Glutton for Punishment . . .

I love swing migrations – I really do.  Admittedly, I haven’t done too many – primarily since currently our oldest SBS installation won’t hit the 3 year mark until this coming April, and an overwhelming majority of our installs are new installs / first server, versus migrations of existing servers / domains.  Well, I just finished another swing this weekend, and as usual it is a great experience.


Ok, now those of you who are familair with the swing method and have caught Jeff’s presentation on the topic are probably wondering why I finished a swing this weekend.  After all, one of Jeff’s primary talking in points is that the swing method allows you to regain your weekends and migrate during the week.  So why was I swinging not only on a weekend, but on a long holiday weekend of all times?  That’s where the title of this post comes in:  I’m a glutton for punishment. 


Let me paint the picture for you:  First, while this is a small company (4 PCs), this isn’t any old client – this is family (cue blood-curdling scream sound effect  ;^).  Next, this isn’t just family – this is the family business where I spent the better part of the last decade.  Third – the family isn’t exactly a full-paying customer – yet.  I say ‘yet’ because we’re working that way.  It was just a little bit of a shift from having me handle all of the IT stuff in addition to my normal duties (I was the Controller – yep, I did accounting believe it or not  :^), to paying by the hour.  So I’ve done a lot of the basic maintenance stuff remotely after hours pro-bono.  They’ve been paying for anything they need during normal business hours, with me just throwing in miscellaneous stuff after hours when I have time.  While they haven’t signed a contract yet, they’ve been asking about our Managed Services offerings, and should be on-board in the next few months.  And the fact that they’re asking about our Managed Services is a testament to the value they can bring to a small business.  You have to realize that up until a little over two years ago, my uncle refused to use a computer – and hated having to spend money on anything IT related. 


So, back to our swing.  Their old server was in desparate need of being replaced, and I’ve been talking to them about this for a good nine months or so.  That box was originally put into service 5 years ago – in early November 2000 as an SBS 4.5 box.  In the spring of ’01 it was upgraded to SBS 2000 (which we got as part of Microsoft’s Technology Guarantee program).  In the fall of ’02 we bought another SCSI hard drive and reconfigured the RAID array from RAID 1 to RAID 5.  Needless to say, the box had lived a good, long life, but was starting to show its age.  I finally got the OK to build a new server a few weeks ago when the tape drive in the old server died.


Well, considering this is family – and considering that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, not to mention the great real-world small business experiences I gained running their business – I gave them the hardware at cost and didn’t charge anything for the install.  Did I mention I was a glutton for punishment?


SO – the server got built on Monday, on Tuesday I built the RAID array, and did the initial Windows portion of the SBS install.  Tuesday night on my way home, I stopped by, pulled out my laptop, fired up Windows 2003 inside of virtual PC, and did the initial steps of the swing (joined domain, installed DNS, dcpromo’d, made global catalog, verified AD replication, etc.).  Wednesday afternoon I swung the AD onto the new box, and finished the SBS integrated install.  Thursday I gorged myself on turkey with the fam :^).  Friday I finished all of my usual post-SBS install configurations (To-do list, install Trend, WSUS, etc. etc.).  I had a few other little projects that I worked on in the office on Friday (taking advantage of the peace and quiet being there alone without the phone ringing :).  I left the office around 6:30 that night and decided to start the next phase of the process – taking the old server down, migrating data and bringing the new server online.  I got to the family’s building around 7, unloaded the new server, etc. and dug in.  I disconnected the server from the internet, connected an external USB hard drive and started with an online backup of Exchange while I started unboxing the new server, etc. and getting ready for the migration.  After I had unboxed the new server and checked the workstations to make sure everyone was logged out, etc. I got back to the new server and realized that after 45 minutes, my online backup of the 4gig Exchange store was only about half way done.  Wow does USB 1.1 suck.  So I started pulling data off the server across the network to the newest PC (that happens to have the largest hard drive).  I pulled 14 gig of data off the server in a little over a half hour.  Needless to say, I still beat the online backup of Exchange.  When that finished, I stopped the Exchange services and copied the store databases to the workstation as well.  From there I was able to write to the USB drive in no time as I powered the old server down, and put the new one in its place.  Booted the new server and started restoring data.  Once all data was restored, I mounted the original Exchange databases and logged in to one of the PCs . . . voila!  Just like nothing had happened . . .   redirected folders working wonderfully, Exchange mailbox is there, drive mappings via login script worked perfectly, printers are all there (and working), just perfect.  (btw, THAT is what I love about swinging  :^)


