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NetApp Data Fabric aids manufacturer’s gene-sequencing gear

To keep up with data growth that outpaces its storage budget, Pacific Biosciences mixes cloud and on-premises storage from NetApp and data movement software from startup Komprise.

Pacific Biosciences, or PacBio, deploys NetApp Data Fabric technologies to scale capacity and performance between science teams in a shared storage environment. It turns to NetApp partner Komprise software to streamline data migration.

Flexible data movement helps PacBio dynamically assess the power and performance of its genomic sequencing equipment. The company with headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., makes sequencers used in a variety of fields, including wildlife conservation, improving food supplies and aiding COVID-19 vaccine research.

NetApp Data Fabric enables enterprises to implement hybrid cloud data management. The Data Fabric technology is a software component inside the NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP operating system. Customers use Data Fabric to create a virtual NetApp platform in the public cloud that mirrors how data is stored on premises.

Adam Knight, senior IT manager, Pacific BiosciencesAdam Knight

Genomics is a data-intensive discipline that requires dense, high-performance storage. Adam Knight, PacBio’s senior IT manager, said the NetApp-Komprise combination better enables him to keep pace with data growth, currently at nearly 5 petabytes (PB) and growing.

“We use NetApp Data Fabric to shift performance around as needed to support different areas. Our storage budget isn’t increasing at the rate of our data growth. We had to get creative and manage as many items we could under one umbrella. If we had storage islands, we wouldn’t be able to leverage the combined effort of our scientists,” Knight said.

Storage management to boost manufacturing

The combined scientific effort is key to PacBio’s product development. Knight said much of the data generated internally stems from PacBio engineering teams striving to build product improvements into the equipment.

PacBio manufactures long-read sequencers, which allows DNA strands to be compiled in a manner that generates an effective reference of potential gene variations. The large machines have tight manufacturing tolerances and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The goal for manufacturing our instrument is to support more bandwidth and high-quality data throughput in less time for less cost. We generate a lot of new data each year,” Knight said.

PacBio standardized its storage environment on NetApp FAS hybrid systems, using NetApp E-Series arrays as a multi-petabyte archive. Using predefined user policies, Komprise transparently moves data between the NetApp storage, keeping active data on the primary FAS arrays.

In addition, the genomics equipment maker added NetApp StorageGrid Webscale software-defined object storage to streamline tagging and searching of metadata.

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Active Directory replication troubleshooting tips and tools

Active Directory uses replication to keep data consistent between your domain controllers. When you create, delete or modify a domain controller, the change is replicated to the other domain controllers in the domain.

Active Directory replication troubleshooting can be tricky because there can be several potential reasons behind a replication failure. Two of the more common causes include a loss of network connectivity or a DNS configuration error. Replication errors can also occur as a result of authentication errors or a situation when the domain controller lacks the hardware resources to keep pace with the current demand. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a rundown of some of the issues that commonly cause Active Directory replication failures.

Check the basics first

When starting the Active Directory replication troubleshooting process, it’s best to check the simple things first. Make sure that the domain controllers are powered on, functioning and able to communicate with one another across the network. It’s also important to make sure your firewalls are configured to allow Remote Procedure Call (RPC) traffic on port 135.

Similarly, take the time to review any recent changes to your network. This might include DNS configuration adjustments, modifications to the network topology or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol alterations.

In addition, there are several system services that need to be running on your domain controllers for Active Directory replication to work properly. You should use the service control manager or PowerShell’s Get-Service cmdlet to verify the DNS infrastructure, Kerberos authentication protocol, Windows time service (W32time), RPC and network connectivity services are running.

Make sure your domain controller clocks are all in sync. The Active Directory depends on the Kerberos protocol, which is sensitive to clock skew. If the domain controller clocks fall out of sync by more than a few minutes, it will cause Kerberos to stop working, which can cause a variety of problems.

Begin Active Directory replication troubleshooting with DCDiag

Windows provides several native tools to help you figure out why you are experiencing problems with Active Directory replication. One of the first tools to try is DCDiag.

DCDiag is a general-purpose Active Directory diagnostic tool that is not specifically designed for troubleshooting Active Directory replication failures, but it is a great tool to start with. The reason for this is many times Active Directory replication issues are a symptom of a deeper problem. If your Active Directory is suffering from troubles that extend beyond simple replication problems, then the DCDiag tool can help pinpoint those issues.

To use the DCDiag tool, open an elevated command prompt window on a domain controller experiencing replication problems. Next, enter the DCDiag command. When you do, Windows will run a series of tests designed to assess the health of various Active Directory components. You can see an example of this in Figure 1.

DCDiag tool test
Figure 1. Using the DCDiag tool to test the health of Active Directory.

If the DCDiag tool does not detect any problems, then you might consider running it on each domain controller within the domain. Occasionally, you may find that the tool returns very different results depending where it runs.

Try the Active Directory Replication Status tool

Once you have verified the overall health of your Active Directory environment, you should run the Active Directory Replication Status tool, provided by Microsoft at this link.

This tool, which you can see in Figure 2, discovers your Active Directory environment and provides information about the state of replication on the domain controllers.

Active Directory Replication Status tool
Figure 2. The Active Directory Replication Status tool checks the replication status for the domain controllers in your forest or domain.

