A catch all category for posts that are neither specific to a Microsoft technology which has its own dedicated category or posts that aren’t based on a Microsoft technology, as rare as those are.

Project Home Lab: Server Build

In case you haven’t gathered, progress on the home lab build has been frankly awful and it’s entirely my fault for putting other things first like sitting and watching TV. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen back in April, I tweeted a picture of the build starting on the 2U Hyper-V server and all of the components I’ve had delivered thus far have been installed. For those of you who don’t, here’s the picture I tweeted.

RM208 Pro Build

Motherboard Installation

Installing the motherboard was a complete pain. The Supermicro X8DTH-6F motherboard has it’s SAS connectors on the very front edge and although this case is designed for extended ATX motherboard installation, it is done so just. To get the motherboard in, I had to pre-attach the SAS cables to the ports on the motherboard and I had to get the board in at some interesting angles to make it fit down. Once installed though, it all looks good. Fortunately for me, the case fans are at the front and the fan guard is at the rear of the fan module otherwise I’d have to come up with an alternative solution for the SAS cabling due to cable to fan death risk. A top tip from me is to install the power supply after the motherboard so that you have the maximum room available to get your board in.

Aside from the issue with SAS connector placement which is frankly, a Supermicro issue, not an X-Case one, the case is brilliant. It’s really solid, sturdy and well built. There are cable guides and pathways in all the right places to route power and SAS cables to the disk backplane. The top lid is secured with a single cross head screw and a locking clip which makes access really easy. The drive caddies slide in and out with ease and look the part too.

This is obviously not finished as you’ll see that none of the power supply cabling is installed, the network card isn’t installed and the cabling that is there looks a bit untidy. The SAS SFF-8087 cables are a bit longer than I would have liked, but I wasn’t able to find cables in lengths shorter than 0.5m from a quality vendor like LSI or Adaptec so I had to go with those as I didn’t want to chance cheap eBay cables in this build melting or the like.

Power Supply Cabling

The power supply cabling supplied with the Seasonic unit is, as always, long enough to cable up any possible combination of case which I think is wrong being that this is a rack mount power supply, the configuration would never look too dissimilar from mine right now. I mocked the installation of the cables and there is so much spare cable to lose in the void between the disk backplane and the fans that I will lose half of my cooling due to blockages. There is also a lot of SATA and PCI-E connectors on the looms which I’m not going to be using adding to the mess.

Seasonic Power Supply ATX Cables

The only connectors I need for this build are the motherboard 24-pin, two 8-pin EPS and four molex to drive the case fans and the disk backplane so there is a lot of excess there for my needs. Because I don’t want to lose that much cooling efficiency and I don’t want to have to lose all of that spare cable in the case and have it looking a mess, I’ve ordered up some heat shrink wrap, cable braiding and replacement ATX connector pins. Once all of these come, I’m going to be modding all of the power supply cabling to the correct length for use and dropping the connectors I don’t need. This is going to make the internals run cooler with the improved airflow and it’s going to look a whole load neater when finished. Yes, it’s going to add some time to the build and two fold for both servers but it will be worth it in the long run if not just for my own perfectionist requirements.

These extras have cost me about £10 per server to order in which is pocket change compared to the price of the rest of the build so shying away from spending this is just compromising. It should all be here in a couple of days and it will probably take me a couple of days to get it all right and how I want but I’ll be sure to post a picture or two once finished. Needless to say, there is going to be more cable left on the cutting room floor then there is going to be installed inside the case. For the 3U storage server there is a slightly different requirement in that I’m going to need six molex, an additional two over the Hyper-V server due to the additional disk capacity but that’s easy enough to sort out.

Changes to the Shopping List

Since the original shopping list, I have made some changes to the builds for technical and budgetary reasons.

All of the memory DIMMs are now PC3-10600R instead of the planned PC3L-10600R. Although these DIMMS are lacking the L denotation for low power, they difference in power draw and heat output is frankly minimal and the extra cost of the L type DIMMs I couldn’t justify. I’ve also increased the memory amount in the Storage Server from 12GB to 24GB so that I can cache more of the hot blocks in memory once I get it all running.

Since I took the picture at the top of the post, I made the decision to build the Hyper-V 2U server with both of it’s CPU sockets populated too. This means that I’ve got three DIMMs populated per CPU to match the channels and I’ve now got a system with two Quad Core Intel L5630 Xeon CPUs installed. I will likely in the future install the additional 6 DIMMs to take me up from 48GB to 96GB memory.

