WindowsNetworking.com Monthly Newsletter - July 2012 Sponsored by: Kemp Technologies

Welcome to the WindowsNetworking.com newsletter by Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MVP. Each month we will bring you interesting and helpful information on the world of Windows Networking. We want to know what all *you* are interested in hearing about. Please send your suggestions for future newsletter content to: dshinder@windowsnetworking.com

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1. SMB 3 and Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V File Based Storage

One of the most interesting new features that’s included in Windows Server 2012 is the ability to host VHD (or VHDX) files in a Windows Server File Share. With this feature, you can create a compute cluster that is running the Hyper-V role and a separate storage cluster that is running the file server role with the new capabilities that are part of the “scale out file server” feature that enables you to host continuously available file shares that storage VHD/VHDX and SQL server databases.

Now, this is normally not an easy thing to accomplish. Virtual machines and databases don’t have much patience for jittery networks or time outs. They can’t even wait for a TCP timeout, which is about 20 seconds. A single “blip” in the connection is going to cause the virtual machine to crash or the database to disconnect or be corrupted.

There are a number of miraculous new technologies that enable us to host the VHD/VHDX files on a file server cluster, but the key enabler for this scenario is the new SMB 3.0 protocol, which is available in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.

First, let’s take a quick look at some of the new features included in the SMB 3.0 protocol:

SMB Transparent Failover: When an SMB client connects to a file share on a failover cluster, the connection will always stay alive even if the server to which it was connected goes offline. You don’t need to do anything; it fails over transparently and the client application never knows the difference.

SMB Multichannel: This feature provides both fault tolerance and increased performance for SMB connections. If the client or server has 3 10Gbps NICs installed, all three of those can be used to enable throughput of 30Gbps! If one or two of the NICs dies, the connection will continue on the remaining NIC(s). Again, this is all transparent and you don’t have to do anything to enable the increased throughput or failover. Keep in mind that this works only for SMB connections. For other protocols, you’ll need to take advantage of the in-box support for NIC Teaming.

SMB Direct: Sometimes known as Remote Direct Memory Access or RDMA, this feature allows you to offload processing for network connections from the main CPU to the NIC itself. Of course, your NIC will have to support RDMA for this to work. This enables you to increase the number of virtual machines you can run on a server because of the increased CPU time available to the VM workloads.

SMB Scale-Out: This is a new feature that works with Cluster Shared Volumes 2 included with Windows Server 2012. The new scale out feature allows you to create shares on the CSV volumes that are available to all servers in the cluster. If all machines in the cluster are connected to the storage, all of them will have access to the storage directly and clients can connect to any machine in the cluster to access the data. There is also support for what are called “asymmetric clusters,” whereby some of the machines are connected to the storage and others are not. In this scenario, you can still spread the connections across all the cluster nodes – but connections to the shared storage through servers not directly connected to the cluster will be redirected to a machine that is well-connected.

VSS for SMB File Shares: This enables you to take advantage of VSS when backing up remote file shares, which is especially useful for applications such as Hyper-V when you choose to host the storage for the VM on a remote file share.

SMB Encryption: That’s right! You can choose to encrypt all SMB connections over the wire. How do you do this? You use a simple checkbox and it just works. There is very little overhead for this encryption and it’s a great way to encrypt SMB over the network without needing to use IPsec.

SMB Performance Counters: If you’ve used PerfMon in the past, you know that there are a ton of useful storage counters from your current block storage solution. Well, if we want to make SMB share based storage a first class citizen, we need to have robust counters for that as well. And with Windows Server 2012 we do! There are counters for IOPS, queue depth, latency, throughput and more!

SMB Performance: Tom was at TechEd Orlando and Amsterdam last month and he told me about an amazing thing he saw at both events. There was a booth that was showing off some cool new “cluster in a box” offerings and they were doing some performance tests on those machines. Would you believe that they were able to pump data over the wire at almost 16 Giga BYTES per second over SMB? That’s right – GIGABYTES. That’s almost four DVDs per second, 240 DVDs per hour, or 5760 DVDs per day or 2,102,400 DVDs per year! Wow! And that was just one two-node file server cluster. Imagine what you could do in a hosted cloud datacenter.

As you can see, these are all critical features that provide the capabilities to host the VHD/VHDX files on a file share cluster. What’s even more amazing is that you can host the VHD/VHDX files for virtualized SQL Servers – something that I never would have thought possible in the past, and indeed, it was not possible.

I think this is going to be a really attractive option for those folks who want to host a private cloud or just a highly virtualized infrastructure. There are a lot of complications when you try to scale your compute and storage together, and with the consolidation of the infrastructure into a smaller and smaller space, those PCI slots are getting awfully hard to find! If you scale the compute and storage separately, you now have far more options and can customize your virtual infrastructure exactly the way you want.

