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Showing posts from 2013

HOW TO: POP3 on Windows 8

I have a few clients still clinging to POP3 mail accounts and the newest version of the Windows Mail client doesn't work with it. Instead you will need to install the desktop version of Windows Live Mail. This can be found here: When you grab it, only install the mail component and when that is done, go into Start, find the Windows Live Mail shortcut and set up your beloved POP3 account. Enjoy

ownCloud - your in house cloud file service

As usual, a client of mine requires something out to of the ordinary - they love Dropbox and Drive, using them extensively at home, and now want something for themselves at work. The catch is - the work they do requires their data to be housed in Australia. Some legal requirement I gather for their funding. After searching through the archives in the mailing lists for SAGE-AU ( ) for wisdom and nuggets of gold I stumbled across ownCloud. Several of their members expressed an admiration for this software so I thought I'd check it out. You can find out a lot more about ownCloud on their website - but here is a brief overview of my experiences using this application. Firstly I installed it on a spare PC I had, after first putting Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on there. Installation was straightforward, securing it a bit less so - there's a bit of work to be done there but it's reasonably well documented and then I installed the application on my Win

Goodbye Cisco SRP527 and hello... what?

Recently I learned the SRP527 was being End Of Life'd. This is a sad moment - we started using the Netgear DG834's to provide a low cost VPN solution between two sites, then graduated to the double the price Cisco and now I'm on the hunt again. The issue we have is so many of our clients only need a single VPN tunnel between ADSL enabled sites. Cisco 800 series routers are too expensive and provide far more bang than the client usually needs or wants. Currently we are investigating the Draytek range of routers. I've ordered two and I'll review them in my next post. The SRP527's have been quite a reasonable unit for us. I've found that the wireless connectivity, particularly to Apple devices is a bit hit and miss, but it's generally provided us with a stable connection that has been 1Mb/s faster than other ADSL2+ devices I've used. Bring on the next challenger!

A tale of survival - FreeNAS and ZFS - and four disks with failed sectors

Recently, one of the FreeNAS storage devices we have at the office started to generate failed sectors on two of the disks. While an eyebrow raising event in and of itself, I wasn't particularly concerned. Living in the virtual outback as we do, I ordered some more disks. About 8 days later, the third of the four disks in our NAS started to throw out errors! Uh oh, it appears that we were on a slippery slope towards Doom! I called the supplier demanding my disks only to find out they'd ordered WD Green drives! Noooo. I amended the order to get WD Red drives (which are designed for a NAS) and was informed it would take a day or two. The next morning the final disk was generating errors. We were getting close to some serious error thresholds on two of the disks and the third and fourth were well on the way... Impatiently waiting for the new disks to arrive, I kept a close eye on the NAS. FreeNAS emailed me with alarming frequency about disk failure, imminent apocalypse an

How to update XenServer 6.2

Since XenServer 6.2 came out, things have changed for the Citrix developed virtualisation environment. Specifically, the free licence no longer applies - you get a fully featured system out of the box and licensing is applied per socket. What this means in a practical sense for keeping your server updated is that using XenCenter to update it is not an option unless you've licensed it. If you're like me and running XenServer in a quasi test / virtual environment, you won't have paid for a licence (as much as you'd like to). Therefore updating your VM hosts is a bit different and you have to use the command line. Now, it's important to note a couple of things that the XenServer FAQs don't necessarily specify. You have to use the xe command line program to upload and apply the patches. Do this in the following way: Open up a cmd process (Windows+r, then type cmd and hit enter). Go to the correct directory: cd C:\Program Files (x86)\Citrix\XenCenter and hit en

Further adventures of XenServer on the HP N40L Microserver - a follow up

If you've read my previous post on this matter you'll know how delighted I was to get the SBS2003 server running so well under XenServer. Well it's been about 300 days since I did this work. How do I know it's been 300 days? Easy - the SBS2003 server crashed for other reasons and I was compelled to reboot both - with an uptime of 281 days! Apparently it has been running flawlessly - indeed the logs from both servers would suggest this. Backups to a NAS were set up shortly after the server was commissioned and these have been running like a freight train - for which I'm profoundly grateful. Fortunately in this instance the server simply needed a restart and it was up, running and doing it's job quite happily. I should also note that I blew a tonne of dust and dirt out of it and the whole time the N40L was like the little train that could :-) If you have a low usage server and you're looking for a simply solution and doing a P2V migration doesn't sca

Who owns the data?