To start, use the workspace on the left side of the tool to select either your forest or a specific domain within the forest. After your selection, click the Refresh Replication Status button. When you do, the tool collects information from your domain controllers and displays the results. The Environment Discovery tab, which you can see in the previous figure, will display the Active Directory nodes and the status of each. Similarly, the Replication Status Collection Details tab, shown in Figure 3, displays where replication is succeeding and where it is failing.

Domain controller replication status
Figure 3. The Active Directory Replication Status tool shows the current Active Directory replication status for each domain controller.

Get additional details from the Replication Status Admin tool

The Replication Status Admin tool, often referred to as RepAdmin, is one of the most widely used tools for troubleshooting Active Directory replication problems. When you run this tool on a domain controller and use the /showrepl switch, it will show all the inbound replication partner domain controllers, as well as the status of the most recent replication attempt from each. You can see what this looks like in Figure 4.

Replication Status Admin tool
Figure 4. The RepAdmin tool gives a rundown of the replication status of your Active Directory.

For the purposes of this article, we ran the RepAdmin tool on a domain controller in a small Active Directory domain. In larger environments, it may be helpful to export the information to a CSV file rather than display it on screen. That way, you can sort and filter the information as needed. To create a CSV file, use this command:

RepAdmin /Showrepl * /CSV > showrepl.csv

One last bit of advice

The tools and techniques discussed in this article should help get you started with your Active Directory replication troubleshooting method. However, if you are pressed for time and need a quick resolution, you can forcibly remove the malfunctioning domain controller from the domain and then add it back in. This will almost always either resolve the issue or yield additional clues as to why the problem is happening.

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3 zero-day fixes in heavy April Patch Tuesday release

Just when things couldn’t get worse, the hits keep on coming for Windows administrators.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is straining resources and stretching administrators’ nerves, the next avalanche of security updates landed on April Patch Tuesday. Microsoft delivered fixes for 113 vulnerabilities, including three zero-days with varying levels of severity on both supported and unsupported Windows systems. The total number of vulnerabilities repaired this month was just two shy of March’s epic release.

Out of the 113 bugs repaired on April Patch Tuesday, 19 are rated critical. Microsoft products that received fixes include Windows, both Edge browsers (HTML- and Chromium-based), Internet Explorer, ChakraCore, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office Services and Web Apps, Windows Defender, Visual Studio, Microsoft Dynamics, and Microsoft Apps for Android and Mac systems.

The heightened urgency to patch quickly due to multiple zero-days will test the mettle of administrators, many of whom have been working tirelessly to help users work remotely with little time to prepare.

“That’s a nice recipe for disaster,” said Chris Goettl, director of product management and security at Ivanti, a security and IT management vendor based in South Jordan, Utah.

He noted that all the zero-days affect the Windows 7 and Server 2008/2008 R2 OSes, which all reached end-of-life in January but have patches available for customers that can afford to subscribe to the Extended Security Updates program. Goettl said he noticed a pattern with this crop of Microsoft updates.

Chris Goettl, director of product management and security, IvantiChris Goettl

“It looks like the [zero-day] exploits are happening, in most of these cases, on the older platforms. So it’s very likely these are targeting Windows 7 and Server 2008 platforms, especially trying to take advantage of people’s inability to patch,” he said.

Three zero-days affect Windows systems

Two bugs (CVE-2020-0938 and CVE-2020-1020) in the Adobe Font Manager Library affect all supported Windows OSes on both the client and server side, leaving unpatched systems vulnerable to remote code execution attacks. A user could trigger the exploit several ways, including opening a malicious file or examining a document via the File Explorer preview pane. 

Windows 10 systems have built-in protections that would limit the attacker to the AppContainer sandbox where they would not be able to do much damage, Goettl noted. 

The other zero-day (CVE-2020-1027) is an elevation-of-privilege vulnerability in the Windows kernel rated important that affects all supported Windows versions. To take advantage of the flaw, the attacker would need local credentials to run a malicious file. The patch changes how the Windows kernel handles objects in memory.

Other noteworthy April Patch Tuesday fixes

Initially reported by Microsoft as another zero-day but revised shortly thereafter, CVE-2020-0968 describes a remote code execution flaw in the Internet Explorer scripting engine. The bug is rated critical for Windows client systems and moderate for Windows Server OSes due to built-in protections. 

The attacker can target a user a few different ways — through a website with user-contributed ads or content or via a document specially crafted with the IE scripting engine and using ActiveX to run malicious code — but the damage is limited to the privilege level of the user of the unpatched system.

“This one is able to be mitigated if the user has less than full admin rights,” Goettl said. “In those cases, [the attacker] would get full control of the box, but then they would have to exploit something else to gain full administrative access.”

Hyper-V shops will want to address a remote-code flaw (CVE-2020-0910) rated critical for Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019 systems. This bug lets an attacker with credentials on a guest OS run code on the Hyper-V host. 

CVE-2020-0935 is a publicly disclosed vulnerability in the OneDrive for Windows application rated important that could let an attacker run a malicious application to take control of the targeted system. OneDrive has its own updating system so customers with machines connected to the Internet should have the fix, but IT workers will need to perform manual updates on systems that have been air-gapped.

Report: Hundreds of thousands of Exchange systems remain vulnerable

Exchange Server is a notoriously complex messaging platform to manage. It’s one of the most important communication tools for just about every company, which means downtime is not an option. When you combine these factors, it’s no surprise that many Exchange Server systems do not get the patching attention they deserve.

