Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Windows XP–RIP

So, after years of anticipation, today is the day we say good bye to Windows XP. Today, XP has finallyi reached end of life (at least for most home and corporate users). The patches being released today are the last most users will ever see.

From today. XP is EOL. There will be no more patches, and from next month, patches released for Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.x will telegraph to the hackers where vulnerabilities in XP may lie.

Is it xxall gloom and doom? No – of course not. For some users, at least, Microsoft has agreed to continue supporting XP. The UK government recently announced such an extension although it came with a big price tag. And all those ATM systems that run XP are also given a bit of breathing space.

But what if you are a normal corporate user, or normal home user? Well, if all you do is just get email from GMAIL/Outlook.com etc, and maybe do a bit of Skyping with the grandparents/grandkids, you will probably be fine. But if you go to a lot of sites, using IE, and have a habit of clicking on links you find in Twitter, Facebook, etc – your risk begins soon. I liken it to traveling to a country with active Polio, or other diseases without having your shots. Yes, you may be just fine – but you may also pick up a very nasty disease.

So what should you do? If you are a home user, you really should move off of XP. My personal  recommendation is to move to Windows 8.1. If the new UI is too much pain, then either use Windows 7, or just buy Start8 by Stardock to get you over the Modern blues. If you are a corporate customer still running XP, you need to get your IT department to upgrade.

I am certain that there are a lot of users, some who are reading this blog post, who haven’t moved and who may not move. After all XP works, doesn’t it? Why spend money needlessly? The reason, simply, is risk. The longer you wait to upgrade, the more time the hackers have to craft attacks.

I loved XP back in the day. The early beta versions were full of promise, and after SP2, we saw that promise turn into a great OS. But it has come to the end of life. Let it go and upgrade.

Friday, March 14, 2014

April 2014 PowerCamp Cancelled :-(

Sadly, I have to cancel the PowerCamp event scheduled for end April 2014. The event was scheduled to be held in Microsoft’s offices in London, but they have just informed me they are going to be carrying out maintenance on the building, This means we’ll have no air conditioning or power. Which makes it kind of impossible to run an event.

I am very sorry for those of you who have booked – I’ll organise a refund by the close of play today. I hope to run another event in the Autumn, and will announce it as soon as possible.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Announcing PowerShell PowerCamp–April 26-27 2014 in London

With the winter of rain, hopefully now well behind us, it’s time to look forward. Both Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 now slowly pushing into organisations large and small the End of Life for Server 2003 and Windows XP are looming. Learning PowerShell is now, more than ever, something every IT Pro needs to do! While I say this ever year, it seems to me that learning PowerShell is now, more than ever, something every IT Pro needs to do! And one great way to get up to speed is via the PowerShell PowerCamp event!

Why Learn PowerShell?

I hear this question a lot – after all the GUI is so good, why bother with PowerShell? Well, for a start, PowerShell is now at the centre of Microsoft's manageability strategy. Every key component of Windows Server (and client for that matter) can be managed using PowerShell. The latest sets of cmdlets enable you do to more than ever before with PowerShell. At the end of the day, PowerShell provides reliable, robust and repeatable automation – and in these days of having to do more with less, that’s vital.

What is A PowerShell PowerCamp?
PowerCamp is a fast paced weekend training event that covers all the basic aspects of Windows PowerShell v4 - from the command line to writing production-oriented scripts. The focus is on smart IT Pros who know then need to learn PowerShell but can’t afford to take a week and take the standard Microsoft course. We package this up at a price that’s easily affordable.

On day 1, we start with the basics including configuration, formatting and providers, remoting and jobs. Then, on day 2, we look at scripting, work flows, managing script libraries using modules, WMI/CIM,  using objects, and finishing with the PowerShell features added into the latest versions of Windows.

The PowerCamp event is a combination of lecture, demonstrations plus Q&A, with the opportunity to type along with the tutor. There are no formal labs. But I do provide the key demos, all the slides, plus a wealth of other add on material on a memory stick you get at the start of day 1. So bring along your laptop, and type away. I use a set of VMs to demonstrate and you can bring along ones you made earlier so as to follow along as I demo.

What is the Agenda?
Day 1 – The Basics
• PowerShell Fundamentals – starting with the key elements of PowerShell (Cmdlets, Objects and the Pipeline) plus installation, setup, and profiles. I also call out some of the new features in PowerShell V4.
• Formatting – how to format output nicely – both by default and using hash tables and display XML
• Providers – getting into underlying OS data stores (certificate store, AD, registry, etc.) via providers
• Remoting and jobs– working with jobs plus working with remote systems using PowerShell’s remoting capabilities
Day 2 – Diving Deeper
• Scripting Concepts – automating everyday tasks including PowerShell’s language constructs, error handling and debugging and workflows
• Modules – managing PowerShell script libraries in the enterprise
• WMI and CIM – we look at the WMI and CIM components, including the new CIM cmdlets
• Using .NET and COM Objects – working with native objects
• PowerShell in Windows 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 – a look at what’s there and how you can leverage the huge number of new cmdlets

And as we go, we always have time to take your questions and to show you how to overcome your issues with PowerShell!

