Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Offer Remote Assistance

We do a lot of remote support for clients and the ability to see what the user sees is essential when troubleshooting. There are a few third party tools out there that allow remote control such as Mikogo and Team Viewer, but most of these have a cost associated with them for commercial use.

If you have remote access to a Windows server, you can use that server to connect to users within the site. The standard Remote Desktop works great for you to log on, but does not allow you to collaborate with the user. For that you need Windows Remote Assistance.Windows Remote Assistance allows you connect to a remote computer while the user is logged on and see exactly what they see. You can also take control if the user lets you.

In Windows Server 2008 R2, you need to install the Remote Assistance feature. In SBS 2011, it is automatically installed. After it is installed, you can run it from the Start menu or by running msra.exe. I tend to use the command-line. The options in the graphic below are for Windows Server 2008 R2.

Depending on the version of Windows that you are running, the graphical interface offers different options. Most of the same options are there between versions. Here are the ways you can use it:
  • User initiated - Invitation file. This method requires the user to create an invitation from remote assistance on their computer and then deliver it to you, typically via email. Generally, too complex for users to understand.
  • Helper initiated - Offer remote assistance. This method requires you to enter the IP address of the remote computer. It is also dependent on DCOM. Make sure that the firewall of the remote computer is configured correctly. SBS creates a Group Policy that opens up these ports. In a non-SBS environment, you'll need to do that manually. This is the option we use most often because the user does not need to initiate it.
  • User initiated - Easy Connect. This method generates a password when the user request is made. This password is entered in by the help to access the system. Unlike the above options, this method works over the Internet. However, it requires the firewalls on both sides to support Peer Name Resolution Protocol. This method also requires Windows 7 on both computers. Test your router support by using the Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/using/tools/igd/default.mspx.
Additional Remote Assistance information, including firewall configuration:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Corrupt OST File, Don't Repair It!

I recently had my personal system freeze up on me and I shut it down hard with the power button. When I restarted the system, Outlook complained about a corrupt OST file and recommended using the inbox repair tool to fix it. Silly me, I followed instructions. The end result was 1.5 hours of waiting and a still corrupted 7 GB OST file that wouldn't open.

An OST file is a local cache of your mailbox. It is redundant data that is already held on the server. It is not worth your time to fix it unless your connectivity to the server is very slow. Which may be relevant for remote users. I, on the other hand, can reach over and touch the server in my office.

After the failed OST repair, I got smart and removed the corrupted OST file. When I started Outlook, it recreated the missing OST file and synced everything to my desktop. Total time to resync was less than 30 minutes. Much faster than the repair attempt.

Your only potential risk in deleting the OST file is a small chance that there is a message in the Outbox that has not yet been synced to the server. This message would be lost.

For reference the OST file is located in: C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Exchange Management Console Won't Close

If you have installed IE 9 on your Exchange 2010 server (possibly also Exchange 2007) then you may get an error when you attempt to close the Exchange Management Console. The error is dependent on what you've looked at in EMC while you had it open. The error is:
You must close all dialog boxes before you can close Exchange Management Console
This error appears even though you don't have any dialog boxes open. It has also been reported in some other management tools. A fix has finally been released.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

iDRAC Problem on Dell Server

We've starting ordering iDRAC Enterprise cards for all of our new servers. We do a lot of remote support for clients, and these cards give us complete remote control for the server via a dedicated network interface. With this, we can control all of the BIOS level stuff that we used to go onsite for. When some clients are an hour or two away, this saves a ton of time for us and clients.

Yesterday, I got a new server in and the iDRAC was behaving oddly. When I plugged in the network cable to the iDRAC network interface, the link light came on and it blinked for packets as it should. However, I couldn't connect to the default IP addresses of the iDRAC. In the status for the iDRAC, it was configured to use the dedicated network interface but said "No Active LOM".

Thinking that this might be an issue with the card not being seated correctly, I reseated the card. After reseating the card I had no link light on the network interface at all. Then I configured it to use one of the onboard network interfaces and it worked fine. So, at this point, the problem appears to be the dedicated network interface.

I popped it open again to take a look. It turns out that the dedicated network interface for the iDRAC is a small card that plugs into the motherboard. On this server, it was loose. After reseating the dedicated network interface, all was good.

I found a couple other references on the internet to fixing this by having Dell replace the motherboard or by changing firmware on the iDRAC. This reference provides documentation in case reseating doesn't fix it for you:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Adding 64-bit Printer Drivers to 32-bit Windows 2003

As more of our clients are adding 64-bit client computers a common concern is printer drivers with older Windows 2003 servers. The printers are installed on Windows 2003 and shared with clients. When 32-bit clients are connected to the printer, the driver from the server is downloaded to the client and installed automatically. Unfortunately, 64-bit clients cannot use the same driver and 32-bit Windows 2003 does not have an interface to add a 64-bit driver.

The solution is to use a 64-bit Windows 7 client to add the printer driver as follows:
  • Start the Print Management administrative tool (printmanagement.msc)
  • Add the Windows 2003 file server as a print server
  • Add the 64-bit driver
You can also browse to the shared printer over the network from the 64-bit client and add the 64-bit driver in the properties of the printer.

Please note that the 32-bit and 64-bit drivers need to be named the same. So, with different version of the driver, you may have issues.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SANs Make Me Nervous

Exchange 2010 has been optimized for inexpensive direct attached storage. The idea being that you replicate data among multiple inexpensive servers instead of introducing an expensive SAN. Many organizations are uncomfortable with this because they have bought into the idea that a SAN is much more reliable and faster than local disk ever could be.

However, SANs make me nervous because they become a single point of failure. It is not unheard of for a SAN to go down or experience performances issues. A couple of examples that students have given me over the last while:
  • A SAN firmware update (installed by the vendor while the vendor is onsite) wiped an entire SAN. Restore of all the SAN data from backup took 3 days.
  • A SAN with unreliable cache disks. This results in downtime while the cache disks are replaced and poor performance until they are replaced. This has been an ongoing issue for this SAN.
And, just for fun, disk in general can be influenced by vibration. Which makes sense when you think about it, but just your shouting can influence disk performance. Imagine construction vibration when piles are being set for a building next door.