Virtualization

At the moment, a major trend in the IT industry is the push towards virtualization.  In addition to being a  large, quickly growing social movement, the push to “go green” is a major focus of many industries & organizations looking to maintain or improve their public image by reducing their carbon footprint.  Virtualization is one way the IT industry is “going green”.

At first, you might ask yourself why virtualize?  From a system administrator’s standpoint, the modularity of virtual machines is impeccable.  You can easily migrate services from one hypervisor to another, not having to worry about drivers or any major compatibility issues.  Everything remains intact after a proper transition from one host to another; no reconfiguration necessary.  This modularity takes a huge burden off a system administrator who would usually be concerned with these things when migrating a service to a new server.  For example, if a company increases in size and needs higher performance hardware to run a certain service, normally this would mean migrating the service to a fresh OS install on a new server.  You could not simply place the old hard drive into the new server and expect it to work.  The differences in hardware would require a fresh OS installation and even the possible danger of incompatibility with the older software.

Now, let’s say that machine was virtualized and its host’s specifications were inadequate.  A new, more powerful server would require only a hypervisor to be installed to be ready to run the VM.  The actual virtual machine could then be migrated from the old machine with a few keystrokes.  After adjusting the privileged domain’s configuration to match that of the original host, the service in question could then be returned to its original state.  In practice, the time it takes to migrate virtual machines is considerably less than migrating physical hosts.  In addition, this ease of migration allows for virtual machines to be moved around amongst hosts in an attempt to achieve the most efficient use of resources possible.  If you have a few services that don’t see much usage, you can host them all on a single machine.  If one of those services suddenly becomes more in demand, it can be migrated to another host with more free resources available.

This modularity is enticing and also entails ease of incorporating high-availability.  When type-one hypervisors are clustered, they can add redundancy to a virtual machine.  For example, if you had two Hyper-V’s clustered and attached to commonly available storage such as a SAN, if one of the cluster members was to crash, the virtual machines running on it would automatically continue running on the second member.  How this works is similar to how Cisco incorporates HSRP.  Each host has an IP address, but the two share a virtual IP address.  This virtual IP address is the only IP a client sees when accessing a service hosted on the cluster.  When managed, they appear as a single VM host.  Virtual machines are migrated to the cluster the same way you migrate a VM from one host to another.  You can choose which machine will primarily host the VM, but when failover occurs it will be automatically migrated to another available cluster member.  Even though you can pick which machine will host your VM, it is accessed through the cluster’s virtual IP, regardless.  The best thing about Hyper-V is that this functionality is included in its purchase price – free!

VMware HA is similar but requires licensing.  VMware vMotion and Storage vMotion drive vCenter’s HA and also offer the ability to quickly migrate VM’s with not only their live state information, but also their associated virtual disks.  VMware’s vCenter can also be used to dynamically move VM’s from host to host and actually power up and power down hosts as VM demand for resources increases and decreases.

In addition to all of these benefits, virtualization is also more economical.  Because you can host multiple virtual machines on a single host, what used to require a dozen or more servers may now only require two or three powerful servers.  In doing this, you have less hardware to maintain, more free space and best of all, less power usage.  In today’s economy where every dollar counts, this is important.  Money can be saved by virtualizing.  You can go so far as to virtualize your desktop environment as well, but more about that another day.

In today’s world, it’s pretty easy to see why virtualization has gotten so much attention so quickly.  It offers many real benefits on many fronts.  It is administrator friendly, accountant friendly and even environmentalist friendly.  It’s not too often you see something new that provides gratification to all three of these types simultaneously!

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HP Mini311 Overclocking

In late 2009, I was among the first HP Mini311 owners to gain overclocking ability. I actually helped pioneer the first technique. The HP Mini311 was and still is (in my opinion) the best netbook on the market. It uses an Intel Atom processor but contains the Nvidia Ion GPU. The Mini311 was one of the first and only netbooks to contain Nvidia’s Ion GPU, which is the equivalent of an Nvidia 9400m.  This GPU gives it 1080p playback functionality, very impressive for a netbook.

When I was originally looking to purchase a netbook, I was looking for a computer that I could keep on my person and readily available. However, I did not want a standard netbook, which would not be able to handle some tasks I wished to throw at it. For this reason, I waited until a more powerful breed of netbook was released. The HP Mini311 was a great choice.

The Mini311’s performance can be further increased by method of overclocking. Originally, the only way to overclock the 311 was through software. Now, a modified BIOS can be flashed that has most all functions unlocked. This enables users to obtain further control of their 311. The instructions can be found here.

After flashing the BIOS and setting a modest overclock (1.8ghz from an original 1.6ghz), my Mini311 can perform most all functions I require in my daily activities. If my main laptop was to go down, this netbook would be a suitable temporary replacement.  Considering I paid $400 for it, I think it was a great investment.  I noticed it was discontinued shortly after production, which I feel was because it was threatening notebook sales.  At the time, why would anyone pay ~$800 for a laptop when a $400 netbook can provide the same functionality?  I noticed that the 311 was hard to find while in production; it was never carried by Best Buy or many other major retailers.  I actually had to travel quite a bit to find one in stock.  I’m sure their marketing departments felt the same way and decided this unit was a threat to their profit margin.

UPDATE – HP Mini 311 Windows 8.1

Although I’ve since got a Microsoft Surface, I’ve went ahead and resurrected my Mini 311. I noticed recently Nvidia released Windows 8 drivers for the Ion platform!  Not surprisingly, the Mini 311 actually runs Windows 8.1 better than it ran Windows 7.

To complete your installation, you’ll want to grab the latest Nvidia Ion drivers, and the Windows 7 chipset drivers for the nForce 730i, I think the latest is 15.59 (link) which are relatively old, but still better than receiving the ‘unknown device’ message in device manager.  When you install the chipset drivers, select only the SMU and storage options; do not install the graphics, audio or ethernet drivers as you’ll source those from the Ion package, and the Microsoft-bundled nForce Ethernet driver is newer as well.  Enjoy refreshing your Mini 311!

Hello world!

I have created this site to share my ideas, encounters, and solutions to technology problems.  I have a lot of information and guides which I’ve created and stored in my Microsoft OneNote notebook throughout the years. Some of it is only pertinent to me, but as I encounter challenges while performing various tasks, I document my solutions. I have found that this documentation can save a lot of time when repeating the task again.

In the field of Information Technology, no one can memorize everything; possessing high-quality, readily available information is crucial to success. I hope that some of my content will prove valuable to others.