What does it cost?
The cost is £200 (+VAT at the prevailing rate) for the weekend. Meals and accommodation are not covered. Should you book and have to cancel, that’s fine so long as you give at least two weeks notice – I understand that plans change. Refunds after that point are not, sadly, possible.

Where is the event going to take place?
The PowerShell PowerCamp is being held at Microsoft Cardinal Place, 100 Victoria Street in Victoria on the weekend of April 26/27 2014. Each day starts promptly at 09:00 and finishes up by 16:45. We’ll also take short breaks throughout the day, including a 1-hour lunch break.

PowerDrinks!
After Saturday’s session, attendees are invited to a small nearby public house for some lovely English ale, etc. The first round is on me!

Who is the tutor?
The PowerShell Weekend PowerCamp is delivered by Thomas Lee. Thomas is a veteran PowerShell evangelist who has been involved in the PowerShell community since the very beginning. He provides training and consultancy around a range of Microsoft products, with a recent focus on PowerShell and Lync Server. In his spare time, he lives with his wife, daughter, wine cellar, and Grateful Dead live recordings collection in a small cottage in the English countryside. His Twitter handle is @DoctorDNS and he maintains two blogs (Under the Stairs at http://tfl09.blogspot.com and PowerShell Scripts Blog at http://pshscripts.blogspot.com).

What do I need to bring
You need to bring a laptop with PowerShell v4 loaded. That can be either native or in a virtual machine. I suggest you have at least two VMs pre-configured – one a server 2012 R2 installation the other a Windows 8.1 installation. The virtualisation software is not of concern – but you need 64-bit guest OS support for Server 2012 R2! Thus you can use Hyper-V, VMware Workstation or Oracle’s Virtual Box. Heck, run it in a VM on a Mac or Linux PC if you want. Just bring along PowerShell v4!

How do I book?
Contact DoctorDNS@Gmail.com to book a place and to arrange for the invoice to be paid. Payment must be in cash, cheque or bank transfer – I don’t take credit cards.

More Details
Watch this blog for any hot breaking news on the event.

Lync Server 2013 Virtualisation Whitepaper From Microsoft

Ever since Microsoft introduced Live Communications Server, customers have been asking how they can virtualize the product. During the OCS years, I constantly heard requests for support for Virtualisation. But the answer remained: no support. Eventually Microsoft did the work necessary to validate fully the product in a virtual environment. The result is that, today, you can fully virtualize both the Lync server and the Lync client product. But it’s not all that simple – virtualization just adds more opportunity for problems.

While many workloads are a great fit for virtualization, Lync is a real real-time application. As such, there can be performance related issues that are not even noticeable with other workloads. These issues manifest as poor audio and video resulting in a poor service to the user.

In a recently published White Paper, Lync Server 2013 Virtualization White Paper Microsoft provides full guidance for planning a Lync Server deployment in a virtual environment. The white paper descries how to configure Lync Server 2013 in a virtual environment, including both the host and the guest VMs. Also included are the most important Key Health Indicators (KHIs) that you should watch both when performing a capacity test prior to deploying, and later during deployment.

If you are planning a Lync deployment in a virtual environment or if you want to consider virtualizing part of your existing Lync infrastructure, you really should read this paper.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Lync and Windows Fabric

One of the major changes between Lync 2010 and Lync 2013 is the integration of Lync with Windows Fabric. Windows Fabric is described as ‘a Microsoft technology used for creating highly reliable, distributable an scalable applications’. Windows Fabric is designed to enable replication of application related data across multiple application servers. These application servers work in parallel to provide fault tolerance and scalability. Windows Fabric ensures the information needed for these applications is delivered reliably to each of the necessary servers.

Lync uses Windows Fabric to move information previously held in a back end database (and hence a bottleneck) to the front end servers. This eliminates the need for each Lync Front End server to use network resources to obtain application information – it’s available locally.

In the case of Lync, this change enables better scaling as well as providing resilience (a front end server can continue to work in the case of errors elsewhere in your network). While pretty much all of the complex stuff, with respect to Windows Fabric, is done auto-magically for you, it is important to understand what it’s doing, why and some of the issues arising.

One of key issues that arises from the integration of Windows Fabric and Lync is the recommendation of always having at least three ES servers in an ES pool. See http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg412996.aspx for the details of this limitation.

For more information on the integration of Lync 2013 and Windows Fabric, see Richard Brynsteson’s post on the Mastering Lync blog.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

PowerShell Geek Week here we come

I’m off next week to Stockholm to deliver our sprig PowerShell Geek Week at LabCenter, Sweden’s top IT training firm. The idea of Geekweek is to both have fun and to learn more about PowerShell. Geekweek starts with a brief review of PowerShell – making sure you are fully up to speed with the fundamentals. Then we dive deep into the product showing you how you can leverage the power of PowerShell inside your organisations.

