Category Archives: Software

Database Availability Group (DAG) witness is in a failed state

As part of a maintenance job I had to update a 2-node Exchange Database Availability Group and a file-share witness server.

After the installation of Windows updates on the witness server and the obligatory reboot, the witness left in a failed state.

In my opinion, the re-creation of the witness server and the witness directory cannot be the correct way to solve this. There must be another way to solve this. In addition to this: The server was not dead. Only a reboot occured.

Check the basics

Both DAG nodes were online and working. A good starting point is a check of the cluster resources using the PowerShell.

In my case the cluster resource for the File Share Witness was in a failed state. A simple Start-ClusterResource  solved my issue immediately.

In this case, it seems that the the cluster has marked the file share witness as unreliable, thus the resource was not started after the file share witness was back online again. In this case, I managed it to manually bring it back online by running  Start-ClusterResource  on one of the DAG members.

Vembu BDR Suite v4.0 is now generally available

Vembu Technologies was founded in 2002, and with 60.000 customers and more than 4000 partners, Vembu is a leading provider with a comprehensive portfolio of software products and cloud services to small and medium businesses.

Last week, Vembu has announced the availability of Vembu BDR Suite v4.0! Vembu’s new release is all about maintaining business continuity and ensuring high availability. Apart from new features, this release features significant enhancements and bug fixes that are geared towards performance improvement.

Vembu Technologies/ Vembu BDR Essentials/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

The Vembu BDR Suite

The Vembu BDR Suite is an one stop solution to all your backup and disaster recovery needs. That is what Vembu says about their own product. The BDR Suite covers

  • Backup and replication of VMs running on VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Backup and bare-metal recovery for physical servers and workstations (Windows Server and Desktop)
  • File and application backups of Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft Outlook, and MySQL
  • Creating of backup copies and transfer of them to a DR site

More blog posts about Vembu:

Vembu BDR Essentials – affordable backup for SMB customers
The one stop solution for backup and DR: Vembu BDR Suite

What’s new in 4.0?

Vembu BDR Suite v4.0 has got some pretty nice new features. IMHO, there are four highlights:

  • Hyper-V Failover Cluster Support for Backup & Recovery
  • Shared VHDX Backup
  • Hyper-V Checksum Based Incremental, and the
  • Credential Manager

There is a significat chance that you use a Hyper-V Failover Cluster if you have more than one Hyper-V host. With v4.0 Vembu added support for backup and recovery for the VMs residing in a Hyper-V Failover Cluster. Even if the VMs running on Hyper-V cluster move from one host to another, the backups will continue to run without any interruption.

A feature, that I’m really missing in VMware and Veeam, is the support for the backup shared VHDX files. v4.0 added support for this.

Vembu BDR Suite v4.0 also added support bot performing incremental backups with Hyper-V. They call it Checksum based incremental method, but it is in fact Change Block Tracking. An important feature for Hyper-V customers!

The Vembu Credential Manager allows you to store the necessary credentials at one place, use it everywhere inside the Vembu BDR Suite v4.0.

But there are also other, very nice enhancements.

  • Handling new disk addition for VMware ESXi and Hyper-V, which allows the backup of newly added disks at the next backup. In prioir releases, newly added disks were only backuped during the next full backup.
  • Reconnection for VMware ESXi and Hyper-V jobs in case of a dropped network connection
  • Application-wware processing for Hyper-V VMs can now enabled on a per-VM basis
  • API for VM list with Storage utilization report which allows you to generate detailed reports whenever you need one

Interested in trying Vembu BDR suite?, Try a 30-day free trial now! For any questions, simply send an e-mail to vembu-support@vembu.com or follow them on Twitter.

