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Ran into issue with LCS 2005 and OCS 2007

LCS 2005 (Enterprise Edition) is installed on a single server with SQL 2005 server for the backend database. ?There is no warning or indication that this would cause any problem and up until now it?hasn’t.? The software does allow for this type of deployment and works fine in this configuration.? OCS 2007 server was recently installed and configured.? During initial testing it was observed that users on the 2005 LCS server could not see presence data and communicate with users on the OCS 2007 server (and vice-versa).??After searching online for solutions it was found that there are two critical hotfixes for LCS 2005 that were said to correct this issue.?

Installing the hotfixes:
Following the instructions on the first hotfix documentation, I installed hotfix 911996.? The installer completed successfully and there was no indication of a problem.? Next I installed the second hotfix 921543, again the installer ran successfully and there was no indication of a problem.? I then checked the services for LCS and found that the LCS Server services would start, but then stop on its own with an error:

Event ID: 12299
Source: Live Communications Server
Details: The service is shutting down due to an internal error.
Error Code: 0xC3EE78F8.

The hotfix documentation mentioned this error as a possibility if you install the patch on the front-end server before the backend patch is installed.? However, since this was a single server deployment with both the back-end database and front-end server components on the same physical server, the hotfix only installed the update for the front-end components.? Again, there is no documentation saying this is not a supported configuration and the installer will gladly allow you do install both components together without a problem in the LCS 2005 setup.? (NOTE: OCS 2007 server prevents this configuration in the installer and will not install both components on the same box when using Enterprise Edition).? There is also no warning in the hotfix documentation not to install the update if you have both components on the same physical box.?

For a resolution, I called Microsoft support services ticket number SRX080212602272 and spoke to an afterhours support specialist.? After some initial troubleshooting and research the technician was able to review a similar case they had a few months ago.? He attempted the resolution listed in their issue history which did ultimately fix the issue.? To resolve, a string value must be deleted from the LCS 2005 registry branch (HKLMSoftwareMicrosoftReal-Time Communications{Your GUID}.? This key “role=EE” ?had to be deleted from the registry in order for the hotfix to install on the back-end database.? Once this was done, the LCS 2005 server service started successfully and we tested connectivity with a test account to verify that the server was working normally.? Basically this tricks the installer into thinking that the server is the backend database only, and it will allow the hotfix to install the back-end components.?

This issue could have been avoided completely if Microsoft had updated their documentation for the hotfix, especially since they had issues with this months ago and should have updated the documentation.? I am recommending to the technical support manager that the documentation be updated since this is a known issue and others have experienced the same problem.? Hopefully this will get done and prevent others from having the same issue.?

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SPAMHAUS services

I am impressed by the services offered by SPAMHAUS, their data feed service is extremely useful and effective and their spam stats are amazing.  If only we could find a way to just stop spammers alltogether.  Immagine the bandwidth that would be freed up on the internet, if all SPAM were eliminated.

Windows Vista Upgrade failed

Last night I was trying to upgrade to Windows Vista on my main XP computer.  I was 3/4 of the way through the installer when the install screen vanished and dropped me back to the XP desktop.  XP still seemed to work, and no matter what I tried, I could not get the installer to resume.  I had no choice but to reboot, but what I didn’t know was that Vista had already copied over its boot files and screwed with the MBR on my hard drive.  So upon reboot, I get a Vista boot loader, which goes to the setup screen, but promptly throws up an error saying (not exactly sure of wording) “Windows could not initialize the installer”.  So XP was dead at this point, sure there are some ways I could have gotten it back, but I really wanted Vista to install. 

I ended up using a Knoppix 4 bootable CD and using the file managers in linux to backup my data on my XP parition to a file share on a server in my network.  After the backup was done, I wiped the partition and loaded the full install of Vista and installed fresh on the clean XP partition.  I am not sure if I am going to go with Vista or not, so I’m installing from the media with no CD key, just to use it in eval mode.  If Liz likes it and can get used to it, we might go ahead and buy the Ultimate edition upgrade.  But for now we’ll give it a try and see how it goes.  So far its running great on my hardware, but I’m a little disappointed with the performance rating of 3.7.  I have a dual core P4 3GHz chip, 2 GB of performance DDR2 RAM, and 256MB ATI X600 PCIe video card running on a nice Abit motherboard.  I was expecting to get a score near or at a 5. 

Sunbelt Software status

I previously mentioned that I’ve been trying to get the new Sunbelt Exchange Archiver installed for an evaluation and I’ve also mentioned the old “IHateSpam” product and the predecessor “Ninja” in previous blog posts.  Here is an update on my status…

Sunbelt Exchange Archiver:

   I am still unable to get the archiver to work, my issues at this point are with the database connection.  No matter what I try, I can’t get the database connection to function.  I finally did get the product to install but now you have to configure everything before it can start the services.  As usual the Sunbelt documentation is sub-par and contradicts what support tells you.  I will probably have to get a support rep on the phone and do a remote install session just to get the product running. 

