Jack of all that is Microsoft, Master of None

June 30, 2006

New York City SharePoint User Group Meeting – B&R is Presenting

Filed under: Uncategorized — cregan @ 4:21 pm

I invite everyone to come join us at the New York City SharePoint User Group meeting on Wednesday, July 12th.  It’s always a good time (there is always free food!), and at this meeting, Jason Medero & I will be presenting one of the custom SharePoint solutions we put together for one of our clients.  In addition, Jason will be showing off some custom MySite customization techniques – so you can deploy the MySite you want your users to see!  And after our presentation – there are free prizes!

For more information, please visit the User Group Page.

To register, Click Here.

See you all there!

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June 29, 2006

The Great IBM vs. Dell Server Debate

Filed under: Dell, IBM, Servers — cregan @ 12:07 am

The great server debate is one that always seems to bring out the best in IT Professionals… everyone has their brand they love, and they love to try to convince their clients to buy that brand.  To preface my posting here, let me just state that B&R is not a partner of any hardware vendor… you can use whitebox servers – as long as we can do our job and get the applications installed & up and running, we are happy.  But there are the occasions where clients do ask for my opinion on what server hardware they should purchase – and time after time, I recommend IBM.  I usually receive an eyebrow raise and then the question “Well, why not Dell – they are cheaper” – and I then tell them…

When I first started at my ex-employer about 6 years ago, they had 3 Dell servers and all Dell notebooks & desktops.  Everything was running fine – until the warranties expired… then suddenly, as if a time bomb that was hibernating came to life, some piece of hardware would mysteriously go.  It was if it was planned all along… as if the hardware did its job, the warranty expired, and then shortly thereafter something would break.  Now this post isn’t about notebooks & desktops (Dell laptops speak for themselves), so I’m going to leave them out of the picture… but on the server side… while components do go, to have all three of your servers go in a matter of just a few months after the warranty expires is pretty weird.  So anyhow, we needed to make a large hardware purchase (12 servers + SAN) and after comparing Dell, HP & IBM, IBM would match Dell’s price on the server side and beat them on the SAN… and offer a lot more – so we made the jump to IBM.  Since I left last year, we only had one significant failure of an IBM server – and that was about 48 hours after we purchased it.  Something blew up on the motherboard – complete with a loud ‘pop’ noise & smoke – but the server continued to function!  We brought in IBM support and they then replaced the motherboard (lightpath told us something wasn’t right even though everything was working fine).  Other than that motherboard, the only thing to go on the IBMs was hot-swappable SCSI hard drives.  And since everything was in a RAID, this was no big deal to fix.  And even after the warranties expired, the equipment continued to function – what a novel idea!  Who knows how long it will continue to function for, but anything past a few months after the warranty expires beats out my Dell experience.

Now, I know some of you are saying “Big deal, this doesn’t convince me to go over to IBM”.  And I say – okay, that’s fine.  But maybe some of theses included IBM advantages will make you think twice – especially when IBM will match Dell’s server pricing to the dollar.  If you’re getting more and your server management is made easier, I think it makes the choice a lot either.  So anyhow, I use the xSeries line of servers, and you get these benefits included:

  • Solid support – their support center is located in the USA, and they have some excellent support personnel!  If you tell them what you did, they won’t ask you to make sure the unit is plugged in!  They understand you aren’t a moron – you are an IT Professional and deserve to be treated like one!   The support team is also receptive to callers telling them what is wrong and just sending out the replacement part – with very few questions asked.  In addition, since I’m located in Jersey, IBM has warehouses located around the tri-state area – if a part failed, we always received it within our 4 hours service window – even at 3AM.
     
  • IBM servers are equipped with Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA).  PFA notifies you that a server component requires maintenance – up to 48 hours in advance, helping to potentially eliminate unscheduled down time.  This is awesome stuff – you see a hard drive is on the verge of failing, so you can call it in, let support know you have a PFA on a hard drive – and you replace it before you experience any unplanned downtime.
     
