Upgraded Azure support for Enterprise Agreement customers

I recently found myself in a situation where I tried to log a support request on my customer’s Microsoft Azure subscription, only to find that they didn’t have any eligible support agreements in place.

You'll need to buy a support plan before you can submit a technical support request

That seemed strange, as from 1 May 2016, Microsoft is offering a 12-month support upgrade to all customers that have or intend to buy Microsoft Azure services on an Enterprise Agreement (EA), except those customers with a Premier support contract.

Digging a little deeper, I found that:

“Microsoft will begin upgrade for existing Azure customers on Enterprise Agreement on May 1, 2016, and plans to complete the upgrades by September 30, 2016. New customers will be upgraded within 30 days of account activation. Customers will be notified by email upon being upgraded. For more information, please talk with your account manager or contact EA Azure Support through the Enterprise Portal”

But, the Enterprise Agreement Support Offer page that contains this information is subtitled: “to activate, contact your Microsoft account team”, so I contacted my customer’s account team.  Initially, they said that the customer needed to contact their Microsoft Licensing Solution Provider (LSP), who were equally confused, but I pushed a little harder and the account team investigated further, before arranging the necessary support.

So, if you’re an EA customer and you can’t wait until September to get an upgrade to your Azure support agreements, it may just be worth a chat with your Microsoft account team.

Short takes: deleting bit.ly Bitlinks; backing up and restoring Sticky Notes; accessing cmdlets after installing Azure PowerShell

Another collection of short notes to add to my digital memory…

Deleting bit.ly links

Every now and again, I spot some spam links in my Twitter feed – usually prefixed [delicious]. That suggests to me that there is an issue in Delicious or in Twitterfeed (the increasingly unreliable service I use to read certain RSS feeds and tweet on my behalf) and, despite password resets (passwords are so insecure) it still happens.

A few days ago I spotted some of these spam links still in my bit.ly links (the link shortener behind my mwil.it links, who also own Twitterfeed) and I wanted to permanently remove them.

Unfortunately, according to the “how do I delete a Bitlink” bit.ly knowledge base article – you can’t.

Where does Windows store Sticky Notes?

Last Friday (the 13th) I wrote about saving my work before my PC was rebuilt

One thing I forgot about was the plethora of Sticky Notes on my desktop so, today, I was searching for advice on where to find them (in my backup) so I could restore.

It turns out that Sticky Notes are stored in user profiles, under %appdata%\Microsoft\Sticky Notes, in a file called StickyNotes.snt. Be aware though, that the folder is not created until the Sticky Notes application has been run at least once. Restoring my old notes was as easy as:

  1. Run the Sticky Notes desktop application in Windows.
  2. Close Sticky Notes.
  3. Overwrite the StickyNotes.snt file with a previous copy.
  4. Re-open Sticky Notes.

Azure PowerShell installation requires a restart (or explicit loading of modules)

This week has involved a fair amount of restoring tools/settings to a rebuilt PC (did I mention that mine died in a heap last Friday? If only the hardware and software were supplied by the same vendor – oh they are!). After installing the Azure PowerShell package from the SCCM Software Center, I found that cmdlets returned errors like:

Get-AzureRmResource : The term ‘Get-AzureRmResource’ is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet, function, script file, or operable program. Check the spelling of the name, or if a path was included, verify that the path is correct and try again.

After some RTFMing, I found this:

This can be corrected by restarting the machine or importing the cmdlets from C:\Program Files\WindowsPowerShell\Modules\Azure\XXXX\ as following (where XXXX is the version of PowerShell installed[)]: import-module "C:\Program Files\WindowsPowerShell\Modules\Azure\XXXX\azure.psd1" import-module "C:\Program Files\WindowsPowerShell\Modules\Azure\XXXX\expressroute\expressroute.psd1"

Adventures with robocopy.exe

It’s been a while since I had to make copies of large numbers of files in complex directory structures from the Windows command prompt but, faced with the need to take a backup within a command line environment (the WinRE Command Prompt), I needed to refresh my Windows command line skills.  There’s loads of advice out there on the Internet (most of it subjective) but the general consensus seems to be that the Extended Copy command (xcopy.exe) is deprecated and has been replaced in recent versions of Windows by the Robust File Copy command (robocopy.exe). Of course, there are many alternatives but they are not natively provided in WinRE!