For more information about Geek Week – see the Lab Center page at https://www.labcenter.se/Labs#lab=Windows_PowerShell_V4_Geekweek. And if you are going and you want any more information or want to ensure something is going to be covered, please feel free to ping me.

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Missed the Lync Conference? Get the Sessions (using PowerShell)

Last week, Microsoft held their annual Lync Conference in Las Vegas. If you attended the conference, no doubt you missed some sessions – but all is not lost. If you were, like me, unable to go – all is not totally lost.

Superstar MVP Tom Arbuthnot has a script that will enable you to download all the sessions – PowerPoint's and videos. See Tom’s Blog for the PowerShell script to download sessions, along with some instructions on running it.

However: this script is currently only of use to attendees – those who did not attend will need to wait a while before Microsoft will release the material to a wider audience. As soon as I hear that this is available, I’ll blog it!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Lync Conference News

As I write this, Microsoft is running their annual Lync conference in Las Vegas. I would have liked to attend, but such is life. Up to about now, the news has been dribbling out, but UClarity a Swedish firm has summarised the first day’s news. You can read it here: http://www.uclarity.se/lync-conference-2014-dag-1/ but the content is in Swedish. Users of Chrome get offered a translation automatically, but if not, try going here: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.uclarity.se%2Flync-conference-2014-dag-1%2F&act=url

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lync now A Billion Dollar Business

Lync joins other Microsoft products in the billion dollar club! With the release of the Q4 earnings, Microsoft has disclosed that  is now taking in over one billion US$ and revenue grew 30% This is fantastic news to those of us watching in the Lync space.

As part of the earnings call, Microsoft also divulged that Skype delivered 162 billion call minutes this quarter. My wife calls her dad every day and they chat for an hour – so I know where a few hundred of those minutes come from – but 162 billion is a lot of call time. I suspect many telcos would love to have that call volume (well that volume in PAID calls anyway!).

Tom Arbuthnot has a few more comments about this over on his blog. It makes interesting reading.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

News from the Lync Conference–Lync/Skype Video Chat interop Coming

It’s been a quiet week for Lync News as all the interesting stuff is happening at the Lync Conference in Las Vegas. One very interesting tit-bit is the news that Microsoft is aiming to deliver Lync/Skype video chat interoperability by the middle of this year. At long last!

Paul Thurrot has more information over on his WinSuperSite, including some good background to this announcement. You can read it here: http://winsupersite.com/skype/microsoft-track-deliver-lyncskype-video-chat-interop-mid-year.

In that article, Paul also discloses that there will be a Lync application for Android tablets, although he did not name the date.

 

I am looking forward to hearing more of the news from Las Vegas and the Lync conference. I was hoping we’d also hear a bit more about the next version of Lync – but so far not much news.

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Lync and How It Integrates with other MS Apps

One of the big changes with Lync has been Microsoft’s approach of investing in a particular product for a particular function/feature and then have other products leverage that investment. This really makes sense on two levels. First, product groups are not each re-inventing the same wheel. Second, it really makes the ‘better together’ argument more real and less hype.

For example, with Lync 2013, all contact information is in a single Unified Contact Store which is maintained by Exchange 2013. The architecture for that looks like this:

image

Microsoft has just published an awesome set of posters that illustrate all the current sets of feature integration along with loads of links and more information. I find this a fantastic Lync resource (if only the Microsoft Learning courses were as well described!

You can download these posters (it’s a 9 page PDF) from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkId=311975

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Weekly round up of Lync and UC news - Lync Server 2013 Weekly

I have setup a Paper.Li weekly newsletter of news on UC and in particular Lync. You can see it: here. You can also subscribe (free) and get an abbreviated version in your mail box every Monday Morning. The mail can be clicked to get to the full content. The language is set to English, with coverage from around the globe.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Lync PreCall Diagnostics Tool

In Lync, and indeed with almost any VOIP product, call quality can vary. This variation can be caused by a number of factors, including network delay, jitter, packet loss, and under powered PCs. Diagnosing the causes is difficult if you don’t have all the facts.

Microsoft has issues a pair of new tools< PreCall Diagnostics Tool, that run on Win 7 (desktop) and Win 8 (as a metro/modern app). You can get the Desktop application here, and the modern app here.

To understand more about the tool(s) and what the out means, take a look at an excellent blog article by Byron Spurlock.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Conference Call in Real Life

Thanks to Jamie Stark, there’s a very funny video looking at how Conference Calls work. It’s amusing but reminds me all too much of the conference calls I am on of late!

See the video on YouTube at:

  

A conference call in real life
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Monday, February 03, 2014

IPv6 Essentials Webinar–Tue Feb 4 and Web Feb 5 2014

Tomorrow (Feb 5th 2014), GoGo6, an IPv6 company, is running a fee webinar with Alvaro Vives: IP v6 Essentials. You can go to their web site and sign up for the webinar which begins at 19:00 CET/18:00 GMT and 13:00 EST. It’s also being repeated later in the day on Feb 5 (you can sign up for both at the same place!

