WorkingWithIT Welcomes you into 2013..

January 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Right now I’m imagining the little mice from the film ‘babe’ going ‘3 weeks later’ … but instead of 3 its 5 … and instead of weeks it’s months.

I feel large compunction of how long it has taken for me to update.

First of all I would like to say a big sorry to all the followers of my blog, the last handful of months have been so hectic and time has just slipped away from under my feet! In the last few months a lot of virtual related project work has been going on in our school and there is loads to talk about, I won’t be doing that just in this update, however I will try my best to update at least once a week, this is one of my new year resolutions.

Also I shall be venturing into different topics of IT of which I find interesting, I’m not sure whether or not to put them on the main page or maybe make a separate page for other unrelated topics, hmm I’ll have to have a think about that one! (Where would you like to see any other material? Leave me a comment below).

So Ryan, What have you been doing?

Well first of all, I would like to wish all of WorkingWithIt’s followers and readers a very happy new year!

2013 copy

Nothing says joy and jubilation, like a square with 2013 in red, I hope that you all have had a perfect holiday and an amazing start to the new year.

Intel 910 cards

So to give you a long waited update on what we have been doing around here, the last post was a video of me explaining and showing you an ‘out of box’ experience of the new 910 intel cards, we were all very excited to get them in and working. But there was one problem, the drivers.

We surfed around the internet for many a day trying to find out what we needed in terms of drivers to get these cards working. After many posts of people using the more expensive fusion cards we decided to plug the Intel SSDs in and hope for the best, these cards come with redhat linux drivers all built in, and apparently they are ‘plug and play’.

Once plugged in the hypervisor managed to find them and it took very little configuration to get them working.

So were they worth the money?

Once they were up and running we ran a few tests to figure out whether they really were cracked up to all the hype, during our testing we had to remember that these are cheaper SSD cards, not like the fusions, so we couldn’t imagine that the performance increase would be life changing, however some sort of change would be good, but there was no real change at all.

I know, I know, making those types of statistical accusation really needs to be backed up with evidence, however we moved on from these cards so rapidly before Christmas, the data we had accumulated has long gone, however I will try and get my hands on it, but for now I cannot present these as facts, but merely by my own meandering experience.

We found out that the read and write speeds were faster on the 10k sas drives we have, so when dell eventually release a sas drive that is 15k and 600gb we will just upgrade to them increasing speed even more, so for now there is no need for SSD cards in our virtual setup. However we are keen to keep them obviously and maybe incorporating them into a file server, but HEY that’s another post!.

We want to know in brief, what have you achieved over the last 5 months?

Well I guess the next area to discuss to you guys will be how far we have actually got with the virtual project

We have, ‘thus far’ rolled out the thin clients to 5 different rooms, and we have configured and ‘racked’ 6 servers now all running the Hypervisor, so we have full load balancing and redundancy for all of the rooms. Currently we have only virtualised our vlan1 because we need a whole new Xen Server for our vlan 2 and that means more servers and money which we just don’t have BUT it shall be done eventually!

We have also figured out a way to make sure the content filtering works on Vdiab, this was a big step to overcome, let me ‘tattle the tale’ to you;

Here in London, every school has content filtering, this content filtering can apply to the user who logs in or the IP address of the machine, we have always applied it to the IP ranges so that we can achieve ‘blanket’ filtering. However, when we started to create personal desktops on the virtual environment this proved to be a problem, we placed a reservation for the personal desktop and applied the filtering to the IP, the filtering worked no problem.

At this point you’re probably thinking, ‘well that’s okay the personal desktop has a reserved IP’. Ahh but, the whole nature of the virtual world is to destroy and rebuild machines when needed, of course these personal machines wont be refreshed in the same way as pooled desktops but would be refreshed eventually. Therefore when we needed to open up the Master Image and do an update, and then refresh the personal desktops, it changed the MAC address, thus deeming the reservation useless, and the filtering pointless.