Lastly, the UPS which I stated may well be the APC 1500VA 2U rack mount UPS has indeed been purchased as the APC 1500VA. I had my eyes on a 2000VA but I managed to get the 1500VA for a steal.

Up Next

In the next post, I’ll post the completed builds including all of the cabling that took me so many months to do.

Project Home Lab Hyper-V Server

This is a really quick post but something exciting I wanted to share. Last night, I did a bit of work to help get the home lab up and running and after finishing some bits and pieces, I’ve now got the Hyper-V server up and running with the Windows Server 2012 R2 installation. Here’s a screenshot of Task Manager showing the memory and CPU sockets and cores available on the machine.

Lab Hyper-V Server Task Manager

As you can see, there are two CPU sockets installed with four cores per socket giving me 8 physical cores and 16 virtual cores. There is 24GB of RAM per CPU socket currently installed giving me 48GB of memory and I am using 6 out of 12 available slots so when the time comes that I need more memory, I can double that current number to 96GB or more should I swap out my current 8GB DIMMs for 16GB DIMMs.

I should have some more posts coming up soon as I’m actually (after far too long) reaching the point of starting to put all of this together and building out some System Center and Azure Pack goodness at home, including, finishing off the series introduction where I actually explain all the hardware pieces I’m using.

Friends in the 21st Century

I’m known for liking to have a good old moan about things and I’m also known for being a bit old fashioned in my ways and values despite my age. I don’t normally get involved in talking about that part of me on my blog as I like to keep it technical here but when something overlaps into technology, it’s hard not to get it out there.

When I was growing up, we had friends and friends were people who you went out with and socialised together, people who you’d call on the phone to see how they were doing or how their life was going. Now, in the year 2014, what on earth has happened to the concept of friends? Did the old definition get completely unwritten and nobody told me? I checked the Oxford dictionary and the definition for the noun friend reads as follows:

A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations

The synonyms show you that a friend is someone close to you with words like intimate, confidante, soul mate and brother or sister given and Oxford tells us that the origins of the word friend are Germanic and the meaning ‘to love’.

Just this weekend, I met someone at a party and I spent no more than fifteen minutes sum total time talking to said individual. I didn’t dislike him at all so there’s no problems there, but does meeting a stranger at a party and spending net fifteen minutes with them really constitute a friendship these days and how does that effect the things that we should be holding closest and dearest to us?

On Facebook right now, I have 60 friends. All of these people are either family or friends who are actually people that I am some-which-way interested in hearing from or actually care to read what they have to say (although I do wish sometimes that I could unfriend some people for the amount of share this and look at rubbish they post).

I did a straw poll on Twitter earlier today and granted, my follower base isn’t particular large and those who do follow me are going to be biased to me in a like minded sense, but both of the people who responded said the same thing: they only friend with people on Facebook who they actually know so why are a lot of people out there so willing to throw friend invitations on Facebook around like sweets and confetti? Surely a friendship on Facebook should be something reserved for the people who you actually hold in that esteem? Not only does having a mammoth collection of friends clutter your News Feed with information and status updates that you largely are going to ignore and not care about, but you are also exposing yourself to people who you don’t really know. Not that I am trying to victimise her in this post, but my wife has currently, 320 friends on Facebook and whilst she definitely has a wider circle of friends and people she interacts with more people than me, is it really five times greater than mine or is she collecting friends for the sake of it (bearing in mind here that she accepted the friend request from the same person I received an invitation from at the weekend)?

Facebook Contact Privacy Settings

I took a couple of screenshots of my Contact Info page from my Facebook profile earlier today and overlayed them on top of each other so that I can show the whole scene in one picture. As you can see from the picture, my contact information shared with friends and this includes my mobile and home phone number, my home address and although not shown (as it’s further down the page beyond the fold) my email address is also shared with friends.

I know that the protagonist amongst you will say that you can customise this and change who can see your information but that then brings its own questions. Firstly, who actually thinks about what that person might be able to see before accepting the friend request in that the decision to accept or decline for most has probably become a reflex action and secondly, what are the privacy options if you wanted to limit that persons access to your information? I took a look at the privacy options for my phone number and the choices are Friends of Friends, Friends, Only Me or Specific People.

