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TechPulse 2013

TechPulse 2013

Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in General, Hardware, Mobile, Software, Virtualization | 0 comments

A cloudy, yet warm morning in St. Paul, Minnesota at the RiverCentre.

A cloudy, yet warm morning in St. Paul, Minnesota at the RiverCentre.

Good morning, everyone! It’s a cloudy, yet warm morning here in St. Paul, Minnesota! I will be at the River Centre in St. Paul today, covering this year’s TechPulse 2013 event! TechPulse is a technology based conference that is held annually in St. Paul, covering the latest IT technologies for small business and enterprise usage.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the day!

8:30 AM – 9:15 AM: Welcome Presentation

TechPulse presenters opening TechPulse 2013 and what's to come throughout the day.

TechPulse presenters opening TechPulse 2013 and what’s to come throughout the day.

Welcome presentation begins with two speakers, introducing TechPulse 2013, discussing today’s breakout sessions and the end of the day prizes. The speakers also discussed about the challenges IT firms face these days and presented several topographical charts of current and future IT infrastructures.

9:15 – 9:30 AM: Break

At Belkin's booth, with several of their networking products on display.

At Belkin’s booth, with several of their networking products on display.

The TechPulse staff had issues with printing out name tags this morning, but after getting registered, I was able to pick up my tag without issue. Checked out a few booths, such as Dell, D-Link, Belkin, and Microsoft. Dell’s booth mostly centered on their enterprise solutions, cloud computing, SonicWall Firewall solutions, etc. Microsoft’s booth was a bit sparse, with a MS Surface device on display. D-Link’s booth was a bit more interesting, presenting a lot of different IP and video security products. As for Belkin, they had a few network technologies on display, such as their router lineup.

9:30 – 10:15: Welcome to the Paradigm of Tablet Computing
Speaker: Jeffrey Funk | Lenovo

Jeffrey Funk discussing the different attributes of tablets.

Jeffrey Funk discussing the different attributes of tablets.

Jeffrey Funk opened the session by discussing about the wide range of tablets of different configurations, such as platforms, interfaces, screen sizes, applications, etc. He focused on the implications of tablets in an IT environment and brought up five questions:

* What will be supported? (integration, security, support)
* What will be the primary use? (device strengths, transferable experience)
* What is the ideal screen size? (ergonomic, viewing size, work space)
* What are the primary applications? (primary use., native app, app choices)
* What is the main interaction? (keyboard, pen, capacitive touch)

With these questions, Jeffrey focused on the strengths of tablets and the beneficial roles that they could play in the workplace.

10:15 – 10:30 AM: Break

TechPulse 2013 bustling with attendees.

TechPulse 2013 bustling with attendees.

After the first session, I visited some more booths, such as WatchGuard, which had several interesting hardware security routers on display. There were also some non-tech booths available, such as Wildlife Preservation and autism-related booths.

10:30 – 11:15 AM: Securing Networks in a Virtual, Cloudy World
Speaker: Corey Nachreiner | WatchGuard

Corey Nachreiner demonstrating a Web 2.0 attack running on a virtualized platform.

Corey Nachreiner demonstrating a Web 2.0 attack running on a virtualized platform.

Corey Nachreiner began the session by giving a presentation quick history overview of virtualization and where it is today. He discussed about the common virtualization platforms and the typical virtualization infrastructures found in IT environments these days.

Corey then stressed the importance of securing virtualization platforms and how much of these platforms are not being secured properly. He cited different examples of highly publicized exploits, such as the Zeus bot network and the Sony PSN security breach and how hackers took advantage of virtualization platforms for their malicious attacks. He noted that with the rise of Web 2.0 platforms and applications, the risk of web security exploits are higher than ever.

An example Web 2.0 web attack on a virtualized platform was then demoed. Corey ran three VMs (Windows 7, Back Track 5rd Linux distro, and Linux terminal) and used an XSS exploit on a fake social media website to demonstrate how a cross-browser attack works in the background.

