My 2012 in review (and a look towards 2013)

2012I find myself on this new years eve (after digging out from 10 inches of snow) reflecting back on all that has happened this year.  Checking in with the old Google analytics website, this year I ranked in over 18,000 visits to my website.  That might not seem like much, but that’s a 3x growth over last year and I want to thank all of my readers for being a part of it!

image

I think I’ve really started to find my voice for Thulin’ Around and have started to make it my own.  I’ve been leveraging the blog as I can in my role in EMC’s VNX support lab.  This would probably explain why my #1 post is still my LDAP post from 2011 (which was revisited in 2012 with a new post for the latest VNX software).

 

My employer also recognized what I do for the VNX community with my blog and listed me as part of their social media blogging core and I am honored to be in such great company as Chad Sakac and Jeramiah Dooley.

652753384

Towards the end of the year, EMC launched a brand advocacy rewards program called EMC Elect and I was very happy to be nominated by my readers.  Having a great friend like Matthew Brender, I was able to see all that goes in to building out a project of this magnitude and I have a new found respect for the effort that is required behind the scenes.  The founding members that were selected are a great group of individuals and I believe they represent the principles and values that should be recognized as part of EMC Elect.

 

2012 was also a great year for shows and user groups for me.  I was able to travel to EMC World 2012 as part of the Ask the Expert program.  At these events, I was able to demonstrate another passion of mine, Photography.  I published 170 photos from EMC World 2012 and as more events rolled through, I continued to refine my technique and you can see a real difference in my photos from the EMC Forum Boston 2012.

 

Looking forward to 2013

So what does 2013 have in store for me?  Well I’m starting the year off with a long trip to Seattle, Washington.  There I will be assisting the Isilon support team transition over to the EMC Support tools and processes.  If you are in the Seattle area, lets meet up!  Just check my twitter feed to reach out to me.

 

I also expect to use social media more and more in my job role.  Without going into to much detail, I want to say that there is plenty going on behind the scenes to help develop and flesh out a proactive support model as well as a reactive support model.  Stay tuned to the @EMCSupport twitter account for more information and feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns about EMC products or your support experience.

 

I’m also looking forward to the results of EMC Elect nominations to see who was selected for 2013.  Fingers crossed that I am chosen, but if not, I know that those who will be chosen are well deserving of the title.

 

I also hope to be attending more conferences and user group meetings.  I am disappointed that I will miss the NEVMUG Winter Warmer, but there will be plenty more events in 2013 for me to join in on.  I’ve already started planning some ideas EMC World 2013.

 

As always, I like to hear from my readers and followers.  What did you like about 2012?  Was there anything on my blog that you really liked / disliked?  What are you looking forward to in 2013?  Let me know in the comments and have a happy new year!

A few initial thoughts about VMware vSphere 5.1

654375636VMware released vSphere 5.1 this past week, and while there is a large amount of people who have been holding off on upgrading, I have had the pleasure of upgrading both my home lab and the non production lab I use at the office.  Having played with it for a few days now, I wanted to share my first impressions.

 

The upgrade process

imagePrevious vCenter server upgrades simply consisted of just upgrading the server component (and the upgrade and away you go.  Now VMware has introduced two new components to the mix: vCenter Inventory Service & vCenter Single sign-on.  To take a lot of the guess work out of this, VMware provided the “simple installer” to the mix.  This runs through each of the setup applications in the proper order and makes the process very simple and I applaud VMware for this.  A couple things to note:

  • As with all vSphere upgrades, make sure you upgrade vCenter server BEFORE you upgrade any hosts.
  • If you plan on using LDAP authentication, make sure that you are logged in with an LDAP account when you install the single sign-on service.
  • If an upgrade fails during the “simple install”, you will need to continue installation by hand.
  • You won’t need to reboot the vCenter Server machine after the upgrade, the upgrade process will restart all the required services for you.
  • After upgrading the hosts, they did not automatically reconnect to vCenter, and you have to click reconnect on them.