Friends of Friends is just utter lunacy. Why would I want to share my phone number with the friends of my friends when I have no control over who they friend in turn? Friends Only is a logical option and Only Me defeats the purpose of adding the information to your profile in the first place. Specific People is the ideal option if you are a bit of a friend collector or very privacy conscious but who really is going to remember to after accepting that friend request, go and edit the list of people who are allowed or denied to see your information? What’s more, I highly suspect that this isn’t a setting which you can edit from the mobile applications which makes it hard to administer the value too.

Contact information and information about where you live, your email address and other personal data nuggets are important pieces of personal information, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) as the world has come to know it and this information should be protected at all costs, not made available to somebody at the acceptance of a friend request. If the Facebook account of somebody in your friends list was hacked, then your information could become part of the next wave of phishing scam or telephone nuisance.

Aside from the PII though, there is the day to day aspect of do you actually want to see what said individual is posting status messages about or do you want to know what they liked and shared and the answer is most likely probably not, especially if you are already dealing with a high volume of News Feed clutter already. The side of this issue is more personal and the response will vary from person to person according to how much of their lives they want to publicise, but do I want people who I only know in the most lose of senses to know what I am doing and do I want my status updates appearing in their News Feed? If I post a message that I’m having a great day out with my kids because I want to share the fact that I’m having a great time, enjoying a day with my family, how do I know that I only met for fifteen minutes isn’t a professional crook and now armed with knowledge that I am out for the day with my kids and my home address, isn’t going to come and burgle my house for all my prized, hard earned possessions and the blunt answer is that you don’t know these things because the people you friend on Facebook, you probably don’t know enough about them to make that judgement call.

For all my rambling in this post, the crux of the issue for me is that the definition of friends seems to have negatively evolved as social media has made people far more accessible to other people. I think that it is a good thing is many respects as it allows us to connect with people that they care most about in ways that they couldn’t have done previously and people in this category are truly the real friends in life. On the other side though, I also think that there is a high degree of over-sharing that goes on and people, people are making their lives too publicly accessible for the consumption of those that they barely know at all and they aren’t considering the implications of clicking that little blue accept button before they do it which not only means each time you look at Facebook you have to wade through the endless scrolling page of tripe to reach the good stuff and consequentially wasting your own time, you are also exposing yourself and your information to people. If I wouldn’t give somebody I met at a party my phone number, why would I connect with them as a friend on Facebook because they are tantamount to the same thing.

Two Weeks of Dell, VMware and TechEd

It’s been a while since I’ve worked with VMware to any serious nature but for the last two weeks, I’ve been working with a customer to deploy vSphere 5.5 on a new Dell Vrtx chassis. I’ve seen the Dell Vrtx on display at VMUG conferences gone by and it sure is an interesting proposition but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to work with it real world.

All in all, the Dell Vrtx is a really nice system, everything seems to be well planned and thought out.  The web interface for managing the chassis works but it is slow at times to open pages and refresh information, bearable. The remote KVM console to the blades themselves is Java based so results may vary whether it works or not; I really dislike Java based systems and wish more vendors would start to use HTML5 for their interfaces. There is an apparent lack of information on the Dell Website about the Vrtx system. There is a wealth of configuration guides and best practice documents for the Vrtx but all of these seem be so highly pitched that they lack actual technical details. Another issue is the Dell parts catalogue doesn’t really acknowledge the existance of the Vrtx system; I was talking to someone about extending the system with some Fibre Channel HBAs for FC storage connectivity but of all of the FC HBAs for sale on the Dell website, only a single port 4Gbps HBA is listed as supported which I can’t believe for one minute given the PCIe slots in the Vrtx are, well, PCIe slots. Disk performance on the Shared PERC controller is pretty impressive but networking needs to be taken with caution. If you are using the PowerEdge M620 half-height blade, it only exposes two 1GbE Ethernet interfaces to the internal switch plane on the chassis whereas the full height PowerEdge M520 blade exposes four 1GbE Ethernet interfaces and I would have really liked to have seen all four interfaces on the half-height blade, especially when building virtualization solutions with VMware vSphere or Microsoft Windows Server Hyper-V.

