Category Archives: Opinion

Microsoft Managment Summit Begins! #mms2013

MMS is an event that happens annually and is a place like no other for Systems Managment people.  Figure at least half the systems Managment professionals in the word are going to be here in Vegas this week.  I will share what I see as time goes on over the week.
Sadly, these won’t be the normal thought out posts I have.  No, instead these will be more in the reporting concept.  My apologies for this temporary change.
Keynote thoughts:
There are two many systems management products targeting to many separate technologies.  Need to simplify.  This is a valid issue that is seen everyday.  The Microsoft idea is that this needs to stop.  Their offering is System Center to do it all.  In all reality, this is a real issue that needs to be looked at.
BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] is going to be the norm and no longer the exception.  This is something Microsoft is pushing, but unlike some I think they are just trying to be ahead of the curve.
Can some of your demos… the keynote was killed because Mandalay Bay lost internet access.  In this case, Microsoft didn’t and this is turning into a small disaster over it. However, in the end you can try doing a massive presentation with just a cell phone hot spot.
Odd facts stated at the keynote:
Skype does 2 million minutes a day.
20% of all enterprises use Office 365. (Wow!  I had no idea.)
50% of workers in their twenties view BYOD as a right, not a privilege.
Stay tuned!

Active Directory: Wait, you relocate the data stores, moving the NTDS Database, Sysvol and Logs from default? Why?

When you start building domain controllers, one of the simple ideas people bring up is that you always leave the Active Directory data (NTDS database, Sysvol and logs; also known as directory data) where the default in the windows directory.  The idea is they are tucked away and difficult to stumble across accidentally and start playing around with them.  Others simply say: it is where they belong.

I have been at this for so long that I hadn’t really thought about it till I received an email asking why I relocated the data stores in my blog post: A Visual Step by Step: Windows Server 2012, Active Directory 2012, time to build your first forest!

Well, it is probably obvious by now, that I disagree with the popular sentiment.

One of the problems is that most people confuse the Active Directory Domain Services role (making the server a Domain Controller) with the server. The reality is that the Active Directory Domain Services role is simply that: a role.  It is a role that when doing work in your lab, or troubleshooting and restoring your enterprise systems you need to be able to easily backup or even copy everything related to Active Directory.  Why hide it in the Windows directory with thousands of other files and folders?

When you isolate these folders and files into a single root level directory (I like C:\ADDS) you gain one directory to manage.  So it is one directory to manage.  One directory to isolate from antivirus; yes, you have to avoid the NTDS Database, Sysvol and Logs from anti-virus scanning (if you even put anti-virus on your domain controllers… another topic to discuss at a later date). It also allows you to easily copy everything to do with Active Directory with the right click of a mouse or a simple backup command (to get everything).  This is awesome when troubleshooting things like Journal Wrap or doing restoration of login scripts or even Active Directory itself.  It is a life saver for a quick directory restore operation.

The idea here is to make your management of Active Directory simpler.  Now comes some neat things you can do if you have additional physical volumes to move these files to.

In a large environment, placing the directory data (Sysvol, NTDS, Logs) on its own NTFS partition reduces disk I/O.  This can reduce some chances of error, such as FRS just not keeping up with changes.  Additionally, reducing disk I/O allows the Active Directory Domain Services server more efficiently as well.  This can be vital for an enterprise PDC Emulator.  More efficient, better I/O adds to the number of client requests that can be processed. From a performance point of view you could use three separate disk arrays. One disk array for your boot partition, one disk array for your Active Directory database and the Shared System Volume (SYSVOL) folder and one disk array for your Active Directory log files.

However remember, Active Directory is based on a database.  As such, if you want the absolute best performance possible… separate all three parts of the directory data onto three separate drives.  Granted, this is only done when an enterprise needs extreme responsiveness.  However, this starts to get to be a management headache, as you now have to backup three separate drives. Lets just keep it simple if we can, ok?

What are the negatives? If this is going to be a Domain Controller that is not going to be managed by trained staff… don’t do this.  Some administrators won’t realize that they should look for the directory data.  However, this is a situation where training can fix this.  Additionally, sometimes you may want to use simple step by steps found online… and will need the administrator to adjust the commands on the fly.

