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28 August 2012

Bringing the Cloud down to the Ground and no, the result is not fog, part 2

Getting it onto your local machine

Still with me?  You must be else you wouldn't be reading this.  I think.  Anyway, you’ve dutifully read part 1 of this two part series and converted an AWS EC2 instance to a VMWare Workstation (in my case, at least) instance.  So now the question is – how oh how oh how do you get a BIG file off of the Cloud?  

This is not a hard step but it takes a long time because of the size of the files.  Note that if you get rid of those media files or if you have a faster connection than my DSL line it isn’t quite so painful.

Compress it to make it fast(er)

Although I suppose you could do this without using the installed 7-Zip compression program, I can’t see why you would.  

Dan did a bunch of experiments with getting the best performance out of 7-Zip, and found that the Lzma2 method with 24bit word and 256mb block and 8 threads was the fastest options settings.

I am not going to show the individual steps for doing this – you can just take the defaults on the compression but it will take longer/be bigger/be slower on the download but I suggest trying Dan’s settings.

Downloading the compressed files

I’ve done this four different (What, you think I know all of this stuff before I write it down?  If only.  Nope, I have to blunder through the options until I get to the right answer.) ways:
  • Transferring the file(s) from the AWS instance to a FTP server and then download them (this got me a nastygram from my internet provider because of size and download threads which ate up the box for everyone – whoops, so firmly rejected on my part).
  • Use Terminal Services to transfer the files.  Just follow the three steps below in the TS client.  You must set this before you connect to your instance.  Your local drives will then look like mapped drives from AWS.
  • Setting up an FTP server on your AWS instance and downloading from there.  Note that you will need to open up the default port of 21 in your AWS Security Group/firewall.
  • Use AWS’ S3 – This is the way I did it.  It’s a little confusing at first, but Cloudberry Explorer makes it dead simple.

Using Simple Storage Service (S3)

Given the other three (two really, I would avoid the first approach of sending the file (or files if you split them up) to an external ftp source) approaches, why use S3?

I used 7-Zip to both compress the VMWare files and to split it up into DVD sized (4.7 gigabyte) files.  I have had (Oracle e-delivery is where I’ve experienced this before) issues with my wonderful (can you tell it annoys me?) DSL connection.  What happens is that the files get downloaded, look like they’re valid, but in fact are corrupt.  

S3 allows me to redownload parts of my VM that fail.  It’s a pain to do that, and slow, and it costs (S3 charges you for downloads – pray that you have a better internet connection than me) but it is better than downloading everything over and over again.  Also, it gives me (and you, too) a chance to learn a new technology.  I should mention that John Booth mentioned S3 as an approach – as always, he has some really great ideas and I am at least smart enough to listen to them.  :)

I am not going to provide a detailed tutorial on S3 but suggest that you read here.  I essentially treat S3 as a super easy to set up FTP Cloud server that does not require me to configure the AWS instance’s IIS settings.  Note that most Cloud-based services such as OpenDrive or Box limit the size of uploaded files.  My provider, OpenDrive, has a file limit of 100 megabytes per file, so with my 4.7 gigabyte files, I really had to come up with another approach.

If you are interested in other tools other than Cloudberry, have a read of this thread.

If you are interested in using Cloudberry, read this very nice tutorial.

NB – You can also use the AWS console’s S3 component to move the data around – that’s what Dan did.  It is as simple as opening up the AWS console on your AWS instance (sort of like a mirror facing a mirror) and then right clicking inside your bucket like the below:

I did the same thing via Cloudberry to a S3 bucket I called VMWareMetavero.

To get it onto my laptop, I installed Cloudberry again and then downloaded it to my external hard drive.  

Alternatively, I could have just gone into S3 via the AWS console and done this:

Cloudberry made it a little less painful so I went that way.

That’s it.  

Unzipping the files (or even combining them)

Once you have the download to the Ground completed, 7-Zip needs to be installed on your laptop if not already done.  And once that is done, decompress.  Again, this takes a while.