(Some of the more useful articles I found are Nicholas Tyler’s reply on Stack Overflow, Oliver Muchai’s reply on Super User and Scott Hanselman’s blog post from 2007.)

Robocopy has loads of options but the ones I selected in the end were:

robocopy sourcefolder targetfolder /MIR /ZB /XJ /R:3 /W:1 /log:filename.txt

to make a mirror copy of the data, in restartable mode (to survive network glitches), using backup mode in the case of an access denied error, to exclude Junction Points, to retry 3 times on failure, waiting 1 second each time (compared with the defaults of 1 million and 30 seconds respectively) and to log to the chosen file.

The /XJ switch was added as a late addition after some abortive attempts ended up with recursive Application Data folders. Some people have erroneously referred to this as a bug in Robocopy – actually it’s caused by Windows’ attempts to prevent application developers writing to system locations (and forcing them to write to the user profile instead, as described by “DaddyMan” on a Microsoft Forum post:

“The Application Data folder is actually a junction, which points back to its parent folder.
[%username]\AppData\Local\Application Data\
points to
[%username]\AppData\Local\”

and by Shawn Keene (@LtCmdrKeene) in another, similar, post:

“[Any time] an application tries to save a file to a naughty location (such as C:\Windows or C:\Program Files), Windows will force the actual save to end up at a place inside your user folder instead (C:\Users\Username\LocalSettings\VirtualStore\Program Files).  It tricks the program into thinking that the file really did go to the Program Files folder, but in reality it’s somewhere inside your user folder.

This [virtualisation] (tricking the program) is required so that badly-created apps that save to naughty locations will still work.  The alternative is that the program tries to save and then crashes when it can’t access the Program Files folder.  If Windows didn’t do this, the program would require administrator access every time it runs — which is very insecure, plus would make the program impossible to use in corporate environments where users aren’t allowed to be administrators.

Rest assured that the multiple layers you are seeing are a result of folder redirection and [virtualisation] (also known as junction points).  There’s no need to clean these up or correct it, and you are well advised to avoid exploring those files.”

Finally, I needed to remove the folders that I had accidentally created with recursive Application Data folders inside (I counted 25 in one case!). Neither Windows nor the Windows Command Prompt (del and rmdir commands) could do this, resulting in “too long” errors but Super User Aaron has the answer (which is a variation on the method Bob Coss commented on one of my own old blog posts):

“Create an empty directory with mkdir empty, then use robocopy empty\ "Application Data\" /mir" which will remove the whole directory tree. Then issue a rmdir empty and rmdir "Application Data to clean up and you’re done.”

Windows 10 PC stuck in BitLocker loop (and recovering details of open tabs in the Edge browser)

I try not to reboot my PCs too often – frankly I thought I’d left the days of daily reboots behind with Windows 95 – but, faced with a display driver bug on my Surface Pro 3 (that seems to be triggered by the Azure Portal), a change of password that led to repeated authentication prompts (and OneDrive refusing to sync), together with some software updates pushed to my PC from SCCM, I had little choice this afternoon.

Unfortunately that “quick reboot to get things working again” turned into a disaster, with an hour long support call, followed by a desperate attempt to recover the last few hours’ work.

Stuck in a BitLocker loop

After rebooting, I found that a Windows 10 update hadn’t properly applied. Each time I entered my BitLocker PIN, I was faced with a message that invited me to use the BitLocker key to recover my PC. My IT support team gave me my key… and then after a restart we went round the loop again. We tried hard resets, turning the TPM on and off in the BIOS and more, until I found a TechNet wiki article that seemed to describe the issue (or at least something very like it).