Sunbelt Ninja:

   I upgraded my Exchange servers in my company to the latest build of Ninja which includes their new “STAR” engine.  This replaces the old Sunbelt heuristic filter with a definition based system like the cloudmark engine.  I was told by Sunbelt that their new engine “does not cause false positives” before I did the upgrade.  Pre-upgrade testing showed no problems with system resources such as CPU utilization and spam catch rates were the same as previous tests on the old version.  The problem comes in when deploying in production.  I found soon after enabling the new engine that we were having problems with lots of false positives and even some internal mail was being filtered and going to user’s quarantine.  I ended up having to disable their new engine and things are working much better now.  I also resolved an issue with the anti-spoofing feature that was marking lots of external mail as spoofed. 

   I think in general Sunbelt Software is on the weak side in the following areas:

1. Documentation, frequently I find their documentation is incomplete, does not answer questions users would have upon installing, and contradicts other documentation related to steps in the process and also their support staff directly. 

2. Internal testing, I know they test their products before releasing to the general public.  However its been my experience that there are always unexpected issues when installing or upgrading any of the three Sunbelt Products I’ve used.  Like with Ninja and their STAR engine causing false positives, and marking internal mail as spam when its not supposed to.  Not to mention the default configuration causes high CPU utilization on the host server.

Unfortunately there are not many other alternatives to do the job that Sunbelt’s software does.  I know there is no perfect software, and with software comes its share of bugs.  One last complaint would be in diagnosing errors.  I know that in Ninja when we would turn logging to high in order to diagnose problems (and you have to turn logging to high as the system logs only useless information in the low setting), the extra disk activity is a huge drain on system performance.  This alone is enough to make users complain.  But in order to get any useful information from the software, you have to perform this step.  Also, the queue folders often start to build as mail backs up into the queue.  Most of the time I am certain this is caused by Ninja or more specifically the SMTP event sink it uses.  Mail backs up into the SMTP queue folder and before you know it, you’ve got hundreds of messages stuck and not being delivered.  Of course you restart the services and try to clear the queue since its obviously a big deal, but then you don’t get any logging as to what caused the problem.  Support has no idea, and tells you to run a snapshot which is useless unless your logging level is set to high. 

Ninja also accounts for a large boost in disk activity, and shows a marked increase in the disk queue when viewed in perfmon.  This causes general GUI slowness and delays when opening MMC consoles. 

I will say that when Ninja works, it works well, but the slightest problem or glitch and your entire mail flow system can be affected.  I suppose this is a risk with any spam filter, but we’ve had a long history with Sunbelt products and it seems that the core issues we had with previous version of their spam filter have carried over into Ninja in one form or another. 

Mourning the death of my…..TILT

Today is a sad day, its a day of separation, of death (tech people call it “end of life”) and severe sorrow as I accept the death of my TILT. For a little over a month now I’ve had an at&t TILT and really enjoyed it. I loved the crisp call quality, and sturdy feel of the well built phone. The Windows Mobile 6 features and cool apps and customizations I had were really something special.

I called at&t and they won’t replace the phone since it was physically damaged. I then called HTC and they said they were not yet prepaired to repair the TILT since its so new. They couldn’t even find my part numbers in their database yet. So at this point in time, I have a $1000 phone thats functioning as a paper-weight.

review – at&t TILT

I have had the TILT with at&t for about a week now. I have to say this is the best phone I have used to date. Here are some highlights of why I like this device..

1. Its sleek and visually cool looking, coloring is modern and glossy.

2. The weight of the phone is indicative of being well built, it feels sturdy and tough.

3. It has plenty of onboard memory; you can customize the device, install apps and have plenty of onboard memory left without the need of a storage card.

4. Onboard GPS radio is neat; this is my first phone with true onboard GPS. A perk is that both Google maps and windows live search work with the onboard GPS radio for free.

5. The speed of this device to a data network is amazing. Over HSDPA I can download at nearly 1mbps which is not bad, although this connection is theoretically capable of much faster sped, but it’s still way better than EDGE!

6. You can use this device as a wireless modem, so when you travel or go somewhere that doesn’t offer free internet access, you can connect over Bluetooth to a laptop and get on the internet for free using your phone’s data plan.

7. Windows mobile 6 pro seems much more stable and visually attractive.

8. Battery life is not bad, in one day I am only using less than 50% of the battery with normal to light usage.

9. You can be on the phone and receive e-mail and use the data connection at the same time. No longer does using the phone disable all other radios on the device. You can now get important e-mail while talking on the phone.

10. Mobility! I can browse the web, make a blog post, track my position with GPS, take pictures, connect to wifi, use bluetooth devices, conect to VPN, run Citrix applications and sooooo much more, all while on the go.

There is more I will post about this device later, but those are the main points…

Hard drive faulure … fake out!