Give it a try! First, if you want to learn more about taking server application storage to file shares, check out the blog post at http://blogs.technet.com/b/windowsserver/archive/2012/03/15/windows-server-8-taking-server-application-storage-to-windows-file-shares.aspx They go into more detail about how the SMB protocol works and describe how you can set up a continuously available cluster using SMB 3 and the new Windows Server 2012 file server capabilities.

Follow up from last month’s editor’s corner:

I wanted to update you on some information I provided in last month’s newsletter. Regarding Windows Server 2012, I said that the host operating system supported 2 TB of memory and up to 160 logical processors and that virtual machines supported up to 32 logical processors. Well, while those numbers were accurate at the time, there have been some changes that were announced at TechEd in June:

  • The host operating system now supports up to 4 Terabytes of memory.
  • The host operating system now supports up to 320 logical processors (assuming that Hyperthreading is enabled on the server).
  • The guest operating system now supports up to 64 logical processors (assuming that Hyper-threading is enabled on the guest and host server).

Those are some pretty amazing numbers and really show that Windows Server 2012 is ready to service your needs for scalability in a private cloud, public cloud, hosted cloud, or even a traditional datacenter when you want to squeeze out every ounce of power that you can from the operating systems you use to drive the business.

dshinder@windowsnetworking.com

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3. WindowsNetworking.com Articles of Interest

4. Administrator KB Tip of the Month

Preventing Users from Using XP Mode

If you are deploying Windows 7 Enterprise but don't want users to be able to install and use Windows XP Mode on their computers, you can do one of the following to block this:

  • Make the users Standard Users instead of local admins on their computers so they won't be able to install programs on them.
  • Use AppLocker to create a Deny rule for the Windows Virtual PC executable (vmwindows.exe).
  • Use the Compatibility Administrator in the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to create a custom APPHELP HARDBLOCK to prevent XP Mode from installing.
  • Disable hardware virtualization on users' computers and lock the BIOS on their computers with a password, then block access to sites where they can download the hardware-assisted virtualization emulation hotfix.

For more great admin tips, check out http://www.windowsnetworking.com/kbase/

5. Windows Networking Tip of the Month

Windows Server 2012 is one of the biggest and most comprehensive updates to Windows Server since Windows 2000 Server. There are a mind boggling number of new features and capabilities included in the latest version of the Windows Server. You’ll want to learn about all the new things you can do with Windows Server 2012, but where to start? If you’re like me, you like to start with the easy part and then work your way up to the harder stuff. What better way to start than by taking some free online courses on Windows Server 2012 provided to you by Microsoft? The Microsoft Virtual Academy provides a number of new courses to get you up to speed on the new virtualization technologies provide by Microsoft and there is also a new group of courses focused on Windows Server. Check out Windows Server 2012: First Look. It’s a five part course and provides a very nice introduction to what you’ll want to know about Windows Server 2012.

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6. Windows Networking Links of the Month

7. Ask Sgt. Deb

QUESTION:

Hey Deb,

I just read your WindowNetworking.com newsletter and found the info on Windows 2012 and 2016 quite interesting. I work for a company that provides IT services to a number of companies all owned by the same parent company. My boss wants us to become the private cloud provider for these companies. I am hoping you could recommend some resources that would put us on the path towards accomplishing this. Any thoughts or direction you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Tim G.

ANSWER:

Hi Tim,

As you might know, private cloud is much more than a virtualized datacenter or server consolidation. Private cloud is a cloud service that is dedicated to a single organization. If you want to provide a hosted private cloud, you need to be able to dedicate resources to a single organization; otherwise it might be considered a public cloud. That isn't saying that public cloud is bad, it’s just not a private cloud. The key point is that a cloud is a cloud is a cloud – the terms "public" and "private" just address whether the infrastructure is shared by multiple organizations or dedicated to particular organizations.

As a provider, I'd say that you’re probably in a better position to provide a hosted IaaS service. Infrastructure as a Service enables you to provide core compute, networking and storage capabilities to users of your service, where you will essentially be providing a hosting environment for stateful workloads that are hosted by virtual machines owned by your customers. However, you'll probably want to take advantage of the cost efficiencies you get with sharing pooled resources among multiple customers. Thus you would be providing a "hosted cloud" service instead of a hosted private cloud.

Creating a cloud infrastructure that fulfills the five essential characteristics of cloud computing is not a trivial endeavor and requires that you have a high level of sophistication in multiple areas – and a high level of service management maturity is definitely a must. The best place to start is to get a good and comprehensive grounding in private cloud architectural principles, concepts and patterns. This will provide you with a product agnostic view of what you need to consider when putting together your design for your private cloud and make you aware of the key decisions and tradeoffs you need to make when choosing how to architect your cloud offering. Don't get stuck on private cloud – remember, a cloud is a cloud, whether it's private, public or hybrid. Start with the Microsoft Reference Architecture for Private Cloud.

After you get the principles down, you'll be ready to look at potential software solutions, which I hope will include many of the Microsoft System Center products. These products were created with these architectural principles in mind and therefore will enable you to realize many of the requirements you set for your hosted cloud infrastructure.

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