To terminate this BitLocker recovery loop, I needed to suspend BitLocker from within the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). That’s OK, as long as you have the recovery key and, following the advice in the article linked above, I chose the “Skip this drive” link at the bottom of the page that requests entry of the recovery key, before selecting Advanced options/Troubleshoot/Advanced options/Command Prompt.

Next, I disarmed BitLocker using the following commands:

manage-bde -status c:
manage-bde -unlock c: -rp recoverypassword
manage-bde -protectors -disable c:

With BitLocker disabled, I hoped to be able to restart the PC and boot Windows, but unfortunately it was still not playing ball. I’ll be driving to the office on Monday for someone to take a look at my PC and I suspect a rebuild will be on the cards…

Work in progress

Despite the support team’s assurances that all of my data is on servers, I’m pretty sure it’s not. All of my data until I changed my password is on servers but anything since then has been failing to sync. If the sync engine can’t authenticate, I’m pretty sure I must be working from a local copy – which will be lost if the PC is rebuilt!

The items of most concern to me were some scripts I’d finally got working this afternoon; and any notes in OneNote.  I wrote last year about issues with OneNote and OneDrive (now overcome by doing it properly) but goodness knows where the unsynced changes are (again, I found a backup, but it doesn’t have the latest changes in it).

Again, using the WinRE Command Prompt, I backed up the files I thought were most likely to be missed. I tracked down the scripts that I’d finally completed and that had led to a few late nights this week (phew!) – and made a backup copy of my user profile, just in case.

The last worry for me was my browser. Forced by policy to use a Microsoft browser, I had lots of open tabs in Edge, as well as a few in Internet Explorer. The ones in Edge included the various posts I’d found that had helped me to complete my scripts – and I wanted to go back through them to blog about what I found…

Edge does recover sessions after a crash but, with a potential PC rebuild on the cards, I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance so I tried tracking down the location of the recovery data.  Brent Muir’s fascinating look at Windows 10 – Microsoft Edge Browser Forensics told me where to find the recovery files (in %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe\AC\MicrosoftEdge\User\Default\Recovery\Active) but they are binary. Gleb Derzkij’s answer to a Stack Overflow forum post looked useful but I couldn’t get it to work.  What I could do though was open each of the (115!) .dat files in the Active Recovery folder using Notepad and see enough information in there to identify the URIs, then manually copy and paste them to a text file (ready to open when I’m back at my PC).

So that’s recaptured my work and the PC is ready to be completely razed to the ground if necessary. And the moral of the story? Never apply updates on Friday the 13th!

Reset the password for a Windows virtual machine in Azure

Imagine the scenario: you have a virtual machine running in Azure but something’s gone wrong and you don’t have Administrative credentials to log in to Windows. That’s a more common occurrence than you might expect but there is a workaround: in Azure there an option to reset the local administrator password.

Unfortunately, that capability hasn’t been implemented yet in the management portal for Azure Resource Manager but it is available in Microsoft Azure PowerShell.

Reset Password - Coming Soon

I found the following commands worked for me (based on a blog post by Dan Patrick), resetting the built-in administrator account for the defined server in the defined Resource Group to be called DisabledAdmin (after which it won’t be disabled any more but after unlocking the server and creating an alternative administrator, the built in account can be disabled again) with a GUID for the password:

$rgName = "Example-Resource-Group"
$vmName = "SERVERxxx"
$extName = "VMAccessAgent"
$userName = "DisabledAdmin"
$password = [guid]::newguid()
$location = "westeurope"
Set-AzureRmVMAccessExtension -ResourceGroupName $rgName -VMName $vmName -Name $extName -UserName $userName -Password $password -Location $location

(of course, you’ll need to take a note of that GUID if you want to log in to the account!).

