Getting ready for MEC 2014

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since my last post here. In general I am not a believer in posting stuff on a regular schedule, preferring instead to wait until I have something to say. All of my “saying” lately has been on behalf of my employer though. I have barely even had time to fly. For another time: a detailed discussion of the ins and outs of shopping for an airplane. For now, though, I am making my final preparations to attend this year’s Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Austin! My suitcase is packed, all my devices are charged, my slides are done, and I am prepared to overindulge in knowledge sharing, BBQ eating, and socializing.

It is interesting to see the difference in flavor between Microsoft’s major enterprise-focused conferences. This year was my first trip to Lync Conference, which I would summarize as being a pretty even split between deeply technical sessions and marketing focused around the business and customer value of “universal communications”. In reviewing the session attendance and rating numbers, it was no surprise that the most-attended sessions and the highest-rated sessions tended to be 400-level technical sessions such as Brian Ricks’ excellent deep-dive on Lync client sign-in behavior. While I’ve never been to a SharePoint Conference, from what my fellow MVPs say about it, there was a great deal of effort expended by Microsoft on highlighting the social features of the SharePoint ecosystem, with a heavy focus on customization and somewhat less attention directed at SharePoint Online and Office 365. (Oh, and YAMMER YAMMER YAMMER YAMMER YAMMER.) Judging from reactions in social media, this focus was well-received but inevitably less technical given the newness of the technology.

That brings us to the 2014 edition of MEC. The event planners have done something unique by loading the schedule with “Unplugged” panel discussions, moderated by MVP and MCM/MCSM experts and consisting of Microsoft and industry experts in particular technologies. These panels provide an unparalleled opportunity to get, and give, very candid feedback around individual parts of Exchange and I plan on attending as many of them as I can. This is in no way meant to slight the many other excellent sessions and speakers that will be there. I’d planned to summarize specific sessions that I thought might be noteworthy, but Tony published an excellent post this morning that far outdoes what I had in mind, breaking down sessions by topic area and projected attendance. Give it a read.

I’m doing two sessions on Monday: Exchange Unified Messaging Deep Dive at 245p and Exchange ActiveSync: Management Challenges and Best Practices at 1145a. The latter is a vendor session with the folks from BoxTone, during which attendees both get lunch (yay) and the opportunity to see BoxTone’s products in action. They’re also doing a really interesting EAS health check, during which you provide CAS logs and they run them through a static analysis tool that, I can almost guarantee, will tell you things you didn’t know about your EAS environment. Drop by and say hello!

Leave a comment

Filed under UC&C

“Ceres” Search Foundation install error in Exchange 2013 SP1

When deploying the RTM build of Exchange 2013 SP1, I found that one of my servers was throwing an error I hadn’t seen before during installation. (The error message itself is below for reference,) I found few other reports, although KB article 2889663 reports a similar problem with CU1 and CU2, caused by a trailing space in the PSModulePath environment variable. That wasn’t the problem in my case. Brian Reid mentioned that he’d had the same problem a few times, and that re-running setup until it finished normally was how he fixed it. So I tried that, and sure enough, the install completed normally. In most cases I wouldn’t bother to post a blog article saying “this problem went away on its own,” but the error seemed sufficiently unusual that I thought it might be helpful to document it for future generations.

Warning:
An unexpected error has occurred and a Watson dump is being generated: The following error was generated when "$error.Clear();
            if ($RoleProductPlatform -eq "amd64")
            {
                $fastInstallConfigPath = Join-Path -Path $RoleBinPath -ChildPath "Search\Ceres\Installer";
                $command = Join-Path -Path $fastInstallConfigPath -ChildPath "InstallConfig.ps1";
                $dataFolderPath = Join-Path -Path $RoleBinPath -ChildPath "Search\Ceres\HostController\Data";

                # Remove previous SearchFoundation configuration
                &$command -action u -silent;
                try
                {
                    if ([System.IO.Directory]::Exists($dataFolderPath))
                    {
                        [System.IO.Directory]::Delete($dataFolderPath, $true);
                    }
                }
                catch
                {
                    $deleteErrorMsg = "Failure cleaning up SearchFoundation Data folder. - " + $dataFolderPath + " - " + $_.Exception.Message;
                    Write-ExchangeSetupLog -Error $deleteErrorMsg;
                }

