Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MCSA on 2008 or 2012? That is the question...

Are you wondering which path to take to MCSA: Windows Server? Check out my answer to this question over at http://www.trainsignal.com/blog/mcsa-2008-or-mcsa-2012 Thanks to the folks at TrainSignal for inviting my to blog. Mike

Saturday, March 23, 2013

More on Building Your Lab...

If you are reading this, you are an IT Pro or a developer in possibly the wrong place. Either way, you are a professional (like me) and need to understand what you are doing before you do it. There are concepts such as Boot from VHD which can leave your PC as a brick if not done correctly. I take no responsibility for you pooching your family computer, even in the name of education. If you have questions, ask before leaping. Always have a backup and don't forget your towel!
Greetings True Believers,

I received a lot of questions and comments about my lab environment post so I figured I would expand upon some things to give some clarification. As always, feel free to leave a comment or tweet a question to @MichaelBender. Thanks to Rick Claus and Aidan Finn for fielding questions on Client Hyper-V.

I thought it would be a good idea to give you background of how I study and my lab methods. My hope is it will provide some insight into the different options and allow you to choose the best one for your situation.

At my college, we use VMware Workstation 9 for all of our OS classes as well as many programming classes. It is a flexible and scalable tool that meets all the scenario needs of our classes. Since I am accustomed to using it, it is second nature to spin up environments in it for labs & demos. Also, I work on several computers and don't always have access to the Death Star so I need a lab environment that is portable as well.

Last and most important, I can run Hyper-V in a VM in VMware Workstation 9. So why would I want to do that? Because I want to be able to run almost all Hyper-V scenarios, not just some. If you want to perform client migrations (like Live Migration), you either need physical hardware (2 or more Hyper-V capable servers/computers) or you virtualize it with VMware. For me, it is a no brainer. I virtualize it in VMware.

I do a lot of "unscripted" lab environments. I spin stuff up to see if it will work because that is how I learn. It's not for everyone. This is what I do for a living. I build lab activities and projects for my students on a weekly basis. I rebuild all of my projects every semester. For some people, the "computer inside a computer inside a computer" lab environment is challenging. I can tell you it takes the average student at our college 1-2 semesters using VMware Workstation virtualization to understand it.

If this type of lab sounds complicated, it is and you are probably not alone in thinking that. One thing I have learned in years of teaching is that if the tool to perform the lesson impedes the learning, you need to find a new tool. That's why there are a number of other options for you. I listed many of them in the first blog, but here is a re-hash for you.

You first option is to use physical hardware. This will give you the true experience with the only limitations being your budget. I used to think it was cool having multiple computers in my house, then I discovered stuff like brewing beer and other things I'd rather spend my money on. If you have the money, buy some Hyper-V capable systems and go to town. It will make a great lab environment, and will replace a space heater if you need one of those.

The next option is to use Windows 7/8 Boot from VHD. This is probably the best option to get Windows Server 2012 running on your computer without blowing away your existing OS or doing arcane multi-partition multi-boots. Keith Mayer has a great post on this and you can check it out below. Also, Scott Hanselman has some great posts on Boot from VHD. These are how I learned to successfully navigate the Boot from VHD waters. One tool to have at your ready when working with this method is easyBCD. It is a graphical tool you install on Windows 7 and 8 that allows you to modify the BCD store easily, and without having to trudge through bcdedit on the command line. Another tool that looks promising is B2VHD. I haven't tried it so YMMV.

Windows Azure offers a lot of opportunities for people without the hardware needed to do any of the above. You can get a free trial here. One thing to note with Azure is that the free trial is limited in the amount of resources you can use each month. If you spin up too much, your VMs will not be useable until the next billing cycle. Another option could be to just pay for what you use, but that could get expensive. Again, Keith Mayer posted great resources on using Azure. Note with Azure that you will not be able to work with things like client migration since your are just getting access to the VMs and not the Hypervisor. On the plus side, you are getting skills and training in how to deploy workloads in the cloud. I've heard from some people that might be important in the future.

Client Hyper-V is Windows 8 is a great addition. It provides a hosted hypervisor environment for running legacy applications, development environments, and it makes a great lab environment. Due to the way Hyper-V works, it has one limitation that does not make it the "Best of Breed" choice for a lab platform IMHO. You cannot install the Hyper-V role into a VM running on Client Hyper-V and created nested VMs. While this does not prevent you from using it as a lab platform, it will prevent you from covering all of the scenarios covered by the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 exams. For more background on running Hyper-V in Hyper-V, see Aidan Finn's blog post here. For more information on Client Hyper-V, Thomas Maurer has a great blog posting on this.

While researching the Hyper-V question, I went to some experts. I emailed Aidan Finn, Microsoft MVP in Virtual Machine and all-around Hyper-V Guru, about his post regarding virtualizing Hyper-V and he had this to say about running the Hyper-V role inside a Hyper-V guest:

Hyper-V requires DEP and CPU assisted virtualization to be available to the host for WinServ Hyper-V to run. Full installs of WinServ will refuse to enable the Hyper-V role without them. A Core install doesn’t check when you enable the role but the hypervisor will fail to start. Hyper-V does not pass through those hardware features, therefore a Hyper-V hypervisor cannot run in a Hyper-V VM.” Aidan Finn

Check out Aidan’s blog, aidanfinn.com, for great post on Hyper-V and other topics

If you have any additional questions on lab environments, just let me know.

Good Luck!



