Active Directory 2019 and Exchange 2019 – what’s new

Cross-post with http://www.hayesjupe.com/active-directory-2019-and-exchange-2019-whats-new/

 

The short answer is – not much.

Exchange 2019 was released a few weeks back, but was effectively un-usable, as Exchange 2019 requires Windows Server 2019…. and Windows server 2019 got pulled from release (like Windows 10 1809) due to some issues.

Windows Server 2019 was re-released a few days ago, which allowed nerds everywhere (including me) to put Server 2019 and Exchange 2019 into a test environment.

The most striking thing that is immediately noticeable is that everything looks the same…. The install process, the GUI, the management, all looks the same as it did in 2016. To me, this is a good thing – while Microsoft of the past seemed to believe that moving functions between areas was good – some consistency is nice to have too.

 

Active Directory

First appearances indicate there is nothing new in AD 2019, the installation process and management is exactly the same as 2016.

While installing, there is not even an option to set the forest and domain functional level to “2019” – only 2016.

A quick look at the schema version indicates it has increased and quick google finds this article

https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/389thoughts/2018/08/21/whats-new-in-active-directory-2019-nothing/

So, while there is something new in the schema, its an incredibly small update….. and there are no new features or functionality of any type to focus on.

 

Exchange 2019

Exchange 2019 is a bit the same as AD, everything appears to be the same as Exchange 2016, from the install process to the management interface.

A google comes up with this

Should you upgrade to Exchange Server 2019?

So there are some changes and feature updates – but these updates may not have an impact/matter to your organization.

 

I found these two releases interesting overall as

  • AD is the core of many enterprise networks
  • Exchange is a core business application

To see a new release of both of these products with very minimal improvements I think demonstrates where all Microsoft’s development effort is going (which, to be fair, we already knew)

Cloud should stay up forever, right? Well, no.

Last month there was an outage in the Azure – South Central US region, which, by reports, seemed to have some knock on effects for other regions.

This was reported at:

In the discussions that followed with our customers, particularly with those currently considering their digital transformation strategies including moves to Office 365 and/or Azure, some expressed varying levels of concern. This prompted some very valuable debate around Adexis and what we feel are some important viewpoints when it comes to digital transformation. Here were some of our thoughts;

Outages happen

Even with the enterprise-grade resources of Microsoft (or Amazon), 100% uptime of any service over a long period of time is not realistic. Between hardware issues, software bugs, scheduled downtime and human error, something, at some point will go wrong – just like in your on-premise environment. With all the buzz around cloud, it can sometimes be easy to forget that this is essentially just an IT environment somewhere else maintained by someone else. Like any IT environment, it is still reliant on humans and physical hardware which will inevitably experience failures of service from time to time.

Control and visibility

When an outage happens on-premise, the local IT team are able to remediate and have as much information as it’s possible to have – and can provide their users with detailed information regarding the restoration of service. Everything is in the hands of the local IT team (or the company to which it has been outsourced).
When an outage happens with Azure, the amount of information the local IT team has is minimal in comparison. Microsoft’s communication during O365/Azure outages varies, however, ETA’s and other information is generally vague at best. All control is with Microsoft and all the local IT team can say to staff is “Microsoft are working on it”. While Microsoft may be able to resolve the situation faster than you could on site (or not), the lack of visibility and control can sometimes be daunting. It’s not all doom and gloom though. In situations where the issue would need to be escalated to Microsoft anyway (i.e. premier support), the criticality of an international user-base can often mean a greater focus from Microsoft and inherently a faster resolution than what would be achieved for your single company.

Site resilience

Azure has many features which enable site resilience to protect a single data centre failure – but sometimes these are not used. This could be down to flawed design of services or simple cost saving. When architecting your environment (or engaging the experts at Adexis to provide these specialist services), it’s important you carefully consider your DR and BCP plans and ensure you have the redundancy built into your environment that matches those requirements. This is not unique to either cloud or on-premise and always must be carefully considered.

Root cause

It’s not uncommon for on-premise service outages to be “fixed” by a reboot. Root cause analysis and effective problem management is something that while nice, not many IT teams have time to complete.
Microsoft have the resources to perform these functions to great depth and in-fact their brand depends on it. A complete root cause analysis feeds back into improvement of their overall operations, which leads to greater consumer confidence and therefore greater penetration into the market. They also literally have access to the source code for the operating systems and many apps, in addition to strong relationships with hardware vendors to be able to get patches/fixes in times that all of us can only dream of.
While Microsoft has been known to hold their cards close to their chest at times in terms of releasing the real root cause of outages, they are definitely invested in resolving those root causes behind the scenes and preventing further outages. This means that the environment remains far more up to date and typically, far more robust than an on-premise environment.