Is it doable with the negatives?  Yes.  Do I consider the advantages more valuable than the risks from the negatives? Absolutely.  It keeps things simple for backups, restores and troubleshooting.  You can isolate your directory data and make your life simpler.

Active Directory: When working in Active Directory, is patience a virtue?

Have you ever just been starring at your computer saying, “Come on already!”  Or, “if you don’t hurry up, I am getting out a soldering iron and converting you into a toaster!”  No?  Are you lying to me? Am I just impatient?  Well, if I am, I am not alone.  However, experience has been kind enough (read: I am still alive) to teach me that sometimes, it just takes time.

In general, patience is hard learned in computer work.  I remember coming up with the Starbucks rule.  When creating VPN changes, make your changes and then go to Starbucks; when you get back it will be working.  When it comes to Active Directory, it is actually worse.  Patience isn’t needed just to get the things working: patience is required so that Active Directory isn’t damaged by troubleshooting.

You see, when doing Active Directory work, you sometimes need to slow down.  Why?  It all takes time.  KCC, time synchronization and replication over however many links data has to go across. This is just how Active Directory works since it is a multi-master system.  And before anyone gets any ideas… yes, we all want it to be a multi-master system and accept this as normal.

As a general rule, when doing a major Active Directory project, work at the pace of the slowest task.  Let the changes matriculate. They need to.  In fact, over time it appears that once everything is done and complete… give it a good twenty four hours and then double check it.

Twenty four hours?  Am I insane? Nope.

Take the time and validate that the changes matriculated.  Why?  You see one of the biggest pains in Active Directory is when you don’t realize your environment has some KCC, replication or time errors… and the changes you think went through… didn’t. This does happen.  So don’t rush it.

When you rush it, you make mistakes.  Like not backing up every domain controller when doing a domain transitions or not documenting the changes you are making in a migration. Take the time that the job actually requires.

Oh, and since you’re now taking the time to do it right, how about we all try and  remember to finish the job.  Active Directory projects are left incomplete with epic proportions. Take the time, and finish it. Really finish it.  Yes, even fill out sites and services.  It is all important and makes it easier for those who come after you.

When working with Active Directory just take it methodically.  Then make sure the replication is done.  Rush and you may make a mistake and end up rebuilding your forest.


Opinion: Microsoft, why are you further confusing the Windows 7 certifications?

On Friday the seventh of September Microsoft sent out an email that is bound to drive many of the Windows 7 certified IT folk to drink.  And Microsoft should have known better. Hopefully you have read my valuation of the MCITP Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator… it will help explain what the confusion really is about. But wait, there is more!  Well here is an excerpt from the email they sent out.

“Soon you will receive an email to congratulate you on your Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows 7 certification you have earned.  You may be wondering what the MCSA: Windows 7 certification is and how did you earn it.”

“In April 2012, Microsoft announced new certifications that have been re-invented for the cloud, covering on-premises skills as well as in the cloud.  As part of our efforts to grandfather our existing customers into the new program, we are awarding those individuals a new certification under the new certification program to jump start them towards an expert level certification in the program.   For individuals that have already earned the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Enterprise Desktop Administrator or MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician, they are being granted the MCSA: Windows 7 certification.”

So, there are two Windows 7 MCITPs that are completely different certifications… wouldn’t you expect Microsoft to know better?  Guess, not, they are adding a third… that is meaningless. So how do you tell which Windows 7 certified staff knows client management and which are highly trained help desk technicians?  Wait, you can’t?  Nope… not with that MCSA. So what do they mean?  Great question!  Microsoft, what do they mean?

You know there is one other weirdness here.  MCSA was used for a decade plus to define the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator… a server certification (actually you can still get one). So, we have a “free certification” of the new models.

Confused yet?  I am.  Please Microsoft, end the confusion!

Certification Spotlight Series: MCITP Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator… how does it rate? Valuable?


So, when you are looking at hiring or being hired in IT (or maybe more aptly named in the old days, managing information systems staff) you will always hear about certifications.  You went and decided to get one… and supposedly this blog is going to help you find some value in them, right?  Right.  Here goes the second article in the series.  It is starting with one of the least coveted, most often required and completely misunderstood certifications.

