David Szpunar: Owner, PC Help Services & indeedIT

David's Church Information Technology

February 17th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Comcast Home Internet without the cr*pware

This morning we switched at home from 1.5Mbit AT&T DSL to 6Mbit Comcast Cable internet (yay!). I remembered from last time we had Comcast that they (like AT&T) like to send a CD that you are required to use to activate your modem, but also happens to install things that no sane IT person would want on their computer. Things like a PC Doctor. And (years ago, maybe not this time), custom IE throbbers. Also, McAfee antivirus software (ewww!). Yeah, not gonna happen here.

What was my solution this time? VMware Player and Windows XP! I grabbed a Windows XP virtual machine and ran it on my laptop in VMware Player, which worked just fine on Windows 7 (another reason not to run the Comcast stuff…who knows if it’s Windows 7 compatible). The biggest “issue” I had was that I had to disable all protocols bound to the LAN adapter on my laptop except for the VMware Bridge Adapter (to allow the virtual machine network access). That way the virtual machine got the DHCP and proxy settings from the cable modem when I turned it on, rather than my laptop (leaving the VM unable to connect). Once the VM had the “only” network connection, the wizard proceed normally and I got everything connected just fine (the wizard is much more streamlined than it used to be at least).

After it’s working, I just turned off the cable modem and plugged the WAN port of my wireless router into the modem, and turned it back on. Everything was smooth sailing from there. It does apparently lock to your MAC address but that is reset when the modem reboots.

Interestingly, the modem is an RCA brand modem, which is funny since I asked specifically when I talked to Comcast yesterday what brand the modem would be and they specifically said a Surfboard, which is by Motorola. Oh well, as long as it works I don’t care too much. Better than my old DLink from last time!

Now, if only Comcast would expand their trial of 16-20Mbit speeds (instead of 6Mbit) from South Bend to Indy, life would be awesome!

I’ve gotten a few draft posts written but nothing finished yet (I know it’s been a while!). However, the big news today is that Veeam Backup 3.0 was released this morning, which I already have a license for and I’m working to clean off the server that I’ll be running it on! It will definitely get a review when it’s up and running. I’m excited!

December 11th, 2008 at 2:00 am

WordPress 2.7 released!

I’m coming out of my blog-slumber long enough to mention that WordPress 2.7 is out today! I’ve been running it on this blog since early betas and it totally rocks. The admin redesign (yes, again) is even better than last time, by far, and there is no reason not to upgrade right this minute! (Well, there are a few technical ones if you have plugins or themes with compatibility issues, but between 2.5 and 2.7 it’s not terribly likely in most cases.) Once you’re at 2.7, there’s an auto-upgrade function built in to the core of WordPress now, so not only can you update plugins (and now install them from the admin panel!), you can upgrade WordPress to the next version in a couple of clicks when it’s released! Not this time, of course, next time.

I have a few things I’d like to publish here that won’t fit on Twitter and will be easier to reference here than on IRC where I still may have discussed some of it already (in the #citrt channel). Now to find the time! Hopefully soon. Poor neglected blog… :-) Maybe with such a cool new backend I’ll post more often. Not that I posted at all while running the betas and release candidates…

October 9th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Church IT Roundtable Day 2 at Seacoast

I’ve been way to busy having awesome conversations and learning new things here at the Seacoast Fall Church IT Roundtable to actually have time to post much. Instead, the conversations in this Roundtable are hitting Twitter with the tag #citrt! Check it out!

September 25th, 2008 at 7:45 am

Surprise Server Selections

In my last post, I suggested that the Dell PowerEdge R805 server was my current choice to use as our new virtual server. That was correct. However, I happened to be browsing the Dell Outlet on Wednesday and mentioned to a few friends on the #citrt IRC channel that I was doing so. A couple of them started looking along with me and pointed out two particularly nice servers at particularly nicer prices! Both were Dell PowerEdge 1950 III servers, which are rack-mount 1U servers (makes them small and easy to rack). Both have two Intel Core 2 Quad 2.33GHz processors and 16GB RAM in 4 DIMMs, both include 3 year warranties, and one of the two came with a DRAC (Dell’s remote access card), four 73 GB 15,000 RPM SAS hard drives and a RAID controller, and dual power supplies. The other came with an 80GB SATA drive, no RAID controller, and one power supply. The former was of course a bit more expensive than the latter, but together they added only about $300 to the brand-new price I was quoted on the R805 server! This doesn’t include licensing which I’ll cover in a minute. Needless to say, I have purchased these servers and they should arrive soon!

