Archive for the ‘Backup’ Category


 Virtual Machines Have Prevented Disasters More than Once

Let me tell you about the latest situation where I look like a hero instead of a fool.  How can you not love someone who does that for you?

I have a client who is still on SBS 2011 for a variety of reasons.  Let’s sum them up by saying it is unlikely to change for a while.

A few years back, I suggested making SBS a virtual machine and running on a Hyper-v host.  The OS for the host was Windows Server 2008 R2.  Earlier this year, both of the USB drives they were using for Windows Backup (one for the host, one for SBS) had to be replaced.  The new drives were formatted NTFS with 4096 byte sectors.  If you don’t know already, Windows Backup in 2008 R2 and earlier can’t create a backup on these targets.  So for a while, the system has been running without backups.

Why not Just Upgrade?

Duh, why didn’t I think of that?  I did, but an inplace upgrade to 2012 R2 kept failing.  Finally, we located a 2012 Standard .iso and license for sale and grabbed that.  The in place upgrade went well, very well.  Much to our chagrin, the product key would not activate even though it was valid, and the client got his money back.  But there we were with an OS that was about to die from lack of activation.

So I tried the upgrade from 2012 to 2012 R2, and it succeeded.  Problem solved, right?

You Probably Picked the Wrong Answer

When it finally rebooted after the upgrade, a colorful blue screen appeared with the message

MUI_NO_VALID_LANGUAGE

The scarce number of articles I found relating to this indicated that it was an invalid product key (I knew that) and re-installing would fix it.  So in goes the DVD and we boot from it.  Enter the correct 2012 R2 product key, select upgrade, and we are instructed to remove the disk and reboot.  When we do the same nasty error above appears.

So I Said…

Let’s just forget about the host system and create a new one.  I didn’t format any disks, just let the installation go.  It completed fine, booted into 2012 R2, and I added the Hyper-v role, reset the static IP address, and got down to setting up a new virtual machine.

I pointed to the existing .vhd for SBS and the virtual disks for Exchange, SharePoint, and data that were on physical drives on the host and attached them through ISCSI controllers, started the virtual machine and bingo!  There is was.  Almost.

I Nearly Cried when It First Started

Active directory showed NO users, NO joined computers, and SBS Console said the OS was not operative.  While I played around for a bit, then looked again after about 5-10 minutes, AD values were back!!  But there was no Internet connection and nothing looked right on the SBS Console network tab.

First I ran Connect to the Internet, and that restored the connection.  Then I ran Fix my network, and suddenly there was the trusted certificate and all the other goodies.  It has been running like a champ ever since.

One Last Thing

The 4096 sector drive for SBS still doesn’t work, so I am trying a WD drive that emulates 512 sectors,  I am going to create another post about this, although there is a lot of information on this topic out there already.

So, to sum it up, your Hyper-v host machine is disposable.  You can trash it and provided you don’t lose the date, you can reconstruct your workhorse servers.  I highly recommend this approach.

Even better, use an iSCSI device (like QNAP, which I love as well) and keep all your virtual information on the drives apart from your computer.  That means the entire platform is disposable.

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A Shortage of Names? Who Knew?

I would have thought that my friends, literally down the street from here, would not suffer a paucity of names so bad that they had to re-use them.  And given the name change from Sky rive to OneDrive, I would have bet they would have come to realize that naming two different things with the same name would not continue to be a good thing.  At least OneDrive for Business versus OneDrive should help define the space in which the products dwell and delineate their use and functionality.

OnDrive with Microsoft Account

Anyone can get a Microsoft account – live.com has become outlook.com – and with it, get a OneDrive account.  OneDrive, when set up on your computer, actually creates a folder called SkyDrive (it may now created OneDrive but I have a pre-name change instance) in your user profile.  So the location of the folder is something like C:\users\<userprofilename>\SkyDrive.  Installing SkyDrive also the folder instance in Favorites on Windows Explorer, although it is actually the same folder.

Save items in this folder and they are copied to your outlook.com space in the Microsoft cloud.  You can access the cloud folder, and the same data, from any other computer where you have installed OneDrive and used the same Microsoft account log on.  There is also a Windows Phone app for it, and no doubt iPhone and Android apps as well.