But if you know me – you know that nothing is ever truly that easy – something, SOMETHING always comes up and bites me in the arse.  Well, this time that something was WinFax Pro.  (I know, I know – who would have ever guessed in a million years that a Symantec product would throw a wrench into things?!?  ;^)  My aunt & uncle have a decent amount of fax traffic – sending 15 – 20 faxes per day – almost all being invoices.  That’s not enough to really justify a full-fledged fax server product (with that volume they’re not even using a fax board – just a normal fax modem), but it’s still enough that it’s a PITA to have to print that stuff out and walk to the fax machine a few times every hour.  As a result, they’ve been using WinFax’s sharing feature.  I had WinFax Pro installed on the SBS 2000 box and configured as the WinFax host, with the workstations sending & receiving faxes through it.  Well, after I booted the new server, I could not get any of the workstations to connect to the new WinFax host on the new SBS box.  After a relatively short search, I found where Symantec doesn’t support WinFax on Windows 2003 – as WinFax is a consumer product, and Windows 2003 is not a consumer OS.  (Consumer product?  Is it just me, or do you not see a lot of home networks using WinFax sharing to handle their fax traffic???)   Argh . . .   faxing is one thing that really needs to work – the natives will be very restless come Monday morning is that isn’t working.  For multiple reasons I can’t have one of the PCs act as the WinFax host – basically due to placement.  The fax line is separate from the phone system – which means the only jack is in the server closet.  So what now?  MSN Search to the rescue – I downloaded a 30 day trial of FaxBack’s NET SatisFAXtion 7.5 and installed it on the SBS.  Went to the workstations and installed NET SatisFAXtion’s WinFax integration piece, and the workstations can send using WinFax on the desktop like normal . . .  woo hoo!  (and no, don’t ask me about SBS fax – that is completely not an option).  So at this point, I look at the clock and about fall over when I realize it’s 5am Saturday morning . . .   so I decide to call it a night.


I returned early Saturday afternoon after what seemed like only a few hours sleep.  Besides migrating to the new server, I’m also updating their wiring.  The building is about 23 years old – and as such was not wired for networking.  The front office was added on in 97 and was wired – but apparently the electricians used some cheap cat 5 as it has been going down hill for some time.  Additionally, at the time we put the switch in the attic – again, for several reasons.  Well, the time had come where the faulty wiring in the front office needed to be replaced, the switch needed to be replaced as well as relocated out of the drastic temperature fluctuations of the attic, and the other offices needed upgraded wiring beyond a cat 5 wire dropping down from a hole in the ceiling :)  So, I started Saturday with mounting plywood to the wall in the server cabinet to give me something that could hold the wall-mount patch panel & switch, then mounting the patch panel & switch.  Of course, I didn’t have any plywood available when I realized I was going to need some, so I had to run to Home Depot to get the plywood, then run home to get some screws and my circular saw . . .  I was able to run all new cable for the front office as well as the shop office – not only replacing existing jacks, but adding additional jacks as well (after all, you can never have too many network jacks!)  So I called it a night and headed home about 3am Sunday morning. 


I worked around home most of the day today, then went back around 4:30 this afternoon.  I finished replacing the wiring going to the parts office, including adding a few new jacks.  I then finished puting all of the covers on the raceways I had installed, cleaned up the patch panel so that all of the cables were nice and bundled and organized, and cleaned up my mess – taking all of the old cabling out to the dumster, etc., and left around 9:30.  So here I am at home, showered and getting ready for bed, trying to figure out how in the hell tomorrow can be Monday . . . and not only Monday, a Monday where I have to be onsite with a client around 7 am to troubleshoot a printer issue so they can run payroll . . .


