Chrome browser search coolness

I was just browsing around with the chrome browser and discovered a cool little gem. BTW, I stopped using Firefox about 5 months ago and have no plans of going back. This post is not about that, though I could write a bunch about why (faster browsing, sleek interface, nice crash handling).

Back to the discovery… I wanted to search for “own it” on Amazon’s site to rate a book and when I pulled up the search box and entered “own” in the bar, I was surprised to see some lines in the scroll bar. What’s this, a bug? No, it’s showing where the search term exists in the document relative to the scroll bar. Cool.

Nice search feature

Transparent Page Sharing and Address Space Layout Randomization

I recently had a customer ask, “How is VMware’s Transparent Page Sharing impacted by Windows’ “new” Address Space Layout Randomization?”  Here is my response and some other interesting tidbits about what the other hypervisors are doing (or not doing) to increase consolidation ratios.

Microsoft’s Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) has little to no impact on VMware’s Transparent Page Sharing (TPS).  The intention of ASLR is to protect physical memory from things such as viruses by placing dll’s and executables in a virtual address space.  This virtual address space is then translated into the physical address by the operating system kernel.  Therefore, only the kernel has knowledge of the location of the physical mappings.

When a hypervisor like ESX/ESXi sits between the physical memory and the operating system, it takes the “physical mappings” from the OS and places then in true physical RAM.  Because the hypervisor controls the RAM, it can still perform TPS operations on this memory by identifying redundant memory pages and sharing them rather than duplicating them in memory.

Note that to-date, Hyper-V and XenServer do not offer any form of transparent page sharing.  Both XenServer and Hyper-V have implemented a memory ballooning technology (Dynamic Memory Control  and Dynamic Memory respectively) which VMware pioneered many years ago (~10 years).  These technologies utilize a driver in the guest operating system that intelligently “borrows” memory from the guest by essentially reducing the memory available to applications and the operating system without actually changing what is visibly shown in Windows.  Microsoft’s Dynamic Memory is only available with Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 which is currently only a release candidate.  It is supported in most server guest OS’s from 2003 through 2008 with particular Service Pack levels but it is only supported on client OS’s from Vista through Windows 7.  This means, VDI implementations that require XP will not benefit from the ballooning.

To summarize, no, TPS is not negatively impacted by ASLR.  Hyper-V and XenServer do not do any level of page sharing.  Actually, a year ago, Citrix and Microsoft strongly believed customers did not have a need to overcommit memory but it seems they are changing their stance on this because customers achieve far greater consolidation ratios on VMware vSphere.

My View – Design documents, photos, image editing

Today was a documentation day. Yippee! Oh Visio, how you manage to manipulate the simplest lines into complex, tangled webs, one will never know.

What I do know is that PCoIP provided an excellent user experience when working with graphics in Visio. One of the great features of PCoIP is that it builds the image to full quality over time unlike some other protocols that will generate a fuzzy image when bandwidth is unavailable. Indeed, a nice feature when working with graphics and attempting to read the small print on drawings. Dragging objects, working with text, connecting devices, and editing images were all accomplished from within the virtual desktop with no frustrating waiting while the image is redrawn as in RDP. Keep in mind I am accessing a virtual desktop in Steelhead Data’s cloud in Sacramento, CA from my home office in Portland, OR.

Scott Davis, VMware View CTO, does a great job of describing the PCoIP technology in his blog

More importantly, by transmitting compressed bitmaps or frames, we can adjust the protocol in real time to account for the available bandwidth and latency of the communications channel. On a WAN connection with typically less bandwidth and higher latency, a less crisp image is produced quickly, typically with 0.2-0.5 bits/pixel producing a grainy, but still recognizable image. Kind of like an analog TV… This rapidly sharpens with increasing clarity and detail visibility with each succeeding frame until the image is perceptually lossless. This is a high quality image at a total of approximately 1-3 bits/pixel. Think of it as now Digital HD to stick with our TV analogy. On a higher performance LAN, the images become sharp instantly and will build to complete lossless at 5-15 bits per pixel. Think of it as Blu-Ray!