So we toyed with the idea of having a large spreadsheet of all the MAC addresses and changing them one by one when we needed to do an update, and rapidly dismissed that idea. Then we stumbled upon this gem.

MACscreenshot

This allows you to add a MAC range into your VDIAB so that all of your VM’s that are created post this change (and your current VM’s when they are refreshed) will be given a mac address in the range you specify.

Obviously you have to specify how many MACS you will need, once done the crucial part is that personal desktops do NOT lose their MACS under this method, so hey presto! We have got our answer for webfiltering.

And that is about it as far as I can remember, however this post is more of an update and a ‘I’m still here’ post, to kick start my blog again, and like I said I will be posting on a more regular basis, with hopefully some more interesting content.

Once again, happy new year!

Ryan

WorkingWithIT Goes ”YouTube”.

August 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well after a handful of people asking about the ‘SSD Intel 910’ cards, I thought that it would be worth doing a short video just showing them off, hopefully it will give people a general idea about them.

!!Remember!!

You can use http://www.workingwithit.co.uk to access this blog.

Tribulation when working with IT

August 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Well first of all I apologise for taking my time to update, I am hoping that I haven’t lost all of my readers of which took an interest in the early days…

Hopefully my following explanation won’t be hard to elucidate.

Schools, out for summer!

I work in a secondary school in west(ish) London and school holidays are here. I can hear the laughing amongst the pitter patter of feet as the students and teachers vacate, the blissful silence of an empty school. However, for us IT, its not a holiday.

As anyone reading this will know, holiday time is the only time you can take down a network to make fundamental changes, also we had the small task of changing every single IP in the building from 172. to 10. this included all printers, switches, routers, computers.. well everything. Luckily we aren’t on IP phones, so that will make it a little easier.

A little run down of what we did.

So where the hell would you start when you have to alter the whole network’s IP range, it’s like a game of Jenga, if you pull the wrong piece out first you will make the whole thing collapse. That in mind our plan was to start with the Domain Controllers along side the Backup Domain Controller, changing a single computer from the old IP to the new accordingly, to access the servers. Subsequently we changed the rest of the servers, again assigning a static IP to a dedicated computer to access under the previous 172. to change it to 10.

Now it was on to change the DHCP and set up the reservations after that. The switches, copiers, macs e.t.c were next to be changed…Computers would update themselves because of being on DHCP with a good reboot, futhermore the software needed to be looked at, if it didn’t point to a DNS resolution but an IP needed to be changed.
After a week we had everything done! Team of 3 … a BIG secondary school in London, over 500 machines, 30 switches and many other devices… that has to be good!

Time to get tidy!

Another job over this summer break was to tidy up the Switch cabinets, this isn’t really that important to show, nevertheless I am particularly impressed with the end result and wish to show the world!

I don’t have a before shot which is a pain, however anyone that knows anything about networking will know the state of some network cabinets, ours was no exception.

So to the left is a picture of the cabinet of which I slaved over for 2 and a half days! It even has colour!

Orange = Wifi

Blue = Phones

Green = Student Computers

Yellow = Staff Computers

I must say, I was rather happy with myself.

So what the hell has happened to the Virtual Project?

Well as you can all imagine the virtual project had to take a back seat, however we have made a few steps forward!!

I left the last post with a final comment of we have installed VMWare’s version of the Hypervisor and we were looking at Fusion cards… well that worked out far to expensive…  therefore we have decided to go with Citrix VDI in a box.

If you havn’t read my previous posts… Please scroll down and have a read, they are rather amusing and hopefully interesting!

I’m not going to go into detail about what we have done previously, and how many Uturns we had to make as that is outlined in the previous posts.

We wanted to include SSDs into our servers that would be running the Citrix Xen desktop, because the speed is mind blowing! And when you have over 200 virtual machines that need to be able to start the likes of Photoshop and Macromedia at the same time, you need some damn good speed! The only problm was the Fusion cards were so expensive… However we found one that wasn’t…

Intel 910 SSD

Perfect, an SSD that boasts speed, size and low cost! Okay they aren’t as ‘good’ as the fusion cards, the IOPS are alot lower, but when you have limited money, this is perfect!

