Just another Microsoft MVPs site

Month: March 2006


I need to come clean – let everyone know my dirty little secret . . .   I’m a procrastinator.  Not just a little one – nope, no-sir-ee . . .  I’m the king of procrastinators.  Sure, I have plenty of work to do and more than enough to keep me busy – but I have a tendency to just put some things off until the last minute . . .

Well, my latest task that I’ve put off until the last minute has been my presentation for SMBTN (which is where I am composing this post . . .  oops).  Lucky for me, there was a schedule change, so my presentation was moved from today (Friday) to tomorrow – which has worked out in my benefit – and here’s why:

My planned presentation was on Backup, Restore & Disaster Recovery of Windows Sharepoint Services.  Now mind you, I’ve done a decent amount of work with Sharepoint, and I’ve even done a couple of restores, and moved a few sites as well.  Now, each of those restores were full-server restores, and the moves were for servers that we swung.  Well, I was working through the various options and realized that there was a scenario that I hadn’t personally dealt with previously.  I had not been in a situation where I needed to perform a stsadm based restore of a site without restoring the entire server – e.g., restoring a Sharepoint site to a different server using stsadm.

So, I loaded up a couple VPC machines – one SBS Premium & one Windows 2003 Std with WSS installed.  Well, I populated a site, took an stsadm backup – no problem.  Then I tried a restore of the site on a different machine, and you know what – it failed.  Well, that couldn’t be – so I googled stsadm restore, and verified I was following the right steps . . .   sure enough, I was – but it still wasn’t working.  I was getting errors about the site not existing, or unable to connect to the config database, or that the website was already in use, blah blah blah . . .

So I did some more research, and the short-story I discovered is that in order for an stsadm restore to work, you have to do a full system-state restore and be sure to restore the STS_Config database too.  So what is the issue with this?  Well – what happens when you have a true disaster such as a fire and your server is toast.  Not only that, it’s a few years old and you can’t get an exact hardware replacement?  Have you tried doing a System State restore to different hardware? 

At this point I had to go for a walk and sort this out.  Surely Microsoft couldn’t have painted us back into a corner like this . . .

All I could think about what FrontPage.  I have used FrontPage to move entire Sharepoint sites between servers via it’s built-in backup & restore, and it works so slick.  The down-side is that you can’t automate FrontPage to use it as a backup tool.  I kept thinking that if there was only a way to use the FrontPage backup functionality without FrontPage . . .  so I could schedule it, and automate it, and have a solution that I *know* works . . .

Well, you know what?  It turns out that you can.  There’s this nifty little command-line tool (very similar to STSADM) that gets installed when you install Windows Sharepoint Services.  That tool is smigrate.exe, and it lives in the same directory as stsadm (c:\program files\common files\microsoft shared\web server extensions\60\bin   by default).  And the cool thing about smigrate?  It is a command-line version of the backup/restore functionality that we find in FrontPage. 

So let’s connect the dots . . .   If I schedule a backup of a Sharepoint site using stsadm, then I can restore that site – but only if the destination server has the same system state and STS_Config database as the original server.  Not normally gonna happen in a disaster recovery scenario.  OR – I could schedule a backup of a Sharepoint site using smigrate, and get a backup set that I can restore to any site on any Sharepoint server at any time, without having to worry about system state or the presence of other databases such as STS_Config.  Take a guess what I’m going to be using for my scheduled Sharepoint backups going forward . . . .   :^)

Now, I still have some testing to do to make sure permissions and security are restored with smigrate, but even if they aren’t – I’d rather have a backup/restore option where I know I can get all of my content back and *maybe* have to reconfigure permissions versus a scenario that should restore permissions, but that I can’t get to restore anything . . .  :^)

Moving DTS Packages . . .

We have a client where we recently swung their SBS2003 Premium installation to a new server.  (Old server was a 1U rack mount, they were running out of drive space and didn’t have room for more than two drives, and they wanted a TS . . .  so new server gets SBS, old server becomes TS).  ANYWAY, this client is running SAP Business One as their accounting / CRM suite.  The president is pretty techy and does a decent amount of development-type projects.  In fact, he has an MSDN Universal subscription and purchased the SDK for SAP Business One so he could build some various automation projects.  Well, it turns out that he was using about a dozen different DTS packages on his SQL server that he was using for his automation processes, and naturally wanted this moved over to his new SBS.

