Health, Happiness and Well-being While on the Road

WP_20150108_004 (2)I just finished listening to the latest podcast (TTTT Episode 33) from the crew at Trainers Talking Tech on Tuesday (Full disclosure: I am part of that crew but didn’t really feature in that episode. Check out trainertechtalk.net!), and it got me to thinking about what it is I do, and what it is I should do, to look after myself when I’m on the road. IT conference season is in full swing, and there are quite a few major ones just around the corner at the time of writing, so I thought it might be an opportune time to get some of those thoughts out.

I’m not the road warrior I once was. There was a period when I would get home on a Friday night, put the contents of my luggage straight into the washing machine, wash/dry them, straight back into the luggage for my departure on Sunday night. That might sound exciting, but it gets old pretty quickly. I still have to train away from my home base once every couple of months, so that feels pretty manageable.

Stay in Control

I think that’s probably the first key to health on the road–keep your travel workload manageable. I think of this in two ways. First, make sure you’re not spending too many weeks on the road. I know some of you are going “But how many is too many?”. That’s the tricky part. Everyone is different, and it changes as you change. What is fine when you’re 25 and single is not so fine at 40 with kids.  As I mentioned before, I’m spending around 1 week out of every 10 or 12 on the road. That works for me at the moment. As my kids get older (they are all teens or higher), they are more independent, more capable than they were when they were little. It makes it easier to take the odd training event at short notice. But I still make it a point to be home when the big stuff is on for them. I try not to miss any performance/concert/recital if I can possibly help it.

Second, try to make sure the trips themselves are fairly straightforward, and allow for maximum time at home. I’m lucky, and the vast majority of my travel is w/in New Zealand, so flights are no longer than an hour. It means I can fly out at 7 or 8 pm on a Sunday night, and be home by 8pm on Friday night. Occasionally I go overseas, but I try not to do it too often, as that takes out most/all of my free and family time, as I usually have to fly out on a Saturday afternoon, and often don’t get back until Monday morning and head straight to the office. So a single overseas trip wipes out two of my weekends. I can manage this once or twice a year, but I wouldn’t want to do this once or twice a month.

So finding that balance between needing to work, and wanting to manage road/home is really important.

Balance your need for “me-time”

This can be the real challenge for trainers, especially when on the road. At the end of a day of training, even when it has gone well, I’m drained. Exhausted. Shattered. Doubly so if it hasn’t gone well.

I need time that isn’t about the training, I need some “me-time”. When I’m at home, I may not get time for “me” right away, but I do have stuff to take me away from my training day–family, pets, fixing dinner etc. Plus I have my regular stuff that helps me recharge throughout the week–band practice, exercise, family.

But all that goes out the window when you are on the road. It’s far too easy to get back to the hotel, drop your bag and flop onto the bed. “I’ll just rest for a bit,” you tell yourself. “A bit” becomes calling up room-service at 9pm because you just woke up or just couldn’t be bothered to get up again. You end up sitting on your bed, eating lukewarm, overpriced crappy food that doesn’t really hit the spot at all.

Which sets you up for not feeling great the next day.

Which leads to a repeat of the night before.

I know I do better when I find a way to get my “me-time”, but still also force myself to get out of my hotel room.

For me, the real challenge is making good decisions the night before so I feel like I can get up at my normal time to get that endorphine hit. Which goes back to where we started. It takes a little discipline to NOT flop on the bed after a long day. I’m learning to have another shower when I get back. I need something to re-energize me, and that tends to do the trick. I can kind of “wash away the day”, and hopefully head out for some dinner in a good frame of mind.

I find it’s important to get out and about, even if I am dining alone. There’s something I find restorative about being in the world. Some nights I’m talkative, some nights I’m not. Either way, being around people tends to give me some juice.

Speaking of juice–I try to avoid the temptation to load up “on the juice” when I’m on the road. Sure, a nice beer or glass of wine with dinner is fine for me. But again, I try to have the discipline to keep it at that. For me, it’s all about keeping me feeling good the whole time. Hangovers are never fun, but less so when you’re not sleeping in your own bed, and your’e in an unfamiliar place.

Exercise & Diet

I also make it a point to not skip my exercise. I feel better when I get some kind of workout in. Normally, I go for a run in the mornings when I am at home. This is relatively easily done on the road, as long as I have my running gear with me. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much space to throw in my running shoes and a couple of running singlets, so I’ve never felt the need to leave these out to save space.

