Our Custom Builds Never Die

7 years ago a customer needed help. The system had a bad motherboard. We replaced it with an intel board. We did a backup as always, provided a recovery system and they went away happy like all of our customers do. Since then they have had two upgrades. All the while we maintained their desktop settings and files where they were. Never losing a single byte of data. We use quality motherboards from Intel. At that time we were still an Intel Provider. Now Intel has moved its operations into NUC systems, Servers and some mobile platforms. They no longer offer desktop motherboards. Yet, the systems we installed are still out there and we support them.

This customer’s system came in not posting or booting up. They pressed the power, the fans came on but it would not boot the operating system. Once we had it in our office we did the usual quick checks with memory and power. When these did not work we took the motherboard out of the case. The case was blown out with compressor air, the standoffs checked and tightened. The power supply was blown out and tested. The motherboard passed the bench test. After re-assembly we checked the operating system for security and performance issues. After modifying a few startup items to make it boot to the desktop more quickly we tested and delivered the system at no extra charge.

Interestingly, this customer runs windows vista. It was an upgrade from windows xp,  which was an upgrade from windows 98. I do expect they will want to move on to windows 10 and a newer system when this one gets too old? 3 more years? For that matter, my mother in law also has an intel build. She will not give up windows xp. It still runs like a top. Verified still running on 2/18/17.

 

UBUNTU

I have to hand it to UBUNTU for coming out with a decent operating environment.

I am ever the pessimist but take it lightly.

1. When it finished installing the screen was dimmed all of the way off.
2. Had to run a bunch of terminal commands to edit 2 separate config files just so windows networking would work.
3. Huge security issue, the firewall is off by default and you have to install a gui to manage it when you figure out how to get the firewall turned on unless you want to do everything via a command prompt (terminal session).
4. So I turned on the firewall, made the appropriate adjustments for windows file sharing – terminal style. This however broke the printer. A problem for another time. The day is old.

All in all it is power for the course. Still a tech junkies OS. UBUNTU is much smoother than it ever was. UBUNTU One is a platform where you have a single log in for every device to access your stuff. It uses cloud storage. Ubuntu also has a music store. The combination of these two features has me Jazzed. They also are now including STEAM for all of your gaming aspirations.

Right off the bat it works better. For instance, it boots fast. I had email, facebook, printer, background, and remote desktop set up in 5 minutes. Its stock with lots of tech so I could ftp, ftps, sftp, telnet, ping, etc.

I am not an amazing Linux guy. I know enough to really customize a solution. I could not write a module for it. Most of the UBUNTU world is geared toward avoiding that step. They have built in the UBUNTU Software Center. Ubuntu is open source. So if you have coding skill you can write something to work with it (and everyone does) you do and add it to the millions of other applications out there for UBUNTU. The point is, if there is something you can think of that you want UBUNTU to do it probably already exists. You hit the Ubuntu software center and search for something in the general arena. Pick what you like and click install. It takes care of everything else. You might have to type your password.

The feature I find most useful is the search function. You click a button and type something. Remote finds remote desktop. Word finds a word processor. You get the idea. True its new but with ease of use with the search function it will be simple to get moving. Did I mention UBUNTU is free? I have it loaded on a very new Laptop running a core i5, lots of ram, camera, cd burner, Bluetooth. Somehow, they figured out the hardware independence and everything just works. So I guess the point is – easy. The installer also set up a dual boot so I can revert back to my crusty windows anytime I like. Bill Gates eat your heart out.

Check it out some time.  http://www.ubuntu.com

What is a Virtual Operating System?

VM stands for Virtual Machine. It is really just software that runs inside another operating system to run another operating system(s). If you have a large amount of memory an hard drive space you can run several “virtual machines” simultaneously.  You are limited also by your operating system capabilities. For instance, a 32 bit OS may not be able to run an instance of a 64bit operating system. I am hooked on VMWare. I like to use VMWare to run important services because It makes hardware portability a problem of the past.  There is an easy to use conversion tool if you want to move a physical machine into a virtual environment. The desktop version I am using allows me to run the vm’s I have created. That is a huge plus because all I have to do is turn on the computer and whatever I have virtualized just runs. Like this web server that hosts my site.