                # Re-add the SearchFoundation configuration
                try
                {
                    # the BasePort value MUST be kept in sync with dev\Search\src\OperatorSchema\SearchConfig.cs
                    &$command -action i -baseport 3800 -dataFolder $dataFolderPath -silent;
                }
                catch
                {
                    $errorMsg = "Failure configuring SearchFoundation through installconfig.ps1 - " + $_.Exception.Message;
                    Write-ExchangeSetupLog -Error $errorMsg;

                    # Clean up the failed configuration attempt.
                    &$command -action u -silent;
                    try
                    {
                        if ([System.IO.Directory]::Exists($dataFolderPath))
                        {
                            [System.IO.Directory]::Delete($dataFolderPath, $true);
                        }
                    }
                    catch
                    {
                        $deleteErrorMsg = "Failure cleaning up SearchFoundation Data folder. - " + $dataFolderPath + " - " + $_.Exception.Message;
                        Write-ExchangeSetupLog -Error $deleteErrorMsg;
                    }
                }
            }
        " was run: "Error occurred while uninstalling Search Foundation for Exchange.System.Exception: Cannot determine the product name registry subkey, neither the 'RegistryProductName' application setting nor the 'CERES_REGISTRY_PRODUCT_NAME' environment variable was set
   at Microsoft.Ceres.Common.Utils.Registry.RegistryUtils.get_ProductKeyName()
   at Microsoft.Ceres.Exchange.PostSetup.DeploymentManager.DeleteDataDirectory()
   at Microsoft.Ceres.Exchange.PostSetup.DeploymentManager.Uninstall(String installDirectory, String logFile)
   at CallSite.Target(Closure , CallSite , Type , Object , Object )".

2 Comments

Filed under UC&C

Stuck! (or, why I need an instrument rating)

Earlier this week I suffered an indignity common to all VFR pilots who fly cross-country: I got stuck someplace by weather.

I’d flown into Houston on Saturday evening, planning to hop down to Corpus Christi the next day and then back to Alexandria Sunday night. The weather Saturday night when I arrived (after a loooong flight featuring a steady 40kt headwind) was marginal VFR, with ceilings of just under 3000’, but the weather cleared a good bit Sunday afternoon to the west. I wasn’t able to get to Corpus, but I had hopes that the weather would clean up Monday morning so I could make it to Alex to surprise Julie before she arrived.

Long story short: not only did the weather not improve, it got quite a bit worse and stayed that way until midmorning Wednesday.

This picture from Tuesday morning sums it up nicely. In the foreground on the left, you see N1298M, my trusty steed. Pretty much everywhere else, you see clouds. The weather at the time I took this was 600’ ceilings with visibility of 3/4 statute miles. Needless to say, that is not legal weather for flying under visual flight rules. Later that day, it started to rain, and rain, and RAIN. I wasn’t the only plane stuck on the ground, but at least the FBO operated by Gill Aviation had a good restaurant (try the pecan-crusted catfish!) and free cookies.

PaulR  Dell 20140224 001

Wednesday morning the weather cleared a bit; it was 2800’ broken and 7SM visibility when I took off. I had to pick my way around a bit; instead of going direct I first went north to Conroe/Lone Star Executive, thence more or less direct to Bastrop (which has an almost deserted airport with a super helpful attendant), thence direct to Redstone. The flight home was perfectly uneventful, with weather steadily clearing as I got further to the east. But being pinned on the ground was aggravating, and it’s clear that I need to work on getting my instrument rating sooner rather than later. Luckily I have a plan…

1 Comment

Filed under Aviation

Thursday trivia #106

Busy, busy, busy. Just a few quick hits this week:

  • Great article on Mountain View, my former home in California. I agree with its characterization of MTV as “Googletown,” and anyone who’s been there for more than about 15 minutes can testify that the traffic problems mentioned in the article are a) real b) worsening and c) largely a result of Google’s campus location and size. 
  • Could Columbia have been rescued on orbit?
  • MEC is just a few weeks away— I need to get to work on my slides. 
  • I note that all 3 panes of the animation now showing on the MEC home page talk about Office 365 and none mention on-prem. I’m sure that’s just an oversight.
  • My most recent cross-country trip put me over the 250-hour flying mark, with 141 hours as pilot-in-command and nearly 101 hours of cross-country time. Not much, but it’s a start.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Aviation, General Stuff

Office 365 Personal Archives limited to 100GB

There’s a bit of misinformation, or lack of information, floating around about the use of Office 365 Personal Archives. This feature, which is included in the higher-end Office 365 service plans (including E3/E4 and the corresponding A3/A4 plans for academic organizations), is often cited as one of the major justifications for moving to Office 365. It’s attractive because of the potential savings from greatly reducing PST file use and eliminating (or at least sharply reducing) the use of on-premises archiving systems such as Enterprise Vault.

