MVP Carsten Rachfahl Visits & Interviews Me On Networking & Storage in Windows Server 2012

Last month Carsten (MVP – Virtual Machine) & Kerstin Rachfahl (MVP – Office 365) visited me in my home town. Apart from a short visit to the historic center & a sushi diner amongst friends we also did an interview where we discussed our ongoing Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V activities. We’re trying to leverage as much of the product we can to get the best TCO & ROI and as early adopters we’ve been reaping the benefits form the day the RTM bits were available to us. So far that has been delivering great results. Funny to hear me mention the Fast Track designs as a week later we saw version 3 of those at MMS2013. The most interesting to me about those was the fact that the small & medium sizes focus on Cluster in a Box and Storage Spaces!

While we were having fun talking about the above we also enjoyed some of the most beautiful landmarks of the City of Ghent as a back drop for the interview. It was filmed in a meeting room at AGIV, to whom I provide Infrastructure services with a great team of colleagues. Just click the picture to view the video.


You can also enjoy the video on Carsten’s blog All I need to do now is to arrange for Carsten to physically touch the Compellent storage I think.

Attending the Dell Tech Summit EMEA

As you read this I’m preparing to get on my way to the DELL Tech Summit in Lisbon, Portugal for a few days. I’ll be discussing the needs we have from them as customers (and their competition actually for that matter) when it comes to hardware in the Microsoft landscape in the era of Windows Server 2012.


I’m very happy and eager to tell them what, in my humble opinion, they are doing wrong and what they are doing right and even what they are not doing at all Smile  I believe in giving feedback and interaction with vendors. Not that I have any illusion of self importance as to the impact of my voice on the grand scheme of things but if I don’t speak up nothing changes either. As Intel and Microsoft are there as well,  this makes for a good selection of the partners involved. So here I go:

  1. More information on storage features, specifications and roadmaps
  2. Faster information on storage features, specifications and roadmaps
    • Some of these are in regards to Windows Server 2012 & System Center 2012 (Storage Pools & Spaces, SMI-S, ODX, UNMAP, RDMA/SMB3.0 …) and some are more generic like easier & better SAN/Cluster failovers capabilities, ease of use, number of SCSI 3 persistent reservations, etc.
  3. How to address the IOPS lag in the technology evolution. Their views versus my ideas on how to tackle them until we get better solutions.
  4. Plans, if any, for Cluster In a Box (CiB) building blocks for Windows Server 2012 Private Cloud solutions.
  5. When does convergence make sense and when not cost/benefit wise (and at what level). I’d like a bit more insight into what DELLs vision is and how they’ll execute that. What will new storage options mean to that converged network, i.e. SMB 3.0, Multichannel & RDMA capable NICs. Now convergence always seems tied to one tech/protocol (VOIP in the past, FCoE at the moment) and it shouldn’t, plenty of other needs for loads of bandwidth (Live migration, Storage Live Migration, Shared Nothing Live Migration, CSV redirected mode, …).

Now while it’s important to listen to you customers, this is not easy if you want to do it right, far from it. For one we’re all over the place as a group. This is always the case unless you cater to a specialized niche market. But DELL serves both consumers and enterprises form 1 person shops to fortune 500 companies in all fields of human endeavor. That makes for nice cocktail of views and opinions I suspect.

Even more importantly than listening is processing what you hear from your customers. Do you ignore, react, or take it away as more or less valuable information. Information on which to act or not, to use in decision making, and perhaps even in executing those decisions. And let’s face it without execution decisions are pretty academic exercises. In the end management is in control and for all the feedback, advise, research that gathered and done, they are at the steering wheel and they are responsible for the results.

One thing that I do know from my fellow MVPs and the community is that for the past 12 months any vendor who would address those questions with a good plan and communications would be a top favorite while selecting hardware at many customers for a lot of projects.

A Hardware Load Balancing Exercise With A Kemp Loadmaster 2200

I recently had the opportunity to get my hands on a hardware load balancer for a project where, due to limitations in the configuration of the software, Windows Network Load Balancing could not be used. The piece of kit we got was a LoadMaster 2200 by Kemp Technologies. A GPS network/software services solution (NTRIP Caster) for surveyors needed load balancing, not only for distributing the load, but also to help with high availability. The software could not be configured to use a Virtual IP address of a Windows Load Balancer cluster. That meant when had to take the load balancing of the Windows server nodes. I had been interested in Kemp gear for a while now (in function of some Exchange implementations) but until recently I did not get my hands on a LoadMaster.

We have two networks involved. One the 192.1683.2.0/24 network serves as a management, back-office network to which the dial access calls are routed and load-balanced to 2 separate servers WebSurvey01 and WebSurvey02 (running VMs running on Hyper-V). The Other network is and that serves the internet traffic for the web site and the NTRIP data for the surveyors, which is also load balanced to WebSurvey01 and WebSurvey02. The application needs to see the IP addresses of the clients so we want transparency. To achieve this we need to use the gateway of the VIP on the Kemp load balancer as the gateway. That means we can’t connect to those apps from the same subnet, but this is not required. The clients dial in or come in from the internet. A logical illustration (it’s not a complete overview or an exact network diagram) of such a surveyor’s network configuration is shown below.

Why am I using layer 7 load balancing? Well, layer 4 is a transport layer (which is transparent but not very intelligent) and as such is not protocol aware while layer 7 is an application layer and is protocol aware. I want the latter as this gives me the possibility to check the health of the underlying service, filter on content, do funky stuff with headers (which allows us to give the clients IP to the destination server => X-Forwarded-For header when using layer 7), load balance traffic based on server load or service etc. Layer 7 not as fast as layer 4, as there is more things to do, code to run, but when you don’t overload the device that not a problem as it has plenty of processing power.

