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Windows 7 Installation …

Added on by Ray Insalaco.

I started the move to Windows 7 last night.  Just to make things interesting, I also moved to the 64 bit version.  The base installation was quick and painless.  I was installing on a Dell Latitude D630 with a nVidia video controller.

Windows 7 did a pretty good job of finding and configuring my hardware.  The only drivers that I needed were for the video controller and the finger reader.  Everything seems to be working good and the computer is running noticeable faster with a lower resource usage.

Here is a list of the software that I have had problems with:

  • Alcohol 52% – Alcohol 120% does work and they are working on a update for Alcohol 52%.  This is causing me more irritation than anything.  I have converted all my install CDs to ISO images and use Alcohol to mount them.
  • Acronis True Image Echo Workstation 9.1 – I just get a message that this program will not run on Windows 7.  Nothing that I could find on the Acronis web site, but there is a new version out.  The explorer shell extension seems to be working for browsing previously created images.  I may get stuck purchasing the new version.  I use this for backup and recovery.   Update: Purchased Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 Workstation and it supports Windows 7.
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition – This installs but would not run until Service Pack 1 was installed.

    Here is a list of the software that has installed without any problems:

    July Patch Cycle …

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    Windows Vista – 4
    Windows Server 2003 – 5
    Microsoft VirtualPC – 1
    Microsoft Office 2007 – 2
    Microsoft SQL Server 2008 – 1 (Service Pack 1, Just installed SQL 2008 last week on test server.  Update has been out since May.)

    New updates in WSUS - 19

    After a week of testing, we have not encountered any problems with the July updates and released them for installation.  I was also quite happy that I didn’t need to reboot the servers for a change.

    ERP Upgrade … (Updated)

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    We upgraded our ERP system about six weeks ago.  This was one of the worst upgrades that we have ever went through.  During the testing we didn’t uncover any real problems; however once we went live everything went to hell.  The upgrade was from Fourth Shift 7.4 running on MS SQL Server 2000 to Fourth Shift 7.5 running on MS SQL 2005.

    The first main part of the upgrade was the installation of MS SQL 2005.  This part went pretty quick and easy.  After uninstalling SQL 2000 and installing SQL 2005 sp2; we reattached all our databases and tested the applications that were attaching to them.  There were some problems with security setting not coming back correctly, but they were fixed without any trouble.  I really feel that SQL 2005 is a step back from SQL 2000.  In our sandbox we are using SQL 2008 which is much better than 2000 or 2005.  I can’t wait for our ERP system to start supporting SQL 2008.

    Next came the meat and potatoes of the upgrade, and that was Fourth Shift.  The installation was very easy and well documented.  It took about three hours from start to finish and we had a running system.  We upgraded a couple of workstations after to make sure that the client would also install and run.  We left the rest of the clients to be updated for the next day.  We only have twenty users on the system and them come in in the morning over a two hour period, so we can pretty much update the clients as the users are coming in.

    The first two days after the upgrade it seemed that everything was running good.  It took a couple of days to start seeing that some of the reports were not working correctly.  The sales reports were not updating correctly.  After digging around in the logs we couldn’t find anything.  There were no error and the process that updates the sales reports was reporting that it was finishing without any errors.  This is where SQL 2000 was much nicer.  There is no EASY was to look at the steps is a SSIS package.  It ended up being a problem with the upgrade problem.  The report update package was installed on the server and was running fine, except for the part were none of the steps for the package were installed.  We were issued a new licenses key file and had to reinstalled the upgrade over our current installation to get the reports working right.  This ended up taking a week to get resolved.

    Next came the first end of month.  None of our data extracts that used the general ledger would run.  It turns out that there was a problem with extracting GL data in the new version so they stopped supporting that feature of the program.  They just didn’t bother to include that little nugget in the upgrade documentation.  This works fine in a small databases, but once the extract gets over 750,000 records it quits working.  Our sandbox was only a subset of our full production database.  That may have to change going forward.  The really cool part of all this is that they have a service to convert your extracts to DTS packages that can be run directly form SQL Server.  The DTS packages run much faster then using the extract function within the ERP system.  The only problem with it is that they charge $3500 for the first extract and $200 for each additional extract.  We have 225 extracts that are used by the accounting department.  That works out to over $48,000 for them to fix something that they broke.  Not a bad racket if you can get it.  It took almost three weeks for us to recreate the primary extracts to DTS packages.  We still have a canned report that Fourth Shift generates that is not working.  We have had a open case on this item for six weeks now.  (Update) On July 14 we received a fix for one of the open issues.  It was eight weeks to fix a sorting problem in a report.

