My Favourite Band….

When I was growing up and enjoying being a spotty teenager I could never settle on one favourite band.I finally compromised with two from completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Dr Feelgood and Blondie

dr feelgood a3 poster

blondie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both these bands gave me several important benefits as a teenager.  First and most important they made each day a little bit easier to manage and left me feeling more productive and well balanced. Secondly they gave me kudos with my peer group for being so hip and trendy and up to date with modern music. Finally they did the job they were supposed to do, made damn good music and kept me entertained.

Let’s zoom forward around 33 years, to the modern day. I am now in a position where I have to choose my next favourite band. This choice is altogether more difficult.The market is full of Bands promising me the world. Full of hope and anticipation. I can be fitter, sleep better, keep in contact with the world. You name it these bands can do it.

For several years I have been on the cusp of something big in the personal fitness monitor space. I always held off, as a long distance runner I had always relied on my Garmin ForeRunner to map out distance, speed and heart rate for Marathons and training runs.

Now two unthinkable things have happened, I can no longer run long distances due to Doctors orders AND my trusty Garmin has given up the ghost and gone to that gadget drawer in the sky.

Yes, I am in the market for a more consumer based fitness tracker. But being an IT Pro, a gadget lover and a Technical Evangelist means that I will not put up with just any band.I made enquiries of my friends and colleagues who use all manner of bands.The one thing that kept coming back to me was the new Microsoft Band is just super cool, super- efficient and does everything it says on the tin.

The one big drawback is that it is not available in the UK yet and I have no real way of getting one in the short term. Unlike my MVP friends who all seem to have scored one at the MVP summit in November last year.One of my MVP friends came back with this quote.

 “There are some things in this world that you just simply don’t appreciate. Especially until you have had a chance to experience the value of that thing and then when you own that thing, you simply can’t imagine what life was like before. This is how I feel about my Microsoft Band”

 band

Powerful claims indeed. This got me thinking a band that simply does fitness stuff is useless to me, so what can the Microsoft Band do for me a humble IT pro, how can it make my working day shorter, my leisure time longer and still not lose me my job.

So I am going to put aside all the things that other bands do. Sleep tracking, step measuring etc. I want to know how I can use the band I am obviously going to buy to manage my Datacenter?

To do this I need to use some form of monitoring and alerting software for Servers, clients and other general IT stuff. Luckily with System Center 2012 R2 and specifically System Center Operations Manager (lovingly known as SCOM) I can make sure that anything that is happening or is likely to happen that will cause me a headache at work can immediately be transmitted to me. I can filter out various day to day events that are not critical and only receive the ones that matter through the use of VIP lists of email addresses.

So there I am, lying on the beach, wearing my band, watching some Microsoft Virtual Academy training videos on my trusty Lumia 1520 4G smartphone. Whilst sipping a tasty beverage.

Suddenly my Microsoft Band vibrates to tell me I have a VIP email from my SCOM server, I glance at the screen and using Quick Read on the band, I can see that there is a potential issue with one of my Microsoft Azure Website Front-end VM’s, which will also impact on one of my backend on-premises SQL Server VM’s. These run my e-commerce system which pays for me to lie on the beach in the first place.

read

This calls for drastic action. I stop watching the training video and switch to the Remote Desktop app on Windows Phone 8.1. From there I can remediate both virtual machines within 10 minutes, revert to the training video and continue with my Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred.

Not forgetting to ask Cortana to remind me to check the machines again in the morning.

caloriewsNot exactly James Bond but you have to admit that the scenario above is a very tempting one indeed.

How long into the future must we wait for such a scenario to become reality?

Well the answer is only until I get my hands on a Microsoft Band.

All of this is available NOW.

I can now roll over take a look at my Health app on the Lumia (or on Android or iPhone) and make sure that the UV rays are not too high or that my shares are doing what I want them to, or even if I have burned enough calories this week to have another drink. All from the band or the dashboard built into my app.

Decision made, money saved all I need is to get hold of that Band.

 

Who ever said the life of an IT pro was boring?

I just hope the Microsoft Band keeps going as long as my previous favourites have. I saw both Dr. Feelgood and Blondie at the Glastonbury Festival last year.

Unlocking the value of System Center.

have just returned from another series of UK IT Camps, this time at our London Headquarters in Victoria.

camp1

They were well attended and it was a pleasure to meet so many @TechNetUK Twitter followers as well as some old friends, MVP’s and members of the UK Microsoft Technology Community Council.

So far this year we have taken our Enterprise Mobility and Extending the Datacenter (Azure) IT Camps to a good few locations including Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and London. We are always keen to travel to wherever there is a need so do get in touch and let us know where you want to see us, just drop us an email to ukitpro@microsoft.com. Of course you can sign up for one of them here.

When I deliver the Extending your Datacenter with Microsoft Azure camp I am often asked about the Windows Azure Pack, the integration of System Center and the holistic approach to a Hybrid Cloud solution. Oh and since TechEd Europe I am also asked at every camp about the Cloud Platform System which has been hailed as an on-Premises Azure in a box. Having seen this impressive piece of kit in Barcelona, it would be nice to get my hands on this platform that was designed and built to host the Windows Azure Pack.