Make changes to what is in this folder, and those changes are synched to the cloud storage.  Even if you are not connected to the Internet when those changes are made (think being on an airplane), when you next connect they are replicated.  And then synced with all other OneDrive instances you use, like your desktop at the office, tablet, phone,….

OneDrive at Office 365 -Microsoft Organizational Account

OneDrive for Business, formerly known as SkyDrive Pro, seems to feel very similar to OneDrive.  But there are differences, and why you would want to use one over the other also drives choices.

OneDrive is free and is intended for personal information while OneDrive for Business is available to Office 365 users.  It is intended for corporate or organization information.  OneDrive for business is, in its cloud form, a SharePoint document library set up for the individual user.  As such it is controlled by the administrator for Office 365.  A less “polite” way to say this may be that if someone leaves the organization, they can take OneDrive personal with them but OneDrive for Business stays in your control and possession.


What is SkyDrive Pro vs. SkyDrive?

SkyDrive Pro is not to be confused with the free SkyDrive you can get at live.com.  What may be confusing to you is that they have similar names, and you might even use the same login name and passwords to access each of them.  But that is just co-incidence, much in the same way that the user name and password you might use to log onto your bank account and a news web site might be the same but those sites have no real relationship to one another.

So what is SkyDrive Pro?  It is a 25GB storage space that you get to via Office 365, but unlike he “Team Site”, this is a personal site just for you and based on your user logon to Office 365.  All the things, or at least most of them, that can be done on the team site – like creating libraries, lists, etc. – can be done on the SkyDrive Pro site.  But the data you store there is visible and accessible only by your logon.  (There is a way to store data so that all other Office 365 users in your organization can see it, but will discuss that shortly).

 SkyDrive Pro 2013 in the Office 2013 Suite of Programs

There is an important difference about SkyDrive Pro from the Team Site besides exclusively belonging to you.  There is an Office 2013 program, SkyDrive Pro interestingly enough, that does two things:

SkyDrive Pro 2013 makes a local copy of your Office 365 SkyDrive data so you can access it even when you are not online. SkyDrive Pro 2013 automatically synchronizes the data between your local copy and Office 365.  Update it in either place and the changes are replicated.

And yes, if you were wondering, you can use SkyDrive Pro 2013 on multiple computers.  Let’s say you are using it on your office and home office computers.  You update the local copy on your home office computer, and that replicates to Office 365 in the cloud.  That in turn replicates from Office 365 to the local copy on your office computer.

 Setting Up SkyDrive Pro 2013

If you already have Office 2013 Professional Plus installed (from Office 365, e.g.) then SkyDrive Pro 2013 is already installed on your computer.  You might want to pin this program to your task bar for easy access.  In Windows 7, click on the Start menu, then All Programs, scroll down to Microsoft Office 2013 and expand it, right click on SkyDrive Pro and click on Pin to Task Bar.  In Windows 8, swipe to the lower right hand corner of the screen to bring up Charms, choose the Search Charm, and start typing “SkyDrive Pro 2013.”  As soon as it appears, right click on it and at the bottom of the screen, choose Pin to Taskbar.  Return to the desktop.

On the taskbar, click on the SkyDrive Pro 2013 icon to launch it.  The first time it runs, it will prompt you to synch files for the first time.  You may be prompted for a URL of the library to synch to, or that may already be filled out for you.  If it is filled out already, just click on Sync Now.

If you are prompted for a URL, then close the window and perform the following steps instead:

  1. Open Internet Explorer or FireFox or Chrome.
  2. Go to http://portal.microsoftonline.com, 
  3. Log onto your Office 365 account.
  4. On the horizontal navigation bar at the top of the next page, click on SkyDrive.
  5. When the SkyDrive site opens, click on Sync at the upper right just below the user name.

SkyDrive

You should see a small window open asking to Sync Now.  Select that.  Subsequently, a second small window may open asking you to choose an application in which Microsoft SkyDrive Pro appears.  Click on it and then click OK.  Briefly another small window may appear informing you that your computer is contacting the server, and finally another window that sync is preparing, then finally that it is ready and you can view your files.  Click Show my files to do so.

