2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Windows 8 – After actually using it for 24 hours

My first impressions of Windows 8 were not very favourable as like most people, I am a creature of habit and change for the sake of change doesn’t sit well with me, so seeing the new Metro UI on Windows 8 for the first time when I installed the Release Candidate onto a PC for testing was a little bit of a shock to the system to say the least.

I had ignored Windows 8 for as long as I possibly could but being in IT Support it wasn’t long before some of our customers had bought a new PC / laptop with Windows 8 on it and ultimately I would end up having to support it, so felt that it was time to take my head out of the sand and swallow the pill, however bitter it was going to taste.

I had also read Mark Minasi’s recent newsletter about Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet (not something that is going to be purchased by me – I love my iPad / iPhone) and decided that perhaps it might not be quite as horrendous as I had first thought it might be.

So I took the already burned DVD with Windows 8 Enterprise on it home and popped it into my laptop and let it install (I decided upon a fresh installation for cleanliness, which is usually a much better way to install Windows).

Once installed, it took a little while to figure out where to find everything but after finding the desktop, customising it to add things like Computer / Control Panel / Networks etc, my favourite background photo of a Tornado GR4 flying past me at Biggin Hill Air Show, I already began to feel at home again and it wasn’t long before I had joined the office domain from home (via my LAN to LAN VPN), had installed Office 365, configured my various email accounts (you can never have too many!) and various other bits of software and was merrily using Windows 8 just as I had done with Windows 7.

Not sure I’ll ever get to like the Tiles on the Metro UI, but then I didn’t ever think I would like Windows 8, so watch this space.

Activating Windows didn’t work initially as it apparently couldn’t find the Internet, despite browsing working happily, so I searched for a solution and ended up using slmgr.vbs to get it activated using an Administrative Command Prompt (slmgr.vbs /ipk ABCDE-FGHIJ-KLMNO-PQRST-UVWXY followed by slmgr.vbs /ato).

The next problem I had was installing some software which needed to install .NET Framework 3.5.  Now .Net Framework 4.5 comes pre-installed on Windows 8, but to get 3.5 installed seemed a little tricky as yet again, it couldn’t seem to find the internet!  What the heck was going on?  Trying to add it again from Control Panel> Programs and Featrues> Turn Windows Features on or off failed for the same reason, so I was beginning to get a bit frustrated.

After a bit of searching using a well-known search Engine (that doesn’t rhyme with Ping), I came upon an article that allowed me to manually install it using the command prompt again!  Is there a pattern forming here or am I suffering from a ‘feature’ of the version I happened to download from Technet?

So, with .NET Framework 3.5 installed, I could complete the Office 365 installation / customization and install other software that wouldn’t install without it (Roxio RecordNow Premier).

I am now trying to install Skype, so search for it in Chrome (I stopped using IE a long time ago – despite being forced to use it on a few Microsoft sites otherwise it just doesn’t work) and it suggests I visit the Microsoft Store, which I do, then just type Skype and it finds the App.  I go to install it and it insists that I log in to be able to install it using a Microsoft Account which I find a little annoying.  I just want to install it!  So having signed in using my seldom used hotmail account, I am allowed to install it and off I go.

One feature I have just found is the ability to turn off the Live Tiles – excellent – most are now being turned off 🙂 (Sport / Finance / Travel / People etc) – I don’t like the constant moving tiles as it is annoyingly distracting, especially for things I couldn’t care less about.

Windows 8 Music is now happily playing my iTunes music, so that’s a useful feature and the added information about artists that is available for each artist is quite nice to have.

So – all in all, the rollercoaster ride that I thought I was going to have with Windows 8 hasn’t materialized and despite not being a fan of the Metro UI, I am not rushing to switch back to Windows 7.

If you are debating whether to make the switch to Windows 8 and are used to Windows 7, then there isn’t that much to be upset about as they are virtually one and the same, you just lost the Start Menu Flag and gain lots of pretty colour tiles instead!  Once you have worked out how to switch to the desktop using the Desktop Tile, you are back in home territory and should be feeling warm and cosy again.  My laptop isn’t touch-screen capable, so using a keyboard / mouse is what I am used to and although I now have to press the Windows Key more than I ever have before, I can get used to it.