Why bother, you may be asking yourself? Great question and hopefully Arlindo will nail that answer as he looks at why IPv6 is a must, and how to address the issues that arise if you want to deploy IPv6.

While IPv4 is how most users deploy tools such as Lync Server, you can use IPv6. And at some time, I believe, IT pros will look back and wonder why anyone would want to use IPv4.

See you there!

Testing out Emergency Calling with Lync

Microsoft’s Lync server has a great feature called E911 – Emergency calling mainly for the UK and Canada. I teach Lync and find this topic to be of only minor interest in the UK and Europe mainly because we do not have E911 service over here (yet, anyway!).

Gary Williams has just published a great blog article entitled Is it OK to Place a Test Call to Emergency Services. His answer is Yes and he goes about telling how to do it. I have to say, I’ve always been quite nervous about testing out calls to 999 – and have only twice every had to call it for real.

But Gary’s article makes it clear that yes you can do this and also makes the good point that not testing it can be life threatening if it doesn’t work. He sets out how to do it in the article and it’s pretty simple. Gary also notes another potential gotcha – Lync will add a leading “+” to the number (e.g. if you dial 999, Lync ‘dials’ +999). Thus it’s vital that you have your routes are set up expecting this.

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Another Lync Add-on–SuperToast

I just love how the market is creating little useful add-ins to increases the functionality and value of Lync. The most recent one I’ve found is a product called SuperToast. It’s made by Modality Systems and you can read about it over on Modality’s web site.

SuperToast is a Lync application that notifies a Lync user of any missed instant messages and telephone or video calls. If an instant message is not acknowledged within a certain timeframe, or a call goes unanswered, SuperToast pops up a window in the centre of your screen, notifying you of any missed items. It stays there until you click it away and add any subsequent missed IM’s or calls to the list.

The value here should be obvious. For all too many IT Pros, and Information Workers, it is all too easy to miss an incoming instant message or call from a colleague, partner or even a customer. Combine that with the difficulty of being able to see when or what IM’s and calls you have missed. SuperToast avoids important queries going unnoticed.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Access to PowerShellCookBook.Com

That very nice man Lee Holmes has done something really nice – in support of the current PowerShell games, he’s made access to his Cookbook web site unlimited for all. See http://www.powershellcookbook.com/ and have at it.

Thanks Lee!

Updated Lync Server Networking Guide

The Lync team at Microsoft publish a comprehensive guide to network planning, monitoring and troubleshooting of Lync.

This guide consists of a large (146 page document) ,  2 spreadsheets, 2 PowerShell scripts and a collection of SQL T-SQL scripts – not to mention a README file:

  • The document looks at the aspects of planning, monitoring and troubleshooting Lync 2013 and describes these processes in some detail.
  • The spreadsheets enable you to look at various aspect of your Lync architecture and compare your environment with best practices – for example looking at the CPU utilisation on all your servers and ensuring that they are all less than 80%. These were updated in the latest drop of the guide
  • The PowerShell scripts enable you to obtain the key health indicators in your infrastructure that can then be used within the spreadsheets.
  • The SQL scripts are queries that help you leverage the data contained on your QOA/CDR databases.These were updated in the latest drop of the guide

If you are implementing Lync, this material can be invaluable. especially if you are planning using Enterprise voice. If you used earlier version of the guide, then you would be well advised to download the latest version for the updated spread sheets and the T-SQL scripts. If you have not yet used the guide, or are early on in the planning stages of your deployment, make sure you read and work through document as you deploy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated Lync 2013 Client for Windows Phone

I was somewhat (pleasantly) surprised to see on my Windows Phone that there was an updated Lync 2013 client. The client does not change much, but there are two nice new features added. One nice new feature is the ability to view a PowerPoint presentation during a Lync meeting. The update also enables you to use your voice to control Lync 2012 client.

For me, the ability to see a PowerPoint presentation on my phone is of pretty minimal value. That’s mainly for two reasons: first my phone (I have a Nokia 820) is just too small to do much more than listen to the audio. I’d rather be somewhere that I can watch the presentation on a decent screen (i.e. my laptop or desktop). But having said that, it would make great sense on a larger form factor device (phablet’s here we come). So while I won’t be using this feature much, I am sure glad I can!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SIP Trunking with Lync

I’m not alone in talking about SIP Trunking and SIP Trunking providers, as it turns out. SIP Trunks, as I discussed in this blog post, can provide a lot of benefits, not the least of which is cost reduction. The more you look at Sip Trunk Providers, though, the more you realise that not all providers are equal.

Microsoft has done a good job in qualifying Sip Trunk Providers and publishes a list of such providers at: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/fp179863.aspx. This page lists the various qualified carriers and their service name. By ‘qualified’, each of the listed providers has been independently reviewed and their product is seen to support all the necessary Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program  (UCOIP) requirements. You can read more about these requirements here.