Cybersecurity services company Rapid7 highlighted this issue with a recent report that shows more than 350,000 Exchange Server systems were still susceptible to a flaw that Microsoft corrected in February.

CVE-2020-0688 is a remote code execution vulnerability that only requires an attacker to have the credentials of an Exchange user account — not even an administrator — to overtake the Exchange Server system and possibly Active Directory.

Rapid7 claimed its researchers uncovered even more troubling news.

“There are over 31,000 Exchange 2010 servers that have not been updated since 2012. There are nearly 800 Exchange 2010 servers that have never been updated,” Rapid7’s Tom Sellers wrote in the blog.

Many IT workers use a staggered deployment to roll out Microsoft updates in stages as one way to limit issues with a faulty update. Many organizations can spare several Windows client and server systems for testing, but it’s rare to see a similar non-production environment for an Exchange Server system.

“Exchange updates are complex and take a long time,” Goettl said. “And because of the way some companies have customized their email services, Exchange can be very sensitive [to updates] as well. You can’t duplicate your Exchange environment very easily.”

Microsoft offers VPN help in wake of pandemic

With more remote users connected to VPN due to the coronavirus pandemic, rolling out this month’s Patch Tuesday updates could slow access across the network to other resources for end users. 

Most organizations were caught unprepared by the sudden surge of remote users. With enough time and money, IT could alleviate potential congestion through traffic shaping or upgraded infrastructure to increase network speeds. Other organizations can avoid problems with limited bandwidth over VPN by using a third-party patching offering or Microsoft Intune to route security updates directly from Microsoft to the end user’s machine. But some organizations that use Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager — formerly System Center Configuration Manager — do not have that functionality, which limits their options. 

Microsoft engineer Stefan Röll wrote a blog to help these customers with a tutorial to set up a VPN split tunnel configuration. This type of arrangement helps avoid network overload.

“Managing your [d]evices (especially security updates and software installations) is necessary and will become challenging as the majority of your work force will be connected to the corporate network via VPN. Depending on the number of clients even a couple of 100MB security updates will quickly add up to several [gigabytes] or [terabytes] that [need] to be pushed out over your VPN network. Without further consideration you can quickly overload your VPN connection causing other applications to degrade in performance or to completely fail,” Röll wrote. 

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Coronavirus: Surge in remote work strains Zoom services

Zoom has struggled to keep some of its services online this week amid a spike in remote work because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Users have had to wait significantly longer than usual to access recordings of Zoom meetings in the cloud. The company said its engineering team was working to resolve the issue, attributing the backlog to “excessive demand.”

Zoom’s dial-in numbers have also faltered several times this month. Elevated traffic has so far clogged audio lines in Japan, New York and Hong Kong, forcing users to connect to a meeting’s audio using the internet. A dial-in number in Australia was also inaccessible at times this week. 

Meanwhile, some users were intermittently unable to make and receive calls through Zoom Phone, the vendor’s cloud telephony service, for extended periods of time this week.  

Users have now dealt with 18 non-scheduled Zoom service disruptions in March. There were no such incidents in January and just one in February (an issue that affected only subscribers in Brazil).

In a statement, Zoom said it was working to find a “long-term, sustainable solution” to the issues affecting Zoom Phone. The company thanked customers for their “patience and understanding” during an “unprecedented and challenging time for everyone.”

Zoom is not the only collaboration vendor struggling to cope with a sudden surge in usage. Many users of Microsoft Teams were unable to send messages and perform other tasks on Monday. Some Teams users in Europe were affected by another chat outage on Tuesday.

Last week, experts said they didn’t expect any of the major collaboration vendors to suffer outages that forced their services completely offline for multiple days. So far, that prediction has held. Nevertheless, the influx of remote workers is having some impact.

Zoom has not said how many new users it has gained in recent weeks, but its mobile client is now the most popular free download on Apple’s App Store. Notably, countless schools and universities worldwide have begun to hold virtual classes on Zoom.

Statistics shared by other vendors provide clues to the surge in traffic Zoom is likely dealing with. Microsoft Teams gained 12 million daily active users between March 11 and March 18, a 37% increase. Slack added paid customers at nearly three times its typical rate between Feb. 1 and March 18.

Zoom’s support team is also likely fielding complaints related to factors outside of the vendor’s control, such as the quality of a user’s home Wi-Fi. Residential connections are often less reliable than corporate networks.

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HCI market grows as storage, servers shrink

Storage and server revenue keep declining sharply. Much of that money is going to public clouds but also to hyper-converged infrastructure systems that combine storage and servers.

Dell EMC, NetApp and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) all reported declines in storage revenue for their most recent quarters. IBM storage inched up 3% after quarters of decline. Pure Storage grew revenue 17% last quarter, but that’s a far cry from its growth in the 30% range as recently as mid-2018.

Naveen Chhabra, Forrester Research senior analyst for servers and operations, said the cloud and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) are taking a toll on traditional storage.

“The entire storage market is in trouble,” Chhabra said. “Every storage vendor has declining revenue. The only one that has shown growth is Pure. Storage investment is happening in the cloud, and the rest of storage is under tremendous pressure.”

Chhabra said he expects the HCI market will remain strong and continue to eat into storage and server sales. “There’s no stopping that,” he said. “Everything, including storage, eventually ends up deployed on the server.”

