Windows VM Keyboard Layout in Fusion

After I rebuilt my Windows 7 VM in Fusion some months ago, I never quite got around to sorting out the keyboard layout. Having changed job roles recently, I’m now using my Windows VM a lot more and the keyboard layout is becoming a PITA! Specifically, having the @ and ” keys the wrong way round can cause plenty of authentication and email sending problems.

It’s pretty easy to sort out though. You can either:

  1. Go download the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator and build your own layout to install.
  2. Install the Boot Camp drivers into your VM.

Rather than reinvent the wheel (option 1), this is how to get up and running with option 2…

  1. Assuming you’re running OSX Lion or Mountain Lion, fire up the Boot Camp Assistant. Continue through the welcome screen and select only to download the support software from Apple.
    You’ll need to save it to a USB stick / drive. Make yourself some tea or do something else whilst you wait (it seems to take a while). Alternatively, you can download a zip file direct from Apple. Either way it’s in the region of 500Mb. I opted for the direct download of the zip file.
  2. Once expanded, locate the BootCamp/Drivers/Apple folder and copy it to a local Windows drive by whatever means works best.
  3. Open a command prompt as administrator (Open Start Menu, locate Command Prompt, right click it and select “Run as administrator”).
  4. Navigate to the Apple folder copied above (I put mine in c:Apple). Run BootCamp.msi.
  5. Next, Next, Finish.
  6. Restart your Windows VM.
  7. Hey Presto!

Ok, so Windows has added the annoying keyboard thing to my system tray area but that’s fixable and it’s picked up the Apple keyboard without me having to lift another finger. My @ and my ” are back the right way round again!


VMTurbo Make Monitoring Free

vmt-logoToday, VMTurbo have launched their Virtual Health Monitor tool and they are letting it loose on the world for the whopping figure of… wait for it…

$0 – That’s right, free.

The tool is an updated and evolved version of the Community Edition of VMTurbo’s Operations Manager product and comes without restrictions on where and how often you deploy it and what it monitors. Ok, that’s not so clear.

The tool is downloaded as an appliance from VMTurbo’s website in a format optimised for one of the following platforms:

  • VMware vSphere
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • RedHat Enterprise Virtualisation (RHEV)
  • Citrix XenServer

The format of the appliance is the only difference that you should find between the versions though as it’s capable of monitoring all of them at the same time. You just download the format that matches the virtual infrastructure where you want to host the tool.

The features that VMTurbo offer with the tool include:

  • Instant visibility to health and performance;
  • Unlimited use across virtual data centers of any size;
  • Free monitoring and reporting for any hypervisor;
  • Lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) due to innovative product architecture;
  • Weekly analysis of utilisation rates and areas to improve efficiency and reduce risk

As I’m waiting for the 428Mb appliance to download over the wet bit of string that is my broadband tonight I can’t speak to the experience of deploying it and what it looks like yet but I hope to have the time to kick the tyres on it tomorrow.

Download Virtual Health Monitor from VMTurbo’s website.


XP: The Final Countdown

People have been saying that “this is the year of VDI” for a number of years now. Could it be true this year? Windows XP will be 13 years old when Microsoft finally pull the plug on its support in 2014. That’s a decent innings for domestic pet dog let alone an operating system. Why has it lasted this long and will anybody miss it?

For me, the answer to that last question is “no”, but without a doubt there are users out there for whom it won’t be the case. Some of them will be home users, holding on to that creaking PC or laptop that they’ve had for years and that has always worked (except for BSODs, viruses, lost files and the lack of telepathic functionality that some of the less technically savvy wish was available). Others still may work in small businesses or enterprises that don’t have a very heavy reliance on IT. The remainder will be some of the bigger corporates, still using XP maybe because it’s too difficult to upgrade, too expensive or because XP just works. Or, perhaps more worryingly, there has been a woeful lack of strategic planning somewhere.

Unlike its successor, the much lamented Windows Vista, XP is fairly stable and was fairly easy to pick up and use. In an enterprise environment it could be configured and maintained fairly easily. I can understand why companies wouldn’t want to upset the apple cart by upgrading. Even after Windows 7 had been out for some time, I still received brand new corporate laptops with XP builds on them. And, the brief trend in netbooks in 2009 – 2011 kept sales of XP going strong too.

So, is the world going to end when support officially ends in April 2014? Not really. Having worked with and for software and hardware vendors for many years, their stock response when you buy, upgrade or raise a support ticket for their products is to recommend that you use the latest versions of everything. This will already have been going on for some time now. Some vendors have dropped support for XP already and any that still do will be killing it off over the next year. Companies that use XP won’t grind to a halt come next April.