Afterwords, Corey discussed several ways of securing virtualization platforms, such as keeping hypervisors updated, and applying common practice server security approaches on VMs.

11:15 – 11:30 AM: Break

Lenovo hybrid laptops on display at the Lenovo area.

Lenovo hybrid laptops on display at the Lenovo area.

I checked out the Lenovo booth, where they had several of their ThinkCentre workstations and ThinkPad laptops and tablets on display.

11:30 – 12:15 PM: Iterative Website Development
Speakers: Charles Goodman & Dan Feller | Plaudit Design

As I am currently transitioning from an IT role to more of a mobile/web developer role, I decided to attend the Iterative Website Development session, presented by Charles Goodman & Dan Feller from Plaudit Design. The session was much more marketing-orientated rather than developer-orientated, but still a great session, as Charles and Dan covered a lot of great ideas that companies should be doing for their website marketing.

The following below is an outline of what the session covered:

  • Introduction to Iterative Website Development
  • Web Site Approaches
  • Stagnant
  1. Business misrepresented.
  2. Outdated technology.
  3. Doesn’t fulfill audience needs.
  4. Results in an eventual costly overhaul.
  • Active
  1. Accurate representation.
  2. Takes advantage of technology.
  3. Fulfills audience needs.
  4. Spreads out expenses and delivers results faster.
  • Iterative Methodology
  1. Opportunity -> Brainstorm -> Plan -> Implement -> Measure
  • Benefits
  1. Less investments with time and money.
  2. Easer to measure small changes.
  3. Easier to plan and manage small changes vs. ramifications of modifying an entire site at once.
  4. Search engine optimization (SEO) benefits.
  • When Full Redesign is Appropriate
  1. Web design out of date.
  2. Website tech is old, unusable, phased out.
  3. Website does not meet business needs or does not reflect company.
  • Types of Changes (Branding / Design)
  1. Logo.
  2. Colors.
  3. Fonts.
  4. Photography.
  5. Minor stylistic changes.
  6. Layout adjustments.
  7. Structure and content.
  8. Adding, removing, and moving content sections/categories.
  9. Content – Copy and messages.
  • Functionality and Experience
  1. Improvements to specific elements.
  2. Adding a new interactive element.
  3. Upgrading technology as the web evolves.
  • Process
  1. Sholom iterative website example.
  • Step 1: Identify Opportunity
  1. Analytic data.
  2. Feedback or surveys.
  3. External inspiration.
  • Step 2: Brainstorm Solutions
  1. Research possible causes / improvements.
  2. Analyze.
  3. Generate a list of ideas.
  4. Select implementation(s).
  • Step 3: Plan
  1. Outline implementation.
  2. Define how to measure success.
  3. Gather resources (e.g. content).
  4. Create a schedule.
  • Step 4: Implement
  1. Design.
  2. Develop.
  3. Review.
  4. Launch.
  • Step 5: Measure Results.
  1. Use analytics and context.
  2. Determine if goals were met.
  3. Adjust your theory.
  • Analyze Results
  1. Google Analytics.
  2. Survey Results.
  • Parallel Design Model (A/B Testing)
  1. Advanced testing method.
  2. Applies to any type of update.
  3. Applies to any size of update.
  4. Solves implementation debates.
  5. Great for optimizing user experience.
  6. Website needs to be consistently updated.
  • Tips
  1. Improve existing material.
  2. Start small.
  3. Define goals and measure.
  4. Intuition is important when theorizing, but trust your data.
  5. Balance data and context.
Off to lunch!

12:15 – 2:00 PM: Lunch & Keynote Speakers

The lunch provided at TechPulse was pretty formal, as we were served a full course meal, which included a Ceasar salad, a choice of Rosemary chicken breast, steak, or pasta, and a small dessert. While elaborate, the meal itself wasn’t anything to write home about, but was a nice experience nonetheless, as it allowed for the ability to chit-chat with other TechPulse visitors that were seated at our table.