In his blog, Jonathan Steeman looks at some of the differences between SIP providers in terms of the functions and features they provide. The more I read this post, the more it is clear that there really is a great deal of difference between the qualified trunk providers. If you are considering a SIP trunk, then you should take a close look at this blog entry and work out which of the mentioned features are important to you.

I’d love to hear of any experiences, good or bad, you are having with any of these named providers.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Creating A Message Box Using PowerShell

The other day, a student asked me how he could display a message box as part of a script. There is no, out of the box, cmdlet that does this, she pointed out. What she wanted to do was to display a window, with a window title and some contents, like this:
image

Now if you are a .NET programmer, this is pretty much a no brainer – just call the Windows.Forms.Messagebox’s Show method, and provide the text and the heading. Easy – but what if you are using PowerShell? As a Lync Admin – you might have a script that, say, provisioned users and you want to display a nice friendly message box to tell the user some bit of information such as how many users were provisioned. So how do you do that?

PowerShell, as you all know (or probably should know) is based on .NET – many cmdlets are just a PowerShell wrapper around an existing .NET Class/method. For example, Get-Process just invokes the System.Diagnostic.Process class’s GetProcesses() method. Now the cmdlet does a little more than just a GetProcess call, such as processing wild cards, enabling the cmdlet to run against a different machine, etc. But essentially, the base cmdlets just enable IT Pros simple access into .NET functions and Features. Application specific cmdlets, such as those supported by Lync, provide access into application specific functions, which are implemented as .NET Classes too. You can think of the application specific classes as just an extension to .NET.

The .NET Framework, and the Application specific ‘extensions’, are vast. There are a very large number of classes in total, and many of them have no relevance at all to the tasks that Lync admins carry out. To load all the relevant classes at runtime each time you open PowerShell would be very wasteful – both in terms of how long it would take to load them all, plus the runtime overhead (i.e. memory) wasted on classes never used. Thus, PowerShell only loads a core set of classes by default. But there is nothing stopping you from first loading the using any other .NET class.

Each .NET class is delivered via a DLL. If you look at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.diagnostics.process(v=vs.110).aspx, you can see the Systems.Diagnostics.Process class is implemented in the System.DLL (See ‘Assembly:’). System.DLL holds the core .NET functions and is always loaded by PowerShell. If you go to the http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.diagnostics.process(v=vs.110).aspx page, which documents the MessageBox class, you’ll see this class is contained in System.Windows.Forms DLL, which is NOT loaded by default.
So to use the class in the first place, we need to first load the DLLs. This is pretty easy and looks like this:
[System.Reflection.Assembly]::LoadWithPartialName("System.Windows.Forms")
This load the DLL from .NET’s global assembly cache and it remains loaded in the current PowerShell  window and memory space till you close that instance of PowerShell. If you have other assemblies either part of the .NET Framework (e.g. System.Numerics) or a privately developed assembly, you can load them in a similar fashion.

Developers and PowerShell Gurus will probably point out that the LoadWithPartialName method has been deprecated. This is true but the recommended approach is more complex. Whatever,  it remains the case that the LoadWithPartialName method works, and is likely to continue to work for some time! You can read a good explanation of this in Lee Home’s blog (http://www.leeholmes.com/blog/2006/01/17/how-do-i-easily-load-assemblies-when-loadwithpartialname-has-been-deprecated/) although you should note that that article was written in the Monad days, and is just slightly out of date (e.g. it uses .MSH as an extension). But for now, using this deprecated method does work and as I say, is likely to continue to work for a while!

So once you have the DLL loaded, you can just use the normal .NET calling feature to invoke a method in a .NET class directly. The core PowerShell line of code to do this is:
[Windows.Forms.MessageBox]::Show($Message, $BoxTitle, 
   
[Windows.Forms.MessageBoxButtons]::OK , 
    [Windows.Forms.MessageBoxIcon]::Information)
Ok, so it’s three lines long but it is quite simple. But rather than have to load an assembly and call that nasty looking method, you can wrap all of this inside a simple Advanced Function, and load that in your Profile or as part of a script or suite of scripts. I’ve written a simple script that implements a Show-Message function that displays a message box as you see above – see my PowerShell scripts blog for the script.
The bottom line is that you can easily display a message box from your script if and where you need. Just leverage my script as part of your profile, a personal module or directly inside a longer script and go for it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sizing Your Lync Installation

Microsoft publishes lots of information about sizing and even has a neat free capacity calculator you can download (Did I mention it was free!). But knowing where to start and what to look out for is harder especially for those who don’t do a lot of sizing work.

In browsing around, I found an interesting post that looks at a proposed sizing for 1500 users, consisting if three Front End servers, plus more. The author was asking for advice and the rest of the post is just that advice.

