Geek Speak

11 Posts authored by: exchangegoddess

What do The Guru, The Expert, The Maven, The Trailblazer, The Leading Light, The Practice Leader, The Heavyweight, The Opinion Shaper, and The Influencer all have in common? These are all other examples of what to are commonly referred to as “Thought Leaders.” Some may say it’s the latest buzzword by calling experts and influencers "Thought Leaders," but buzzword or not, Thought Leaders have been around way before the buzzword came to use.  Thought Leaders are the go-to expert among industry colleagues and peers. They are the influencers that lead direction within an organization, and sometimes they can be that leading light in your department that innovates new ideas and visions. Thought Leaders are often not in direct line of the management chain, but instead complement management and lead through example to execute vision and goals.

 

Not All Thought Leaders are the Same

The saying “One size does NOT fit all” can also refer to Thought Leadership because not all Thought Leaders are the same. Some Thought Leaders are about cutting-edge trends while others are there to inspire others. However, most Thought Leaders are experts in a field or industry and sometimes have a stance on a particular topic. They look beyond the business agenda and see the overall picture because every industry is constantly evolving. Being able to have insight in the trends and applying them to achieve and deliver results is part of the equation. You must be able to lead others and want to develop them as people not just players on a team.

When someone asks me how they can become a Thought Leader, I tell them this isn’t about you, it’s about others. When you help others by sharing your knowledge and experiences, all that other stuff will naturally come. Thought leadership status isn’t obtained through a single article or social media post on Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s something that you build your experiences and create credibility among your followers or your team at work. Experience takes time. Experience also means not only learning but listening to others. Everyone has different ideas and opinions, and being humble to listen and understand others is a critical part of the learning process. Thought Leaders don’t have all the answers and they are constantly learning themselves.

Credibility does not always mean obtaining all the latest industry certificates. While it can help, it’s not everything because having real life experiences is just as important. Someone that has all certifications in the industry but doesn’t have any applied real-world experiences will probably not get the same credibility as someone with 15+ years’ experience and fewer certifications.

Being the “Go To” person means defining trends or topics and showing your followers how they can take that knowledge to go farther with it. Once you are there it doesn’t stop either because you will need to continue to be involved and learning, otherwise your followers will eventually stop following you for guidance and that “vision.”

It’s About Others

I still get shocked sometimes when people refer to me as a Thought Leader. The reason why is because I didn’t set out to become a thought leader. What I wanted to do and still want to do is make a difference in the world and company I work for and to my coworkers and peers. I wanted to help others be successful by sharing any knowledge or skills that I may have. My hope was that by sharing my experiences others can be empowered to better themselves. Early on in my IT career, a manager gave me the best advice: sharing your knowledge will make you more valuable and it will motivate you to learn more. I have since kept that advice and use it daily. 

 

“Hello! My Name is Phoummala and I have re-occurring imposter syndrome. I struggle with this frequently and it’s a battle that I know I am not alone in.”

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Imposter syndrome can occur repeatedly. It can affect anyone and does not discriminate.  The smart successful “rock stars” in your industry to the everyday employee, that feeling of being a fraud and someday someone is going to find that you don’t know anything: it lives in more people’s heads more than you realize. YES, it’s that ugly voice in your head telling you that don’t deserve that promotion or that you can’t do something because everybody is way smarter than you. If you’ve experienced that voice, then you at some point have had imposter syndrome. This blog post is not about curing imposter syndrome, because honestly as humans I do not think we can, but we can overcome it when that negative voice in our head pops up again.

There has been a lot of research on why imposter syndrome happens, and experts point to various reasons ranging from more intense competition in the workplace, increasing professional success, to low self-esteem and other contributing background factors. I can list off all the research gone into this, but at the end of the day we know it happens and we need to beat it to continue to be successful in our lives.

Beating Imposter Syndrome

I am not a healthcare professional. These are simply suggestions from what I have used to beat my imposter syndrome. If you are currently suffering from this and it is severely affecting your life, such as depression, I strongly recommend speaking to someone in the medical field.