Avoiding the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)

At this point you have:
  1. Removed the media files from c:\media unless you really, really, really want them.  You might, but probably not.
  2. Converted the AMI to a VM Workstation VM
  3. Compressed that VM on a using 7-Zip’s Lzma2 method with 24bit word and 256mb block and 8 threads.
  4. Downloaded that through S3 (or whatever method you prefer but that’s the easiest) to your laptop

So you’re all ready to go, right?  Uh, no, because here’s what happens when you try to fire up that VM in Workstation.  Auuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!   It’s the Blue Screen of Death!!!!!!!!!!!

And not just the BSOD, but a BSOD that will immediately reboot Windows so that you have a lovely endless loop of BSODs.  Fun times, fun times.

At least it’s fast – it took me about five tries (so we are talking 30 minutes of reboots) to get that screenshot with Snagit.  It will flash very, very, very quickly on your screen.  Is there a cure?  You betcha.

The cure for the Blues

If you want it all in one succinct (but not terribly well explained or at least I couldn’t follow the directions until I did it three times) thread, read this on the VMware support forum.  I’m going to show it to you step by step and will make it a tiny bit less painful.

Just to be completely up front, I am taking everything I read in that thread and putting pictures to it – the brains behind figuring this out belong solely to ivivanov and leonardw who figured all of this out.

The issue is the RedHat SCSI Bus Driver (really all of the Red Hat services, all of which start with “rhel”) despite the storport.sys message in the BSOD.  Who would believe that an error message is misleading or doesn’t give all of the information you need?  Why I would, and so should you.  The RedHat services are part of the EC2 Amazon offering and simply don’t work (why I know not as I am no hardware expert, but I can certainly attest to their super-duper not working).  It blows up Windows 2008 R2 on VMWare real good.

Richard Philipson tried out part 1 and pointed out (yep, some people actually read this blog, thankfully otherwise this is the most involved echo chamber ever) that the ec2config service is superfluous (and causes a wallpaper error on startup) and that those RedHat services are “a set of drivers to permit access to the Xen virtualized hardware presented by Amazon EC2 to the guest operating system.”  It makes sense that without Xen under the covers, there is no Xen virtualized hardware.

NB -- There is a separate intermittent error in VMWare if you have more than two cores to your laptop.  If you are on a machine with more than two cores, you may get a multiple processor error (a different BSOD).  If that is the case, you should set the number of processors to 1 and the number of cores to 2 in VMWare.

Step 1 – Getting into Boot Options

Open up your nifty new VM in VMWorkstation and start it.

As it starts up hover your mouse over the VMWorkstation window and press Ctrl+G.  You need the VM to get control of the keyboard/mouse as you are going to be holding down the F8 key.  If your Windows host has control, F8 will toggle a selector bar in the VMWorkstation application and you will not be able to get into Advanced Boot Options.  It’s a total Pain In The You Know What.

No worries if you don’t get it the first time as the Metavero VM will crash very quickly indeed.  :)

A VMWorkstation bar will pop up telling you to install VMWare Tools.  Ignore that for now but you will need to install this.

Step 2 – Go through the System Recover Options
First select a keyboard.

Then log in.  The cool thing is this is just like the AMI – username Administrator, password epmtestdrive.

Step 2 – Run a Command Prompt and then Regedit
Select Command Prompt.  

You will then run Regedit from x:\windows\system32.

Here it is:

Click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and then File->Load Hive.

Navigate to c:\windows\system32\config and select the SYSTEM file and click on Open.

NB – This must be on the C: drive, not the X (that’s the repair drive).  Here’s what x:\windows\system32\config looks like.  Note the two SYSTEM files.  You do NOT want this as it does not contain the services.

What you do want to see is this and it’s only available off of the C drive:

Type in “p2v” into the Key Name field and click OK.

Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\p2v\ControlSet001\services.

For each of the rhelfltr, rhelnet, rhelscsi, amd rhelsvc services, click on the service in question and select the Start parameter.