If you are planning on deploying Lync, this might make good reading and is certainly good food for thought.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

LogMeIn Eliminating Free Option

I’ve been a LotMeIn user for some time. I find it very useful when I’m on the road and discover I’ve left an important file at home, or I want to use my home systems to demo something. The Free version of LogMeIn Suited me perfectly.

Then, thanks to reports over on Spiceworks, I discover today that this wonderful free version is being removed and users are being asked to start paying. Worse, existing fees have been dramatically increased all with no notice – some users say they only discovered the price hike when they got their CC bill. Others make the point that with no notice, getting budget approval in these tight times, is going to be next to impossible.

GIgaOm has an article about this move: here.

The message here to LogMeIn (and others considering the same thing) is simple: by all means raise your prices, but do so in a more transparent way and giving notice to loyal users (in our case formerly loyal soon to be ex-users). Other wise you are going to lose customers – and what’s worse lose good will.

Given this move, I’m moving off of LogMeIn – I hope to remove it all in the next day or two and replace it with a competitor. I suspect LogMeIn is going to see it’s competitors benefit from this move.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SIP Trunking–Do You Need and SBC?

On Monday, I posted an article regarding an upcoming SIP Trunking webcast. In that article, I suggested that you can implement a Sip Trunk without a PSTN gateway. For the most part this is the case, but as one reader, Andy McAllister, pointed out, you probably are going to want a Session Boarder Controller to terminate the VPN between you and the SIP Provider. So the rosy picture painted in the earlier article is not altogether correct. Having said that, SIP Trunks typically offer lower cost telephony as well as increased flexibility in provisioning and de-provisioning.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Everything you need to know about snom phones and Lync

Lync Server’s Enterprise Voice feature aims to enable you to replace your PBX. Enterprise voice helps you to get your users to use either a soft phone, the Lync client, or replace their existing desk phone with a Lync Phone.

Lync Phones are full IP phones – they contain some sort of computer and OS that either runs the Lync Phone Edition client or runs a compatible client. Both modes enable the phone to participate fully in your Lync environment.

One of the bigger players in the VOIP and Lync market is snom, and they’ve just produced a simple free eBook entitled: Using Microsoft Lync with Voice and snom Lync Qualified Phones. This is a 4 chapter book that covers an overview of Lync Phones, how to provision and customise Lync phones and how to integrate PC/Phone and Lync.

The eBook is free, but to get it you must first register with snom, which you can do on their website. The book itself is here.

The book is a good introduction to the Lync Phone even if you choose not to use snom phones.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

SIP Trunking Webcast

A SIP Trunk is a connection from your telephony solution to the PSTN via a SIP Provider. For Lync, this means the route to the PSTN is via the SIP provider, with all the signaling traffic being SIP and the audio being sent via RTP. This avoids having to have a local gateway to convert the signaling and audio into what the PSTN interface requires. SIP providers can be a cheaper PSTN Interconnection alternative to going direct to your local PSTN (e.g. British Telecom).

This means the PSTN connection is at level 3 in the ISO stack, not level 2 (which the normal PSTN connection uses). Someday, in the not overly far future I suggest that all PSTN connections will be via direct SIP, although it may take a few decades to get there.

Sip Trunks can provide many advantages. They can often be a cheaper PSTN Interconnection alternative to going direct to your local PSTN (e.g. British Telecom). They are also are a lot easier and faster to provision than traditional Level 2 connections. And, in many cases, you can create a short term trunk (e.g. for some event) more cost effectively than a traditional PSTN line.

With Lync 2013, SIP Trunks are very easy to integrate into your environment and can provide great cost savings – if nothing else, you don’t need separate PSTN gateways! If you are planning on deploying Lync Enterprise Voice, SIP trunks are something worth looking at.

Enterprise Connect Webinars are holding a 1-hour webcast on Jan 29th at 19:00 GMT – sadly late in the day for the UK, but mid afternoon EST and late morning on USA’s west coast. This web cast will describe the opportunities and challenges of SIP Trunking and will feature a detailed case study. You can signup for the webinar on line: Here.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Windows Server 2012/R2 Documentation-in PDF

Thanks to a post over on SpiceWorks, I’ve discovered that Microsoft has just published a full PDF of all the Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2 documentation. This represents the entire contents of the TechNet library on these two subjects. You can download from here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/details.aspx?id=41182

Before you go rushing off to download – this is a big download. The pdf file itself is 110.9 MB. And definitely think hard before rushing off to print it out – it runs to 7970 pages. That’s around 8 reams of paper (or around 2 boxes). Not to mention the cost in toner!

Despite the size, this is a great document to have. I’ve loaded it onto my laptop and my Surface devices.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

More Desired State Configuration Resources

On Boxing Day, the PowerShell team at Microsoft released some additional DSC (Desired State Configuration) resources, which they call the DSC Resource Kit Wave 1. These are as et of PowerShell moduels that contain both DSC Resource and sample configuration examples.

Microsoft initially shipped a number of built in resources for DSC (described on TechNet: here) as well as the ability to create your own custom resources (this is documented here).

