Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Has Microsoft Desktop Virtualization Reached The End Of The Road?

I'm a big proponent of using Virtual Machines for development on your local machine. It just doesn't make sense to install things that you don't always need running and consuming resources when you can start a virtual machine (VM), do your work, and shut it down when you're done. Using VMs allows you to develop software against the specific platform you intend to deploy it to and test the deployment to make sure it works. VMs are also great way to try out new software without mucking up your Operating System. I could write an entire post about why using VMs make sense, but I think you get my point.

When Windows 7 came along Microsoft introduced a new version of Virtual PC and XP Mode, a technology which runs a Windows XP VM in the background so older applications can still run on a newer OS. The new version also added support for USB devices - handy if you needed to get data off a thumb drive directly into a VM or use a device that only worked with older versions of Windows. Unfortunately Virtual PC  has a major shortcoming in that it only supports 32-bit VMs.

32-bit only support hasn't been a problem since Microsoft has traditionally offered both 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows Server, but then Windows 2008 R2 came along as a 64-bit only OS. That means you can't run Windows 2008 R2 in Virtual PC, and in my opinion that's a major gap in Microsoft's virtualization strategy. I follow Ben Armstrong's (a.k.a. Virtual PC Guy) blog and while he talks a lot about Hyper-V (which does offer 64-bit support) the only recent mentions about Virtual PC deal with running older applications. Between Ben's blog and the lack of Virtual PC updates since Windows 7 was released I can only surmise that Microsoft has reached the end of the road with it's desktop virtualization strategy and if you want to run modern 64-bit OSs in desktop VMs you'll need to look for other solutions. (Disclaimer - I have no inside information about Microsoft's plans here. This is a conclusion I've reached based purely on outside observations!)

Fortunately there are two free alternatives with 64-bit support: VirtualBox and VMWare Player. If you're looking for paid desktop virtualization products there's also Parallels and VMWare Workstation. The paid versions have features that virtualization power users will appreciate, but for most of us the free versions suffice just fine. An added bonus is that all of these support non-Windows operating systems, something that while possible in Virtual PC requires hacks and workarounds to get working even half-right.

I really hope I'm wrong here as I think Virtual PC is sans the 32-bit only support it's not a bad product by any means. However without any plans for 64-bit support announced I will no longer be recommending Virtual PC to anyone who is looking for a desktop virtualization solution.

Monday, March 14, 2011

STS-134 Rollout

If you follow me on Twitter or talk to me in person you'll come to realize I'm a space enthusiast. Two generations of my family have worked for NASA, and although I opted for a career in computers I'm still very passionate about spaceflight. You can imagine, then, how excited I was when my brother, a United Space Alliance contractor for NASA, told me he had a car pass to go watch the rollout of Space Shuttle Endeavour from the Vertical Assembly Building to Pad 39A for it's final flight.

I've seen plenty of launches but never a rollout so of course I jumped on the opportunity to go watch. The pictures below don't really do the event justice. For one, the space shuttle is massive and you really get a sense of just how big it really is when you're standing 50 feet away - you wonder how in the world it even flies!

Some people might wonder what the big deal is with a rollout considering it's just transporting the shuttle from one spot to another, but the rollout is every bit as critical to a successful mission as the events of a launch day - after all the shuttle can't launch if it can't get to the pad. To put that into terms a DBA can relate to, think about making sure SQL Server is installed and configured properly before a big deployment - it's important to get that part right even if it seems routine.

I'm glad that I had the chance to go watch because it may have been the last rollout ever. This is Endeavour's last flight and although there's talk of sending Atlantis up one more time funding for the mission still hasn't been approved by congress. I've also been fortunate enough to see not one but two launches while standing next to the countdown clock less than 2 miles from the pad. How'd you like to watch a launch from there to? You have a chance to, and here's how:

Until noon Eastern on March 15 registration is open for a tweetup hosted by NASA; if selected as one of the lucky 150 you'll get the chance to meet engineers, astronauts, and the people behind the scenes who make the shuttle program happen. The 2 day tweetup culminates with the launch of Endeavour, currently scheduled for April 19. Bonus - it's a dusk launch at 7:48 PM which is one of the most spectacular looking launches there is. Don't miss the chance to see what may be the last shuttle launch ever - go register now!


