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There’s a reason for no posts…

I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the world of IT. I seem to work harder and harder, both day to day, and with my own training, and the expected range of my job role gets bigger and bigger and my own training more and more inadequate. I plan to resolve this, I’ve been drawing up a plan today to try and cover a wider breadth of skills.

Let’s see how it goes.

pfSense on Watchguard Firebox x750e project

Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while is build a firewall appliance. I’ve kept looking over the pfSense and M0n0wall sites and thinking it would be a good thing to learn from. As I might have mentioned previously, my networking knowledge is generally not as good as it might be, and while I have no ambition to try and become a CCIE, it would be useful to have some extra tools in the box. Virtualisation has meant that the role of the server guy has now expanded to include networking and storage, whereas this knowledge would previously have been silo’d into specific teams. The real deep knowledge still lives with the dedicated teams of course, but I just think I need more than I needed before.

So, a week or so ago, I took the plunge and won a Watchguard Firebox x750e on eBay. In the end, it was about £70 delivered. In a previous job many years ago, we bought one of these new and it wasn’t the most intuitive to set up. The licensing for the various features also seemed incredibly expensive on top of the original purchase price. But it’s red and has an LCD status panel, and in geek world, that’s very cool. Even the missus commented it looked nice🙂 I’d missed a few before because of carelessness and a lack of enthusiasm but I got a really good one in the end, rack ears included, and the box really is as new. No scratches or marks from previous use, and the fans are clean. Might never have been used. I wanted the x750e as it seemed to offer a good compromise of being cheap to buy, offered most (?) of the available features of pfSense and has the 8 network ports. I’m going to run it on a 4GB CF card for now (another cheap eBay purchase) but I can add a proper hard drive or SSD perhaps in the future. All good.

Having got the component parts together, I brought it in to work yesterday to ‘work on it during lunch’😉 I needed a CF card reader to blitz some images on to the CF cards but I knew someone would have one. First hurdle. Having borrowed it, I found my HP zBook 15 with Windows 8.1 wouldn’t see the reader properly. I have one at home somewhere but god knows where. So a colleague helped me out. I’d read that I needed a 256MB CF card initially to write the BIOS flash image to, and most of them come with a 256MB card initially. Mine didn’t, a bright, shiny  512MB card staring at me. No worries, borrowed a 256MB Cisco card off a colleague. He wrote the image to the card and it was time to get it on to the box. The aim of the BIOS flash is to enable BIOS is to enable console access to the BIOS so that a few tweaks can be made in there to have it see the larger card. Worth mentioning here that apparently, M0n0wall will install to the standard, much smaller CF card without any BIOS shenanigans, so if this makes you nervous, bear that in mind. I keep a USB to Serial cable in my bag in case it’s needed for datacentre work, I connect to the kit with internet access and share my desktop for the network guys to do their stuff. I tried this using COM4 (discovered by opening Device Manager and looking under ‘Ports (COM and LPT )’) and the recommended Putty settings. This brought up a console session but no flashing cursor. Several cables later from various people, I found one that was correct. This was a harder task than it should have been, there are lots of cables that have right connector, female to female 9-pin to 9-pin, but they can have the pins wired up differently. You can read lots about this and it got very technical. At last, someone handed me one that worked, a black Maplins item for the record, and now I could connect straight away. I knew the image on the card was good as I was getting the 3 beeps on boot, indicating it had booted to a prompt. I ran the BIOS flash to B6 and went in to set the BIOS settings as advised. This is where it went a bit wobbly. pfSense is a community based project and as such, information appears buried deep in forum posts and slightly convoluted ‘official’ documentation. I was told later on the forum that B6 is old now and 8.1 is the newer version, with useful modifications. I was also using the latest image, v2.2, and why not use the latest version🙂 The combination of these two tripped me up. I left it yesterday afternoon at the point where I had inserted the 4GB card with the v2.2 image written to it, but it was not booting. I just had endless retries of ‘ata0: DMA limited to UDMA33, controller found non-ATA66 cable’. I would would retry 3 times, exhausting it’s retries and then starting to try again. I mentioned this on the forum and it’s a simple-ish fix, a few tweaks to a couple of config files and all should be good. for the v2.2 booting situation, and : for the later BIOS.

I’ll report back when I step through this and have it up and running.

All in all, a fun little project that should teach me a thing or two. Not as easy as I thought it would be, although the forum is very good with very fast (and patient) answers to my newbie questions. There a re a few further tweaks and tricks to get things like the LCD display and indicator lights working properly, something that an impatient chap like me would like to see baked into the image, but then this is free, and is the nature of community-based projects. It’s not beyond me, and will be all the more satisfying when I’m done.

If you’re thinking of attempting the same, have a good read around, there’s a lot of information about this out there, so much in fact that it can be tricky to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Start at : and register on the forum. You will have questions to ask🙂

Another useful resource is this page : It might not actually work out as simply as this but it’s a great step-through of the required steps, and something I kept referring back to.