Well, if nothing else, this weekend has reminded me of two things:  the value of family, and why we subcontract our wiring jobs  ;^)   Oh yeah, and that I’m getting too damn old to be pulling all-nighters . . .   :^)

The compromise of SBS . . .

I’m sure that most people here are aware that there are circles in the IT community where SBS is a punchline.  One of the most common assertations is that ISA on SBS is a security compromise.  So I figured it was time to address this head on.


Is ISA on SBS a security compromise?  Completely – because the mere notion of a firewall on Windows is a security compromise at best . . . we should all be running a SonicWall or Cisco Pix if we really want security.     Sorry, I couldn’t resist a little jab  :^)


Seriously – is ISA on SBS a compromise?  Absolutely – because SBS itself is a compromise.  Which is why it fits so well in the small business space, because each and every small business is a living, breathing example of compromise on a daily basis.  You can’t truly appreciate or understand Small Business Server if you don’t understand small business.  And you can’t understand small business if you haven’t experienced it. 


I can’t help but wonder if the people who look down on SBS with disdain have truly experienced small business.  Have they laid awake at night worrying about making payroll – knowing that their employees have families to feed and mortgages to pay?  Do they realize that for many small businesses, money could be spent in several different places – so that server upgrade often relates to not being able offer the raises or bonuses we’d like, or offering additional benefits.  We have to take care of our employees and our customers, but we also have to invest in our businesses to insure our long-term ability to take care of our employees and our customers.  We can’t afford an imblanace either way – literally.  So each day is a compromise.


Would I love to be able to follow ‘best practices’?  Absolutely.  But look at the average small business with 25 users or less . . .  how would I be helping them by deploying a DC, a secondary DC, an ISA server, a front-end Exchange box, a back-end Exchange box, a file & print server, a Sharepoint box and a LOB server?  Not only would there be extensive cost at deploying that sort of solution, but extensive cost to maintain and administer that set up.


Let’s face it – SBS customers aren’t shopping for ISA server any more than they’re shopping for Exchange.  What they’re looking for is a solution that let’s the work smarter.  Does the small business owner care about running ISA on their DC?  Nope – not in the least.  The fact is that it isn’t realistic to sell that client a separate ISA server – simply put, the costs outweigh the benefits.  


Is ISA on SBS a compromise?  Sure – it’s a compromise between the benefits of the full product and great pricing of an integrated bundle.  I will be the first one to admit that in a perfect world ISA would always run on its own dedicated box.  In the small business arena, that just isn’t going to happen in an overwhelming number of cases.  So the question facing most small businesses isn’t whether or not they should run a dedicated ISA box in addition to their SBS, but whether they should run ISA on SBS or stick with their $39 Linksys router.


So what’s the bigger security compromise and risk for the small business – running ISA on their SBS or sticking with a low-end nat-ing router?  Because down here in the trenches – that’s the reality.

Jack of all trades . . .

I had a bit of an enlightenment yesterday . . . granted, it wasn’t something new – just something that hits me every now and then.


Those of us serving the SMB market are a unique breed.  We’ve all heard the analogies of someone’s knowledge either being an inch wide & a mile deep, or a mile wide and an inch deep.  Well, I personally think that many of us in the SMB space are evolving into being a mile wide AND a mile deep to serve our customers.  As an example, let’s look at some of the highlights from my week last week:


1)   Troubleshot a networking issue where a client had one machine that would randomly drop of the network.  It would show a link, but could not ping any network resource (besides itself), nor would it respond to a ping from anything else.  Bad part was this client is a non-profit radio station and the problem machine was their primary on-air broadcast machine.  Eventually found a random hub sitting between this PC & the main switch (still don’t know why it was there).  Removed the hub & voila!