Since that is not at all likely in the medium to long term, I shall content myself with deepening my knowledge and understanding of how Windows Azure Pack builds on top of Microsoft System Center 2012 R2.

The story behind the camp we run is that an organization is struggling to contend with the scaling demands of modern business and data requirements. This struggle has led to over-provisioning in their data-center and the attendant under usage and cost impacts. Essentially a waste of time, money space, energy and human resources. The camp walks the delegate through a series of exercises in building out an infrastructure in Azure and then connecting it up to an on-premises network.

The natural extension to this is to use the full force of System Center to manage, control, monitor and automate the workloads that you run.

I have been ‘away’ from the whole suite of products for some time, other than System Center Configuration Manager which we use in the Enterprise Mobility scenario to work with Microsoft Intune to effectively manage mobile devices.

Obviously eyes are now being peeled and horizons scanned for any signs of vNext System Center and the future of the on premises half of the Cloud operating system suite. Until such time as any announcements are made we can use the current suite of products to do some pretty special things.

Within Microsoft UK we are blessed with a group of Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) who get their hands metaphorically dirty with our products every day and earn their daily bread by helping our customers squeeze every last ounce of performance from their investments. Luckily for me I get a chance to work with them and sometimes to learn a great deal from them.

Just around the corner we have one such opportunity. On Friday 20th March our UK MVPs are running an online event. I for one will be attending and learning how to tame the Windows Azure Pack and implement it in my own home lab environment.unlock

You can register here. It is a whole day of free training and guidance as to how the professionals plan, deploy and use all aspects of System Center 2012 r2 to make the difference for the customer.

So if you want to learn about the hybrid management capabilities of System Center and how they deliver on the Cloud Platform vision.

Take a look at the mind map of the event below created by System Center MVP Paul Keely

unlockmap2

The integrated Microsoft System Center suite covers the full range of management needs, spanning the physical, virtual and application layer. System Center also allows you to manage heterogeneous infrastructure, providing a single view of the datacenter and the cloud, including management of Linux workloads and multi-hypervisor management.

So it matters not if you run Hyper-V, VMWare or a mixture within your estate, System Center can help you.

The agenda is below.

agenda

And don’t forget to get hold of the Windows Server 2012 r2 and System Center 2012 r2 products to evaluate them as well as sign up for our next It Camps.

I look forward to seeing you there. Feel free to drop me a email follow me on Twitter @edbaker1965 or comment below.

Docker Containers in Windows Server vNext

opentech

When i read this news in October 2014 I had to do a double-take, if you are anything like me (i.e. – nearly 50 and somewhat techy) then the word Docker conjures up more than one image. The predominant one in my mind is that of Doc Marten boots affectionately known in my peer group as Dockers.

dr-martens-x-swagger-10-hole-boots-0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enough reminiscing,  the Docker I need to move on to is the containerization system that allows applications to be completely portable.

docker1

Here’s the description from the Docker website.

“Docker is an open platform for developers and sysadmins to build, ship, and run distributed applications. Consisting of Docker Engine, a portable, lightweight runtime and packaging tool, and Docker Hub, a cloud service for sharing applications and automating workflows, Docker enables apps to be quickly assembled from components and eliminates the friction between development, QA, and production environments. As a result, IT can ship faster and run the same app, unchanged, on laptops, data center VMs, and any cloud.”

The Founder and CTO of Docker Solomon Hykes does a pretty good job of explaining the concepts in this short video

Those of us who routinely use Virtual Machines to overcome compatibility and deployment difficulties would suggest that this is a good way of handling such things. So how does Docker differ to VM’s

Well, with a VM there is always a guest operating system running on top of the host operating system AND the hypervisor as shown in this image from the Docker website.

Docker-containeraization

Once you deploy the Docker Engine this sits above the server host operating system providing all the necessary muscle to allow the individual Docker applications to maintain resource isolation and allocation much as VM’s do but without the huge overheads.

The closest thing in the Microsoft stack at present is App-V the Application virtualization system that comes as part of MDOP, the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, available only to Windows Enterprise customers.

appv

 

App-V is currently in version 5.0 and provides a way of streaming apps to a desktop when in online mode and also to run those apps when isolated from the network or in standalone mode. It is a different system and has provided many years of service. App-V applications however will only run on Client operating systems or on RDS servers.

So the Windows Server vNext edition will have support for Docker containerization. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who routinely uses Microsoft Azure. Since June 2014 Docker has been available in Linux VM’s on that platform. All part of Microsoft embracing open technologies.

dockeronwindowsserver

So back in October 2014, Microsoft and Docker announced that

“Under the terms of the agreement announced today, the Docker Engine open source runtime for building, running and orchestrating containers will work with the next version of Windows Server. The Docker Engine for Windows Server will be developed as a Docker open source project, with Microsoft participating as an active community member. Docker Engine images for Windows Server will be available in the Docker Hub. The Docker Hub will also be integrated directly into Azure so that it is accessible through the Azure Management Portal and Azure Gallery. Microsoft also will be contributing to Docker’s open orchestration application programming interfaces (APIs).”