Some Microsoft folks have been spreading the good news that archives are unlimited (samples here and here), and so have many consultants, partners, and vendors– including me. In fact, I had a conversation with a large customer last week in which they expressed positive glee about being able to get their data out of on-prem archives and into the cloud.

The only problem? Saying the archives are unlimited isn’t quiiiiite true.

If you read the service description for Exchange Online (which we all should be doing regularly anyway, as it changes from time to time), you’ll see this:

Clip from Nov 2013 O365 service description

Clip from Nov 2013 O365 service description

See that little “3″? Here’s its text:

Each subscriber receives 50 GB of storage in the primary mailbox, plus unlimited storage in the archive mailbox. A default quota of 100 GB is set on the archive mailbox, which will generally accommodate reasonable use, including the import of one user’s historical email. In the unlikely event that a user reaches this quota, a call to Office 365 support is required. Administrators can’t increase or decrease this quota.

So as an official matter, there is no size limit. As a practical matter, the archive is soft-limited to 100GB, and if you want to store more data than that, you’ll have to call Microsoft support to ask for a quota increase. My current understanding is that 170GB is the real limit, as that is the maximum size to which the quota can currently be increased. I don’t know if Microsoft has stated this publicly anywhere yet but it’s certainly not in the service descriptions. That limit leads me to wonder what the maximum functional size of an Office 365 mailbox is– that is, if Microsoft didn’t have the existing 100GB quota limit in place, how big a mailbox could they comfortably support? (Note that this is not the same as asking what size mailbox Outlook can comfortably support, and I bet those two numbers wouldn’t match anyway.) I suppose that in future service updates we’ll find out, given that Microsoft is continuing to shovel mailbox space at users as part of its efforts to compete with Google.

Is this limit a big deal? Not really; the number of Office 365 customers who will need more than 100GB of archive space for individual user mailboxes is likely to be very small. The difference between “unlimited” and “so large that you’ll never encounter the limit” is primarily one of semantics. However, there’s always a danger that customers will react badly to poor semantics, perhaps because they believe that what they get isn’t what they were promised. While I would like to see more precision in the service descriptions, it’s probably more useful to focus on making sure that customers (especially those who are heavy users of on-premises archives or PST files) know that there’s currently a 100GB quota, which is why I wrote this post.

For another time: a discussion of how hard, or easy, it is to get large volumes of archive data into Office 365 in the first place. That’s one of the many topics I expect to see explored in great depth at MEC 2014, where we’ll get the Exchange team’s perspective, and then again at Exchange Connections 2014, where I suspect we’ll get a more nuanced view.

3 Comments

Filed under Office 365, UC&C

Conquering the instrument written exam

BLUF: this was one of the most difficult written exams I’ve ever taken, far harder than any IT certification exam I’ve done,

Back in December I wrote about the instrument written, widely alleged to be the most difficult of the FAA’s written exams.

There’s a lot of disagreement over the “right” way to earn a new rating or pilot certificate. What works for me is to study the knowledge base that I have to demonstrate mastery of while I’m working on the airmanship portion. Some folks advocate completing the written before any flight training starts, while others prefer to put the written off until right before the check ride. I guess my approach is somewhere in between. At the time of my December post, I had envisioned taking the test sometime in the first quarter; right after Christmas, I had the opportunity to sign up at a reduced rate for the Aviation Ground Schools program, so I signed up and set a goal of taking the exam on 10 February, the day after the school ended.

My path to the exam involved several different sources of information. The FAA doesn’t publicly post its pool of test questions, but the exam has been around long enough, and the knowledge areas are well-enough known, that all of the major test prep products have more or less the same questions. Each provider has a different approach to how they teach the material; some prefer Gleim, some swear by ASA, and so on. I spent a lot of time with Sporty’s Study Buddy app, which is a pretty faithful simulation of the test, and I read everything about IFR I could get my hands on, including the excellent AskACFI web site and the forums at the Cessna Pilots’ Association web site. Caroline, one of my two flight instructors, gave me a list of stuff to read that was very helpful, and I started working my way through both the FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook and the FAA Instrument Flying Handbook. It’s fair to say that I was stuffing my head with a lot of somewhat disconnected facts and factoids, so I was a little concerned when I headed off for my test prep seminar last weekend.