The DSC Resource kit contains 8 new resources as follows:

 

Resource Description
xComputer Name a computer and add it to a domain/workgroup
xVHD Create and managed VHDs
xVMHyperV Create and manage a Hyper-V Virtual Machine
xVMSwitch Create and manage a Hyper-V Virtual Switch
xDNSServerAddress Bind a DNS Server address to one or more NIC
xIPAddress Configure IPAddress (v4 and v6)
xDSCWebService Configure DSC Service (aka Pull Server)
xWebsite

Deploy and configure a website on IIS

 

If you want to use the DSC Resource Kit you need to be running Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2 with update KB2883200 (aka the GA Update Rollup).

DSC is an amazing feature of PowerShell 4, which just got even better!

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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Lync and UC Market in 2013

While most of us use January to look forward to what’s coming in the next year and getting up to speed with the challenges, I find it often useful to take a look back at what happened last year. To that end, Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research as set out an interesting look at 2013, in an article entitled ‘The UC Market Year in Review’ which was carried by the NoJitter site.

Lazar focused on four primary technologies that stood out on 2013: Cloud, Lync, UC Mobility and Video. The cloud continues to receive a huge amount of attention from a variety of vendors not least Microsoft. Lazar believes that the Cloud will only grow more important over the coming year.

As for Lync, Lazar notes that Microsoft is making inroads into the IP Telephony market, with 13% market share, which Avaya is tied at 13%, but Cisco continues to lead with 32% market share.  Lazar predicts that Microsoft will continue to make waves and will aggressively target it’s competition, although at present Lazar claims Lync is significantly more expensive to operate than some of the competition – something no doubt that Microsoft will address in the next version of Lync.

Mobility is also a feature that was being adopted widely during 2013, a trend that Lazar predicts will grow significantly in 2014. Lazar expects that percentage of employees using tablets as their primary work device to climb to over 20% in 2014. Video too is likely to go ballistic as it becomes ever easier to record video which translates to a demand for Enterprise style YouTube capabilities.

An interesting paper, and certainly it ties in with the kinds of questions and issues I’m seeing in the forums and in my courses. And if you take the time to read his article, make sure you look at the comments – some interesting observations there!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Poshlinks.Com–PowerShell Links Galore

I just stumbled upon poshlinks.com, a PowerShell link list – a page full of links to more information about PowerShell and other stuff. At present there are over 1100 separate links to a variety of PowerShell related content. You can find links on fundamentals such as objects and modules, links related to using PowerShell with applications such as Lync, and a whole lot more.

So far, I’m not clear on how to add more to this list, but if/when I find out, I’ll blog it. I the meantime, this is a great resource and I’m going to be busy checking out all the links!

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Media Bypass with Lync Server 2013

In the original voice design for OCS, all traffic bound for the PSTN had to transit a mediation server. The mediation server provided three key features: it removed the encryption of SIP packets that go to the gateway (and added it for signaling traffic received form the Media gateway), it similarly managed the encryption of the RTP packets sent to and from the PSTN and finally transcoded the media traffic between Microsoft’s Real Time Audio codec and G.711 (used on the PSTN).

In the early days of OCS, this made sense as the then-available gateways could not really handle the encryption and de-encryption and the early clients did not natively send/receive using G711. The downside to this design was the need for extra servers (and associated OS/Software licenses) and the processing delay encountered particularly when transcoding RTP traffic (i.e. the actual audio). And since transcoding was never going to be perfect, there was also a bit of a reduction in call quality.

Lync introduced an excellent new feature, Media bypass, which enables the client to send all media traffic directly to the media gateway thus removing most of the traffic through the mediation server. This was possible only with new gateways that supported Media Bypass. With Media Bypass, the call setup (signaled by SIP traffic sent from the client) was done as in OCS, but all the media traffic could a) be initially encoded using G.711 and b) sent directly to the Media gateway. This approach delivers several benefits: first, it reduces significantly the traffic traversing the Mediation Server allowing that role to co-exist on a front end server. Since the RTP traffic never transits the mediation server, RTT times and other factors are improved. And finally, since the client natively encodes audio into G.711, fidelity is at least as good and probably better than with OCS. Assuming your gateways were up to the job, media bypass represents a big reduction in the number of servers needed to support PSTN interconnection.

While Media Bypass is designed mainly for use in PSTN-interconnection scenarios, it can also be used if you are routing calls to an internal IP-PBX (assuming of course that that IP-PBX supports media bypass) and can be used with connecting to some SIP Providers.

In a great article on Windows IT Pro’s site, Lync super-star Byron Spurlock explains how media bypass works and shows how relatively simple it is to turn on. Byron makes the point that while Media Bypass is not quite out of the box, it’s fairly simple to configure assuming your infrastructure is capable of handling it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lync Error Reporting

One nice feature of Lync (and OCS before that) is the Server’s ability to provide clients with details of errors that occurred whilst the server was attempting to process a SIP command sent from the client. This is done by extending SIP to enable both client and server to report errors to each other. A new SIP header, Diagnostics, is used to report errors The idea is that if the server has an error, the client can get more information and possibly provide better information both to the end user and to any help desk support engineer.