  • IBM servers are equipped with Light Path technology.  When the server determines that a failure is going to occur (via PFA) or that a failure has occurred, a light will appear on the front of the server.  Without powering down the server or removing the cover, you can identify which component is experiencing the issue.  On some of the servers, there is a table of sorts – it has a light next to different items “CPU”, “Power”, “Memory”, etc…. and whichever component has failed will have the light next to it.
     
  • The quality of IBM servers over other brands is superior.  From my experiences, IBM servers experience fewer critical component failures versus other manufacturers.
     
  • IBM offers IBM Director free with all of its servers.  IBM Director is a management product that allows administrators to know exactly what is occurring with a server at any moment in time.  For example, IBM Director can notify administrators of a PFA and assist with the ordering of the appropriate replacement component from support.   In addition, Director allows for simplified hardware updates (firmware & BIOS) through its console.  What I really found impressive was that if Director was reporting a failure and I told this to the support staff, there were no questions asked – they would immediately ship out the replacement part.

So all in all, there are the main reasons for why I now – when asked – recommend IBM over Dell.  I am impressed by the advanced features they include at no cost, and coming from a shop that started with zero IBM servers (and when I left had 70+), I can tell you that all of these items add up to reduced hardware maintenance time & expenses.  So the next time you are looking at vendors – I strongly recommend IBM (and now you know why!).

June 26, 2006

SPS Infrastructure Fix & AD Domain Renames

Not too long ago, I was working on a SharePoint Portal Server project with Jason Medero, and what originally was supposed to be a basic Portal build-out turned into a whole lot more… let me provide you with some background information…

We have a client that provides SharePoint hosting services for a specific industry. The Portal sites they host are for some major, well-known companies that utilize our client’s specific Portal builds for HR & Compliance-related information. Originally, some firm came in and built out the following infrastructure:

Server 1

Server 2

  • Windows Server 2003
  • Active Directory domain controller for domain “ABC”
  • SQL Server 2000 SP3 Installed
  • SharePoint Portal Server 2003 Installed
  • K2.net Server Installed
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Active Directory domain controller for domain “XYZ”
  • SQL Server 2000 SP3 Installed
  • SharePoint Portal Server 2003 Installed
  • K2.net Server Installed

So basically they had all of their eggs in two baskets… and what a mess… talk about throwing best practices out the window!  To make matters even worse, they were not sure how stable their AD infrastructure was, but they didn’t want to recreate all of the user & group objects, especially since that would mean going out to each of the clients they were hosting SPS for and telling them all of their user’s passwords had changed.

So I proposed that they immediately purchase a new server, and we break out their environment in the following way:

Server 1

Server 2

Server 3

  • Windows Server 2003
  • Active Directory Domain Controller for domain “XYZ”
  • Windows Server 2003
  • SQL Server 2003
  • K2.net Server
  • Windows Server 2003
  • SharePoint Portal Server

But there was a caveat – we needed to maintain the old domain name of “ABC”… while we could make the second domain “XYZ” go away, we needed the new domain controller to have all of the user & group objects from both of the old domains but retain the name of the first old domain.

So what did I do… A LOT of testing in my development environment using the Active Directory Domain Rename Tools.  Once I was satisfied with my testing, here’s what I did:

  1. Backup everything and ensure that the backups were functional!
  2. Use the Active Directory Migration Tool v2.0 (ADMT) and migrate all of the users & groups from domain XYZ to domain ABC.
  3. Decommission the XYZ domain (via dcpromo).

So I then had all of the users & groups in the one domain – the domain with the name I needed.  Since I couldn’t bring up a new DC with the same domain name, I used the Rename Tools.  In a nutshell, here are the steps:

  1. Perform a rename domain on the old server.  The domain name will be changed to OLDABC.com
  2. After the domain is renamed, bring up the new domain controller, hosting the new ABC.com domain.
  3. Create a trust between both domains.
  4. Install the ADMT.
  5. Perform the migrations from OLDABC to ABC
  6. DCPromo the old domain controller.
  7. Cleanup.

