VHDX Native boot

I stumbled upon the concept of VHDX native boot. Its a rather old feature but very overlooked. When I had a windows laptop I would have loved this feature. Being able to multiboot so you could format your PC with still have the possibility to boot the old installation.

Its fairly simple, you OS is contained within a VHDX on your disk. The boot loader on the disk then has an entry of that VHDX file. Simple but yet powerful. You could have another VHDX for all your data and then a VHDX for OS. Then when booting into each of your environments you would have your data with you.

How to:

If you have a native os install today you can still use this feature. So it’s easy to convert into VHDX native boot. First, we need to do a bit of diskpart, then use dism to install the OS into the VHDX. But this can all be done while your old OS is running and you don’t have to prep USB keys etc.

Diskpart

We will create a new VHDX file with parameters of size and type.

DISM:

Now we have a VHDX file that Is attached, formated, and has a drive letter. On to install of your OS. You will need your install media, for Windows 10 you normally use index 1, if you are installing Windows server index 1 is probably the server core install if you want GUI then install with index 2.

Afterward, bcdboot creates the boot entry into the boot loader and lastly, you can change the description on the entry in the boot loader, so that you can remember what has been installed.

Conclusion:

You can now reboot and have the choice to boot your newly created VHDX with your fresh installed OS. So your company installed Windows laptop without admin rights, you can now boot into your private install so you have a company and private side of your work PC.

StorSimple 8100 – reuse

I bought a Microsoft StorSimple 8100 unit. The only catch, it did not contain its SSDs and the password for it was unknown. Fair enough.

Its quite an interesting unit, hardware-wise. Its a 2U with 2x750W PSU, 12×3,5 SAS bays, and 2x compute nodes. Each compute node is in fact a Xeratex CS-6000-AB containing:

  • 1* E5-2648L 1,8Ghz 8 core 70Watt CPU
  • 4* 8GB DDR3 memory
  • 1* LSI/Avago/Broadcom 2308 SAS HBA (1*SFF8088 and 1*internal link)
  • 1* Mellanonx ConnectX3 10/40/56Gbit dual QSFP
  • 1* 128GB SSD for OS.

The two compute nodes share a Xeratex HB1235 enclosure with the 12 3,5″ drive bays. This enclosure is used for many other storage vendors as HPE 3PAR or Dell Compellent SANs.

IPMI/BMC enable

Not having a DisplayPort to connect a screen so you can see what is going on is making this a very proprietary piece of hardware. But when having access to the IPMI then all of sudden it becomes easy to reuse the hardware for something different than the StorSimple software.

This is how to enable the IPMI/BMC hardware.

  1. Reseat one of the controllers or power cycle the appliance with a console cable connected
  2. Press Esc to enter the boot options
  3. Select “Setup Utility” from the list
  4. It will prompt for a password (E1aD8wAbMxB3XcpjwVKD)
  5. Go to Advanced tab
  6. Go to  IPMI BMC Configuration
  7. Go to BMC Configuration
  8. Scroll down till you get to the bottom and you will see the network configuration
  9. Select LAN Channel number 1 and static IP source
  10. Enter the IP, subnet, and gateway
  11. Press F10 to save and exit
  12. Log into the BMC with web browser and access the console from there Log in Username: admin  Password: admin
The IPMI/BMC interface of Xeratex CS-6000 node

Now you can open a java based KVM tool to get the display from the node and do what you want. Awesome!

Java….

But there is a small catch, you can’t just open and run the IPMI. The firmware is old and uses encryption algorithms that are not allowed anymore. So you need to change the security properties of your java install and run the IPMI in an Internet Explorer running compatibility mode.

This is quite an easy fix. What I did was to open notepad as administrator, and edit the following file:

find and comment out the line that starts with “jdk.jar.disabledAlgorithms” by prefixing a #. Note that this will allow jar files signed with any algorithms to run, which can is to be considered insecure! But for us a necessary measure for getting access to the IPMI.

StorSimple software

Each compute node is using VHDX native-boot. So the SSD has a boot loader, and then each VHDX is in that boot loader. That means that they can deploy a newer version or factory reset by switching over to another VHDX disk. I was actually not aware of something like VHDX native boot, but its a very nice feature. For sure going to use that on my windows based laptop in the future. So much easier than having to do the native OS install.

The StorSimple software is based on Windows Server 2012R2. You are normally only able to use use the console connection for direct management, but it actually also has an IPMI/BMC feature on each compute node you can look deeper into the system.

Since I did not have the device password the StorSimple software could do nothing. So I got my fingers on PCUnlocker, a password reset tool. Booted through IPMI, where I could attach the VHDX file and have it reset the passwords of the administrator. This account was also disabled, but PCUnlocker did also take care of that part.

Now boot back into the StorSimple software I could now choose an administrator account, type in my new password and now I had access to a cmd. It was using server core install, so no GUI but that’s ok because now I had access to all the other HCS PowerShell cmdlets.

Unfortunately the former owner had also tried to mess around with it, so the factory default VHDX images and the compute node signatures did not match and therefore the “reset-hcsfactorydefault” could not validate the factory default images. Bummer.

Many of the HCS cmdlets where PowerShell cmdlets referring to a DDL, so no way to see what was going on. But the “test-hcsfactoryimage” and reset/initialize scripts where full-blown PowerShell. So from there, I could see what was checked for the VHDX image to validate. I actually did a bypass on the validation, and did the reset command, but after each node had generated a new VHDX from the factory VHDX files I booted but was stuck in the boot state of HCS software.

I found an eagerness to find a way to fix it, but then again the time spent would not payout. You need an Azure subscription to actually manage StorSimple since there is no local GUI, only the serial console. So I decided to install Windows Server 2019 in it instead. 🙂

Conclusion

It’s a nice piece of hardware, StorSimple should have been nice to use if it was not depended on Azure. I now have a 2-node possibility to run an HCI cluster running Storage Spaces and with a failover cluster, presented to each node with CSV volumes. I could run HyperV and have a 2U box with full redundancy. I still feel the eager to fix the StorSimple software but not for now 🙂

Clear Windows print queue

Even as an infrastructure guy in a datacenter you now and then have to deal with printers. The small beasts with there own life and horrible drivers! I always forget the path for where the spooler puts its temp files. So now I put it here for future me to find it again next time I have to clear spooler files and restart det print services.

GUI way is slow and by having the CMD edition you can always guess what should be done in the GUI.

  1. Open an elevated command prompt.
  2. Type net stop spooler then press “Enter“.
  3. Execute del %systemroot%\System32\spool\printers* /Q
  4. Type net start spooler then press “Enter“.
  5. The print queue on your Windows should now be cleared.