Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 4


Today I’m going to highlight a few features that all revolve around Hyper-V. They are:

– Live Migration
– VM Import
– Hyper-V Replica

Live Migration

If you’ve been working in virtualized environments for any period of time, you’ll likely agree the migrating a VM from one host to another used to be a tedious task to undertake. Typically the VM would have to be shut down, all of the associated files moved, make sure the hypervisor manager reflects the move, and then started up again. If it was a big VM (filesize), and you weren’t running 10GbE yet, well then it took even longer.

While being able to perform live migrations isn’t new, the approach Windows Server 2008 R2 took required a fairly beefy infrastructure. With Server 2012, Live Migration is now possible if the VM is stored on a shared folder on your network, or without using any shared storage whatsoever. I won’t bore you with the process Hyper-V uses to move a VM without using shared storage, but if you’re like me, feel free to look it up in Microsoft’s “Introducing Windows Server 2012” book. The implementation is very, very smart.

Anyway, the improvements to Live Migration are a huge improvement for small businesses that can’t afford (or don’t need) a storage area network (SAN), or have two standalone Hyper-V hosts.

VM Import

During the VM import process, Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 now checks for possible configuration problems, and resolves them automatically if it can. A big time and headache saver. You also don’t need to export a VM from the original host either; you can simply copy the files over to the new host, and then start the import process. Another time saver.

Hyper-V Replica

It’s not likely your small business can afford a full-blown VM backup and restore solution, or an entire set of servers solely for business continuity purposes. Hyper-V Replica can help solve this issue, by providing you with the ability to replicate VMs across a WAN (or Internet connection) periodically, and asynchronously. It doesn’t require shared storage, and it works in clustered and nonclustered environments.

I see small businesses using this to replicate their mission-critical VMs to a hosting provider, ensuring those services are still available in case something happens to the on-premise servers. You can obtain Windows Server 2012 VMs from a hosting provider for under $150 per month, and that’s a small price to pay to make sure your business can keep running in case of a disaster.

Thanks for reading! That’s all the information I wanted to share with you today. We are half way through the series, so keep checking back for more ways Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Hyde Park Was a Quaint Village


I recently read a story in the London Free Press about how the citizens and businesses of Hyde Park are disappointed about the “progress” taking place in Hyde Park. And Monday night the city planner’s recommendations were ignored by the planning committee, obliterating the fact that Hyde Park was once a quaint village. My bus used to go through it everyday when I was in high school, and I got that village vibe then.

Councillor Matt Brown, who represents Hyde Park, knows what used to be, and what was supposed to happen. Beyond the massive plaza at the corner of Hyde Park Rd and Fanshawe Park Rd W (Walmart, HomeSense, Canadian Tire, Future Shop, etc.), I felt the space between Sarnia Rd and Seagull Rd was being used reasonably well. A nice mix of housing types have been built including townhouses, a high-rise condo building, and of course single detached homes. That’s all been well and good, fully introducing the concept of being able to live in the same neighbourhood your entire life.

Unfortunately, the rest of the land that was previously set aside for additional residential use has now been re-zoned for commercial use at the behest of Kenmore Homes.

A lot of people like to say, “Well, we need jobs!” Yes, you’re right, we do. But unless this commercial space is mostly turned into offices, these are not going to be the well-paying jobs that most people need and want. Another retail location is simply another barely-more-than-minimum-wage (if that) job that barely keeps the employee above the poverty line. Strong nations and communities are not built on a strong retail sector.

And while Joe Swan may have recently driven through the area and not felt that “quaint village that they talk about,” that’s because he’s about 10 years too late. It did feel like a quaint village at one point, and many things could have been done to keep that feeling. Instead it’s starting to feel like the corner of Dundas St E and Clarke Rd, where residential and commercial collide in the most heinous way possible.

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 3


This is probably the coolest feature I’ve ever seen, in any piece of software.

If you don’t feel the same by time you’re done reading this, then perhaps you’ll agree it’s easily the coolest and easiest way to provide users with remote access to network resources.

DirectAccess was introduced in the last generation of Windows Server and Windows desktop products. So while it isn’t new, it’s been enhanced to make deploying it, and using it, easier. The idea is that anytime a user has an Internet connection, their device will automatically establish a connection to the corporate network as well, giving them remote access to shared folders,
internal websites, applications, etc.

No VPN to manually configure and initiate. Thank goodness for that.

From what I’ve seen, deploying DirectAccess in Windows Server 2008 R2 was a pain. Lots of steps, in and out of the command line on the server and the user’s device(s), and on and on. In Windows Server 2012, it can be done in about 6 steps. Configuring and managing remote access can take place immediately after. And it’s dead easy.

With Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, your server no longer requires multiple network adapters, servers and clients do not have to belong to the same domain, and new policies/domain settings can now be deployed over DirectAccess. This all means that remote workers never have to physically get their device onto the corporate network anymore, making everything easier for all parties.