So basically, yes – you can take a domain, rename it, then immediately bring up a new domain controller with the old domain’s name.  If anyone is interested in more of the step-by-step details, let me know… I have them all documented.

June 22, 2006

B&R is now a Microsoft Certified Partner

I am very happy to announce today that B&R Business Solutions has officially become a Microsoft Certified Partner, with a competency in ‘Networking Infrastructure Solutions’. In case you are not familiar with the program, you earn competencies based on the work you have performed for customers (that work translates into certain Microsoft products, which assists in determining the competency), customer referrals, and having MCPs (Microsoft Certified Professionals) on staff. After a lot of hard work by everybody on the team, this is a great achievement.  The next stop: additional competencies & Gold status!

Exchange 2003 Step-by-Step Installation Instructions

Filed under: Exchange 2003, Microsoft Exchange — cregan @ 1:22 am

Well, I’ve been back from TechEd for almost a week, and my brain has fully recovered. I was planning on devoting a post to my experiences there, however, I got two requests today from colleagues asking me how to get Exchange server up-and-running. I had previously put together some basic ‘refresher’ directions for myself, but I decided to take some time and put together a full, step-by-step guide. These instructions are suitable for a small organization just looking to get up and running or anyone how wants to bring up an Exchange Virtual Server for development purposes, but is unsure how to. You can also download a PDF of these to follow along with offline – Click Here. Please keep in mind – these are still a DRAFT – I appreciate your comments & suggestions!

Exchange Server Setup Instructions – Single Server Topology (*DRAFT*)

Pre-Installation

  1. Make sure the server is a member of the domain the Exchange server is supposed to operate within.
     
  2. Ensure that the Operating System is completely up to date and all updates / patches have been applied.
     
  3. Ensure that the SMTP, NNTP & ASP.net Windows Server components are installed.
     
  4. Ensure that the Windows Server Support Tools have been installed – these are on the Windows 2003 CD – \Support\Tools\suptools.msi.

Exchange Server Installation – Preparing the Forest & Domain

  1. Log into the server using a domain administrator account that has Enterprise & Schema admin rights.
     
  2. Place the Exchange CD in the drive.  Autorun will launch with a splash screen for Resources & Deployment Tools.  Select Deployment Tools.
     
  3. Click on Deploy the First Exchange 2003 Server.
     
  4. Click on New Exchange 2003 Installation.
     
  5. Ensure that the server is operating properly and meets all of the Exchange requirements:
    1. The first three requirements should be met – check these off. 
       
    2. Run dcdiag to ensure properly connectivity to the domain controller.  The syntax to run this via a command prompt is dcdiag /s:DCNAME /f:dcdiag.txt – once run, review the dcdiag.txt file and ensure all tested were passed.  If tests did not pass, correct the problem and re-run dcdiag before moving on.  If everything looks good, check off this box and move on.
       
    3. Run netdiag.  The syntax is netdiag /l – this will print the results to netdiag.log – review this log for any errors.  If errors appear, correct them and then re-run the test.  If everything looks good, check off this box and move on.  
  6. Your Active Directory Forest must now be prepared so that it can support Exchange.  Note that Forestprep should be run only once per AD Forest!  Click on the Run Forestprep link.  
    1. If a compatibility warning message appears, click Continue.
       
    2. Click Next.
       
    3. Make sure you read the entire licensing agreement and memorize it – you will be tested on this later.  If you agree to the agreement, click I Agree and then Next.
       
    4. If prompted, enter your 25-digit CD key and then click Next.
       
    5. The Component Installation screen should appear and it should say Forestprep under Action next to Microsoft Exchange.
       
    6. Choose a different file location if you need to (use Browse).
       
    7. Then click Next.
       
    8. You will then be asked to provide an account to manage Exchange & delegate permissions with.  It is recommended to leave the default administrator account here, click Next, and allow forestprep to run.  Note that this will take some time and you should just leave the server alone.  You do not want to interrupt this!
       