Firstly, let me make it clear I am not a lawyer - IANAL. So naturally I was left stressed and scratching my head at a recent and very difficult situation. A client of mine was having a shake up at the top end of the company. I don't know why and I didn't ask. The boss was on leave, directed in some way by the Board of Directors and I was being given conflicted requirements - one boss saying "Don't do anything - stuff is happening in the background" while the boss appointed by the Board was asking me to do various things to essentially keep the business running. The way I've dealt with it, and I think it's probably the way to remember for the future is to request, in writing and signed by a large number of the Board members a document to give you permission to do as requested by the Board appointed Boss. I asked for the Board chairman, two other board members and the CEO or Boss to sign the document - thus ensuring a majority of high level stakeholders

Reducing the winsxs folder - why it won't happen until Microsoft change Windows Updates

Recently I, along with thousands of other system administrators, have been swearing more than usual. If you're one of these people, you know why - the winsxs folder starts to use huge amounts of space on your hard disk. If you've gone by Microsoft recommended practice and created a 50GB C drive, then you also know how quickly this screws you. Is there a way to reduce this folder? If you apply a Service Pack and go through the mechanism to apply it without chance of uninstalling it then you'll grab a little space back, but as you apply more updates, patches and new drivers the winsxs (or Windows side by side folder) will continue to grow. Theoretically it allows you to roll back if something goes wrong with some component of the operating system. In real life though, this isn't really done - we can just reinstall the busted component or whatever. The system that controls the winsxs folder is tied to Windows Updates - and as we all know in Windows Vista, 7, 8, Server

Why I won't use MelbourneIT for domains any more

Recently I have had three new clients come to our company for IT support. Each one uses MelbourneIT's domain name services - MelbourneIT hosts the domain name, the registry of that name and the web sites. In all three cases I've needed to make changes to DNS records and have been unable to get usernames and passwords for the managed services from MelbourneIT, despite having the authorised users available and requesting the changes themselves. Emails with reset account details have never arrived and after an estimated 3.5 hours on the phone I've given up. We'll set the DNS records up somewhere else and migrate the domain to a new registrar. Poor customer service like this is not unusual in the IT world. Often a client will ask who to use for the domain names, where to host their DNS etc. I've always had very good experiences with Westnet and now with iiNET, reasonable experiences with Telstra on the Business Broadband and associated services and good experiences wi

Adventures with migrating Windows SBS2008 to Windows SBS2011 - Part 2

We take up the exciting adventures in migrating Windows SBS2008 to Windows SBS2011. The day is getting older and the laborious task of migrating Exchange data looms before us. We start by creating new Public Folder stores and configuring them. There is quite a bit of jumping backwards and forwards from the source (old server) to the destination (new server) during this process. Note there is a bit of command line work here – I highly recommend using tab complete where possible. If you haven’t used this before, type the first bit of a command or location and hit the TAB key – it will bring up the first match to those characters. Keep hitting Tab until you get what you want. Typically if it’s a multipart command, I’ll type a few letters, TAB, then a few more letters, another TAB etc until I minimise the number of letters I have to type to the bare minimum. It’s very *nix-y J The mailboxes for the users – fortunately small – are in the process of migrating. Next will be data files

Adventures with migrating Windows SBS2008 to Windows SBS2011 - Part 1

Approaching a major migration can be a very stressful event, especially with a Small Business Server involved in the mix. Migrating one from exiting to new is even more fraught with danger. Over the course of this weekend, we are migrating a Windows SBS2008 server to a brand new Windows SBS2011 box. There is some great documentation from Microsoft about this process and I’d like to share some of the experiences we had. Firstly, it’s critical to assemble and test the new server before anything else. Give yourself enough time to do this. Even a pre-built, delivered by HP/Lenovo/IBM server still needs testing on your part – disk, RAM and CPU at the least. Build your RAID arrays too , have them prepped and ready to go for installation. Also, identify what drivers you will need – particularly RAID controller drivers and network adaptor drivers. If you've got the NIC drivers, then you can download any others you might need. Getting the right documentation is helpful – the Micro