The VM Access Extension can be called anything you like (the MSDN reference for Set-AzureRmVMAccessExtension gives more information); however, as noted in the Microsoft Azure documentation (How to reset the Remote Desktop service or its login password in a Windows VM):

“You can reset remote access to your VM by using either Set-AzureRmVMExtension or Set-AzureRmVMAccessExtension

“Both commands add a new named VM access agent to the virtual machine. At any point, a VM can have only a single VM access agent. To set the VM access agent properties successfully, remove the access agent set previously by using either Remove-AzureRmVMAccessExtension or Remove-AzureRmVMExtension. Starting from Azure PowerShell version 1.2.2, you can avoid this step when using Set-AzureRmVMExtension with a -ForceRerun option. When using -ForceRerun, make sure to use the same name for the VM access agent as set by the previous command.”

So, by using a known name for the VM Access Extension (VMAccessAgent), I can avoid potential issues later.

A tale of three road tolls: part 3 (liberty on French autoroutes)

Over the Easter holidays, I was lucky enough to enjoy a skiing holiday in the French Alps with my family. Aside from the holiday leading to me finally accepting that my kids are now both better skiers than I (after 2 seasons my 11 year-old is skiing black runs and my 9 year-old is on reds whilst I, on the other hand, lack their low centre of gravity and absence of fear), the road trip there and back gave me a chance to a) test out our new Volvo XC60 on a decent journey (it is very comfortable) and b) follow a friend’s advice to use an electronic tag for convenient passage through French autoroute tolls.

After a successful pilot with the same tag system (but different operator) on the UK’s M6 Toll, I felt ready for the SANEF Liber-T tag, which even has a billing option aimed at UK motorists travelling to France.

I’ve also found I could get a reduced price because I was travelling via Eurotunnel and had a booking reference (a frequent traveller number will do too) – saving the €10 application fee. The offer can be withdrawn at any time but seems to have been going for a couple of years now.  And, when I posted about this on a Volvo Owners Forum, I was told about another scheme that seems to be less expensive.  Definitely worth looking into…

The instructions for mounting the tag were different to my M6 Toll experience and I have to admit I’m not sure I have it quite right (maybe I should try the back of the mirror next time) but some waving of the tag at the readers seemed to kick things into life on the occasions that the barrier didn’t rise on my approach!

Back home in the UK, my tolls were arranged into one bill, and paid monthly (albeit with a currency conversion charge) but the convenience (and the ability to cruise through dedicated toll lanes at the péage) makes it worthwhile. The Liber-T tag works on all toll motorways in France (excluding the Mont Blanc and Fréjus tunnels), regardless of operator.

So, three tales, three tolls, three very different experiences. Now, back to the tech…

A tale of three road tolls: part 2 (the M6 Toll)

Following my experiences with the Dart Charge (see part 1) and in preparation for an upcoming trip to France where I planned to use electronic tolls, I decided to try out a similar system on Britain’s only private Motorway – the M6 Toll in Staffordshire.

So, on the way back from the office one day, I picked up an M6 Toll Tag at Norton Canes service area, which came pre-loaded with £25 of credit (the same as I paid for the tag). Then, by calling up and opening an account, I was given £10 more credit; and by topping up with another £30 of credit, I was given another £5. So, that’s one tag with £70 of credit for £55. Even with a monthly charge of £1 that means I’m up by a few quid (and a corresponding 5% discount on journeys should go towards the monthly charging over time).

After fitting the tag to the back of my rear-view mirror, I drove (with some trepidation it has to be said) towards the barrier, heard a re-assuring “beep”, saw it lift, and then cruised on through the toll booths.

Result! With a tag working through my car’s heated windscreen on UK roads, I was in business – ready for the next adventure, on French Autoroutes!

A tale of three road tolls: part 1 (the Dart Charge)

London’s orbital motorway, the M25, is not a circle (as many people suggest) but has a short section of trunk road joining the ends and crossing the River Thames east of London. That road, the A282 Dartford Crossing, has an associated charge which, until recently, was collected at toll booths.

Originally the tolls were to be removed on 1 April 2003 under the original Private Finance initiative (PFI) scheme contract that was used to finance the Queen Elizabeth II bridge but instead, under the 2000 Transport Act, the A282 Trunk Road (Dartford-Thurrock Crossing charging scheme) Order 2002 allowed the continuation of the crossing fee, which officially became a charge and not a toll.