SLA

While Microsoft might suffer reputational damage as the result of an outage, do not expect any form of meaningful compensation
The finically backed SLA that salespeople spruik is a joke – http://www.microsoftvolumelicensing.com/DocumentSearch.aspx?Mode=3&DocumentTypeId=37
This is table for many services (but it does vary depending on specific services)

Monthly Uptime %Service Credit
<99.9%25%
<99.0%50%
<95.0%100%

A 31 day month has 44,640 minutes, 2,232 minutes is 5% of that. So the service would have to be down a whopping 37.2 hours to get back 100% of your fees for that month only, and the compensation is in the form of a service credit off next month’s bill.
How to claim this service credit is detailed on page 5 of the document and basically, the onus is on you to prove that there was an outage and submit the paperwork within 2 months. A separate claim must be created for each service. What this essentially means is it’s usually more effort than it’s worth to log the claim for the service credits.

In Summary

Outages for cloud services must be anticipated, just like outages to on-premise services. The attitude of “It’s in the cloud so it’s not our problem” is simply not realistic and likely to catch you out, unprepared.
If you have vital services that you are considering moving to Azure (or AWS, or anywhere else), rest assured it can be safe to do so, but make sure you allow for site resiliency in your design and costing.

Adexis is neither pro, nor anti cloud. Unlike many other vendors, we have no skin in the game, no incentive to push you in one direction or the other. We are completely independent and can provide you with unbiased specialist advice on what is best for your environment and your business, including the pros and cons of staying on-premise or moving to the cloud for each service.

Every environment is different when it comes to security requirements, IT skillset, hardware availability, CapEx vs OpEx spend and a range of other factors – and these all feed into what is the best solution for your business.

If you’d like to explore your IT strategy further, please be sure to give us a call.

Deploy Win32 applications with Intune

from http://www.scconfigmgr.com/2018/09/24/deploy-win32-applications-with-microsoft-intune/

WIN32 APPLICATION DEPLOYMENTS

The ability to “package” applications for deployment in Microsoft Intune is something that has been highly requested by many organisations making the move to management of devices through Intune. Although there is a fundamental difference in deploying applications through Configuration Manager and Intune, Microsoft is developing tools to provide similar functionality across the management stack. Up until now it it has been possible to deploy applications through Intune, this relied on a single MSI installation file with no external dependencies. In some cases this meant that repackaging of applications was the only method of deploying those business applications, thus being a time consuming process.

Today it is now possible to deploy applications through Intune without those restrictions, this process creates a packaged container of the setup files along with command line installation and uninstall commands.

 

This is a significant feature towards bringing Intune from the realms of “good for mobile device management only” to “also good for desktop management”.

SCCM currently does (and probably will for quite a while) have additional functionality which larger enterprises require – however, this is a good step in allowing smaller organisations more flexibility in their deployment options.

 

Note: as of 25/9, this feature is available with an Intune tenant running a preview of the GA release.

Execution status received: 24 (Application download failed)

I came across an interesting issue today where I couldn’t get applications to install on a specific piece of hardware during a task sequence. All task sequence steps would run fine, other than ‘Application’ installs – and they would work fine on other hardware.

Looking in the smsts.log file, I could see the following error for each application:
Execution status received: 24 (Application download failed)

I checked the boundaries, everything was good. Google has many instances of the same issue, but none seemed to have relevant (or helpful) solutions. In the end, I realised this device has 4G LTE with a valid SIM in it, and it was connecting automatically during the task sequence. It seems this was confusing it and it couldn’t locate the content for applications!

The simplest solution I could find was to disable the NIC during the task sequence, then re-enable it at the end. The following are the powershell commands I put in the task sequence to get it working:

To Disable: powershell.exe -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Command “Get-NetAdapter | ?{$_.MediaType -eq ‘Wireless WAN’} | Disable-NetAdapter -Confirm:$False

To Enable: powershell.exe -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Command “Get-NetAdapter | ?{$_.MediaType -eq ‘Wireless WAN’} | Enable-NetAdapter -Confirm:$False

Avoiding a Microsoft Teams Nightmare

Have you ever had the experience of providing users a document management system or Sharepoint site only to find that everyone uses it differently, creates folders all over the place in different ways, stores documents differently and after six months time it’s so hard to find anything that it defeats the purpose for which it was implemented in the first place? What a nightmare! You’re not alone.