Yesterday, Liz tells me that she can’t get into our external hard drive to get to our picture library. This kinda freaks me out since we have nearly 500GB of data on this drive. So I try a few quick things to see if I can get her access to the drive, I see some warnings in the event log about the disk and some transaction log error. I assume the drive is dead or perhaps I unseated some cables when I put in the new processor the other day. So when I got home from work I checked it out, plugged everything in and it came right up the first time, no problems. I’m not sure what happened, but I didn’t have any trouble with the drive, and Liz said she tried the same thing, so I don’t know what happened. Its working ok and our data is safe….for now.

Current problem – seeking solution (backup related)

Let me expalin a little about a problem I am trying to solve. This relates to backups using Backup Exec 10 and 11. I am hoping to get some feedback and ideas on a solution, your comments and ideas are welcome. Please feel free to post to the comments on this article.

First, we have servers all over the place and back them up locally when possible. So each major location has a consolidated backup server with over 1TB of hard drive space and utilizes a backup to disk strategy for the daily backups, and then we have a separate archive to tape job which puts the B2D files onto tape. We keep 3 days worth of backup to disk files on each backup server, using media set controls with a overwrite protection period of 2 days so we only ever have 3 days of backups in each media set.

Jobs are configured with backup to disk folders to keep the media in. Now the issue comes as our storage grows, we are backing up more and more data. Keeping 3 days worth of data on the server gets harder and harder. Not to mention we also are currently backing up 3 days worth of backup to disk files to tape each day, which eats through more than one ultrium tape per day.

The goal I am working towards is being able to keep 3 days worth of backup to disk files on the backup server (idea is to have quick access to restore media 3 days back in case something important needs to be restored) but we only want to backup 1 day at a time to tape, so we don’t waste tape storage and have some crazy confusing tape rotation schedule. We use an autoloader with 24 tape capacity, and are having difficulty in maintaining a good predictable rotation.

So does anyone reading this have any suggestions for being able to keep 3 days worth of backup to disk files on the server, but support backing up only 1 days worth of files at a time to tape? Currently the backup to disk folders are created and named after each server.

I also want to find a way to prevent having to use third party software to keep the backup to disk folders cleaned out. Sometimes the B2D files don’t get re-used for a while, they are protected, but don’t get re-used and just sit there taking up space and ultimately eat up valuable hard drive space for nothing. I had been using some external software to clean out files older than 3 days from these folders.

All suggestions are welcome.

Emergency work from home

Last Thursday morning, I recieved a call at 5:30am about a server problem at my company. I gave a few suggestions over the phone but around 7:30am they still had a problem. I started taking over remote control at that point and spent from then until 2:30am the next (Friday) morning working on this problem. I ended up working from home due to the severity of the issue and the time at which it was reported. Long story short, I had to restore from the previous nights backup and that fixed the issues. However, I spent all day trying to repair the server because we had received mail on this server for at least 5-7 hours before problems started, and we wanted to recover those messages. There was some type of corruption and the log files were lost during a previous restore attempt. So I was using MS utilities to try to recover the databases. Did I mention this was an Exchange 5.5 server (OUCH)! A fresh restore of both the public and private stores fixed the problem and we only lost messages sent to individual addresses (since we use public folders as archives for our Distribution lists). This was a long day!

Movie Review – The Final Cut

I got this movie from Netflix called “The Final Cut” starring Robin Williams. Its kind of a sci-fi movie, but actually more drama than anything. Williams plays a “cutter” who is basically a high tech audio/video guy who works to put together “rememberings” for deceased people who had this computer chip in their brains that recorded everything they saw and heard. He took the “bad” out and put together memories for family members and let them remember what they wanted to remember of the person who had died. Well he is the guy everyone goes to when no one else wants to the job because of how bad a person was. Williams character is tortured by guilt from a childhood memory shown in the beginning of the movie where apparently another kid dies basically because of his (Williams character’s) actions. He finds out that he actually has a chip in his brain (which is against the code of the cutters). So he quits doing that, and has a friend try to replay his memories while he is sitll alive. He finds that his childhood memory was tainted by age and inaccuracy and that the boy he thought had died actually lived. One of his high profile cases was for a lawyer in the company that makes these chips, and there is a group wanting to bring down this company. They end up trying to get the chip from Williams character and it ends up getting destroyed. However, Williams character (Allan) has watched the footage of this persons life and all this information is now stored in his chip. So the bad guy chases him down and tells him he wants to get the data from his brain. The bad guy can’t quite bring himself to shoot Allan, so his accomplice shoots him suddenly and to your surprise right at the end. The movie pretty much ends there, with a final scene of the bad guy looking through Allan’s memories and tell him (actually his reflection in the mirror) that his life will have purpose and that it won’t all be for nothing.

The movie was ok, but the ending sucks. Its almost like they were trying to prepare for a sequel, but I don’t think thats the point. I just don’t like movies with no closure. The bad guy pretty much got away with his acts of badness, and the movie just ends there. I probably would not have watched it if I had known this, but it was ok. Not something I’ll watch a second time. Cool idea with the brain chip thing, but it was kind of slow, no real action and low on the drama side. And the ending stinks.