Friday, March 11, 2011

MagicPASS March 2011 Meeting Notice

Mar 2011 Graphic

Register for MagicPASS March 2011 Meeting in Celebration, FL  on Eventbrite


If you're in the central Florida area you're invited to the March meeting of MagicPASS, South Orlando's SQL Server User Group. We'll have food, networking, presentations from Andy Warren and Brian Mitchell, and swag to give away.

This month's meeting on March 16 is sponsored by Red Gate Software and Signature Consultants and will also include a brief demonstration of Red Gate's Source Control. Sandwiches and cookies from Roma's Quick Cafe in Celebration will be served.

The pre-meeting begins at 5:00 PM for those that want to absorb more SQL Server learning and the main meeting begins at 6:30 PM. Pre-meeting attendance is optional - if you can't make it we'd still love to have you come for the main meeting!

Join us afterwards at the Celebration Town Tavern for more socializing and shop talk. (You are responsible for your own drinks)


Pre-Meeting Presentation

Basics of Performance Tuning - Part 2

Speaker: Andy Warren


In part two of this three part series on performance tuning we’re going to explore indexes. We’ll cover creating indexes and maintaining them, core skills for anyone working with SQL Server. We’re also going to show you how indexes work logically, giving you a mental model that will make it easy to understand the difference between seeks and scans and how each impacts performance. You’ll definitely want to attend this class to get full value out of the upcoming part three on reading query plans.

About Andy:

Andy Warren is a SQL trainer focusing on basic administration and performance tuning, he runs the free SQLShare.com training site, is currently a SQL Server MVP, blogs daily at SQLAndy.com, started the SQLSaturday franchise, serves as a member of the Board of Directors of PASS, and was a founding partner in SQLServerCentral.com. In his remaining free time he’s working on a book for first time managers

Main Meeting Presentation

Making Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Easier:

Microsoft Appliances and Fast Track Reference Architectures

Speaker: Brian Mitchell


Deploy high performance solutions in days, not months with the new appliances from Microsoft. Learn about SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse Appliance, the Business Decision Appliance, and what the new Fast Track 3.0 Reference Architecture can do for you.

We will cover an overview of the functionality of SQL PDW. PDW is a highly scalable appliance for Enterprise data warehousing. We will discuss how PDW partitions large tables across multiple physical nodes, each having its own dedicated CPU, memory, storage, and each running its own instance of SQL Server in a parallel shared nothing design. This architecture consists of a multi-rack system, which parallelizes queries across an array of dedicated servers connected by a high-speed network to deliver results at speeds that are typically faster than possible with a traditional SMP architecture..

We’ll discuss what’s included in the HP Business Decision Appliance and how it can help you deploy BI solutions faster. The HP BDA is an end-to-end, self-contained preconfigured stack that leverages familiar Microsoft technologies for authoring and sharing data. Business users can use familiar tools such as Microsoft Excel and SharePoint, across a greater breadth of information, allowing IT resources to be shifted from running ad hoc reports to innovation initiatives.

Finally, we’ll discuss the new Fast Track 3.0 Reference Architecture. The SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse initiative provides a basic methodology and concrete examples for the deployment of balanced hardware and database configuration for a data warehousing workload. Balance is measured across the key components of a SQL Server installation; storage, server, application settings, and configuration settings for each component are evaluated. The goal is to achieve an efficient out-of-the-box balance between SQL Server data processing capability and aggregate hardware I/O throughput. Ideally, minimum storage is purchased to satisfy customer storage requirements and provide sufficient disk I/O for SQL Server to achieve a benchmarked maximum data processing rate.

About Brian:

Brian Mitchell is Microsoft Senior Premier Field Engineer that supports Microsoft's SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse customers. He has been with Microsoft for five years. Before joining the PDW team, Brian worked as a PFE and Consultant working primarily with the MS BI stack, specializing in SSAS and SSRS design and performance. He enjoys engaging customers on their most challenging issues. Brian has achieved the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) SQL Server 2008 certification. You can follow Brian on Twitter @brianwmitchell, LinkedIn or read his blog at http://sqlpdw.com