In the below screenshot I have selected rhelscsi.  Note that there is some discussion on that VMWare thread that only rhelscsi needs to be disabled.  I’ve tried that and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Mu suggestion is to disable all four.

Right click on Start, select Modify, and change the value from 0 (or whatever) to 4 which disables the service.

From this:

To this and click OK:

Note the value of 4:

Do it again for rhelfltr, rhelnet, and rhelsvc.  All of these services need to be stopped.

With all four services disabled, select the key again.

Then select Unload Hive.

Select Yes in the confirmation dialog box.

Minimize Regedit, and then select Shut Down.  You will then restart the VM.

Start the Metavero (that’s what I named it) VM back up.

Ta da, you are now running (and not BSODing) Windows 2008 R2:

In VMWorkstation, VM->Send Ctrl+Alt+Del to get the login.  

NB – You can also hit Ctrl+Alt+Insert to get the same thing.

And there you are:

And finally (at least on my laptop, there is a fair amount of time before this all boots up):

Don’t forget to activate Windows

You have three days to apply that valid key for Windows 2008 R2 Datacenter.

No, I am not going to give you a valid license key.  But I have given you a lot of ways to get one, all of them legal.

Interestingly, Microsoft Action Pack (to which both Dan and I belong) does not support 2008 R2 Datacenter (bummer for those of us with a MAPS subscription), but with MAPS you get TechNet (after signing up for it), which does allow you to sign up for Technet for free, and then one can get a valid 2008 R2 Datacenter key.  Whew.  Thanks to Dan for figuring this out as it was not exactly straightforward.  

If you are on the fence between MAPS and Technet, note that Technet Professional only costs $349 for the first year but MAPS (you do have to qualify as a partner) gives mulitple internal use licenses.  You decide.

So what do we have?

Well, in the case both the case of Dan and me, slightly different outcomes.

In Dan’s environment, running on a 24 gigabyte laptop, he has a pretty awesome EPM installation.

In my world, running on an 8 gigbyte laptop, I pretty much have an unusable EPM installation because my host laptop simply doesn’t have enough horsepower.  Although I do have a nice blog post.  :)

Based on our tests, you simply must have a 16 gigabyte laptop to make this work acceptably.

What’s the right choice – the Cloud or the Ground?

As I wrote above, if you don’t have a multiprocessor, 16+ gigabyte laptop, with plenty of disk space, you can pretty much forget this approach.  A valid Windows 2008 R2 Datacenter key would be nice as well.

Assuming that you do have the above, is the Ground worth it?  I think the answer, despite the pain, effort, and time (I’m pretty sure this must be a world record for me for the length of a single blog post) is, “Yes, absolutely!”

You get a professionally installed EPM instance that is right there on your laptop/PC without the AWS charges.  That’s pretty cool.  And you (and Dan and I) got to perform, and learn, a whole bunch of tools that are pretty darn useful.  All I can say is that I will be getting a Dell Precision 4600 or 4700 in the near future.  That’s putting money where my mouth is.

I hope you enjoyed the multiple hacks.

And a big thanks to Dan Pressman and Richard Philipson for helping out with this monster of a post.

18 August 2012

Bringing the Cloud down to the Ground and no, the result is not fog, part 1

Running the metavero.com AMI on your laptop
Huh?  How can the Cloud (aka Amazon Web Services) run on the Ground (aka your laptop)?  How do you run an Amazon Machine Image outside of Amazon’s cloud?  Specifically, can the recently released AMI be run on my laptop?  

Read on, and all will be revealed.  It’s a bit involved but oh so doable.  And most definitely one of my more satisfying hacks although to be honest, I am just combining ideas other people came up with.  So that would be in the best tradition of programmers then, e.g., I am stealing their work and applying it to my problem.  :)

One thing to note – this will be a multipart blog post as there are many steps.  I want to spread out the work give you time to digest this in bits.