Dell and HPE sell servers and storage, and best show the trend from those technologies to hyper-converged.

The entire storage market is in trouble.
Naveen ChhabraSenior analyst, Forrester Research

HCI market remains extensive

Dell EMC’s storage revenue fell 3% to $4.5 billion last quarter, and servers and networking declined 19% to $4.3 billion. However, COO Jeff Clarke said hyper-converged revenue grew by more than 10%, mainly thanks to its VMware vSAN-powered VxRail product.

HPE storage declined 0.5% to $1.25 billion and compute fell 10% to $3 billion, but its SimpliVity HCI revenue ticked up by 6%.

At the same time, the leading HCI software vendors increased revenue.

Nutanix revenue grew 21% since last year to $347 million, and its billings increased 4% to $428 million. Dell-owned VMware’s vSAN bookings increased “in the mid-teens” according to the vendor. Both Nutanix and VMware claim they would have grown HCI revenue more, but they have switched to subscription licensing that decreases upfront revenue.

HPE actually picked up more HCI hardware customers through Nutanix, which now sells its software stack on HPE ProLiant servers as part of an OEM deal signed in 2019.

Nutanix said its DX Series consisting of Nutanix software on HPE servers accounted for 117 new customers in its first full quarter of the partnership. Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said those deals included a $4 million subscription deal with a financial services company, and $1 million deal with another financial services firm.

“HPE is becoming a pretty substantial portion” of Nutanix business, Pandey said. “It’s looking like a win-win for both sides.”

HPE is also offering Nutanix software-as-a-service through its GreenLake program, but it has not disclosed any numbers of those deals.

Pandey said while Nutanix sells HPE servers with its software, many deals come through recommendations from HPE. The Nutanix software stack includes something HPE’s SimpliVity HCI software lacks: a built-in hypervisor. Nutanix’s AHV hypervisor gives customers an alternative to VMware virtualization.

“We have big customers out there who like HPE, and they’d like to consume Nutanix software on HPE servers,” Pandey said. “We’re one of the few companies that deliver the full stack, including HCI, databases, end-user computing and automation. Our largest customers are AHV customers; they’re full-stack customers on Nutanix. We can run on top of Dell servers, HPE servers, our own white box servers, and we can take our software to the public cloud.”

Dell, VMware HCI market leaders

According to the most recent IDC hyper-converged market tracker for the third quarter of 2019, Dell led in systems revenue with a 35.1% share, followed by Nutanix at 13%, Cisco with 5.4%, HPE at 4.6% and Lenovo at 4.5%. IDC recognizes HCI software separately, with VMware at No. 1 with 38% share followed by Nutanix at 27.2%.

Dell still sells Nutanix software on PowerEdge servers as part of a deal that predates Dell’s acquisition of EMC (which included VMware) but focuses more on pushing VxRail systems with vSAN.

Chhabra said Dell recognized the HCI trend well before HPE and rode that to the HCI market lead. He said he sees Nutanix and HPE growing closer to help battle the Dell-VMware HCI combination.

“How does HPE compete with Dell plus VMware?” he said. “Here comes a strong partner in Nutanix, which can give HPE a like-to-like competitor to Dell. Do you have a hypervisor, do you have infrastructure, do you have storage? That’s what the Dell-VMware combination is, and now HPE has that.”

Dell CFO Thomas Sweet said he expects HCI to continue as Dell EMC’s fastest growing storage segment through this year.

“We’ve had great success with our VxRail product,” Sweet said on Dell’s earnings call last week. “We’ve seen softness in the core [storage] array business. That infrastructure space has been soft.”

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Power BI platform remains a vibrant, respected suite

With a rapid release schedule that enables it to keep up with emerging trends, Microsoft’s Power BI platform remains a powerful and respected business intelligence suite.

While many vendors issue quarterly updates, Microsoft rolls out minor updates to Power BI on a weekly basis and more comprehensive updates each month. And that flexibility and attention to detail has helped the Power BI platform stay current while some other longtime BI vendors battle the perception that their platforms have fallen behind the times.

Most recently, in December, Microsoft added to Power BI an updated connector to its Azure data lake, a new connector to the Power Platform application platform and new data visualization formats.

“I think they’re leading the pack, and they’re putting a lot of pressure on Tableau,” said Wayne Eckerson, president of Eckerson Group, referring to the Microsoft Power BI competitor, which was acquired last year by Salesforce. “The philosophy of a new release every week in itself puts a lot of pressure on Tableau.”

In addition, Eckerson noted, the Power BI platform’s built-in ability to integrate with other Microsoft platforms — as evidenced by the new connectors — gives it a significant advantage over BI platforms offered by some independent vendors.

I think they’re leading the pack, and they’re putting a lot of pressure on Tableau. The philosophy of a new release every week in itself puts a lot of pressure on Tableau.
Wayne EckersonPresident, Eckerson Group

“It’s part of the Azure platform and tightly integrated with SQL Server Integration Service, Data Factory, and SQL Server Reporting Services,” Eckerson said. “Most importantly, it has a data model behind it — or semantic layer as we have called it.”

Beyond the updates, a recent focus of the Power BI platform has been data protection.

Arun Ulagaratchagan, general manager of Power BI, said that all vendors have some level of data protection, but as users export data outside of their BI products and across their organizations, the BI system can no longer secure the data.