This extension, snappily known as MS-OCER, an hot it is used is defined in the Client Error Reporting Protocol document you can download from Microsoft at: http://download.microsoft.com/download/1/6/F/16F4E321-AA6B-4FA3-8AD3-E94C895A3C97/%5bMS-OCER%5d.pdf

The PDF file, which runs to just under 200 pages, describes The details of the protocol plus full details of every Error ID including the reason for the error, are included in this document. This is a document that is likely to be of great value when you are troubleshooting!

Interestingly, although the document was last updated last November, there appear to be no Lync 2013 specific messages – only those for Lync 2010 and earlier. I assume that the Lync 2013 errors are the same as for Lync 2010, but there’s nothing I can see in the document to confirm that.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Testing Your Internet Facing Infrastructure

If you are an organisation with any Internet facing resources, it’s important for you to ensure that all the supporting infrastructure is alive, well, and functioning as it should be.  For large institutions, you probably already have all sorts of monitoring in place that can tell you of any problems in near-real time. You do, don’t you?
If you don’t (or you want to augment your existing services) there are number of sites on the Internet that will do that for you and provide you with the results. One site, Pingdom.com provides both a free and a pay service.
The pay service is aimed at monitoring the uptime and performance of you servers, including not only your corporate web server, but others too such as your Lync Edge server.  The Pingdom  service provides real-time monitoring service that can alert you is something interesting happens. You can get alerts ins SMS, Twitter and E-mail. The service also keeps records of the tests performed and the results which enable you to keep track of the performance of your key web sites. You can even get alerts on your mobile phone (Android and IOS it looks like – no Windows phone). 
And there’s even a REST-based API for you to use! The API produces JSON encoded output. Invoking the API and interpreting the JDON responses were features added to PowerShell V3 – thus with the pay-service APIs, you could write PowerShell scripts to manage your Pingdom service!
If you are a Lync Admin, and are providing either remote access (i.e. to your users who are coming in via the Internet) or are providing federation to customers and clients, you have a significant challenge to setup your external infrastructure and ensuring it continues to function. The pay service can provide you with a useful set of eyes/ears on the internet, ensuring that all the infrastructure aspects of your Lync Internet features are working as they should – and will inform you when that stops.
Pingdom also offers three sets of free tests for you to use:
  • Ping/Traceroute – provides basic ping and traceroute to your site from Pingdom’s site. This provides a useful point of view in terms of your infrastructure’s availability/reachability across the Internet. The ping comes from one of the many probe servers used by Pingdom - there are over 60!
  • DNS Health – this page checks to see if external Internet DNS is setup correctly. DNS setup is critical to ensure your site is reachable but is also easy to misconfigure. This page tests your infrastructure, and provides details as to what it finds: good or bad. There’s also a troubleshooting guide to help you to understand the errors that the checker might find and how to resolve them. See here to see what precisely the DNS test is doing for you.
  • Full Page Test – this page tests the performance of a web page on your site and returns a wealth information.  The waterfall view shows all the files that downloaded and how long each download takes.  The Performance Grade view shows you how your page performs against a benchmark set of metrics. The Page Analysis view analyses the download, providing details of the server response code, how the page loaded, what sorts of documents are being downloaded, etc.
Here’s an example of using the Full Page Test against my Office 365 site, Reskit.Net:
image
This site is a fairly simple SharePoint site – and you can see each of the individual files downloaded to make up the page and what’s happening during the downloading of each file. You can use this waterfall graph to possibly optimise the page for faster downloads (and less bandwidth used).
And speaking of Free, Pingdom also provides a free check of a single site. This is the same check you could perform using their paid service, but free. The pay service allows you to check more than one site/page, and other services (see https://my.pingdom.com/account/subscription for details of the pay version).
All in all these free tools are pretty good – and I discovered a small DNS configuration issue I need to resolve! Nice catch Pingdom. And the pay tools look like being useful as well.
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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Value of Persistent Chat With Lync

I just found an interesting white paper, produced by Mindlink Software. It’s entailed The value of Persistent Chat in Incident Management, Support and Business Continuity. The paper, which is short, starts form the premises that a) the workplace is changing and b) email is not a panacea in this new world. In areas such as incident management, business continuity and support – the ability to share knowledge quickly and communicate efficiently is vital. With geographically dispersed teams, increasing mobility and the constant challenge to do more with less. The paper concludes with some great use cases for PC and a more in-depth case study. Sadly, there is no economic justifications presented – these would have been very useful in helping readers to gauge likely ROI.

If you are planning on deploying Lync, or considering upgrading to the latest version, you should consider adding in Persistent Chat into the mix. With Lync 2013, you no longer need loads of extra servers to support PC – you can co-locate the PC servers on your front ends and utilise existing SQL Server for the databases needed by PC.

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