A special note of thanks

Dan Pressman, Essbase wizard extraordinaire, was my QC guy on this post and contributed a lot towards figuring out how we (him, me, and you too) could get the licensing straight.  Yes, it’s a blog about Essbase Hacking, but not that kind of hacking.

In any case, this is sort of a long blog post (60 plus pages in Word which is where I initially type up all this stuff – fear not there are a ton of pictures but still there is a lot going on here)  with a lot of steps (sorry, what we’re doing ain’t all that easy).  In line with testing good practices, he who writes the solution shouldn’t test it.  Dan has it all working, and well.  I will explain the differences between his eventual solution and mine later.

What skills will you learn?

As I’ve written before, I view these posts in two ways:  a way of disseminating useful information, and a way of forcing self-training.  The first point is hopefully obvious; the second is a simple fact of my (and maybe yours) life – I am in an industry that constantly challenges me to learn, I am somewhat lazy (you should see the state of my office – the floor is almost visible through the papers), and doing unusual but job-related things makes me really learn how to do something.  

And that’s why I’m so excited about this post from a skills perspective.  Here’s a high level list of what you will understand if you follow through this whole thing:
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud architecture including Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3)
  • Interacting between the Cloud and your local machine
  • VMWare conversion tools
  • EPM’s resource requirements
  • Windows licensing (more complicated than you might think)

Why oh why would you want to do this? 

With that introduction out of the way, here’s why you will likely want to give this a try, or at least read through the adventure that is running the Cloud on the Ground.


The initial impetus for this is mostly (at least on my part) all about cost.  I love AWS, aka the Cloud, to pieces, but I can spend $150 or more per month on it.  That’s acceptable, but I am a one-man band, and I have to try to watch every penny.

Ease of EPM installation

That is the beauty of this approach – I am not a good installer of EPM products (to put it all so mildly), but I know someone who is.  He has very generously shared his knowledge with the EPM community so we can all play with in the Cloud.  If I take John’s work and bring it down to my laptop, aka the Ground, I have a competently installed EPM system on my laptop and I don’t have to install anything EPM-related whatsoever.

Remote access

When you use the Cloud, you must have an internet connection.  Port 3389 (that’s what Terminal Services aka Remote Desktop uses by default) blocked by your company’s firewall?  Too bad.  On a plane, or somewhere in public without a good internet connection?  Too bad, yet again.  

Running the Cloud on the Ground only requires your laptop and a battery big enough to keep it going.


I am 100% uncomfortable (and you should be, too) putting real anything out in the Cloud, at least with the AMI as it is provided.  Yes, AWS EC2 is inherently secure, assuming you haven’t used a rule in your security groups, but John’s AMI is really not fit for production data until it has been hardened.  Think VPNs, hardened usernames and passwords, etc., etc.  In other words, real IT (you know, what you or your clients have in house) security.  I’m not suggesting that putting this on a laptop makes it more secure (think of stolen laptops, key logging software, Trojans, etc.) but there is at least some physical security on a laptop (the Ground) that simply isn’t there when it’s on the Cloud.  I still wouldn’t put sensitive financial information on my laptop but I might not have a fit if I had less sensitive data on my local hard drive.

It’s a cool hack

This is Cameron’s blog for Essbase Hackers, right?  Isn’t this is most certainly a hack?  ‘Nuff said.

Why would you not want to do this?

Despite the cost savings, ability to connect anywhere, and overall geeky coolness of this approach, there are definitely some reasons why you would not want to do this.


I used to think the Cloud’s AWS m2.xlarge instances weren’t all that fast.  Oh, how wrong I was.  They are blazingly fast, at least compared to my poor, almost three year old Ground-based laptop.  Blindlingly fast in fact, with as much room for expansion as anyone could ever want.  Maybe if I had a bigger laptop I wouldn’t think this way, but with the old Latitude 6500 I have, trust me, the Cloud is many times faster.  Yes, this is a great reason to go buy a faster laptop, but I am trying to get as much time out of this thing as I possibly can.  On the other hand, watching Task Manager pegged at 100% a lot of the time is getting old.  