Well, I’ve dabbled with SQL for a while – I’d argue that I know more than enough to just get myself into trouble, but I wouldn’t consider myself a SQL admin by any stretch of the imagination :^)  Needless to say, I had never really messed with Data Transformation Services, let alone be in a position where I needed to move packages around.  Google gave a few options – but SBS MVP Merv Porter (our search engine king) offered one find in particular that proved super-simple:  DTSBackup2000   It’s a free download, super-simple and works perfectly . . .   

You know, the best thing about my job is learning something new every day . . .  :^)

The depth of Managed Services

So, the long-lost SBS Show episode #15 has finally been found and posted . . .

I will admit that I’m pleased with this podcast (albeit I despise hearing my own voice, ugh) . . .  the one thing I notice is that for how large this podcast is (35MB) and how long it is (a solid 90+ minutes) – all I can think about are all the things we didn’t get a chance to talk about – about how the pillars relate to each other, the technical targets with monitoring systems, how to build your contracts, how to evaluate your performance, how to qualify leads (and more importantly, disqualify leads), etc.

So, hopefully this SBS Show will be enough to whet your appetite . . .   because we’re going to have a lot of material we’re going to cram into our Mobilize SMB Tour workshops . . .

And FYI – several venues are well over half-full already . . .   so if you haven’t signed up yet, I’d encourage you to do so before space runs out!

The Mobilize SMB Tour . . .

Here at Mobitech, we started engaging in Managed Services a few years ago, and have learned a lot of valuable lessons while migrating our business to this new model.  Last year, we started the SMB Managed Services Yahoo! Group to provide a resource for SMB VARs who are looking at moving their businesses into a Managed Services model.  In 2006, we’re expanding on that effort with our Mobilize SMB© Tour:

Mobilize SMB©: Taking the SMB Community to the Next Level

Coming to a city near you!  This half day workshop will provide the information and support you need as an SMB IT solution provider to help you build a solid SMB Managed Services Business Model.

What are the pitfalls to avoid?
How do I pay my technicians under this model?
How do I know how many technicians I need in this new model?
What are the stages in moving into a Managed Service Model?
How will this affect my vendor relationships?
How do I measure, and why does it matter what my technician utilization rates are?
How do I sell managed services?
How do I construct my service level agreements?
Who wants these services?
What or who is my competition and how are they doing managed services?
Are there any vendors out there that understand my business?
What tools are available?
What skills do I need?

June 5 Chicago, IL  To register click here

June 7 Detroit, MI  To register click here 

June 9 Cincinnati, OH  To register click here

June 12 Louisville, KY  To register click here 

June 14 Atlanta, GA  To register click here

June 20 Tampa, FL  To register click here

This first leg is targeting the eastern US – but have no fear, we are planning on hitting the west coast in August and September.  Those dates are still being finalized, but we’ll let you know as soon as those are available . . .

Making sense of Best Buy’s push into the SMB space . . .

Ok, for those of you who are either outside North America or simply have been living under a rock lately, Best Buy is making a move into the SMB solution space.  Specifically, they’re rolling out a Best Buy for Business program, and naturally using their Geek Squad as their troops on the ground.  Since it seems like just about everyone has an opinion on this topic, I figured I might as well dive in myself  ;^)

Now I know that most of us SMB partners have the same initial reaction when someone mentions the Geek Squad – and it usually consists of a bit of a smirk, a shake of the head and a little laugh to ourselves.  But before you shrug this off and discount this whole thing as a non-event, you need to sit back and take this seriously . . .

It is too early to be forecasting doom and gloom, as well as the utter demise of the traditional SMB var.  However, you’d be very naive to think that Best Buy can’t grab a piece of the market solely on their marketing might.  And they are making a solid effort, with their techs going through an intensive 2 week training course on SBS.  Of course, the providers this will affect at first are the part-time one man shops – the ones who have a couple clients that they work with at night and on the weekends.  Not to generalize, but it has been my experience that the majority of these guys have skills on par with your average Geek Squad member.  Basically, Best Buy will be able to capture the price-sensitive portion of the market without much effort.  Will they implement ideal solutions that follow best practices right away?  Probably not.  But depending on how Best Buy manages this will depend on how much of a threat they become.  If they implement their own internal knowledge base, have knowledgeable senior-level techs that support issues can be escalated to, and do simple things like training their techs how to plug into this amazing SBS community we have out here, they could easily move up the stack and start getting more business from the section of the market that isn’t necessarily price sensitive, but isn’t aware of their other options.

I don’t doubt that the Geek Squad will never be as reliable as the SMB var, and will never enjoy the level of trust that we have with our customers.  But just because they can’t be as good as us, doesn’t mean they can’t take business from us.