After completing some documentation, I shifted over to responding to customer requests in our managed services platform where we host VMware View desktops for businesses. Pros to using a View desktop: My desktop is located in the datacenter with the managed environment so connectivity to the infrastructure is fast and easy. Running tools such as the vSphere client to access the console of VMs from within the View desktop provides a better experience than if I run the same tool over a VPN connection on my local client. In the past I would have made a similar connection into a terminal server or Citrix environment where I could then access these tools. The difference here is that I have my own dedicated desktop where I get to install the tools that are useful to me like the great automation tool from thevesi.org for performing tasks in a vSphere environment. Or maybe I want to use the Webex one-click application. This is not something that I would want to install on a shared terminal server but it’s my desktop and I’ll do as I please! If an application decides to misbehave, I have the option of rolling back to a snapshot or refreshing my desktop to a point where it is running like a well oiled machine. Try doing that on a terminal server or traditional desktop.

This post is part of a project I am undertaking where I will be using a VMware View desktop for - hopefully - all of my work computing.  See more by clicking the "myview" tag.

My View- Day 2

I was only at the keys for part of the day today so there wasn’t too much interaction with my VDI, View, virtual desktop, whatever you want to call it. It’s tempting to call it VD for virtual desktop but that just seems wrong. One “fun” thing happened while connected from a café over 4G. I was working on a document and writing some emails when suddenly I got a message that my laptop battery was nearly dead and I should connect to a power supply. Oooops. No power outlet in sight. I decided to let it run out because there was no risk of losing the data I was working on. Add that to the list of things I did not consider as a benefit of desktop virtualization.

This blog is about the good and the bad so let me tell you about something that is really frustrating. In order to keep my work and personal computing separated, I have a personal laptop and thin client connected to a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch to allow for sharing a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse. For some dang reason, the thin client recognizes the keyboard and mouse properly but often times – not always – when I connect to my desktop in the cloud, the keyboard and mouse aren’t recognized or I receive a prompt saying that they couldn’t be installed. GRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrr. This typically is resolved by connecting to the desktop using the View client on my laptop and rebooting it but sometimes just requires switching through the KVM connections or unplugging and reconnecting the USB plug. Any thoughts? Let me make it clear that I am running Windows 7 as my virtual desktop which is “experimental” according to VMware.

My View – Using VMware View as my primary desktop

This post is coming to you from my VMware View virtual desktop “in the cloud.”

Let me start by explaining that I’ve promised some coworkers and colleagues that I will be attempting to use a VMware View desktop as my primary work computing device. I have a Wyse P20 in my home office and a laptop that I will use to connect to View. I live in Portland, OR, use Comcast as my ISP, have a 4G Clear wireless connection, and 3G through my Blackberry all of which I will use to connect to a desktop in Sacramento, CA. What’s the likely outcome? There will probably be some frustrating moments when I can’t get to the View environment or maybe I will be unable to resist viewing rich media on a local client. On that note, I can’t stop raving about my ability to stream Hulu through the virtual desktop with smooth playback and synchronized audio over my Comcast internet connection. PCoIP performance is fantastic! I’m sure my employer loves to hear that I’m watching TV on a desktop hosted in our cloud…

Today, I’m onsite with a customer working on a VMware Health Check report. A virtual desktop limitation that I encountered almost immediately is that I need to connect to their environment using remote desktop from my fat client that is plugged into their network. My desktop in the cloud can’t help me here. I guess technically I could VPN into their network from the virtual desktop but depending on their VPN policies I would almost certainly drop the connection upon initiating the tunnel.

However, I did manage to take my notes and customize the report within my virtual desktop. I’m using Microsoft’s Live Mesh to sync screenshots, performance captures, etc over from the fat client where I’ve copied these items from the customer’s systems over the LAN.