Obviously, running isn’t everyone’s thing. But try to find some kind of regular activity that you can do anywhere. Having your “one  thing” be something that requires lots of specialist equipment or full teams to participate can make it hard to keep it up when you’re on the road. Having said that, if you can find a local league that welcomes casual players for whatever sport/activity you like, then that can be a great way to get out and meet new people and feel like you’re part of the place.

If nothing else, set a step goal every day and pursue it. Walk to/from the hotel instead of a taxi/uber/lyft. Use a walk in the hotel neighbourhood to get to your target if necessary. I find that that can also be a good way to get rid of the stresses of the day.

I find that getting some exercise in impacts how and what I want to eat. When I exercise regularly I stop craving junk foods. My body knows what it needs/wants and adjusts. When I exercise less and eat worse, junk food tastes better. When my body needs fuel I get hungry for better things. Use this to your advantage when on the road. Making sure I get my run in tends to make me eat better throughout the day. Which makes it easier to get up and exercise. Make a positive feedback loop!

Become a Local

OK, that may be a bit of a stretch–but try to get out amongst it wherever you are. Ask your students what they would recommend to go/see/do/eat. Find the hidden gems that  most tourists/business travellers wouldn’t know about. Ask around at the hotel (but I never ask the concierge because they almost always steer you to the places they have a reason to promote). I often find myself going to open-mic nights at local bars/pubs. I don’t get up and sing, but I love the sense of community that is in these places. I find it inspiring to watch people following the dreams, doing something creative and passionate.

Avoid national chain-restaurants. I get it, sometimes you just want a freaking Big Mac. But try to make that the occasional, last ditch dining effort, not your first choice. Look for restaurants that are full w/ locals. They probably know something you don’t!

Take the time, make the effort–take control of your travel life. You’ll be glad you did. I know I was.

 

 

 

 

Azure Exam AZ-102 Overview, Part 2

This is the second part of my Azure AZ-102 Review. It will focus on the content that is being pulled from the AZ-101 objective domains.

You can find part 1 of this article here: Azure Exam AZ-102 Overview, Part 1.

AZ-101: Microsoft Azure Integration and Security

Evaluate and perform server migration to Azure (15-20%)

  • Evaluate migration scenarios by using Azure Migrate
    May include but not limited to

o   Discover and assess environment

o   Identify workloads that can and cannot be deployed

o   Identify ports to open

o   Identify changes to network

o   Identify if target environment is supported

o   Setup domain accounts and credentials

  • Migrate servers to Azure
    May include but not limited to

o   Migrate by using Azure Site Recovery (ASR)

o   Migrate using P2V

o   Configure storage

o   Create a backup vault

o   Prepare source and target environments

o   Backup and restore data

o   Deploy Azure Site Recovery (ASR) agent

o   Prepare virtual network

Continue reading “Azure Exam AZ-102 Overview, Part 2”

AZURE EXAM AZ-102 OVERVIEW, PART 1

Many of you may have may have read/heard the announcement from Microsoft Learning about the changes to the Azure certification and exams. I’m guessing that there will be lots of discussion around whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing. From what I can tell, Microsoft is attempting to respond to what they are being told by companies/partners/the market. Is this the right move? Will it work? Are they just muddying the certification waters? Time will tell, and that is probably a good topic for another time.

What I’m interested in here is “what’s new in the new exams” and “what do I need to know”. The new exams will be rolling out from July 2018, but I wouldn’t expect updated courses from Microsoft until late 2018/early 2019, so until then it will really be up to the individual to make sure they get themselves ready, and hopefully trainers will integrate this content into the legacy courses.

The first exams coming down the pipe are for the Azure Administrator certification. You can find the details here:
AZ-100: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/exam-AZ-100.aspx

AZ-101: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/exam-AZ-101.aspx

AZ-102: Microsoft Azure Administrator Certification Transition

These exams are available for public beta from July 15, 2018 and will likely go live in mid-September. Other exams will probably be landing in beta in the September timeframe.

I had an opportunity to attempt AZ-102, the exam that is meant to be a transition for people who have already passed exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions. Without violating the NDA, I want to review the content of this exam, and my reactions to it.

My first thoughts

First things first—this exam will likely be around 50 questions. There will be a mix of case studies, standard questions, and repeated question sets. At some point, performance-based testing (i.e. you have to do the task) is likely going to be integrated into the exam.