  1. Acknowledgement - The first step to overcoming anything is to acknowledge it, like overcoming addictions and other conditions we need to acknowledge that these thoughts exist. Once you’ve done this, you can tell that ugly voice it needs to go away so you can take control of your own self-power.
  2. Talk – Now that you’ve acknowledged it, talk about it. Find someone that you can trust and talk about your feelings. Yes, we can talk about feelings in IT. Talking to someone can release so much stress and pressure. The key here is to talk to someone that is in within your support circle and not someone that is going to talk negative. We want positive thoughts here!
  3. Reaffirm – When my imposter syndrome kicks in, I tell myself all the good things I’ve done and list off successes. Go through your accomplishments and celebrate each one because you wouldn’t have gotten those if you didn’t do something great. Another tip is to record your successes somewhere, perhaps a journal or notebook in your desk, and each time you start to feel bad, pull out that list and read out the accomplishments.
  4. Strike a Pose – Yes, you read that correctly, strike a pose--a power pose, that is. Power poses can help gain your self-power and help you feel more powerful. Yes, there is such a thing as power poses. Thanks to my friend Jeramiah that introduced me to this Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. Amy is a Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist, basically an expert in her area—and she has experienced imposter syndrome herself! Amy talks about how our body language affects how we see ourselves and how others see us. With simple changes in our posture and body language, you can start to feel confident and powerful. Sitting straight and upright, no slouching, and doing the Wonder Woman pose all help us feel more powerful. To find out more about power poses, check out her Ted Talk .
  5. Fake it – There are so many variations of the saying “Fake it …” but this does work. You can trick yourself into thinking you can do it until you become it. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk goes into deep discussion about this and she believes that it’s possible to fake feelings and gain that power back until we truly feel more powerful. “Don’t fake it ‘til you make it. Fake it ‘til you become it.” Her Ted Talk is amazing and I highly recommend it to everyone.

 

 

We are Humans

I cannot stress enough that we are humans and we cannot be expected to know everything. It’s just not possible. It’s also okay to feel what you feel. Without emotions, we aren’t living a real life and that’s what makes us humans so unique.  So, when you start to hear that ugly voice telling yourself that you suck or that you’re a fraud, tell yourself, “It’s okay” that I felt this way and I won’t let it continue because I belong here.  Believe in yourself!

 

The technology industry is about technology. Technology is the fastest changing industry there is, but the often-overlooked part of this industry is the humans that work with the technology. Humans are not robots, even though some may feel or think that we are. There are many facets to humans. We are the most complex machine there is, yet we have the most difficult time understanding and taking care of ourselves. For this post I’m going to discuss two things about us humans in regards to working in tech. Both of these topics are hot items to discuss now as we are realizing that it takes much more than showing up to work to be successful in today’s world. These two pillars are the soft skills needed for the tech industry and maintain work-life balance.

Why Are Soft Skills Important?

Soft skills are something that’s needed for everyone to be successful in almost any job. These are different from hard skills because they are not typically attained through any formal education, training programs, or certifications. They are the interpersonal skills that are somewhat harder to define and evaluate, unlike a skill needed to deploy a highly complex set of systems.

We need to develop these skills to interact with each other. Some people are better at it than others. Long gone are the days of the IT guy/gal sitting in a dark cubicle that doesn’t interact with the rest of the company. IT professionals in today’s age must interact with business units, customers, partners, and especially each other within a team. It’s important to develop these soft skills so that you can work amongst each other and collaborate effectively. Soft skills are also the type of skills that can be transferable to any career. Keep in mind it takes time to develop them. Some key soft skills are communication and teamwork.

Communication – This includes listening, verbal, and written communication. The tones of or voices and how they are written can be interpreted differently by many people, affecting how we are perceived. Listening is so important because oftentimes we are trying to form a response to someone without actually listening to what the other person has to say. Taking a step back and carefully listening to someone while they speak helps us truly understand what they are saying.

Teamwork – Enough can’t be said about teamwork. There is no “I” in team. You need to be able to work with others around you even if you don’t agree with them. Being able to negotiate with others is important because we can’t always have our way as much as we’d like to. It’s give and take. 

Everybody Needs Work-Life Balance

I’m going to start off by saying I am by no means a mental health professional, but what I can attest to is that I am a recovering burnout IT professional. Like soft skills, handling stress and maintaining balance in your life comes in different ways for each person. What is clear is that everybody needs it otherwise you will get burnt out. If you need more details on burnout, the Mayo Clinic has a great article written about Job Burnout.

Maintaining balance is critical in the IT industry, as it is often a very stressful job with extremely long hours and crazy demands. A lot of us work on-call and when there are issues, you can be working 24-36 hours straight with very few breaks. The occasional long hours are usually not an issue. It becomes an issue when they are repeatedly done. We all need sleep, some more than others, but we still need a break. Our brains need to shut off and take some time to recoup to be refreshed.

The relationships, our families and loved ones, are affected by how we work. Working 24/7 does not help your family even though we may have in our minds we are working to provide for our family. We are no good to them if we are not engaged and present with them. Constantly working and not disengaging has long-lasting effects. This is something I am all too familiar with and work on improving every day. The saying, “Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work,” is so true. There is no time machine. You can’t go back in time for missing out on special occasions or memories made. Take the time needed for family and yourself.

Having balance in our lives keeps up healthy. We keep ourselves in a good state of mind and it helps with burnout. We need this to be successful people in our personal and professional lives, otherwise we are just like zombies walking around.