Exam prep & experience: Citrix NetScaler Advanced Topics: Security, Management, and Optimization (1Y0-340)

In May 2018, Citrix released their new Citrix Certified Expert – Networking certification, which completet the networking certification path at the upper end (blog post on training.citrix.com). The track starts with the Associate (CCA-N), the lower-level certification is a requirement for achieving the higher-level certification, continues with the Professional (CCP-N), and ends with the Expert (CCE-N) certification. This is pretty cool, and I’m very happy that Citrix now offers the CCE-N, because the expert-level certification was missing all the time.

kmicican/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

Everything is cool… except you have passed exam 1Y0-351 to gain your CCP-N. In this case, you have to pass 1Y0-340 until Dec 31 2018. Otherwise you have to start with the CCA-N, after the validity period of your CCP-N is over (3y after passing the exam).

Bad move, Citrix, bad move. I’m really disappointed. I passed 1Y0-351 in Nov 2017, and now, 12 months later, I have to book, pay, and pass 1Y0-340 if I not want to start with a CCA-N in Nov 2020. Bad move, Citrix, bad move!

Exam 1Y0-340 is titled as “Citrix NetScaler Advanced Topics: Security, Management, and Optimization”, where as 1Y0-351 was titeld as “Citrix NetScaler 10.5 Essentials and Networking”. You can assume that more in-depth knowledge is needed to pass the exam, as it was necessary for 1Y0-351. Note the “Advanced Topics” in the exam title.

But what are these “advanced topics”?  According to the exam prep guide, the perfect candidate for the 1Y0-340 exam can deploy and/or manage

  • Citrix NetScaler Application Firewall (AppFirewall) to secure application access in a Citrix NetScaler 12 environment, as well as
  • NetScaler Management and Analytics System (NMAS) to administer a Citrix NetScaler environment, or
  • Optimize NetScaler-managed application delivery traffic

Citrix NetScaler Application Firewall (AppFirewall)

You should take an in-depth look at these topics:

  • Application Firewall Overview
  • Application Firewall Profiles and Policies
  • Regular Expression
  • Attacks and Protections
  • Monitoring and Troubleshooting
  • Security and Filtering

NetScaler Management and Analytics System (NMAS)

  • NetScaler MAS: Introduction and Configuration
  • Managing and Monitoring NetScaler Instances
  • Managing NetScaler Configurations
  • NetScaler Web Logging

Optimize NetScaler-managed application delivery traffic

  • Integrated Caching
  • Front-End Optimization
  • Tuning and Optimizations

How to prep?

The exam prep guide referres to the NetScaler documentation, as also to training material. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the newer training material, only to the training material from my CNS-220 course. But hey: At least we have tons of publically available NetScaler 12.0 documentation available!

The exam prep guide has a section in which Citrix outlines sections, objectives and references. You will find links to the NetScaler 12.0 documentation, as well as knowledge base articles, or blog posts. Go through it. Read it carefully!

The exam prep guide also outlines the section titles and weights. Two areas stand out:

  • Section 4: Attacks and Protections, and
  • Section 8: Managing and Monitoring NetScaler Instances

The section weights are directly map to the number of questions in the exam. If the exam has 60 questions, and section 4 has a weight of 21%, at least 12 questions will relate to “Attacks and Protections”.

How did it go?

First things first: I passed with a good score. The exam had 62 questions and I needed at least 62% to pass the exam. I passed with 82%. As a non-native English speaker that took the exam in a country where english is a foreign language, I got 30 minutes extra, resulting in 120 minutes for 62 questions. Plenty of time…

What should I say? It was a multiple choice test. Read the questions carefully. The exam guide did not lie to me. It came pretty close to the topics that were described in the guide. For most questions, my first “educated guess” was right. Sometimes, the least dumb answer seemed to be correct. ;)

It was a bit frustrating that Citrix has changed product names. NetScaler is no “Application Delivery Controller”, MAS is now known as “Citrix Application Delivery Management”. There was a button which showed a mapping table “old name – new name”.

If you are experienced with Citrix ADC deployments and configuration, I think the exam prep guide is enough to pass the exam.

Good luck!