Microsoft is trying to change that with Power BI, he said.

“We’re adding data protection to Power BI, integrating it with Microsoft Data Protection,” Ulagaratchagan said. “It secures the data when it’s exported out of Power BI so that only people who have been given prior authority can access it.”

Despite Microsoft’s ability to update the Power BI platform on an almost constant basis, its capabilities aren’t viewed as the most innovative on the market.

Those capabilities are in line with the features other vendors are offering, but with Power BI, Microsoft is not necessarily introducing revolutionary technology that the rest of the market needs to react to or get left behind, analysts said.

Instead, Power BI is seen as quickly reactive to trends within the analytics space and to new features first released by other vendors.

“All of their recent updates have been incremental – there hasn’t been anything particularly exciting,” said Donald Farmer, principal at TreeHive Strategy. “It’s good work, but it’s incremental, which is as it should be.”

Similarly, Eckerson noted that while the updates are important, they don’t feature much that will force other vendors to respond.

“There’s all kinds of small stuff, which is important if you’re using the tool,” he said.

Where Microsoft is moving the market forward, and appears to be forcing competitors to respond, is Azure Synapse Analytics, which launched in preview November.

Synapse attempts to joins data warehousing and data analytics in a single cloud service and integrates with both Power BI and Azure Machine Learning. Essentially, Synapse is the next step in the evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

“Synapse is where Microsoft has been innovative and made a big bet,” Farmer said.

Beyond placing an emphasis — from the perspective of innovation — on Synapse rather than the Power BI platform, Farmer noted that Power BI simply doesn’t need to be the most spectacular BI suite on the market.

Users of the Power BI platform often don’t seek it out the same way as they do other BI tools. Instead, many simply use Power BI because they’re Windows users and Power BI comes with Windows.

“It’s essentially a default option, but it’s a good default option,” Farmer said. “Tableau, for example, is a tool of choice. … [Microsoft] is not setting the world alight with innovation. Instead, their efforts are on integration with other Microsoft applications, and that’s where they’re interesting.”

While Microsoft doesn’t publicly disclose its product roadmap, Ulagaratchagan said BI for mobile devices, the ability to handle larger and larger data sets, and embedded analytics are important trends as BI advances, as is the idea of openness and trust with data.

Also, AI for BI will continue to advance.

“That’s an area where we have an advantage,” Ulagaratchagan asserted. “We can steal from the Azure team and take that and make it easy to use for our end users and citizen data scientists. We want to get data in the hands of everyone.”

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HCI storage adoption rises as array sales slip

The value and volume of data keep growing, yet in 2019 most primary storage vendors reported a drop in sales.

Part of that has to do with companies moving data to the cloud. It is also being redistributed on premises, moving from traditional storage arrays to hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and data protection products that have expanded into data management.

That helps explain why Dell Technologies bucked the trend of storage revenue declines last quarter. A close look at Dell’s results shows its gains came from areas outside of traditional primary storage arrays that have been flat or down from its rivals.

Dell’s storage revenue of $4.15 billion for the quarter grew 7% over last year, but much of Dell’s storage growth came from HCI and data protection. According to Dell COO Jeff Clarke, orders of VxRail HCI storage appliances increased 82% over the same quarter in 2018. Clarke said new Data Domain products also grew significantly, although Dell provided no revenue figures for backup.

Hyper-converged products combine storage, servers and virtualization in one box. VxRail, which relies on vSAN software from Dell-owned VMware running on Dell PowerEdge, appears to be cutting in on sales of both independent servers and storage. Dell server revenue declined around 10% year-over-year, around the same as rival Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) server decline.

“We’re in this data era,” Clarke said on Dell’s earnings call last week. “The amount of data created is not slowing. It’s got to be stored, which is probably why we are seeing a slightly different trend from the compute side to the storage side. But I would point to VxRail hyper-convergence, where we’ll bring computing and storage together, helping customers build on-prem private clouds.”

The amount of data created is not slowing. It’s got to be stored.
Jeff ClarkeCOO, Dell

Dell is counting on a new midrange storage array platform to push storage revenue in 2020. Clarke said he expected those systems to start shipping by the end of January.

Dell’s largest storage rivals have reported a pause in spending, partially because of global conditions such as trade wars and tariffs. NetApp revenues have fallen year-over-year each of the last three quarters, including a 9.6% dip to $1.38 billion last quarter. HPE said its storage revenue of $848 million dropped 12% from last year. HPE’s Nimble Storage midrange array platform grew 2% and Simplivity HCI increased 14% year-over-year, a sign that 3PAR enterprise arrays fell and the vendor’s new Primera flagship arrays have not yet generated meaningful sales.

Jeff Clarke, Dell COO
Dell Technologies COO Jeff Clarke

IBM storage has also declined throughout the year, dropping 4% year-over-year to $434 million last quarter. Pure Storage’s revenue of $428 million last quarter increased 16% from last year, but Pure had consistently grown revenue at significantly higher rates throughout its history.

Meanwhile, HCI storage revenue is picking up. Nutanix last week reported a leveling of revenue following a rocky start to 2019. Related to VxRail’s increase, VMware said its vSAN license bookings had increased 35%. HPE’s HCI sales grew, while overall storage dropped. Cisco did not disclose revenue for its HyperFlex HCI platform, but CEO Chuck Robbins called it out for significant growth last quarter.