Subsequently when you click on the SkyDrive Pro icon, it will open the folder from your local hard disk.  You will note the location of this folder is C:\Users\<profilename<>\SkyDrive Pro where <profilename> is the name of the user profile you are logged on as.  Generally it will be your log on name and sometimes with the domain name added.

o365-2

Please note on the screen shot above both SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro appear.  That is because I set up a personal SkyDrive account in addition to having an Office 365 account.  They are not the same thing even though the names are similar.  It is as though Drop Box had one account for personal and another named Drop the Box for something else.  Jeez.

Sharing Data with Others in Your Organization

Notice in the screenshot above “Shared with Everyone” folder.  Open that and place a file or folder there, and anyone can access it.  Otherwise, the files are private to your log on.  Pretty simple, eh?

 What is the SkyDrive Pro Folder?

What SkyDrive Pro 2013 does is create a local folder in the path specified above, and it also sets up an automatic synchronization between that folder and the SkyDrive SharePoint site in Office 365.  Recall that the SkyDrive site in Office 365 that you see when you log on to the portal is private!  It belongs to your Office 365 log on exclusively.  Coupled with SkyDrive Pro 2013, it does a bi-directional synchronization to SkyDrive Pro folder on your computer.  In other words, if you add, change or delete anything in the SkyDrive Pro folder on your computer, those changes are automatically replicated in the SkyDrive SharePoint site in Office 365.  Likewise, if you add, change or delete anything in that site, it is automatically replicated to your computer.

Note that you do not have to be connected to the Internet to access files, or add files, to the local SkyDrive Pro folder.  Once you are connected, replication in both directions takes place without you having to do anything.

This feature makes it perfect when you are using more than one computer: say your office computer, your home computer, and your laptop computer.  Set up SkyDrive Pro on each.  If you make changes on your laptop while traveling, for example, once you connect to the Internet, those changes are replicated to Office 365.  And Office 365 in turn will replicate them to the home and office computers.

 The SkyDrive Pro 2013 Folder

When you click on the SkyDrive Pro icon on the taskbar, or from File Explorer under Favorites, or by browsing to the folder location.  The contents of the folder will appear as in any other folder on your computer.  However, SkyDrive Pro adds a crucial piece of information.  An icon will appear just before the file or folder name.  The icon will be one of the three following ones:

  1. A green check mark.  This indicates the file has been successfully synchronized to Office 365.
  2. A circle with two curved arrows inside.  This indicates that the file is awaiting synchronization to Office 365.
  3. A red circle with a white “X” inside it.   This indicates there is an error synchronizing to Office 365. It is either a file type that cannot be uploaded to SharePoint, in which case you should not put it in SkyDrive Pro folder, or the file name is invalid.  Invalid file names contain characters like “%” or “&” and several others that are invalid in SharePoint.  Or the file name has consecutive “.”  Myfile..ppt, for example, is valid in Windows but not in SharePoint.  Change the file name to allow synchronization.

You can see the icons next to the file names on the screen shot I posted above.

 Using SkyDrive Pro

The first thing you should do is move all of your files in My Documents to SkyDrive Pro, then abandon completely storing or accessing anything from My Documents.  If you save documents on your desktop, do the same thing: move them to SkyDrive Pro and cease using your desktop for storage.  If you save your documents to another location, well you get the idea.  You can open My Documents, any other folder, and also SkyDrive Pro folder and simply drag things from one place to the other.

When you are saving a document, say from an email attachment or from an application like Word or Excel, simply browse to the SkyDrive Pro folder and save it there (or to a subfolder there).

 Why Go Through All that Trouble?

Just to state the obvious, it is NOT more trouble to save or access things from SkyDrive Pro than from any other location.  There is a modest, but simple, effort required to move everything from other locations to it though.