Vembu VMBackup Deployment Scenarios

Vembu was founded in 2002 and has over 60,000 customers worldwide. One of their core products is the Vembu BDR Suite, which is an one stop solution to all your Backup and DR needs. I wrote a longer blog post about the Vembu BDR Suite.

One part of this suite is Vembu VMBackup, which is a data protection solution that is designed to backup VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines secure and simple way. The offered features are compareable to Veeam Backup & Replication.

The core component of Vembu VMBackup is the Vembu BDR Backup server, which can be deployed in two ways:

  • On-premises Deployment
  • Hybrid Deployment

virnuls/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

On-premises Deployment

In this deployment setup, customers deploy the product in their local environment. I think this is the most typical deployment type, where you install VMBackup on a physical server, in a VM or deployed as virtual appliance. Backup data is transferred  over LAN or SAN, and is written to the storage repositories. The Vembu BDR server acts as a centralized management point, where user can configure and manage backup and replication jobs.

In a simple deployment, the Vembu BDR Backup Server will act as backup proxy and management server instance. It is perfect for a small number of VMs with less simultaneous backup traffic and for VMBackup evaluation. The typical SMB environment.

If you seperate the management server from the backup proxy, the deployment changes to a distributed deployment. If necessary, multiple backup proxies can be deployed on physical hosts or in virtual machines. Customers can also deploy multiple BDR backups servers, which allows load balancing across a cluster of BDR backup servers. Pretty cool for bigger and/ or distributed environments. It allows customers to scale their backup solution over time.

On-Premises Deployment/ Vembu Technologies/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

Hybrid Deployment

Backup is good, but having a backup copy offsite is better. Vembu OffsiteDR allows customers to create a copy of their backup data and transfer it to a DR location over LAN/ WAN. OffsiteDR instantly transfers backup data from a BDR Backup Server to an OffsiteDR server. Customers can restore failed VMs or missing files and application data in their DR site, or they can rebuild a failed BDR Backup Server from an OffsiteDR server.

Vembu Technologies/ OffsiteDR/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

If customers don’t have a DR site, they can use Vembu CloudDR push a backup copy to the Vembu cloud. The data stored in the Vembu Cloud can easily be restored at anytime and to any location. Vembu uses AWS across all continents to asure the availability of their cloud services.

Vembu Technologies/ CloudDR/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

Customers have the choice

It is obvious that customers have the freedom of choice how they deploy Vembu VMBackup.I like the virtual appliance approach, which eliminates the need for additional Windows Server licenses. More and more vendors tend to offer appliances for their products, just think about VMware vCenter Server Appliance, vRealize Orchestrator etc. So why not offer a backup server appliance? I wish other vendors would adopt this…

Another nice feature is the scale-out capability of Vembu. Start small and grow over time. Perfect for SMBs that want to start small and grow over time.

“Cannot execute upgrade script on host” during ESXi 6.5 upgrade

I was onsite at one of my customers to update a small VMware vSphere 6.0 U3 environment to 6.5 U2c. The environment consists of three hosts. Two hosts in a cluster, and a third host is only used to run a HPE StoreVirtual Failover Manager.

The update of the first host, using the Update Manager and a HPE custom ESX 6.5 image, was pretty flawless. But the update of the second host failed with “Cannot execute upgrade script on host”

typographyimages/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

I checked the host and found it with ESXi 6.5 installed. But I was missing one of the five iSCSI datastores. Then I tried to patch the host with the latest patches and hit “Remidiate”. The task failed with “Cannot execute upgrade script on host”. So I did a rollback to ESXi 6.0 and tried the update again, but this time using ILO and the HPE custom ISO. But the result was the same: The host was running ESXi 6.5 after the update, but the upgrade failed with the “Upgrade Script” error. After this attempt, the host was unable to mount any of the iSCSI datastores. This was because the datastores were mounted ATS-only on the other host, and the failed host was unable to mount the datastores in this mode. Very strange…

I checked the vua.log and found this error message:

Focus on this part of the error message:

The upgrade script failed due to an illegal character in the output of esxcfg-info. First of all, I had to find out what this 0x80 character is. I checked UTF-8 and the windows1252 encoding, and found out, that 0x80 is the € (Euro) symbol in the windows-1252 encoding. I searched the output of esxcfg-info for the € symbol – and found it.

