Auto-setting a Windows Azure Virtual Machine DNS setting

by Mark Stokes 21. February 2014 11:23

Introduction

If, like me, you are starting to move your Virtual Machines off those pesky laptops and Hyper-V servers that are sitting under your desk, and embracing The Cloud, then you might come across an interesting scenario.

Obviously, we don't want to leave 10's of Virtual Machines up and running in Azure because they will cost a LOT of money whilst sitting there consuming Compute Time whilst not doing anything productive.

Thank god, then, that Microsoft now lets us shut down our VMs and have them release the resources allocated to them so they don't generate bills for compute time whilst not running.

Note: If you shut the machine down from within the VM, it will NOT deallocate those resources, this only happens if you use the "Shutdown" icon in the Azure Portal.

So, what is the issue I was talking about?

The Scenario

When you shut down a Virtual Machine and restart it, the network adapter seems to get re-provisioned.  So, any settings that you gave it (custom IP, DNS, etc) is lost and it gets set back to DHCP.

This is a problem when you have a Active Directory Virtual Machine running as this needs to be set as the DNS server of the Virtual Machines so it can do all it's AD type stuff (such as let you log on with an AD account!)

The first symptom of this scenario is a nice error message when you try to log on with an Active Directory account stating that the domain cannot be found!

So, you have to log on with your local user account, set the DNS and then you can log off and back on again with your domain account.  What a pain!

The Solution

Aside to the, rather annoying, work around above, there is a simple solution.

Create a text file called "setDNS.cmd" and put the following into it:

 

:: Set primary and alternate DNS for IPv4 on Windows Server 
:: 2000/2003/2008 & Windows XP/Vista/7
@ECHO OFF
SETLOCAL EnableDelayedExpansion

SET adapterName=

FOR /F "tokens=* delims=:" %%a IN ('IPCONFIG ^| FIND /I "ETHERNET ADAPTER"') DO (
    SET adapterName=%%a

    REM Removes "Ethernet adapter" from the front of the adapter name
    SET adapterName=!adapterName:~17!

    REM Removes the colon from the end of the adapter name
    SET adapterName=!adapterName:~0,-1!

    netsh interface ipv4 set dns name="!adapterName!" static 10.0.0.4 primary
)

ipconfig /flushdns

:EOF

Make sure to change the IP Address (near the end of the script) to the IP address of your Active Directory Virtual Machine.

Copy that file into the following folder: 

C:\Windows\System32\GroupPolicy\Machine\Scripts\Startup\

Note: This is not my script, I found it here: http://superuser.com/questions/463096/change-dns-with-script 

Now, log onto your Windows Azure Virtual Machine and load up the Local Group Policy Editor (in windows 8 / server 2012, just type "Group Policy" into the windows search and you should find it)

Navigate through to Computer Settings -> Windows Settings -> Scripts (Startup/Shutdown) -> Startup

 

 

Click the Add button, then Browse and select the setDNS.cmd file you created earlier.  You don't need to pass any parameters.

Save out all the windows and you are all set.  Now, the next time that you reboot your Virtual Machine it will restart with the correct DNS servers set and you will be able to log straight in with your Active Directory Account.

Hope this helps.

Tags:

Cloud | Remote Working | Virtualisation | Azure

Migrating from one Office365 Tenancy to another

by Mark Stokes 6. April 2013 08:10

Welcome Red Plane

My company is in the process of rebranding, and with that comes a new name: Red Plane.

Whilst it is straight forward enough to add an additional domain to Office 365, update the user accounts to use the new domain as a default, and register 2 email addresses as routable this doesn't get around the SharePoint Urls that will still be on a hostname that relates to my old company "SharePointStudio.sharepoint.com".  Unfortunately there is no way to change this.

For a lot of companies they may have a large SharePoint implementation and it just isn't worth the effort of moving everything over from one tenancy to another, but in my case I don't have that much in there, so I have nothing to lose really... just my email mailboxes.

