Talking IT – John Pritchard

Welcome to the first video in the Talking IT with James Bannan series, where I catch up with various movers and shakers in the IT industry and talk about geek stuff for a while.

This video is with John Pritchard, Optimised Desktop Specialist with Microsoft Australia. John ran the Perth and Adelaide sessions of Microsoft latest round of free workshops for IT professionals. The first round occurred earlier this year and revolved around Microsoft’s virtualisation technologies – specifically Hyper-V and SCVMM. The latest round is all about Application Compatibility.

Microsoft are seeing customers expressing plenty of reservations about their existing suite of applications which need to be supported on Windows 7, and are looking for as many resources and as much guidance as possible to overcome and lingering issues and migrate to Windows 7.

There are two sessions left – one in Melbourne and the other in Canberra. Jeff Alexander has blogged about the details, and you use the details on his site to register. For any IT professional involved in deploying Windows 7, these workshops are a great resource and well worth the time (especially as they don’t cost anything!).

For those of you who couldn’t make the sessions but who are interested in the content, Microsoft will be making the slide decks available online (and potentially an audio recording too) and I’ll link to them as well once they are available.

In the meantime, enjoy the conversation with John Pritchard, where we chat about the current state of Windows 7 deployment and what resources are available to customers looking to speed up their deployment projects.

The iPad dilemma – the consumerisation of enterprise

I recently wrote a piece on the influx of consumer technology into enterprise IT, and some of the hidden problems which (from my experience so far) most businesses are failing to address.

The original piece was more general in tone, looking at ALL personal devices rather than just those products sold by Apple.  However, the editor thought (and I agreed) that as the current conversation tends to be much more tightly focused around iPads and iPhones, we should narrow the article’s scope.

But my original thoughts still stand, and the criticisms I raised are valid against all personal devices, whether they’re running some flavor of Windows, Android or something we’ve yet to see go mainstream.

Ultimately, consumer devices and consumer device vendors don’t subscribe to concepts like lifecycle management or ROI.  Users look ahead to the next cool product but, for the most part, businesses can’t afford to.  Or at least, not without some serious overhauling of their internal processes.

My principle criticism is that consumer devices do NOT fit well into mainstream business methodologies, and I’m not talking just about the IT structure.  Of course they could be made to, but it will take quite a lot of work and compromise on both sides.  The disappointing thing is that this approach currently seems to be held as a conservative, reactionary view.  I maintain that it isn’t – IT professionals don’t tend to like change because they are often the only ones articulating the implications (the same implications which they are then often expected to support).  Having said that, IT pros (despite myths to the contrary) do actually want users to have a decent IT experience at work.  It results in fewer support calls and complaints, and that’s always a good thing.

Have a read of the article on 4sysops – am I being a dogma-toting arch-conservative, or is there a scintilla of common sense buried in the pile?

Lessons From REMIX10 – Helping Customers

With the tagline “Share the web love,” REMIX10 kicked off in Melbourne today, and while the event is geared towards developers and designers, there are important cross-overs with what IT pros face every day, and important lessons to be learned.

Straight after the keynote, event organizer Michael Kordahi had a “lounge” session with various industry and development specialists, talking about different aspects of the development and design industries.

One fellow conversationalist was Shane Morris, a user experience (UX) professional who recently left Microsoft to start his own company, Automatic Studio.  The topic of conversation turned to the “top tips” which designers should bear in mind when creating projects for customers, and two particular gems of wisdom which Morris passed on will resonate with especially with IT professionals:

  • Don’t think of yourself as a “normal” user
  • Work with the customer to find out what their expectations are

Sound familiar? There’s a lot of ribbing and joking which occurs between designers/developers and IT pros.  They generally see us as short-sleeve-wearing hardware nerds, and we often see them as obsessive code monkeys, but Morris’ comments highlight a very important similarity between both groups, which is that more often than not, we are working to assist the same customer groups.  And with that in mind, the lessons learned by one group should be heard loud and clear by the other.

Don’t think of yourself as a “normal” user

As IT pros, we often get frustrated when users, seemingly inexplicably, do the precise opposite of what we expect them to do. And then we get even angrier with them when they get angry with us. It can be a vicious loop.

By our very nature, IT pros are expert users.  We think about IT all the time, and the problems we encounter almost always have a workaround, no matter how obscure.  This is NOT normal user behavior.  “Normal” users have a hierarchy of support technicians to appeal to, and there’s an inherent assumption that any IT problem they may run in to is not their problem to solve.  In fact, it’s probably your problem.

Fair or not, this is how it works, and as IT pros we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t proactively take this into account.  Try to think like your users and avoid problems by ensuring that they never happen. You won’t get any thanks, but no thanks are far better than actual complaints.

Work with the customer to find out what their expectations are

Why is this important? Because more often than not, the customer doesn’t know. We often assume that when customers come to us with a request, that they have already spent some time thinking about what they want and how they want it to work, and that they’re coming to you with a well-formed plan which now requires your expertise.

Ahahahahahahahahaha!