Since I run my vCenter server with an internal database and on a virtual machine, I was able to simply snapshot the VM in the event that something went wrong.  Luckily nothing did and both my upgrades went smooth.

 

vCenter Server 5.1

imageOne of the things I noticed right away was the startup time of vCenter server from boot up.  It is at least 4x longer than vCenter server 5.0 and earlier.  A simple look at task manager during the start up process shows that the java process is eating up most of my CPU, so my guess is this delayed startup is due to the revamped web interface being used.  Needless to say, it threw me for a loop the first time and I thought my upgrade had been borked.  So just keep that in mind that it may take 20 minutes or so for vCenter to come up and be stable.

 

Now when using the standard vSphere client to connect, you will notice things are very similar to older versions.  This is be expected as I believe VMware is trying to make a shift to everyone using the Web Interface (more on this later).  Do keep in mind that the regular vCenter client does not give you access to all of the new features.  One of the big ones to note, is that the new enhanced vMotion can only be found in the web client (again more on this later).

 

vCenter Web Client

imageIt’s clear that VMware has spent a lot of time improving upon the web interface and it shows.  That’s good news for Mac users as they now have a fully functioning method for administering the environment.

 

Right away, you’ll notice a new icon that is not present in the standard vCenter client.  VMware has included vCenter Orchestrator right into the mix and I hope this is a sign of more plugins to be installed.  With that being said, I was disappointed to see that the update manager was not present in the web client, so you must still use the classic vCenter client to perform those updates.

 

One of the things I noticed (and was pointed out by Frank Denneman) was that the new Enhanced vMotion (the one that lets you change both hosts and datastores while the guest is powered on) can ONLY be found in the web client.  I’m not sure this was the best play by VMware, but my guess is that VMware’s long term plan is to make the web client the primary interface for management.

 

Final Thoughts

As with every upgrade, I’m always amazed by the refinement that is introduced.  More and more drawn out processes are being simplified and it seems like VMware really cares about the advanced users as well as those just getting started.  As with any major upgrade, first adopters have some challenges and I wanted to list out a few things that you should be aware of before you upgrade:

As with all my blog posts, I like to hear from the readers.  If you had a good or a bad upgrade experience, let me know in the comments.

Oxygen Cloud is bringing the private cloud to you!

logo-oxygen-cloud-1004x408About 2 weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a private beta of a new platform Oxygen Cloud is releasing today.  This new product, called the Oxygen Storage Connector allows you to use your own local storage for your oxygen cloud account.

 

Installation of the Storage Connector was very simple and straight forward.  You just run the setup program on the windows server you want to use.  Once this is done, you login through the web interface and point the system to the folder you want to use for your storage.  You can install this inside a virtual machine, or do like I did and put it on my home NAS server that runs windows server 2008 R2.  Just remember that you can’t install this on a computer running the oxygen cloud client as well.  More information on the setup process (and a download link) can be found here.

 

OxygenCloudStorageConnector01Once the setup is all done, you can then connect to the Oxygen Cloud website and inspect your cloud storage.  I immediately provisioned out 250GB for oxygen cloud and then went back to check the used space on my windows server.  To my surprise, my usage was only a couple of megabytes.  This means that it is setup as thin provisioning and won’t eat up all your storage right away.  The files inside the storage appear to be broken up into 513k chunks and it is not discernable (to the naked eye) what is stored there.

 

Usage of the Storage Connector is simple too.  Inside my “O” drive, is a new folder in which anything placed there is will be put on my new private cloud.  If your windows server is up and running, you will be able to sync new files to this storage space.  It really is just that simple and Oxygen Cloud has now given you the ability to use your personal storage with the oxygen cloud interface.