As I wrote above, the Ground requires a big laptop, or at least one more capable than mine as I am really pushing its limits.  At the bare minimum, 64 bits (you would be surprised how many people still have 32 bit laptops – it isn’t going to be enough by a country mile), eight gigabytes (16 would be much, much better, even though the EPM instance is a compact deployment) of RAM, at least 100 gigabytes, preferably more, of free disk space, and a dual CPU.  These are the bare minimum specs – believe me when I tell you that my system is usable, but only just.  It can be very, very, very slow at times.  


When you run the AMI on the Ground, you are pretty much making this a box that only you can talk to.  Yes, you could stick it on a LAN and make it available that way, but even if you have a powerful laptop, it’s not going to be a substitute for a true server.


One of the many great things about the Cloud is that you can scale servers, clone them, and do all sorts of awesome things with them that only the Cloud or an incredibly indulgent IT department brings.  None of those possibilities are there with a laptop.  You must keep that in mind when going down this path.


The converting, compressing, downloading and enabling of all of this to work on the Ground is not exactly quick.  Some of this is down to how fast your internet connection is – I have a DSL connection and fast it is not.  It literally took me two days to download the compressed VM from the web.  Did I mention I had to set up a way to host those files (I will reveal how to do that below)?.  For sure I wouldn’t attempt this on a cell phone plan.  


Huh?  Isn’t the Ground supposed to be cheaper?  Well, only if you already have a valid Windows 2008 R2 Datacenter license.  That’s right, the license that Amazon has with Microsoft is not valid when it’s transferred to your laptop.  Sooner or later (like within three days) you will start getting warnings about Windows not being activated.  You are going to need that license to do the activation.  And don’t think you can find cracked licenses (this is a hacker’s, not a pirate’s blog)

The retail cost is $2,389 and that’s without the ability to actually connect a client to it (aka CALs).  Yes, that is a little eye-watering and yet another reason why AWS is so awesome in so many ways.  However, if you’ve read this far you are determined to do it, and there are cheaper ways of getting a legitimate license.  Beyond hitting your IT department up for a license, or your consulting company management, some legal alternatives are Microsoft’s Action Pack, MSDN, TechNet, and Bizspark.  I’m sure there are other ways to do it as well but those are the ones I know of.

NB – The cheapest way to legitimately get a 2008 R2 Datacenter license is TechNet Professional.  You must qualify for the license, but once done, the current cost is $349 for the first year and $249/year renewal.  Here’s a snippet of the Technet Product List.  Note that you must either have TechNet Professional or TechNet for MS Competency Partners (that’s how Dan and I qualify) to get 2008 R2 Datacenter.

One other thing to note – TechNet grants licenses for evaluation purposes only.  Apply the key to a production environment and you are in violation of your license.  I will let you figure out how much risk you enjoy, but any prudent business avoids legal nastygrams as much as possible.

Also, don’t forget that you have to have a laptop sufficient large and powerful enough to run all of this as detailed above.

Don’t be scared off by the upfront cost as ultimately I think the Ground is the cheapest way to run the AMI, but just know that there are many reasons to stick with the Cloud.  I have a bunch of interesting things I want to test with Essbase that I will share in the not too distant future – for sure I’ll POC on my laptop but right after that I will be going back to AWS.

Required resources to make this all happen

With this stuff, you are on your own
  • An ability to follow directions
  • An Amazon Web Services account
  • A desire not to incur AWS charges
  • A 64 bit PC/laptop with at least eight (but very preferably) gigabytes of RAM
  • A fast internet connection
  • Lots of disk space (about 100 free gigabytes, but more would likely be better)
  • A valid Windows 2008 R2 Datacenter license
  • Patience

Here are the tools you need to grab from the web:

Whew, that’s an awful lot of perquisites, isn’t it?  And yet what I am going to show you is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.  Ahem.

