AITP / Microsoft Presentation – April 8th 2010

26 04 2010

At the April monthly meeting of AITP Nashville chapter we enjoyed a presentation by Matt Hester of Microsoft (Twitter @matthewhester). Matt’s presentation was part of a tour he conducted during the spring of 2010 to both promote Microsoft technology and his recently published book on Server 2008 R2.

Matt lives in Cincinnati Ohio and travels extensively with his role as IT Pro Evangelist. He moved from Dallas, at first he had mixed feelings regarding the move but later it was a blessing in disguise since now he can spend more time with his father. It’s good to see a professional make a move based on factors in addition to obvious career goals. Matt’s role as an evangelist is to support and grow the IT community and promote the adoption of technology. Matt’s focus at our last meeting was on Windows Server 2008 R2 and he has written a book recently on that subject.

Matt spent the first part of his dialog with us explaining Microsoft’s road-map for some of its major product lines.

  • Microsoft is committed to providing a solid platform for directory services with their active directory extensions and improvements.
  • Virtualization of computers, both servers and desktops is a rapidly growing sector in IT and Microsoft is extending the capabilities of their Hyper-V technologies to take on the market leader VMware.
  • Webservices provided by IIS have seen some significant improvements. Microsoft claim that their IIS product now out performs Apache and has been re-engineered to be interoperable with Linux servers running SUSE, Ubuntu and also support for PHP as an adjunct to their .NET platform.
  • Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular with corporations and Microsoft have recently brought to market their Azure product line. The primary selling point to IT departments and corporations is that Azure can transform a corporations IT division from a cost center into a strategic asset. Currently 80% of companies operate their data centers as cost centers, Azure allows corporations to relocate the local data center to ‘the cloud’ or a data center operated by a company that specializes in hosting and managing large data centers. Microsoft are of course such a provider along with other leading providers such as Amazon EC2/S3, Google Apps, GoGrid, ElasticHosts etc.

Matt then continued his discussion with specifics regarding Server 2008 R2. Service pack 1 has been announced, some of the features to lookout for are

  • Remote Terminal Services improvements. One drawback to remote access is that graphics especially video do not work well or at all. RemoteFX extensions now make streaming video transmit reliably over a remote access session.
  • Hyper V has been extended so that it can now be considered to have ‘feature parity’ with VMware. Microsoft are therefore claiming they have ‘caught up’ with the leading vendor in this industry segment.
  • The AD Admin center can have multiple administration levels/roles, so some AD admin tasks can be delegated to the help desk (i.e. password resets) without giving access to all admin controls. The admin center also supports canned filters to quickly identify users with expired passwords, geographic location, empty AD attributes etc. There is also now a ‘recycle bin’ for deleted users (however this is rudimentary is only available via the command line).
  • Better support for Solid State Drives. Virtual servers can achieve phenomenal performance boosts by moving to solid state drives for critical boot and paging resources.
  • One feature to get excited about is the ability to add storage to a Virtual Machine while it is running. This is accomplished using the Hyper-V manager. The command line tool Disk2VHD creates Virtual Hard Drives to allow one to add the extra storage to the running virtual machine(s). This is very useful for high availability servers, no need to shutdown the server to add storage as storage demands grow.
  • Microsoft have provided a ‘Best Practices Analyzer’ for Server 2008 R2 as they have with other Microsoft products. It provides a detailed analysis of your implementation of Server 2008 R2 and compares the configuration to a model ‘best practice’ configuration and provides interactive help in resolving common configuration mistakes.

Matt also discussed Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system, Windows 7 and what to expect in the yet to be released SP1 (service pack 1). XPMode is a real-time virtualization option for Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise which runs applications inside a Windows XP virtual machine, ensuring backward compatibility for older applications.  XPMode is not new in SP1, but what is new is the removal for the need for Hardware Assisted virtualization, therefore making the solution available on a wider range of computers. This change is as a result of feedback received from users of Windows 7 in corporate environments.

If you have an idea or feedback regrading Microsoft products, send an email to MSWISH@microsoft.com.





Solid State Hard Drives – Performance Boost worth the money?

25 04 2010

Short answer – No.

Long answer follows.

I recently compared the performance of a good quality Solid State Hard drive compared to a traditional magnetic hard drive in use in most computers today.

My tests were restricted to start-up and shutdown times on a new Acer Netbook. Here is what I recorded.