But how to get rid of it? Where does it hide in the ESXi config? I scrolled a bit up and down around the € symbol. A bit above, I found a reference to HPE_SATP_LH . This took immidiately my attention, because the customer is using StoreVirtual VSA and StoreVirtual HW appliances.

Now, my second educated guess of the day came into play. I checked the installed VIBs, and found the StoreVirtual Multipathing Extension installed on the failed host – but not on the host, where the ESXi 6.5 update was successful.

I removed the VIB from the buggy host, did a reboot, tried to update the host with the latest patches – with success! The cross-checking showed, that the € symbol was missing in the esxcfg-info  output of the host that was upgraded first. I don’t have a clue why the StoreVirtual Multipathing Extension caused this error. The customer and I decided to not install the StoreVirtual Multipathing Extension again.

High CPU usage on Citrix ADC VPX

While building a small Citrix NetScaler… ehm… ADC VPX (I really hate this name…) lab environment, I noticed that the fan of my Lenovo T480s was spinning up. I was wondering why, because the VPX VM was just running for a couple of minutes – without any load. But the task manager told me, that the VMware Workstation Process was consuming 25% (I have a Intel i5 Quad Core CPU) CPU. So VMware Workstation was just eating a whole CPU core without doing anything. I would not care, but the fan… And it reminded me, that I’ve seen an similar behaviour in various VPX deployments on VMWare ESXi.

Fifaliana/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

A quick search lead me to this Citrix Support Knowledge Center article: High CPU Usage on NetScaler VPX Reported on VMware ESXi Version 6.0. That’s exactly what I’ve observed.

The solution is setting the parameter  cpuyield  to yes.

The VPX does not need a reboot. Short after setting the parameter, the fan stopped spinning. Have I mentioned how I love silence on my desk? I’m pretty happy that my T480s is a really quiet laptop.

But what does this parameter is used for? In pretty simple words: To allocate CPU cycles, that are not used by other VMs. Until ADC VPX 11.1, the VPX was sharing CPU with other VMs. This changed with ADC VPX 12.0. Since this release, the VPX was like a child, that was playing with their favorite toy just to make sure, that no other child can play with it. Not very polite…

This is a quote from the Support Knowledge Center article:

Set ns vpxparam parameters:
-cpuyield: Release or do not release of allocated but unused CPU resources.

YES: Allow allocated but unused CPU resources to be used by another VM.

NO: Reserve all CPU resources for the VM to which they have been allocated. This option shows higher percentage in hypervisor for VPX CPU usage.
DEFAULT: NO

I don’t think that I would change this in production. But for lab environments, especially if you run this on VMware Workstation, I would set  -cpuyield  to yes .

Using Let’s Encrypt DNS-01 challenge validation with local BIND instance

I’m using Let’s Encrypt certificates for a while now. In the past, I used the standalone plugin (TLS-SNI-01) to get or renew my certificates. But now I switched to the DNS plugin. I run my own name servers with BIND, so it was a very low hanging fruit to get this plugin to work.

Clker-Free-Vector-Images/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

To get or renew a certificate, you need to provide some kind of proof that you are requesting the certificate for a domain that is under your control. No certificate authority (CA) wants to be the CA, that hands you out a certificate for google.com or amazon.com…

The DNS-01 challenge uses TXT records in order to validate your ownership over a certain domain. During the challenge, the Automatic Certificate Management Environment (ACME) server of Let’s Encrypt will give you a value that uniquely identifies the challenge. This value has to be added with a TXT record to the zone of the domain for which you are requesting a certificate. The record will look like this:

This record is for a wildcard certificate. If you want to get a certificate for a host, you can add one or more TXT records like this:

There is a IETF draft about the ACME protocol. Pretty interesting read!