Ahem. This is usually not the case.  The customer has a vague idea beneath a veneer of certainty, and it’s up to us to crack the veneer, challenge the customer’s assumptions and work with them to find an appropriate solution.

Remember, there’s a world of difference between what a customer wants or asks for and what they actually need.  And again, we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t endeavor to help the customer through this often difficult process.

Designers, developers, and IT pros…all sharing the love…

Disclaimer: I am attending REMIX10 as the guest of Microsoft Australia

Philosophy Friday #7 – Relativism

In my final year at Melbourne University, I was accepted into a one-year Honours course in History. I didn’t end up doing the course because the prospect of a sixth year of being utterly broke didn’t really appeal. But, as a prerequisite all prospective Honours students were required to do a subject on the various methods by which one could study history – from a feminist or post-colonialist angle, for example.

And then we covered postmodernism. Oh postmodernism, how can I describe thee? I shall let thee speak for thyself:

Neomaterialist narrative and capitalist libertarianism

“Society is part of the fatal flaw of consciousness,” says Sartre; however, according to von Junz[1] , it is not so much society that is part of the fatal flaw of consciousness, but rather the absurdity, and subsequent failure, of society. However, the ground/figure distinction intrinsic to Joyce’s Dubliners emerges again in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Debord’s model of semantic Marxism suggests that narrative comes from communication.

Thus, the subject is interpolated into a capitalist libertarianism that includes narrativity as a reality. Precultural desemanticism holds that the task of the artist is social comment, but only if the premise of capitalist libertarianism is invalid; if that is not the case, the Constitution is capable of significance.

Therefore, Baudrillard uses the term ‘cultural pretextual theory’ to denote not theory, as Sontag would have it, but neotheory. The subject is contextualised into a dialectic paradigm of consensus that includes sexuality as a totality.

 

Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life, collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.

 

Network problems on a Hyper-V guest

One of the particularly nice things about using Hyper-V is its robustness. The fact that the hypervisor runs seamlessly within a Windows installation means that there’s a certain reassurance in knowing that if the host is running happily on your hardware platform of choice, that the rather excellent guest abstraction means that you’re unlikely to encounter any compatibility issues.

Or so I thought until I encountered a particularly tricksy problem last week.  I was setting up a new Server 2008 R2 domain controller as a VM running on top of a Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Core server running Hyper-V.  Yes, I know that running a DC as a virtual system can be fraught, but after reading this 2008 piece by Virtual PC Guy Ben Armstrong I’m happy that’s a viable way forward (while taking every possible precaution, of course).

All was running well with the install until I found that the newly-installed system couldn’t check for windows updates online, even though I’d instructed the firewall to grant full access to this particular box.  The error number given was 0×80072EE2, which according to Microsoft is a connectivity issue.  Bizarre, given that the machine had full access out and wasn’t being restricted by IE Trusted Sites or anything like that.

After a bit of digging, I found a blog post which discussed the same issue.  The author wrote that he had been able to fix the issue by adding the following registry entry to the Hyper-V guest:

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
Value(DWORD): DisableTaskOffload = 1

I tried the fix, and on reboot, Windows Update was working.  Great, but why was that actually necessary?  I run quite a few Hyper-V machines across a range of hardware platforms, and this was the first time I’d had to implement this fix.  Anyway, I carried on regardless, joined the machine to the domain and installed and configured ADDS.  On reboot, the machine gave a spectacular BSOD and got stuck in a reboot loop.  No recovery options available, so I had to strip the newly-created DC out of the AD and start again.

After a bit more investigation (which in retrospect should have happened first, but what can I say…it was a Friday), I discovered that the particular registry fix, according to INSIDEtheREGISTRY.com, performs the following function:

This value instructs the TCP/IP stack to disable offloading of tasks to the network adapter for troubleshooting and testing purposes.

Valid entries are 0, 1 (false, true), where the default is 0 (false)

That’s fine when the system is talking out through a physical NIC, but in the Hyper-V environment, it isn’t.  The NIC was configured as an external network hidden from the host, but the VM was attached to it via Hyper-V’s Virtual Machine Bus.  After a bit more digging around I came across this entry in the TechNet forums.  It seems that this isn’t a new issue – just because a Hyper-V host can install, configure and successfully use a physical network adaptor, this doesn’t mean that it’s fully compatible and that you won’t run into issues.  The NIC in my case was a PCI Realtek Gigabit network card – not exactly enterprise-class but good enough for my immediate needs (or so I thought).

Basically, the card was the source of all my issues and the likely cause of the domain controller falling over so badly.  Lesson learned, I stripped out the card and replaced it with a more reliable PCI-E Intel NIC….no issues whatsoever.

So if you get strange networking issues in your Hyper-V virtual machines, after running through the usual configuration checks go straight to the underlying hardware and make sure that it’s good, rather than trying to fix that particular problem.  In the sandboxed world of a Hyper-V guest you really shouldn’t be seeing these sorts of issues, so when they crop up, they are quite probably just a visual symptom of a deeper malaise.