I’ve worked for several companies where remote access was provided. And each mechanism used either required a great deal of third-party components to make it work, or opened up huge security holes. Not to mention that a lot of hotels, cafes, and other public places don’t allow for VPN connections to be initiated in the first place, so you wouldn’t be able to connect anyway. DirectAccess is much easier to use, and it’s automatic. And if it doesn’t work, the tools provided to users to help the IT troubleshoot what’s happening are superior to anything I’ve seen from any third-party VPN solutions.

The one caveat is that DirectAccess requires IPv6. If your ISP has not deployed IPv6 yet, then you can opt to deploy an appliance that can perform IPv6-to-IPv4 translation.

That concludes the information I wanted to share about DirectAccess. Keep checking back for more ways Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 2


To be honest, I didn’t think I would ever write something praising IIS. I use Apache, though I know alternatives like lighttpd and nginx exist. But Apache is tried, tested, and proven to work. It certainly has its flaws (all software do), but it works well and to my liking.

Upon seeing what IIS 8 is capable of, I must say I’m a bit surprised. Microsoft appears to finally be taking the web seriously, and IIS 8 comes out swinging.

Server Name Indication is a new feature that makes hosting multiple secure (https://) websites on the same server far simpler than I have ever experienced. Traditionally, if you want to secure your website with an SSL certificate for any reason (e.g. you’re running an online store, you want user logins to be secured, etc.), then it was imperative that you also had a dedicated IP address for your website.

For the average small business this introduces additional cost, because the majority of web hosting providers will charge extra for a dedicated IP address. Even if you’re hosting your own website, you will still need to pull an IP address out of your pool for a seemingly trifle reason.

Server Name Indication changes the way IIS responds to a request for your secure website, making it possible to host multiple secure websites on the same IP address. I don’t know if nginx or lighttpd have Server Name Indication support yet, but as far as I know this is one area that would be a boon to any Windows Server 2012/IIS 8-based web hosting provider now.

In IIS 7, CPU throttling was really just an on/off switch. If the CPU limit was reached, IIS would simply stop accepting requests. That’s not really “throttling” now, is it? It’s a kill switch until the average CPU resources being used is below the limit set. Certainly not an ideal “solution.”

Now IIS can be set to use a specific amount of CPU resources, and Windows ensures that the affected application pool doesn’t go over that limit set. You can also set IIS to throttle itself when the system as a whole is under a heavy load, ensuring that IIS doesn’t add to the problem.

One last area I would like to highlight about IIS is Dynamic IP Address Restrictions. This feature can be configured to begin blocking traffic from a specific IP address based on the number of concurrent requests received, or the number of requests received within a certain amount of time. It’s not terrific, but it’s far better than having to watch your logs and trying to identify potentially malicious traffic manually. Similar protection now exists for FTP as well, which is nice to see.

That concludes the information I wanted to pass along about IIS 8. Keep checking back for more information on how Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Windows Server 2012 in your Small Business – Part 1


Windows Server 2012 was released just a few short weeks ago, and from what I’ve seen and read it is a significant improvement over the venerable Windows Server 2008 R2. While deploying Windows Server 2012 in a small business environment may seem like overkill, I have reason to believe it’s actually a very smart decision for a number of reasons. Those include:

  • A free hypervisor (Hyper-V)
  • Streamlined management tools
  • Increased flexibility
  • Better support for standards
  • Better remote worker support

And the list goes on. The balance of improvements done to the interface and the underlying code are almost 50/50, which will no doubt be a boon to any system administrator, especially those that administer multiple businesses or locations.

We’re going to start by covering Hyper-V, and how it can be used in a small business.

The easiest and most effective way to deploy Hyper-V would be to deploy the standalone Hyper-V Server 2012 onto a high-powered server. Hyper-V Server is not a full OS; it is solely the Hyper-V hypervisor deployed in a mode that does not require the full Windows Server running underneath it, meaning it is a bare-metal hypervisor. This has several advantages, but primarily it frees up a good deal of resources for the virtual machines (VMs) that are going to be deployed on the server.

Hyper-V itself has been improved with support for up to 160 logical processors and 2 TB of physical memory per host system, where VMs can be provisioned with up to 32 virtual processors and 1 TB of RAM. That’s a big step up for Hyper-V where it has traditionally trailed behind VMware’s ESXi hypervisor.

Hyper-V’s virtual switch in Windows Server 2012 has been enhanced with a great deal more flexibility. It can now be used for traffic shaping, protection against malicious/malware-infected VMs, and to make troubleshooting easier. The virtual switch also provides third parties developers with the necessary extensions and APIs so that they can add functionality into the virtual switch, negating the need for additional hardware.

My favourite part about Hyper-V Server 2012 is that it’s free. And you can put non-Windows VMs on it including Linux. So if you’re not a fan of IIS for hosting websites, or you just cannot part with that last FreeBSD server lying in the corner, have heart! You can move these machines to your Hyper-V Server as a VM and keep them running, without the added expense and infrastructure of having another physical box in the wiring closet/server room.

I’ll be covering off more aspects of how Windows Server 2012 can be used in a small business over the next little while. I hope you find this information useful.