From free versions to enterprise, every solution vmware provides is efficient and easy to use.

The question for many people is, “Why would I care to use virtual OS?”. The answer is different for everyone. It really does depend on who you are. GAMER, HOME USER, SOFTWARE SPECIALIST, and IT GURU.  These people all have different uses for virtual operating systems.  Then there are packaged VM’s that are designed and distributed freely for specific purposes so diverse and many I cant mention them all.  You just go shopping for it and find something you think is cool! You will find everything from games to VPN solutions.

So here is the plan. We will cover each individuals possible needs.  Then move on to other explanations.

The GAMER: Most gaming situations do not run well in VM if it involves a 3 dimensional environment requiring a large GPU, tons of memory, and processing.  If it is a strategy game or an older game (2 years or more) you can probably swing running it in a VMWare instance.  But why would you???  Several years ago you spent all of this money on your computer just to play these games on a 32bit OS.  Then you decided to do upgrades and now you have a bigger motherboard, video card, tons of memory and a newer operating system.  Unfortunately, the windows 98 games you were running from XP in compatibility mode now do not work because you are runing windows 7!  So – load vmware, install the windows 98 OS, and a windows XP OS. and load the respective games on each instance.  Run only the OS required for the game you are playing.

Business Owner:

The Business Owner with an ancient laptop and NO install discs for that “all too important” application that makes some vital part of their business run  got a virus and I think the laptop was about to go anyway. It seemed like the hard drive was about to give out.

He had just bought a new office full of computers and so I virtualized the laptop and had it running in his workstation. It ran well!  Better in fact. Since it would not be possible to re-install the OS without losing that software this solution was a god send. It allowed him to still access the software on the now stable “virtualized” version of the laptop. I also reloaded the OS on the physical laptop and gave him a clean, fast and secure operating system so he could keep up with his mobile world. I am pretty sure he gave that to his daughter.

THE HOME USER:

I always run across someone with one of those old ancestry programs that is obsolete and out of production.  Yep.  windows 98 only or XP only.  Same deal.  Load the appropriate operating system into vmware – transfer the files in and wala.  Your up and running again.

SOFTWARE SPECIALIST:

Its a no brainer.  If you are developing software for a user community you have multiple different types of operating systems to address.  If its web development you also have several versions of browsers. In that each OS has service packs (or lack there of) as well as different versions of JVM, flash, and so on.  There is no real way to see if it is going to work until you try it in as many different possible environments as possible.  So get cooking.  Build the major operating system releases into vmware.  Make copies.  And differentiate each copy 3 different ways from Sunday. Now you can test your software on any possible environment your brain can conceive!

THE IT GURU

Does it matter what platform you choose?  Unless its apple no it doesn’t.  You can run anything under the sun (almost) in vmware (Not APPLES STUFF).  If it is apple or the exception to this rule – then the platform you choose will probably have a Virtual environment you can leverage.  But do your homework to make sure it has duplication and redundancy.

WHY?? Just take a mail server for example.  It received the messages sent to your organization and passes the information to mobile devices, web interfaces, and your mail clients.  Lets go back a few years.  Everything you have is running inside the server in the closet.  Lighting strikes, there is a fire, and where are we?  In disaster recovery.

So you grab your tape backups from the bank vault (YUCK) and spend days streaming the files and data back out to that $5K  – 10k server you just bought to replace the toasted one.  Now you have to get your mail configuration running, bind it back to the public ip, set up secure certificates, on and on and on…. Maybe a week later you guys are running on your server again.  I’m sure you redirected all the mail to a fail-over service for a time.  But lets face it – if that wasn’t expensive – it just isn’t as fast, your folders and OLD mail is missing, and you cant send out those 30MB email attachments now. Your also gambling that the 3rd party provider isn’t quietly watching your messaging for good nuggets of usable information. Did I mention that phone call to Microsoft or whoever to recover your data you just pulled off those crusty old tapes?

Surprisingly enough – for this very reason a lot of companies would rather pay 28 to 50 per month per user to resolve this issue!  But some just cant afford that.  For the ones who refuse to pay out that money they are either still running like they were 10 years ago or they moved into a virtual environment (SCORE!).