Dell/VMware and Nutanix still combine for most of the HCI storage market. Nutanix’s revenue ($314.8 million) and subscription ($380.0 million) results were better than expected last quarter, although both numbers were around the same as a year ago. It’s hard to accurately measure Nutanix’s growth from 2018 because the vendor switched to subscription billing. But Nutanix added 780 customers and its 66 deals of more than $1 million were its most ever. And the total value of its customer contracts came to $305 million, up 9% from a year ago.

Nutanix’s revenue shift came after the company switched to a software-centric model. It no longer records revenue from the servers it ships its software on. Nutanix and VMware are the dominant HCI software vendors.

“It’s just the two of us, us and VMware,” Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said in an interview after his company’s earnings call. “Hyper-convergence now is really driven by software as opposed to hardware. I think it was a battle that we had to win over the last three or four years, and the dust has finally settled and people see it’s really an operating system play. We’re making it all darn simple to operate.”

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Customize Excel and track notes in Outlook—here’s what’s new to Microsoft 365 in November

In today’s workplace, change is the new normal. To keep up, we all need to evolve and improve. Last month at the Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, we announced a ton of Microsoft 365 innovations designed to put artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies to work for you. And we’ll continue to innovate across the Microsoft 365 experience, so our customers always have the best tools to navigate an increasingly distributed and fast-paced world. But to succeed at work today, organizations need more than great tools. They need to foster a culture of learning where their people can continue to develop essential skills. We want to help, so this month we introduced The Art of Teamwork toolkit, an interactive curriculum that uses the five attributes of the world’s most successful teams to help your team create and foster healthy team dynamics. We hope you’ll use it—and future educational support coming your way in 2020—to help your organization continue to succeed.

Let’s take a look at what else is new in November.

New features for personal productivity and collaboration

App updates to give you more choice and help you stay in the flow of work across devices and apps.

Keep track of Sticky Notes in Outlook on the web—Sticky Notes allows you to capture ideas, notes, and important info across the apps you already use. Now you can conveniently view, edit, and create notes directly in Outlook for the web, making it easier than ever to keep track of your notes as you go through email. Sticky Notes in Outlook for the web will begin rolling out next month to all users.

Animated image of Sticky Notes being used in Outlook on the web.

Switch to a darker OneNote canvas with Dark Mode—From complex travel schedules to killer meal plans, OneNote is like a second brain to help you track it all. So it should look the way you want. We’re excited to announce that a Dark Mode option is now rolling out for OneNote 2016. Using Dark Mode helps make both the product and your notes more legible, and can improve readability in low light environments, provide better contrast, and reduce eye strain. Dark Mode is available for all Office 365 subscribers and non-volume licensing Office 2019 customers.

Also, in response to feedback over the past year, we’re pleased to announce that we’re continuing mainstream support for OneNote 2016 beyond October 2020—so you can continue using the version of OneNote that works best for you.

Animated image of Dark Mode being used in OneNote.

Collaborate without disrupting a shared workbook with Sheet View—Earlier this month, we announced Sheet View in Excel, a new way of letting users create customized views without disrupting others, so collaboration is seamless. Sheet View allows users to sort and filter the data they need, and then select an option to make those changes visible just to themselves or to everyone working in the document. Once selecting to make changes just for yourself, that filter and sort will not affect other collaborators’ view of the workbook. All your cell level edits propagate through the file regardless of your view, so you can make all your edits right in your personal Sheet View. Sheet View is rolling out to all users using Excel on the web over the next few weeks.

Animated image of Sheet View being selected by an Excel user.

Upload files to Forms questions for added context—Sometimes you’d like respondents to a form to upload or attach files to provide important information or context when answering questions. Now Microsoft Forms enables you to allow users to include file uploads. With this new feature, you can easily create a resume collection form, a claim form, or a photography competition form. To get started, click the drop-down menu to add advanced question types and select File upload. Once you successfully add a file upload question, a folder will be automatically created in your OneDrive or SharePoint.

Animated image of a file being uploaded in Microsoft Forms.

The new Productivity Score, simplified licensing, and the latest Windows 10 release

New capabilities to help you transform workplace productivity, tap into the power of the cloud, and simplify licensing.

Transform how work gets done with insights from Microsoft Productivity Score—At Ignite, we announced Productivity Score to help deliver visibility into how your organization works. Productivity Score identifies where you can enable improved employee and technology experiences—so people can reach their goals, and actions to update skills and systems, so everyone can do their best work.

For example, Productivity Score can recommend user training around how to better collaborate as well as provide IT with documentation to configure external sharing and fine-tune policies, remove problem agents, or upgrade hardware to reduce friction. Join the private preview by filling out the form and see your score in the first week of December 2019.

Screenshot of Productivity Score in the Microsoft 365 admin center.

Leverage advanced security offerings with the U.S. Government Community Clouds—Earlier this month, we announced the general availability of Microsoft Cloud App Security and Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) for U.S. Government GCC High customers. The release of these services delivers advanced security functionality for customers while enabling them to meet increased compliance and security standards. Eligible customers will need a GCC High account or an Azure Government account to purchase Microsoft Cloud App Security and/or Azure ATP licenses. To start a trial for either service within EMS E5, please work with your account team.