Configure BIND for DNS-01 challenges

I run my own name servers with BIND on FreeBSD. The plugin for certbot automates the whole DNS-01 challenge process by creating, and subsequently removing, the necessary TXT records from the zone file using RFC 2136 dynamic updates.

First of all, we need a new TSIG (Transaction SIGnature) key. This key is used to authorize the updates.

This key has to be added to the named.conf. The key is in the .key file.

The key is used to authroize the update of certain records. To allow the update of TXT records, which are needed for the challenge, add this to the zone part of you named.con.

The records start always with _acme-challenge.domainname.

Now you need to create a config file for the RFC2136 plugin. This file also includes the key, but also the IP of the name server. If the name server is running on the same server as the DNS-01 challenge, you can use 127.0.0.1 as name server address.

Now we have everything in place. This is a --dry-run  from on of my FreeBSD machines.

This is a snippet from the name server log file at the time of the challenge.

You might need to modify the permissons for the directory which contains the zone files. Usually the name server is not running as root. In my case, I had to grant write permissions for the “bind” group. Otherwise you might get “permission denied”.

 

Powering on a VM with shared VMDK fails after extending a EagerZeroedThick VMDK

I hope that you are not reading this blog post while searching for a solution for a failed cluster. If so, feel free to leave a comment if this blog post saved your evening or weekend. :)

Last friday, a change at one of my customers went horribly wrong. I was not onsite, but they contacted me during the night from friday to saturday, because their most important Windows Server Failover Cluster was unable to start after extending a shared VMDK.

cripi/ pixabay.com/ Creative Commons CC0

They tried something pretty simple: Extending an virtual disk of a VM. That is something most of us doing pretty often. The customer did this also pretty often. It was a well known task… Except the fact, that the VM was part of a Windows Server Failover Cluster. With shared VMDKs. And the disks were EagerZeroedThick, because this is a requirement for shared VMDKs.

They extended the disk using the vSphere Web Client. And at this point, the change was doomed to fail. They tried to power-on the VMs, but all they got was this error:

VMware ESX cannot open the virtual disk, “/vmfs/volumes/4c549ecd-66066010-e610-002354a2261b/VMNAME/VMDKNAME.vmdk” for clustering. Please verify that the virtual disk was created using the ‘thick’ option.

A shared VMDK is a VMDK in multiwriter mode. This VMDK has to be created as Thick Provision Eager Zeroed. And if you wish to extend this VMDK, you must use  vmkfstools  with the option -d eagerzeroedthick. If you extend the VMDK using the Web Client, the extended portion of the disk will become LazyZeroed!

VMware has described this behaviour in the KB1033570 (Powering on the virtual machine fails with the error: Thin/TBZ disks cannot be opened in multiwriter mode). There is also a blog post by Cormac Hogan at VMware, who has described this behaviour.

That’s a screenshot from the failed cluster. Check out the type of the disk (Thick-Provision Lazy-Zeroed).

Patrick Terlisten/ vcloudnine.de/ Creative Commons CC0

You must use vmkfstools  to extend a shared VMDK – but vmkfstools is also the solution, if you have trapped into this pitfall. Clone the VMDK with option -d eagerzeroedthick.

Another solution, which was new to me, is to use Storage vMotion. You can migrate the “broken” VMDK to another datastore and change the the disk format during Storage vMotion. This solution is described in the “Notes” section of KB1033570.

Both ways will fix the problem. The result will be a Thick Provision Eager Zeroed VMDK, which will allow the VMs to be successfully powered on.