 

 

The IT journey is really nothing more than your career plan or goals that you have for your career. It’s the story of you. I call it the IT Journey because it’s a journey through the many phases of your life and not a sprint. It doesn’t have to be a defined plan of what you do, but it certainly helps if you have some sort of plan. Planning and defining your career goals is important because at some point in your working career you will want a raise or promotion. You WILL want more. You will want to take on more than just going to work and pushing buttons. We are humans and it is very natural for us to do that. Defining your goals, your desires for your career and where you are in a year, three years, or even five years helps you achieve more, but it also helps you know what your next steps are.

It feels like yesterday that I was just starting out in IT and my only goal was to find a job “fixing computers.” Back then I didn’t realize that I should’ve had some type of career goal or plan beyond finding a job and keeping it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that having goals would help me achieve more fulfillment.  As I struggled to attain more than merely keeping my IT job, I began to understand the importance of defining what I wanted from my jobs and career. I had this itch for something more substantial. I was working like crazy, but my results were not happening. The promotions were not happening like I wanted them to. Some would say part of that was bias and some discrimination. I wouldn’t argue that wasn’t true because I am sure that had a lot to do with it. Either way, it was part of my journey and changes needed to be made if I wanted to achieve that “more.” It was like a turning point for me when I realized that defining what my journey was going to be like instead of the annual performance review nightmare. I took this time each year to reflect on what my journey was going to be like. Taking my journey by the horns allowed me to advance further in my career. 

You own your life. Your career. You are the author of your story. Build it. Don’t let someone own that position in your life.

At the very least, set some goals for yourself. While professional coaches will tell you to set long-term goals, it can be difficult to do for some given the type of industry we are in. Technology moves so fast that what you are doing now may not be relevant in a few years. Make some short-term goals and long-term goals. Determine what success means to you. Is it working remote? Leading a team? Or as simple as specializing in a type of technology? Success means different things to different people. Envision yourself in 1 year or 5 years, and ask yourself, "What I do I see myself doing?"

Write those goals down and start a plan on how to achieve them. Create milestones that are more attainable and realistic. Be the executive producer of your story. When defining your goals, take it back to these simple questions:

1. What – What are my goals?
2. Who – Who does it take to help me get there? Do I need a supporting cast member?
3. How – How will I do it?
4. Where – Do I need to move or change jobs?
5. When - When does it happen?

When you reach milestones or achievements, reward yourself. Remember this is a journey, not a sprint, and you need to celebrate those wins in your life. There are going to be ups and downs. Success is a result of many failures. Learn from those mistakes to be a better you. Stay focused but also open-minded that the journey may take you down a different path from the original plan. The old saying, “you don’t do it until you try it,” holds very true, even when speaking about careers. You may realize that specializing in something isn’t what you like and decide to change course. That is perfectly okay. In fact, you should “recheck” your goals periodically to see if it’s still the correct path and what you want. You may discover, as people often do, that you as person changes. Your likes and dislikes can change over time, and this can affect how your career continues. Taking charge of your career, being that “star” role with how your journey is played out, will help make it successful for you. 

 

Updating your Active Directory Schema is something that needs to be done from time to time whether we like it or not. It is done to either support a new version of the OS Domain controller or because an AD integrated application such as Exchange, Skype for Business or SCCM requires the update. Regardless of the reasons the mere mention of an Active Directory ( AD) Schema update would make administrators cringe. The dreaded fear of the schema update is mostly due to the fact that this an update that cannot be undone. There is no uninstall button that allows you to reverse your changes. Things would get complicated if you have AD-integrated applications or have third party applications that also extended your schema.

 

Active Directory is like a beating heart

 

For those not sure what Active Directory is, it is a database of objects that represents users, computers, groups etc in your network, as well as being used for authentication and authorization. The schema is the component of Active Directory that defines all the objects with classes and attributes. For each version of Windows Server Domain Services, for instance the schema is different between AD 2003 and AD 2008 and AD 20012. When you introduce a new Domain controller with newer version OS you will need to update your schema.

 

 

I sometimes refer to AD as the heart of the network. The flow of the network, your enterprise objects, pass through this beating heart and if it has a brief hiccup or is slowed down it can affect the overall function of your network. Users not being able to login to their computers can have major impacts to the business and productivity loss can cost lost dollars. A non-working heart can be almost paralyzing for some businesses.

 

Upgrade all things NOW!

 

If there is mention of a schema update most would tend to delay an upgrade until they felt it was “safe”. Now this push of new product releases every 18 -24 months by Microsoft, it has introduced a re-thinking of sorts. In effort to reduce the fear and increase upgrades they have made these schema updates a little less painful and sometimes almost transparent. With each new release they simplify and make it easier to deploy and update.

 

With Windows server 2012 they made that process simpler by simplifying the upgrade process. The functions of with adprep and /forestprep, /domainprep have now been wrapped up into the Active Directory Domain Services role installation process making the process much easier through a few click of next. You can still use the command and do it manually if you want to be old school.