The ones who moved their mail server into a virtual environment have some of the normal things they had before like – big TB storage volumes built on SAS raid arrays that could never fail because of that hot swap sitting their ready to take over. Or the dual power supplies on the server so that if the power goes out there is always one that will for 4 hours while the power is down (just enough time to grab the generator!).

In the enterprise virtual machine world there are new redundancy tools…  Yep!

My optimal situation.  Here is where you grab a seat belt and a Klingon Translator.

This company bought three or more servers with 64Gigs of ram, 9 2TB 15K spin SAS Hard Drives with huge cache, 2 or more 2.6GHZ 4 Core Zeon Processors (current Intel chipset).  Loaded each with vmware esxi. They took one of these monsters and virtualized every possible server environment running in their company that would fit.  Then they shut down all ten of the old servers and turned on this single network connected esxi server.  The company is running on vmware and the energy footprint went down by about 1500 watts per decommissioned server!

They bought a 3 10GB fibre optic switches and 3 10GB fiber-optic transceiver and NICS (outfitting each esxi server).  They ran 10g long range fiber between 3 different buildings as far across campus as they could get. Then the loaded vmotion on a monster of an I.T. workstation that, yes, has a 10G NIC tied into the same 10G network the other 3 servers are on. Lets go a little further and pretend the budget was really good and add some high speed esata 10 drive raid devices to each of the 3 servers.  Lets use DROBO enterprise products and also place one unit in the CEO’s home on a big fiber-optic ISP connection.

They have two or 3 hardware servers running in 3 separate locations.

The loaded server esxi server a has: 1 edge mail, 1 mail hub, 1 mailbox db, 3 dns, 3 dhcp, 3 data, 1 accounting services, 1 payment system, 1 medical record, fax system, phone system, Contact management, thin client server, 3 terminal services servers, and 3 web servers.

In the grand scheme of things the resources on the one server loaded is less than 1 quarter utilized! The other two servers are just waiting for data…

Your IT GURU goes to his workstation.  He visits the web interface of the esxi server and loads vmotion.  Then he logs in.  He can see all 3 servers. All he has to do is set up replication and fail-over. The software does the rest.  Live copies of everything running on the first server populate out to the other two in perhaps a day. The first copy is the longest. After that live changes stream real-time.

Day 2.  Your IT GURU goes to his workstation and decides what applications really need to run where. Building 1 – Administration, building 2 Accounting, building 3, operations.  So he marks the appropriate resources to run from these appropriate locations.  And then goes to lunch.

Day 3.  Drunk driver runs into the power pole outside building 2.  well, the servers in building 1 and 3 takeover – dynamically splitting the load for best performance.  Now there is a maintenance issue on server 1.  For some reason the boss decided to turn off the ac and the heat kicked on in the server room.  The Intel board sensed the temperature increase and safely shut down to prevent any damage. Server 3 is holding down the fort.  Amaren came out and restored power to building 2 and its like – nothing ever happened.

Day4. It GURU gets busy setting up automated snapshots and having them copied out to the drobo in the respective locations.

Day5.  It GURU uses Drobo replication to securely copy everything out to the CEO’s drobo in his home.

Small note: The drives are encrypted.  They are massive paperweights unless you have the correct apps, and passwords to access them.  We are ARMY strong with our encryption here!  LOL. Some of you security freaks know exactly what application I am talking about don’t you. Plausible Deni-ability?

Day 6.  Who cares. Its a Saturday.  Lets take the wife and kid out on the town and have some fun!

What are you going to do when your Exchange Server running on bare metal bytes the dust because of some board failure??  You have to replace the hardware (expensive and time consuming).  Then you have a 48 hour build ahead of you and a 24 hour data recovery if your mail stores are nearly as large as the average ones I manage.  If your not Microsoft certified it will probably include some grueling phone time.

VMWare Vmotion is cool technology I really would like to apply.  It leverages a second or third vmserver running in the back that is an actual live copy of the first – with every guest operating system it hosts running and intact to the second. If you dump vmserver 1 and your webserver is being visited by a guest vmserver 2 picks up where 1 left off.  The webserver which is now running on vmserver 2 picks up where it left off. If you ask me – this seamless recovery is the way to go when it could take hours or even days any other way.