I haven’t really worked with VMware too much since vSphere 5.0 and working with vSphere 5.5, not an awful lot has changed. After talking with the customer in question, we opted to deploy the vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA). vCSA in previous releases of vSphere was a bit lacklustre in it’s configuration maximums but in 5.5, this has been addressed and it can now be used as a serious alternative to a Windows Server running vCenter. The OVA virtual appliance is 1.8GB on disk and deploys really quickly, and the setup is fast and simple. vSphere Update Manager (VUM) isn’t supported under Linux or on the vCSA so you do still need to run a Windows Server for VUM but as not everyone opts to deploy VUM, that’s not a big deal really. What I would say to the vCSA though is if you plan to use local authentication and not the VMware SSO service with Active Directory integration then I would still consider the Windows Server. Reason for this being that with the vCSA, you cannot provision and manage new users and password via the vSphere Web Client and instead you have to SSH onto the appliance and manage the users from the VI CLI. With the Windows Server then we can obviously do this with the Users and Groups MMC Console which is much easier if you are of the Microsoft persuasion. If you are using the VMware SSO service and Active Directory integration then this will not be a problem for you though.

Keeping it on the VMware train, I’m looking forward to a day out to the VMware UK User Group Conference VMUG in Coventry in two weeks. I’ve been for the last three years and had a really good and informative day every time I’ve been.

Being so busy on the customer project and with my head buried in VMware, I’ve been really slow on the uptake of TechEd Europe news which bothers me but fear not, thanks to Channel 9, I’ve got a nice list of sessions to watch and enjoy from the comfort of my sofa but with there being so many sessions that I’m interested in, it’s going to take me a fair old chunk of time to plough through them.

SQL Server Maintenance Solution

Earlier this year, I posted about a tool from Brent Ozar called spBlitz and how it gives you amazing insight into configuration problems with your SQL Servers. Well today, I am here to tell you about another great SQL tool available for free online and that is the SQL Server Maintenance Solution by Ola Hallengren, a Swedish database administrator and was awarded a Microsoft MVP this year for the first time.

You can download his tool from and on the site, there is full documentation for all of the features of the tool including the most common configuration examples and its use so you can get up and running really quickly with it.

The SQL Server Maintenance Solution is a .sql file that you download and allow it to install itself as a series of Stored Procedures in your master database. The tool works by invoking its Stored Procedures as SQL Agent Jobs and by default will create a number of these unless you opt not to during the install by changing one of the lines in the .sql file.

I opted to not install the default jobs but to create my own so I could configure how and what I wanted the scripts to do but it really is so simple that no administrator of SQL has any reason to not be performing good routine maintenance. I am using Ola’s scripts to both perform routine DBCC CHECKDB consistency and also to perform index defragmentation on databases which is it’s real power.

The reason Ola’s scripts beat a SQL Maintenance Plan for index defragmentation and the main reason I wanted to use them is that Ola gives us the flexibility to perform different actions according to the level of fragmentation so for example, I could do nothing if fragmentation in an index is below 10%, reorganise an existing index if fragmentation is between 10% and 30% and completely rebuild the index if it is over 30%. Compare this to a SQL Maintenance Plan where your option is reorganise or rebuild regardless of fragmentation level and you can see the advantage.

So now, that’s to the community and Brent and Ola, we can check the configuration of our SQL Servers to make sure they are happy and safe as well as easily configure our daily and weekly checks and maintenance on databases to keep our server and our databases happy and we all know that happy databases means happy software.

In another post coming up soon, I will show you how we can update the configuration of our SCOM Management Pack for SQL Server so that we can receive alerts for failed SQL Server Agent Jobs, allowing us to centralise our knowledge, reporting and alerting for SQL maintenance tasks.

HD Voice and O2 Out in the Cold

HD Voice is the name given to a feature which offers Wideband call quality through your mobile. Mobile networks haven’t exactly been all over this because I suspect of the largely falling call volumes across their networks due to the increasing prevalence of smartphones and apps like Skype and WhatsApp but does that mean they should stop trying?

A couple of weeks’ ago, Vodafone announced that they have been rolling out HD Voice on their network leaving O2 UK as the only network in the UK to not offer this now?

The reason networks had been slow on the uptake of Wideband call quality was previously due to the lack of handset support but gone are those days so there really is no excuse now for the networks but what with O2?

Well Engadget spoke to O2 ( and they have said that they have no plans at all to implement HD Voice.

To me, this is like a kick in the teeth to anyone who actually cares about making phone calls. I know that the anomaly that is picking up the phone to someone gets rarer and rarer as more people use mobile apps to call either other or more commonly, message or chat to each other by other means, but O2’s statement really tells you that they no longer care about calls. O2 obviously seem to only be interested in pushing packets these days so if you like making calls and talking to people, find another network.

