Tales Of A Paranoid SysAdmin (Part 1)

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Oh dear. Here in this desolate and forgotten outpost of the p&p empire it's pretend-to-be-a-sysadmin time all over again. Daily event viewer errors about the servers running out of disk space and shadow copies failing (mainly because I had to disable them due to lack of disk space) are gradually driving me crazy. Will I finally have to abandon my prized collection of Shaun The Sheep videos, or risk my life by deleting my wife's beloved archive of Motown music? And, worse still, can I face losing all those TV recordings of wonderful classic rock and punk concerts? Or maybe (warning: bad pun approaching) I just need to find some extra GIGs to store the gigs.

Yep, I finally decided it was time to bite the bullet and add some extra storage to the two main servers that run my network and, effectively, my life. Surprisingly, my two rather diminutive Dell T100 servers each had an empty drive bay and a spare SATA port available, though I'll admit I had to phone a friend and email him some photos of the innards to confirm this. And he managed to guide me into selecting a suitable model of drive and cable that had a reasonable chance of working. The drives even fitted into the spare bays with some cheap brackets I had the forethought to order. Of course, it was absolutely no surprise when Windows blithely took no notice of them after a reboot. I never really expect my computer upgrades to actually work. But at least the extra heat from them will help to stop the servers freezing up during next winter's ice-age.

However, after poking around in the BIOS and discovering that I needed to enable the SATA port, everything suddenly sprang into life. For less than fifty of our increasingly worthless English pounds each server now has 320 brand new gigs available - doubling the previous disk space. Amazing. And after some reshuffling of data, and managing to persuade WSUS to still work on a different drive, I was up and running again.

Mind you, setting the appropriate security permissions and creating the shares for drives and folders was an interesting experience. One tip if you want to know how many user-configured shares there are on a drive is to open the Shadow Copies tab of the Properties dialog for a drive. It doesn't tell you where they are, but just type net share into a command window to get a list that includes the path - though it includes all the system shares as well. And if you intend to change the drive letter, do it before you create the shares. If not they disappear from Windows Explorer, but continue to live as hidden shares pointing to the old drive letter. You have to create new shares with the same name and the required path, and accept the warning message about overwriting the existing ones.

And now I can move a couple of the Hyper-V VMs to a different drive as well, instead of having all four on one physical drive. Maybe then it won't take 20 minutes for each one to start up after the monthly patch update and reboot cycle. So, being paranoid, I check the security permissions on the existing VM drive and the new one before I start and discover that the drive root folder needs to have special permissions for the "Virtual Machines" account. So here's a challenge - try and add this account to the list in the Security tab of the Properties dialog for a drive. You'll find, as I did, that there is no such account. Not even the one named NT VIRTUAL MACHINES mentioned in a couple of blog posts. But as the MS blogs and TechNet pages say that you can just export a VM, move it, and then import it, there should be no problem. Maybe.

Of course, they also say you can use the same name for more than one VM as long as you don't reuse the existing VM ID (un-tick this option in the Import dialog). Or you can use the same ID if you don't intend to keep the original VM. Obviously I can't run both at the same time anyway as they have the same DNS name and SIDs. So should I export the VM to the new drive, remove it from Hyper-V Manager, and then import it with the same ID? Or import it alongside the original one in Hyper-V Manager but allow it to create a new ID and then delete the old one when I find out if it works?

As the VM in question is my main domain controller and schema master, I'm fairly keen not to destroy it. In the end I crossed all my fingers and toes and let it create a new ID. And, despite my fears, it just worked. The newly imported VM fired up and ran fine, even though there are two in Hyper-V Manager with the same name (to identify which is which, you can open the Settings dialog and check the path of the hard disk used by each VM). And the export\import process adds the required GUID-named account permission to the virtual disk file automatically (though not to the drive itself, but it seems to work fine without).

What's worrying is how I never really expect things like this to just work. Maybe it's something to do with the aggravation suffered over the years fighting with NT4 and Windows 2000 Server, and the associated Active Directory and Exchange Server hassles I encountered then. I really must be paranoid about this stuff because I even insist on installing my Windows Updates each month manually rather than just letting the boxes get on with it themselves. So it was nice to see that Hyper-V continues to live up to its promise, and I'm feeling even more secure that my backup strategy of regularly exporting the machines and keeping multiple copies scattered round the network will work when something does blow up.

So anyway, having gained all the new gigs I need, should I finally risk my sanity altogether and upgrade the servers and Hyper-V VMs from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2008 R2? I abandoned that idea last time because I didn't have the required 15 or so gigs of spare disk space for each one. But it seemed like as good a time as any to have another go at testing my reasonably non-existent sysadmin capabilities. Maybe I would even get properly working mouse pointers in the VMs with R2 installed.

So as they say in all the best TV shows (and some of the very dire ones), "Tune in next week to see if Alex managed to destroy his network by upgrading it to Windows Server 2008 R2..."

  • I too had to move my WSUS data to a new VM drive. Luckily I have plenty of spare disks lying about. Haven't had to move any of the VMs yet.

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Tales Of A Paranoid SysAdmin (Part 1)