That said though, despite its familiarity, using XP now represents an increasing risk. When the updates have stopped and the support is cut off, who are you going to turn to when things go wrong? When the office laser printers have run off their final pages and have to be replaced, where will the drivers come from to support XP with your new model? If you’re using XP, the time to think about migrating is now (actually, a couple of years ago might have been better).

The cost of migrating will start to take a back seat to the increased risk of inaction as this year passes. The problem that some may face though is what to do about their legacy applications. Cost, complexity and stability may not be keeping some on XP; it may be their applications that do not work on newer operating systems. What then? Some enterprises face very tough choices this year.

Virtual desktop infrastructure may very well be a sensible solution in many cases if enterprises are willing to invest in it. Careful planning is required but, if it’s done well, there are significant benefits that can be realised. So yes, it may well be the year of VDI after all.

Of course, there’s much more to End User Computing (EUC) than just virtual desktops. So much is going on in this space that I could rattle on for hours and it’d be out of date by the time I’m done. Rather than lament the inevitable end of the countdown, I look forward to the changes that its driving.

If you want to read around what’s going on in the EUC space, two of my favourite sites to follow are:

The clock is ticking on XP (and Office 2003)…

[ujicountdown id=”Default Timer” expire=”2014/04/08 23:59″]


Windows DNS Queries Failing

I was putting together a PoC late last year and encountered an issue that I’ve not seen before that was caused by some functionality within Windows 2008 that I did not know existed at the time. In fact, no one who I’ve mentioned it to since knew about it either. It seemed sufficiently obscure that I thought I should write about it quickly.

In the PoC, I had created a Windows domain based on Server 2008 R2. Setting that up was simple enough and I’d done it many times before. What I began to notice though was that DNS queries forwarded outside of my PoC infrastructure were failing more often than not. This made Microsoft Updates impossible to install amongst other issues.

After fiddling with the DNS timeouts and talking with the hosting provider at the remote datacenter to no avail, I discovered this Microsoft KB article:

Some DNS name queries are unsuccessful after you deploy a Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 R2-based DNS server

After following the workaround instructions and issuing the following command on the Windows DNS server…

[text]dnscmd /config /enableednsprobes 0[/text]

…external DNS queries were successfully resolved 100% of the time. Following up with the hosting provider, they confirmed that the larger UDP packets would have been dropped by their firewalls.


Windows Not Activating? Check the Time!

A lesson in not trying to do several things at once.

I had just deployed a VM from a template and waited for it to be customized. All was well until Windows tried, and failed, to activate giving the error code 80072f8f. This was in a new environment in a remote datacenter. Once I started paying attention though I noticed that the VM was set to synchronize time with the host and the host’s NTP configuration had not been made correctly. The VM was running 6 months or so behind the current date.

The two takeaways from this are:

  1. Check your host configuration and don’t assume that it’s correct if you’re provided with a pre-built host from a 3rd party
  2. Don’t do too many things at once and forget about the above!

Installing SQL 2008 R2 on 2008 R2 Server Core

Following on from previous posts on a similar theme, I wanted to make a quick note of how SQL 2008 R2 is installed on a 2008 R2 Server Core VM.

SQL 2008 R2 has a number of feature dependencies that must be present before an installation can take place. Assuming that you’ve deployed your VM, given it some network settings and joined it to your domain (if you want) then there are three further things you need to address to get SQL installed.

The first is adding some disk space to the VM. If, like me, you deploy Windows server VMs with a reasonable 40Gb of C: drive space you’ll need to add something to have enough room for SQL and some databases. I like to keep databases and log files on separate drives to the main OS so I tend to add extra disks to the VM. I’ve covered that off in a previous post.

Next up – those pesky dependencies. You could do this remotely with Server Manager running on another machine somewhere or you could just use the command line. Hint: if you’ve got the commands written down somewhere then the command line is so much quicker. Just RDP to your 2008 R2 Server Core VM and paste the following into the command prompt:

[text]dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFx2-ServerCore
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFx3-ServerCore
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFx2-ServerCore-WOW64
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFx3-ServerCore-WOW64
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:IIS-WebServerRole
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:IIS-ISAPIFilter
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:IIS-ISAPIExtensions
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:IIS-NetFxExtensibility
dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:IIS-ASPNET[/text]

The final stage is installing SQL itself. Simply mount the DVD ISO and run setup! Note though that I think SQL 2008 may not be supported on Server 2008 Core versions. SQL 2012 seems to be but I haven’t played with that yet.