Converting the AMI

The trick to this is to use VMWare’s VCenter Converter software.  It is not actually meant specifically for AWS but is instead a way to virtualize any Windows (and Linux) machine.  The fact that you will virtualize a cloud machine is irrelevant to VCenter Converter, although it is geeky cool.

Give yourself some drive space

Unless you started up the AMI with a really big drive, and even then for best performance, you will need to create a drive to do all of your converting, zipping, etc. work.  As with so many things in AWS, it’s really quite simple.  This is all assuming that the AMI is up and running.

Create a new volume

In the EC2 interface, create a new volume by clicking the eponymous button:

Set the size

This one is set for 150 GB.

Go check to make sure it’s done

This is generally quite fast.  The State needs to be “available”.

Attach it to your running instance

This is a two step process:

Format that drive

So your Windows box now has a new hard drive.  Before Windows can address it, it needs to be initialized and formatted.

Initializing the drive

NB – You can also just go to Start->Run->diskmgmt.msc.  Below is the graphical way.

Open up Computer Management.

Then Disk Management

Set the drive online.

Then initialize.

Take the Initialize Disk defaults.

You now have an initialized, but unformatted drive.

Right click on that Unallocated drive and select New Simple Volume.

Follow the wizard, again taking the defaults.

Step 1 – Beginning the Simple Volume Wizard

Step 2 – Define how big it should be (go for all of the volume space)

Step 3 – Assign a drive letter.

Step 4 – Format it, using the quick format option

Step 5 – You are done!

Click on Finish and you should see this:

Here it is in Explorer

Before you convert, get rid of unnecessary files

There’s a c:\media directory that contains all of the install binaries.  Unless you want to keep them around, get rid of this directory as it is 24.5 gigabytes that you will be compressing and then downloading (slowly) to your laptop.  Dan caught this and his download was 15 gigabytes, compressed; mine was 29.

Converting via VCenter Converter

I’ve already given you the download link.  You will be installing this on the AWS EC2 instance.

Once installed, launch it.  This should be what you see.  Click on Convert Machine to get the process going.

Select the powered-on machine.

Select the destination type and VMWare release, along with a name and a target folder.  Yes, you can make all of this work with the free VMWare Player although I have not tried doing it with that tool.

In my case I’m running Workstation 8, so that’s the release I picked but you can run this with older releases of the tool.  Click on Next.

Get rid of the D drive – there’s no point in moving it across to your laptop as all it will contain is a copy of your VM.  Which will reside on your VM.  Which is confusing.

Set the memory size – in my case, it’s going to be quite a bit smaller than the 17 gigs that an EC2 m2.xlarge instance provides.  Also, although I didn’t do it in this screen shot you should not convert the D drive – all you want is C.

NB – I am showing this a bit out of order so the D drive is still selected.  Regardless of me not being able to demonstrate a sequential process, you need to get rid of the D drive.

Set the network to NAT.

Click on the Advanced section above, then click on “Customize guest preferences for the virtual machine”.

That will get you to the Customizations section.

I went with these settings (they seem pretty logical):

Set the Workgroup.

Review the settings and Go Man Go.

Now the conversion process begins.

You can see the process beginning by clicking on the task line.

It takes a while.

But it will finish.

And here it is in Windows Explorer.

So where does this leave you?

Aren’t cliffhangers great?  I suppose only if the reader has hung around till the end.  But you’re here, hopefully, so what do we have and where do we go from here?

At this point you have :
  • Added a hard drive in AWS (and seen how trivially easy it is to do)
  • Added and formatted that drive in Windows
  • Downloaded and installed VMWare’s VCenter
  • Converted your metavero.com AMI to a format that VMWorkstation (or whatever) can read

I wish I could tell you that all you now need to do is download the VMWare machine to your local drive and off you go.  Alas, it’s not that easy, but the next and final post will take you through all of the steps that Dan and I painfully worked through.  It honestly isn’t that bad but there are a few twists and turns.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the hack!