There are definitely some hoops that I have to jump through to make this all work out but two clear benefits are 1. The report and data is kept in the datacenter; 2. I simply disconnected the session last night with the document draft still open and it was waiting for me this morning when I launched the virtual desktop. One word: AGILITY! I can access my apps, data, tools… everything from anywhere that I have a connection. Which, with the prevalence of connectivity be it through 3G, 4G, or wifi, I rarely find a place where I cannot get connected. We’ll see what happens the next time I hop on a plane.

Blank Screen on Windows 7 VMware View Desktop Using PCoIP

Updated 11/5/2010:

You may want to check out this KB from VMware in reference to this issue.

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Original Post:

I was recently setting up a Windows 7 image for our VMware View environment and the overall process was very quick and simple compared to other OSes due to the simple, fast installation of Windows 7. However, when I first attempted to connect to a View desktop using PCoIP, I was presented with a blank or black screen that in a minute just closed seemingly refusing the connection. The console of the virtual desktop appeared to logon with the specified user but the remote session was not working. Quickly, I remembered setting up Windows 7 in another View environment and recalled the need to change the video driver. Here is a quick “how to” that will get you up and running with Windows 7 in VMware View using PC-over-IP. NOTE: Windows 7 is still “experimental” in VMware View.

Right-click Computer then click Manage.

In Device Manager, expand Display adapters, right-click VMware SVGA 3D, click Update Driver Software…

Click Browse my computer for driver software

Click Let me pick from a list…


Click Have Disk…

Browse to C:\Program Files\Common Files\VMware\Drivers\video and click OK.

Choose VMware SVGA II and click Next.

The driver is installing…

Done. Click Close and restart Windows.

Finally, it is a good idea to increase the amount of video memory by editing the virtual machine settings. 40 MB seems to be a recommended amount floating around the blogosphere.

Slay that evil-doer on your sick computer

I have recently had a couple friends and family ask me to help them remove a virus or malware that is destroying their computer, creating conflict in their lives, and abusing their pets. Stop pet abuse now by following my quick recommendation below. Honestly, I realize I am THE computer guy in many people’s lives but in reality my expertise is in enterprise datacenter systems – not home or desktop troubleshooting. The last time I fixed a user’s desktop issue for money was quite a while ago but I certainly know enough about security and can recommend what I would do if I got nailed with a nasty infection (on my computer).

That being said and before I go any further, please upgrade or buy a new computer with Windows 7 and get rid of Windows XP or – God forbid you are still running it – Windows 2000. Windows 7 does a fantastic job of protecting you from junk on the web. Stop clicking on the website advertisements that tell you that you have a problem that they can fix. It’s called social engineering and they are just tricking you! Ask someone who knows what they are doing if you are unsure. More and more hackers and other evil people on the internet are trying to steal information about you. Yes, that includes your credit cards, your identity, and your passwords. Lastly, backup your important pictures, music, documents and whatever else is important to you using a service like Mozy or Carbonite. They are around $50/yr and are invaluable for that time when you disregard everything I or someone else tells you and you click on that nasty message that instantly causes your computer to meltdown.

Do understand that there are soooo many ways to deal with this and this may not fix your specific problem. It is in no way a complete solution. You may need to go to extreme measures like taking your computer to a brilliant computer repairman. Yes, they cost money but think about what you paid the last time you had your car worked on and the bill from the computer guy will likely not be so bad. Don’t get me wrong. I will do everything I can to help since I absolutely hate hearing about people being taken advantage of and all of the crap that’s on the web but beware – you owe me! 😉

Use at your own risk. I am not responsible for any harm you cause to your computer, data, or your head from bashing it into the wall.

Phew… on to the brief recommendation for ridding your computer of that mischievous demon.

Click Start -> Run.

Type msconfig and click OK. (occasionally msconfig32)

Disable any suspicious looking items from the startup tab by unchecking them. Items that have funky symbols or characters such as Afe$@521#$@ may be malware that starts with your computer. Alternatively, you can click Disable All to prevent all items from starting but beware that this will stop some programs that are required for proper use of devices and normal operation.

