Archive for the ‘Servers’ Category

Going Google

August 5, 2014

Our aging email system has been a thorn in my side for a very long time. This summer it finally got to the point where something had to be done. The latest version of Microsoft Outlook included with Office 2013 is incompatible with the version of Exchange Server we are currently running. This left us with 2 options: upgrade Exchange or move to a totally different solution.

I’m a huge fan of Exchange as far as functionality, but upgrading would require new hardware, licensing and time. And we’d still end up in the same spot in a few years.

We decided to move to Google Apps for Education. This will fix our disk space issues as users each get 30GB of space. It will fix the time/manpower issue as it’s hosted by Google and not internally. It fixes the hardware/cost issue because it’s free.

I’m very excited for this switch to happen. I know people will freak out and not want to give up their precious Outlook, but in the end it’s best for everyone.

(This is sort of old news, as this was decided in the early summer, but I figured as I’ll be posting other GAFE info it’s good to have the back-story.)

Eye-Fi Cards in the Enterprise

May 8, 2013

The concept of the Eye-Fi SD card is really cool: It’s an SD card for your digital camera that has wireless connectivity/uploading capabilities built-in. So you take a picture and your card will upload the picture automatically to your computer without having to connect the camera or manually copy pictures from the card. The concept is fabulous, but the implementation leaves a few things to be desired.

Now imagine how useful this would be in a school? Have all your cameras equipped with Eye-Fi cards and have them transfer pictures to a central server that everyone has access to for storage. It sounds like the greatest idea ever, until you try to implement it.

I did this back in the fall and while it functions, it’s really dirty and I still can’t believe they make it as difficult as it is to accomplish this. I used the word enterprise in the title to mean using the cards not as a consumer. I have one of these cards at home for personal use, it works fine with the software that ships with it.

At school I currently have 14 Eye-Fi cards in the wild. To avoid the maintenance nightmare of setting up the Eye-Fi Center software on each teacher’s computer, I wanted to run a centralized Eye-Fi “server”. I’m a Linux guy, so that’s the first thing I thought of, but no, there is no Linux version of the software. Someone hacked together a python script a few years ago that had similar functionality but it didn’t work in our multiple-VLAN environment. So not only did I have to burn a license for a Windows server for this, the cards have to be activated on the machine running the Eye-Fi Center software, so I had to setup a physical machine for this because the version of VMWare we use for virtualization doesn’t have USB pass-through. So instead of being totally free and using practically no resources, I have to use a Windows license, keep hardware running, use more electricity and add more carbon dioxide and noise to my office. And if that weren’t enough, the Eye-Fi Center software installs and runs per-user, so I couldn’t run it as a service in the background, I have to login to the machine to have the helper software start and then leave myself logged in under a remote desktop session! It does actually run if you start it as a service, it just doesn’t transfer any pictures that way. And when Windows Update reboots the machine pictures stop transferring because I’m not logged in anymore. It’s very frustrating, finicky and requires way too much attention; but of course the users are all happily oblivious to this.

I’m absolutely astounded how difficult they make it working with these cards when you’re not a cookie-cutter consumer. All it would take is a few tweaks to the Eye-Fi Center software to make it start and run as a service. A Linux version would also be greatly appreciated. And then add an option in the settings to specify the destination IP address of the computer running the Eye-Fi Center software. Those couple changes would make using and managing this product infinitely easier. The fact that there are no competing products doesn’t help the situation either. If another company came out with a similar product I would switch in a heartbeat, but for now I’m stuck with Eye-Fi.

As of this writing my Eye-Fi server has transferred 9074 pictures.

Exchange Server Limit

January 13, 2011

Last weekend our email server hit the database size limit and dismounted the information store, halting all email transport and access.

Originally with Exchange 2003 Standard Edition there was a 16GB limit on the information store. This was one of the factors used to force you to upgrade to the Enterprise Edition which is ridiculously more expensive . When the database hit that size it would dismount causing all your users to start wrapping torches and sharpening pitchforks. They enabled a registry tweak to allow you 1 more GB of space to allow you to mount the store and reclaim some space by deleting old email.

With Service Pack 2 they upped the default limit to 18GB, which is the threshold we hit a few days ago, and allowed an absolute limit of up to 75GB. You can set this limit with another registry tweak.

Of course this couldn’t have happened on a weekday when I was here, it had to happen on a Saturday while I was out to lunch with the family and some friends. Figures…

Moved a couple servers

December 23, 2010

I’ve been meaning to reorganize one of our servers racks for quite a while now. I have a big UPS to mount in the rack, but according to the manufacturer they recommend not mounted any servers within 12-18 inches of the transformer as the magnets inside can damage other magnetic media such as server hard drives.

In order to mount this UPS, I had to move 2 servers to made the necessary room.  Unfortunately, they were two very important server that couldn’t be arbitrarily turned off: Exchange (email) and Oracle (our student information system database).

Usually I would do something like this early in the morning before school starts, but family responsibilities now make that impossible. I ended up doing it in the morning on the first day of holiday break. Nobody was around so the timing wasn’t as important.

I wanted to mount these all in one solid block, but that 2u-sized hole in the middle was about 1/32″ too small to slide the email server into.  I still don’t really understand why it didn’t fit and was not very happy about it because I had already shut down the email server. So instead of a 5 minute move, I had to remount the rails and it turned into a 30 minute affair. It all worked out in the end though.