If you are switching from Windows XP as I am sure one or two are, then it will be quite a radical change and may take some getting used to, but in all fairness, I would take the plunge as you won’t be disappointed (once you are a little bit more familiar with Windows 8).

Alan

Exchange 2003 Activesync HTTP 500 Error

Further to my Exchange 2003 / Activesync Troubleshooting Guide which can be found here, I was working remotely on a Windows 2003 Server with Exchange 2003 SP2 installed over the weekend having been asked to try and make Activesync work as they had read through my guide and not managed to get everything working properly.

Initially the server needed to have it’s DNS configuration fixed so that the server could talk to the Internet and allow me access, so once their IT department had resolved that issue I was given credentials and started to look at the problems on the server.

Checking the settings against my article, everything appeared to be set properly, but the test on the test site was throwing HTTP 500 errors (my least favourite!), so I followed Method 2 of KB883380 (remove and re-create the Exchange IIS Virtual Directories) and once they had been recreated and the IIS settings re-checked, I re-ran the test on the test site and still received the HTTP 500 error.  At that point I was debating a call to Microsoft, but started to check the Event logs on the server and saw various DNS related errors which were of some concern.

Outlook 2007 was also installed on the Exchange 2003 server, so I wasn’t convinced that I had a simple fix on my hands.

I ran the Exchange 2003 Best Practises Analyzer tool and that reported that Exchange could not be contacted, which suggested a DNS issue.  In the DNS logs there was an Event ID 800 error:

The zone <zone> is configured to accept updates but the A record for the primary server in the zone’s SOA record is not available on this DNS server. This may indicate a configuration problem. If the address of the primary server for the zone cannot be resolved DNS clients will be unable to locate a server to accept updates for this zone. This will cause DNS clients to be unable to perform DNS updates.

The suggested fix for this was to run dcdiag /fix followed by netdiag /fix and then to restart the Netlogon Service.  I did this but nothing changed.

Running the netdiag /fix threw up the following error:

DNS Error code: DNS_ERROR_RCODE_SERVER_FAILURE [FATAL] Failed to fix: DC DNS entry xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx._msdcs.internaldomainname.local. re-registeration on DNS server ‘Server IP Address’ failed.

I checked the DNS zones and saw that both the _msdcs.internaldomain.local zone and internaldomain.local zones were not showing all that they should have been so I deleted both zones and recreated them manually (referring to another Windows 2003 server for the relevant entries.  Once all that could be manually created was created, I re-ran dcdiag /fix and netdiag /fix and still received the error above.

I then tried searching for a way to fix this problem but drew a blank.  Looking through the other event logs, I came across the following error in the System Log:

Event ID: 5788
Source: Netlogon
Description: Attempt to update Service Principal Name (SPN) of the computer object in Active Directory failed. The following error occurred: The attribute syntax specified to the directory service is invalid.

Searching for this error landed me here and upon checking the Computer Name / Domain Name,  I saw that the computer name was simply computername. not computername.internaldomain.local.  Never seen that one before.

Following the resolution in the MS article, I created a VB Script file and ran it on the server and rebooted.

Following the reboot, I re-ran the dcdiag /fix and netdiag /fix and the errors had gone.  In addition, some of the DNS records that I wasn’t able to create manually were magically back, so that seemed to have resolved the DNS issues – hurrah!

I then decided to re-test Activesync and happily received a complete pass on all tests – so now that Exchange could talk to itself, Activesync could actually work!

Running the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer again I was happy to see that Exchange could now talk to itself and the results showed a much happier server with only a few minor issues.

So – if you are seeing the dreaded HTTP 500 error and have gone through my Guide, followed KB883380 method 2 and still get the same error – it just might be a good idea to run the Exchange BPA and check your DNS settings are 100% happy.

Alan

Yet more Bad IT Support Companies!

Following on from my earlier Blog Post about bad IT Support Companies (here) I visited a potential new customer today to look over their IT.  The background information I got from the company was that they had used their existing IT Support Company (a one-man band) for the past 5 years or so and whilst mostly happy with their service, there were some outstanding issues that were being neglected and this was causing some concern to the company.