One of my goals for the new system is redundancy. If something goes down, I’d really like a second system around to stay up and running, in particular when using virtualization it does create bigger single points of failure (one phyical server going down takes down multiple virtual servers), which is one of its biggest weaknesses. This can be mitigated by using shared storage (hence the SAN) and multiple servers that can take on the virtual machines the “down” physical machine can’t run temporarily, even if it runs a bit slow from the additional load (even better if your secondary server is not heavily loaded!).

Having the R805 would be great, but my next-best server is a Dell PowerEdge 1800 that’s three years old, with a single Xeon 3.0GHz processor and 6GB of RAM. It’s a very nice server, but it wouldn’t be able to shoulder a load the R805 could handle easily so it would only be able to run absolutely critical machines. Additionally, the Xeon processor is too old to support Intel’s VT (Virtualization Technology) extensions that make running a virtual server hypervisor easier, and allows 64-bit guest operating machines to run. If we make the move to Exchange 2007, there would be no backup server for it to move to, and it would be one of our most critical servers!

VMware’s ESXi hypervisor runs just fine on the PowerEdge 1800 (as long as you don’t need 64-bit guests); I have it running now with a couple of VMs and it’s barely breaking a sweat. It will work even better on the nice “new” PowerEdge 1950’s, but the other thing that having VT-capable processors will help me with hypervisor selection options. If I don’t end up running the now-free VMware ESXi, which I’ve tried and like but keeps you from using some of the really cool features unless you buy their Virtual Infrastructure/Virtual Center packages (these easily get into the same price as the hardware for both servers I bought!). Microsoft’s new Hyper-V virtualization platform (separate entirely from the old Microsoft Virtual Server product) is capable of running only on processors supporting VT, and now I’ll have two of them, the magic redundant number. It does preclude using the PowerEdge 1800 as an third backup, but down the road it will offer some of the similar moving of “live, running” virtual machines from host to host, and Microsoft is releasing their Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) soon as well for management, which will be siginificantly more cost-effective for us given charity pricing than VMware’s Virtual Center. But some of this stuff isn’t going to be here right away, and VMware’s solutions aren’t necessarily lacking anything we desperately need. What’s the answer? For now, it’s keep researching, maybe even try both when the servers arrive, and see which is the best fit for us. Microsoft certainly wants to take over the market and they’ve been successful in other areas in doing so after entering late, but it’s way too early to tell in this case, in my uneducated opinion! I do think VMware will be around for a while, and is not a poor choice from a longevity perspective yet.

Licensing is the only “kicker” with my new servers. Microsoft licenses (that link has a cool calculator, but it gives retail and not charity prices!) their Microsoft Server Datacenter software per socket (physical processor) in each server. So if you have a dual-processor system, you buy two licenses. The R805 is a dual-processor system, but the 1950s are as well, and I just doubled my processor count and therefore licensing cost! That’s OK, I’m likely going to, for now, use the Datacenter license from the PE 1800 for one processor in one of the new servers and use a Server Standard license on the PE 1800 for now that I’ll be freeing up by virtualizing to pre-licensed VMs. This will just add around $500 to the cost of getting a second server, making the hardware and licensing increases in going from one to two servers come in right at $800. That’s not bad for a second server, doubling your quad-core processing power and RAM as a consequence!

Because these servers were in the Dell Outlet, where items in your cart last only 15 minutes unless you modify them, the server have now been purchased and are estimated to ship on October 1st. I’m still waiting to pull the trigger on the MD3000i SAN and I’m still researching backups (which just had its budget cut a bit with this server swap!). I did hear from my Zones rep that October 1st begins Microsoft’s new fiscal year, and they will be announcing any pricing changes at that time. Pricing on Datacenter could go up, or stay the same (well, it could go down but how likely is that? Exactly!). Since I have the servers for sure now, I may go ahead and grab the Datacenter licensing before the end of the month for that reason if I can (my boss is out of town at the moment; he approved the server purchase earlier waiting to change airplanes at an airport in the Bahamas on a business trip. No, he called me first for some technical assistance, I didn’t bug him until I had him on the phone already. Yes, I should have asked if he needed an assistant for his business trip :-)

So, one more step completed in the process, many remaining. Also, I’m possibly going to need (or want very much to have) a cheap or free server rack that I can pick up locally. Just saying, if you happen to be throwing one away and are nearby :-)

September 22nd, 2008 at 10:03 pm

New Server, SAN, and Backup Plans!