Adventures with the Cisco SRP527 ADSL2+ Router

This is a review of the Cisco SRP527 ADSL2+ router as much as it is an overview of my experience with it. For a long time I was a huge fan of the Netgear DG834 series routers - for around $100 you got a router capable of wireless, 5 VPN tunnels, reasonable (but not fantastic) firewall and very reliable. It's only been since Netgear cancelled this excellent series, pushing users to the higher end models for VPN and using other, non-VPN capable routers for home users, that I started casting further afield for a new, reasonably priced VPN capable ADSL2+ router. WiFi wasn't that important - TPlink do a reasonable wireless access point for around $60 that we've deployed very successfully and I don't mind the separation of devices. One of my colleagues heard me bitching about the Netgear changes and suggested I check out the Cisco SRP range of routers. Usually the only Cisco routers I've played with are 800 series ones, or 1900 series - routers that require care and pa

Linux and the Desktop

Often as I read my Internet news I note that the perennial question of "Is Linux ready for the desktop?" and I started thinking about it. I've also recently been playing with Windows 8 and I said to my co-worker "Is Windows 8 ready for the desktop?" We both laughed. As an outgrowth of this I started to really look at what it would take for me as a consultant with a range of small and medium business clients to move them to Linux.  Obviously there are a range of applications that are not cross platform - usually either financial (MYOB etc) or industry specific stuff.Wine could potentially take care of this, or even running Windows in a virtual machine - which is common with people needing Windows XP to run specific software and being unable to run it on Windows 7 (and also 8). As for the common applications like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations there are a range of Open Source versions like NeoOffice, or even Google Apps or Office 365. If

Further adventures of XenServer on the HP N40L Microserver

We all know my delight in using the excellent N40L for all sorts of things. Recently a client of mine had issues with their Dell server - a server that had cost them over $20,000 5 years ago. It runs Windows SBS2003 and does a bit of file serving and not much else. I've migrated them to Google Apps for mail/calendar etc so they aren't even using Exchange. Unfortunately this client has fallen on hard times with the GFC so when this huge and expensive server of theirs began to fail, they asked for a low cost option to save their data and have a minimum of downtime. I had just purchased an N40L for my test lab and as their disks continued to decline was able to get a complete image of the system. What surprised me was they had a 5 year old server with 7 year old disks in it! What the? I acquired some Western Digital Red Drives and installed them and 8 GB of RAM into the N40L. My initial idea was to use Acronis or similar to do a Universal Restore of the data to the N40L, update

HP N40L and FreeNAS 8.3.0

My existing HP N40L Microserver is running out of disk space. 2 TB is not enough it turns out. So I thought why not add another N40L to my network? After all, it's been a success with my existing one thus far.... So on to eBay I went, and I found an Australian company selling them for $209 delivered! I'm amazed these are so cheap - after all even low end PCs are more than this. So I ordered one up and it arrived three days later. I put a couple of 2 TB disks into the box, an 8 GB RAM DIMM and an 8 GB usb drive. Half an hour later I had FreeNAS 8.3.0 installed and a 2 TB array set up. With an NFS share I can access the 2 TB array from my media PC and it all runs brilliantly. I've got space to add in two extra drives, and once I get two more disks I'll install them - running two 2TB mirrors and sharing out data easily. The N40L runs very quietly and efficiently and even running two of them is very quiet in the lounge room. I've used Western Digital Green Disks from

SSD's - a new lease on life for older hardware

Solid State Disks have been on the market for a while now and the prices are coming down per gigabyte which is starting to bring them into the realm of affordability. While recently searching to upgrade the disk in my Dell Inspiron 1102 net book I was offered a 128GB SSD. I didn't really think much of what it would do in the computer until I'd installed it. Once I got the thing imaged and transferred across into the net book I was pleasantly surprised by both the performance boost and also the boost in battery life. I was amazed actually. It was a much better machine than it had ever been, running Windows 7 quite well and most basic Office Apps. I've procured a second SSD for a venerable Lenovo R500. The specs on this notebook are pretty reasonable, but with a 6 cell battery it's lifespan wasn't great. An upgrade to a 9 cell battery gave it a boost but not a huge one. Installing an SSD made a significant difference. 6 hours of battery life is easily achievable wh