During lunch, a presentation on improvisation in the workplace was given by three keynote speakers: Mark Bergren, Molly Cox, and Jim Detmar. These three individuals are the authors behind “Improvise This!: How to Think on Your Feet so You Don’t Fall on Your Face“, a book which is devoted to introducing improvisation to the workplace to achieve dramatic changes in the workplace and life in general. They spoke about several different aspects of improvisation and performed live skits to demonstrate such techniques. The speakers invited several people from the audience to participate in the improv activities, resulting in some humorous skits.

2:00 – 2:15 PM: Break

Before the final breakout session, I deposited all the lottery tickets (for the prize giveaway event at the end of TechPulse) and took the opportunity to visit a few more booths.

FRSecure had an interesting laptop hacking demo setup at their booth, as they demonstrated that they could bypass a password secured login screen in Windows 7 using available hacking scripts available online. The demonstrator loaded the exploit on the USB drive, restarted the laptop, and booted directly to the USB drive to load the script. Once loaded, the demonstrator used the available options in the script to wipe out the Administrator password and was able to login into the Windows 7 partition easily after performing the exploit. Their main point was that without encrypting the hard drive, it was possible to get access to laptop data, no matter how complex the password was.

2:15 – 3:00 PM: Basics of Network Infrastructure and Demystifying Wireless Design
Speaker: Dan Skrove | D-Link

In this session, Dan Skrove from D-Link discussed the basics of network and wireless infrastructures. He began with a brief history on networking technology, eventually leading into a discussion of different types of network switches that are commonly found in today’s workplace. Dan pointed out the differences between unmanaged and managed switches, as well as the pros and cons for each type of switch.

For the second half of the session, Dan discussed about the behavior of wireless networks, their frequencies, and interference issues typically found with them. The differences between 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz was discussed, as well as the recommended channels that should be utilized for an optimal Wi-Fi configuration. Dan also briefly touched upon PoE (Power Over Ethernet) technology, primarily focusing on technical specifications and the bandwidth found in PoE solutions.

On to the prize drawings!

3:00 – 3:45 PM: Closing & Prize Giveaway

The conclusion of TechPulse 2013 and the drawing of prizes.

The conclusion of TechPulse 2013 and the drawing of prizes.

Everyone gathered in the main conference room, in which the TechPulse presenters thanked TechPulse 2013 attendees. They then moved onto the prizes, which were numerous and included lucrative items such as 42″ LCD TVs, 27″ LCD monitors, 2 TB external drives, 3 TB external drives, Xbox360 Kinect kits, Xbox360 games, Fujifilm cameras, etc.

The presenters drew names from the lottery wheel that people had submitted their accumulated lottery tickets into. Although I was able to deposit ten tickets, my friend Joey amassed about forty tickets, dramatically increasing his chances for a prize. In the end, I was able to win a Fujifilm FinePix AX650 15 MP digital camera.

That concludes this year’s TechPulse 2013 event! I would like to thank the TechPulse organizers for putting together such a great technology-based event, as well as my friend Joey, who made me aware that such an event was taking place this week in St. Paul!

I will be uploading the recordings for the breakout sessions at a later date. Read More

vSphere 5.0: Setting Up the Virtual Machine Environment

Posted by on Feb 10, 2012 in Virtualization | 3 comments

Setting up the virtual machine environment in ESXi 5.0 is fairly straight forward. Like ESXi 4.0, ESXi 5.0 is managed remotely via the vSphere 5.0 hypervisor client. I’ve assigned a static IP address to the whitebox ESXi. Using the assigned IP address and the user credentials created in the ESXi 5.0 settings menu, we can use VMware’s vSphere 5.0 Hypervisor client to connect to the whitebox ESXi server over the network. I installed vSphere 5.0 on my trusty Zenbook UX21E to access the whitebox ESXi server remotely.