2)  I’m still working on an Exchange / listserv issue for a client we recently migrated from a P2P lan to SBS Std.  They have a number of listservs they either manage or belong to – and they are not receiving any messages for these listservs.  Listserv provider indicates there isn’t a problem on their end.  Exchange / SMTP logging has been cranked up and I can’t find any connection attempts from the listserv to deliver messages.  Right now it appears almost as if the messages are just getting ‘lost’ in cyberspace . . .  very frustrating.


3)  Spent the better part of a day providing go-live support for a retail client who moved from old cash registers to Microsoft’s new Point of Sale application.  I’m also working on one last piece for this client – considering that with their plain old cash registers they kept their inventory in an Access database, they have several reports they use for reordering, etc.  Well, since POS can’t create these reports out-of-the-box, I’m doing a custom procedure in Access / VBA to pull the necessary sales data out of a half-dozen different tables in the POS MSDE database and insert it into the single table in the client’s existing Access database.  That way they can continue to use the reports they’re used to, and I don’t have to worry about them mucking around in the live POS database  :^)


4)  Prepared to do a Swing Migration of an SBS 2000 box to SBS 2003.  Met with the customer, reviewed their workflow, daily activities and identified severl Excel-based solutions that we are going to migrate into a Sharepoint solution.


5)  Consulted with a new client on disaster recovery / business continuity planning.  This process with this client has just begun and we’ll meet again after they’ve finished their current homework assignment :^)


6)  As mentioned in my earlier post, assisted Susan, Vlad & Nick with moving msmvps.com to it’s new server . . . what was interesting was having Nick & I both TS’d in to the new server at the same time, working on effectively the same files at the same time, with an IM chat going to keep us sane and check over everything . . .  e.g. – ‘I need to edit the web.config file, you don’t have that open, do you?’  :^)


So just from those highlights, I dealt with networking, Exchange, LOB app, MSDE/Access/reporting, Sharepoint, business process, disaster recovery planning, IIS, web publishing, SQL and asp.net web apps . . .  and in all honesty, this was a rather slow week.


So for everyone out there where you are the first call your client makes, whether its the backup, email, LOB app, phone system or copy machine that is acting up – here’s to you – for answering the questions you know, learning the answers you don’t, and providing your small business customers with a level of service every business deserves, but few receive.

Yes, I’m still alive . . .

So recently I’ve been helping with the effort of migrating msmvps.com.  We’ve made it past the first hurdle, moving from a shared server at a west coast hosting provider to a brand-spankin-new dedicated co-located box hosted by Vlad Masek & and gang at Own Web Now.  Just for the record – Vlad rocks!  Now that we’ve moved over to the new server, the next phase is to upgrade the blogs from .Text to Community Server, and we’re currently running various tests and getting a feel for how this is going to happen.  Of couse this is a somewhat delicate process, as the last thing I want is to screw up the blogs of over 200 MVPs . . .   boy would that be ugly . . . these MVPs without blogs would be uglier than me without caffeine . . . and I can guarantee you that ain’t a pretty sight  :^)


Anyway – it looks like the upgrade to Community Server should go smoothly, and I’ll post more about that as we get closer to the upgrade.  Which brings me to the point of this post.  As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve been looking at my blog and realizing how completely and utterly pathetic it has been over the last six months or so.  As a result, I am planning on posting more often.  I’ll warn you that there might be a bit of a change in topic – as there is a new project we’ve been working on (hence the slim posts over the last six months :) . . .  but that project isn’t quite baked yet, so you’ll just have to wait for details . . .   :^)

CRM 3.0 RTMs!

So I’m at the CRM 3.0 Roadshow in Kansas City today, and they just announced that CRM 3.0 RTM’d today – and they are planning for Dec 1st availability . . .   woo hoo!


I loaded CRM 3.0 this weekend and have started playing with it.  We’re hoping to upgrade our 1.2 implementation as soon as possible (granted, data migration is not officially supported from beta 3 to the final product).  I’m really looking forward to the technical deep dive and customization focus this afternoon . . .