When they arrived they came with both half height and full height brackets which was a nice touch, so we pulled our server out and installed them!

Of course… drivers… NO WORRIES, Intel boasts full Linux support, so we skipped over to the Intel website and downloaded their Linux drivers … for Redhat.. And what does Xen Server sit on… Cent OS.

Ah… and being a new SSD there aren’t many posts on forums about how to install them on VDI… so thats pretty much where we stopped.

Why XenServer, is it not expensive?

Keeping the virtual theme for the end of this post, you may ask why did we go with XenServer in the end, whilst most of this is outlined in my previous posts, I will explain one major point that grabbed us by the manlies and said. ‘USE ME!’

ITS FREE, I know there is a paid version of it, however when you are using Viab (VDI In a box) which is a ‘bundled’ version of citrix from lack of a better term, Viab already has alot of the features of which XenSever avowals.. Therefore isnt really needed! Just my opinion, may not be others!
Oh and for reference..

VDI In a Box Download Page 

Xen Server Download Page

Another day..

So that’s where we stand today… We have the network moved over to the new IP range, and the virtual project is nearly there. We know we are going to use Citrix also we have our ‘thin’ client ready to roll. We just need support for these cards and a little bit of money and we will can start to implement the system.

Oh and please head down to the new page I created titled ‘All About Me’ to see a lovely picture of me, and a little information on well… Me! (Is that too many ‘me’s’ … probably not).

Thanks for reading!!

The Journey, Has only just begun!

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

How did we get where we are?

Okay so I have described our thought process on why we want to go down the virtual route in the previous post, as ever, if you haven’t read it… read it!.

We have got a thin version of XP running on our ‘thin’ clients, we did experiment with many different operating systems, one of which was Tinycore Linux, this OS seemed like we ‘played’ with it for years!

This operating was really nice, it gave a lovely interface and you could change the splash screen on boot. However it didn’t, at that time, offer support for the Citrix client, so we were trying to go through RDP, I know I know leave me alone it was at the start of the project!

Of course we hit issues such as USB not appearing, which would be a huge problem because of teacher whiteboards, so after a long time of trying to get it to work, we ‘gave up’ on that OS, which was a little heart breaking because the amount of time we spent on getting it right with Linux code.

Onward and Upward!

Regardless of our previous set back with the operating system, we put our heads together and thought about what other operating system we could use, now you must know that we didn’t want a ‘slim’ version of windows 7 because in our eyes, that’s just a windows 7 box booting a windows 7 virtual client, whats the point?

After a long month ponder and research, we came across ‘performance addition XP’ I cant remember or have any reference to the download URL, but if i find it ill post it.

Now this seemed like a good route to take, a very slimmed down version of windows XP, with near enough no programs. But, we would have to use a chain of scripts to ‘lock it down’, this wasn’t the hard part, the hard part, believe it or not, was getting IE to work correctly.

You may, or may not have seen over the citrix forums a few posts on the ‘Viab’ section, that there is a slight issue with an open box for the .ica file, upon log on. This is a problem we STILL haven’t found a work around, and we have Andrew Morgan (creator and developer of ThinKiosk) and a engineer at Citrix working on this problem personally!

Anyway disregarding that ‘minor’ issue we moved on, and stumbled upon ThinKiosk, which made our lives so much easier!

Perfect!

Remember read my previous post for information on Andrew Morgan’s ThinKiosk!

Hypervisors and all that lark!

So now we have our Thin (Fat) client pretty much 100%, minus some annoying IE issues, of which I’m closing my eyes and repeating chanting ”go away, go away, go away, go away” as I rock in the corner of the server room.

We now had to think about hypervisors, which one was going to give us the right functionality without limitations?

The first Hypervisor we tried was Citrix XenCenter, this was pretty damn good to be honest, it was easy to use, and displays a comprehensive range of different features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture was taken from the citrix website http://community.citrix.com/display/xs/XenCenter I’m hoping that the picture gets bigger when you click it! Oh also, check that link out it gives all of the features that XenCenter offer!

