Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to survive installing Exchange 2010 SP1

In recent years Microsoft, in my opinion, has generally gotten better at putting out service packs that don't cause massive failures. So I was a bit surprised when I saw how many people were having problems with the latest Exchange 2010 service pack. I actually put it off for an extra month after reading some of the forum posts. But this week I revisited it and was able to deploy SP1 on my exchange servers without any hitches.

My usual process for getting ready for an upgrade is to read every forum and blog post about it I can find and to start looking for patterns of what people are running and where they're running into issues. The most useful site I used this time was:
After all, no better place to start than a blog run by Microsoft Dev's.

I wasn't very pleased to find that only 1 of the pre-requisite patches I needed was a general release. The others were all what most of us would call beta or pre-release patches but MS swears up and down these have been fully testing and vetted. (Overall still not much comfort when you're installing them on your production servers.)
For my Windows 2008 R2 x64 servers I installed:
979744 - (watch out for an error that pops up for some people who have multiple iis bindings.)

And then I installed the Microsoft Filter Pack 2.0 which was recommended on another forum. Then I rebooted and took a backup of the server.

Then just prior to installing the patch, I stopped these services as recommended in this post:

Exchange Transport Service
System Attendant
Information Store

I also turned off my antivirus program and symantec spam filter.

I then extracted the SP1 patch and then ran setup on my CAS server as a user that had rights to update the domain schema and crossed my fingers. I was pleasantly surprised when it completed without any errors and tested it out to make sure it was working alright.

Then a couple of days later I went ahead and updated the Hub Transport/Mailbox server using the same procedure. So far everything's working fine. Next I'll work on converting my Managed Folder policies to the newer Retention Tag system.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Finally, an electronic switch hook for my plantronics/nortel ip phone.

Since we started rolling out the Nortel IP 200x phones and now the Avaya 11xxe series phones the biggest complaint we've had from our users is that the HL10 lifter from Plantronics keeps falling off. Thankfully, Plantronics has recently released a series of USB EHS devices to integrate existing CS55 and CS70 headsets into our Avaya 1120e IP Phones.

My test configuration:
1. Avaya 1120e
2. APU-7 EHS Cable from Plantronics
3. CS70 headset

1. Called into the IP Phone - confirmed that I received a ring warning through the headset
2. Pick up incoming phone call using button on headset - success
3. Turn on headset and get dial tone - success

Sadly, though, they missed one important feature with the new EHS cables - they didn't give us any way to hook up an online indicator light. On the old HL10 it was easy to hook one up but that feature got lost on this new device. Other than that this is a great new solution for us and I won't miss having to deal with all the wiring and points of failure that came with the HL10.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cisco SLM2008 web managed and STP capable switch review

So I've finally got a solution for my conference room switches. Every once in a while a bonehead user will plug both ends of a cable into the switch and take out a section of the network (STP convergence times heading toward infinity tend to have a detrimental effect on uptime). The larger switches all have Spanning Tree Protocol set up on them so they weren't really affected but I didn't have a cost effective solution for the smaller rooms that needed switches; and preferably the type that don't howl or cost a fortune. Enter in the Cisco Small business smart switch series:
SLM2008 -
They're compact, web-managed, support STP, VLANs, and the 8 port gigabit model only costs $100.

So after having set it up I had to test the bonehead maneuver! As much as the effort went against my better instincts, I took a cable and plugged it into ports 1 and 4. As you can see below, the switch detected the loop and blocked the ports out, thus preventing a cascade of pain to the nearest network closet.

And that's just one less vulnerable flank on my network...