So what does the MCITP Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator certification mean?  It means you can support Windows 7, right?  Wrong.  Would you believe that the actual MCITP test doesn’t even include supporting Windows 7 systems or users in the description of skill measured?  Not even one percent.

Here is the breakdown of what skills are measured with the final test for this.  Planning and Managing a Client Life Cycle Strategy (16%); if this sounds more like planning the management of a bunch of workstations, then you are right.  Designing a Standard Image (17%); hey wait a minute, this is a major task that you do when deploying operating systems isn’t it?  Yes it is.  Designing Client Configurations (17%); this sounds like more deployment skills… maybe even large scale deployment skills.  Designing a Windows 7 Client Deployment (15%); ok, this is straight up deployment… and it actually touches on MDT and SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager).  Designing Application Packages for Deployment (17%); packaging, are you kidding, this is a major task that is often outsourced because people do not know how to do it… but wait there is more.  This section also includes deployment strategies and skills including virtualized, Remote Desktop Services, Group Policy, or software distribution (read SCCM).  Identifying and Resolving Deployment and Client Configuration Issues (19%); this should read: Windows 7 troubleshooting from the domain, forest, network, and Group Policy Object or deployment level.

So if you couldn’t find the support Windows 7 angle, you are looking at the wrong part here.  See the support skills are a building block to get to the MCITP.  They are tested in the MCTS: Windows 7, Configuring certification, which someone with this cert has to have already earned.  So getting to the MCITP includes support elements, but it really is more of a managing workstations certification than a support certification.  This certification validates your ability to deploy operating systems, desktop applications and to manage the Windows 7 client life cycle.

There actually is a Windows 7 support certification at the MCITP level.  MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician is the certification for support.

So Microsoft says the audience is: “Candidates for this exam should have a minimum of three years of experience installing, configuring, and administering clients in a Windows networked environment and also have experience deploying operating systems and applications. Candidates should be familiar with the client administration capabilities of Windows Server and with management tools such as the System Center suite of products.”  So they are expecting three years of high end, highly skilled work that just happens to be directed to workstations.

Now let’s compare this to the candidate audience for the MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician that everyone seems to be mixing up with this certification. “Candidates for this exam support end users who run Microsoft Windows 7 in a corporate environment. They should have experience using applications that are included with the operating system, such as productivity applications used in a corporate environment and Microsoft Office applications.”  Did you notice the lack of a time in the role listed?  Yep, it isn’t there.  This is a significantly lower valued certification.

For my reviews I will be rating certification on a 1-10 scale.  Ten will be the highest, with one the lowest. So on a ten scale, with MCM, CCIE and JNCIE at the top as a ten, and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), A+, CCENT at the low end as a 1.  Well, I hope you weren’t waiting for me to rate those six certs… they just were rated as my baseline.

How would I rate these?  First off let’s rate the certification everyone mistakenly thinks this cert is.  I would rate MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician at about a 3 on my scale.  The certification does not have a long time in the role required to master the skills and is mainly aimed at technicians able to resolve operating system issues by telephone, email, connecting to an end user’s system remotely, or by visiting an end user’s desktop.

MCITP Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Administrator is a weird one.  The perceived value is low, possibly a 3, as everyone mistakes it for the other Windows 7 MCITP.  However, the real value of the skills this represents is significantly higher.  I would rate this certification a 5.  Additionally, if this certification is combined with a MC TS: Windows 7 and Office 2010, Deploying; that is a major boost.  That combination would rate as a six… and nearly any consulting firm that does Windows 7 (or 8) deployments is, or should be, looking for just that combination.

What do you think?  And what certification would you like me to take a look at and grade next week?

Certification Spotlight Series: What the heck does my certification mean?

So, when you are looking at hiring or being hired in IT (or maybe more aptly named in the old days, managing information systems staff) you will always hear about certifications.  Great, let’s get some!  So, you have a cert now.  What does it matter?  What do they really mean?  As the first in a series of articles on certification on this site, I am going to take a look at a variety of certifications and help you understand what they mean and help pin a little bit of valuation on them.  Not in cash, but in skill level.