 

 

Schema updates are almost required for every Exchange Service Pack or major CU update now. The same can be said for other Microsoft applications such as Skype for Business and SCCM. They have made it so easy that in some cases, by installing the Application update such as a CU for Exchange 2013 the schema update process was built into the application. Given that the account you were using to run the Exchange update had all the appropriate permissions to update AD the schema, the update would be easy and seamless.


I think the level of fear of schema updates has decreased somewhat in past several years with administrators having to do it more often and the process to update keeps getting easier by Microsoft. Now if you have third party applications that extend your schema that may not be as pain free. As with any upgrade/update, you should always plan accordingly and test as much as possible, even the simple point and click ones.

The “cloud” can mean so many things to different people. Depending on who you ask, it could mean SaaS ( software as a service ) running Salesforce in the cloud but another person may say it's running servers on AWS. The definition of cloud can be cloudy but the transition to cloud is the same regardless of what your putting there.

 

When you make that decision to transition the cloud, having a plan or tool kit is useful.  It’s very similar to an upgrade or deployment plan that I recently blogged about last month on Geek Speak called BACK TO BASICS TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL UPGRADE. The same concept of project planning can be applied to transitioning to the cloud, with some minor tweaks and details to add.

 

Building you own “Cloud” Avengers…

 

If you want a smooth transition, it’s always best to get all the players involved from the start. Yes, that means networking, server team, application team and Security. I would say getting security involved from the start is key because they can shoot down plans because of not meeting some compliance standard, which then delays your transition. However, with security involved from the start means that you’re planning the right way from the start and will have a less likely chance of security delaying your project.  Getting everyone together, including the business (if applicable), gives everyone a chance to air out their grievances about the cloud and work together to make it a success.

 

“Cloud” Avengers assemble…

 

Now that you have your basic “Cloud” avengers core team built there are some common things that you should really ask with every cloud plan.

 

Disaster Recovery -  What is the DR plan for my cloud? If it is an application that is being moved to cloud, what are the DR plans for this application. Does the provider have DR plans for when their datacenter or servers decided to take a break and stop working? Are their DR plans for internet outages or DNS outages?


Backups - You should also be asking what are my back up options what is my recovery time if I need a restore. Lawsuits are common so how would an E-discovery situation be handled would be a question to ask. Where are the backups retained and for how long? How do you request data to be restored? Do the backup policies meet your in house policies?

 

Data retention – Something overlooked is data retention. How long does it stay in the cloud?  Each industry and business is different with different data retention periods so you will need to see if they meet your requirements. If there are deferring data retention periods, how does it impact your polices in house? Sometimes this may involve working your legal and compliance teams to come up with the best solution. E-discovery could also impact data retention periods so best to talk to the legal and compliance teams to make sure you are safe.

 

Data security - We all want to make sure our data secure so this should a standard question to ask. How is remote access handled and how easy can someone request access to the data. Is it as simple as sending an email or filling out the form? Does the provider have other means of authenticating that the correct person is requesting the data access? If you are running servers in the cloud you will want to know how the datacenters are secured. You will also want to know how the data is protected from antivirus if you are using SaaS and what are the remediation plans if data is compromised.

Back -out Plan -  If you are planning to transition to the cloud you should also have a back out plan. Sometimes you may find out it’s not all rainbows and sunny skies in the cloud and decide to come back to land. Asking the provider what are your options for backing out of the cloud is a good question to ask upfront because depending on your options this could impact your plan. You should also find out if there additional costs or fees for backing out. Something else that should also be asked is what happens if I want to leave the cloud and come back on premise what happens to my data and backups (if any existed). How has the data and can you get that back or does it get swallowed up by the cloud?

 

The cloud is the way of the future. As we move more and more data to the cloud, it may become less foggy. Until then plan as much as you can and ask all the questions you can ( even the stupid ones).

Love or hate it, Office 365 is here to stay. For most companies that have not made the transition to the Office 365 yet, I say yet because it is a matter of time before the majority of business are running email in the cloud. When you are planning to move email to the cloud there are many considerations to make and one of them is your network.

 

Your network is key when you want to live in the cloud. One of the first things you should do after you’ve made decision to go to the cloud is review your network and estimate how much bandwidth you will use. Office 365 adds increased usage because of the synchronization outlook and downloading of templates. The amount of users connecting to the cloud and type of tasks they do will impact your bandwidth. Network performance is impacted by what the users are doing, for instance if everyone is streaming video or having multiple video conference calls on your network that will certainly cause high bandwidth which can impact your connectivity to cloud services.