    9. Click Finish when your forest preparation has completed.  You can then check off this box in the pre-installation list.
  7. You now have to run Domainprep in any domain that will host Exchange servers or Exchange users.  Click the Run Forestprep Link.
    1. If a compatibility warning message appears, click Continue.

    2. Click Next.  You may at this point or soon after be prompted with a message about the ‘Pre-Windows 2000 Compatible Access Security Group’ – basically, Exchange is warning you that you should make sure no users or groups are members of this group.  So you can either check out this group now and remove any users or do it later – it will not stop you from installing Exchange.

    3. The licensing agreement is presented again – click I Agree and then Next.

    4. If prompted, enter your 25-digit CD key and then click Next.

    5. The Component Installation screen should appear and it should say Domainprep under Action next to Microsoft Exchange.

    6. Choose a different file location if you need to (use Browse).

    7. Then click Next.

    8. Domainprep will then run – it’s pretty quick, and once it has completed, click Finish to continue.

  8. Congratulations!  Your forest, domain & server are prepared for Exchange server to now be installed.  You can then check off this box in the pre-installation check list, leaving you with only the last step unchecked.

Exchange Server Installation

  1. In the pre-installation checklist, click the Run Setup Now link. 

  2. Click Next.
     
  3. The licensing agreement is presented again – click I Agree and then Next.
     
  4. If prompted, enter your 25-digit CD key and then click Next.
     
  5. You will then be presented with the Component Installation Screen.  Make sure the following appears:  
    1. Action:  Typical for Component:  Microsoft Exchange Server.
       
    2. Action:  Install for Component:  Microsoft Exchange Messaging and Collaboration Services.
       
    3. Action:  Install for Component:  Microsoft Exchange System Management Tools.  
  6. You can then change the installation path if needed.  Note that once Exchange is up and running, you can move and separate your data & log files from one another on to different drives.  Once everything is setup properly, click Next.
     
  7. Select Create a New Exchange Organization and click Next.
     
  8. Now type the name of the Exchange Organization that you chose.  Make sure you choose the appropriate organization name – even in Exchange 2003 native mode, you can’t just rename the organization like any other object!  Once you type the name, click Next.
     
  9. Once again, you need to click I Agree to the licensing agreement and click Next.
     
  10. You will then be presented with an installation summary.  If everything looks good, click Next.  The installation of the server will then run.
     
  11. Once the installation has completed, click Finish.  Guess what – you’ve now got your very own Exchange Server setup and running!

Post-Installation Tasks

Well now that Exchange Server has been successfully installed, you can take a vacation and everything will run correctly, right?  Wrong.  The following are some of the more important post-installation tasks that you will need to complete:

Install the Latest Exchange Service Pack (SP2)

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/exchange/downloads/2003/sp2/download.mspx

When installing SP2, make sure you review the release notes!

Move Your Data / Streaming Files / Transaction Logs

http://www.petri.co.il/move_exchange_stores_to_a_different_disk.htm

Setup Recipient Policy to receive mail for specific domains

http://www.petri.co.il/configure_exchange_2000_2003_to_receive_email_for_other_domains.htm

Turn on Message Tracking and Mailbox Management

1.  Launch Exchange System Manager.

2.  Expand the Servers folder.

3.  Right click on your server and click Properties.

4.  Under the General tab, check Enable Message Tracking.  You can also configure it to Remove log files associated with message tracking after a certain number of days.

5.  Choose the Mailbox Management tab.

6.  Choose when you want mailbox management to run and how to report.

7.  Click Apply & Okay.

– Disable Unused Protocols

1.  Launch Exchange System Manager.

2.  Expand the Servers folder.

3.  Expand the tree under your server and expand the Protocols folder.

4.  Under each protocol folder, right click on the protocols you wish to disable and click Stop.  It is recommended to disable POP3 / NNTP / IMAP4.

June 13, 2006

Kicking Off the Blog…

Filed under: General — cregan @ 2:37 am

Well it's about time that I finally kick off my blog, and what a time to do it – right in the middle of Microsoft's TechEd 2006 in Boston.  Obviously from my blog title, you can get a good sense of what I'll be blogging about – just about everything I do with Microsoft products and how my team uses them to solve the unique challenges our clients present. In addition, on occassion I'll be blogging about some of the situations I encounter being a business guy in the ever-changing field of IT-Consulting.