Click OK and restart when prompted. Install antivirus software if one is not already present. AVG’s free product works great and now Microsoft has their own free antivirus offering.

Run a complete scan and cross your fingers! It may be necessary to boot to safe mode by pressing F8 repeatedly after turning on your computer (actually just before the “starting windows” message). Choose safe mode and then try running the AV (antivirus, duh) from there.

Re-enable items in the msconfig window from the first step. You can always google program names to see what their purpose is on your computer.

If you have a question, do everyone else a favor and post it in the comments. There are no such things as stupid questions, just stupid people and they might be wondering the same thing as you!

Snowboarder learning to telemark ski

Many of you may have thought you never see me ski, not to mention tele, due to my love of snowboarding. Since I always enjoy learning something new, I decided to give tele skiing a try. Here are some pictures of the first day of me learning to Telemark ski after about 7 years or so of snowboarding. (scroll down for day 2)

Telemark Skiing Day 1
4 photos
yup, this is how it all started.

yup, this is how it all started.
Run number 2 down buttercup - yes the wussiest hill on Hood.  I assure you that the last few runs I did this day were much more graceful.

Run number 2 down buttercup – yes the wussiest hill on Hood. I assure you that the last few runs I did this day were much more graceful.
 



And some videos from the second day:

Secure Multi-Tenancy from VMware, Cisco, and NetApp

NetApp, Cisco, and VMware held a joint webinar to discuss a collaborative solution to provide a secure multi-tenant platform for solution providers.  The goal is to provide the benefits of shared infrastructure, particularly converting IT assets from expenses to strategic business opportunities, while at the same time maintaining the isolation, security, predictability, and quality of service that IT came to expect from their independent silos in traditional environments.

Before I get into a breakdown of what was discussed and how this solution can help offer the best of both worlds, I want to discuss how we got to this point and it all starts with virtualization and the need or want to consolidate infrastructure.  In the past, resources (compute, storage, network) were spun up when needed for a new application which led to each application existing in an independent, predictable silo of resources.  The advantage of the silo is that the application owners knew what to expect from the resources.  This unfortunately leads to inefficient utilization of those resources.  Businesses flocked to virtualization solutions because of the cost savings derived from less servers, storage, and networking equipment in the datacenter – less to manage, less to power and cool, higher utilization.  Then, solution providers in the cloud realized they could take this to the next level and host low-cost, shared infrastructure for their customers.  Virtualization promised to increase the utilization while still maintaining this separation but in reality we’ve come to understand that multi-tenancy needs further separation than just the fact that each customer has independent VMs.  Each customer feels a bit funny about having their VMs running on the same hosts, network, and underlying storage.  They want their silos.

Enter Secure Multi-Tenancy architecture from NetApp, Cisco, and VMware.  This solution combines the features of their solutions – Multistore, VN-Link, and vShields respectively – to allow cloud solution providers to offer the benefits of virtualization and the advantages of the traditional silos by segmenting the shared resources into discrete independently manageable resources.  For example, a provider can allocate separate logical storage systems or virtual storage appliances on a single NetApp system similar to how we create logical virtual machines on a single server.  Management access to these vFilers can even be granted to the customer to provision as they wish.  From the validated solution guide produced by Cisco:

“Providers can leverage NetApp MultiStore to enable multiple customers to share the same storage resources with minimal compromise in privacy or security, and even delegate administrative control of the virtual storage container directly to the customer.”

At first I began thinking that we are in this nasty circular back and forth between sharing virtualized infrastructure and the “siloing” of resources.  When indeed there needs to be a balance between the two and this appears to be a good start by these major players at achieving this balance.  There truly is a need to collaborate to make sure all layers of the stack are represented and operate well together.  Virtualization-aware solutions continue to open our eyes to new use cases and will continue to do so.  I just can’t wait for desktop virtualization to become as mature as server virtualization at which point we will see some remarkable capabilities.  Just think… shared virtual desktops that grant significant efficiencies to the solution providers and the security, segregation, and reliability demanded by the customers.