I have decided to keep this blog post simple and will consider the scenario where ADFS is not involved.  In fact, in my real scenario I am using ADFS in the original tenancy, but will not be in the new tenancy. At least not for now.

What we want to achieve

To allow us to migrate our user mailboxes with as little disruption as possible I have come up with the following steps:

  1. Create the new tenancy in Office 365
  2. Import and verify your new domain
  3. Configure User and Mailboxes in the new Tenancy
  4. Connect the new mailbox to outlook and test mail routing works properly
  5. Create External Mail Contacts in the original tenancy
  6. Set up Mail Redirect rules in the original tenancy
  7. Test emails to the original address (SharePoint Studio Tenant) get routed to the new address (Red Plane Tenant)
  8. Export to .pst all content from the original mailbox
  9. Import .pst to the new mailbox
  10. If necessary, copy the Calendar items from the original mailbox to the new one
  11. Check everything is working and routing as necessary
  12. Remove the original mailbox from Outlook
At this stage you are nicely set up on your new tenancy, you can send and receive emails on your new address and any emails to your old address will be redirected to your new address. This has a great benefit that email is not Forwarded to your new address (which would show it as from your old email address, not the original senders), but it Redirects the original email so when you see it in your new mailbox it appears to have come from the original sender, which is great.

The next steps

Those steps are all well and good if you intend to maintain the two tenancies and two sets of Exchange Online licenses until you feel you can "turn off" the old email addresses, which may be never and is a total waste of money.  So, we really need a mechanism to configure the old domain in the new tenancy and then set up a secondary email address for our users in the new domain.  

Unfortunately this isn't as easy as it sounds.  This would require us to remove ALL uses of our domain in the original tenancy so that we can remove it, then remove it, then add it into the new tenancy.  Now, if you have ever tried to extract a domain, especially a primary domain from Office365 it is a LOT of work and will probably take a heck of a long time and frustration to do it.  There will also be a period of time where email will get bounced when sent to the original email address as it will no longer be routable when removed from our user mailboxes.

In this scenario what we need to do is implement a intermediary mail server than can do the mail redirection whilst we close down the original tenancy, free up the domain name and can import it into the new tenancy.  This could take the form of a temporary Exchange Server (either on-premise or in Azure) or, as in my case a cheap web host that offers mailboxes and redirects will do the trick.  Here's the steps I took:

  • Create mail forward rules in the external mail provider (eg. forward mark.stokes@sharepointstudio.com to mark.stokes@redplane.co.uk)
  • Create a new catchall (@) MX record in DNS for the external mail servers with a higher priority (lower number) than the Office365 MX records

Now, your email should be forwarding from your old addresses to your new addresses without going through Office365 - and hopefully performing as well as the mail redirect rules within Exchange!

The Final Steps

Now that we have removed reliance on the old tenancy we can delete it, assuming all other data has been migrated out!  When it has gone and we have been able to bring the original domain into the new tenancy and set up secondary email addresses for our users we can remove the forwarding rules and reset the default MX record to point to Office 365 again.

A word about Licenses

The steps outlined above work great for making a migration from one tenancy to another, but there is a big question around the license implications.

In my scenario I have less than 25 users so I am able to run an E3 trial for 30 days and use that time to make my migration. I can then terminate my original licenses (a Service Request to Microsoft is a good way to do this) and then re-purchase them in the new tenancy.  This should allow for the minimum amount of cross over and cost.

In environments with more than 25 users this isn't feasible and there may be some cost implication in running dual licenses for a short period of time while you make the transition.  In this case I would highly recommend contacting Microsoft and asking them if there is any way they can help you out. I have not asked the question, as I didn't need to, but you could ask if they would give you a months "grace" while you make your transition.  If not then you will be working your timing so that you perform your migration right at the end of a billing period so that you have the minimum amount of time between the two sets of licenses.

As with anything Microsoft, the most complex topic is probably licensing!!