The seminar I chose is run by Don Berman, who started flying the year I was born and started instructing before I was housebroken.  Online registration was simple and quick, and I got ample preflight notification of everything I needed: what to bring, where the class would be held, what the cancellation policy was, and so on. The seminar I attended was held at the Comfort Inn near Houston Hobby: not a fancy hotel, but adequate for what we needed. When I arrived, Don introduced himself, gave me a fat stack of material, and got us started right on time. He’s an extremely lively presenter and his long experience as a pilot, flight instructor, and classroom teacher shines through, both in his delivery and in the quality of his presentation and visual aids. He’s also clearly got a lot of experience with classroom management; he started and ended on time, gave us adequate breaks, and kept everyone on task. He handed out optional quizzes at lunch both days and Saturday at the end of class, along with a final exam (again optional) on Sunday. The questions were hand-selected by him from the pool of questions in the ASA book; he said that if we could handle them, we should have no trouble with the actual exam.

In fairness, I should point out that Don bills his seminars as test preparation seminars— that’s exactly what they deliver. There were a few areas (like how to interpret an HSI, a navigation instrument that I’ve never flown with) where I came into the seminar with weak skills. Don taught me what I needed to know to dissect and answer test questions about HSIs, but I’m still not ready to jump in an HSI-equipped airplane and use it for a cross-country flight. Which is fine— the test covers all sorts of other things that I will probably never use, including automatic direction finding (ADF) equipment. With the test out of the way, I can now focus on building skills with the equipment I do fly with.

One of my biggest customers asked that I be in Raleigh on the 10th, so I flew there straightaway and stayed there Monday and Tuesday (escaping just in time to avoid their snowmageddon). Today was my first window of time to schedule the test. I was a little concerned that I would forget some of the more esoteric material, and I did. However, my basic knowledge was pretty solid, and I think the random selection of test questions was feeling friendly since I only got a handful of questions on my weaker topics. One interesting aspect of the test is that a new set of questions, with associated diagrams, was just added to the test pool on Monday, so there were some question types that were new to me.

I passed the exam with an 87%, a score I am delighted with. That said, I have a few problems areas that I need to work on as I continue my training, and I realize that passing the written doesn’t mean that I know anywhere close to all that I need to pass my check ride… but I’m getting there!

Leave a comment

Filed under Aviation

Getting ready for Lync Conference 2014 (bonus Thursday Trivia #106)

So, first: here’s the view from my second-floor home office:

PaulR  Dell 20140213 003

Actually, I had to walk across the street to get this particular shot, but it was worth it. We got about 4” or so of snow in my neighborhood; I got out of Raleigh just in time to miss their snowmageddon, which suits me fine. The boys and I had a good time about 10pm last night throwing snowballs and watching big, fat flakes fall. The roads are passable now and will get better as it warms, but tonight it’ll be cold again and they’ll probably refreeze.

I’m making my final preparations for Lync Conference 2014 next week. I’m presenting a total of four times:

  • VOICE401, “Deep Dive: Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013 Unified Messaging Integration”, is on Wednesday at 1pm in Copperleaf 10. This session will cover some of the internals of Exchange UM; it’s targeted at Lync admins who may not have much knowledge of Exchange but are already familiar with SIP signaling and the like.
  • SERV301, “Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013: ‘Better Together’ Demystified”, is on Tuesday at 2pm in Copperleaf 9, and there is a repeat scheduled for Wednesday at 430p (also in Copperleaf 9). This session covers all the places where Exchange and Lync tie together so that you get a bette experience when both are deployed.
  • On Tuesday at 430p, I’m taking part in an informal session on Exchange-y stuff at the Microsoft booth in the exhibit hall. This is super informal, so it’s probably the best place to drop by and say hello if you can.

Dell has a pretty heavy presence at the show; Michael Przytula is presenting a session covering the Lync device ecosystem (Wednesday, 230p, Bluehorn 1-3) that I think will be pretty neat, because who doesn’t love shiny devices? George Cordeiro and Doug Davis are both doing sessions around how to identify the actual ROI of a Lync deployment, which is something customers often ask about before deployment. Even if that doesn’t sound interesting, the Dell booth will be staffed by some of our hotshot Lync guys (including Louis Howard and Scott Moore), and we’re giving away a Venue 11 Pro and a bunch of very nice Jabra and Plantronics headsets.

Now, your trivia for the week:

Leave a comment

Filed under General Stuff, UC&C