They had recently installed a ‘server’ and their IT wasn’t running as smoothly as they had anticipated, so wanted to get a 2nd opinion about their setup and my company (IT Eye Ltd) was recommended by a mutual company.

Once I arrived, I had a quick look over their IT and came across 4 PCs and a Netbook.  Asking where the server was, I was directed towards an HP xw6600 Workstation with a label on it suggesting it had come out of a company in New York City (NYC-XXXXXXXXX)!  I then used Remote Desktop to connect to the server and discovered that it was running SBS 2008.  This prompted the question about when the server was purchased and I was told May of 2012.  I then asked how much they had paid for the server and they advised me £2,500.

Okay – so they had a recently installed SBS 2008 server of which Exchange 2007 was now no longer supported by Microsoft because the Mainstream Support had now expired!  That begged the question why SBS 2011 wasn’t installed and to that there wasn’t an answer.  I then looked for a license sticker and couldn’t find one, so that also begged the question if they were actually legal.  This conversation continued to the other workstations and no conclusive evidence was available to suggest that they were even remotely compliant.

Looking at one of the XP workstations I saw that it was running XP pro, so checked to see if it was part of the Domain and saw that it was still configured as a Workgroup.

Data was being shared from the server, so at least the server was being used for something other than a drain on their electricity bill, but data was still being held on the Netbook and the data wasn’t being copied to the server or backed up, so was at risk of being lost.  No evidence of server backup was visible either.

I then asked about emails and found out that they were being hosted externally (1and1) and were being collected via Outlook configured as an SMTP/POP3 account and to allow for shared calendars to be accessed, they had turned to Google Mail.

I then pointed out that their server had Exchange built-in and that they need not pay for mail to be hosted externally or use Google Mail for shared Calendars as they could do everything on their own server.

At this point – I think they had decided that they were not being well looked after by their existing IT Support Company and I left them pondering my findings.  We will wait to hear from them and see how they want to proceed.

Alan

SBS 2008 / 2011 Disk Space Eaten Up By SharePoint SQL Log Files – How To Reduce The Log File Size

Having been asked to look at an SBS 2008 server with a 74gb C: drive partition that was regularly running out of space (4.5Gb left when I checked this morning) and after freeing up whatever I could using the usual methods of disabling WSUS log files and clearing out old logs etc using the following article:

http://blogs.technet.com/b/sbs/archive/2010/03/02/recovering-disk-space-on-the-c-drive-in-small-business-server-2008.aspx

I decided to see if there was something more that I could do that was slightly more permanent.

I downloaded Windirstat from Sourceforge and installed it onto the server and let it scan the C: drive of the server.

When it had finished scanning, I noticed that by far and above the largest amount of data on the C: drive was being eaten up by the Sharepoint Config SQL Database Log File – amounting to about 24Gb of disk space!  What the heck?

A quick poke around the internet landed me on the following link:

http://luka.manojlovic.net/2008/06/15/reduce-sharepoint-services-30-logldf-files/

Which allowed me to reduce the overall log files size to about 500Mb and the C: drive of the server now has a more satisfactory 27.9Gb of free space and is no longer sending me errors about the disk space running low, which is always welcome.

One slight issue I had when trying to look at the properties of the Database to change the Recovery Model to Simple was a lack of permissions and an error, but a quick search again landed me on this page:

http://www.sqldbadiaries.com/2010/08/24/property-owner-is-not-available-for-database/

Now I am by no means an SQL Guru, but I managed to work out how to change the Database Owner from NULL to SA by right-clicking on the Sharepoint_Config…………….. Database and choosing New Query.  Then just type sp_changedbowner ‘sa’ and press F5 to execute the command and bingo, the database owner has been changed and you can now look at the Database properties without seeing an error and thus you can complete the shrinking of the Log Files.

Hope that this frees up tons of space for you too.

Alan

SBS 2003 to SBS 2011 Migration Performed Remotely in Toronto Canada (from the UK)

Last night I started to perform a migration from SBS 2003 to SBS 2011 for a company in Toronto where Peter was going to be onsite to manage the migration from the local end.