 

 

Tags:

Cloud | Office365 | SharePoint 2010 | SharePoint 2013

Part 1: A network in the Sky - The dream

by Mark Stokes 26. February 2013 10:46

Part 1: A network in the Sky - The dream
Part 2: A network in the Sky - Coming soon

This ​series of posts is aimed at looking at the posibilities, pro's, con's and costs of running your entire network (or small portions of it) in the cloud.

There is a lot of talk about moving to The Cloud around at the moment, but just how far can we push it?

At the moment I have a whapping big HyperV server that runs under my desk with dual Xenon processors, 76GB RAM and a couple of Terabytes worth of storage on a RAID disk.  Pretty hefty stuff, then they it does have to run the following VMs:

 

  • Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS), DHCP Server, DNS Server
  • ForeFront TMG
  • SQL Server (yes, it's virtual!)
  • SharePoint 2010 Dev Farm (s)
  • SharePoint 2010 Shared Services Farm
  • SharePoint 2010 Demo Farm
  • SharePoint 2013 Demo Farm
  • SharePoint 2013 Dev Farm
  • Active Directory Federation Serices 2.0 (ADFS2.0)
  • Network Services: TFTP, DirSync, etc
  • Retired TFS Server (which is now on http://tfs.visualstudio.com)
As you can see, it's quite weight to put onto the machines shoulders.  Fortunately for me and my small development team it works like a dream, but it's pretty noisy, I can't log into Office 365 when my internet connection is down, etc and I am looking for a better way.
 
The ultimate aim is to move as much off-site as possible into Windows Azure and keep my house nice and light-weight, save some electricity costs (or move those costs to Cloud costs) drop the noise and be a lot more accessible than I currently am.
 
I don't forsee everything going into The Cloud just yet, I may maintain an on-premise AD, DNS server and I will need my ForeFront TMG server for a while.  I also think that moving my SharePoint Farms and SQL Server into Azure will just be far too expensive to run compared to the office-based server, but we can explore that later on in the series.

Tags:

Cloud

Need Help: Rebuilding my HyperV server

by Mark Stokes 13. March 2012 12:41

I have blogged about my HyperV DevRig​ before, but want to look at making some annual modifications.

I might add some more capacity to it, but to be honest, it isn't overly stretched, so I want to ensure I have everything configured correctly, so any hardware / HyperV buffs, I am looking to you for advice.  Please comment on this blog post, or email me directly: mark dot stokes at sharepointstudio dot com

Current Hardware Setup

Motherboard: Supermicro. Will take Dual Xeon processors
CPU: 1x Intel Xeon (i7 based one) (will take max 2)
Memory: 24Gig (6x4GB) Hynix Server Memory (will take max 96GB)
RAID Controller: HighPoint 2230
Disks: 4x Seagate ST31000524AS 3.5 inch Barracuda 1TB GB 7200rpm SATA
RAID Configuration: RAID 10 comprising 2xRAID1 members with 2 disks each. No Spare disks. 1 large volume split into 2 partitions: C: (60GB)  and D:(1.75TB)
Network Connectivity: 2x Gigabit LAN controllers

Current Software Setup

Windows Server 2008 R2: Installed on C:\ drive
Domain: Not connected to my domain (as my DC is a VM on the server I couldn't add it initially, I probably could now)
HyperV data files: All stored on the D: partition
Roles: Fileservices & HyperV

Virtual Machines in HyperV

Domain Controller
SQLx64
SharePoint 2007
SharePoint 2010 - Collab Farm
SharePoint 2010 - Shared Services Farm
SharePoint 2010 - Client PoC Farm
Network Services - TFTP, TFS, etc

Future State

So, this setup has worked pretty well for me over the last year to 18 months that the server has been running... pretty much faultlessly.  Only today has the RAID controller decided to rebuild the array (which looks like it is going to take DAYS!)

What I want to know, is if I put the effort in, can I drastically improve the stability / performance / expandability of my DevRig.