What makes Docker unique is that instead of maintaining configuration files (as is the case with tools such as Puppet andChef), developers can create an image of their system and share it directly with their team. Any changes to local environments produce a new image that can be re-shared. Importantly, these images should not be confused with heavyweight Virtual Machine images, which contain everything needed, including the application, any dependencies and the operating system. In contrast, Docker containers include the application and some libraries, but the OS and common dependencies remain shared assets. Consequently, Docker containers are extremely lightweight in comparison to Virtual Machine images.

This is all relatively old news, but with the push towards DevOps, this news brings the developers and sysadmins much closer together on a platform that they know and love. There are industry rumours that the next release of the Windows Server Technical Preview is scheduled soon and that it will contain this technology. I have no insight into this, but am looking forward to getting my hands on the next release, of course once I have digested the new Windows 10 Technical preview released this week.

You can get the Server Technical Preview here now and the Windows 10 technical Preview here. (soon)

You can find out much much more about all this from my fellow Technical Evangelist Susan Smith when she expands on Docker during day 2 of the upcoming TechDays Online extravaganza – specifically Wednesday 4th February at 1330Hrs.

In the meantime if you want to hear the latest news on Azure and Docker – flip forward to the 16 minute mark of this video where Rick Claus (@RicksterCDN) interviews members of the Azure product team on the Edge Show 132.

Busy and interesting times in the wonderful world of Windows. Watch this space for more.

Microsoft Azure – Learn it, Love it, Certify in it!

Part of my role as a Technical Evangelist within Microsoft UK is to assist all and sundry to understand and engage with the whole range of Microsoft Solutions.

header

This includes our Cloud offering – Microsoft Azure. What exactly is Azure and what can we do with this service?

Well Wikipedia says;

Microsoft Azure  (formerly Windows Azure before 25 March 2014) is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure, created by Microsoft, for building, deploying and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters. It provides both PaaS and IaaS services and supports many different programming languages, tools and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems. Azure was released on 1 February 2010.

So we are moving towards the fifth year of Azure and it bears very little resemblance to the service that was released back in 2010. There are monthly updates to current services and releases of new services either in Preview or generally available.

Love it or hate it the Cloud is here to stay. Microsoft provide 1TB of cloud storage to Office 365 users with OneDrive (Business and Home users) 50GB Exchange Online Mailboxes to all Office 365 Business customers and with the advent of private connections into the Azure Datacenters through Azure ExpressRoute event he largest enterprises with the greatest security and bandwidth requirements can extend their datacenters into the cloud.

Once you have signed up for your free trial, and your Office 365 Enterprise free trial you can start exploring all the services and features with a credit of £125 for the month. Azure is a pay as you go solution with many, many benefits from automatic scaling of websites and servers to integrating your on-premises Active Directory with Azure Active Directory and creating a Single Sign On solution.

Better still, why not sign up for one of our IT Camps. A full day of FREE hands on Training and Education from @Deepfat and I (@edbaker1965) one of which focusses on Azure.

The purpose of this post, however, is to talk about the certification paths
open to us in the Microsoft Azure platform.

pathsThere are currently two live Microsoft Azure Specialist certifications and one more currently in BETA. I have taken all three exams over the last few months.

I took the 70-532 Exam (Developing Microsoft Azure Solution) quite a while ago in its BETA phase. First I ought to explain that I am not a Developer and only really took it to witness the new Microsoft Certification Platform and interface, which is pretty cool by the way. I received my online score report from PearsonVue over Christmas and was amazed to have scored as highly as I did.

score1

This is a very detailed examination and covers many different aspects of Development over five key areas.

azure2

 

Nearly all of these were well above my head and would be a good challenge for any Developer wanting to prove their proficiency in all aspects of various SDK’s and the Azure Graph API.

There is a five day Microsoft Official Curriculum Course for this exam 20532A.

 

The 70-533 exam is far more my scene and covers Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions spread over six core areas.

azure 3

There is an Official Curriculum course for this exam too, 20533A also over five days. I took this exam when I was not well enough prepared and achieved a sub-optimal score. So over Christmas I took the exam again after several weeks of intensive study and practice with the platform. I took my usual approach which is to create a OneNote Notebook based on the six categories above and all the detailed entries for skills measured. I then made sure that I had built and implemented everything in that list that was possible. Those that were not, I checked out MSDN and TechNet as well as the Azure help pages and marketing pages to ensure that my background knowledge was good enough. Lots of Azure specific PowerShell modules needed testing and learning for this exam.

I was successful second time round as you can see.

results_20150104_0002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was most impressed that the Score report was available online before I had even left the car park of the exam centre. It was also on my Microsoft Learning Transcript at the same time. This used to take anywhere from a few days to a week or more.

The final Microsoft Azure Exam is the 70-534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions, which is still in BETA and I do not yet know if I passed this, although I am already studying hard for the retake, just in case. This exam is pretty crucial to all those Partners and consultants wanting to advise customers what and how to implement azure solutions. This is a higher level solution design type exam, much like the old 2003 Server MCSE design exam. I did not find it at all easy but it was an enjoyable one as it made me think of the best way to do certain things.