Consider these benefits:

  •  If something catastrophic happens to your computer – lost, stolen, hard disk crash, accidental erasure, etc. – you don’t lose any of your files.  A copy is at Office 365 and readily restored to any computer.
  • You can keep your files current and accessible on multiple computers you use.
  • You can access your files while traveling with no Internet connection.
  • You can rest assured that Office 365 is backed up, redundant and robust to protect your data.
  • SkyDrive at Office 365 supports version control, so if you screw up a file, you can readily restore the previous version and save the day.
  • If you don’t have any of your computers with you but have access to one, you can still get to all of your files by accessing them through the Office 365 portal.  And if that computer doesn’t have Office 2013 on it, you can use the Office Web Apps or Office on Demand at any time.

A Few More Things

You have an icon in the systray for SkyDrive Pro and another for Microsoft Office Upload Center (the latter is an orange circle with a large up-pointing arrow).  When files are synching, the SkyDrive Pro icon will have a green moving bar underneath it.  Hover your mouse over it and a popup will show how many remaining files are waiting for synch.  Open Upload Center to see any errors in uploading, such as unsupported file types or invalid file names.  File names must conform to SharePoint file name rules, so certain characters valid in Windows file names will not work in SharePoint.

Saving files, or opening existing files, from Office and other applications is quite simple and easy.  To open a file, for example, click on the SkyDrive Pro (or similarly named) icon under Favorites or open the SkyDrive Pro folder from SkyDrive 2013.  Browse to the file you want and click to open it.  To save a file, follow a similar strategy

Files are synched to Office 365 only when a file is closed after updating or adding.  Don’t depend on synching a file that remains open for days at a time.  A good example might be a QuickBooks file.  As long as you close it after daily use, it will synch to Office 365.  A better strategy might be to set up QuickBooks to backup the file on an automated schedule to your SkyDrive Pro site.  Once the backup is complete, it is synched to Office 365, giving you a local and a cloud-based backup.

You may recall that if you go offline, say taking your laptop or table while traveling, or because your Internet connection is down, you can make changes to your files on the local SkyDrive Pro folder and once connected to the Internet again, those changes will be replicated onto Office 365.  But here is a caution if you are using Office 2013 SkyDrive Pro (Office APP) on more than one computer:  If you make changes on one of those computers to the folder and don’t go online to synch them but instead make changes to the same files or folders on another computer, you will create a synch error or worse cause an overwrite to the changes on at least one of those computers.  In normal operation, I consider this unlikely, but sure as I write this someone will do it.

If you are using a Windows tablet device, such as a Surface Pro, remember that your local copy of your folder is going to be as large as the online store.  Since these table devices are solid state disks (SSD) and generally 32GB or 64GB for all your storage, including the OS and program files, you might run out of room.  In that case, consider moving older or seldom-used files to your Office 365 team site libraries.

Summary

SkyDrive Pro is a personal SharePoint site for each Office 365 user.  Coupled with Office 2013 SkyDrive Pro, a local folder under your user profile is used to store data which is automatically synched to the SharePoint site.  Used in place of My Documents, or some network share, it is an excellent and vastly superior way IMHO to have online or offline access to your files, to have automatic cloud backup, and access to them on multiple computers or simply through an Internet connection and browser when your own computer devices are not available.


Now that you have the basics of how to create a volume on an iSCSI target and mount it for use, let’s explore some reasons for doing so.

Server Storage

The simplest case I will present is a single SBS server.  There are several important data stores for SBS:

  • Exchange Server
  • SharePoint
  • Shared folders
  • LOB or other data that is used by SBS members

When you first install SBS, these are all going to be located on the OS drive.  Using the SBS console, you can migrate them to another drive location.  In the case of LOB data, which is set up independently, you no doubt can chose the drive on which to locate it.

You could start with disks installed on the server in a traditional fashion.  Maybe the drives are 500GB, 1TB, or larger drives.  Your Exchange requirements might be modest, say 15GB.  You estimate that SharePoint files are likely to grow to 20GB in the next six months to a year.  Shared folders might start at 20GB but could go up or down depending on what migrates to SharePoint, for example, and what other growth you anticipate.

You can use one drive for Exchange, one for SharePoint, one for shared folders, and one for LOB data.  But perhaps your server can’t accommodate that many drives.  And it certainly might not accommodate them as RAID 5 or 6 volumes and be independent of each other.  What are the choices?  Well, you could  use one physical disk, no RAID, and create several volumes and use different ones for different data types.  Or perhaps use several drives to create a RAID set and and allocate volumes on it.