    Last night was the second end of month since the system went in.  Everything seems to have run fine so I guess we are getting all the kinks worked out.  The other thing that has happen during all of this is that our ERP vendor, was purchased by a second software company and a holding company.  That is usually not a good sign and may explain why we have had a outstanding action with them for six weeks on a report that they can reproduce the error on.

    Network Upgrade Project …

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    In December we had one of our NETGEAR 48 port switches die.  Well, we planned on replacing all of our switches this year to a more enterprise ready switches.  We ordered three new switches this month to go with the one that was purchased in December.  Before we ever got around two installing them we last two of the old switches.  It has been kind of odd that we have now had three switches die in such a short period of time.

    A big part of this upgrade project has been pulling cable.  When we are done the entire network will have been rewired and the wiring cabinet will have been moved to the server room.  This could be part of the problem with the failing switches.  Right now the wiring cabinet is located in a wood cabinet above the break room.  It is very dusty and gets extremely hot during the summer.  By the end of this week all off the office computers will be wired into the new cabinet and be gigabit enabled. (Yeah!)   There has been a big difference for all the users of our ERP and CRM applications.  The ERP is a VERY thick client.  Once it is running there is not much of a difference, but now it start much quicker.  The CRM runs better, unfortunately the reason it was running so slow was because over time the scope of it has changed and some of the additions that I have added have been two chatty with the SQL Server.

    Maybe once this is done I will post some before and after pictures.

    Network Problem

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    Monday started with a bang this week. We were having lots of problems with network connections dropping randomly throughout the building.. In the middle of trouble shooting this, a third of the network just disappeared. The first place to look when this happens is always the wiring cabinet. I took a quick look there and didn't see anything out of the "ordinary". It was on my second trip to the wiring cabinet that I noticed that one of our 48 port switches was not blinking; all the lights were on and nobody was home. I went over to the server room to check the main switch that acts as the backbone for the network and it was showing no connection back to the other switch. I tried resetting the switch and still nothing. I then tried a factory reset of the switch and it never came back on. Guess what we didn't have a spare of; a switch. It is amazing how many small routers you can find lying around in a company since that is what I had to use to get things back up and running. I did get a new switch shipped in overnight and it was installed Thursday morning. We were already looking to do some major infrastructure upgrades next year, so we just started the project a little early.  The new switch was a Netgear ProSafe 48-port Gigabit L3 Managed Stackable Switch.  There has been a noticeable improvement in throughput on the network.  We put this router in the server room were most of the bandwidth was needed.

    Entitlement Issues …

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    What is it about employees and entitlement.  I think that I have talked about the fact that we will let people bring in home computers and we will work on them as we have time.  We currently have a manager who always has their home computer, work computer or both computers in being worked on.  Today he decided that we are not taking his home computer problems serious enough and he wants it fixed now.  You would have had to be there to understand the utter stupidity of this comment.  He is standing in my office demanding that I fix his computer today, while we have one of our three primary switches down and a third of the building has no network access.  The only other person that has been a pain about stuff like this is the person he was hired to replace.  Makes me wonder if this entitlement issue is just something that comes with being the being a sales manager.

    Recovering From a Corrupt Registry Hive

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.

    We had a computer come in the office that was getting the following error today:

    Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
    \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

    I found sever solutions to fix this, but all of them would cause the registry to be restored to the default Windows installation state.  This does not seem like a very good solution at all.  After digging around trying to find a way to run Windows Restore from the Recovery Console, I found a post that explained how to restore files backed up a Restore Point from the Recovery Console.

    The Steps required are:

    1. Log into the recovery console using a Windows install disk.
    2. Navigate to the \windows\system32\config\ directory and rename the file system to something like system.bak
    3. Navigate to the System Volume Information directory.
      cd \
      cd system~1
      cd _resto~1
    4. A quick dir command will give you a list of directories named RP and then  a number.  If you look at the timestamp for these directories it will let you know when the restore point was created.  Look for one that is dated JUST before you started to have this problem and navigate into it.
      cd rp#
    5. Within the RP# directory there will be a directory named snapshot. This is the directory with the registry hives in it, so will want to go there now.
      cd snapshot
    6. The SOFTWARE hive is named _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SOFTWARE and the SYSTEM hive is named _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SYSTEM.  Now we need to copy this hive into the location of the corrupt hive.
      copy _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SOFTWARE \windows\system32\config\software
      or
      copy _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SYSTEM \windows\system32\config\system
    7. With any luck you can now type exit and let Windows reboot.