My first impression of this exam was “hard but fair”. Having said that, I did this on the first day of the beta, so I had no exam prep. I was reasonably familiar with all the topics that appeared on my exam. Was I “exam ready”? Probably not.  Especially for questions that were process driven, i.e. “Select the steps and put them in the right order” or “Choose the three actions you would do to xyz”. But overall, I felt if you have been using Azure for infrastructure solutions, then passing this exam should be very achievable.

Because this is an exam specifically designed for people who have already passed 70-533, the topics covered are all the objectives that aren’t already in 20533. So, if you are currently in the middle of prep for exam 70-533, then I would recommend that you continue down that path then do AZ-102 after that. If you had not even started preparation, then you might want to consider taking the AZ-100 and AZ-101 exams instead. Since it is a “differences” exam, the content is culled from both AZ-100 and AZ-101.

Now to the topics . . .

AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment Topics

Manage Azure subscriptions and resources (5-10%)

  • Analyze resource utilization and consumption
    May include but not limited to

o   Configure diagnostics settings on resources

o   Create baselines for resources

o   Create and reset alerts

o   Analyze alerts across the subscription

o   Analyze metrics across subscription

o   Create action groups

o   Monitor for unused resources

o   Monitor spend

o   Report on spend

o   Utilize Log Search query functions

o   View alerts in Log Analytics

Here’s the part of Azure resource configuration that almost always gets glossed over in training materials— “Oh yeah, and here you can configure some metrics and alerts. Moving on now…” This is something that I think many people will need to get familiar with options in this space and practice some practical applications.  I would probably add using tags on resources and resource groups (and the default behaviours that come from that), especially as it relates to running queries and generating reports for specific resources or resource types.

If you’re not already, make sure you understand how Log Analytics works, and what all the “Diagnostics” settings are on all the major Azure resources. You can start digging around in the “How-to guides” of the Azure Log Analytics documentation.

This section would also include being able to configure/use the costing and analysis tools, like Azure Advisor. Understanding when to use that service, how to configure it, and how interpret the results will be very useful for this exam. Knowing what your choices are for filtering the results in the cost analysis tools, and how they connect to things like tags and subscriptions will also be helpful.

Azure Advisor documentation

Implement and manage storage (5-10%)

  • Configure Azure Files
    May include but not limited to

o   Create Azure file share

o   Create Azure File Sync service

o   Create Azure sync group

o   Troubleshoot Azure File Sync

This section really focuses on understanding how to configure the Files service in a storage account. Specifically, really get to know and love the Azure File Sync service. This is a relatively new-ish service, and is something that is designed to scratch a very specific itch. It’s very possible that you may not have had need to use that service, which means your knowledge here could be light.  A good place to start would be Planning for an Azure File Sync deployment, and Deploy Azure File Sync.

Configure and manage virtual networks (15-20%)

  • Create connectivity between virtual networks
    May include but not limited to

o   Create and configure VNET peering

o   Create and configure VNET to VNET

o   Verify virtual network connectivity

o   Create virtual network gateway

  • Configure name resolution
    May include but not limited to

o   Configure Azure DNS

o   Configure custom DNS settings

o   Configure DNS zones

This topic is the one that I felt might require the least amount of extra work to prepare for. If you are working with the Azure IaaS services, then you should be pretty good with DNS. If you haven’t done a lot of work the Azure DNS specifically, then taking a bit of time to familiarize yourself with the differences between Public DNS zones and Private DNS zones, the common record types and delegations (i.e. common DNS management tasks), should put you in good stead.

As for the connectivity between virtual networks—there’s not a lot new in this space, and this is covered pretty well in the existing training materials. An area that might throw a spanner into the works for some people might be understanding how this connectivity works when you have multiple VNets (i.e. how do you create routes, rather than a big mesh). You can use VNets peering and custom routes, or you can use VNET to VNET. Know how to do either, and understand how data is going to flow with default settings.

If you want more information about the peering options, you might want to start with the Virtual Network Peering documentation.

Manage Identities (15-20%)

  • Manage Azure Active Directory
    May include but not limited to

o   Add custom domains

o   Configure Azure AD Identity Protection

o   Azure AD Join

o   Enterprise State Roaming

o   Configure self-service password reset

o   Implement conditional access policies

o   Manage multiple directories

o   Perform an access review

  • Implement and manage hybrid identities
    May include but not limited to

o   Install and Configure Azure AD Connect

o   Configure federation and single sign-on

o   Manage Azure AD Connect

o   Manage password sync and writeback

This is an area that I didn’t stress over when questions from here appeared, but I also do quite a bit with this because I spend a lot of time configuring these things for Office 365.  Assuming that you have some experience with Azure AD setup and configuration, as well as Azure AD Connect, you really will want to make sure you fill in your gaps. For example, if you’re strong on setting up federation, you’ll probably be in good shape for that, but you might want to make sure you have a good understanding of how to configure Pass-through configuration.