Today we live in an age where everything we do is cataloged, blogged about, qualified and quantified. But in the end, all people can say is where you worked and what people say you have done.  Think of certifications as putting up headers or tabs in those catalogs of you.  Headers saying: yes, I can do that.  In the end, one caveat: remember when discussing certs, certs do not equal experience; certs validate experience.

So how does your certification stand up to other certifications?  To look at that we look at a variety of things.  One is how much time is expected of the certified person to work in the technology before taking their certification.   An additional view is how specialized is it? Sometimes what makes a certification different is that it is on an obscure technology.  In these cases even a low ranked certification, such as an MCTS could be valuable, for its rarity.  An example of this is the “Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Forefront Identity Manager 2010, Configuration”.  Ninety nine out a hundred people have never even heard of the technology, but if you need someone to manage or implement it: it can take years of effort just to find someone.

Here is another piece to remember, when prepping for this certification can you really just study a book and pass the test?  One example is the A+.  Everything I have heard is a yes.  Granted, that is heard, I have never taken it.  On the other hand, “Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Forefront Identity Manager 2010, Configuration”?  Good luck.  I don’t think 99 out of 100 people could pull it off.

And lastly, there is another component that that should always be looked at.  That is a simple question of: does this certification enhance or get enhanced by another certification?  This has to be taken into account when doing a valuation of certifications.

For my reviews I will be rating certification on a 1-10 scale.  Ten will be the highest, with one the lowest. So on a ten scale, with MCM, CCIE and JNCIE at the top as a ten, and Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), A+, CCENT at the low end as a 1.  Well, I hope you weren’t waiting for me to rate those six certs… they just were rated as my baseline.

In this series I will review many certifications.  These certifications will all be IT related in some way or another, and I will try and qualify these so you can think about what your headers will be.  One thing though, always keep that one caveat in mind: remember when discussing certs, certs do not equal experience; certs validate experience.

What do you think?  And what certification would you like me to take a look at and grade next week?

Technology Spotlight: Windows Server 2012, what does it mean to me?

By Robert Meyers

The release of WS12 is going to have a major impact on all of us who implement and manage Windows environments. There are major changes and we are all going to learn them or go the way of the dinosaur.  As someone who grew up in CP/M, trust me: it can be done.  So what are the big standouts on changes that I am going to have to worry about?

First off we have the interface, and for the first time since Windows NT 4, we have a major interface overhaul.  And I mean a major overhaul.  To me it seems like an amalgamation of Windows 2000, 3.0 (yes, 3.0) and Windows Phone 7.  Does it work?  Yes.  Do I consider the look somewhat hideous?  Yes.  Could I get used to it? You bet.

PowerShell V3 for the win. When you add domain functionality you get a link that lets you output the settings.  These are actually an output of a PowerShell script.  PowerShell is now everywhere… as it should be.  The days of DOS, PowerShell V1, PowerShell V2, Quest PowerShell and VBS being mixed everywhere is done.  When servers are 2012, PowerShell V3 rules the roost and renders the others inconsequential.  Now, if you are a VBS guy, well, as a CLI guy, I feel for you… but get over it.

While I am going to skip talking about all the incredible new features of 2012, let me just set one expectation: Active Directory Domain Serveries 2012 is a massive upgrade.  Not a minor update like 2008 R2, where you received great functionality with hideous management so people just ignored it.  No, you gain everything.  Features, functionality and most of all usability; Server 2012 has it all in the new version of Active Directory.  Think of all the pain we have all gone through trying to convert from Quest PowerShell to PowerShell V2 AD Cmdlts?  Well everything you do now is shown with its PowerShell syntax.

I really want to go over the new functionality like the new virtualization safe domain controller cloning or the death of the USN rollback… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Download the OS and install it.  It took me 30 minutes to download, install and configure Active Directory.  How long do you want to wait to lab yours?

Technology Spotlight: System Center 2012 Unified Installer, Disaster?

