Future Decoded 2017 highlights

Today I took a trip down to ExCeL London for Microsoft’s annual Future Decoded conference. As always it proved an interesting showcase of their future vision and gain technical insights into current and future projects. Here’s a few of my take-aways from the day…

Deploying Windows 10 with Autopilot

Although I’d read a bit about this a while back it was useful to see the Windows 10 Autopilot deployment process in action and the rationale behind using it. Given that we have been deploying some pilot Windows 10 devices to staff it does in theory help speed up that initial out-of-box process for devices that we predominantly see as cloud-managed and want to hand out without too much fuss.

Future Decoded slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/fd76e051-a6a9-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

Ref: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/windows-10-auto-pilot

For me this method will be applied to devices that will spend more time off the main AD network than on it and likely have a fairly simple requirements for pre-installed software. My colleagues in the office will also be pleased to hear Autopilot helps to skip the initial talking Cortana screen that’s been heard many a time so far during testing (!)

However the next part and real power of the “Modern” deployment method being showcased requires InTune in order to set up full profiles with customisable apps, settings etc. Although an MDM solution is on my wish list to get more control over roaming mobile devices it’s another software subscription bolt-on so making it an almost-necessary part of the Modern deployment experience sits a bit uneasy with me.

Another useful piece of advice was to check out Windows Analytics to help prepare for our Win10 migration project, which I need to have a proper look at tomorrow.

Ref: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/WindowsForBusiness/windows-analytics

Microsoft Hands On labs

During the break out sessions there were plenty of Surfaces put out on the 3rd floor running “Hands On” lab training materials. These looked like they’d be perfect for students in IT courses to use for trying out Azure etc. rather than needing access to a physical lab or trial accounts in a live environment.

The content covers Windows 10, Office 365 and Azure so it’s perfect for either keeping your own skills up to date or providing students with a good few hours’ worth of e-learning material, which is interactive because you actually configure VMs rather than just watching videos.

Check them out at https://www.microsoft.com/handsonlabs

All you need is some form of Microsoft account to log in with and away you go 🙂


here’s one I made earlier…

Security & ATP

One thing 2017 will certainly be remembered for in the tech world is the high profile ransomware attacks that have brought home the realities of modern malware threats to a much broader audience than perhaps ever before. As such the session on Advanced Threat Protection was particularly interesting.

Future Decoded slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/f6204a3e-e5a8-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

We were also recommended to check out the NCSC presentation from yesterday, another one for tomorrow’s reading list:

NCSC slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/e1382eb1-01a9-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

The ATP offering now covers email, endpoint and Azure-based analytics. Moving to Windows 10 (1709) brings additional security and exploit protection such as:

  • Windows Defender Application Guard
  • Windows Defender Exploit Guard (aka EMET for those who remember it from Windows 7 days)

Ref: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsforbusiness/windows-atp

All of this sounds great until the dreaded “l” word comes around… yup, it’s licensing. Although none of these services grow on trees there’s only so far budgets can stretch, particularly for us Education users. One thing that’s a real problem for Education in particular is that all the new cloud-first offerings are being sold solely on a per-user basis rather than the fairer per-FTE staff method for our on-prem EES-licensed products. Costs can soon spiral upwards and make some of these offerings (Azure AD Premium I’m looking at you!) almost unobtanium

A small plea to the powers that be…

If someone from Microsoft happens to end up reading this just think of it this way… in Edu we want to make use of these new solutions and embrace the tech that’s on offer to help provide the best environment we can for users.

I’m not saying we expect Microsoft to give it all away for free (although we’d be more than happy if you’re feeling generous!) but realise that we need to protect student accounts and machines as much as we do staff and paying for a 5000-seat EMS or ATP setup is just impossible. The end result, everyone loses (well perhaps not if you’re Google, who are working hard to take that Edu market if Microsoft don’t want it for some reason) so please rethink these pricing models and help make them work for non-profits as well.