Another area that I suspect may trip people up will be the Azure AD Identity Protection and Conditional Access Policies.  These services are straightforward to configure (imho), but if you’ve not had the need to use them, then taking a bit of time to make sure you understand what each one does, why you want it, and how to configure it will make a big difference.

Part 2 will cover the content from AZ-101.

 

Fun with Windows Deployment Services in WS2012 R2

Recently we’ve been having some random strangeness happening with our Windows Deployment Services (WDS) server in the office. A look around the environment didn’t uncover any “A-HA!” moments. All looked as it should. Performance counters and metrics were all where they should have been. But it didn’t change the fact that there was a noticeable, sudden downturn in performance of the WDS environment. We looked at the underlying SAN, the virtualization platform, the network infrastructure, the VMs themselves. They all were returning smiling happy faces and saying “Nothing to See Here.”

Now all this digging around did unearth some other issues that we needed to address, especially around patching of our VMs. I found a couple that somehow hadn’t been patched in over 2 1/2 years. Oops. That’s not really a good thing.  The WDS server wasn’t one of those, but it did have quite a few pending so I took the opportunity to take it offline and do some maintenance and patching (and in the process of running terminal sessions from within VM console sessions from within RDP sessions I managed to trigger updates to our SAN. But that’s a story for a different blog post. Suffice it to say it all ended up just fine).

Patches downloaded, installed, server rebooted. A quick test . . . no change in the performance. Grrrrrrrrr. But not really unexpected.

And so, in the grand tradition of IT expediency and pragmatism I had the thought “I could have built a new server faster than this.” So after consulting with a few colleagues we decided I should do just that. It allowed us to tick a few different boxes anyway, and it just happened to coincide with some unexpected free time in my schedule. So off I went!

General Approach

We decided to go with a side-by-side migration, basing the new WDS server on Windows Server 2012 R2, rather than an in-place upgrade. This was a good choice for us for lots of reasons, not least of which it is the recommended approach by Microsoft for most things. So we put together our big-picture plan, which looked like this:

  1. Do your homework. I’ve had some experience with WDS, but not massive amounts in the wild, so before I started down this path I needed to make sure I had enough knowledge to be able to confidently do the work without any major, preventable issues. I had a look through the topics found in course 20415-Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure, and then I headed off to TechNet. This article proved to be a useful starting point for me as well. It also gave me a useful basic checklist to make sure I didn’t miss any important steps.
  2. Plan and Install the Windows Server 2012 R2 VM. Using the VM configuration of the original WDS server as a starting point I made and documented the decisions about configuration and build of the VM. There were the obvious OS things like “Yes, it has to be a member of the domain”, computer name, static v. dynamic IP addressing (I went with static, so I could easily change the IP address later to take over the IP of the legacy server, thus reducing the need to reconfigure our network infrastructure), but also made decisions about some of the less obvious stuff, like how many and what type of virtual disks to use, where to store those disks (SCSI, in the shared storage, thin-provisioned), how much and what type of memory (dynamic, 2GB start-up 16GB max). Once that was done I created the VM and the disks, hooked up our WS2012R2 iso and built the VM to spec. I also tried to do as much patching as possible done here so I didn’t get interrupted when I was doing the WDS work.
  3. Set up the storage. We made the decision to make use of a few of the new features in WS2012 and WS2012R2, as well as trying to future-proof the configuration as much as we reasonably could. So what we decided in this case was to take the data disk (our second virtual disk) and set it up within Windows as part of a storage pool. If we need more storage later on we can create new virtual disks, and add them to the storage pool. Once we had that, I created a single virtual disk from that pool. Again, in the future we can extend that virtual disk if required, allowing us to relatively quickly and easily increase the storage available to hold our images. I also enabled Disk-Deduplication on the volume that was based on that virtual disk. For us, this was all about maximizing storage/minimizing storage use. WDS already de-duplicates the data in the WIMs, but it shouldn’t hurt for all of the other files.
  1. Install and configure WDS services. This was probably the most straightforward part of the process. Using the checklist I got from TechNet, I added the Windows Deployment Services role to our new VM. I wanted a new server, but not new images, so from there the configuration was really nothing more than exporting the boot and install wims from the legacy WDS server, and then adding and configuring them. On the legacy server I mapped a drive to the data drive on the new server and used that as the target for all the exports. We made the decision to only export the current wims that we use, not all the historic wims. So I really only had 4 boot wims and 5 install wims to deal with. On top of that I needed to document and copy out the unattendimage.xml files that correspond to those wims.This really wasn’t anything more than an exercise in documentation and paying attention to detail. When you export an image from WDS it makes a copy of the wim file, but does not include the other properties/configurations of the image, like unattend files. So I made sure that I documented and copied out all the unattend files that I were going to need, and then I did our image exports. Once those were done I created new images on our new WDS server, using the exported WIMs, and then going in and configuring each image to use the corresponding unattend file. Fortunately, I only had a handful of images so it wasn’t a big deal. If I were to do this again I’d spend a little time digging around in PowerShell to see if there is a command that would allow me to script that or at least do it in bulk.