If you do not use vmotion then you have to turn down a guest os and copy its files out to direct attached storage (fast) or over the network (slow) as a backup solution.  This method of redundancy is common and effective but backups are only as current as the last time you performed the backup. Automating this type of task can be tricky.

A lot of companies us virtual environments to test software on different platforms – or to run obsolete software packages. Having an xp workstation, a windows 2000 system, and linux running on the same workstation is a great help for a developer like myself. Virtualizing your operations will open many doors.

I am not advocating you use just VM Ware specifically.  I am suggesting it because I use esxi as well as the older vmware server (a desktop product).  Microsoft has a virtual platform, Ubuntu 11’s server platform has os virtualization and so does Apple.  There are a myriad of other companies who are trying to virtualize operating systems for various reasons. In the world of data backups, redundancy, and disaster recovery. Paragon now has an excellent solution to deal with many of the above mentioned vm formats. One of their products even allows you to boot the backup image. Its affordable too!!  Who knew..

Browser Performance Basics

Browser Optimization

 Left unchecked your browser can become crippled and start to cost you more time than it should. It does not matter what browser or operating system you use. Most of these suggestions will help because they are designed to cause your browser to use resources more efficiently. Lets continue with the understanding that you are working from your personal computer and using your private profile. Please don’t do any of this from someone else’s computer or profile. You might remove their personal settings and give them access to your personal information and that’s never good!

Lets get started with Menu Bars, Plug-ins, Add-ons, and Accelerators. They all perform the same general function, which is to give a 3rd party some advantage and possibly give you better access to that third party’s services. Most of the time it is not necessary and it slows things down. If you really want performance make the browser run as light as possible just like it did when you first installed or used it. Because when you open your browser it has to load into memory, request and load your home page, and then load any extras. The extras you do run need to be worth it because each one may cost you seconds every time you open a browser. Flash and Java plug-ins are necessary. Toolbars, browser skins, plug-ins etc. are the fat that you can trim to allow your browser run as quickly as possible.

If your plan is to get online and get right down to business ask yourself, what business do you do the most of? Is it email? Is it reading the news? Are you a developer? Is it social networking? Do you blog? Decide what that is and set your home page appropriately so when you open it you are ready to roll. Here is a good example. I suggest for people that are all about webmail to let the browser save your credentials for your web mail. Then set your webmail inbox as your home page. Now when you launch your browser your email is ready to read. I prefer using google as my home page or I type urls directly into an address or search bar. Because when I open a browser window I just want it ready so I can move. The point is try to get your home page to load the content your trying to get for you as soon as you launch it.

Tab vs New Browser Windows.  As a rule I suggest limiting the number of browser windows that are open and instead use more browser tabs.  Each time you open a browser window it reloads the entire browser in memory (for every window you open). Tabs are more efficient.

Your browser got hijacked – Yikes! If you read my last post about drive by banner advertising you already know where I am going next.  When you fall victim to a banner advertisement hack the settings in your browser get changed. Your hijacked browser fulfills the goals of the attacker. It starts innocently with a new tool bar, a home page that changes on its own, or some pop-up windows that could display just about anything. If you see this happening stop and fix it. This behaviour of your browser is commonly miss-construed and even trusted by some people. Just stop and have a good look. Pay attention to the details. Ask yourself if the pop-up is from your antivirus software or your operating system. If not then ask if it is another software on your computer that you know about. If not again then ask yourself, are you are really going to believe a third party that says you need their help? NO! Try and identify them. Who is putting that message on your screen? If you don’t know then it is most likely an attempt to hijack you.

Don’t click on the window or the x to close it. Find another way to get out.  Log out, restart, use a finder or task manager to kill that process. windows Alt-f4 combination closes active processes without any mouse clicks. Ask for some help. Once your out disconnect your network / wireless and then go into the advanced settings of your browser and reset it back to its defaults. This removes the settings that were hijacking your browser and the browser runs like it did new. If it does not you may have another problem. If that is the case post a reply on this thread and tell me whats going on.  Or call us for a free consultation at 618 985-5455. We do remote support after 5PM CST and are happy to help you out.