The Changing IT Landscape

I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking, and doubtless others have spoken about the same thing. IT is in itself a fast moving beast and we all know this. I’ve traditionally been what I consider Microsoft-centric. I sing the ‘everything is awesome’ song to myself each and every morning on the way to work. However, even just over the past 6 months perhaps, I’ve found myself irresistibly drawn towards new and exciting ways of doing things.

I find myself reading about Docker, and Chef, and other such technologies that seem really new (although they probably aren’t, I just haven’t been reading the right blogs). It’s interesting that building a VM in Azure now has the option to bake in an Octopus agent (hilariously termed a tentacle), and a Chef agent. Microsoft appears to be embracing these technologies more and more, HDInsight pulls in Hadoop, for example. DevOps seems to be all anyone talks about now, and I reckon to have a good spin on what it is, but what it means TO ME is that I should be getting more involved with the dev side, something that turns me white. It’s not that I don’t like the pasty faced hermits (lol), it’s just I’m not a coder and don’t walk in that world of thinking. Is it going to be as easy as people say? Do these two worlds comfortably combine in a happy, smiley way? Another change of thinking.

When Microsoft themselves are using third-party, and often Open Source technologies, it feels as though I’m going through a shift. Perhaps the days of being a Microsoft guy are fading, and it’s time to embrace a new way of thinking. The business has always termed our department ‘platform’, which I was never keen on but that might be a better description now than when it was thought up.

So the IT landscape is still a changing one, but it’s not only getting faster with accelerating Microsoft releases, the mindset required to succeed is evolving just as fast.

Unable to install VMWare Workstation on Windows 8.1

I got a new laptop at at work recently, an HP Z Book 15, which is a good machine. Very slick, and used the included SSD for the OS and got a caddy to replace the optical drive with another old-school spindle and platter hard drive for data, ergo VM’s. In my rush to get it sorted and be back in play for work stuff, I installed the same old VMWare Workstation 7 and upgrade to 8 application and license as I had on my old laptop. This didn’t want to play ball, so I had the bright idea of enabling the built-in Hyper-V which has worked OK but is overkill for simple labbing of ideas. VMW WS is nice and slick for quick and easy stuff on a laptop, it’s easy to template the various OS builds for cloning and sharing host folders into VM’s is a simple and painless procedure. Networking is also easier, I’ve found Hyper-V wants to use my wireless adapter for it’s networks and this has caused issues with wireless generally, instability and an unwillingness to connect just when I really need it. So I ended up with, you guessed it, lots of virtual network adapters spread around the place that seemed to be causing further issues. I decided to uninstall VMWare workstation, only to be faced with an error on the uninstall. The installer obviously performs a check on the host to see if Hyper-V is enabled (logically), and errors out very early on if it is. The thing is, I was trying to uninstall it but it just wouldn’t get that far. After some digging, there’s a way to ‘temporarily’ disable the Hyper-V hypervisor with a bcdedit tweak.

All this info is from but the long and the short of it is that the information in the second post did indeed work like a charm. I tweaked, rebooted, and was able to uninstall VMWare WS without issue, and all the network adapters it creates for itself have gone. I revisited the command prompt and reversed the second command to set the hypervisor to ‘Auto’ (bcdedit /set {guid_hvoff} hypervisorlaunchtype auto) and rebooted again. I might change the boot file back to remove the choice on boot of HV or no HV, or I might leave it, perhaps it’ll come in useful at some point in the future. I didn’t see the same issues as the original poster in that thread, following this second reboot, I was able to open Hyper-V manager and start one of my VM’s, indicating that the hypervisor was happy and hadn’t been uninstalled. I point out I’m using Windows 8.1 and he was using Windows Server 2008 R2, so this is obviously the difference.

A strange place to find myself in. I’ll continue to use Hyper-V for now as it works and I can use my VM’s created in there for labbing and testing, but I have to say that I’m chasing a WS10 license to get that back on so I’ll uninstall the Hyper-v feature/role, install WS10 and convert the VM’s from Hyper-V format to WS format.

It’s entirely my fault for rushing things and getting in a self-made muddle, with 2 hypervisors present, but that’s how it is at work sometimes.

15% Off MS Exams

Taken from the Born To Learn website (, this is a good deal. It’s really worth keeping an eye on this site for offers like this, for a long time I felt the site was a bit woolly and din’t pay it much heed. I do come back to it every now and again for a check though, as it’s worth a read. Offers like this can add up to a good saving over time.

There’s regularly news on exams, and I also see there’s talk of a new type of exam question : ‘Assertion-Reason’. It’s discussed in : and the feedback…? Well, make up your own mind🙂

Duplicate DNS Zones Causing Strange Issues

I’m posting this as it’s not something I’ve seen before. I might be behind the game here but it’s not something I’ve been aware of previously. In fact, when I found this, I wasn’t actually looking for it, but when I did happen on it, I decided to investigate a little further. So thanks to Ace Fekay for this :

I have seen previously the issues of mysteriously disappearing records, and although that was a long time ago and it’s not possible to test this against that particular scenario, I suspect this might have had something to do with it. There’s nothing that will affect a Windows Server infrastructure more than shaky DNS.

So, if this is a gimme for most of you, I apologise but it was definitely something I hadn’t stumbled across before.


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