As you can (hopefully) see from the picture, it allows you to create different machines, and group them together. It also gives you a console which is perfect for managing the master images from that window. There are many different features of this software I very much suggest you take a look at the link above!

I digress, the software platform was lovely… however, we started to speak to many different individuals about virtualisation, and they stuck a bee in the bonnet… or a spanner in the works, or something of that effect, and exclaimed that ‘the key to virtualisation is not to stick to one vendor, but to pick the best of all of them, and Vmware’s Vsphere, was the way to go apparently.

So not wanting to miss out, we decided…On to that one!

We installed it on our server, it is a ‘bare metal’ install, and does not need to sit on a Windows R2 or similar.

Installation was very brisk, and configuration was next to none! Type your network information in, and your away!

Once the client side was downloaded, the management console was very nice indeed it did exactly what we wanted, and the features were astounding, we could bring up graphs, and charts, change the fan speeds, view the fan speeds… the list was endless!

A clear winner over the citrix version, so we have found a free trial that we can fully test and roll out in a trial environment and test it to its full potential… WRONG.

We quickly came across a problem, ill paste a FAQ and it should explain why there was a problem…

How much vRAM does a VMware vSphere Hypervisor license provide?
vSphere Hypervisor license provides a vRAM entitlement of 32GB per server, regardless of the number of physical processors. vSphere Hypervisor can be used on servers with maximum physical RAM capacity of 32GB

Now considering ours have a beautiful 98GB of ram, this was a massive set back, how could we set this up as a realistic trial if we couldn’t use the server to its full potential?

After a lot of pondering, and hair pulling we thought we would still go with it, well that was until we saw SSDs, our mouths watered, they were so much faster… so much more reliable and well just prettier! But… no drivers for the VMWares Vsphere…

UNINSTALL!

Information on Vmwares Vsphere, couldn’t get a good picture, sucks right! http://www.vmware.com/products/vsphere-hypervisor/overview.html

The Final Hurdle, or so we thought.

HyperV! That is the answer, all we have to do is install HyperV and all our problems would be solved!

So we started to do research on HyperV, and we were told that we needed to install a Server 2008 for HyperV to sit on top of, this is not what we wanted, we want a ‘bare metal’ install, we wanted the hypervisor to sit on its own, also with a 2008 server we would need a license and that is adding to the cost. Not happy.

But don’t fret, there is a stand alone version ( That can be found here http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/hyper-v-server/ ), so we installed it, and to be honest when it installs it looks like a server is installing, takes a lot longer than most HyperV’s and when fully installed it gives you a HyperV dos box, of which you can ‘exit’ out of to a normal CMD, and use all of the normal windows commands, very strange, but worth having a play with… due to not needing a license… ANYWAY!

Once installed we got an error straight away painfully screaming ‘No network adapter found’ … Excuse me? So I trundled around the back of the server and checked the lead, all in, checked the Cisco backbone we were connected too, all configured correctly, all lights flashing…

I think this picture is appropriate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So on to Google to search the web for anyone that has come across the same issue, and I found multiple posts on how to fix the issue, and apparently it was just a driver issue!

I had a webpage on this, but can I find it… NO … so I’ll post it up when I’m at work and its on my history!

Once the network drives were installed for our server, we could connect the client to the HyperV, Brilliant.

Once logged into the client side, it became rapidly apparent that this would be extremely basic, no graphs, no temps… No pretty little graphics!!!

But biting tongues we just thought, power through, it would be worth it in the end… How much would we use this window anyway?

Then i fumbled across this post http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10things/10-things-you-should-know-about-hyper-v/431 , which outlines the problems with HyperV.

We all took a deep breath and carried on, it was worth it, it would run our SSDs…

Then we found out that it doesn’t support CAG (Citrix Access Gateway), this was a HUGE problem.

Citrix Viab + No CAG = PROBLEM!