On successfully passing any of the 70-532, 70-533 or 70-534 exams you become a Microsoft Specialist as shown by my transcript below.

azspec1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you are thinking about Certifying in Microsoft Azure, I would as usual point you to the following links

MSLearning website

MS Learning Born2Learn website

Microsoft Virtual Academy

MSDN website

TechNet website

And many more.

Just remember the exams, whilst kept as current as possible do not receive updates as often as the products, with new advances every month, some of the services and screen layouts will be very different.

 

Happy Studying.

New Year’s Resolutions for an IT Pro

newyear

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always struggle with making New Year’s resolutions for myself, so when I was asked to write this post suggesting a list of potential resolutions with which an IT Pro may wish to start 2015, I jumped at the chance.

The first has to be Get Certified and if you are certified, either renew it or branch out into other areas to broaden your skills and challenge yourself.

mscerts

The world of the IT Pro is getting ever more broad and complicated with the advent of the formalization of disciplines such as DevOps and Cloud Computing. Whatever your area of expertise or of employment, there are always new developments you can study and certify in. As a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) and as an MCT Regional Lead for the UK it is part of my duty to evangelise the Microsoft Certification programme which has undergone dramatic and welcome changes over the last 12-18 months.

From January 1st you can take Microsoft Certified Professional (and Dynamics) exams at Pearson Vue centres only. All the registration and booking can be carried out directly from the Microsoft Learning Experiences site.

If you are new to the industry and would like to develop entry level qualifications you can consider either the Microsoft Technical Associate Programme (MTA) or the Strata or A+ certifications from CompTIA.

mtacerts

 

strata

 

aplusThe vast majority of hiring managers prefer to see qualifications related directly to job skills such as the MCP programme, in addition it cannot hurt when looking to progress within your current organization if you have proven your willingness to learn and self-develop. Most professions (Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers etc. have a requirement for continuing professional development). After all would you want to be flown by a pilot who hadn’t trained or studied since he qualified originally?

There is no better place to study for a daily advancement in knowledge and on to certification than the Microsoft Virtual Academy, sign up and get studying in the New Year.

The second is The Cloud. Learn it, use it. The vast majority of large and medium sized businesses are now realizing that investing in the infrastructure to develop and build and configure a data centre or even a number of server rooms is not cost effective or sensible in times of limited resources.

Why have 100 servers running 24×7 when they are only in use for 8-10 hours for 5 days of a week. Why invest in the cost of licensing and installing software that isn’t needed to run an efficient Email and messaging environment.

With every Office 365 user now receiving 1TB of storage with their subscription and a 50GB email mailbox, the requirement for on premises storage is decreasing also.

Microsoft-Cloud-Azure

Microsoft operates the group of services known as Microsoft Azure. Azure is part of the Microsoft Cloud Operating System. I don’t have enough words allocated to this post to even list all the services that are available through Azure and if I did, it would probably be out of date before you read it. This is the major reason for getting on board now. The pace of change is staggering. When I interviewed Jason Zander, Microsoft Corporate Vice President responsible for Azure at TechEd Europe in October, he explained that he expects something new or updated to be released every month.

You can prove your growing skills in Azure by becoming a Microsoft Specialist through certification either in Developing Solutions on the Azure platform or through Implementing Azure Infrastructure Solutions. Be warned though that due to the diversity of services available and the open nature of developing with Azure, the exams necessarily cover a huge body of material and are not for the faint-hearted.Yesterday I managed to pass the necessary exam to qualify for the below Logo after my second attempt. I fear the developer specialism is forever out of my reach!

MS_2013(rgb)_2617

 

 

 

 

You can sign up for a Microsoft Azure free trial with £125 of services in a month here.

My final suggestion is not technical at all. I find that the world of the IT Pro can occasionally be a little cut throat in nature. For those just starting out it can be daunting. So my final suggestion is a mixture of good things.

  1. If you are an old hand or even just experienced, offer your services as a mentor to someone new or less experienced.
  2. Learn from what others do at work and help them to learn from what you do, the cumulative result is that the organization benefits in many ways. So if someone needs help and helping them doesn’t meet your targets but does help the company then everyone benefits?
  3. My final one is one that we can all do – work can be stressful, so watch out for your colleagues, offer help even if it is just advice. You know it’s the right thing to do.

Most of all have a happy healthy and fruitful 2015.

2015

 

 

 

 

 

UK IT Camps – Enterprise Mobility – Sign up now.

Life during my first year at Microsoft has been almost exactly as I imagined it might be, but as I always do at Christmas I reflected on the year past and particularly this year on my first 9 months as a Microsoft Employee. Whilst doing so I remembered exactly what prompted me to sign up to this fun ride.

camp

Back in 2012 I attended a number of Tech Days which later became re-branded and reworked into IT Camps. The format of these really did excite me enough to take a full day out of my busy self-employed contractor type schedule. A rare thing since a day ‘off’ is actually money lost and often since my engagements were a week long, it was often a week of income lost.

So what is so good about an IT Camp that it’s worth the time trouble and sometimes lost income to come and join in the fun?