What would you suggest to change? Some questions I have are:

  1. Would installing a single / RAIDED SSD on a different controller for the Host OS (server 2008 R2 with HyperV) give me any performance / power consumption / stability improvements?
  2. Is the RAID controller ay good? Initially I wanted to run ESXi as the host, but my RAID controller wasn't supported
  3. Should I put my HyperV server on the domain?
  4. Should I move the Domain Controller off the HyperV server onto it's own HP Microserver?

Any other thoughts / Ideas?

Tags:

Cloud | Review | SharePoint 2007 | SharePoint 2010 | Virtualisation

Thoughts on Remote / Home Working

by Mark Stokes 19. December 2011 12:53

As a Freelance SharePoint Consultant I have worked in many different “Management Styles” over the year, with some requiring me to be on-site 9am-5pm, some allowing me to work at my employers offices with their team and going into client site as required, some completely off-site connecting in as required and the most recent having me work from home 90% of the time and travelling into the office when required for face-to-face meetings.

Bringing all this experience together I am certainly a huge fan of virtual and remote working.  I find myself to be so much more productive when I can establish the correct place to work each day.

In this blog post I want to give an overview of some of the benefits that I have found and maybe some of the potential risks of opening up your business to this kind of model.   I am not going to offer any hard research evidence on these views, but will follow up in some later posts giving more details of each point.  Please reply with your comments on your experiences of remote / home working.

Benefits to the employee

  • I can work at times that most suite me
  • I work more hours
  • I don’t sit in traffic wasting time
  • I save a lot of money on fuel
  • I am helping the environment by not driving as much
  • I am home to take deliveries
  • I save money on lunches
  • I can fit work around my other priorities, such as children
  • Fewer interruptions from other team members

Areas of concern to the employee

  • A full week at home can lead to cabin fever
  • Not as easy to build strong relationships
  • Proving I am working and not slacking off

Benefits to the employer

  • Employees tend to work more hours
  • Employees can do their best work at the time of day that they are more productive
  • Savings on office space, desks and other facilities
  • Wider support for mothers and disabled employees
  • Staff can positioned closer to end clients
  • Increased staff motivation with reduces stress and sickness levels

Areas of concern to the employer

  • How do I know my employees are working?
  • Who will answer the phones?
  • Where will people hold meetings?
  • How can I tell if a employee is not happy if I cannot “see “ them
  • Am I insured if my employees work away from the office?
  • How much will it cost to implement a remote working infrastructure?
  • What technology is available to help my remote employees collaborate?
  • Is my information secure when employees are working outside the office?
  • How do we foster team spirit and communities when the staff are not onsite?
  • How do I decide what jobs are suitable to be operated off-site?

In the future I will offer more information on the benefits and drawbacks of remote / home working.

Tags:

Cloud | Contracting | Security | Remote Working

Moving to the Cloud - Part 3 - SIP Telephone system

by Mark Stokes 22. August 2011 13:20

As part of my on-going series of moving as much of my IT / Life into the cloud I have spent the last few weeks trying to get a Cisco 7960 IP phone working with Sipgate.

Since I work at home I wanted a better solution for my many conference calls that I have each day.

I started off with Skype and a USB headset, but that doesn't really work for me.  I tend to have VPN / Citrix sessions open at the same time as sharing with Live Meetings, etc so I often end up sounding like I am in an underwater tunnel, and doesn't give a very professional experience to my clients.

I decided to purchase a Cisco IP Phone because, well, because they are pretty cool and I have used many in offices and just like them.

They are not initially designed to work with SIP providers, so the first task is upgrading the Firmware to the latest SIP version. I am not going to go into great detail on this process as it is already well documented here:

http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/2008/07/configuring-a-cisco-ip-phone-for-voip-using-sip.htm

It took quite a bit of time getting my configuration files right, but once I did get my head around the settings, everything was looking good.  I could make calls out of my home network and the call quality was far better.

Unfortunately I consistently had a little "x" symbol on the line identifier on the screen indicating that the line wasn't registered with Sipgate, even though I could make outgoing calls.  I soon realised that I was unable to receive incoming calls either.  Telnetting to the phone tells me that it is constantly sitting in a "REGISTERING" state.