Since 30 November 2014 the toll booths have been removed and replaced by an electronic charge [update: there are some overnight journeys that are not charged], but that’s not without its issues, as I found when I travelled to Dartford and back a few weeks ago.

Dart charge warning letter and PCNI hadn’t used the route for years, but had heard about the changes (I even contacted the operator to see if my new tag for the French motorways, also operated by SANEF, would work – it won’t!). I also saw the signs advising me to pay by midnight the next day (confusingly using the same symbol as the London Congestion Charge, which is unrelated). Unfortunately, faced with congestion, delays, a stressful day with a difficult customer and an equally stressful journey home (total driving time for the day was 6 hours for around 180 miles – a pathetic average speed considering it was mostly on motorways!) – and I forgot.

It was an honest mistake and, when I realised a few days later, I called the Dart Charge contact centre. Aided by some extremely patient and helpful people, I was told not to worry, to wait for the penalty charge notice and that I would be given a chance to pay (without penalty) on my first infringement. But I’d travelled both ways! In turns out that’s OK too – just pay all outstanding charges on receipt of the first notice.

I was also told how I could sign up for automatic payment in future (a facility I tested on a journey to France a few weeks later) – if only the official government website for the Dart Charge made that clear but it’s one of those sites that’s been so over-“simplified” that it’s no longer clear.  The warning letter is equally confusing: because my PCNs arrived on different days (and I needed to pay before leaving the country on Easter holidays!), I couldn’t see how to pay all outstanding charges in one hit online. Luckily the contact centre for the Dart Charge came to my rescue again!

Gov.UK suggests setting up an account but doesn’t mention the advantage of doing so is to provide a pay-as-you go facility. Indeed the only reference to payment in advance is by post! There’s actually better advice in the Daily Telegraph article about the changes!

So, if you are planning to use the Dartford Crossing (by bridge or tunnel), I recommend signing up for an account and paying as you go by credit or debit card to avoid a lot of stress (and potentially hefty fines). Definitely worth it!

Speaking at Milton Keynes Geek Night (#MKGN)

For the last few years, I’ve been heading into Milton Keynes once a quarter (and on a couple of other occasions too) to attend the Milton Keynes Geek Night, organised by Richard Wiggins (@richardwiggins) and David Hughes (@davidhughes). Last time I had the crazy idea that I might speak at a future event. Furthermore, Richard took me up on the offer. Gulp.

So, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’ll be doing a little 5 minute talk on 9 June 2016 to represent some of the geeks of Milton Keynes who are neither designers nor developers. I haven’t written the presentation yet, but the synopsis is below:

Would you move all of your IT services to the cloud? Many organisations are moving all, or part of, their IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud. In this talk, I’ll share some of my experiences from helping to first migrate and then transform, enterprise IT services, using a mixture of infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service technologies.

Tickets for MK Geek Night 17 have sold out but you can get on the waiting list (and talks are recorded and posted on Soundcloud). Please be nice to me.

Retired: Mark’s Office 365 Resource Centre

18 months ago, I created “Mark’s Office 365 Resource Centre” using the public site from my Office 365 subscription. Over the last few months it’s fallen by the wayside as my focus has recently moved towards Azure (and Office 365 public websites are a deprecated feature) so I decided to move it here.  This content is no longer maintained, but may still contain some useful links.

New functionality

See also Office 365 Updates on the Office Blogs.

Planning and Deployment resources

Technical resources

Training and certification

Licensing

To license Office 365, costs are provided on the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal. These are ordered and paid for directly by customers (although trial tenants may be created by partners though the
FastTrack portal). Customers with Enterprise Agreements have additional options including not just the Office 365 plans but ‘add-on’ and ‘bridge’ licenses for on-premises Office and CAL Suites.

Information for partners

Tips, tricks and more from my blog

There are a few posts missing from this list, because I consider them to be out-of-date (although they are still available):

Useful to know

(Including tips and tricks from elsewhere on the web):

Bits and bytes (downloads)