Firstly an IT Camp is a FREE day of detailed technical education with a very heavy hands-on approach. There are IT camps for all sorts of subjects but the one I lead is the Enterprise Mobility Camp. This covers all aspects of Microsoft’s people-centric IT solutions, from advances in the Windows Client operating system to deep-dives into Hybrid Identity solutions using Active Directory in both Azure and on-premises with Windows Server 2012 R2.

The unique aspect of our UK IT Camps is that we always allow the participants to build their own agenda. This adds a much greater level of relevance to the audience and requires a much deeper level of preparation by the Technical Evangelists leading the camp.

And I am pleased to say it is even more fun to deliver the camp than to present one.

The IT Camp content is created by the Technical Evangelists working for Microsoft at our HQ in Redmond (such as @simonster). For the Enterprise mobility camp there are over 500 PowerPoint slides in the material to cater for just about any part of the people-centric story.

Call me old-fashioned but I do love the superb PowerPoint application, BUT even I wouldn’t sit through a day of 500 plus slides. No thanks.

In a typical day for an IT Camp we may use 20 of those we prefer to use live demonstrations and explanations to get out point across, oh and of course PowerShell too.

So what can you expect if you sign up to one of our Enterprise Mobility Camps between now and June 2015.

As I already said, we don’t fix an agenda in advance there are only three givens in the day.

It starts – you get lunch – it finishes. The bits in between will be filled with a mixture of discussion, presentations, demonstrations and lots and lots of hands-on lab work by you the important person in the room.

For this reason it is essential that you bring along a device that can use a browser and connect to the internet (we provide the internet connection) and any lab environments you may need. For those who have been before, if you don’t like working in pairs, then either bring two devices or a large screen (as the manuals are online as well and it can be tiring switching between them all day).

As an example, during the camps this year so far, we have covered Microsoft Intune in cloud and hybrid modes when connected to Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager for Mobile Device Management. We have demonstrated Azure RemoteApp in both Cloud and Hybrid configurations. Both Workplace Join and Work Folders have also figured heavily as has Azure Active Directory Premium.  Office 365 integration and Single Sign on / multifactor authentication were also prominent. The identity piece of the puzzle is a critical one to understand so many questions have been posed and answered.

The new 2015 Camps have also been updated to include Windows 10 content and most of our demo machines also run Windows 10.

We also get to demonstrate most of these through the use of iOS devices, Windows Phones projecting their screens through Miracast and even the odd Android device too.

A large number of IT Pros prefer to learn by a mixture of listening watching and hands-on – the UK IT Camp experience provides all of these in abundance.

Why not visit http://aka.ms/ukitcamp and register to come along and find out what @Deepfat and I (@edbaker1965) get up to and how you can begin to understand how the people-centric IT vision can be applied within your own work environment?

There are other added bonuses too. Since everyone present if focusing on the same topics, you get to meet fellow IT Pros interested in similar areas, who may well turn out to be great future contacts.

Finally we also hand out odds and ends as prizes for asking that difficult (or seemingly easy question) that others are just too shy to ask.

 

What every IT Pro wants for Christmas.

This post will resonate with some if not every IT Pro. I am going to limit myself to ONE gift. (So for that reason alone it is not a very realistic scenario, but bear with me).

christmas-gifts

I am not presumptuous enough to think I know What every IT pro might want, but that was the title given to me!

IT Pros are, as a rule, rather fond of free stuff (known in the industry as SWAG) they are also fond of Gadgets (known in the industry as Gadgets) but above all IT Pros are fond of peace and quiet, being left alone by management and users alike to get on with more important stuff.

At this time of year IT Pros are all preparing for the inevitable ‘good idea’ dreamed up by project teams and management such that “users will be off over Christmas so lets plan a major release of either hardware or software or more likely a complete refresh of both the hardware and software deployed to the whole enterprise” (or at least your part of it). After all the chaps in the IT department don’t need time off at Christmas, do they?

The one thing I CAN guarantee is that the above scenario is what all IT Pros do NOT want for Christmas.

I have three suggestions for every IT Pros dream Christmas present.

First there is a cheap and cheerful piece of SWAG. When @Deepfat and I go out and talk at events, conferences or our very own IT Camps, we try to make sure we have enough swag with us to reward the most difficult questions for us to answer or for that comment that dissolves the room into laughter. Or sometimes for a delegate who can get a word in edge ways. This year we have been handing out the Microsoft Spider (as shown below).

WP_20141212_001

With the proliferation of gadgets that rely on some form of electrical power, the shouts of ‘has any got a charger for….. ‘ can often be heard around the Microsoft UK offices. For this reason the spider is a must have. Small almost unbreakable and provides power for;

Micro USB

Thunderbolt

iPhone /iPad

and connects to either a portable power pack or a standard USB 2 or USB 3 power source.

It has saved me from many embarrassing situations. In the never go anywhere without one stakes it is my number 1. If you want one – come and see us talk, ask a question or make us laugh!

Secondly, the gadget of my choice comes from a list of Surface Pro 3, Go Pro and Linx Tablets.