A lot more playing around with settings, port forwarding on my BT Home Hub 2 router, disabling BT Broadband Talk, etc didn't help at all... and after a few days I even lost the ability to make outgoing calls! Great.  Now I have a large grey doorstop... one that makes the CTU tone on demand though!!

I think I have finally tracked the problem down to the BT Home Hub 2 and the way it handles SIP connections.  Because they build in a SIP gateway for the Broadband Talk features it messes up the port forwarding.  As such I have just purchased a "Draytek Vigor 2710n" modem and router which offers much more configurable options and will even let me register multiple SIP gateways, so I can have multiple lines from different providers.

Once I have the new router in a few days, I will post a follow up to let everyone know if it is working or not.


[UPDATE: 24/08/2011: The new router has made almost all the problems go away. The phone now registers with sipgate and I can make calls out again. The only remaining issue is that when I receive calls, it looks like the other party can't hear me speaking. Hopefully just a minor config issue.]

Tags:

Cloud

Migrating between Office 365 Plans

by Mark Stokes 15. August 2011 09:26

A few weeks ago I moved my Email and website up to Office 365.

Unfortunately un doing so I made a bad decision.  I went for the small business plan (P1) as I am ​an individual user and not an enterprise.

Everything on that plan works just fine for me; Email, Team sites, etc but the one thing that REALLY doesn't work well for me is the external Website feature.

Because I work with SharePoint, I wanted to get my site (this one you are reading) hosted on SharePoint 2010.  I used to host it off my own 2010 server sitting at home using my BizSpark license. 

However, I thought it would be prudent to use Office365 to take the burden off my home server and my internet connection and as part of my "Moving to the Cloud" series it made sense.

Unfortuantely I find the external website feature to be extremely limited.  I have worked around a number of issues, created subsites, made them (mostly) annonymous, etc but I am struggling to really get to grips with making any major edits to the site.  It is very locked down.  Enabling the Wiki Home Page Feature gave me some benefits over the horrible Web Pages library that you get by default, but I want to do more with my external website and using SharePoint Designer to customise master pages and individual pages is a bit of a must really.

So, where does that leave me?

Well, initially I was hoping I could "upgrade" my subscription from Plan P1 to Plan EjQuery15206756513833533973_1364030776751.  Nope.  You can't do that!

So, I have to go through a FULL migration from one Office 365 Acocunt to another.  Joy!

I will try to document my experience here, but thing may go a bit haywire for a bit.

These things tend to take me some time to get around to, so please bear with me if the site goes AWOL for a couple of weeks!

Tags:

Cloud | SharePoint 2010

Moving to the Cloud - Part 2 - Current IT setup/costs

by Mark Stokes 8. July 2011 10:55

In this section I want to get a rough idea of my current IT costs.  Now, as Part 1 suggested I already have some services in the cloud, so I am not starting completely from scratch.

I am also adding some new capabilities (online backup, etc) to the mix, so the final costs may en up being higher, but I'll have a better service for it.  These are just for a guide only.

  • DevRig
    • Initial Cost - £2500
    • Yearly Upgrade Cost - £500
    • Power Cost - ~£150/year
  • Windows Home Server
    • Initial Cost - ~£350
    • Yearly Upgrade Cost - £50
    • Power Cost ~£75/year
  • Broadband
    • Initial Cost - £0
    • Yearly cost - £307.20
  • Software licences
    • MSDN - Initial Cost - Free (BizSpark)
    • Evernote - £28/year
    • MobileMe - £30/year
    • DropBox - £62/year 
    • FreeAgentCentral - £300/year
  • Email
    • 123-reg mail boxes ~£11/year each
    • GMail - Free
  • Skype
    • Initial Cost - Free
    • Yearly cost ~ £120
  • Domains
    • Renewals: Yearly Cost - £30
    • DynDNS: Yearly Cost - £10

So, counting everything up, my yearly costs for IT equate to about: £1673.20

I am a bit surprise at that. I didn't realise it would be so much. I will keep updating this list as I remember more services I use, and also I will create more posts in this series to take account of changes.