Windows 7 Starter Edition – 32 Bit

Conventional Hard Drive – 160GB 5400 rpm Hitachi

  • Start-up time – 31 seconds
  • Shutdown Time – 11 Seconds

Solid State Hard Drive – 80GB Intel Mainstream

  • Start-up Time – 21 Seconds
  • Shutdown Time – 8 Seconds

This shows about a 1/3 reduction in time to start-up or shutdown the same computer with an identical installed image of Windows 7 Starter Edition. The solid state ‘mainstream’ hard drive from Intel costs around $200 and is only half the capacity of the original drive shipped with the Netbook. So it only makes sense if you really need to have every piece of extra speed or durability from your computer. (The Netbook only cost $225 to purchase in the first place). To buy a 160GB Intel Solid State drive to match the 160GB traditional drive would cost $400.

The start-up and shutdown times were averaged over three operations. Start-up was measured as the time it takes from the power button being pressed to a password prompt being presented. Shutdown was measured from the time shutdown was selected until the computer turned itself off.

By Comparison Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix on the same Intel SSD took 14 Seconds to start-up and 5 Seconds to shutdown.

The drivers for investing in a Solid State Drive should be

  • The need for every bit of speed one can muster
  • The need for a drive that is very durable and can absorb shock and impact of up to 1500G’s without failing.

Use cases that come to mind are

  • Server System Drives, where speed and not capacity is most important.
  • Laptops that are subject to considerable vibration/impact. Either in an industrial environment, or subject to constant vibration in a moving vehicle.

List of Equipment used in this quick test





Transfer Audible.com content to Droid

22 04 2010

Audible.com have been slow to provide an Android application for their service. Audible .aa files are DRM protected and will not play natively on android phones. As a paying subscriber it can frustrating to pay for an audible book and not be able to listen to it on the primary device you own.

There is a way to convert Audible .aa DRM protected files to MP3 using iTunes and a program called NoteBurner. NoteBurner is free to try and costs $35 for the un-crippled version. The quality of the converted mp3’s is awesome.

The process is fairly straightforward, however I have found a few glitches in the NoteBurner software that requires some tweaking to get it to work reliably. It’ll take 5 minutes to setup the first time, but conversion thereafter is just a few clicks.

Initial Setup

  • You need to register your Audible content to work with iTunes.
  • Then download NoteBurner, I suggest you use the free version to prove it will work on your setup. (Some Mac users have complained the software is unreliable on that platform).
  • Open the Noteburner control panel and change the MP3 quality from 160 Bits/sec down to 96, this will make the process more reliable and the spoken word does not require high bit rate for  quality result.

    Click to Enlarge

  • Setup the naming of files to be album /number/artist / title so the ‘track number’ is attached to the begging of the file name, this is important if NoteBurner splits the audio into separate segments, which it will for longer audio tracks.

    Click to enlarge

How to Convert aa  file(s)to MP3 file(s)

  • In iTunes you add the audible content to a play-list and click on ‘burn’ as if you are going to burn the content to a CD.
  • In iTunes select the NoteBurner virtual CD Burner instead of your CD drive. I elected to do volume leveling with no gap between tracks. Be sure to tell iTunes to include CD text.
  • Once you click OK to begin the burn process, iTunes does a preparation step prior to beginning the actual burn process. During the burning process you will see a NoteBurner progress bar pop-up out of the notification tray showing progress.

N.B. Audible.com content can only be burned to a CD once, if you make a misstep or a problem comes up you will not be able to repeat the conversion. So do not do other tasks on the computer they may interrupt the operation. Experiment with free content from Audible first before converting paid for content on audible. I have successfully transferred the New York Times daily digest (complementary content) from iTunes podcast to my droid to listen to during my morning commute. The audio quality is awesome.

Transfer considerations to the Droid

I have found NoteBurner splits up the audio into 7 minute and 30 second  segments. If you had NoteBurner put a track number on the beginning of each file then when you transfer the files to the droid they will be sequenced perfectly. I have found the transition from one segment to another is almost transparent, sometimes you hear a click as it goes onto the next track, other times it goes unnoticed.

Can you do this without forking out the $35 for NoteBurner?

Yes. Instead of burning to MP3 via NoteBurner, burn directly to a physical CD-R, you can now play this in a CD player.  This is less convenient, but the advantage is that one now has a physical backup of ones ‘paid for’ content.