    This solution was information combined from the following two sources:
    Running System Restore from the Recovery Console (well, sort of)
    How to recover from a corrupted registry that prevents Windows XP from starting

    Virus, Virus everywhere , but nothing seems to stop them ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    It seems as if there is a zero day exploit floating around out in the wild that is still unknown.  In the last 6 years we have had less than 5 computers get infected at work.  In the last three weeks we have had a steady stream of calls about computers acting weird.  Almost all of them have had trojans installed and two of them have been rooted.  All of the computers affected have been fully up to date with both patches and AV definitions.  At work we are using avast! for our antivirus software, and had not had a problem until the last few weeks.  Like most IT shops we will look at personnel computers when thing are not too busy.  We've had lots of home computers coming in infected also.  Most of them have also been fully up to date.  Only one of them was really asking for a problem.  Some of the antivirus software packages that have been on these computers are AVG, McAfee and Trend Micro.

    I'm not really sure wall all this means, but it is getting old.

    Major Systems Upgrade

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    We have been making major changes at work the last six weeks. We replaced both of our old Dell Power Edge 4600 servers with three new Dell PowerEdge 2900 Servers. I went from having half a terabyte of storage to having two terabyte of storage. Two of the servers are running VMware ESX 3.5 and the other server is my Microsoft SQL server. When we purchased the new servers we did not get any tape drives on them because we wanted to change our backup method during the change.

    The basic server layout is:
    Physical Server 1 (PowerEdge 2900)

    • VM 1: Domain Controller

    • VM 2: File and Print Server

    • VM 3: Application Server


    Physical Server 2 (PowerEdge 2900)

    • VM 4: Intranet Server

    • VM 5: Domain Controller (Primary)

    • VM 6: Application Server


    Physical Server 3 (PowerEdge 2900)

    • ERP and MS SQL Server


    Physical Server 4 (PowerEdge 4600)

    • Backup Server


    For backups we are using Acronis TrueImage Echo Server to backup VM 2, VM 4, VM 5 and the Physical Server 3. We are creating full images on Sunday when to network to slowest and pushing them to the backup server. This process is taking about one hour. Monday through Friday we are doing differential backups on the save four machine and pushing them to the backup server. On the SQL server we are also doing log file backups every 30 minutes. These files are created locally and then copied to the backup server. The differential backup is only taking about five minutes total for the four servers. On Saturday we are using the ability of TrueImage to merge the full image from the previous Sunday and the last differential image from Friday into one file and then removing all the pieces from the week. At this point we have one image for each of the four servers that is current. All of the nightly processing done on these four servers is handled by a VBscript. (Note: The script has been saved as a text file for security on the web site.) Each night the backup server backs itself up to tape which will include all the image file from the other servers. We are not backing up VM 1 because it is a mirror of the other domain controller and in the event that we had to restore everything, I have never had much luck getting to domain controllers to resync after. VM 3 only changes when one of the applications on is updated. So after any application changes we make a snapshot of the VM and burn it to DVD to store off site. VM 6 has one data directory that changes so I pull that directory each night when the backup server backs up, other wise it is treated the same as VM 3.

    These changes have made a world of difference to our nightly processing. When everything was going to tape it was taking almost four hours total for all the servers to backup and the one time we did have a major hardware failure it took sixteen hours to get everything up and running. We did a test run after everything was up and running, and the full restore took under two hours have things running.

    I also finally got and answer to my question about our corporate pain threshold for data loss in a major failure. I have always been working to keep my exposure to less than four hours. Well it turns out the corporate standard is one WEEK. I was shocked to hear that. I am pretty sure that I will have NO problem meeting that requirement.

    I'm Baaaack ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    What a great week. The weather was nice, but the training was GREAT. It is always amazing how you go somewhere for training on one thing and pick up other things that really help in other areas. We had noticed that our system had been slowing down over time and nothing seemed to help. I was talking to another IT Manager that is running the same ERP release that we are on who was having the same problem earlier this year. She mentioned a few undocumented settings that she found out about through tech support. I tried the changes on our sandbox and got about a 40% increase in speed. When your nightly processing takes almost six hours that is huge. Once I applied the changes to the live system we saw about a 25% increase. The lower return on the live system most likely had to do with the fact that it is running on much better hardware so it was taking a smaller performance hit that the sandbox. I will still take a 25% increase for three hours worth of work on a Sunday.