Office 365 – Outlook keeps prompting for password

This is only a short blog post to  document a solution for a very annoying problem. After the automatic update of my Outlook to the latest Office 365 build (version 1809), it has started to prompting for credentials. I’m using Outlook to access a Microsoft Exchange 2016 server (on-premises), without any hybrid configuration. A pretty simple and plain Exchange 2016 on-prem deployment.

I knew, that it has to be related to Office 365, because the Outlook 2016 on my PC at the office was not affected. Only the two Office 365 deployments on my ThinkPad T480s and ThinkPad X250.

To make this long story short: ExcludeExplicitO365Endpoint  is the key! You have to add a DWORD under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Outlook\AutoDiscover.

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\office\16.0\outlook\autodiscover
DWORD: ExcludeExplicitO365Endpoint
Value = 1

Restart your computer and the annoying credentials prompts are gone.

Vembu BDR Essentials – affordable backup for SMB customers

It is common that vendors offer their products in special editions for SMB customers. VMware offers VMware vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus, Veeam offers Veeam Backup Essentials, and now Vembu has published Vembu BDR Essentials.

Vembu Technologies/ Vembu BDR Essentials/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

Backup is important. There is no reason to have no backup. According to an infographic published by Clutch Research at the World Backup Day 2017, 60% of all SMBs that lost all their data will shutdown within 6 months after the data loss. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

When I talk to SMB customers, most of them complain about the costs of backups. You need software, you need the hardware, and depending on the type of used hardware, you need media. And you should have a second copy of your data. In my opinion, tape is dead for SMB customers. HPE for example, offers pretty smart disk-based backup solutions, like the HPE StoreOnce. But hardware is nothing without software. And at this point, Vembu BDR Essentials comes into play.

Affordable backup for SMB customers

Most SMB virtualization deployments consists of two or three hosts, which makes 4 or 6 used CPU sockets. Because of this, Vembu BDR Essentials supportes up to 6 sockets or 50 VMs. But why does Vembu limit the number of sockets and VMs? You might missed the OR. Customers have to choice which limit they want to accept. Customers are limited at the host-level (max 6 sockets), but not limited in the amount of VMs, or they can use more than 6 sockets, but then they are limited to 50 VMs.

Feature Highlights

Vembu BDR Essentials support all important features:

  • Agentless VMBackup to backup VMs
  • Continuous Data Protection with support for RPOs of less than 15 minutes
  • Quick VM Recovery to get failed VMs up and running in minutes
  • Vembu Universal Explorer to restore individual items from Microsoft applications like Exchange, SharePoint, SQL and Active Directory
  • Replication of VMs Vembu OffsiteDR and Vembu CloudDR

Needless to say that Vembu BDR Essentials support VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. If necessary, customer can upgrade to the Standard or Enterprise  edition.

To get more information about the different Vembu BDR parts, take a look at my last Vembu blog post: The one stop solution for backup and DR: Vembu BDR Suite

The pricing

Now the fun part – the pricing. Customers can save up to 50% compared to the Vembzu BDR Suite.

Vembu Technologies/ Vembu BDR Essentials Pricing/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

The licenses for Vembu BDR Essentials are available in two models:

  • Subscription, and
  • Perpetual

Subscription licenses are available for 1, 2, 3 and 5 years. The perpetual licenses is valid for 10 years from the date of purchase. The subscription licensing has the benefit, that it included 24×7 technical support. If you purchase the perpetual  license, the Annual Maintenance Cost (AMC) for first year is free. From the second year, it is 20% of the license cost, and it is available for 1, 2 or 3 years.

There is no excuse for not having a backup

With Vembu BDR Essentials, there is no more excuse for not having a competitive backup protecting your business! The pricing fits any SMB customer, regardless of their size or business. The rich feature set is competitive to other vendors, and both leading hypervisors are supported.

A pretty nice product. Try it for free! Vembu also offers a free edition that might fit small environments. The free edition let you choose between unlimited VMs, that are covered with limited functionality, or unlimited functionality for up to 3 VMs. Check out this comparison of free, standard and enterprise edition.