The Surface Pro 3 has changed the way I work. it goes absolutely everywhere with me, I have yet to find someone who doesn’t like the way the pen works, the way OneNote in A4 portrait mode is so easy to use without a keyboard attached.

sp3v1

The GoPro+ really is the epitome of a Boy’s Toy but has so many uses it has to be on my short list.

I am a dedicated motorcyclist and long ago resigned myself to the fact that the only way to survive on the road on two wheels is to make the assumption that everyone else using the road is actually trying to push you off the road.  It is also really easy to blame the nasty biker. To prevent this I now have my GoPro+ firmly fixed to the front of my bike wherever I go and record all journeys to show I rode safely and responsibly. In a tech capacity @Deepfat and I regularly use the time lapse facility to record our larger events and set up break down of the seemingly endless quantity of kit we carry everywhere.

gp1

The GoPro Hero is a 4K device taking Video, stills, time lapse and burst mode shots. All in a package the same size as a matchbox. I thoroughly recommend it.

The final gadget is actually a cheat really for two reasons, firstly I dont own one and secondly it is a package offer which contains two distinct pieces of equipment. Black Friday saw all sorts of good deals and one of those has hung around a little longer. I am sure there are other good deals from other suppliers but for me the Tescomobile.com offer for a Lumia 530 and a 7″ Linx tablet with windows 8.1 is close to unbeatable. The cost is as low as £12.50 per month for the first year (reducing in future years) and includes both devices running on Windows 8.1 and a 12 month subscription to Office 365 Personal. What more could you want?

530

linx7

The final category was Peace and Quiet. Freedom from Management and users. Well for some a Christmas at home with family and friends is the furthest from peace and quiet they can get. For me the chance to kick back, relax (maybe study for an exam I am taking on 30th December, yes really) watch the great content on the new NOW TV Windows 8.1 App (and X Box App too) or discover the amazing quality of my new XBox One console with the Kinect 2.0 Sensor, I am sure I will eventually get used to talking to a computer and issuing commands.

Of course I am also helping a friend install a Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and migrating a Small Business Server 2008 as well as setting up the Office 365 mailboxes for the users. A Busman’s holiday maybe but it also helps to keep connected to the real world and not just talk IT but to practice it as well.

Because this is my post I am going to cheat again (there’s a theme developing here) I would also add extending my SONOS collection to more rooms so I can play lovely Christmas music throughout the house. If you dont have SONOS – get it quickly there is a 12 month unlimited music offer on with Deezer at present

I will also make sure there is plenty of time for my children to spoil me in the way they should (I refer them to the SONOS statement above) and for lots of quality time with my long-suffering wife Sue.

Whatever you choose from this list or any other, I wish you a happy, healthy and fun-filled Christmas holiday. Of course looking forward to many more Tech adventures next year too.

Roll up, roll up get your FREE Microsoft Azure BETA Exam code here.

Within the last month, I have taken all three Microsoft Azure Certification Exams, two of them have been BETA tests. Read on and you can get you own code to take a FREE Azure BETA Exam (only 500 codes available – first come – first served)

azure exam

So, I post quite often about certification and testing but not that often about BETA exams. The Non-Disclosure Agreement we all sign when we take an exam mean that I cannot say too much about the content, other than you should study the Microsoft Learning pages for the detailed exam specifications.

70-532 – Implementing Microsoft Azure Solutions

70-533 – Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions

70-534  – Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions

The exam I want to talk about is Exam 534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions. This is exam is not as deep-dive technical as the other two which if I am honest are pretty hard. The first because I am not a developer and it was wall to wall coding (not expecting a pass here!) The Implementing Infrastructure one was almost wall to wall PowerShell but was also a disappointing experience, not because the test was poor but because I was poorly prepared and did not pass (this was not a BETA test). I am retaking that exam on 30th December so watch this space for all sorts of whooping and hollering if I pass.

There are several distinctions between a BETA test and a live one. First the questions although checked and prepared can have some small typo or content errors, that is why we are testing them in a live situation to see how they fly. Secondly the exam has a much longer time allowance, so that you can make detailed comments on those questions that do have typos or content errors. Thirdly when you complete the exam there is no result passed down to you and your printout just says ‘Thanks for coming – the result will be with you in a few weeks’.

I take a large number of exams and often these are the BETA ones so I am used to waiting for results, but I also often get a feel for those where I have been ‘sub-optimal’ and I am expecting to retake 70-534 when it is released.

The key content difference for me with the Architects exam is that it is very similar to the old, old MCSE Design exams which regularly tripped up even technical product gurus. This exam covers Microsoft Azure end to end and requires a broad knowledge of all the services and how they hang together, but also how you implement them for a customer. For that reason this is aimed more at implementation consultants, partners and contractors who may be delivering Microsoft Azure services to their customers.

The 70-532 and 70-533 are, in my opinion aimed more at those customer implementing solutions directly.

Now for those who have read the post or even just scrolled down, here are the beta instructions. Good Luck.

Your Invitation to The Microsoft Azure Architecture Beta Exam

Microsoft recently released a new Azure architecture certification exam in beta: Exam 534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions. This is an invitation to take the beta version of the exam at no cost for the first 500 respondents. Passing this beta exam earns you a Microsoft Specialist certification.