 

A couple of reasons why I like this product:

  • OxyCloud 042_1This is the first I’ve seen of a company offering a solution to host your own cloud storage with their public product.
  • This will help ease the mind of people who have concerns with keeping their data out in public or hybrid cloud as now you can control the security of the data-at-rest.
  • This allows you to get more than 5gb from your cloud storage (at the expense of using your own bandwidth)

 

I’d also like to see a couple of things come from this in the future of this product:

  • Detect users that are on a LAN (or WAN) connection to the storage so that the traffic doesn’t need to go out to the internet to sync.  This will allow near instant syncing when a customer is using oxygen cloud at the workplace.
  • Allow multiple instances of the cloud connector setup under the same storage profile so that data is backed up to multiple sites for HA and DR solutions.
  • Offer setups for MACs and Linux machines or create a virtual appliance that can have storage provisioned directly to it.

 

All in all I see great work here and you can download the Oxygen Storage Connector for windows here.

Review: NEWTrent IMP65W iPad 2 Screen Protector

IMP65W*NOTE* NEWTrent sent me this product free of charge.

Most of you may remember my previous review of the keyboard case I got from NEWTrent.  That case gave me solid structaral setup for my iPad 2 that offered protection for the back.  Well NEWTrent has done it again with the IMP65W which protects my screen from all sorts of marks and scratches.

 

As you can see from the picture, this screen cover has an integrated boarder around the edge to help retain the iconic design that apple had put in place.  It’s also good if you wanted to try and change the color of your iPad from Black to White (or vice versa).

 

PROS:

  • This really protects your screen.  The screen protector is at least double the thickness of most other screen protectors. This will keep your iPad from suffering deep scratches.
  • Easy to install.  The thickness of this protector keeps it from bending during install.  This allows for a bubble free application as well as proper alignment.
  • Smudge resistant finish.  The material that the screen is made of does not show fingerprints and smudges as easily as the factor screen.
  • No loss of sensitivity.  The iPad responds just as well as if there was no protector in place (even with light touches).

 

CONS:

  • Matte finish.  This may be a subject of some debate, but to me, I liked the clear glossy finish that other screen protectors have.  This finish does change the display properties of the screen because it does cause some speckling and uneven color fill.

 

All in all this is a very durable screen protector.  Combining this with an OtterBox case will get you a highly durable iPad that will stand up to most anything you can throw at it!

What is Backup Academy?

Last week I was asked by Rick Vanover to review a new community project he was putting together called Backup Academy.  The site, located at www.backupacademy.com, is dedicated to IT and Storage professionals who are looking to learn the basics of performing backups and recovery of a virtual environment.  This site is product / vendor neutral and is supported by experts in their respective fields.

Backup Academy greets you with an introductory video that is narrated by Rick as well as an introduction to all 5 current professors.  The initial group offers information from the following people:

 

These 5 experts have put together a total of 8 videos that cover a variety of backup and restoration topics:

    • Why virtual machine backups are different?
    • Core technologies used for virtual machine backup
    • Disaster recovery of VMware workloads
    • Backing up enterprise applications: Transaction consistency is key
    • Restore capabilities of VMware backups
    • VMware backup integrity tools
    • Best practices for VMware backups
    • Best practices for Hyper-V backups

Once you have completed these videos, you should have enough knowledge to earn you Backup Academy Certification.  This simple 35 question exam covers the material reviewed in the videos and ensures a basic understanding of backup and restore technologies in a virtual world.  I was able to pass the exam on my first try and I am now Backup Academy Certified.

snippet_ba_white

 

So I urge you all to checkout the website and learn as much as you can from the videos.  If you think you have something to offer in return, feel free to apply to be a professor.

The next great virtualization platform

Two weeks ago, VMware held their annual gathering of all things virtual.  Las Vegas was buzzing with technology from all parts of the globe.  While I did not attend in person, I was there in spirit (or in the cloud as some would put it).  There were many great announcements that came out of the conference.  While many revolved around vSphere 5 and storage technology, there was one particular announcement that caught my attention.