The start time for me was 9:00pm (UK time) and prior to starting, I had asked Peter to make sure the SBS 2003 server was fully patched, had the Microsoft Baseline Configuration Analzyer tool installed (and to reboot the server afterwards), check that Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2 was installed and also that Small Business Server 2003 SP1 had been installed properly, something that quite often doesn’t get installed properly as it isn’t a simple download from Microsoft via Windows Update.

I also asked Peter to run a DCDIAG report (after installing the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 32-bit Support Tools) to make sure that all was well and email me the results

The only item that needed fixing from the DCDIAG report was to set the Intersite Messaging Service to Automatic and Start the service, something that is quite often not set to Automatic on SBS 2003 from my experiecnce.

All being well, it was time to start the migration.  I asked Peter to insert the SBS 2011 DVD into the SBS 2003 server and then once fired up, we installed the Migration Preparation Tool (without installing any updates).

The SBS 2003 server was prepared happily, the Migration Answer File created and saved to a Memory Stick (USB Key) and then the server was rebooted.

It was then time to build the new server, and Peter had chosen an HP ProLiant DL360 G7 server (nice!).  To cut a long story short, there were a few problems with the build and after referring him to my other blog article here he happily created a bootable USB key with SBS 2011 on it and then rebuilt the server for a second time, this time more successfully.  Also on the USB Key with SBS 2011 as an .ISO image were the drivers for the RAID Controller and the SBS Answerfile.

After a few reboots and having changed the boot order so that the server would no longer boot from the USB Key after the initial Windows build, the server fired up into Migration mode and the Migration could start.

The settings chosen in the SBS Answer file were checked and verified, the Time Zone checked and verified (important to do this manually as the BIOS clock can be way off) and updates were not downloaded for the installation.

After a while, the server rebooted and we were logged in to the SBS 2011 server.  Time to create a new User as the Migration won’t work if you use the default Administrator account.

After the new Admin Account was created we logged off, then on again as the new user and fired up the SBS Console and clicked on the Migrate to Windows SBS link on the Home page.

Having created just a single partition, the first step of relocating the various components of SBS to another drive was skipped and we moved on to the Configure the Network Wizard.  With nothing much to do there apart from click a few buttons (DHCP was not on a router), the wizard completed and we moved onto the next step.

Configuring the Internet Address we selected the relevant domain name and changed the default prefix of ‘Remote’ to a preferred name and completed the wizard.  This failed initially and threw a few errors.  After a few minutes of head scratching and wondering why, I checked the Services and found a handful of Exchange ones not started!  After a bit of encouragement with my mouse, the services were started and the Wizard re-run, this time 100% happily.

At this point, it was time to pause the installation and visit Windows Update.  It was now about 5:40am (UK time) and caffeine had been working happily, but you need to draw the line somewhere and get some sleep, so having selected about 133 Windows Updates and kicked the updates off, I retired to bed as the world was waking up and the light outside was getting lighter 😦

We are planning to pick up the Migration again at 3:00pm UK time today and at the time of writing I am remotely connected to the server and busy installing a raft of other updates that are available and rebooting as and when required.  I have now done this about 3 times and the cupboard is now well and truly bare, so time for more caffeine and to wait for Peter to arrive on-site and then order the SSL certificate from www.exchange-certificates.com and get it approved before moving the mailboxes from the SBS 2003 server to the SBS 2011 server.

So, Peter arrived on site and we order a new SSL certificate from the site above, ran the New Certificate Wizard in the Exchange Management Console to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR), took the CSR to the certificate site and copied / pasted the contents into the relevant box and completed the certificate request process.  Now we just had to wait for the approval emails to arrive.  Prior to starting the migration, I had asked Peter to make sure that the Admin contact for the domain was still valid and that he had access to the email account that the Certificate Approval emails would be sent to – he was the Admin contact and thus we wouldn’t have any problems receiving and processing the Certificate Approval emails.

The next step in the migration was to move the mailboxes over from the old server to the new server and that is done via the new server using a “Local Move Request”.  We essentially highlighted all the User mailboxes and then clicked on the New Local Move Request.  We actually selected a few large mailboxes first and then the remainder which were smaller so that the larger ones started to be moved first.