To kick things off, I think it's best to provide you with some background about who I am, and why you may feel inclined to read my posts. My name is Chris Regan and I am a partner in B&R Business Solutions, LLC, a Central-New Jersey based IT-Consulting firm that specializes in Microsoft-based solutions. My partner Pat & I originally started the business back in February of 2002 as a sort of hobby… we were both interested in providing small businesses with custom-developed applications (primarily built around Microsoft Access 2000) that could help them work more effectively and efficiently, however, we did this work on the side – while we both worked full-time jobs. After working on these types or projects on the side for two years, we realized that Microsoft was a wave that we had to catch… everyone wanted to implement Microsoft-based solutions (and I'm not just talking about Access 2000.)  So in 2004 we hired two individuals to work with us on 'everything MS' – Office 2003, SharePoint Portal Server, SMS, MOM, Live Communication Server, Windows Server 2000 & 2003, Exchange, Project Server, Rights Management Services, etc. We threw both of these guys into the fire, and they learned – quickly! After about 3 months we lost one of the guys, but the other – who many of you probably know – Jason Medero – stayed with us and became obsessed (in a great way) with SharePoint Portal Server 2003.  Not only did he become our go-to SharePoint guru, but he quickly became a SPS/WSS Mentor on MSD2D.com and a frequent SPS blogger (check his blog out on my blogroll).

Within the past year, we have taken B&R from a part-time hobby to a full-time professional services organization. We have a number of very large clients across the world and we keep growing. We also have the most talented team of SPS & .NET developers working with us, as there is no problem these guys can't solve. Our motto at B&R is 'Unique Challenges. Innovative Solutions.' – Because it is our firm belief that for every challenge businesses face, there is an abundance of generic solutions any firm can provide – but with B&R – we provide different, unique solutions that show that we think out of the box… we're not here just to make a quick buck off our clients – we want to prove that we are the group to go-to every time because we're not just going to throw out any-old solution… we're going to provide realistic, cost-effective, smart solutions that will work today – and tomorrow.

Well, enough about the business and our beliefs…. you are still probably asking "Who is this guy."  I am a graduate of The College of New Jersey (aka "TCNJ" or "Trenton State College") with a BS in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I originally was going to go for my PhD in molecular genetics, but due to a crazy twist of fate, I ended up where I am today. I had the great opportunity to work for one of the world's largest privately-held pharmaceutical marketing companies for 4 years right out of college. During those 4 years, I worked with an incredibly dedicated, very small team to build out an infrastructure that went from 3 Dell servers (2 NT 4.0 / 1 Netware) into a world-class datacenter with over 75 IBM xSeries servers, a SAN & a fully-redundant networking infrastructure. We implemented every Microsoft product under the sun and in less than 2 months consolidated 11 completely separate AD domains & Exchange organizations down to 1 domain & 1 Exchange org.  As my blog title mentions – I am a jack of all Microsoft products – especially Windows Server 2000 & 2003, Active Directory Services, Exchange Server 2003, LCS 2003 & 2005, SQL 2000 & 2005, SPS 2003, RMS, InfoPath, Virtual Server, Office 2003, Microsoft Business Solutions – Great Plains (now Dynamics)… just to name a few… but a master of none. I am a Microsoft Business Solutions Certified Professional & a Microsoft Certified Professional. In addition, I am also very familiar with Citrix, the Fortinet Fortigate line of firewalls & I have a passion for IBM xSeries servers. Combing all of what I know together, I believe I have enough knowledge to provide my clients with a broad range of solutions and insight… in addition, I'm not scared of trying the bleeding edge of technology – I think it's exciting to be one step ahead of everyone, as it helps to plan for the future.

Well, I am exhausted – my first 'full day' here at TechEd has been a very long, but very exciting and informative one. I hope that tomorrow I will be able to blog about it a bit.

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