 

On August 30th, VMware announced their new venture called Horizon Mobile.  This new virtualization platform allows for a user to run a separate virtual phone on their android device.  This effectively offers the user both a work phone and a personal phone on the same hardware with just the push of a button.  This benefits both the user and the supporting organization behind it.  IT departments will be allowed to push out corporate policy changes to mobile devices without effecting the personal usage of a phone.  On top of this, a business would not have to incur the extra cost of having to issue a separate device to an employee when all they will need to do is just push out a software update.  The same goes for retrieval after an employee has left the organization as all that is needed is a remote wipe of the business OS instead of trying to track down the hardware.

 

With the rise of the android personal phone, most users do not want to carry a second one just to be able to receive work calls and email.  The two mobile instances will be separated at the core, but allow for some overlap.  In a world where android viruses are starting to become more present, any such mayhem caused to the personal side of a phone will not effect the business side.  On the other side of the spectrum, if the user is working on a business email and gets a personal phone call, a notification will pop up and allow them to answer while not leaving the virtual instance on the phone.

 

HorizonManager03Combined with this is the Horizon Mobile Manager.  This application is the heart and sole of the mobile instance, allowing for application and policy changes to the work side of the phone as well as a health check of the mobile instance.  A separate application catalogue has also been included to ensure that all proper licenses can be handled by the company instead of the user.  VMware has even included the option to push out these changes as an Over-The-Air update to phones connected to a cellular network.

 

This new tech also raises several questions as to how you can have two completely separate phones under one piece of hardware.  The current market for GSM technology ties everything to the SIM card in the phone.  Your mobile number and data usage are all tracked on this.  This means that you cannot get two different phone numbers for the same phone and raises a few questions.

  • How will you be able to answer your work phone calls and your personal ones on the same device without additional hardware?
  • How will corporate and personal voice/date usage be accounted for since most providers do not offer an unlimited plan anymore?
  • Who will be responsible for possible software problems inside the virtual instance?

 

I search around for the answer to these questions and did not come up with much.  However since this announcement was nothing more than a preview of things to come, I assume things will all be ironed out when it launches in a few months.

 

The tech demos I saw also showed a lack of an in handset security feature.  While I might not be so keen on lending someone my work phone to play with or make a call, I would be more likely to lend them my personal phone.  All the demos showed off how a user can switch to the other profile with just the press of a button.  What I’d like to see is some sort of pin code protecting this feature.  If I lend my phone to a friend and they accidentally hit the button, they could start making calls from my work number without even knowing it.

 

SamsungGalaxySIISo “Why is this so important to me?” you may be asking yourself.  As it just so happened, I recently purchased the new Samsung Galaxy SII phone and have been enjoying it.  I’ve overclocked the dual core cpu up to 1.6Ghz while decreasing the voltage to maintain battery life.  This works very well for me with this announcement as Samsung was listed as one of the hardware partners and several press announcements and blogs have indicated that Horizon Mobile is being designed to launch initially on the Galaxy SII.

 

I look forward to the coming months as more information comes out and I hope to be one of the few people who get to launch with this application.

 

For more information on Horizon Mobile and the Horizon Mobile Manager, check out the website http://www.horizonmanager.com/

The Google+ Project: Fad, Fame, or Fiction?

It has been less than a week since the Google+ Pilot launched and already people are getting hooked. Blog posts have popped up all over the place comparing this to Facebook, MySpace, and even Google wave. I will be doing none of that since I have never used any of those services.

If you are lucky enough to get into Google+ (and if you did, I hope you have me in your circle), you will notice the “less is more” style of layout. It a very simple 3 column approach. On the left you have your different circles (more on that later) and your chat. On the right you have, contacts you know, suggested contacts, and the ability to start a hangout (again more on these things later). The middle is your stream, and depending on who you are following, it can get a little crazy at times.

Google+ breaks down your connections into circles. As far as I know, you can have as many circles as you want. This allows you to group your friends and coworkers into different sections and restrict your posts. Adding a person to a circle is a simple drag and drop action. With this all setup, I can post something only to my close friends or family, without it going to everyone I know at work with. This provides a great amount of flexibility, and of course you can always post to all your circles or make something public for everyone to see. Like twitter, adding someone to a circle does not require an approval, however if they don’t have you in their circle, you won’t see any of the non-public posts. Also like twitter (or rather tweet deck), tagging someone in a post is as simple as typing a ‘+’ or ‘@’ and then typing out their name.