So, what do you need to do now to ensure you successfully weather whatever storm this might generate?  In all honestly – nothing that you shouldn’t be doing already.  You should be constantly working on your sales effort.  The point here is to not only drum up new business, but to constantly increase your name recognition.  Sure, most of the people you call today probably won’t be interested in your services today . . .  but the more they see your name around town, the more likely they’re going to call when they are interested in your services.  Next, review your SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats).  What are your strenghts as a technician?  as a business?  What sets you apart from your competition?  For example, with Best Buy we’re different because first and foremost, we’re service providers.  We’re not looking to sell a PC or a router, or a printer, or whatever.  Also – we’re often hardware agnostic – where the likes of Best Buy will be pushing what they have in stock.  Our biggest strength is that we’re small business owners ourselves – and can relate with our customers.  Regardless – find what sets you apart and determine how you can exploit that.  Then communicate that to your leads – maybe put together a sell sheet on what makes you different than the rest.  You may also look at focusing on a few vertical markets, where you can provide experience & expertise on their needs as well as various LOB apps their industry uses.

So – take a look at your organization and what you need to do to grow your customer base and increase your name recognition, and try to stay one step ahead, and offering services that Geek Squad either doesn’t or can’t offer.  One way you can stay ahead is by making the move to managed services.  The bottom line is the last thing you want to do is sit idly by with your head in the sand thinking that Best Buy isn’t a threat.  Granted, they may not be a big threat to you today – but who knows what the landscape is going to look like in a couple years?  Maybe SBS Longhorn will be super-simple to install & setup.  And what if Best Buy hires more & more truly capable technicians? And what if they make the move in to the managed services realm – maybe even purchasing an MSP software company like Kaseya, Level Platforms or N-Able?  Next thing you know there is a strategic alliance between Best Buy & Dell, where the Geek Squad provides Dell’s onsite installation & warranty services.  Best Buy also becomes a Dell partner – they get better-than-web pricing based on their volume, but they don’t have to stock anything.  They configure and sell Dell stuff on demand, and Dell keeps their direct model by only building machines when they’re ordered . . .   

And we all know that when it comes to SBS sales, Microsoft is focused on one thing, and one thing only – new sales.  There is only a very small percentage of small businesses that currently have a server – and Microsoft is drooling when it looks at the tens of millions of small businesses without a server – a market waiting for them to conquer.  It only makes sense that Microsoft would do a huge co-branding advertising campaign / blitz to drive small businesses to Best Buy, because next to the OEMs, Best Buy is going to be in the best position to push SBS.

So now in our hypothetical scenario, we’re a couple years down the road with Joe the small business owner seeing newspaper, billboard & TV ads about Best Buy for Business.  He also sees Microsoft ads pushing him to either Best Buy or a number of big-box retailers that have put in their own Geek Squad like service offerings.  He can have a Best Buy Business Technology Consultant (BTC) come out to his business, assess his needs and provide a written proposal.  If he wants Dell hardware, the proposal includes a link to a saved cart that the BTC has already configured.  He signs the proposal to accept, pulls up the Dell cart online and plugs in his credit card number.  The Geek Squad finishes the 15 minute OEM installation on the SBS, brings it out and installs it complete with their monitoring software.  Their managed services agreement is automatically billed to Joe’s Best Buy card every month, and they have a handful of data centers across the US where a team of engineers are watching the multitudes of monitored systems.  When something comes up, they either take care of it remotely, or if it requires a visit contact the customer and either have the customer bring the system in (hey, it’s still Best Buy ;^) – or for a higher fee, schedule a Geek Squad member to go out onsite.

You have to admit – it would be a little harder to sell against that offering . . .    and it isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to see most of that hypothetical situation come to pass. 

So . . .   now about that sales effort of yours . . .      :^)

For some interesting reading on the topic, check out these posts of Vlad’s:

Best Buy for Business to End SMB IT Consultants?

Best Buy vs. SMB IT Consulting: Part 2

Best Buy now Gold Certified Partner

Ping . . .

Yes, believe it or not, I am still alive . . .

And yes, I realize that I have hit a new low . . .  I’ve gone almost two months without a single post . . .  ouch . . .