 

Migrating to Office is not an overnight task as some may think. It can take week to months to be completely migrated to the cloud and a lot of this depends on your network. It is highly recommended to test and validate your internet bandwidth as this will impact your migration. Mailbox sizes will impact how fast or slow the migration to the cloud will be. Let’s say your organization has about 100TB emails in your on-premise environment and you want to migrate all that to the cloud. I will tell you it will not help happen in days it will be more like months. Keep in mind Microsoft does throttle how much date you pump into their network each night. Let’s just say you are using an internet connection of 100Mbit/s and you are at 100% speed you are looking at least 8-9 months but given that there is throttling involved and possibly other outside factors that would also effect the speed and bandwidth your real estimate would likely be closer to 10-12 months.

 

Slow internet means slow migration and possible failures along the way.  If your still have slow MPLS sites these are not ideal for Office 365, however Microsoft has partner with a select few providers to use the ExpressRoute. ExpressRoute is a private connectivity to Microsoft Office 365.  Microsoft has some tools that you can use to help estimate your network requirements. One of the important ones to look at is the Exchange Client Network Bandwidth Calculator which estimates the bandwidth required for Outlook, Outlook Web App, and mobile devices.

 

Once you have made it to the cloud it does not stop there. Ongoing performance tuning maybe needed to ensure that your users are happy and do not experience email “slowness”.  Given that Microsoft has published best practices articles on slow networks for Office 365 I am pretty sure your network guys will be called a lot to check network performance. They do give some recommendations such as:

 

  • Upgrade to Outlook 2013 SP1 or later for substantial performance improvements over previous versions.
  • Outlook Web App lets you create offline messages, contacts, and calendar events that are uploaded when OWA is next able to connect to Office 365.
  • Outlook also offers an offline mode. To use this, you must first set up cached mode so that information from your account is copied down to your computer. In offline mode, Outlook will try to connect using the send and receive settings, or when you manually set it to work online.
  • If you have a smart phone, you can use it to triage your email and calendar over your phone carrier's network. ( yes this as a real alternative…)

 

At the end of the day it comes to making sure your network is up to snuff when you are making your way to the cloud or you may have some headaches. Good Luck

Now that Microsoft Windows server 2016 is generally available as of October 12, 2016, everyone is ready to upgrade their servers right? With every new Operating system release there is obviously going to be a list of new features and improvements. However, are these worth it to be bleeding edge and upgrade before the next service pack? Let’s take a quick look.

 

New and Improved

What’s new and probably a hot item is the support of containers. No, not your mom’s Tupperware but containers like Docker. With support for Docker Microsoft is playing nice with Open source which it would normally considers its competitor. This will help the big giant if they want to be a key player in the public cloud space and compete with the Amazon and Google. If you want to know how to get started with Docker on Windows Server 2016 check out Melissa Palmer’s post http://24x7itconnection.com/2016/10/11/getting-started-docker-container-platform-windows-2016/ .

Nano Sever is another hot item. It’s the headless server that is slimmer, faster and better than the tradition windows server. Think of it like server core mode but a lot better. You can install Nano from the Datacenter or Standard edition of windows 2016. It’s ideal for running as a compute host Hyper-V virtual machines.

Windows Server 2016 also introduces Host Guardian and shield vms. This “shields’ virtual machines and protects the data on them from unauthorized access. You can even lock out your Hyper-V admin. There are also improvements for Active directory certificate services, Active directory domain services, Active directory federation services, and Web application proxy to name a few. 

 

Are you Bleeding edge?

The new features sound great don’t they? But are you really going to jump on it right away? One could say I’m not using Windows server for containers or a Hyper-V host so I should be ok. However, if you're on the bleeding edge and want to start updating your servers you should know that they are a few things that have removed from server 2016.

The share and storage management not been in the MMC is no longer available in Windows Server 2016. So if you're thinking about managing servers with an older OS through Windows Server 2016 you won't be able too. You will need to logon locally to that older server use the snap in locally from that server.

Another change is the security configuration wizard has also been removed. This has been replaced by turning on all features by default. If you to manage those features, you can only do it through policy or the Microsoft security compliance manager tool.

 

Since this has only been generally available for about a month all the bugs and gotchas are starting to come out. Last week it was announced that there issues with running Exchange 2016 Cu3 on Windows Server 2016. If you're thinking about running Exchange 2016 on the latest version well you shouldn’t. There are known issues with the IIS host process and Microsoft says there's no workaround at this time so save yourself a headache and stick with windows server 2012.

 

So my advice is test, test, test and test before you go into production if you are going to upgrade to Windows Server 2016. It’s still very new out and over the new few weeks I am sure we will hear more rumblings of gotchas. 