Simplified licensing for Windows 10 co-management—We’re bringing System Center Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr) and Microsoft Intune together in a new, unified product called Microsoft Endpoint Manager that delivers a seamless, end-to-end management solution without the complexity of a migration or disruption. We’re also excited to announce that the simplified licensing makes Microsoft Intune user licenses available to ConfigMgr customers to co-manage their existing Windows 10 PCs. The change in licensing terms are expected to go into effect in early December 2019.

Announcing Microsoft Endpoint Manager

Learn how we’re integrating Microsoft Intune, Configuration Manager, and more into a single solution called Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Watch the video

Get the latest version of Windows 10—Windows 10 version 1909 is now available—offering new capabilities and enhancements, intelligent security, simplified updates, flexible management, and enhanced productivity. Highlights include the new Windows Search experience in Explorer, the new cloud clipboard with history viewing, support for third-party digital assistants, processor enhancements, additional customization for kiosk mode, and more. Version 1909 is rolling out now for consumers and IT admins.

As always, everything we create for Microsoft 365 is designed to help you and your organization achieve more by being more productive. Over the last 12 months, we worked hard to build an increasingly seamless experience that uses AI and automation to help you collaborate across platforms, streamline your workflow, harness organizational knowledge, and stay ahead of ever-evolving security threats.

We look forward to bringing you so much more innovation and educational tools in the year to come. Equipped with incredible tech and the right educational support, there’s no end to what you can achieve.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

How to rebuild the SYSVOL tree using DFSR

Active Directory has a number of different components to keep track of user and resource information in an organization….

If one piece starts to fail and a recovery effort falters, it could mean it’s time for a rebuilding process.

The system volume (SYSVOL) is a shared folder found on domain controllers in an Active Directory domain that distributes the logon and policy scripts to users on the domain. Creating the first domain controller also produces SYSVOL and its initial contents. As you build domain controllers, the SYSVOL structure is created, and the contents are replicated from another domain controller. If this replication fails, it could leave the organization in a vulnerable position until it is corrected.

How the SYSVOL directory is organized

SYSVOL contains the following items:

  • group policy data;
  • logon scripts;
  • staging folders used to synchronize data and files between domain controllers; and
  • file system junctions.
domain controller shares
Figure 1: Use the Get-SmbShare cmdlet to show the SYSVOL and NETLOGON shares on an Active Directory domain controller.

The Distributed File System Replication (DFSR) service replicates SYSVOL data on Windows 2008 and above when the domain functional level is Windows 2008 and above.

SYSVOL folder contents
Figure 2. The SYSVOL folder contains four folders: domain, staging, staging areas and sysvol.

The position of SYSVOL on disk is set when you promote a server to a domain controller. The default location is C:WindowsSYSVOLsysvol, as shown in Figure 1.

For this tutorial, we will use PowerShell Core v7 preview 3, because it fixes the .NET Core bug related to displaying certain properties, such as ProtectedFromAccidentalDeletion.

SYSVOL contains a number of folders, as shown in Figure 2.

How to protect SYSVOL before trouble strikes

As the administrator in charge of Active Directory, you need to consider how you’ll protect the data in SYSVOL to protect the system in case of corruption or user error.

Windows backs up SYSVOL as part of the system state, but you should not restore from system state, as it might not result in a proper restoration of SYSVOL. If you’re working with the relative identifier master flexible server master operations holder, you definitely don’t want to restore system state and risk having multiple objects with the same security identifier. You need a file-level backup of the SYSVOL area. Don’t forget you can use Windows Server backup to protect SYSVOL on a domain controller if you can’t use your regular backup approach.

If you can’t use a backup, then login scripts can be copied to a backup folder. Keep the backup folder on the same volume so the permissions aren’t altered. You can back up group policy objects (GPOs) with PowerShell:

Import-Module GroupPolicy -SkipEditionCheck

The SkipEditionCheck parameter is required, because the GroupPolicy module hasn’t had CompatiblePSEditions in the module manifest set to include Core.

Create a folder for the backups:

New-Item -ItemType Directory -Path C: -Name GPObackup

Use the date to create a subfolder name and create the subfolder for the current backup:

$date = (Get-Date -Format ‘yyyyMMdd’).ToString()

New-Item -ItemType Directory -Path C:GPObackup -Name $date

Run the backup:

Backup-GPO -All -Path (Join-Path -Path C:GPObackup -ChildPath $date)

If you still use login scripts, rather doing everything through GPOs, the system stores your scripts in the NETLOGON share in the C:WindowsSYSVOLdomainscripts folder.

Restore the SYSVOL folder

SYSVOL replication through DFSR usually works. However, as with any system, it’s possible for something to go wrong. There are two scenarios that should be covered:

  • Loss of SYSVOL information on a single domain controller. The risk is the change that removed the data from SYSVOL has replicated across the domain.
  • Loss of SYSVOL on all domain controllers, which requires a compete rebuild.

The second case involving a complete rebuild of SYSVOL is somewhat more complicated, with the first case being a subset of the second. The following steps explain how to recover from a complete loss of SYSVOL, with added explainers to perform an authoritative replication of a lost file.

Preparing for a SYSVOL restore

To prepare to rebuild the SYSVOL tree, stop the DFSR service on all domain controllers:

Stop-Service DFSR

On domain controllers where you can’t perform a restore, you’ll need to rebuild the SYSVOL tree folder structure and share structure.

On the domain controller with the SYSVOL you want to fix — or the one with the data you need to replicate — disable DFSR and make the server authoritative.