With Microsoft Teams quickly becoming a preferred collaboration tool, you’d be forgiven for having fears of this nightmare becoming a reality all over again. The primary reason for that is there’s no technical ‘silver-bullet’ to prevent this from happening, it’s more of a governance discussion. Notwithstanding, there are some things you can do on a technical level that can help.

There are basically four levels of administration to be considered:

  • Global Settings – There are a number of features and functionality for Teams that can be turned on or off at a global level and these should be risk assessed for each environment. Ideally this should be done before the first Team site is even created.
  • Team creation – Microsoft Teams, while based off Office 365 Groups, will also provision a Sharepoint site for each Team. Therefore the decision as to who should be creating Teams is the same as for who should be creating Groups and Sites. One approach that we’ve found works well is to have these functions centrally managed with Teams created on request. There is of course an admin overhead to be considered however. See below;
  • Team Owners – These are the users that really run the individual Teams and will have the best insight as to the value of the Team and how it should be used. Trying to run this centrally is likely to lead to frustration all round so once created, administration should really be handed over to the Team owners. They can then add Team members, assign roles, create Channels and enable Apps etc as they see fit.
  • Team Users – Obvious statement but these are the ones who should be seeing value in Teams collaboration. Paradoxically one way to dilute that is by being in too many Teams. Users shouldn’t be confused about what spaces they should be collaborating in or where to store documents etc. To prevent this, ideally Teams should have clearly defined functions, whether that be organisational, operational or project based collaboration. Confusion arises where these functions overlap between Teams so clear delineation is important. This is another reason centrally managing Team creation can work well. In larger environments implementing practices like naming standards for Teams will also be of value.

Some of the central administration technical considerations are outlined here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/enable-features-office-365

Melissa Hubbard also provides some useful considerations in her blog post on the topic and while it’s a little while ago now, it’s still a great starter for some of the governance considerations:  https://melihubb.com/2017/07/25/microsoft-teams-governance-planning-guide

If Microsoft Teams is on your agenda for implementation, be sure to reach out to the Adexis team who can assist with design and implementation and help you to provide this wonderful platform to your users to enable communication and efficient collaboration, without the admin headaches.

Update 1806 for Configuration Manager current branch is now available

ConfigMgr 1806 was released yesterday morning https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/enterprisemobility/2018/07/31/update-1806-for-configuration-manager-current-branch-is-now-available/

Couple of nice usability features:

CMPivot, building off our real-time script capability.  CMPivot is a new in-console utility that provides access to real-time state of devices in your environment.

With CMPivot, you can get instant insights into your environment.  Need to know your current compliance state in real-time?  CMPivot can get you those insights in minutes.

Third-party software updates – You can subscribe to partner catalogs in the Configuration Manager console and publish the updates to WSUS using the new third-party software updates feature. You can then deploy these updates using the existing software update management process.

Uninstall application on approval revocation – After enabling the optional feature Approve application requests for users per device, when you deny the request for the application, the client uninstalls the application from the user’s device.

Configure a remote content library for the site server – You can now relocate the content library to another storage location to free up hard drive space on your central administration or primary site servers or to configure site server high availability.

View the currently signed on user for a device – You can see a column for the currently logged on user now displayed by default in the Devices node of the Assets and Compliance workspace.

 

Note: As the update is rolled out globally in the coming weeks, it will be automatically downloaded, and you will be notified when it is ready to install from the “Updates and Servicing” node in your Configuration Manager console. If you can’t wait to try these new features, this PowerShell script can be used to ensure that you are in the first wave of customers getting the update. By running this script, you will see the update available in your console right away.

Storing credentials for Powershell scripts – Encrypted Strings or Credential Manager

If you’ve been reading through some of our other blog posts, you’ll have noticed that we generally like to automate things using Powershell – which quite often requires storing credentials somehow. Preferably not in plain text.

In our existing scripts on this blog, the process has generally involved generating an encryption key, using that key to convert a password to an encrypted string, then storing both in individual files. While that method works fine and has some nice benefits, there’s another alternative that’s worth knowing about: storing credentials in Windows Credential Manager.

I’ll put the code for both methods further down, but first I’d like to list the main differences between the two methods:

Encrypted string in file

  • Portable between users and computers
  • Can be used in WinPE or wherever Powershell is available
  • Only as secure as the NTFS permissions on the files storing the key and encrypted password (someone with read access can use powershell to reveal the password if they know what the files are for)
  • Utilises a bit of ‘security by obfuscation’ – depending on how you name the files, no one is going to know what they’re for, and malware/viruses definitely aren’t going to realise the files are encrypted credentials that could be easily reverse-engineered.
  • When used with Task Scheduler, the scheduled task can be run as any user/local system

Windows Credential Manager

  • Only portable between computers if using roaming profiles; isn’t portable between users
  • Can only be used in a full-windows environment that has Windows Credential Manager (ie: not in WinPE)
  • Is as secure as the Windows account attached to the credential store (assuming a complex password, pretty secure)
  • If the Windows account becomes compromised somehow (you leave the PC unlocked, malware/virus, etc), it’s a relatively simple process to pull any account details you’ve stored in Windows Credential Manager via Powershell.
  • When used with Task Scheduler, the scheduled task has to be running as the Windows account attached to the credentials store

So, how do you do each of these?