Windows Mixed Reality

Towards the end of the day I went to the Mixed Reality stand to try out the new headsets, which sit in a much more affordable price range than the incredibly-cool-but-very-pricey HoloLens. We’re currently building a new campus for construction and engineering so I was interested to see if Mixed Reality could fit in there.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/collections/vrandmixedrealityheadsets

Having tried a Lenovo headset with its associated controllers I’m impressed! Whilst VR headsets \ Google Cardboard made that first step there still felt a disconnect in terms of interacting with the world you were immersed in but the hand-held controllers help take this a step further and bring you more into the 3D virtual environment.

The out-the-box demo of walking around a house picking up and manipulating objects showed potential for me as I can imagine students being able to design in 3D using something like Maya then showcase those objects in a virtual environment using Mixed Reality.

The idea of pinning multiple virtual screens, opening Windows apps and working through the headset is also intriguing, although I suspect it needs 4K lenses for longer periods of use than the 2K ones being fitted into the kit at present.

The demo finished off with a rather addictive space invaders-style game using the VR controllers. Anyone with a Playstation VR or similar has no doubt already experienced something similar and more but it’s good to see an attempt to bring the technology into productivity tools as well. One of the opening keynotes focused heavily on HoloLens and Mixed Reality so it does seem Microsoft are really going for this area of the market.

It’s also another reason to go down the Windows 10 (1709) route as these features are only available on the new Fall Creators Update.

Fail of the day

However Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot from time to time. At the first Future Decoded it was the irony of queuing at a tech event to collect a piece of aper but today’s award moves the bar up a notch… step forward the Future Decoded app!

Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue

At an event where you spend the whole day watching cutting-edge Azure cloud technology Microsoft hired an external company to make possibly the worst conference app I’ve ever used…

  • slow to load and required registration to view even basic content, why MS would need that data is beyond me as they spend all day scanning your badge as you move between rooms
  • website scraping to populate the app content, if I wanted a web page I’d open it directly
  • seminar sessions list that had to be manually filtered per day (looks like a GETDATE function was too difficult to implement?)
  • but the worst & most irritating was the “My Agenda” planner that didn’t generate a personal agenda at all and just scraped the keynote details from the website… hopeless

Maybe next year get some of your in-house people to showcase some of those cutting-edge Azure technologies via the app,but whatever you do don’t bring this one back!

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Azure Active Directory Application Proxy installation and troubleshooting

11225654646_7fc9621cc9_bRecently we decided to migrate away from our legacy reverse-proxy product to something that would integrate better with our AD \ Office 365 systems. I’ve wanted to try out Azure AD Application Proxy for a while since seeing it in beta last year so this seemed a good time to get to grips with it. This post outlines a few gotchas to watch out for and some useful background reading.

Let’s start off with the initial Microsoft documentation available here

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/active-directory-application-proxy-get-started

Education freebies

Although Microsoft’s recent price hikes haven’t come at a good time for us in education we do get a lot of extras thrown into our Microsoft licensing agreement. One of the lesser-known ones is Azure AD Basic, which is the minimum requirement to use Azure AD Application Proxy – see comparison chart at https://www.microsoft.com/en-cy/cloud-platform/azure-active-directory-features for more info

To get your free licenses you’ll need to get in contact with your EES reseller and they’ll get them added to your tenant in a similar way to Office 365.

Applying the Azure AD Basic license is nice and simple, go to your Azure Management portal at https://manage.windowsazure.com, select your Azure AD directory then assign suitable groups to the license. What’s handy is that if you’re using Azure AD Connect to sync from your on-prem directory any new users will get automatically licensed as they come on board.

Installation

Next step in the documentation list is here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/active-directory-application-proxy-enable

I used two dedicated Server 2012 R2 VMs for our install, the connector will be installed on each so we have failover should it be required at some point. Enabling the Application Proxy in Azure is nothing more than one click in the portal

Now in theory the installation should be straightforward, nothing more than downloading the installer from the link, sign in with admin credentials and job done. However if everything went that smoothly this blog wouldn’t exist (!)

