Monthly Archives: November 2008

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Useful Links: November 2008

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

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More Xtremely Technical seminars scheduled for spring 2009

A couple of weeks back, I was lucky enough to attend one of John Craddock and Sally Storey’s XTSeminars on Windows Server 2008 (those who were at the inaugural Active Directory User Group meeting would have got a taster). I’d blogged about the event beforehand and it really was an excellent use of my time – I can’t understate how good these seminars are (think 2 whole days of detailed presentations and demonstrations, diving pretty deep in places, with none of the marketing overhead you would have in a Microsoft presentation).

If the credit crunch hasn’t hit your training budget yet, then you might want to consider one of the workshops that are scheduled for the spring and the current dates are:

  • 25-26 February 2009, Microsoft Active Directory Internals.
  • 11-12 March 2009, Active Directory Disaster Prevention and Recovery.
  • 18-19 March 2009, Windows Server 2008.

If you do decide that you’re interested in one of these sessions and you book onto it – please mention my name (of even get in touch with me to let me know) – it won’t make any difference to your booking process but it will help me if they know you heard about the seminars on this blog!

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Getting to grips with presenting using Microsoft Office Live Meeting

This morning, I gave a technical presentation to a fairly large group (around 60 people). Nothing special there – I ought to be able to do that by this stage in my career – but this was a presentation with a difference… it was conducted via Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007 (using the BT Conferencing service).

Now, the fact that this was done over the web was great: 60 less individual journeys in order to meet somewhere mutually convenient (resulting in direct environmental and financial cost benefits, as well as time savings); one less conference room (more financial benefit); and I didn’t need to take a load of equipment with me for a demonstration (although I could have done all the demos for this session on my laptop).

I’ve attended many Live Meetings where other people are presenting but I’ve never led one before and what hadn’t struck me until we did a dry run to test the technology was the impact of not being able to see my audience. With 60 people each connecting individually, many of them behind a corporate proxy server that won’t let SIP-based audio pass let alone video, webcams (even RoundTable devices) were out of the question. In effect, I was talking to my computer for just over an hour and hoping that people were still interested. It’s not a nice way to present – I rely on my audience’s body language to know that people are interested, that they understand what I’m saying, that I’m not going too fast, or too slow – and, even though Live Meeting has the facility for people to provide feedback, when you’re presenting your content and balancing slides, notes and demos, watching the seating chart to see if someone has turned their flag to red, or the Q&A panel to see if someone has a really pertinent question is just not very practical.

Despite that, it worked pretty well. Apart from me having too much content once taking into account the fact that people had joined the call late (as is normal in the organisation where I work) and that even though I’d booked a 75 minute slot, people tend to think in hours and would start to drop off the call at the 60 minute point… never mind, we live and learn.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m now some sort of presentation God (I’m certainly not – although I do enjoy this sort of thing) – what I’d really like to get across in this blog post are the discoveries I made on fairly steep learning curve with Live Meeting over the last few days, in the hope that they may be useful for someone else.

The first challenge was scheduling the meeting. It’s useful to know that Live Meeting can schedule meetings from the client application (which integrates with Microsoft Office functionality – for instance the Outlook Calendar) but that there is also a web interface – and that web interface is where things like recording the meeting, whether or not to include audio, options for presenter feedback, etc. There are also two types of meeting: scheduled; or meet now.

It’s also worth knowing a bit about how the audio content works. I know from trying to watch Microsoft webcasts over Live Meeting when connected to the corporate network that our proxy servers do not allow the audio portion to pass, so I need to work from home or a hotel to use audio with Live Meeting (hence the panic when my ADSL line went down last night). For that reason, I wanted people in an office to be able to dial in to a voice conferencing service and, whilst BT Conferencing’s Live Meeting service is linked to BT MeetMe to provide this functionality, MeetMe has a maximum of 40 participants. BT were quite happy to sell me a managed event call as an alternative but I’m not even empowered to order anything more than the most trivial of expenses these days without management approval (even staying in a half-decent hotel needs director-level sign-off), so I didn’t want to jump through hoops to explain why a lowly solution architect was holding a meeting with a high number of attendees. A bit of lateral thinking led me to a solution – I also have a voice conferencing account with Genesys and whilst I didn’t want to have to installed their software for the webcast – the audio portion of their Meeting Centre does allow 125 participants to join the call. So, after telling everyone behind the firewall to dial a different number and to put their phones on mute, we were in business. The one downside was that I needed to wear headphones with a microphone for the Live Meeting audio (for the recording) and to use a hands-free speaker phone for the voice conferencing at the same time.