By Robert Meyers, MCITP

As we have all waited with baited breath, Microsoft System Center 2012 has been released.  Now that it has been out for a few months and I have been done both lab and production installs, and our team has done more of the same, it is time to discuss some of these new products.  So where better to start than the new and improved installer?

Microsoft writes, “System Center 2012 – Unified Installer is a tool that provides a single-user-interface experience for the installation of [all] seven System Center 2012 components, including all prerequisites and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. Unified Installer provides a means of distributed installation from a central point using the existing component Setup.”  Does that sound awesome?  You bet.

Now how many people here have heard the old saying that Microsoft only gets things right on the third incarnation?  Let’s just say this is not the third incarnation.  After speaking with multiple System Center implementers there seems to be a problem.  We all are averaging only about 50% success rate in installing the suite with this tool.

So, if you are in a lab environment, give it a try.  If you are implementing it without a schedule, give it a try.  When this works it is like a dream.  When it doesn’t… it is nearly impossible to troubleshoot.  So, if it doesn’t, you may have your work cut out for you.

So my take on the System Center 2012 Unified Installer? This product is an unmitigated disaster and an unfulfilled dream.  Microsoft, please fix it.


Tech tip:

When importing software into SCCM, check IT Ninja and see if they already researched all the switches for you.  You may be able to save days of work in minutes.  Just remember, share here when you discover new techniques.

Active Directory, it just works?

By Robert Meyers, MCITP

We all love Microsoft’s active directory.   It just works.  You install it and walk away.  Right?  Nothing else to do.  Right?

If a car company built a car, but only protected the outer shell from rust. painting, bluing or annealing nothing but the outer shell, the body.  Not the under carriage.  No parts of the engine…  nothing but the outer shell.  That car would run.  It would run as well as any car with a bit better finishing.  Heck, initially it might even run a bit better since it is lighter.  But how long would it be till the rust literally ate the car apart from the inside out?  Ask anyone who has ever been in a cold climate, they know: it wouldn’t last very long at all.  Heck, it isn’t uncommon in areas that salt their roads for cars to last half a decade with complete sealing.

So why don’t people finish setting up Microsoft’s active directory?  Why not just setup sites and services, setup organizational units… and maybe ever group policies?  No, I don’t know the answer.  In this case I just know this is an industry wide problem.   This is what leads to a great many problems that most administrators either don’t understand or often, just have no idea it even can occur.

In general, systems administrators’ love active directory.  It is logical and it just works.  You install it and walk away.  Or at least that is the realization I have had after viewing nearly a hundred installations of active directory over the last decade.  People install active directory and say, “we’re done!”  This is a fallacy.

When you simply install active directory, and walk away, you haven’t really setup anything.  This is normally referred to as installation, not setup.  And this can also be referred to as a disaster in waiting.

As a specialist in active directory, I always check on errors and events.  Or as Microsoft states, troubleshooting active directory starts with: “an event reported in an event log;” an alert generated by a monitoring system, such as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM);” or “a symptom reported by a user or noticed by IT personnel.”  Working from one of the first two are a lot easier than the last.  Granted, if you didn’t setup active directory… many alerts are worthless or just don’t generate.

When active directory is fully configured, you get to view a massive amount of information.  Often information to the point of information overload.  And yes, you read right: information not data.  When it isn’t configured, you basically give up on troubleshooting.  Why?  Because in general you don’t get the alerts that you should have had to work from.

When you setup active directory, when you completely setup active directory, things really begin to work.  Your alerts actually begin to mean something (and in many case, simply begin being available).  You can actually see when you are having issues.  And most importantly: when something does go wrong, you can fix it.

So, when you see that active directory is simply installed, ask yourself: why didn’t someone they finish it?  If it’s your work: why wouldn’t you finish it?  I always hear the same from every engineer or administrator I have asked have said the same thing: it works.

Of all the answers, “it works” is completely without merit.  Professionals I have great respect for have been included in this group.  “It works” is not the answer.  It is a disaster.

The old saying is that if you take on a job, work it till completion.  So I recommend finishing active directory.  Then it really works.

Tech Tip #1:

The command to run a general domain diagnostic of all domain controllers in your domain and export to a log are listed here.