Now that you have several volumes on your drive or drive array, sized to accommodate the data you anticipate, what happens if you start to run out of space?  If you have a partition management software tool, you could expand the size of the allocation if there is more free space on the drive(s), or shrink another partition if that were possible and then increase the size of the desired one.  Or, if you have the space available, create another larger partition and move the data to the new one.

Using iSCSI targets is similar to this approach but without the drawbacks and pitfalls of locally attached drives.  First, your storage platform is robust and will have RAID enabled drive support.  Since mountable drives are created from an available pool of space, you can start with the most reasonable size for each disk you need.  Later, you can, on the fly, create a new iSCSI target that is larger or smaller, move or migrate the data to it, disconnect the original target and then delete it.  It is far easier than partition management.

Don’t forget backups.  You can create an iSCSI target and mount it on the SBS server and then configure backups to this drive.  Need another destination?  Very simple.  You get the idea.

Virtual Machines

You probably know from reading some of my other posts I am a fan of virtual machines.  I like the idea of running SBS as a Hyper-v machine; the same box can support test machines, client machines used for remote access, special LOB servers, you name it.  In a virtual machine environment, iSCSI shines.

Start with the drive on which you store the .vhd files.  These can be on a locally attached or a iSCSI drive.  I use iSCSI because I can allocate a right-sized disk in a matter of minutes and have it available on the host server.  Once the virtual machine is created, I can allocate and attach additional iSCSI targets to meet the needs of that vm.

Consider that you might want to test some new software or application, such as a web site, SharePoint feature, or LOB application.  Create a virtual machine and allocate the disk space it needs.  If it turns out to be incorrect, or once your testing has been completed, it is a simple matter to delete the iSCSI targets and return the disk space back to the available pool.

Note a potential disaster recovery scenario.  If you were to lose the host server, the .vhd for the virtual machines would still be on the iSCSI target.  Simply use them to create a virtual machine on another host, and you are back up and running.

Testing

Admittedly, I stole some of my own thunder when talking about virtual machines, but the testing environment is perfect for iSCSI.  Just allocate a target, use it and then delete it once the testing is done.

But it is not just for server and server-level software that iSCSI is useful in testing.  Suppose you want to test from your desktop.  Guess what.  Windows 7 has the same iSCSI initiator, and you can download one for XP.  That means you can create disks, use them and subsequently delete them at the client desktop as well as at the server.

Ad Hoc Uses

I have also used iSCSI targets for quick, one time efforts.  I wanted to update the OS on a laptop for a friend, and I wanted to end up with a clean install but make sure I didn’t lose anything important.  The trouble was that my friend couldn’t tell me what was important…. So I removed the laptop drive, connected it to my desktop with a USB drive connector, copied it completely to an iSCSI target I created, put the drive back in his laptop and installed the new OS.  There were a few things to go back and retrieve, but once he was satisfied I simply deleted the drive.

I will often be called upon to change something at an installation.  I usually create an iSCSI target, do an appropriate backup (sometimes it is just copying files, other times, a more holistic backup), then make the changes.  Getting back to the original state if something goes wrong is neat and tidy; so is the deletion of the disk once I am done.

Less Common But On My Wish List

Recall from Part I that the SCSI commands to read and write data are sent over the network to the target device.  Theoretically, it doesn’t matter whether the network is local or very WAN.  Practically, it is how long it takes for the commands and data to get back and forth.

Here is where I think cloud backups might go for some types of transaction-sensitive data.  Suppose you have a database that gets updates continuously from user transactions, web traffic, etc.  If that data were stored on an iSCSI target, remember that the data and commands to read and write it travel across the network.  Now imagine that the iSCSI target machine, when it gets a write command, also sends that command with the data to another iSCSI target, a mirror, that is remote, i.e., the cloud (public or private).  The difference is that the local target can respond back to the server that the write is complete, but there are no such time constraints on the write to the cloud. The iSCSI target would have to create a queue of writes and execute them in order as they complete asynchronously to the writes it completes locally.  This is not unlike playing a log file against a database.