The beta exam is available  at Pearson VUE testing centers or through the online proctoring option.  To take advantage of this exclusive invitation:

Here’s the fine print:

  1. As this is a beta exam, your will not receive a score report immediately upon completion of the exam.  Your results will be delayed for a period of several months until the exam goes live.
  2. The code will only be available to the first 500 people who register for this beta exam.
  3. This beta exam is not available in India, Pakistan, China, or Turkey.
  4. Please review Microsoft’s beta exam policies in full.

Good luck on your next exam, whether you’re taking this beta or have another one scheduled.

The above is due to be posted on the Microsoft Learning Born to Learn Site on Monday, so hurry up if you want to register the exam before they are all gone. That’s a £100 Christmas present right there!

Early Christmas present for Azure RemoteApp fans.

ara1

Yesterday Microsoft announced that Azure RemoteApp would be generally available from Thursday 11th December.

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I rate this service very highly indeed. The ability to run Windows applications from any platform without having to run the infrastructure on your own premises is of huge benefit. But when you add to that the ability to upload your own images containing line of Business applications and authenticate against your on-premises Active Directory or run the application in the cloud and store the data in your own data centre, it just about ticks ALL the boxes for me.

The blog post here announces both the date and the pricing details for the service. I have already posted about the technical aspects and the benefits to be gained. Now that the pricing has been released I am even more excited at the prospect of this becoming a major Azure service for all sizes of customer.

The Azure RemoteApp service will be available on standard pay as you go terms from 11th December and also as part of Volume Licensing from February 1st 2015.

The pricing page can be found here.

So from next Thursday you can reliably, in a scalable manner run any application that will run on Windows Server 2012 R2 from iOS, Android, Windows RT, Mac OSx. You can run them from Azure Active Directory or link to your own on-premises Active-Directory.

Secure, Scalable, Solutions.

what an early Christmas Present that is!

What are the best IT Pro Tools for automation – and why?

Each month here in the @TechnetUk #ITPro office there is a mad scramble (bunfight / race / polite debate) to bid for the best blog topics for the month. Each quarter has a theme, this quarter it is ‘the right tools for the job’. I was lucky enough to see the email early and our editor Charlotte accepted my bids for my post last week on Windows Server Technical Preview and for this one on automation tools.

As you might imagine this was a pretty popular one to bid for especially as all IT Pros will always try and find the quickest most efficient way to carry out their allotted tasks while it is yet day, all so that they can carry on with important things like Wolfenstein (the original of course) and even a quick toe-dipping into the world of Xbox One.

Anyone who has ever read any of my posts would be forgiven for thinking automation, well that’s going to be another exposition on the glories of PowerShell and why we need to learn it or learn golf… and in part you may be correct but I decided to read the title in full and this gave me the opportunity to go further than a single tool. PowerShell could be described as the framework for a whole bunch of excellent tools (or modules) but in this post I will be treating it as one tool and will be including it as it is simply the number one productivity and automation tool available in the world of Microsoft Server operating systems and business platforms such as Exchange, SharePoint, Office 365 etc.

What else is available to an IT Pro as an automation tool, I had to think long and hard about this as I haven’t really used much else on a day to day basis for quite some time, to automate routine tasks.

What does the landscape look like in the world of automation?

What does an IT Pro want to automate?

Well the roles of an IT Pro, even though they are changing and being a little blurred by the new DevOps school of thinking, are many and varied, from a network specialist who really doesn’t want to do all the IP Planning, management and administration manually (or by spreadsheet) to the deployment specialist who absolutely doesn’t want to wander round a building and install images, agents and other software on client and or server machines when everyone else has gone home.

But let us start with the traditional view of an IT pro – the server administrator and yes PowerShell. I am not going to offer up the whole of PowerShell as that is something I do on a regular basis. I am going to talk about DSC, or more formally titled PowerShell Desired State Configuration.

As I usually do I am going to quote the TechNet description of the feature and then dive a little deeper into it.

“DSC is a new management platform in Windows PowerShell that enables deploying and managing configuration data for software services and managing the environment in which these services run.

DSC provides a set of Windows PowerShell language extensions, new Windows PowerShell CmdLets, and resources that you can use to declaratively specify how you want your software environment to be configured. It also provides a means to maintain and manage existing configurations.”

 Now that sounds all very well but it doesn’t tell me exactly what the feature does in layman’s terms, nor does it describe how to do it or really sell to me the impact that can have on my infrastructure and thereby the amount of time I will have released to carry out other important tasks.

So PowerShell DSC gives us the ability to define exactly what we want our server to look like in terms of roles and features installed, configuration and even right down to detailed single registry settings or environment variables.

The seasoned IT Pro may well say at this point, ‘So What?’ I can do that with Group Policy if I am in a Domain environment (and most It Pros work in such an environment). The answer would be yes, of course you can. But Group Policy has default refresh rate of 90 minutes with a randomized offset of 0 to 30 minutes to prevent all machines hogging the network at the same time. The seasoned IT pro will also tell you that up to 120 minutes is a very long time indeed in the world of Server configuration.