The documentation for the KEMP LoadMaster is OK. But I really do advise you to get one, install it in a lab and play with all the options to test it as much as you can. Doing so will give you a pretty good feel for the product, how it functions, and what you can achieve with it. They will provide you with a system to do just that when you want. If you like it and decide to keep it, you can pay for it and it’s yours. Otherwise, you can just return it. I had an issue in the lab due to a bad switch and my local dealer was very fast to offer help and support. I’m a happy customer so far. It’s good to see more affordable yet very capable devices on the market. Smaller projects and organizations might not have the vast amount of server nodes and traffic volume to warrant high-end load balancers but they have needs that need to be served, so there is a market for this. Just don’t get in a “mine is bigger than yours” contest about products. Get one that is the best bang for the buck considering your needs.

One thing I would like to see in the lower end models is a redundant hot-swappable power supply. It would make it more complete.  One silly issue they should also fix in the next software update is that you can’t have a terminal connection running until 60 seconds after booting or the appliance might get stuck at 100% CPU load. Your own DOS attack at your fingertips. Update: I was contacted by KEMP and informed that they checked this issue out. The warning that you should not have the vt100 connected during a reboot is an issue the used to exist in the past but is no longer true. This myth persists as it is listed on the sheet of paper that states “important” and which is the first thing you see when you open the box. They told me they will remove it from the “important”-sheet to help put the myth to rest and your mind at ease when you unbox your brand new KEMP equipment. I appreciate their follow up and very open communication. From my experience, they seem to make sure their resellers are off the same mindset as they also provided speedy and correct information. As a customer, I appreciate that level of service.

The next step would be to make this he setup redundant. At least that’s my advice to the project team. Geographically redundant load balancing seems to be based on DNS. Unfortunately, a lot of surveying gear seems to accept only IP addresses so I’ll still have to see what possibilities we have to achieve that. No rush, getting that disaster recovery and business continuity site designed and setup will take some time anyway.

They have virtual load balancers available for both VMware and Hyper-V but not for their DR or Geo versions. Those are only on VMware still. The reason we used an appliance here is the need to make the load balancer as independent as possible of any hardware (storage, networking, host servers) used by the virtualization environment.

Tech Ed 2010 Europe – After Action Report

I spend the last two days of Tech Ed 2010 doing break out sessions and Inter Active Sessions. Only one Inter Active Session was a  complete disaster as the guy handling it had no clue, it looked more like a bar discussion, not for lack of the public trying to get it going. One breakout session on SCVMM vNext was a mess due to the speaker not showing up and the improvising that caused. But on the whole the sessions were good. John Craddock confirmed once more he is a great scholar. The SCVMM team managed their message well. The info on Lync was good and useful but I do find the explanation about getting the configuration data out of Active Directory a bit weak as the same can be said for Exchange. If they go that way the entire dream of using Active Directory for leveraging applications goes down the drain. The other thing that I found a bit negative about Lync is the focus on large enterprises for high availability. Smaller ones need that as well. And small to USA standards is medium over here in Europe Winking smile

I also really enjoyed the Clustering interactive session. I almost wanted to start speaking on the subject my self but I could refrain myself Smile.

The statement that the Exchange team no longer recommends Windows NLB is no surprise and was welcomed by most. But in retrospect, that’s a public secret put into words. They talk more about WNLB in their docs but never recommend it over hardware NLB, they just never really discussed the latter, probably because the hardware configuration is vendor specific. There is some info available on what needs to be done on the Exchange side when you opt for hardware load balancing and it’s a bit more involved.

The networking aspect of the conference was a success. I’ve had long technical and conceptual talks with the Windows (clustering), Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager teams. Those hours providing feedback, conveying wishes and concerns and learning how they look at certain issues were very interesting. The most new info on future releases was on SCVMM vNext. Things like managing the fabric (storage,network, cluster), library management, deployment and WSUS/Maintenance Mode integration for automated patching if the hosts are cool. I’m looking forward to the public betas. They could not talk about any items in Windows clustering /NLB or Hyper-V vNext. I also signed up for an Office365 beta account. We’ll have to see when one becomes available.

The developers I know that came along came away with the sobering confirmation of what they already knew about agile, project managers and time based planning of implementation versus releases. Now how will they communicate this back home. Food for taught, I bet!

Then there are the rumors. There was one about Tech Ed changing back to the time frame it was running until 2005, in the summer. This lead to the rumor that this would be the last Tech Ed Europe. I don’t think so, I guess that it’s probably the last one in Berlin for now, but not the last one in Europe. The following rumor was that due to the timing the 2011 Tech Ed in Europe would be skipped as summer 2011 would be to soon. We’ll have to wait and see. If so, I’m eyeballing Microsoft Management Summit & Tech Ed North America in the USA.

Speaking of the USA, if you look at the money Microsoft throws against Tech Ed North America and PDC  than this year the European Tech Ed really stood out as being a bit “poor”. In the end no one goes to a conference for a bag, freebies or swag. But the atmosphere at the outset of a conference determines how the mood is starting the event and this year they messed that up. By the end of the week that was mostly forgotten. I do think however Microsoft needs to manage and guard the quality of the sessions. This is very important, it should not become a marketing/managerial types event. Tech Ed = Technical Education and that education should be of a high level. The combination of that with high quality architectural and conceptual sessions is value for money. As already said above, something they did very well this year was providing lots of quality interaction and networking opportunities with MVP’s, Microsoft personnel and partners. That is awesome and I hope they keep working at that.

If you went to the conference I hope you had a good Tech Ed. if you didn’t make it you can enjoy loads of sessions here: Tech Ed Europe 2010 Online Sessions