Tom’s weekly catch-up will cover things of interest in the last week, recommended reading or simply interesting bits I’d like to share that don’t require a full post.

MCSA: Windows Server 2012 Training

Looking to obtain your MCSA in Windows Server 2012? You’re in luck! There are two great resources to study for the 70-410,411 and 412 exams, one from Born to Learn- which have put together great resource wikis for each of the exams and Trainsignal who are providing free access to various courses. When studying for exams, people often neglect to read the “skills measured” section on the Microsoft learning site. This should be your first stop when preparing your study plan, to make sure you’re covering all of the required material. The Born to learn resource Wiki’s mirror the skills measured section and link you to the relevant technet/blog articles. A great time saver. The Train Signal video course are generally very good, I’ve used them in the past when studying for my MCSE and MCITP:EA- I would recommend you make the most of the free training and get stuck in! Enjoy.

Born To Learn – 90 days to MCSA
Train Signal – 90 days to MCSA

Best Practices for Securing Active Directory

Responsible for Active Directory? You’ll want to grab the recently published (April 2013) version of Microsoft’s best practices for securing Active Directory. It’s pretty thorough and 314 pages long, but worth at least a scan if this is something you’re responsible for or simply as a reference. Microsoft provide the document as a .docx, if you would prefer a PDF I’ve got that covered here: PDF Version

Best Practices for Securing Active Directory


Synergy has been around for a while, I remembering hearing about it some time ago but only recently had a reason to use it. It can be used to share a single keyboard and mouse across multiple computers, supporting Windows, OS X and Linux. I have two machines I use fairly frequently at work, my main machine and a test machine running Hyper-V with various guests for testing. Recently my desk seems to be getting smaller (I’m sure someone is chopping bits off it every night), and having two full sized keyboards is just a bit tight. Synergy allows me to free up this space!


My Home Test-bed

Over the years I’ve dabbled with various setups at home, be that fully fledged servers, micro-servers, hosted solutions or similar to provide the ability to quickly provision servers for me to learn, test or troubleshoot a scenario. Let me outline some of the concerns and considerations.

  • Power consumption – Often overlooked, but at one time I was sitting at around 550-600w idle running my main machine, server and other networking bits. Roughly calculated, that used to cost me £50 a month to run!
  • Heat – A while ago I decided it’d be a good idea to borrow a couple of decommissioned servers for something I wanted to try out. I got them both up and running and popped out for the evening, when I returned my apartment’s temperature had risen by around 3 degrees and my office in which they were hosted was fairly unbearable.
  • Noise – Any normal server is going to be very loud in a home environment, so if you do decide to go that way keep that in mind and make sure you have somewhere far away from your bedroom or living room to host the server. Remember it’s not only pure noise, but vibrations which can drive you crazy when you’re trying to sleep or relax.
  • Performance – I see a surprising amount of older servers being snapped up on eBay, or mentioned on forums that are going to be used for test beds. Simply put, a lot of the older generations servers perform badly. They’re loud, hot and slow.

Now, before I get into what I’ve settled on- I’d like to clarify that a test-bed for me means being able to quickly bring up servers for a few months at a time. I’m not looking to leave these servers in the environment for years, nor am I (normally) particularly bothered about the data on them. So here it is. A single box consisting of:

  • Intel Core i7-2600k
  • 32GB of Memory (£120!)
  • 256GB Samsung 830 SSD
  • 2 Nics
  • ATI 5870 (Hey, I still game a bit).

That’s it. I use this machine as my main day-to-day at home, it’s running Windows 8 with the Hyper-V role enabled. I keep the vhdx files on the SSD which means that performance on the VMs is great, for example I’m able to install Server 2012 and be sat on the desktop in around 5 minutes. The machine idles at around 90w, which would be even lower if I didn’t have the ATI 5870 installed (probably 75-80w). I’m able to use the host as a day-to-day desktop without the guests affecting the performance, I simply don’t notice they’re running yet their performance is great. For the majority of my needs this setup is great, and it’s by far my favorite solution so far. I think it’s easy to get caught up in thinking you need a fully fledged “server” or enterprise equipment for your test-bed, more often than not, this is not the case.