between work, support for additional unit test frameworks and more.
    • Support for developers not using Visual Studio, e.g. Java developers using Eclipse.
    • Getting the most out of the Coded UI testing tools for automated functional testing.

    The format of the session will focus on a Q&A discussion to address questions relating to the videos and recommended reading provided on the UK Visual Studio Team Blog. Please register for the event and then take a look at the content here:

    If you would like, you can post questions in advance @VisualStudioUK, using the hashtag #ukvs11conf.

    Register here to get the event log in details:-

  • PowerShell convert

    Back in the day I worked with this amazing guy James O’Neill (@jamesone)  who really got into PowerShell and had it doing all sorts of clever things like geo tagging his dive photos based on data form his watch and camera.  On the serious side he developed a PowerShell Configurator (which is still on Codeplex)with which you could manage a server core installation spin VM and change their properties.  Sadly James is no longer at Microsoft, but hopefully he likes where PowerShell 3 in Windows Server 2012 is going, indeed some of the commands bear a striking similarity to his configurator.

    My point here is that in Windows Server 2012 PowerShell is now embedded even more deeply in the operating system,  so you can do far more, far more easily. My three simple examples are:

    New simple commands:

    Where James or you had to get deep into wmi calls to get stuff done with Hyper-V for example, there are now simple commands e.g.


    Which returns a list of virtual machines

    Simple syntax

    If you look at any serious Powershell 2 script you’ll see $_. cropping up somewhere. Essentially that is just a self reference to the object you are working on.  For example if I then pipe the output of get-vm into a query to find out which VMs are enabled for Replica in Windows Server 2012 I would type ..

    get-vm | where {$_.ReplicationState –eq ‘disabled’}

    However this can be simplified In Powershell 3 to

    get-vm | where ReplicationState –eq ‘disabled’

    Simple testing

    I like the new –whatif switch as in

    checkpoint-vm –name “DC01” –whatif

    will tell me what the command will do.

    Then there’s the new version scripting tool PowerShell ISE in Windows Server 2012


    and as you can see it has :

    • Intellisense
    • cmdlet lookup (top right)
    • help on parameter completion which you can then copy onto the script window (bottom right).

    So I am now officially a PowerShell convert, though it will be some time before I would claim I am an expert.

    To try this stuff I used  Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate with the Hyper-V role enabled