But in my defense, there’s been a decent amount happening on the home front.  We’ve been quite busy at Mobitech world headquarters.  First, a customer I’ve been working with off and on for about 5 years finally decided to upgrade their LOB software, which meant that they needed to upgrade their infrastructure as well (Win95 P2P just wasn’t going to cut it any more :^)  So on one hand, it was very exciting to be able to bring them into the 21st century and completely transform their daily activities.  They’ve taken on quite nicely to Sharepoint and Remote Web Workplace.  On the other hand, it was exciting just for the scope of the project – going from a smaller (7 PCs) Win95 P2P in their main office, to connecting 9 of their locations together via persistent VPNs, deploying a Citrix server (their new LOB app requires it), and just training everyone on what is possible.  Most people are amazed how they can be at any of the 9 offices and log in and have their email and documents available right where they expect them, and print anything to virtually any printer at any of the offices.  On a side note, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the performance of Remote Web Workplace when connecting to a PC that is at a remote location.  It is a tad bit slower than the LAN PCs, but still very much usable . . .

Second, we scored a major win by signing our largest Managed Services customer to date, who saw the value in our Gold-level agreement.  The interesting part is this is a local non-profit that is doing some amazing things, and has a visionary Executive Director who’s favorite line is “‘non-profit’ is not analagous to ‘not-profitable'” :^)  They have a serious investment in technology – approximately 40 users in two locations, and 6 servers.  (They started with more, but we killed off a few old ones and did some consolidation).  The entire network was in a bit of a mess from their last provider (they have 3 identical Dell 1750 1U servers, all with a single SCSI HD . . .   needless to say, we’re upgrading to get a RAID config going in those boxes).  6 weeks into the project, and we’ve moved them to a new office, deployed a new VoIP phone system, killed off 3 servers, swung in a new SBS Premium as the foundation for their network, reinstalled all but 2 of their remaining servers, sorted through many a file share and either archived or deleted old info.  The big part of the project going forward is going to be their database.  They had someone build a custom database for them in Access about 5 years ago.  There’s a few things that I find interesting – first, both the front end & back end are in Access, but the front end is using ODBC links to get to the back end tables (versus native Access linked tables).  Second, they’ve added some functionality to their web site where their partner clinics can enter referrals, this is back-ended by SQL.  They have a separate function in the front-end that connects to SQL to extract the referral entered via the web and insert into the Access backend.  They are having a lot of different issues with this database, so we’re going to scrap it and start fresh – 100% SQL backend (and using SQL properly so all of the heavy lifting is being done by SQL, not by the front-end app).  And since they have a processor license of SQL Server, we’re going to expand the functionality available to their partner clinics via their web site (which is being hosted in a DMZ on their network thanks to ISA  :^)  I’m a long-time database junkie, and thoroughly looking forward to this project . . .

And speaking about VoIP phone systems – that non-profit client was looking for recommendations and had several quotes – both from some local phone providers and a quote for Vonexus from a partner we have a relationship with.  The client mentioned that while they liked the functionality, all of the quotes were higher than they wanted to spend on phones.  So we gave them another option – Asterisk.  We prefaced this with the disclaimer that we had never touched it, so we didn’t know what how involved the installation would be, etc.  But we made them a decent offer – since we’d be learning the platform, and we could use that experience with our other clients, we wouldn’t charge them for any services to deploy the phones.  In a leap of faith, they decided to go with Asterisk.  The down side of course was that we had a relatively small window of time (a couple weeks) to figure out what we needed for hardware, and how to actually deploy it.  And for those of you who don’t know about Asterisk, did I mention that it runs on Linux, and I am in no way a super-villian like Steve?  The good news is that we started by deploying it internally (as we needed to do something with our phones anyway).  Vlad recommended Asterisk@Home – which made the deployment much easier.  Granted, I still ran into a few bugs – but I only needed to make one call to Digium support, all of the rest of my questions were answered by voip-info.org and nerdvittles.com  :^)  In the end, we have Asterisk up and running without issue in our office and at this client – and we’re finalizing our plans to add it to our list of offerings for our other clients.  I’ll try to keep you updated on how I’m coming up to speed with Linux, and the fun management stuff like updating the distro & asterisk apps, backing up, restoring, etc. etc. etc.

We also spent a few fun-filled hours with Vlad & HappyFunBoy recording the ‘missing’ SBS Show #15 . . .  of course Chris recently posted that it has been found – and should be available for download soon . . . 

I’ve also been working on travel plans – I’m going to be presenting at SMBTN’s Spring Conference 2006 in two weeks.  And in June we’re going to be doing the first leg of our Mobilize SMB tour, where we are travelling to 6 cities to present a half-day FREE workshop on making the transition into Managed Services.  Watch here for more info . . .   :^)