     

  2. Test the new server. This was an easy one. Since we only use our WDS environment late in the day, I could take a couple of client machines and use for testing. So that’s what I did. I shutdown the legacy WDS server, and then changed the IP address of the new server to take over from the legacy server. This meant I did not have to go and change firewall, networking and DHCP settings. I restarted the WDS services and then booted up some clients.The first tests proved to be reasonably successful. The clients all successfully found the server, connected to the TFTP service and deployed images. It did reveal a couple of minor configuration errors I had made. Specifically, I had forgotten to set the boot image priorities and timeouts, and I had used the wrong unattend file for one image. Minor configuration issues that were easily fixed in about 5 minutes. The second test went as planned. No issues. However, the jury is still out on the performance issues. We won’t really know until we put it under are normal loads. It seemed quicker, but that was just the eyeball test. Regardless we have a leaner and meaner WDS server than we did before, so overall a worthwhile project anyway.
  3. Phase out the legacy server. I are quietly confident that the new server will function as required, and initial testing indicates that it will cope with the workload. So we are shutting down the original VM on a semi-permanent basis, but will leave it registered on our virtualization platform for the next 2 weeks. If we encounter any major issues we can quickly shut down the new server and spin up the original. If we are all clear after two weeks I will be delete the VM and all its files from our virtualization platform. However, I have taken a copy of the virtual disk that contained all the images for the legacy WDS server, and it is stored on external storage. If push comes to shove I can attach to the VM and get access to those wim files.
  4. Monitor and maintain. Our initial testing indicates that the new server is performing better than the last, but I haven’t received definitive proof as wet. That will likely occur when we do our first large-scale rollouts using the new WDS environment. But all signs are looking good for new.
  5. Write blog post about it. Done.

Obviously, this wasn’t a hugely technical article, more of an overview of the process and what I went through. There was a lot of good stuff in TechNet around WDS server management, so if you’re embarking on a WDS project you might want to start there.

Cheers.

NZMCT


Curious about Windows 10?

Windows 10 Technical Preview Fundamentals for IT Pros.

The Tech Preview (TP) for Windows 10 has been out for a few weeks now, downloaded millions of times (according to Microsoft). So what do you do with it?  It’s all well and groovy to spin up a VM,  and put Windows 10 on it and take it for a spin. You’ll be able to see the new Start Screen, take advantage of the app docking (up to 4 at a time now), the multiple desktops. All cool stuff, especially for the end-user. But if you’re the Windows Desktop team lead, or a Windows sysadmin you might be wondering “So what? What’s in it for me?” Fair enough, too.

You can dig through the Windows 10 TP doco and blogs etc.  Places like this: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkId=507620

Or this: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=507624

Or even this: http://blogs.windows.com/itpro/

And I’ll admit, there is some enjoyment to be had to dive in and dig around, delve into the details. If you have the time. And that’s always the big gotcha. IF YOU HAVE THE TIME. I know I don’t always have the time.  So if you don’t have as much time as you’d like, but you want to get an overview of “What’s new for IT Pros” in Windows 10 TP, then check out the Microsoft Virtual Academy session this Thursday/Friday (depending on your time zone).

It’s running from 6am Friday the 21st of November for all the cool kids (i.e. the ones who live in New Zealand), for 4 hours. So it will be a bit of an early start. But look at the bright side, you’ll still have most of your day left to do other cool stuff!

Windows 10 Technical Preview Fundamentals for IT Pros.

It’s running as part of the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA), so you will need to set up a logon for that (if you don’t already have one).  And don’t worry, if you can’t make the live broadcast, it is being recorded and will be made available ondemand through MVA at a later date.