As the 2016 year is coming to the end, I've looked back and wow it has been the year of the upgrades for me at my day job. While they have all been successful (some took longer than expected ) , there were bumps, tears and even some screaming to get to the finish line. My team and I are seasoned IT professionals but that didn't stop us from making mistakes and assumptions. What I've learned after doing 5 major upgrades this year is that never assume and always be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

 

As you embark on the annual journey of upgrades there are so many factors to look at to make sure that it is successful. While it may seem trivia at times depending on the upgrade you do, it never hurts to go through a basic upgrade run through, like a playbook or if you have a PMO work with a Project Manager. Project Managers can be life savers! But you do not need a Project Manager if you take the time to go through and gather all the information and requirements as part of your planning.

 

After looking back through all the upgrades I've done this year,  I decided to write this post and hope that we can all learn a little something with the lessons we've learned and can be avoided by others.

Let’s get back to basics…

Once we start talking upgrades let's go back to the basics and answer the five “Ws” and get some requirements; WHAT, WHY, WHO, WHERE, and WHEN. Understanding those basic requirements goes a long way. It provides the basic foundation for understanding the situation and what all needs to be done.


WHAT- Let’s first ask what are we upgrading? Is this a server operating system upgrade or an application upgrade? Determining the type of upgrade is vital because this will affect the answers to your other requirements. Once you know what you are upgrading you will need to determine if your current environment can support the upgrade. Depending on what you are upgrading, it can feel like opening a can of worms, as you find you may need to upgrade other systems to make sure it’s compatible with the upgrade you are trying to complete. You may also find out that the upgrade reaches beyond your realm of responsible and crosses over into our departments and function. A “simple” application upgrade can end up costing millions if your current environment does not support all components.

 

Some examples questions to ask:

  1. If you're doing an application upgrade does your current hardware specs meet the recommendations for the newer version? If it does not, you may need to invest in new hardware.
  2. Is this an operating system upgrade?
  3. Is this an in-place upgrade or parallel environment?
  4. Or a complete server replacement?
  5. Can you go direct to the new version or will you need to install CU’s to get current?
  6. Can your current network infrastructure support the upgrade? Does it require more bandwidth?
  7. If you are using Load Balancers or Proxy Servers, do those support the upgrade?
  8. Are there client applications that connect to your systems and are you running supported versions of the client applications?
  9. Do you have Group Policies that need to be modified?
  10. What other applications “connect” maybe impacted?
  11. Are there any legacy customizations in the will be impacted?
  12. Will there licensing impacts or changes with the upgrade?

 

Sample upgrade scenario:

 

An application like Exchange Server has far reaching impacts beyond just the application. If an Exchange DAG is implemented the network must meet certain requirements to satisfy successful replication between the databases across datacenters. Working with your network team ensures your requirements are met. You will may possibly need the storage team if you are using a SAN for your storage which may require new hardware and we all know that can be a project in itself to upgrade a SAN.

 

An often overlooked item is the client connection to exchange. What version of Outlook are users using to connect to get to their email? If you are using an unsupported version of outlook users may have issues connecting to email. Which we all know would be a nightmare to deal with. Let’s look at the impact of outlook versions to an exchange upgrade. If your outlook versions are not supported, you will need to work with the desktop teams to get everyone to a supported version.  This can be costly, from the support to implementing and deploying the upgrade to supported outlook versions and then depending on how your Microsoft Office is licensed you may need to buy additional licenses and we all know that isn’t cheap. 

 

WHY - Let’s ask why are you doing the upgrade? Is the upgrade needed to address an issue or this to say current? Once this has been identified, you can find out what and or if new features you are going to be getting and what value does it bring to the table.

 

Additional questions to ask:

 

  1. Will any new features impact my current environment?
  2. If I am addressing an issue with the upgrade, what is it fixing and are there other workarounds?
  3. Will the upgrade break any customizations that maybe in the environment?
  4. Can the upgrade be deferred?

 

WHO- Once you’ve figured out the “WHAT” you will know the “WHO” that need to be involved. Getting all the key players will help make sure that you have your ducks in a row.

 

  1.     What other teams will you need to have involved?

 

      • Network team
      • Security Team
      • Storage Team
      • Database Team
      • Server Team
      • Application Team
      • Desktop Support
      • Help Desk
      • Project Management Team
      • Testing and certification Team
      • Communications team to inform end users
      • Any other key players – external business partners if your systems are integrated

 

In certain cases, you may need even need a technology partner to help you do the upgrade. This can get complicated as you will need to determine who is responsible for each part of the upgrade. Having a partner do the upgrade is convenient as they can assume the overall responsibility of the success of the upgrade and you can watch and learn from them. Partners can bring value as they are often “experts” and have done these upgrades before and should know the pitfalls and what to watch out for. If you are using a partner, I would recommend you do your own research in addition to the guidance and support provided by the partner because sometimes the ball can be dropped on their end as well. Keep in mind they are humans and may not know all about a particular application, especially it’s very new.