Traffic Monitoring using Ubuntu Linux, ntop, iftop and bridging

This is an update of an older post, as the utilities change, so has this concept of a cheap network spike - I use it to troubleshoot network issues, usually between a router and the network to understand what traffic is going where. The concept involves a transparent bridge between two network interface cards, and then looking at that traffic with a variety of tools to determine network traffic specifics. Most recently I used one to determine if a 4MB SDSL connection was saturated or not. It turned out the router was incorrectly configured and the connection had a maximum usage under 100Kb/s (!) At $1600 / month it's probably important to get this right - especially when the client was considering upgrading to a faster (and more expensive) link based on their DSL provider's advice. Hardware requirements: I'm using an old Dell Vostro desktop PC with a dual gigabit NIC in it - low profile and fits into the box nicely. Added a bit of extra RAM and a decent disk and that&

OTRS Restore Procedure and backup script

As I note in my previous post, I managed to kill my OTRS install and as usual had to trawl around the net to remember how to restore it. In a nutshell: # mysql -u root -p msyql> drop database otrs; mysql> create database otrs; mysql> ext # /opt/otrs/scripts/ -d path_to_backup  /opt/otrs You did back up right? Nightly I run a script with the following in it: #!/bin/bash # Variables below - change these to suit NOW=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M") # this gets the correct file name for OTRS backup LOCAL=/root/backup # a local directory for OTRS to backup to REMOTE="user@backupserver:~/backup/OTRS/" # remote backup dir - nfs share, ftp or cifs /opt/otrs/scripts/ -d $LOCAL # OTRS internal backup (files and DB) tar -cf $LOCAL/$NOW.tar $LOCAL/$NOW # creates a file from the OTRS backup folder - more efficient to copy over a network gzip $LOCAL/$NOW.tar rm -rf $LOCAL/$NOW # tidy up scp -r $LOCAL/$NOW.tar.gz $REMOT

Upgrading OTRS 3.1 to 3.2.1

After noting that our OTRS ( ) was complaining about a major release update pending I took the plunge this morning and set about upgrading it. Initially I ran through the normal upgrade procedure and couldn't log on. Oops. Maybe I need to pay more attention here? Turns out there are quite a few caveats about this upgrade, and I'm hoping that what I note here will assist you - especially the database upgrade stuff. That was a bit of a surprise! Initially I ran my normal script which stops services and backs everything up. That script looks like this: #!/bin/bash service cron stop service apache2 stop NOW=`date +%F` mkdir /root/backup/$NOW BDIR=/root/backup/$NOW cp -R /opt/otrs/Kernel/ $BDIR cp -R /opt/otrs/Kernel/Config/ $BDIR cp -R /opt/otrs/Kernel/Config/Files/ $BDIR cp -R /opt/otrs/var/ $BDIR /opt/otrs/scripts/ -d $BDIR Usually I then ln -s otrs-new otrs and run my upgrade script - but

Privacy in the modern times

It seems to me that with the advent of all our social media applications – Facebook, MySpace, twitter, Flickr, Tumblr etc., the ability for us to get our thoughts out there is the easiest it’s ever been. The detail that this provides to people is remarkable. Ad companies use it for focused advertising, other companies use it for various nefarious means and criminals use it to steal our identities. Less insidious I think is that people can know us in a way they never have before. The cost to our privacy seems to be one we’re happy to bear though – the most popular consumer mobile devices have Facebook and the like built in and integrated with everything – messages, photos, GPS locations etc. Our internal thoughts and feelings are now able to externalised quickly and limitlessly. Nine times out of ten this is incredibly boring stuff (let’s face it, we’re not as interesting as we’d like to be), but the fodder for bullies, abuse and misuse is extraordinary. It’s very much like posting