Although Lakeview is currently experiencing tight finances (who isn’t in this economy?), we have had some server infrastructure issues that we can’t ignore any longer. Thus, I am happy to mention that I’ve gotten final approval to purchase these items, or something very close to them:

  • A Dell PowerVault MD3000i iSCSI SAN (with 10-15 near-line SAS 1TB drives and dual controllers)
  • At least one new server (likely a Dell PowerEdge R805 with dual quad-core AMD processors)
  • Microsoft Server Datacenter licensing for the same
  • An iSCSI Ethernet switch
  • Battery backups for server and SAN
  • Backup software and some drives for backup
  • A rack for the server room (maybe. If I can find a free or dirt cheap used one, locally)

Unfortunately, my budget for all of this as assigned is going to be a bit of a tight fit to squeeze the last few bits in and I’m still trying to figure out the best and most cost-effective way to do this. I’m also struggling a bit with which backup software to use. The server we were using to mirror our data is now dead, and although we have a RAID 5 array that is nowhere near the level of protection we need to have, but I am starting from scratch as far as which data backup software to buy. I have no tapes nor the budget for a tape drive, but I do have some PATA hard drive arrays that are only half-full that are SCSI-attached and will probably work in tandem with an existing server to become my disk-based backup server. Figuring out how to do offsite backup, within the same budget, is high on my todo list :-)

My budget for all this is actually less than the retail price of just the server and SAN. Fortunately, I rarely pay retail and this is certainly no exception! The plan, if isn’t obvious, is to virtualize. I’ve already been doing virtualization for a while to some extent. I used Microsoft Virtual Server a long time ago but switched to VMware Server product when it was released for free. I’m currently running four virtual Windows machines and a virtual Linux machine for our helpdesk software. Recently, since VMware’s ESXi became available for free, I’ve started running it on our newest server, a 3-year-old Dell PowerEdge 1800 Xeon 3.0GHz system with 6GB RAM. It runs very well and I love the management interface, even just using the VMware Virtual Infrastructure Client it comes with (since we aren’t paying for Virtual Infrastructure 3, or VI3 as it’s known!).

The goal of the new system will be to move virtual machines and file shares onto the MD3000i SAN. The Dell R805 server will be the primary virtual machine host, and although my plan was to use VMware ESXi, a good friend and mentor has recommended I examine Microsoft’s new Hyper-V virtualization platform as a strong contender, especially since Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 is coming and Live Motion will be available in the future, something that VMware does (simliarly, at least) with VMotion only for a high licensing cost. I’m open to either virtualization solution at this point, but here’s my main problem: Hyper-V will only run on procesors that support the new virtualization extensions. Right now, that’s zero of our servers. The R805 will support them of course, but the PowerEdge 1800, our only server with even a 64-bit processor, is too old to have the extensions and thus cannot run Hyper-V or 64-bit guests (although it runs ESXi just fine right now). My plan was to use the PE1800 as a backup server to run critical systems as needed if the R805 was ever down. With Hyper-V, this is no longer an option (and really, with the PE1800 and ESXi I still can’t run any 64-bit guests, so Exchange 2007 is out), and my concern is being left without a secondary server should the primary fail.

So, I’m left trying to fit a second server of some sort, new enough to have virtualization extensions but cheap enough to fit into my already packed budget. Suggestions, and of course donations, are welcome :-) I have been keeping an eye on the Dell Outlet but that is mostly pointless until I have the money to spend same-day when something shows up in stock.

At the moment I’m likely going to get a couple of refurbished UPSs from RefurbUPS for battery backup. However, I will be pursuing a contact or two who may be able to help with this as well.

The final area I’m still investigating still is data backups. There are a plethora of disk-to-disk backup options, and obviously I’m limited by price. I’m not going to use Symantec’s BackupExec for various reasons. The options I am considering so far consist of the following:

CommVault is the solution that Jason Powell and his team use at Granger Community Church. They like it and it allows for Exchange restore down to the individual message if necessary without restoring the entire data store. The other options I have done varying levels of research on; enough to know they are still a contender on both price and features but not enough to provide an in-depth comparison summary. I am also still working how exactly how many virtual machines I will be running, and how many need to run a backup agent (some things can just be backed up with scripted backups to a file server where the data can be backed up along with everything else on that server, so I don’t necessarily have to have a backup agent for every VM).