 

WHEN- When are you planning to do the upgrade? Most enterprises do not like disruptions so you will need to determine if this must be done on the weekends or can you do the upgrade without impacting users in production during the weekday.

 

The timing of your upgrade can impact other activities that maybe going on in your network. For example, you probably do not want to be doing an application upgrade like Skype for Business or Exchange the same weekend the Network team is replacing/upgrading the network switches. This could have you barking up trees when there isn’t really need to be.

 


WHERE– This may seem like an easy question to answer but depending on what your upgrading you may need to make certain arrangements. Let’s say your replacing hardware in the datacenter, you will certainly need someone in the datacenter to be able to perform the switch out. If your datacenter is hosted, perhaps you will need hands on tech to perform a reboot of the physical servers in the event the remote reboot doesn’t work.

 

I’ve been in situations where the reboot button doesn’t work and the power cord of the server had to be pulled to reboot the server back online, this involved getting someone on in the datacenter to do that. Depending on your setup and processes this may require you to put support tickets in advance and coordination with the hosting datacenter hosting team. Who wants to sit waiting around for several hours to have a server rebooted just to progress to the next step in an upgrade?

 

 

HOW - How isn't really a W but it is an important step. Sometimes the HOW can be answered by the WHAT, but sometimes it can't so you must ask "HOW will this get upgraded?". Documenting the exact steps to complete the upgrade, whether it's in place or parallel environment will help you identify any potential issues or key steps that maybe missing from the plan. Once you have the steps outline in detail it's good to do a walk through of the plan with all involved parties so all the expectations are clear and set. This is also helps prevent any scope creep that could appear along the way. Having a documented detailed step plan will also help during the actual upgrade in event something goes wrong and you need to do troubleshooting.

 

Proper Planning keeps the headaches at bay…

 

It would seem common sense and almost a standard to answer the 5 W’s when doing upgrades but you would be surprised but how often how many questions are not asked. Too often we get comfortable in our roles and overlook the simple things and make assumptions. Assumptions can lead to tears and headaches if they cause a snag in your upgrade. However, lots of ibuprofen can be avoided if we plan as best as can and go back to the basics of asking the 6 W’s for information gathering.

Emails is the center of life for almost every business in this world. When email is down businesses cannot communicate. There is loss of productivity which could lead to dollars lost, which in the end is not good.

Daily monitoring of Exchange involves many aspects of the environment and the surrounding infrastructure.  Simply turning on monitoring will not get you very far. First question you should ask yourself is “What do I need to monitor?” Not knowing what to look out for could inundate you with alerts which is not going to be helpful for you.

One of the first places to look at when troubleshooting mail slowness or other email issues is the network. Therefore, it is a good idea to monitor some basic network counters on the Exchange Servers. These counters will help guide you to determine where the root cause of the issue is.

 

Network Counters

The following tables displays acceptable thresholds and information about common network counters.

 

Counter

Description

Threshold

Network Interface(*)\Packets Outbound Errors

Indicates the number of outbound packets that couldn't be transmitted because of errors.

Should be 0 at all times.

TCPv6\Connection Failures

Shows the number of TCP connections for which the current state is either ESTABLISHED or CLOSE-WAIT. The number of TCP connections that can be established is constrained by the size of the nonpaged pool. When the nonpaged pool is depleted, no new connections can be established.

Not applicable

TCPv4\Connections Reset

Shows the number of times TCP connections have made a direct transition to the CLOSED state from either the ESTABLISHED state or the CLOSE-WAIT state.

An increasing number of resets or a consistently increasing rate of resets can indicate a bandwidth shortage.

TCPv6\Connections Reset

Shows the number of times TCP connections have made a direct transition to the CLOSED state from either the ESTABLISHED state or the CLOSE-WAIT state.

An increasing number of resets or a consistently increasing rate of resets can indicate a bandwidth shortage.

 

 


Monitoring Beyond the Exchange Environment


When your monitoring exchange not only are you monitoring for performance but you also want to monitor outside factors such as network, active directory, and any external connections such as mobile device management. All these external factors will affect the health of your Exchange environment.

In order to run Exchange, you need a network, yes routers and switches can impact exchange. As the exchange admin you don’t need to be aware of every single network event but a simple alert of a network outage or blip can be helpful. Sometimes all it takes is a slight blip in the network and it could have could affect your Exchange DAG by causing databases to fail over.