The U Turn

So we have learned that we can’t use HyperV and that Citrix XenCenter is no where near as good, in our opinion, as Vmware’s Vsphere, so we would just wait for the SSD Cards to come out with the driver support…

And U Turn back to Vmware Vsphere, so currently we have it installed, waiting for our next step!

The Silver Lining

FUSION!

What a name…

Apparently Fusion SSD have drivers for Vmware Vsphere…

Maybe my next blog will outline more on this, you’ll have to come back and see…

Thanks for reading!

To Go Virtual or Not To Go Virtual…

June 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Okay!

First of all the look and feel of my blog has changed, the previous theme got boring very quickly, I will try to keep this one longer! …

Now down to business!

I thought that it would be important for my first post to be about the virtual project that we are currently implementing into our systems at my place of work, if you don’t know where I work then scroll down and read my ‘welcome’ post, don’t let me down, read all the posts!    I think there is a ‘meme’ reference in that last sentence somewhere!

Why Virtual?

So why would we look to go virtual, how will this help us in a West London secondary school?

Well the first major improvement to the way IT will be ran is the way you can simply manage all of the VMs (Virtual Machines) through the management interface;

Just Imagine!

Fellow educational IT Employees, I assume that any software that you need to be on certain computers would just be included with your initial image… correct?

So if a member of staff approaches you and asks for ‘that piece of additional software that is ever so important to be put on all of the teacher machines right away….’ You have one of three choices.

  1. Go around each computer individually, planning down time, and installing the software manually ‘one by one’. Yeah RIGHT!
  2. Create a brand new image (maybe more than one if there are different machine makes), back up all local data and plan downtime to re-image the machines.
  3. Stick two fingers up and go to the pub! (My personal favorite!)

Now imagine you’re running a virtual system… All the teachers are on a windows  7 Virtual Computer… To install the new software (assuming you’re not using xenapp or something similar which makes it EVEN easier!

  1. You open up the ‘image’ of the machine of which the teachers are using (this does not interrupt any users), install the software, and at a scheduled point of which you decide, the current VMs will be ‘destroyed’ and the new VMs with the new software will be available to log in to. This can all be done from the comfort of your own desk, furthermore with a little bit of planning no users will be disturbed. Just schedule the new image to replace the old, over night, and BLAM the software is on the selected machines, like magic!

So from our point of view it is going to be a dream, but what will the teachers and other members of staff get out of this expensive virtual project, because as much as I would love to try and sell it as ‘Come on, it will make our lives easier!’, I don’t think they would buy that!

What can the users expect?

The main question that the staff will chant will be ‘How will it benefit us?’, well simply the speed of the computers will greatly increase, booting into a virtual windows, on average will take just over 30 seconds, this is because we can run high spec ‘virtual hardware’ on older machines. Let me give you a ‘for instance’.

Mrs Blogs over in science has had her HP machine or 4 years, unfortunately (fortunately??) she has never complained to any senior members so she has been stuck with it for a long time. It isn’t running a dual processor, and its on 1GB of ram, its been dragged into running windows 7, not ideal but with the budget restraints, the school cant afford a new one. Suddernly this old machine, is turned into a ‘thin’ client (Okay, okay its a fat client but who is being picky eh?), it is now running a ‘performance addition’ XP, booting a kiosk mode. 1GB of ram will make that small process FLY! … then she logs into a 2GB dual Core windows 7 machine… She is over the moon! See what I’m getting at?

Also as you can re-use the machines, so say good bye to huge refresh costs… but that’s a point ill touch upon in another post. But one to have in the back of your minds!

Another great advantage is one that has been mentioned above, software!

Now we all know that any member of staff in any organization wants their task to be done before anyone else, they are priority, which is okay because us computer engineers don’t do any important work and can drop everything just for YOU…. *rollseyes*

Anyway, with virtualisation, as mentioned above, software can be rolled out quicker, more effectively and with little if any, disruption to the user. The engineers are happy because they can roll it out far quicker and easier, and the staff member gets to have it the day after, in most cases, rather than in a week compared to previous methods … everyone’s a winner!