Resource List:
Can you install Hyper-V in a VM? (Aidan Finn): http://www.aidanfinn.com/?p=10175

Windows  8 Client Hyper-V and boot from VHD (Thomas Maurer): http://www.thomasmaurer.ch/2011/09/windows-8-client-hyper-v-and-boot-from-vhd/

Build Your Lab on Windows Server 2012 (Keith Mayer): http://blogs.technet.com/b/keithmayer/p/earlyexpertlabsetup.aspx#.UU4VkCQo6M8

Less Virtual, More Machine- Windows 7 and the magic of Boot to VHD (Scott Hanselman): http://www.hanselman.com/blog/LessVirtualMoreMachineWindows7AndTheMagicOfBootToVHD.aspx

B2VHD Assistant from Scorpiotek.com (Not Tested): http://scorpiotek.com/blog/?p=587

Friday, March 22, 2013

Building a Lab to Get Your Geek On!

Greetings True Believers,

So I wanted to take some time and talk about building a lab environment for learning Windows Server 2012 and preparing for MCSA: Windows Server 2012 certification. As an IT Pro, I know that book knowledge is great, but it is the hands-on skills that get the job done. Getting time in a lab environment to learn new technology is critical to your success in “The Real World” as well as passing your certification exams.

For my lab environment, I want full control of the hardware I can see in the OS plus the flexibility to run multiple scenarios with ease. For that, I choose to do all of my studying in virtual environments. For that I built a custom system based recommendations from Jeff Guillet at Expta.com. Affectionately known as the Death Star by Squidulor, It has a Core i5 and 32GB of RAM. It is a low-cost (Under $1k) system that is fast and quiet. Jeff did a phenomenal job of determining the specs for this system. If you are looking for a lab system, this is the way to go. I built this last April so you may be able build it for less or increase the resources for the same amount of money. After the original build, I did upgrade the storage. I now have 2 SSDs and 2 SATA HDs in the rig. Performance is top notch and you can’t hear it at all. I had a full private cloud scenario running on the system and no noise. It’s great for a home office. Another set of specs to check out is from Jared Shockley from his blog at JaredOnTech.com.

The Death Star in Action

If you do not have TechNet or MSDN, you’ll need a copy of Windows Server 2012. Click here download an evaluation of Windows Server 2012. Note: it will prompt you to login with a Microsoft account.

While I am a Microsoft guy, I always want to use the best tool for the job. In that case, I use VMwareWorkstation 9.0.2 for my desktop virtualization platform. It allows me to virtualize Hyper-V servers on a single physical machine. Note, this is an unsupported scenario, but I’ve never had any issues with it. This cannot be done on Client Hyper-V in Windows 8 or Hyper-V on Server 2012. Also, I am a VCP-DV so I do a lot with vSphere. It can be virtualized as well in this environment. What I envision when I get to Private Cloud studies is being able to run ESXi hosts and Hyper-V hosts along with System Center 2012 to play with the integration of all the pieces. So what is the catch? VMware Workstation 9.0.2 is not free. Another option may be to use Virtual Box but you will need to test that on your own. I have no love for Oracle or the Java Malware Environment so I refuse to use the product even though it may be a great free option.

For the 70-410 exam, I simply have a small lab environment with two VMs running Windows Server 2012 Standard in each flavor: Server Core and Server with a GUI. This has allowed me to work through all of the hands-on activities in books, TechNet articles, and general goofing around. Since VMware Workstation allows you to add in lots of different hardware such as multiple virtual hard disks or network adapters, you can work with Storage Spaces, NIC Teaming and other features requiring additional hardware components. For the 411 and 412 exams, you will get into more complex scenarios requiring a number of VMs and virtual networks. I’d a little ways out from that scenario, but I’ll let everyone know what I’m doing when I get there. This is one of the reasons I put together the rig above.

So what are your options is you can’t put together the system above and/or have limited resources? Here’s a list of some options for you to check out. Some have limitations but all of them will give you hands-on experience that is helpful for exam prep.

·         Windows Azure: You can sign up for a free trial of Windows Azure and build out some VMs there. Microsoft Evangelist Keith Mayer wrote a great blog post on building a lab environment on Azure. He also has a ton of other great posts. Check out his blog here.

·         TechNet Virtual Labs: While limited in lab areas for Windows Server 2012, it is an option to run through the labs at TechNet.

·         Keith Mayer’s Lab Hours:  Keith Mayer host virtual lab hours every Friday afternoon. Check them out here.

·         Windows Server 2012 Early Experts Challenge:  I mentioned this challenge in my last blog post on born to learn. The resources can be found here.

·         Step-By-Step Guides: The step by step guides offer some more complex scenarios and are great for adding on after you have built your foundation of knowledge. Check the resources out here.

My biggest recommendation for lab environments is just build it and play. Whether you are using a white paper, some book, or just the integrated help screens, just start building stuff. Use your imagination and learn what Windows Server 2012 has to offer.

Do you have any other lab suggestions? Leave them in the comments below or on the Windows Server Study Group Forums.

Till next time...Mike

Note: I have created an addition blog post that goes along with this so make sure you read "More on Building Your Lab..."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Greetings True Believers,

The #90Days2MCSA challenge is officially started!!!!

Check out My opening blog with next steps to get you on the road to MCSA: Windows Server 2012...

Also, check out the opening blog post by Veronic Sopher of Microsoft Learning. It's full of a lot of great information!

Good Luck!