If you are not responsible for the network, then I would suggest you coordinate with your network team on what notifications you should be made aware in terms of network outages. Some key items to be informed or notified of are:

  • Planned outages between datacenters
  • Planned outages for network equipment
  • Network equipment upgrades and or changes that would affect the subnet your exchange servers reside on
  • Unplanned outages of network equipment and between datacenters
  • If your servers are virtualized, you should be informed of any host changes and/or virtual switch changes
  • Planned or unplanned DNS server changes because DNS issues can be a real nightmare

Preventing Bigger Headaches

Exchange Monitoring is a headache and can be time consuming but if you know what you are looking for and have the right tools in hand it is not so bad.  If the Exchange DAG is properly designed a network blip or outage should not take down your email for you company, this is the whole point of having an Exchange DAG( high availability design). What you may get is a help desk calls when users see that their outlook has disconnected briefly. Being informed of potential network outages can help you prepare in advance if you need to manually switch active copies of databases or when you need to do mailbox migrations. A network that is congested or having outages can cause mailbox migrations to fail, cause outlook clients to disconnect and even impact the speed of email delivery. Knowing ahead of time allows you to be prepared and have less headaches.

 


Email has become the core of every organization. It is the primary source for communication that everybody turns to, regardless of the type of email server they are running. Who doesn’t have email??? When email is down, communication is down, resulting in lost productivity and potentially thousands to millions of lost dollars.

 

Microsoft Exchange Server is the most widely used on-premises enterprise email system today. When it works…it works great. But, when Exchange is not working correctly, it can be a nightmare to deal with.

 

For an Exchange administrator, dealing with Exchange issues can be challenging because there are so many variables when it comes to email. Having a user complain about email being “slow” can be the result of many different factors. It could be a network issue, a desktop client issue, or even a poorly performing Exchange Server. So many possibilities of what is wrong and 1 unhappy user. 

 

Not only do issues arise in everyday working situations, but if you are preparing for a migration or an Exchange upgrade there are always “gotchas.” These are things that get overlooked until something breaks and then everybody is scrambling around to fix it and do damage control later. These are probably the most annoying to me because often times somebody else has run into the problem first. So, if I had known about the gotchas I could’ve been prepared.

 

I recently had the opportunity to present a webinar, “The Top Troubleshooting Issues Exchange Admins Face and How to Tackle Them.One of the great things about the IT community is that it’s there for us to share our knowledge, so others can learn from our experiences. That’s what I hoped to share in this webinarsome tips on solving annoying problems, as well as providing some true tried lessons from managing Exchange myself. We discussed some of the challenges with Exchange migrations, mailbox management issues (client issues), and even discussed Office 365. You can view a recording of the Webinar here.

 

Since our time was limited, I could not answer all the questions that were asked during the webinar, so I wanted to take an opportunity to answer some of them here:

 

1. Is there a size limit on outlook 2010/exchange 2010? We had a laptop user with a 20GB mailbox with cache mode enabled who had an issue with his offline address book dying within a day of his cache being resynced - we saw it as an issue with him trying to view other users calendars.

 

This type of issue can be many things and could be a whole blog in itself so I will keep it short. Large mailboxes will create large OST files locally on the machine they are using and can become corrupt. If that is the case, then creating a new OST file may resolve your issue. When trying to view others calendars, you can try removing the calendar and re-adding the shared calendar again. Also double check calendar permissions!

 

2. Do you know the issue when installing EX2010 SP3 it fails at 'removing exchange files'? SP3 is needed for upgrading to EX2013.

 

There is a known issue for Exchange failing to remove setup files with SP3 when PowerShell script execution is defined in Group Policy. For more details on this issue use the Microsoft KB# 2810617 site.


3. Any other resources we should review for Exchange Best Practices &/or Monitoring Tips (Other than Thwack?)

 

The Microsoft TechNet site has Exchange Best Practices, as well as Monitoring tips that be helpful. There are also various Microsoft MVP sites that can be helpful as well, such as:

 

http://exchangeserverpro.com/

http://www.stevieg.org/

http://www.expta.com/

 

 

4. Any advice for having Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2010 coexist until migration is completed?

 

Coexistence periods can be a challenge to manage and is best if kept to a short period if possible. Microsoft provides some checklist and documentation that can help with coexistence which can be found here on their TechNet site.

 

5. Is it possible to add more than 10 shared mailboxes to outlook 2010 client?

 

Yes, it is possible to have more than 10 shared mailboxes. By default, Outlook 2010 & Outlook 2013 has a default limit of 10 mailboxes with a maximum supported of up to 9999 accounts. To configure outlook for more than the default limits, you will need to edit registry settings or apply a Group Policy.

 

6. Is there a way can we enable "On behalf of" for the shared mailbox, so the end user who receives the email knows who sends the email?

 

To enable send on behalf for a shared mailbox, you can configure delegates for the shared mailbox. You can also apply the send on behalf of setting under the mail flow settings in the mailbox account properties.

 

 

I had a great time participating in the webinar with Leon and hope our viewers were able to take some tips back with them to help within their Exchange environment. Exchange is the core of most businesses and Managing an Exchange environment can be challenging, I know that from personal experience. However, given the right tools by your side you can tame the beast and keep the nightmare events to a minimum.

 

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