 

Creating large stand-alone media from SCCM – issues when the HP SPP 2018.03 is a package in the TS

We often create one task sequence for all workstation builds and another for all server builds, utilising task sequence variables to perform the decision making within the task sequence.

One of the downsides of this is that the task sequence binaries can get quite large, especially for server builds where we have current and legacy versions of the HP SPP, the Dell SUU and (at a minimum) server 2012 R2 and server 2016.

This isn’t an issue for network based builds, as non-required content is simply skipped, however, for media builds, it can lead to 40GB+ requirements, which the SCCM console doesnt handle well.

This is where Rufus comes in.

Rufus can help out by allowing use of larger hard drives (just tick the “list USB hard drives” option) and can apply bootable iso’s generated by SCCM (utilising the “unlimited size” option) to a USB hard drive.

This has been incredibly useful for us in the past, utilising large hard drives as USMT stores at slow link sites for client deployment.

In this instance, ive been using Rufus to apply a 50GB server build iso to a hard drive, but keep getting presented with a warning

“This ISO image seems to use an obsolete version of ‘vesamenu.c32’. Boot menus may not display properly because of this.”

Irrevelant of how you proceed (allow Rufus to download an update or not), the drive is not bootable.

Upon investigation of the rusfus logs and the resultant media, i found that syslinux.cfg was actually pointing to my HP SPP package.

This forum post then confirmed that Rufus is finding a syslinux.cfg, assuming that it is “real” bootable media and hence the ‘vesamenu.c32’ prompt.

After a few hours of troubleshooting and trying to get around it, i simply removed the “usb” and “system” folders from my HP SPP packages (as we wont be booting to it ever, its only for use in SCCM), re-created my standalone media iso – then used Rufus to write the bootable iso to the USB HDD, this time with no issues.

I realise this is a fairly obscure issue , but hopefully it helps someone.

 

 

Speed up offline servicing

Currently i am creating some server builds for a place which will be deploying large numbers of servers over the coming months.

One of things that is/was taking up a great deal of time was offline servicing for the base OS, primarily because the SCCM server is currently sitting on a virtual environment with disk that is struggling. With 2016, this isn’t so bad, as due to cumulative updates, there are only a few updates to be installed. With 2012 R2 however, there is a large number of updates – and the process continually fails due to the poor performance of the server.

One of things you can do to speed this process up is to remove unused images from your wim.

Both Server 2012 R2 and 2016 come with 4 images (with an index of 1 to 4) within the install.wim. These generally correlate with:

  • Index1 – Server 2012R2/2016 standard core
  • Index2 – Server 2012R2/2016 standard desktop experience
  • Index3 – Server 2012R2/2016 datacentre core
  • Index4 – Server 2012R2/2016 datacentre desktop experience

If you view Logs\OfflineServicingMgr.log during an offline servicing operation, you will notice lines that state things such as:

Applying update with ID xxxxxx on image at index 1

Then the same update will apply to image 2,3 and 4. In this enviornment, we are not deploying server core, so we only need indexes 2 and 4 (standard and datacentre with desktop).

We can view the indexes available within the wim by typing:

dism /get-imageinfo /imagefile:E:\<path to wim>\Install.wim

Then, if you dont need indexes 1 and 3 (as we dont in this scenario)

dism /delete-image /imagefile:E:\<path to wim>\Install.wim /index:1
dism /delete-image /imagefile:E:\<path to wim>\Install.wim /index:3

Now when you use offline servicing, each update will only be compared against 2 images, instead of 4, significantly reducing the processing time/disk usage, especially for 2012 R2 (where there are a large number of updates to apply)

This can also be used for client OS’s, such as Windows 10.

One important note – this will not reduce the size of the WIM. It will simply remove the index and save you time for offline servicing.

If your image is already in SCCM, then you must

  1. Go to Software Library | Operating systems | Operating system images
  2. Right click on the appropriate image | properties | Images tab
  3. Click on “reload”, then notice the dropdown has been reduce from 4 index’s, then hit “ok” to exit.
  4. Go into your task sequence
  5. Update the image index as required.