Next up – how to present the slides. In my first attempt at getting Live Meeting to work, I shared my screen and showed PowerPoint that way. It really hit my computer’s performance and the quality was awful. The correct way to do it is to go to the Content menu in Live Meeting, select Share, then Upload File (View Only) – or alternatively select Manage from the Content menu and then click the button to upload a file. Live Meeting will convert the file to its own format, before uploading and scanning for any security issues but, even though this feature is intended to work for various Office file formats, PDFs, multimedia and HTML files, if you use a 64-bit operating system (I do) then only PowerPoint will work.

Live Meeting also lets you do things like white-boarding, application sharing and even desktop sharing. I used the application sharing functionality to share a remote desktop connection for some demos and also created some polls to get a feel for my audience’s experience (the idea being that I could pitch the presentation accordingly – all the more important without a direct feedback mechanism).

And, since the meeting ended, I’ve found that I could have set the colour depth when sharing applications and also viewed the screen resolution of other meeting participants in order to pick something appropriate.

So, what else did I learn?

  • I’d definitely recommend using a co-presenter. One of my colleagues facilitated the meeting and was also acting as a presenter in Live Meeting. That meant he could monitor things like the Q&A panel to deal with any urgent questions, connection difficulties, etc.
  • The 6 Ps (or just Practice Practice Practice, for those who are not familiar with the slightly less polite version) – aside from all the normal planning and preparation that I would put into a presentation, there was the effort put into making sure that the technology would work. Here, again, my co-presenter Mike was really helpful (“Can you hear me over Live Meeting? – “No” – “What about now?” – “That’s better!”. “How do the slides look in the Live Meeting client?”, etc.)
  • Give yourself plenty of time before the session to upload the slides and generally prepare. My 15.5MB PowerPoint 2007 presentation was just over twice that size when converted to Live Meeting format, and took a while to upload over an ADSL line). Then there may be polls to set up, applications to get ready for sharing, etc.
  • When presenting PowerPoint slides, you can turn thumbnails on/off in the Content menu, but there is no equivalent to PowerPoint’s Presenter View to access speaker notes. As a consequence, it might be handy to export the PowerPoint presentation to a Word document and print it before starting the meeting.
  • If you like to point things out on your slides (and I do), then the annotation tools may come in handy with a pointer, highlighter, and other tools too.
  • If you’re planning on recording a meeting, don’t forget to click the record button! (and make sure people know that they are being recorded – so they can opt out if they’re not comfortable with that). Whilst on the subject of recordings, by far and away the biggest disappointment for me was that, even though there are two versions available for each recording (for viewing or for download), neither one is perfect:
    • The Microsoft Office Live Meeting High Fidelity Presentation does not need any add-ins to play but I found there were some substituted fonts, the demonstrations using shared applications were not recorded and the slide animations did not work correctly.
    • The Microsoft Office Live Meeting Replay is much better, but does not show slide animations (so some slides will appear with lots of graphics on top of one another) and it requires the “Microsoft Office Live Meeting Replay Wrapper” to be installed from the download page.
  • As a result of the above, it might be necessary to refrain from using some PowerPoint features (e.g. slides with lots of animations) as they may not present well in the recorded version of the Live Meeting – one of my more complex slides wasn’t looking too good during the presentation either (although it seems to be OK on the Live Meeting replay).
  • If you use polls to solicit feedback from the audience, you can extract that data later. It took some time to work out how – in the end I found out that the web console has the ability to generate reports (it’s possible to report on the names of attendees and the time that they connected, disconnected, their IP address, Live Meeting client type, etc.) and those reports include the poll data.

This is just scraping the surface of what’s possible with Live Meeting – there’s a lot more functionality available (meeting lobby, breakout rooms, etc.) but this summarises the basics that I had to get to grips with over the last few days. Sadly the online help provided by Microsoft is very superficial (BT do provide some additional help as part of their service and I’m sure other providers do something similar) but a bit of patience and a well-targeted Google search should help to fill in the gaps.

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Great customer service from my ISP – and a useful BT exchange status checker

There’s a lot of bad things written about UK Internet service providers, so I’m really glad to have a positive tale to tell tonight. My ISP (Plusnet) may not be the least expensive but, after my friend Alex’s experience of moving from Nildram to Virgin and seeing the line speed on his connection drop from 6Mbps to less than 512Kbps (on the same line, with the same equipment at his end) and Virgin telling him that was the most the line would support, I’m reluctant to switch ISPs – especially as my ADSL connection is normally rock solid with the router reporting a connection speed around 7Mbps.