After logging into vSphere 5.0, the first thing you will see is a category screen, with options to see your inventory (your ESXi server), roles (users), and system logs. From inventory, you can select your ESXi server. After selecting the whitebox server, you are given several tabbed options, one of which is “Summary”, which gives you an overall hardware description of your ESXi server. Details such as processor model, motherboard model, CPU cores, CPU usage, memory usage, etc., are listed. With the whitebox setup that I am utilizing, what’s probably the most interesting part of this section is that ESXi 5.0 is reporting that DirectPath I/O (IOMMU) is supported (woot!) on the GA-970A-UD3, which allows us to passthrough hardware devices directly to the VMs. Not too many consumer motherboards support this feature, which makes this even more exciting.

Moving on, before you can start creating VMs, a storage space must be created. As this whitebox server has two hard drives (a Seagate Barracuda ES 1 TB 7200 RPM and WD 80 GB 7200 RPM SATA HDD), we can assign storage spaces to these devices by going to the “Configuration” tab and selecting “Storage”. Here in this section, there is an option to “Add Storage”, in which we can specify a storage device to utilize. Clicking on this option, it gives us a choice to select the type of storage, such as a local disk, iSCSI, etc. or a Network File System (NFS), but  simplicity of this setup, we will be using the local drives installed on this server. In the next screen, a list of all detected hard drives will be shown, from which we can select a hard drive to create a storage space. After selecting a drive, an option to specify whether to utilize VMFS-5 or VMFS-3 will be shown. As I won’t be utilizing legacy operating systems that have issue utilizing storage spaces larger than 2TB, I selected VMFS-5. After going through the storage spaces setup prompts, your newly created storage space will show up in the “Storages” section. Please note that this must be done every time if you wish to utilize additional storage devices.

With a storage space created, we can now create virtual machines! In the “Virtual Machines” section, we can create a new VM. In the new VM wizard, we can specify if it is a typical or custom VM. The “Typical” option used for common operating systems such as Windows XP, whereas the “Custom” option is used for situations where additional options need to be specified, or in cases where a unsupported OS will be installed. From here, we can specify options such as the name of the VM, the VM OS type (i.e. Windows, Linux, Other), the storage space it will be installed to, the network type & adapter that will be utilized, and the amount of storage space assigned to the VM.

Once all of these options have been confirmed, ESXi 5.0 will take a moment to create the VM onto the storage space that you have specified. Once the VM has been created, it will appear in the “Virtual Machines” list. You can make changes to the VM’s virtualized hardware, such additional storage space, optical drives, network options, etc. I decided to install Windows Server 2008 as my first VM, as I want to experiment with some of the  server roles like Active Directory, Domain Controller, Sharepoint, SQL, etc. Through the optical device options of the VM, I selected the Windows Server 2008 ISO image, from which to boot from to initialize the installation. Within the VM, I went through the typical Windows Server 2008 installation wizard, which progressed without any issues. After twenty minutes of installation, the Windows Server 2008 VM was ready to be utilized!

In the next portion, I will go over more detail in managing multiple VMs on ESXi 5.0. Read More

Installing ESXi 5.0

Posted by on Feb 4, 2012 in Virtualization | 2 comments

After a busy week, I managed to find some time to install ESXi 5.0 on the whitebox server that I recently finished constructing. For those looking to try out ESXi 5.0, a non-commercial license is freely available for download on VMware’s website.

You can find it here: Download VMware vSphere Hypervisor for Free

With two SATA hard drives (a Seagate 1 TB 7200 RPM HDD and a WD 80 GB 7200 RPM HDD) and a Kingston 4 GB SDHC card on hand, I proceeded to install ESXi 5.0 directly onto the Kingston 4 GB SDHC card. Now, some may ask, “Why install ESXi on a SD card?” First, the installation requirements for ESXi 5.0 are pretty low and can easily fit on a 4 GB SDHC card. Second, I can easily backup the ESXi contents of the SDHC card. Third, I can easily update ESXi to later versions on the SDHC card without having to mess with the configuration of the other hard drives.

