Thursday, 28 August 2008

SBS 2008 - Some test lab considerations

One of the major questions we need to ask ourselves when we are going to test a new server OS or workstation OS product is: how?

Some criteria to consider in that how:
  • Internet connection.
    • Static IP with URL A for DNS, MX for mail, SSL.
    • dDNS setup.
    • No Internet connection at all.
  • SBS 2003/8 specific: Remote Web Workplace functionality.
  • Server or workstation hardware
  • Virtualized OSs.
  • Terminal Services
  • Group Policy settings from OU structure right through to the minutest GPO and its settings.
  • Workstations.
    • Hardware or Virtualized.
    • XP Pro and/or Vista Business/Ultimate
  • Microsoft Office version
  • Line of Business Applications
The above list is by no means complete. But, it does give us food for thought.

For us, the imperative when looking to test a beta product, SBS 2008 for example, is to make sure that we have a setup that is close to what a real production environment would be like.

This imperative becomes all the more important as we began to realize just how much SBS 2008 has changed over SBS 2003. We absolutely needed an Internet connection with at least a dDNS setup or, in our case, a dedicated static IP with the proper DNS settings in place.

As an example, we wanted to run through setting up SSL with a third party certificate for Remote Web Workplace because the new Getting Started Tasks contained a wizard just for that purpose. With that cert in place, the next step was figuring out how to make ISA 2004/6 work with the SBS 2008 RWW setup and so on.

When it comes to our client specific setups, we create a lab environment that mirrors their production environment. It is then critical for us to provide the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the mirror. To some extent, virtualization can help a lot here, but not completely.

In the case of SBS 2008, as mentioned in previous posts, we have a couple of lab setups in the shop. The critical one for us right now is the Springer Spaniels SBS 2008 setup that is a part of the book that I am co-authoring with Harry Brelsford.

It is the Springers' lab setup that needs to be stable and properly configured as our other lab setup is the one we like to blow up by doing silly things like enabling the Intel ProSet NIC Teaming settings and then running the wizards ... can you say reinstall anyone? ;)

This is an overview of the Springers' lab:
  • Intel X3070 Xeon Dual Core CPU on an Intel S3000AHLX server board, 8GB Kingston ECC Intel approved RAM, Intel SRCSASRB RAID controller in RAID 0+1 with 4x 320GB Seagate ES series hard drives for a total of 640GB of storage.
  • SBS 2008 RC1 is installed and in the process of being configured.
  • 4x workstations configured as follows:
    • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, Intel DQ965GF or Intel DQ35JO motherboard , 6-8GB Kingston RAM, 2x 320GB Seagate ES or AS series hard drive in RAID 1 via on board RAID controller all tucked into an Antec Minute 300 or 350 for space saving.
    • Windows Vista Ultimate x64.
  • Workstation VM setup:
    • Station 1: 4x Windows XP Pro VMs using our TechNet Plus for licensing (lab).
    • Station 2: 4x Windows XP Pro VMs using our TechNet Plus for licensing (lab).
    • Station 3: 2x Windows XP Pro, 2x Windows Vista Ultimate VMs using TechNet Plus (lab).
    • Station 4: Server 2003 R2 Std for ISA (TechNet in lieu of Open Lic.), Server 2008 Std x64 (SBS 08 RC1 Premium).
  • Network Setup:
    • Internet static IP bound to our own ISA 2004 (on SBS R2 Premium) with DNS A, MX, SPF records in place for
    • The Springers' SBS 2008 box sits behind a D-Link DI-604 consumer router with a publishing rule on our ISA 2004 to allow it out only.
      • D-Link internal Springers' IP range:
      • D-Link WAN port IP: (reservation on our internal SBS DHCP setup)
    • Our ISA 2004 has the Springers' SSL certificate bound a publishing rule set to allow HTTPS and SharePoint 987 to forward to the D-Link's internal IP. The D-Link forwards those to the Springers' SBS 2008 box.
    • Our ISA 2004 also has VPN and SMTP for the forwarded to the D-Link then on to the Springers' SBS 2008 box.

We have limited the number of virtual workstations to 4 per physical workstation as we plan on stress testing the setup by having a number of people logging in at the same time as the Springers' users. They will do things like run Outlook to create and send e-mail, Word documentation, SharePoint, and the like.

Yes, the workstation grade hardware hosting the VMs will not necessarily provide the "real world" experience like having those desktops on a Hyper-V enabled server with a high performance RAID array setup and a couple of cores assigned to each would provide, however, it will give us some indications as to how the Xeon 3070 will hold up under 10 users with a number of the server services in use simultaneously.

Note that the D-Link is a temporary measure until we reach the stage where we are installing the Windows Server 2008 x64 Standard server that is a part of the SBS 2008 Premium setup. When we have reached that stage, then, we will look at setting up ISA on Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard either as a VM, or if we have a spare box kicking around, a dedicated hardware solution.

There is a significant cost in time and equipment in the lab setups we have. It only makes sense that if we want to provide the best possible product knowledge to facilitate our ability to provide our clients with the best solutions for their needs, then we need to invest time and money.

This is critical: The closer and closer we get to the Cloud and its opportunities and pitfalls, the more our knowledge and experience will be the key to us and our I.T. company moving forward successfully.

Take careful note: The "we" and "our" in the above sentence means every single employee and contractor that works with us under this umbrella we call MPECS Inc. It also means our clients and their feedback, the vendor contacts we work with, our peers in the local I.T. industry, and you our blog readers that provide excellent feedback for us to build on.

Ultimately, it will be our teamwork that carries us through this transition period.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.

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