    I did also learn quite a bit about Reporting Services and have to say that I am impressed with it. I’m not sure if I like it more than Crystal Reports, but you can do a lot with it and it is free if you are using Microsoft SQL Server. I started translating some of our custom reports that we have build over the year to Reporting Services. One of the things that are going to bite about the new version is that they have moved all of the support databases into SQL Server. They used to keep all the sales reporting data in a Microsoft Access database that will no longer be available in the new version. We have about 125 custom reports build using just this one database that needs to be updated to work with SQL Server. They have provided a tool to move this database into SQL Server with our current version and keep it updated with the Access database while you are working on updating all your reports.

    Well this should be fun working on these things over the next several months.

    Off to San Antonio ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    I'm leaving for San Antonio tomorrow for some training. The ERP system that we are using is moving all of it reporting and printing functions into Microsoft Reporting Services with its next release. Reporting Services has been free with Microsoft SQL Server since SQL Server 2000. We will be moving to the next release early next year so I am going to San Antonio for a week for training on the new version and to get a crash, hopefully not a real crash, course in Reporting Services. I have poked around in Reporting Services a little bit, but I have not done enough with it to say that I really understand it.

    This should be fun.

    Things are getting better ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    Today the memory finally came in for the servers. We brought the servers down at lunch time when most users are off the system and replaced the problem memory with the new memory. It is amazing how much better the server is running without the constant memory access errors. The server that was running the worst, average 70-80% utilization with spikes up to 98%. With the new memory we are running at an average of 40-45% utilization with spikes up to 70%. It almost feels like I got a couple of new servers.

    Life is back to being good.

    Four weeks of Hell ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    Weekend One ...
    I guess the bas way to start is at the beginning. At work we have two Dell PowerEdge 4600 servers. One of them is running VMware ESX 3.0 hosting seven servers. Three Ubuntu servers and four Windows 2003 Enterprise servers. The second server is our ERP and MS SQL server. We had purchased ESX to install on that server so that we could move things around and even out our server utilization. That is pretty much were things started to go bad. I went in on a Saturday to install some new network cards in the two servers on a Saturday. When I got to work there was and error message on the ERP server that had caused the nightly processing stop. I shutdown the server and installed the new cards and then booted it. Everything came up fine so I started working on clearing the error that stopped the processing. After an hour I gave Tech Support a call. After trying several things we decided to let the tech remote into the server to try and find the problem. After four hours and three reboots the error was cleared and the night processing ran fine. On Monday we found out that two modules from the ERP system were totally hosed and would on run. It was decided that we would work around this until the next weekend.

    The Next Weekend ...
    Two days before we were going to install ESX on the second server, things started to run real slow on the server running ESX. We let it run for the rest of the week, figuring that we could bring everything down and reboot the server on the weekend. It had been running for about eight months without being rebooted, so we hoped that was all it was. That would have been a nice treat. When we started the server for the reboot it could not find any drives. It has eight drives in a pair of Raid 5 arrays. Nothing could get the Raid controller to see the drives, so we ended up pulling and reseating everything. It then saw the drives, but none of the containers on the arrays. It was around this time that I started thinking that just about anything was better than were this was going. We ended up having to initialize all the drives and rebuild the array's to get the server see the arrays. It took four hours for the array's to initialize and become usable. At this point we had a server that was bare metal with no OS on it. We put the VMware install CD in and booted into the installer and started installing ESX. About 20 percent into the install there was and error. Unable to write to the drives. Both arrays had corrupted and had to be rebuild again. Another four hours later we were ready to try again. This time everything installed fine and booted into ESX. I started moving the backup Vmware images onto the server and left for the day.

    Day two started pretty good. I walked in and was able to start all the images that I had moved over before I left the night before. The images were about four months old, but we run tape backups every night to pickup all the changes from the images. Now a quick restore from tape and everything will be ready to go. This is the point at which day two when into the trash. A recent Windows update kill are backup software’s ability restore over the image and be rebooted. We had tested this when we first set this up, and DR worked great. Restore the image, boot the image, restore the tape that we want to restore, insert the DR floppy, reboot and restore. Well one of the Windows updates rendered the DR floppy worthless. The good news was that all the data was on the tapes, but we had to pull the data off the tapes and then move it were it needed to be. This whole process ended up taking 23 hours to get everything back up and running.