Unfortunately, as I’m here burning the midnight oil, putting the finishing touches on a presentation I’m supposed to be delivering via Live Meeting (over said ADSL line) tomorrow morning – my connection has gone down. Arghhh! After restarting almost all the equipment on my home LAN, I noticed that my router’s PPP interface had not picked up an IP address, despite showing operational DSL status. I called Plusnet, expecting a lengthy wait, only to be surprised as my call was answered within seconds of selecting the technical support option from the ACD prompt. The really helpful tech support guy that I spoke to (Jake) was just working though checking my router settings when he noticed that my local telephone exchange has a major service outage – detected at 22:26 this evening (just before I got home) and due to be cleared by 00:26 (by when I had hoped to be in bed…). Not to worry – at least I know it’s a problem at the exchange.

Plusnet Exchange Checker showing a major service outage at my local telephone exchangeThe good news is that Plusnet also has an exchange status checker in the user tools section of their website – and even though my ADSL line is down, I can use my iPhone’s mobile data connection to access the status reports.

It’s currently a minute past midnight and the connection’s not back up yet… but at least I can feel better as I keep track of BT whilst they fix the line.

[Update: 00:14 and the line is back up… just enough time to publish this blog post and catch some zeds before an early start tomorrow.]

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Recording VoIP calls using Wireshark

Gary Marshall writes about how the UK Government plans to pour billions of pounds (as if they weren’t wasting enough money already) into recording all of our telephone calls. Well, funnily enough, I want to do the same thing… and it turns out to be remarkably easy – at least it is if you’re using a VoIP phone.

First of all, I should point out that, depending on where you live, it might be illegal to record phone calls without consent. In my case, I recorded a call from my desk phone to the voicemail on my mobile phone. As I was both the caller and the receiver I think it’s safe to say that there was consent – even if it does sound a bit mad. This was a proof of concept – the real usage case I have in mind is for the Coalface Tech podcasts, as last time James and I tried to record one over Skype there was just too much lag (and interference… although that might have been a local problem). Using the Cisco 7940 on my desk in the UK in to call a landline in Oz via my Sipgate account shouldn’t be too bad (and won’t cost too much either). What follows is a recipe for recording the call.

Ingredients

* If a softphone were used on the same computer as the packet capture, then it should be possible to capture the network traffic without needing to use a hub.

Method

  1. Install and configure Wireshark.
  2. Ensure that the computer being used for packet capture can see the phone traffic (i.e. that they are both connected to the hub – not a switch, unless port spanning or a tap are in use).
  3. Using Wireshark, start capturing traffic on the appropriate interface.
  4. Once the call(s) to be captured have been made, end the capture.
  5. In Wireshark, select VoIP calls from the Statistics menu – details of all captured calls should be listed:
  6. Viewing VoIP call statistics from a Wireshark trace

  7. At this point, it’s also possible to graph the traffic and also to play back the call (once decoded) – either one or both streams of the conversation:
  8. VoIP call graph generated from a Wireshark trace
    Playing back a VoIP call using the RTP packets from a Wireshark trace

  9. That’s enough to play back the call but to record it a different approach is required. Return to the list of captured packets and select the first RTP packet in a conversation.
  10. From the Statistics menu, select RTP and then Stream Analysis… This will show the packets in either direction:
  11. Analysing an RTP stream based on a Wireshark trace

  12. Click the Save payload… button to save to file – .au format with both streams is probably most useful:
  13. Saving the payload from an RTP stream based on a Wireshark trace

  14. The .au format is generally used for UNIX-generated sound files and can be played in Windows Media Player (see Microsoft knowledge base article 316992). Alternatively convert it to another format using whatever tools are appropriate (I used Switch on a Mac to convert from .AU to .MP3).

Results

I’m not sharing the full packet capture for security reasons but I have made the MP3 version of the RTP recording available.

Conclusion

Recording VoIP calls seems remarkably simple – given sufficient access to the network. Implementing IPSec should prevent such packet sniffing on the local network but, once a VoIP call is out on the ‘net, who knows who might be listening?

Acknowledgements

Whilst researching for this post, I found the following very useful:

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Looking to find out what Microsoft software is supported in a virtual environment?

As a result of a query I had about the supportability (or otherwise) of running System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 in a Hyper-V virtual machine, Clive Watson pointed me in the direction of Microsoft knowledge base article 957006, which discusses the support policy for running Microsoft server software in a virtual environment.

For anyone working with Microsoft software on a virtual infrastructure (even a non-Microsoft environment via the SVVP) it looks like a useful article to be aware of.

(and yes, SCVMM 2008 is supported in a VM – both server and agents.)

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Allowing Remote Desktop connections to a server core computer in a workgroup

Over the weekend, I was trying to access a Windows Server 2008 server core installation using the Remote Desktop Connection client. I’d enabled remote desktop connections (and legacy connections) with:

cscript %windir%\system32\scregedit.wsf /ar 0
cscript %windir%\system32\scregedit.wsf /cs 0

and both times the system reported that the:

Registry has been updated.