Adding disks to 2008 R2 Server Core VMs

In a lab environment, sometimes anything can go. Solutions aren’t always standards compliant or don’t always follow best / sensible practices. One that I can’t shake off though is using separate drives in my VMs for operating systems and data. It’s too ingrained.

Given my new found penchant for using Windows 2008 R2 Server Core for VMs in my lab though I hit a little niggle that I thought I ought to note down for when I inevitably forget about it.

When deploying a VM from a template for a specific purpose, it’s natural to add extra disks to it. In the normal version of windows, using the DiskManagement snapin to bring the disk online automatically makes it read-write as well. In Server Core, you can’t use the snapin locally. Firewalls permitting, you should be able to use it remotely (via RSAT tools installed on another machine) but if you’re in a hurry and comfortable with DISKPART then you might be tempted to use that. And that’s where the niggle is.

In DISKPART when you online a new disk, it changes the disk’s state but not whether it is read-only or read-write. And you can’t create a partition on a readonly disk!

So, what do you do? It’s just a couple of extra steps really.

1. In the command prompt window on the VM’s console, start up DISKPART.

2. First, list the disks present on the VM:

You notice that Disk 1 is 100% free but Offline.

3. Next we select that disk and then turn it Online.

If you tried to create a partition now you’d get a fairly non-specific error.

4. Look at the disk’s detail and you see why though.

“Current Read-only State: Yes”, not the clearest way of saying it but the disk is read-only at present.

5. To make the disk writable you need only type ATTRIBUTE DISK CLEAR READONLY.

Now you can create a partition as you normally would.

Job done.


Installing VMtools on Windows 2008 Server Core

Not having a full GUI to use, it can sometimes be difficult to install software on Windows 2008 Server Core machines. You need to get used to scripted installations, software distribution methods and / or silent installs.

If you’ve gone as far as initiating the tools installation for a VM you could be forgiven for wondering what the heck you’re going to do next. The install doesn’t autorun (Windows Explorer does this normally but Windows Explorer isn’t there). Even if you run setup64.exe manually it won’t help.

If you run setup64.exe /? though you get a little bit of help.

A typical (and silent) install of VMtools can therefore be performed by running:

[text]setup64.exe /s /v /qn[/text]

The VM will automatically reboot though, just so you know…

Note: Jonathan Medd has a very similar (and excellent) post about installing VMtools on Windows Server 8 Beta.


Windows 2008 – Full Fat or Diet?

Out of curiosity (cats give it a bad name in my opinion) I recently chose to do a little experimentation. No bunsen burners and weird coloured liquids though, I wanted to do a light weight comparison of Windows Server 2008 R2 vs Windows Server Core 2008 R2 in my home lab. Let it never be said that I don’t know how to have fun!

It was a rather simple comparison with a fairly simple aim: I wanted to know if there was a difference in how many resources were consumed on an ESXi host (specifically one of my low power HP Microservers). Certainly not rocket science.

I started off by building brand new VMs for each in vSphere 5. Aside from the OS itself, both were identically configured with:

  • 1 vCPU
  • 2Gb Ram
  • 1 x 40Gb, thin provisioned VMDK hosted on an NFS datastore

I installed VMtools into both, enabled RDP in both and gave them IP addresses. That was it. No updates, no added features etc.

I powered them up on separate, otherwise empty hosts within a few seconds of each other and then sat back to watch.

After each had about 5 minutes to settle down, the above snapshot from vCenter showed:

  1. 2008 R2 Server Core base install uses nearly 4Gb less disk space
  2. 2008 R2 Server Core is uses less host memory (about 81Mb at the time of the screenshot)
  3. 2008 R2 Server Core uses fractionally more CPU (13Mhz)

Of course this was without any applications or additional services running and so the results may be different when the two are used in anger but vanilla installs seemed like the simplest way to compare them.

Server Core seems to use less physical memory and have a smaller disk footprint. Those, in my home lab, are probably amongst the biggest constraints that I have to deal with so in future I’m going to try and make more use of Server Core VMs. As long as the differences in how they’re managed doesn’t inconvenience me too much that is.


Simple Things – Hot Add

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make all of the difference. Take, as an example, adding an extra 2Gb of RAM to a VM. So simple with a Windows Server 2008 R2 guest running under vSphere that you can even do it with the VM powered on and running!

Now that’s just brilliant and puts a smile on my face every time.