Is this Legal/Moral/within Audible Terms of Service?

Probably so. My answer is prefaced by the statement that I’m not a lawyer and don’t pretend to know copyright law, the laws where you live will no doubt vary. Here is my take on using this tool.

  • The Audible content has been paid for on Audibles website using a web browser and subsequently downloaded using Audibles download tool.
  • I’m keeping the content to myself. Nothing is being sold, shared or given away.
  • iTunes is authorized for use with Audible content.
  • Burning Audible content to a CD device using iTunes is not only provided for by Audible, they encourage its customers to backup their paid for content. Here is an excerpt of their terms of service.
    • Accordingly, we encourage you to make back-up copies of purchased Audible Content as referenced above.
  • Once I have listened to the content on my Droid I delete it.

Could you have your Audible account canceled by doing this? Quite possibly, Audible reserve the right to cancel the agreement whenever it suits them.

I look forward to the day when there is an Audible application for the Droid to make all of this extra effort and expense unnecessary.

Update: 2010-09-08: Hooray!!!  The official Audible app is now available in the Android Market!! Read more here.






Sharepoint Recycle bin – File Not Found Error

13 04 2010

SharePoint MOSS 2007 has a nice two stage recycle bin which should cover one should anything get deleted accidentally. However there are cases when the recycle bin lets us down and throws a ‘File Not Found’ error when restoring items from the recycle bin. I experienced this recently and was lucky enough to find the cause and cure.

One possible cause for this error is when you are restoring items deep in a folder structure and the parent folder(s) have also been deleted. SharePoint is not smart enough to create placeholders for the parent folders prior to restoring the deleted item, it just gives up and throws an error.  To remedy this problem, restore the deleted parent folders from the Recycle bin first, then the restore of the child folders and files will now work.





Time to Swarm the Country Music Marathon

12 04 2010

Foursquare is a relatively new mobile social networking tool, aimed at smart phone users. The concept is that you ‘check-in’ to a venue on the Foursquare app on your phone and you can get discounts or coupons from the venue if you meet some criteria set by the venue. (See the end of this post for an update).

One also finds out if any of your friends recently checked into the same venue, or you can search the locale you are in to see which places your friends are currently at.

‘Badges’ are awarded to Foursquare users as a motivator to use their service more. You can get badges for achieving certain milestones in your Foursquare journey’s. Foursquare make many of these milestones obvious and achievable, but many badges are either ‘hidden’ or difficult to earn and are considered to be coveted by those that can earn them.

One badge that is clear but difficult to earn is the ‘swarm badge’, it is earned when 50 or more people are checked-in to the same place at roughly the same time. Big venues and events are where one can earn such a badge. Hey, fellow country music marathon runners/walkers/spectators, we have the perfect opportunity to earn a ‘swarm badge‘ by checking into several checkpoints as marathon participants and spectators. I have setup in Foursquare all the main milestones for the Country Music Half Marathon, i.e. Start line, each mile marker and the finish line. (Search for marathon and you’ll see them on Foursquare).

Click to Enlarge

Let’s check into all of these as we go around the half marathon and hopefully 50 or more of us will pass that way at roughly the same time and earn us all this difficult to achieve badge. Plus we can share in real-time ‘unofficial’ times as we pass each mile marker, so our friends and family can see our progress on the marathon as it occurs.

Even more coveted is the ‘Super Swarm’ badge where 250 or more check-in at the same location. Not sure there are 250 Foursquare users registered for the marathon. Consider it our ‘stretch goal’ :-)

You are coming to the Country Music Marathon on April 24th this year but you don’t have Foursquare on your phone? Well get it and sign up!! It is free and available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices.

Update: 2010-04-16

Today (April 16th) was Foursquare day and there was an attempt by Nashville Foursquare users to earn the ‘swarm badge’. Unfortunately we fell short with just 33 simultaneous folks checked in at the Parthenon. Let’s see if we can do better on the 24th. You will need your cell phone with the Foursquare application installed and signed in. (Click here for details).

SWARM DETAILS

Between 7am-8am on the the 24th April 2010 check-in at the following ‘start-line’ venue created just for the marathon.

http://foursquare.com/venue/2063149 (This is near Centennial Park)

Between 1pm-2pm on the the 24th April 2010 check-in at the following ‘finish line’ venue craeted just for the marathon.

http://foursquare.com/venue/2312039 (This is at the Titans Stadium)