Even so, I still couldn’t successfully connect. It seemed logical that this was a firewall issue. Reading Daniel Petri’s article on configuring the firewall on server core for remote management confirmed that installing roles does indeed open the associated ports and that for domain-joined machines the firewall profile allows remote management; however for workgroup machines it may be necessary to run:

netsh advfirewall firewall set rule group=“remote administration” new enable=yes

Even though this returned:

Updated 3 rule(s).
Ok.

It still didn’t let me connect but then I noticed that remote desktop has its own firewall group (i.e. it’s not included in remote administration) so I tried something more specific:

netsh advfirewall firewall set rule group=“remote desktop” new enable=yes

The rule was updated:

Updated 1 rule(s).
Ok.

and I was able to connect to the server. I later found that Julie Smith also suggests this approach over at The Back Room Tech but most posts on the subject seem to be focused on opening ports for Microsoft Management Console (MMC)-based remote administration.

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More “How Do I?” videos on the Microsoft TechNet website

Back in September, I mentioned a couple of screencasts I’d recorded that were up on the Microsoft TechNet website.

I just noticed that a couple more of my videos have made it onto the site and these can be located using the links below:

One of my videos, featured on the Microsoft TechNet website

If these topics aren’t to your taste there are plenty more “How Do I?” videos on the site with a wide variety of topics and presenters (an RSS feed is also available).

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Capturing network traffic on a Hyper-V host

I’ve been capturing some network data using a computer with Hyper-V installed this evening and it’s worth noting that I needed to sniff a physical network connection to get anything meaningful. Thinking about it, that makes sense (Hyper-V implements a virtual switch – not a hub – so the traffic on each vNIC is isolated until it reaches a pNIC) but it may be something worth remembering.

Technology

Book review: Active Directory Disaster Recovery, Florian Rommel

Florian Rommel: Active Directory Disaster RecoveryA few months ago, I was asked if I would write a review of a new book about Active Directory (AD) disaster recovery (DR) and I was more than happy to do this – especially as I’d just finished writing an AD design for a DR infrastructure at my organisation. The book in question was Florian Rommel’s Active Directory Disaster Recovery book, which claims to offer expert guidance on planning and implementing Active Directory disaster recovery plans.

AD DR is an important topic. Stop to think for a moment about how many services are reliant on this critical piece of many enterprises’ infrastructure and then consider what would happen if the AD was corrupted and no-one could log on…

…and that’s why this book is potentially useful to so many administrators charged with the correct operation of Active Directory (including troubleshooting and recovering from any issues).

The book starts out by explaining why organisations need a DR plan for AD (rather than just relying on the multi-master replication model), before moving on to look at AD design principles. The trouble is that those principles do not fit with Microsoft’s current advice for domain and forest design and there’s also the question of whether such design concepts even belong in a disaster recovery book (it could be argued that, if you’re reading this book, then you should already know about AD – indeed, the back covers says that the book “expects the reader to be familiar with the basics of Active Directory and Windows servers”).

After two chapters of rather slow introduction the real content starts and subsequent chapters cover: designing and implementing a DR plan; strengthening AD for resilience; acting on the failure of a single DC (and then recovering from that failure); recovery of lost or deleted objects; recovering from a complete AD failure (shouldn’t that come after the single DC failure?); recovering from hardware failure; common recovery tools; and, finally, an example business continuity plan.

Regardless of whether I agree with the advice in this book, the simple fact is that I found it very difficult to read. Not because it’s technical but because English does not appear to be the native tongue of either the author or the editorial and production team. As a result the text doesn’t scan well and is too informal in places – it felt more like the technical documentation I read at work than a professionally published book. That may sound like the pot calling the kettle black but I’m writing this on a blog (where opinion should be expected) and my prose is not subject to the review, proof reading and editing that a book should be (nor do I charge you to read it).

I really want to say good things about this book as Florian Rommel clearly knows a lot about the subject. I have no doubt that he put a lot of work into its production (and I would have done a much better job of the AD design I mentioned at the head of this post had I read this book first) but the author seems to have been let down by the reviewers (James Eaton-Lee and Nathan Yocom) and by his proof reader (Dirk Manuel). I spotted a few errors that should have been picked up before publishing and there is far too much written that appears to be opinion rather than fact backed up with credible examples (in fairness, there is a bibliography but it would be better if there was a clear link between the content and the referenced source). Crucially though, for a book published in June 2008, four months after the release of Windows Server 2008, there’s no mention of any of the Active Directory changes in Microsoft’s latest server operating system.

Sadly, the end result does not justify the cover price of £36.99 or $59.99.

Active Directory Disaster Recovery by Florien Rommel is published by Packt Publishing (ISBN: 978-1-847193-27-8)

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