DSC uses a set of built in resources (which are growing all the time) to control a range of features, functions and roles in an entirely automated manner. DSC also allows the IT Pro to create custom resources.  At this point I should add that as with all things PowerShell, the community tends to share and a large number of custom resources are already available for free.

The descriptions of the original built in resources can be found here.

In a default install, the built in resources are those as shown below.

dsc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I should also add here that this is not basic level scripting or PowerShell and this post is not aimed at teaching you the skills required to script or to understand complex PowerShell commands. I will list out several script blocks to show what is involved. TechNet again provides a great tutorial on custom DSC resources here. In that tutorial the reader is shown how to create a custom resource that will either create, configure or delete a website on a particular server.

All this can be run on a schedule to ensure that the Desired State is maintained across your entire server estate. It can also be pushed or pulled whichever you prefer. There is also a great deal more DSC goodness coming with PowerShell 5.0 in Windows Server vNext.

There are also some good TechNet Virtual Labs for DSC and other PowerShell features. Check them out here. (33 of them covering PowerShell, DSC, Azure PowerShell, Automation etc.)

dsc2

 

 

I shall save some deeper DSC diving for other posts as this was NOT meant to be a PowerShell love in.

So what other tools can I use to automate IT pro tasks.

I have already alluded to the IP planning and deployment / management tasks that need automating and easing. Well I have posted many times about the super effective IP Address Management feature in Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2. Suffice it to say that if you read this blog regularly you are already sufficiently acquainted with its principles to realize its value. Of course Windows PowerShell 4.0 also added these PowerShell CmdLets to enable automating your IPAM deployment and management.

ipam2

TechNet Virtual Labs also do a rather good job of highlighting this feature in this LAB. I ought also to mention here that the Microsoft Virtual Academy has a number of courses covering IPAM and PowerShell for Active Directory that includes DSC.

The Final set of automation tools (I wanted to pick Azure Automation using PowerShell but I promised I wasn’t going to use all PowerShell today) that I am going to select today are those that enable the deployment of Operating System images. I was spoilt for choice, since I could have picked System Center 2012 R2, Hyper-V, or many other useful tools.

I have chosen some tools that are cost free once you have licensed a server operating system (Server 2012 or 2012 R2).

The mix of tools are Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013. But before I discuss those, I would like to mention the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit.

“The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit is an agentless inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations—including Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Office 2013, Office 2010, Office 365, Windows Server 2012 and Windows 2012 R2, SQL Server 2014, Hyper-V, Microsoft Private Cloud Fast Track, and Windows Azure.”

This is a must have tool for anyone planning to do anything to their network or clients / servers. Another free tool. Available here. All the above mentioned tools are part of the Microsoft Solution Accelerator Programme which seems to expand every time I look at this page. The MDT Team blog also has masses of useful information.

So why have I chosen this set of tools? WDS allows me to deploy operating systems across the network to all my clients in a Light Touch manner (LTI) this means that I would have to have some interaction with the client. Currently the preferred Zero Touch solution uses System Center 2012 R2, but this can be a costly option.

To assist you in using this free service Microsoft have provided the MDT and also the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK). This kit is a hefty installation and provides a raft of useful tools. See the screenshot below, if you select all as I have here, the result is over 6GB of installation.

adk1

There are a number of TechNet Virtual Labs for the MDT, although most are focused on the integration with System Center Configuration Manager, for larger enterprises. There is one for creating images using the MDT though.

mdt2

In short the tools allow you to create images or capture them from reference PC’s then store them until required for deployment to new / refreshed PC’s in your network. Why am I considering this automation?  Well the use of an image in the new(ish) Windows Image Format (WIM) allows you to update, service and add / remove features, drivers and programs from the image at any time. It can also be used to deploy VHD and VHDX files to allow client PC’s to boot from VHD too. All this would take a long time configuring at each machine that you want to deploy.

As with most tools that save you time in the long run the deployment and configuration of this suite of tools is not a small task and it will involve a degree of learning the principles and processes, which can be confusing, there are capture images, install images boot images, reference images as well as thin thick and hybrid types of images. Enough images for you?

Oh and I am sure it won’t surprise you to find out that MDT uses PowerShell to carry out all its tasks, as I have said ‘ad nauseum’ PowerShell is the future.

I don’t have enough space this time to do a run through of MDT / ADK for developing and deploying images with WDS, but they are freely available on the internet and I will do a YouTube one when I get time. It may flow better that way.

But all new tools take time, whether they be PowerShell, Azure Automation or any other new feature. That is why learning and certification is still such a good thing to be involved with. All of the products and features I have talked about today appear in Microsoft Official Curriculum Courses and in Microsoft Certification Exams too.

With the landscape changing so often, it is wise to invest in your career by learning and certifying so that your employer or your prospective employer can have some benchmark to judge you by.

Use the MVA and the other training avenues wisely. For all things training and Certification you can use the many resources available to you at

Microsoft learning website

lex1

Born to learn website

b2l1

Microsoft Virtual Academy

va1

Watch this space for more on PowerShell DSC, Windows Server Technical Preview top five features and more.