Feel Free to comment on any of this.​

Tags:

Cloud

Moving to the Cloud - Part 1

by Mark Stokes 24. May 2011 10:00

Over the last year or so I have​ started to move some of my core personal IT functions to the cloud.  I have had many reasons to start moving some of them and have been doing on it a sort of ad-hoc basis without much thought or direction.  If a service looks good, I'd give it a whirl.

Recently I have been reading more and more about the Cloud and can't help but think that it has to be the future of IT.  The more I read about the cloud, the more wastage I see in our everyday IT infrastructures.  Most companies scale to support peaks in their IT requirements (if you don't, then you should!) so at any time there is probably a good 80% (my figure based on no scientific research) of IT resources that are not being utilised. Just think of the cost of wastage here! Power/Utility bills, datacenter / hosting, air conditioning, unused licenses, hardware depreciation, etc.

This is where The Cloud is aiming to disrupt the way we work. By providing a scalable and distributed environment where organisations can PAYG (Pay As You Go) for the services they require when they need it.  The close we can run systems to capacity (without going over) the more cost effective them become.  Why run a 40Mbit internet connection at home for £50/month and download 10MB worth of internet pages and emails, when you could run a 1Mb connection at capacity for £5 a month and get the same level of real-world service. Which do you think gives you better value for money?

Anyway, this post is not meant to be a review of The Could in general, but an introduction to my personal goal of moving as much of my personal IT to The Cloud as possible or as appropriate.  Some functions might not be ready to go up.

I do currently have some Cloud Services in place, but I will be reviewing these and making any changes that seem appropriate along the way.

At the moment I use:

  • Dropbox for file storage / cross device content access
  • FreeAgent Central for accounting / finance
  • Gmail for personal mail
  • 123-reg mailbox for work email
  • Exchange servers for client-based email accounts
  • Google Calendar for personal calenders
  • Exchange / Outlook for Mac for work calendar
  • MobileMe for contact / calendar synchronisation
  • Evernote for cross device note taking
  • Flickr for photo sharing
  • Facebook / Twitter for social networking
  • Skype for IP phones
  • LastPass - Passwor management

I also have some semi-cloud services, or private cloud services

  • iTunes for music distribution around my house
  • Windows Home Server for home file storage (such as a big Lightroom 3 photo library that I decided was too big to go on Dropbox)
  • #devrig - My workhorse.  This is a fat HyperV server running: AD, TFS, SQLx64, ForeFront TMG, SharePoint 2007, SharePoint 2010

So, I actually have more cloud based services that I realise but they are all pretty much disconnected, I have different logon accounts for each one.  There must be a better way.

Over the next few months I will be tackling different areas of my IT profile and trying to build a personal IT Infrastructure that is scalable, interconnected, highly available and accessible and hopefully cost effective.

I want to run this series in a reasonably agile maner, picking on topics as I approach them and highlighting my experiences good and bad.

Since this is a voyage of discovery I am VERY keen to hear other peoples experiences, so either leave comments here, tweet me @markstokes or drop me an email: mark [dot] stokes [at] sharepointstudio [dot] com

My next post might be about evaluating how much I currently spend on IT, both hardware / software costs, services licenses (MobileMe, FreeAgent, Evernote, etc), Internet Connection, power consumption (of my 24/7 devrig and home server). I am sure that will make surprising reading! Hopefully I'll be able to keep a running tab on my operating costs and see if moving to the cloud improves, not only my monetary cost, but my value for money. It might end up costing more, but if that brings added functionality (security, reliability, accessability, performance etc) then it might be money worth spending.

Tags:

Cloud

About the author

My name is Mark Stokes and I work for Red Plane.  This is my personal blog and entries may not represent the views of my employer.  I am interested in Travel, Extreme Sports, Photography, Technology, Gadgets, Raspberry Pi and, of course, SharePoint!

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