Photos are handled by Picasa, which should come as no surprise since it’s owned by Google. Depending on how many photos you have in an album, Google+ will arrange them in a nice mosaic as seen in the picture to the side. Photos can be included into posts in your stream and other Google+ members can be tagged as well as leave comments. This all seems like very standard stuff, and it is, but Google’s presentation seems to be very slick and is appealing to me.

The hangout is a way for members of Google+ to communicate through video chat. Hangouts, just like posts, are controlled by circles, so you only invite those you want. The video is all done through flash but the quality isn’t as good as Skype yet. What it does bring to the table is a web based video experience that allows for multiple people to talk together in a group, this feature is something Skype makes you pay for.

The other major section is Sparks. This is a sort of themed subscription area. You can use it to find public posts related to any sort of topic you search for. It will then create a stream filled with posts, stories /articles, YouTube videos, and other things that Google thinks is related to your inquiry. I haven’t played around too much with this feature yet because there aren’t a lot of public posts (this is expected in a limited field trial), but I expect this feature to be used a lot more in the future.

Google has also included an android app for this. This allows you to see your stream, manage your circles, make posts, and upload your photos directly from your phone. A word of warning, when you first install the app, it’s going to ask you to auto publish every photo you take. I suggest you say no to this. The app has the same simple UI that the webpage does, though not as feature rich. Clicking on someone’s name in a post does nothing at this point, where in the web version you can find info about them. I would like to see an iPad app as the mobile web interface is even more lacking.

With all these features, there are still a lot of kinks to be worked out. There seems to be no integration with anything non Google at the moment. I would love to see a post to twitter option, or a WordPress plugin to post to Google+. The task bar at the top will launch a new window when you click on anything outside of Google+ and then another one to go back in. At one point I had 7 windows of Google+ opened because of this. The hangout does not handle widescreen cameras that well. The image of a friend was squished / stretched to match the standard aspect ratio.

So how does one get invited to Google+? It’s simple, you need to know someone. On the first night, Google opened up invites to anyone a member chose. There was a simple button to include an email address. This however disappeared in several hours, but a second method has been discovered. This is detailed in a blog post by Susan Beebe and I have used it to invite several people. If you want me to try and invite you, leave your email address in the comments.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I like the service. I think it still has a way to go, but I’m told that Facebook and others started off small too. It has some great features and has the Google branding to help make it a great competitor. At this point only time will tell weather this is here to stay, or goes the way of Wave.

Review: NEWTrent IMP38B iPad 2 case with keyboard

*NOTE* This review was done of my own and I was not compensated in any way by the manufacturer or any other parties involved with this product.

If you follow my twitter stream, you know that I recently acquired and iPad 2 for a good price. I am really enjoying the device and I am starting to look at this as a lightweight travel option instead of bringing my large 18” laptop with me on planes. With that goal in mind, I set out to find a case that would basically convert the iPad into a netbook.
There are several options out there each with their pros and cons. Most of the units that have a keyboard are north of $100 and seem rather bulky. It wasn’t until I had spent a week of searching, that a follower on twitter had mentioned the IMP38B and sent me a link to a YouTube video. At first glance, this case seemed to have everything I wanted, but you can judge for yourself below.

Ordering from New Trent was a pleasant experience. I had my doubts since I had never heard of the website, but my order went through without a hassle. Since this was a preorder product, I had received a personal email from the staff indicating when my item would ship, and they held to that date exactly.

The IMP38B is a hard shell case with a built in keyboard. It has a rubberized plastic finish on the outside as well as a reinforced swivel stand. This allows the iPad to easily tilt into both portrait and landscape modes. The hard shell case protects the back from scratches and has cutouts for every button and connector as well as the speaker and camera. The enclosed Bluetooth keyboard slides out to reveal 3 sets of grooves to lock the screen at different angles. Underneath the stand (and behind the keyboard) is a small compartment to store the charging cable for the keyboard (included) as well as an iPad usb cable (not included). When you are finished, the unit has a slide lock to hold it together and a smart magnet will turn off the iPad when closed.