Next was to move the Public Folders and that was simply a case of right-clicking the Public Folder Store and choosing “Move All Replicas”.  There weren’t many Public Folders so I expected this to be a quick process, but after an hour or so of watching the mailboxes move, the Public Folders hadn’t even started to move, so I checked the the SMTP Virtual Server settings and lo and behold, there was some Outbound Authentication that was set because they had previously setup a Smarthost on the SMTP Virtual Server (which I had already removed).  As soon as I removed the outbound authentication and restarted the SMTP Virtual Server, the Public Folders started to move over to the new server and after about 5 minutes, the Public Folder Instances were all empty 🙂

Next was to remove Legacy Group Policies and Logon Settings which essentially is the deletion of old SBS 2003 Group Policies and renaming the SBS_LOGON_SCRIPT.BAT file and removing references to it from ALL user profiles.

The next step in the migration was to setup a batch file to use Robocopy to copy all the User / Company data from the old server to the new server.  I looked at the shares on the old server and didn’t see anything that stood out as a Company Data folder, so asked Peter to identify the relevant data, which he did and I setup the batch file to copy the data he had identified as well as the User Data, which was obvious.

I decided to kick off the data copy batch file (run as Administrator) and then all we could do was sit and wait, so I suggested to Peter that he might like to go and have an extended lunch break and that I would monitor the Mailbox Moves and data copying remotely, then let him know when it was likely to have completed, so he could return to help with the final steps in the migration.

I emailed Peter and arranged for him to return to the office at 8:00pm Toronto time (1:00am UK time).  All the data and mailboxes had moved across by about 1:40am UK time so the next step was to Migrate Fax Data of which there wasn’t any, so we moved on to the next step which was to convert Users and Groups.  All users were assigned the new Standard User role and all Groups were selected and converted – all very simple stuff and quick to perform and by now, the finishing line was in sight.

Before removing Exchange 2003 from the SBS 2003 Server it was time to redirect port 25, 443, 987, 4125 and any other ports being used on the firewall to the new server.  Once completed, I could then remove the Routing Group Connectors that are installed to allow mail to flow between the Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2010 servers during the migration.

It was now time to remove Exchange from the old server by using the Add/Remove Programs, selecting the Small Business Server 2003 application and then running through the various screens until the installed options were visible, then setting Exchange to ‘Remove’ and finishing the wizard.  This process never normally removes exchange fully (in my experience), so I had to refer to an MS KB Article to manually remove the remaining components of Exchange (KB833396).

The final step is to run DCPROMO, but before we do, it is a good idea to check that the SBS 2011 Server is the holder of all FSMO roles.  I found a little file that allows me to do this without having to break sweat – don’t recall where it came from, but I am grateful to the creator.  You can download it from here dumpfsmos.zip.  Having run and verified that my FSMO roles were all held by the SBS 2003 server, I fired up DCPROMO and let it run, making sure I didn’t tick the box that says “This server is the last controller in the domain” as that would cause all kinds of havoc.

For some odd reason – every time I run this the first time, it always fails because the NETLOGON service has been stopped and it complains about it being stopped.  Well the DCPROMO process stops the NETLOGON service, so I am not sure why it gets confused, but it always does, so prepare for it to fail, then start the NETLOGON service up again and re-run DCPROMO again which on the 2nd time of running, will happily complete.

Once done, reboot the server, then login to the local server as the Administrator, using the password you specified during the DCPROMO process and once it is alive, shut it down and keep it handy in case you forgot to get some data from it.  MIGRATION COMPLETED!

The time that the migration was finished was about 3:30am UK time, so from start to finish, the entire process took about 30½ hours, but it has to be said that there was little data to be copied and the mailboxes were small.

The article that I used to guide me through the entire migration, which I will be asking Glen to tweak slightly with some items to make it even better than it is already can be found here.

If after reading it you don’t feel confident enough to tackle the migration yourself, I would be only too happy to assist you.  If you do feel confident enough then I hope your migration goes smoothly and completes quickly.

Alan