    The Third Weekend ...
    Finally we get in on a Saturday and everything is running good. I made sure the backup had run without error incase something goes wrong and we need it. We reboot into the installer for VMware ESX and install it without any problems. A quick reboot and we are up and running in VMware. I created the new VMware image for the ERP server and started installing Windows 2003 Enterprise Server. About half way through the install the alarm goes off on the server. A quick check of the error code and it traces back to a bad memory module. We ended up having to pull half of the memory to clear the error and get it running clean. So now we have this server with too little memory to run what we have installed on it. We moved forward with the planned upgrades, knowing that things would be slow until we got some new memory and installed it. Everything else went smooth.

    The Fourth Weekend ...
    We have memory to install. Yeah ... We shutdown the server and installed the memory. After booting up we gave the vm more memory and it was amazing how much better it ran. For the first hour, then the ESX server locked up. I have to say I had never seen that before. After rebooting it did not take long before I got to see it again. After pulling the memory everything started running fine. At this point it has been running for just over a week while we wait for the memory is replaced. It seems that our supplier sent us memory that should work, but not what we were already using. As it stands today, we should have the replacement memory early next week.

    I guess the moral of this story is not to let yourself get pushed into not replacing hardware when it is time. At this point one of these servers is over five years old and the other one is just over four years old. Both of the servers are over a year out of warranty. Going forward I will be making sure that the serves get replaced on a three year cycle. Along the same line as this has been the number of drives and power supplies we have lost in desktops this year. We have almost thirty desktop computers in use that are seven years old and another fifteen desktops that are six years old. I think that I am seeing a large budget request for next year.

    General Update ...

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    Well it has been a little too long since my last post, so here is a quick update. I have been testing SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop for the last couple of weeks on my work notebook. We are trying to move some of our Windows desktops to Linux to reduce cost. We are already using NetWare so we do have support from Novell. The problem is, I am a Linux user and I find SLED 10 to be difficult to work with at times. There are still too many hardware issues with SLED that are not there with other Linux distributions. I added a second hard drive to my home notebook to see if SLED would work with that hardware better, but still had problems with sound cards and the battery meter. These things have just work for the last two Ubuntu releases, so it looks like I may go that route at work.

    I upgraded my home notebook the Feisty Fawn two weeks ago, and I have two say that I love it. I also installed Beryl and it has worked very good. That project has come a long way since the last time I tried it. I did run into two small problems with Feisty. I could not get VMware Workstation 5.5 to install and every time I tried to install anything with CrossOver Office the install would fail. I upgraded both applications and that seems to have fixed the problems.

    Well that is all for now, but there should be something else this week. We have a full dance card this week. We are replacing one server and twenty-eight workstations in three days. That should be fun ...

    VMware Server Setup

    Added on by Ray Insalaco.
    After another night of getting called do to server failure, I have decided make some changes to the servers at work. Currently we have two Windows 2000 servers that are running most of the company. The basic problem is that one program, Track-It!, started to generate error and took down the server it was running on. It is installed on the Primary Domain controller, yes I know that is a bad idea, which in turn took the Backup Domain controller down. So when you only have two servers, that is the whole show. This is the problem with only having two servers, they both wear too many hats.

    The end result of all of this is that we were going to upgrade to Windows 2003 EE R2 during the July shutdown. This version allows you to run up to four virtual servers on one server. So now we are testing using VMware Server on ubuntu, with all the Windows servers running as virtual machines on top. If this works out good, we will look at maybe moving to VMware ESX next year, because it just is not in the budget for this year. I still have to workout how the backups are going to run. Right now I am looking at the Amanda Enterprise Edition backup software. This will also have to be tested before we put everything in place. I have been using ubuntu on my home server, which does get almost as much use as some of the servers at work, without ever having a crash.

    Hardware:
    Dell Poweredge 4400
    Dual Processer 2.2 GHz
    5 GB of memory

    Server 1 will be running 4 Windows 2003 EE servers.
    Server 2 will be running 1 Windows 2003 EE server, 1 Netware 3.12 server and 2 Windows XP desktops.

    Server Setup:
    Install ubuntu server on the hardware.
    Edit the source list for apt to enable all the software repositories.

    Install the other needed packages:
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install linux-686 linux-headers-686 linux-image-686
    sudo apt-get install build-essential gcc g++ make fakeroot xinetd libdb2
    sudo apt-get samba openvpn x-window-system-core
    sudo apt-get dist-upgrade


    Download the vmware-server.tar.gz and copy to the /tmp directory
    Extract it tar -zxf vmware-server.tar.gz
    Move to the vmware-server-distrib directory and run ./vmware-install.pl

    This is all for getting the base server going.