InfoComm 2010

Right now, I’m resting my feet after a day of travel and walking around the Las Vegas Convention Center for InfoComm 2010. First of all, that place is BIG! 3.2 million square feet of space, and this show is using about 2/3 of it. After 3 trips around the place, I needed a break.

There were a lot of cool things to see, but the obvious big items of the show were 3D displays and video over IP. All of the big display makers were showing 3D displays and projectors. Panasonic even had a 3D video camera set up showing a live feed of a section of their booth. Too bad it doesn’t work for me. Of course, then there was the 152-inch display. 152-inch! I think I need that. I would just have to take a wall off of the side of my house to deliver it. That screen would be big enough to replace that wall though.

I’m looking forward to sitting down with a couple of exhibitors for some longer discussions and more demos.

Moving virtual machines after changing settings?

While doing more work with some virtual machines, I was consolidating several smaller virtual machines to one host server. Then I ran into a problem. Two of my VMs could not be added to VMWare Server on the new host server. The problem was that I had changed the drive settings on the VMs to add more space after making snapshots. The snapshots could not match the settings and importing failed every time. Not only was it keeping me from accomplishing my plans, but it gave potential DR problems. How can you restore to new hardware if you can’t import the VM?

The solution? VMWare Converter. I installed it on the existing host server and chose the option to convert an existing VMX file to a new virtual machine. About 30 minutes later, I had a new VMX and a new virtual disk file that I copied over and added with no problems.

Sometimes, just a bit of creative thinking can get around a problem.

Moving VMWare virtual machines cross-platform

Virtualization is huge, and right now, my favorite use for it is to provide testing platforms for the developers here at Iona. Most of our production work is done on Macs, but web work requires browser testing and all of that fun stuff. Recently, I have been setting up VMWare virtual machines for testing across the various Windows versions and IE versions. I loaded them all up on my Mac using VMWare Fusion, then copied them over to some basic PCs for the developers. I started up VMWare Server, tried to add them to the library of virtual machines, and CRASH. VMWare services all died.

What was the problem? Virtual machines created in Fusion have a few options that are not compatible with VMWare Server, despite using the same file format and version. To fix the problem, open the .vmx file and find the following line and remove it:

serial0.fileType = “thinprint”

Once that line is removed, you can add the virtual machine to the library.

Next stumbling block, when starting the virtual machine for the first time, you will be asked if you moved or copied the virtual machine. If you choose copied, none of the network adapter settings will work properly until you remove the adapter and add it back. If you select moved, VMWare resets all of the host id settings and all will be fine.

Waiting for Android 2.2-impatiently

All of the reports about Android 2.2 (FroYo) are getting me excited to see it released finally. Flash, tethering, and wifi hotspot are all features that I’ve been waiting for. Now, testing is showing massive performance improvement due to a new JIT compiler for apps. Android Police tested it on a Nexus One, and they got a 450% improvement according to Linpack tests.

Google I/O is going on right now, and everybody expects FroYo to be released during the conference. Hopefully that means Motorola and Verizon will get to work and the Droid will get an update quickly. Otherwise, it will be time to try rooting the phone or looking for a new one. Either way, I can’t wait.

Storage Server Challenge: FreeNAS vs. WHS

I recently put together some spare hardware to build a home storage server. When you think about all the things you have on your computer(s) these days–pictures, music, movies–you have to think about having a way to back it all up. You can use online backup services, or if you have a bit of time and the hardware to do it, build a home storage server.

I scrounged up some hardware that I had lying around, and got a pair of 1 TB hard drives. With the price on hard drives so low, it only makes sense to give yourself plenty of space. Then the big question was software. FreeNAS is an open-source project based on FreeBSD with a ton of great features. Also, as a member of the Microsoft Partner Program, I had access to the newest version of Windows Home Server. The biggest advantage of WHS is the integration of Windows clients and automated services.

First, while it wasn’t a factor with my setup, check your hardware requirements. WHS recommends a 2GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and hardware must have Windows Server 2003 driver support. FreeNAS will run on just about anything you can find that still runs. It may not handle all of the features, but it will work.

I loaded up WHS first and tried it out. It is pretty easy to set up and configure. The best feature, in my opinion, is if you need to add more storage, you add a new drive and add it to the storage pool. It doesn’t matter what kind of drive, IDE, SATA, USB, FW, anything. No worries about partitions, drive management, etc. Just tell WHS that it can be used for the storage pool and it is ready for action.

WHS also has some nice features as a media server, but obviously only works well with Windows clients. In a mixed environment, that doesn’t work as well. There are third-party plug-ins to help out with that, but for out of the box functionality or easy setup, you won’t find those options.

My next step was to try FreeNAS. FreeNAS can be run from a Live CD or installed to a flash drive or CF card or anything else your machine can boot from. As far as the installation, quick, easy, no worries. There is a bit of confusion with setting up drives that are available as the storage share and permissions. FreeNAS, as with most open source projects, has poor documentation, and this may make some tasks more difficult for the less technically inclined.

To make my installation more difficult, I opted to go for ZFS with my storage drives. ZFS is a new file system developed by Sun that adds a lot of improvements to partitions, storage and more. As with WHS, it allows you to add a new drive and attach it to an existing drive pool. It is just a more involved process in FreeNAS, but well worth it.

FreeNAS also comes with the ability to turn on several sharing services including AFP for Mac clients, uPNP for media sharing to a number of devices including the Xbox, or iTunes media sharing. I copied a large section of my media library to the share and enable iTunes sharing. After a short time for the database to build, the server showed up in iTunes as a shared library and playback worked great. That makes it a huge plus for having a single media library for the home.

Both products are good and well worth using, but for me, FreeNAS was the choice with running a mixed Mac/Windows household. If you are setting one up for yourself, and you are tech savvy, go for FreeNAS. If you want something that is a little more plug-and-play, and you don’t need the cross-platform compatibility, Windows Home Server is a good choice too.