Because only writes need be executed across the WAN, this is a very efficient operation and with broadband speeds continuing to increase, such a scheme because a very practical continuous backup procedure.

No solution like this is commercially available that I know of, and it would not be appropriate for every application.  Nevertheless, you heard it here first if it does come to pass.

I hope this gives you a flavor of the convenience and wide range of uses that iSCSI provides. In Part III I will discuss the costs and purchasing of a unit.

 


It’s Christmas Eve morning, very early and still, and it seemed like a great time to give you readers another gift of a SBS solution that is, while not all that common, at least very frustrating because there are no event log postings or other information that clues you in to what is really going on.  Fortunately, the fix is simple and quick.  And I knew in a moment, I felt like St. Nick.

First, the scenario.  You install SBS 2008, and everything seems just fine.  You have done the heavy lifting part of installation: got all the connectivity issues done, installed the trusted certificate, added users, created shares, and so on.  Then you attach a USB drive or two, or install a local hard disk (or as I really like, crate an iSCSI drive and connect it) and then launch the configure backup wizard.  The wizard takes you through all the choices, cautions you about formatting the disk, runs for a few seconds then fails with a vague error.  Details of that error confirm the the configuration failed but are equally vague.  Nothing posts in either the application or system event logs.  For good measure, you try again, perhaps with a different USB drive, change the backup device label, or re-boot the server.  None of those standby cure-alls works.

That is because none of them are the source of the error.  Instead, the source of that error comes from Dell’s machine configuration, and perhaps from other manufacturers as well.  Let’s take a look at disk management information from a Dell server:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice that Disk 0 has three partitions.  The first is a 63MB reserved partition, the second is a 2.01 GB partition named OS and allocated to drive D:, and the third is the partition for SBS as drive C:.  The culprit, it turns out, is the second partition as it can come configured from Dell.  A little more explanation about server configuration from them is needed, though to fully explain the issue.

When you order a Dell server, you must order at least one disk with it.  Many people don’t order fully populated disk drives from Dell because they buy them much cheaper on the open market and add them once the server arrives.  Also, they may not order any OS pre-installed.  If you have a server from Dell, or any other manufacturer, that falls into this category, then this may be a configuration waiting to create the backup configuration error I am about to explain.

The precise reason for the backup configuration error is because that OS, Drive D: partition arrived configured as FAT32.  When you run the wizard, it knows it cannot deal with FAT32 partitions, but instead of actually reporting this fact, you get, instead, the vague configuration failure.

If you have not ordered an OS pre-installed, the best thing to do is to delete all the partitions on the drive as it ships from the manufacturer during the installation of SBS.  Create a new partition that spans the entire drive, and it will automatically format as NTFS.  Problem solved.

If, on the other hand, the OS recovery partition is one you need and want to keep, then don’t delete it by all means.  But do check to see if it is formatted as FAT32.  If it is, then convert it to NTFS from a command prompt:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, BE SURE TO RUN CMD AS ADMINISTRATOR to perform this step.  At the prompt, enter the command CONVERT <drive letter>: /FS:NTFS and enter.  In order to proceed, you will need to enter the volume label as it exists.  Obviously, this is a caution to prevent this command from executing against the wrong volume.  In the case of Dell systems, the volume label is OS.

Although the execution of CONVERT above does not show it, as this was a staged demonstration, you are probably also going to get a message telling you that the conversion cannot continue because the drive is mounted and in use.  Fortunately, you also get a prompt asking if you want to dismount and continue, so respond with a Y and press enter, and the conversion takes place.

Now you can run the Backup Configuration Wizard successfully, assuming you have no other FAT32 volumes lurking about either on the source or destination sides of the configuration.

Okay, time for a cup of coffee, then to finish my candy making, distribute some to family and friends, and settle in to enjoy the remainder of Christmas Eve.  Not one more shopping errand left, just some gifts to wrap.  And family to enjoy.

I sincerely wish all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year, and all the best of the holiday season wherever you are and whatever you celebrate.  I encourage you to post your greetings that extend to holidays and customs that touch you and share them with us all.