Get-ADObject -Identity “CN=SYSVOL Subscription,CN=Domain System Volume,CN=DFSR-LocalSettings,CN=TTSDC01,OU=Domain Controllers,DC=Sphinx,DC=org” -Properties * |

Set-ADObject -Replace @{‘msDFSR-Enabled’=$false; ‘msDFSR-options’=1}

Disable DFSR on the other domain controllers in the domain. The difference in the commands is you’re not setting the msDFSR-options property.

Get-ADObject -Identity “CN=SYSVOL Subscription,CN=Domain System Volume,CN=DFSR-LocalSettings,CN=TTSDC02,OU=Domain Controllers,DC=Sphinx,DC=org” -Properties * |

 Set-ADObject -Replace @{‘msDFSR-Enabled’=$false}

Rebuild the SYSVOL tree data

The next step is to restore the data. You can skip this if you’re just forcing replication of lost data.

On domain controllers where you can’t perform a restore, you’ll need to rebuild the SYSVOL tree folder structure and share structure. This tutorial assumes you’ve created SYSVOL in the default location with the following folder structure:







C:WindowsSYSVOLstaging areas


You can use the following PowerShell commands to re-create the folders in the minimum number of steps. Be sure to change the nondefault location of the Stest folder used below to match your requirements.

New-Item -Path C:StestSYSVOLdomainscripts -ItemType Directory

New-Item -Path C:StestSYSVOLdomainpolicies -ItemType Directory

New-Item -Path C:StestSYSVOLstagingdomain -ItemType Directory

New-Item -Path C:StestSYSVOL’staging areas’ -ItemType Directory

New-Item -Path C:StestSYSVOLsysvol -ItemType Directory

Re-create the directory junction points. Map SYSVOLdomain (source folder) to SYSVOLSYSVOL and SYSVOLstagingdomain (source folder) to SYSVOLstaging areas.

You need to run mklink as administrator from a command prompt, rather than PowerShell:

C:Windows>mklink /J C:stestSYSVOLSYSVOLsphinx.org C:stestSYSVOLdomain

Junction created for C:stestSYSVOLSYSVOLsphinx.org <<===>> C:stestSYSVOLdomain

C:Windows>mklink /J “C:stestSYSVOLstaging areassphinx.org” C:stestsysvolStagingdomain

Junction created for C:stestSYSVOLstaging areassphinx.org <<===>> C:stestsysvolStagingdomain

Set the following permissions on the SYSVOL folder:

NT AUTHORITYAuthenticated Users                           ReadAndExecute, Synchronize

NT AUTHORITYSYSTEM                                                        FullControl

BUILTINAdministrators           Modify, ChangePermissions, TakeOwnership, Synchronize

BUILTINServer Operators                                   ReadAndExecute, Synchronize

Inheritance should be blocked.

If you don’t have a backup of the GPOs, re-create the default GPOs with the DCGPOFIX utility, and then re-create your other GPOs.

You may need to re-create the SYSVOL share (See Figure 1). Set the share permissions to the following:

Everyone: Read

Authenticated Users: Full control

Administrators group: Full control

Set the share comment (description) to Logon server share.

Check that the NETLOGON share is available. It remained available during my testing process, but you may need to re-create it. 

Share permissions for NETLOGON are the following:

Everyone: Read

Administrators: Full control

You should be able to restart replication.

How to restart Active Directory replication

Start the DFSR service and reenable DFSR on the authoritative server:

Start-Service  -Name DFSR

Get-ADObject -Identity “CN=SYSVOL Subscription,CN=Domain System Volume,CN=DFSR-LocalSettings,CN=TTSDC01,OU=Domain Controllers,DC=Sphinx,DC=org” -Properties * | Set-ADObject -Replace @{‘msDFSR-Enabled’=$true}

Run the following command to initialize SYSVOL:


If you don’t have the DFS management tools installed, run this command from a Windows PowerShell 5.1 console:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-DFS-Mgmt-Con

The ServerManager module cannot load into PowerShell Core at this time.

Start DFSR service on other domain controllers:

Start-Service -Name DFSR

Enable DFSR on the nonauthoritative domain controllers. Check that replication has occurred.

Get-ADObject -Identity “CN=SYSVOL Subscription,CN=Domain System Volume,CN=DFSR-LocalSettings,CN=TTSDC02,OU=Domain Controllers,DC=Sphinx,DC=org” -Properties * | Set-ADObject -Replace @{‘msDFSR-Enabled’=$true}

Run DFSRDIAG on the nonauthoritative domain controllers:


The results might not be immediate, but replication should restart, and then SYSVOL should be available.

The process to rebuilding the SYSVOL tree is not something that occurs every day. With any luck, you won’t have to do it ever, but it’s a skill worth developing to ensure you can protect and recover your Active Directory domain.

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Draytek Vigor 2860n ADSL/VDSL Router – WITHDRAWN

Decided to keep this, so no longer for sale.
Thanks anyway.

Selling this versatile Draytek 2860n router. This is the 2 antenna Wireless N model. It is in excellent condition, and comes boxed with PSU and accessories. For the full specs, please have a look here:

Vigor 2860 ADSL & VDSL Series

Any questions, please ask.

Price and currency: £120
Delivery: Delivery cost is included within my country
Payment method: BT or PPG
Location: Ashington, Northumberland
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I have no preference

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