The ESXi 5.0 installer is fairly straight-forward. As long as you are using a chipset and storage controller that ESXi 5.0 recognizes, the installer will detect all of your storage devices and will ask which storage device to install ESXi 5.0 onto. Please note that there is a known issue with the ESXi installer if you are using an IDE CD/DVD drive; the workaround is to install from a SATA CD/DVD drive or a removable drive. The installer had no problem detecting and installing ESXi 5.0 directly to the Kingston SDHC card.

After installing ESXi 5.0 to the Kingston SDHC card, I rebooted the whitebox server and set the BIOS settings on the server to automatically boot from the SDHC card. ESXi 5.0 had no issues booting and detected everything, including the onboard Realtek RTL8111E gigabit NIC (another reason why I chose to utilize the Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3 motherboard). After setting an static IP address for the server, I put it into “headless mode” (monitor-less), as ESXi is managed remotely via the VMware vSphere Hypervisor, not directly.

In the next virtualization post, I will be going over on setting up the VM resources and VMs in the vSphere Hypervisor. Read More

Building a ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server

Posted by on Jan 29, 2012 in Virtualization | 0 comments

For some time, I’ve been contemplating on building a new whitebox server for ESXi 5.0, as I have always been interested in virtualization. I built a ESXi 4.2 whitebox server last summer, in which I was able to get myself familiarized with ESXi and the VMware vSphere Hypervisor client. There were a lot of great features in ESXi 4.2, but my whitebox server at the time was limited in that it didn’t support advanced features such as PCI passthrough (Intel VT-d/IOMMU). My upcoming ESXi 5.0 whitebox server project will be different, as I will be utilizing components that supports IOMMU.

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Build Parts

Gathering spare parts that I already had on hand, as well as purchasing a few cost effective parts, I’ve assembled all that I need to build and test ESXi 5.0 in a home-lab environment. The goal of this project is familiarize myself with the features of ESXi 5.0, as well as exploring advanced virtualization features like IOMMU.

Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 830 ($49.99 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3 ($109.99 @ Microcenter)
RAM: 2 x G.Skill F3-12800CL9D-8GBSR Sniper 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3 1600 (Spare Part)
Storage Drives:
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA HDD (Spare Part)
Western Digital WD800AAJS 80 GB 7200 RPM SATA HDD (Spare Part)
Kingston 4 GB SDHC Card (Spare Part) Vantec 58-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Graphics: Diablotek VARX-8P ATi Rage XL 8MB SDRAM PCI Video Card ($11.96 @ Microcenter)
Network: Realtek RTL8111E (Onboard)
Optical: 2 x LITE-ON 24X DVD+-RW Drive (Spare Part)
Power Supply Unit: Corsair CMPSU-430CX 430W PSU (Spare Part)
Case: Thermal Master TC-102 ($36.99 @ Microcenter)

The requirements of ESXi 5.0 are largely the same as those of ESXi 4.x, in that it requires a x64-capable CPU and a supported chipset, NIC, and storage controller. vm-help.com has an excellent ESXi whitebox component compatibility list, which can be found here.

It can be tricky to find out which motherboards support VT-d/IOMMU, as very few consumer motherboards support this feature. With the help of the whitebox suggestions over at vm-help.com, I was able to find a Socket AM3+ IOMMU capable motherboard, the Gigabyte GA-970-UD3. According to AMD’s technical specs, the AMD 970, 990X, and 990FX series all support IOMMU, but true support is largely dependent if the option is actually available in the BIOS settings and working correctly.

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server

ESXi 5.0 Whitebox Server… fully constructed.

As I continue to explore several ESXi features, I will be adding additional parts onto this build as needed, but for now, these components will do. In the next several posts, I will go over the installation procedure for ESXi 5.0. Read More