PROS:

• Case is solid and screen is locked in place and won’t fall out

• Sturdy stand that does not change angles when iPad is pressed hard

• Unit locks together for easy travel

• Keyboard is rechargeable

• Self-contained pocket for cables and stylus

• Keyboard has special keys for IOS functions

• Price! Only $50 shipped

CONS:

• Very hard to detach iPad when needed

• Keyboard keys are slightly too small

• Doesn’t fold flat for holding in hands

The keyboard takes a little getting used to, but this unit acts as a very good adjustable stand for watching movies or playing games. On top of all that, you can’t beat the price they are offering this case for as it’s half the price of its competitors. All in all I think it is a great case for travel and use at home and I urge everyone looking for an all-in-one solution to consider this as an option. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section.

 

Movie Review: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Johnny Depp and Disney are back again in a 4th attempt to make money off an amusement park attraction. This latest installment is not quite the same as the other 3 since it does not have Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) or Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley). Instead we find Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Hector Barbossa, and Captain Blackbeard all searching for the fountain of youth. The addition of Penélope Cruz worked nicely as her role made for many a laugh as well as an intricate part of the story. Along their travels they encounter the British and Spanish navies, zombies, and mermaids.

In my case, I went to go see the movie in IMAX 3D. IMAX movies have always been good to me. The large screen and high power sound system coupled with tempurpedic seats makes the experience enjoyable. However, the 3D in this movie seems like it was more of an afterthought. Time after time, it seemed like it was flat images just moved forward, instead of being filmed properly like the effect in the movie Avatar. This left me struggling to grasp the sense of realism that came with the amazing set designs and special effects.

Speaking of special effects, they were excellent. I really thought that the way the mermaids were done made them seem very realistic for a fantasy creature. The fight sequences were well choreographed and seemed to time perfectly with the environmental elements that were part of the surroundings.

All in all, the movie was good. The movie might not have much of a plot, but it’s full of the classic one-liners and expansive special effects that I have come to expect from the other movies in the series. It’s no wonder this movie grossed more than 350 million worldwide this opening weekend and I expect it to do even more over the coming weeks and the possibility of a 5th movie in the series.

 

 

Game Review: You Don’t Know Jack

If you were a fan of trivia games in the late 1990s then you have definitely heard of “You Don’t Know Jack” and are well aware of the addiction people had to it. Unfortunatly, the questions are now horribly out of date and a new version hasn’t been available for the last 10+ years. Well I’m proud to announce it’s back and better than ever!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, the ”you don’t know jack” games pitted 1 to 4 players in a quiz show style challenge that combined knowledge with comedic pop culture references. If you got the questions wrong, the game would publicly shame you in front of the other players.

This year, THQ Games has brought the series back to life with a whole new version of the game featuring all new questions with a modern twist. Players are treated to two rounds of 5 questions followed by the “Jack Attack” where players can go from last to first (and vice versa). Along with that, players can “screw” another play and force them to answer a question in 5 seconds or less.

The game is narrated by your host Cookie Masterson who is full of colorful commentary for every question. With more than 70 episodes contained on disc (and even more in the various DLCs), all the comments are fresh and rarely repeated. While it’s fun to get the questions right, it’s even more fun when you get them wrong (especially when you get the “wrong answer of the game” and are rewarded with an extra bonus prize).  While playing together with friends is a great way to share in the laughter and fun, this game can also be played online as well.

If you can’t tell already, I absolutely love this game and have even hosted evenings dedicated to people playing this for hours. And what makes it even better is the price. Instead of the standard $50 – $60 that games cost these days, You Don’t Know Jack can be had for an MSRP of $30 (and with the right deals it’s more like $15 – $20). I urge you to pick up this game and join in the excitement. If you have this game already and an xbox live account, let me know and we’ll start a match.