Thin client of Fat client?

Okay so we have covered why it would be a good idea, now I want to talk about Thin Clients or Fat Clients.

This decision really comes down to money, sit back and think about what type of company or establishment you would be implementing this virtual solution into?

For the Business with money to spend!

Okay so lets say that you have money to spend on your virtual project, you’re not a school that is looking to save money, you’re just looking to implement a faster more efficient system. If this is you I would very much ‘push’ you towards thin clients. Now I don’t have much experience with thin clients but I have seen one company ‘demo’ them, and that’s http://www.10zig.com/ Their products do seem robust, silent and good value, if you have the money to spend, But i must stress that I not bought any of these boxes and I cannot be 100% about how good they are.

Now I think these boxes range from £150 each onwards, and then there is a licensing fee for the kiosk software per machine. I need someone to clarify this in the comments, someone with experience with the machine costs!.

-Edit-

I have been pointed to some information that was originally posted on a website called EduGeek (A very interesting forum, I strongly recommend you all sign up!)

This information was posted by a ‘James’, and ironically it was at his school i saw these thin clients!

The latest figures we have had (based around 30 VDI seats) were around-

£178/thin client (10zig with 3 yr warranty)
So lets say that the cost would be around £200 per machine, including their thin client software. For a company of which have money to spend this may be a tempting offer, however for a school, such as ourselves and most of my readers I would assume. This is near the cost of an ‘actual’ computer, and when you take in to consideration the horrendous costs of the virtual software this simply isn’t going to work!

So you’re looking for a cheaper solution?

So if the above scenario just isn’t you, you may be thinking its time to give up.Well stop right there!

What if i said to you, you could have a fat client, booting a citrix kiosk for free.

As long as you have Microsoft licensing of course, but I’m sure you all do!

Okay hear me out (Read me out?) … before you close the browser and chuckle your way to another ‘less crazy’ blog.

So around your school you have many old computers, ready for the skip… well lets give them a new ‘warp’ of life. As mentioned above all you have to do is create a ‘thin’ XP, or a ‘performance addition’. The following link will give you information on Windows 7 Thin OS Click Here

Additional information on Windows Thin HERE

If you wish to build the image yourself, simply strip the XP down to the ‘bare metal’. You don’t need anything at all on this machine, open up programs and get rid of features such as the calculator, Paint and solitaire! Once everything has been removed. You have your thin/fat client, take an image and you’re ready to roll it to other machines of the same make.

”Okay smart arse, how are we going to create a kiosk mode and boot to a citrix VDI-In-A-Box?’ Well assuming you have already set up VDI-In-A-Box, or similar you can use this brilliant tool that we have come across. Its called “ThinKiosk” (http://andrewmorgan.ie/thinkiosk/)

Check this guy out, he has created a extremely simple to use, thin kiosk to connect with citrix virtual solutions, such as VDI-In-A-Box. No need to PXE booting to expensive software to connect, no need to use script after script after script. This software is completely FREE and open source! Also he is extremely active, so this software is constantly updating and being patched, and for free software rare.

So lets recap on the costs.

Thin/Fat client – £0

Operating System – £0

Thin Kiosk Software – £0

TOTAL – £0

Now i don’t know about you, but that looks like a pretty damn good total costing to me!

To conclude

Going virtual can be an amazing idea for every company or organization, and it may not be as expensive as you think! Obviously license costs are quite high with any virtual system you take an interest in, but you can recoup these expenses because the hardware will never have to be replaced, unless it fails of course, but upgrades can all be done virtually. Also equipment refreshes will save a huge amount of money, the first refresh may be ‘cheaper’ than the virtual system, but when that second ones comes around, and you don’t need to spend a penny, you are starting to recoup the costs very nicely indeed!

Thanks for reading!

I hope this post has been useful and insightful, if you would like me ‘touch upon’ any other software or hardware then please drop me an email. Email address is over on the ‘contact me’ page.

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