Whilst I’ve just slated O2 above, I should point out that no network is perfect. O2 after all have just recently added support for Windows Phone Visual Voicemail, the first network in the UK to do so, however the problem I observed with this is that it only works on phones with an O2 ROM image and my old Lumia 820 from O2 shipped with a carrier unbranded ROM so doesn’t get the feature.

The one thing that I haven’t been able to find out is whether HD Voice works between networks as well as within. Back in 2012, Orange claimed a network of a HD Voice call between countries ( but from the wording of the article, it would seem that this was entirely within their own network. I suspect that it does work inter-network as well as intra-network otherwise it’s really a bit pointless.

If you want to hear the difference between narrowband and wideband HD Voice audio, check out this BBC News article which has a little audio clip comparing the difference at

Welcome to Fordway

So a couple of weeks’ ago, I said that there were some exciting times coming up for me and I figure it’s time to spill some beans if you haven’t seen already through other sources like Twitter or LinkedIn.

Last week, I started my new role as a Consultant for Fordway of Godalming and it’s been a busy week and one day already. Working for Fordway is an exciting role for me because I get to combine two worlds of IT that I enjoy into one place. This is made possible by the fact that Fordway offer both more traditional consultancy IT services to customers as well as operating a managed services cloud environment in which customers can get IaaS (among others) services in a way which is supported under G-Cloud, the UK government framework for government cloud adoption.

To me, the idea of being able to help support and deliver both in-house IT and customer IT services is really exciting and I’m looking forward to working in both of these areas and continuing to do so with products that I know and love like Hyper-V, System Center and more. Whilst I’m on the subject of employers and products, I just want to reiterate the fact that this is my own personal blog and that everything posted here reflects my own views and opinions and not those of my employers, past, present or future.

I look forward to working on new projects for new people and being able to share some of what I get up to with you all as always.

Prometric Microsoft Exam Vouchers

The team at @TechNetUK have just answered probably the most important question to any IT Pro in the Microsoft space out there with a blog post at and that is the subject of exam vouchers.

As you may or may not know, recently, Microsoft announced that Pearson Vue will be taking over the responsibility of managing the testing and certification for Microsoft exams as of September 2014 and the whole thing has left people wondering what will become of any pre-paid exam vouchers they may have.

Any pre-paid exam vouchers that you may have for Prometric and you will want to read the article to understand your dates and deadlines to use the vouchers before they get retired.

If you are in the business of taking Microsoft exams and certifying for Microsoft technologies, you really should be using exam packs and pre-paid vouchers if you haven’t done so previously. With the cost now £99 per exam, you can get a three exam pack with a discount of around 15% and you normally get Second Shot included with the pack which means you get a second chance to take each exam if you fail for any reason in the first instance.

I’ve got an outstanding exam voucher for transitioning my MCSA Windows Server 2012 to MCSE Windows Server 2012 which I really need to find the time and energy to crack on with and pass so that I can move on to bigger and better things so this could just be the inspiration I need to get the job done. Time to put the Tom Clancy novels down and get my study on I think.

Exciting Weeks to Come for Me and the Lab

I haven’t done an off-topic post in a while, but I’m going to keep this one short.

Over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to be some exciting things happening that I’m looking forward to. I’ve got some great ideas about website deployments on Microsoft Azure which I’m trying to compile together into another one of my TechNet Guides to publish and the hardware for my home lab project is finally coming together after much waiting for a couple of critical pieces so I will be able to finish my series of the project. Once the environment is put together, I will be hoping to post a tonne about the things I get deployed in there: System Center, Windows Azure Pack, MDOP and more.

I’ve also got some personal news that I’ll be letting out in a few weeks too.

In the mean time, if there is anything you’ll especially like to see be build or document in my home lab relating to the Microsoft stack, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can fit it into my plans.

Favicon Check and Generation

Favicons are all an all important but often overlooked part of a website design and with the plethora of different devices and browsers about these days, getting it right on every device can be tricky.

I realised that the Favicon for my blog here wasn’t quite up to scratch so I went looking online a few days back and I came across a great resource in Real Favicon Generator at

This site allows you to pump in your site URL and it will check your current Favicon and show you a visual preview of how it looks on the various device and browser platforms, offer recommendations on how to correct potential problems and it also has a tool for generating the icon and associated HTML code to put on your pages if you want to start over.

I ran the checker tool against some of the big name sites online such as Microsoft, Google and Apple and it’s funny how even some of these sites fail to target common device platforms. Take a look for yourself or see how your own site stacks up.