The funding will be available most likely in the next couple of weeks or so to go ahead and make these purchases. If I can hold off on some of the backup questions, I may try to wait until after the upcoming Seacoast Fall Church IT Roundtable so I have more time to bounce ideas off of the smart guys there!

This is an overview and of course is not the only research, thinking, and questioning I’ve done about this solution! So feel free to comment and suggest away; I’m just saying there’s a possibility I’ve considered your suggestion and if so, I’ll note it. More often than not though, my thinking is challenged here in the comments, so please delight me with your insights, they are much appreciated :-)

September 22nd, 2008 at 2:03 am

My Tasks, Projects and Stuff (now playing: Toodledo)

“I’ve been, searching, for that missing productivity application.” OK, it doesn’t end with quite the same rhythm as Michael W. Smith’s “MIssing Person,” but it rings true for me anyway. Sometimes I think I’ve tried nearly every todo, productivity, and Getting Things Done software or web application invented. Then I look around the web for them, or stumble on another one, and I realize I haven’t seen it all and, of course, I have to try it.

Prior Todo System Attempts

The result is usually “cool,” and I might use it for a day or two. And then, I forget about it. (I use and love the HelpSpot helpdesk software (Lakeview is even a HelpSpot case study!), but there are tasks (and projects) I’d like to manage outside of requests in the helpdesk, and that’s just an at-work solution.) Now that I have an iPhone, although it comes with no built-in task managment program (why? Beats me), I figured someone would have made a system I could use on my desktop, laptop, and iPhone to track todo lists at home, for Lakeview, and for the Indianag A/G District Office where I work one day per week. And when I’m somewhere else, I don’t really want to see what I have to do anywhere but where I am! And oh yeah, I’d like subtasks support, tagging, sorting, searching, start and end due dates, and due time with reminders built in, and probably a few things I’m forgetting. And can you make it free while you’re at it?

I’ve already mentioned that there are a lot of online todo list web applications. On my renewed search for iPhone-compatible todos, I tried the very well-known Remember the Milk service. It has a nice interface and I thought it might just be as good as everyone seems to think, and it had an iPhone interface. Which I never tried, because although there’s a trial, you have to pay for a Pro account to use the iPhone-optimized webapp; I think it’s $25/year and you get a few other benefits as well. But I kept going back to my preference for “free” and wondered if someone else was doing it better. I’ve bookmarked some of my findings using my Delicious keyword “todo

The other one with a funny name: Toodledo

Toodledo Logo

I don’t recall exactly how I discovered it, but it was probably a Google search or a post comparing services that led me to Toodledo. The name almost turned me off from looking at it at all. It’s a nice play on words but not as “professional” sounding as I was looking for. But hey, Remember the Milk isn’t all suit-and-tie sounding either, so I gave it a shot, especially because it had a free iPhone interface called Slim. The well-done feature comparison chart also helped to convince me to try it out, given it’s completeness compared to every competitor listed (granted, the chart is a bit out of date per a few forum postings especially in relation to Todoist, which I tried briefly after I was already using Toodledo (always on the lookout for something closer to perfection :-) and if you like using the keyboard extensively it may be an excellent option, although I’m not sure about an iPhone version). Of course comparison charts are intended to be biased towards the company making the chart, but the list of features Toodledo had was impressive by itself.

This is going to get long, so for more information I’m breaking the rest out after the jump if you’re reading this on the web! Continue Reading »

September 21st, 2008 at 1:05 am

iPhone 3G Power Adapters Recalled

No huge length post here but if you have an iPhone 3G, they are recalling most (all in the US and in many other countries) of the power adapters. You can read about the recall and how to get a replacement, which has a link for a web form to submit your recall request or you can do the exchange at an Apple store after October 10th (which is whey they’ll start shipping replacement orders as well).

It looks to me like the issue is the prongs break off in a power outlet sometimes. I move my adapter daily (until I get a second one so I can keep one at work and one at home) and haven’t had any issues. I’m not going to stop using it as they recommend, but I will be on the lookout for any problems and if it does break off, I’ll make sure to notice and take action to prevent any injuries or issues. If you can’t manage to do that safely, sure, stop using it and charge via USB all the time :-) Don’t blame me though, officially I’m telling you to stop using the adapters now and wait until October 10th to get a new one. Go ahead, I’m sure you’ll always be close to a USB outlet to charge your phone a few times a day!

Thanks to whoever I follow on Twitter who brought this to my attention; I’m not entirely sure at this point who it was. If you haven’t seen it here, you probably live under the tech news rock that I do much of the time (tech news can suck me in, so I often stay away for lengthy periods of time!).

September 16th, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Granger Church IT Roundtable tomorrow!

My wife and I drove up to South Bend, IN today so I can attend the Granger Community Church IT Roundtable tomorrow! We’re staying with Justin Moore and his wife Bonnie, along with Dave Mast and his wife Jess! It’s a house full of laptops…and people of course! It’s going to be a great day tomorrow, I think, but the Granger IT guys will still have their hands busy with the Innovate Conference setup and some cleanup from some fileserver issues yesterday and today. This Roundtable will be smaller than usual but that just means more in-depth discussion and closer relationships!

The trip is off to a good start, with milk shakes at Steak-N-Shake as a late night treat. Ritters was our first choice and Culvers our second (were trying for custard! We have some custard virgins among us!) but it was still good!

It’s time for bed, going to be a long day tomorrow! I’ve also got some server and storage infrastructure upgrades in the works that I need to find time to write about, some exciting stuff! See some of you tomorrow, and the rest of you in #citrt? We didn’t make it in in time for dinner with Dean Lisenby or Sheldon so will get to see them tomorrow along with Jason Powell!

September 2nd, 2008 at 2:14 am

Google makes its own web browser called Chrome

UPDATE on Sept. 2, 2008: Chrome beta has been released. Find it at http://www.google.com/chrome.

Yep. That’s right. In case Firefox, Opera, and Safari all don’t satiate your burning desire to be rid of Internet Explorer (even if it is improving with age, after it started to ripen at least), Google said they are releasing the beta of a new web browser called Chrome today, Sept. 2nd, 2008. It’s been in development for two years, and they’re beta-testing it with thousands of webpages automatically after each build. How? Well, they have this little archive of webpages stored somewhere… :-)

They accidentally leaked the news a bit early but have now come clean and written a blog post announcing it, and have released the original leaked “comic book” describing the project, which will be open source and they claim has pulled from both Mozilla (Firefox) code and Apple’s Safari WebKit rendering engine. The comic book is very descriptive and indicates that each tab of the browser will run in a separate process, which will reduce memory usage over time and allow multi-threaded JavaScript, as well as allowing individual tabs to crash without taking down the whole browser. If this works as advertised, a few tab-users I know (with myself as the number one offender!) may flock to this quite a bit faster than users have moved to, say, Flock. Sorry, couldn’t resist…pun fully intended :-D

I, for one, will be grabbing the beta ASAP and taking it for a spin. As long as rendering is consistent enough to not intruduce more headaches for web designers (basically, standards-compliant, kind of ), I’m excited to see if it lives up to its claims! And I love testing new software. I’m always amazed at the things I haven’t thought of yet, that others have. Nowhere is it easier and quite flexible to showcase stuff like that than in software! Just bang a few keys, hopefully in the right order, and you have something new. The only thing easier? Web design (which is correspondingly more limited most of the time). Of course, both can be done very badly…

Now I’m rambling. But this is unexpected and exciting news! I would say, don’t knock it ’til you try it, and read the comic :-)

September 1st, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Fall Church IT Roundables: Be there or…don’t see me!

I’ve gotten approval to go to the midwest regional Church IT Roundtable at Granger Community Church (organized by Jason Powell) on September 17th! I always love visiting The Jason, Ed, and now Justin Moore too! (Read about Justin joing the GCC team here, here and here.) And Dean Lisenby‘s going to be there, taking the awesome factor up by a factor of two. My wife may even come with this time (but not to the Roundtable itself)! It’s a party you won’t want to miss. The smaller regional roundtable is great, being smaller than the national one.

Speaking of the national one (wow, what a natural transition! :-) it’s coming up next month! October 8-10 at Seacoast Church. Check out the official website for details. Early bird registration was extended by a month until September 8th, so you can still get in at the cheaper rate! I’m planning on going to this one too and so is my wife, unless plans change at the last minute.

You should go too. See you there!