Troubleshooting 403 Forbidden errors

At the end of the installation the wizard helpfully offers to run a troubleshooter to check all is well but in fact all was far from well…

Checking Event Viewer threw up the following errors:

  • Event ID 32012
    The Connector update using the update service failed: ‘The remote server returned an error: (403) Forbidden.’. Check your firewall settings.
  • Event ID 12020
    The Connector was unable to connect to the service due to networking issues. The Connector tried to access the following URL: ‘https://***GUID***.bootstrap.msappproxy.net:8080/’

Outbound firewall settings were already configured to allow all the ports that were asked for in the documentation, proxy was disabled in Connection Settings and the firewall didn’t register any outbound traffic being blocked so what’s going on here? The mystery deepens…

Although the wizard only offers to run the troubleshooter once you can run it again manually by launching it from:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft AAD App Proxy Connector\ConnectorTroubleshooterLauncher.exe

Troubleshooting the troubleshooter

Although there’s a fair bit of documentation in the troubleshooting section on Microsoft’s pages none of it referred to this particular error. Google didn’t have much to go on either but did throw up some useful and detailed slides from the Ignite conference that are well worth a read:

Ref: https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Ignite/2015/BRK3864
Ref: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-Ignite-Content/BRK3139-Throw-away-your-DMZ-Azure-Active-Directory-Application/td-p/10675

The second link references another useful document aimed purely at troubleshooting:

Ref: http://aka.ms/proxytshootpaper

Whilst searching I stumbled across an email contact for the Microsoft Azure AD Application Proxy team

aadapfeedback@microsoft.com 

so I dropped them a message with the errors I was encountering. The team replied almost instantly and initially suggested ensuring that the following updates were applied on the server:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2973337
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2975719

Proxy proxy proxy!

However still no joy even with everything present as it should be. The next recommendation was to check if I was using a proxy server for outbound connections. We do have one but it’s not used for server VLANs and is the first thing I disable on a new VM build.

However I did get intrigued to check the traffic going out via TCPView… lo and behold there was the proxy server trying to take the outbound connections and failing miserably. It seems that despite everything in the operating system suggesting traffic should be going out directly the Connector was still trying to use the proxy route instead.

Ref: https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/applicationproxyblog/2016/03/07/working-with-existing-on-prem-proxy-servers-configuration-considerations-for-your-connectors/

The solution is in this document under the section “Bypassing outbound proxies”, which basically involves adding these lines to the .config files for both Connector and Updater services

<system.net>

<defaultProxy enabled="false"></defaultProxy>

</system.net>

Checking Event Viewer and the Azure Portal afterwards showed success, my Connectors were now up and running with nice green icons, much better 🙂

Note: even though this fix resolves the issue the current version of the Troubleshooter doesn’t seem to follow the settings in the .config files and will still report connection failures. The Azure AD Application Proxy team are aware of this and are aiming to have a new version out soon.

Additional considerations

There’s a few other points to bear in mind when you’re completing the configuration of the application proxy. None of them are major issues but good to have everything ready before you start…

Certificates

Once the Connectors are up and running the rest of the process went smoothly, although note you will need a wildcard certificate if you want to publish your applications via a “vanity” URL i.e. your own domain rather than “msappproxy.net”

Using the vanity domain and some DNS CNAME records means that if you use Office 365 SharePoint for your Intranet your internal applications can work from the same URL both inside and outside.

Setting SPNs for Kerberos SSO

Even better, those internal apps can SSO based on the Office 365 initial sign-on for a suitably slick user experience! This does require a bit more configuration with Kerberos delegation but it’s not too bad.

When setting the SPN records I remembered the gotcha from when I worked on Dynamics CRM to type the command in manually… bizarre as it is the same still applies!

Using the -S switch worked well for me:

setspn -s HTTP/yourserver yourserver

Ref: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/saurabh_singh/2009/01/08/new-features-in-setspn-exe-on-windows-server-2008/

Nested groups

Finally, bear in mind if you’re using groups created natively in Azure AD you can’t nest memberships when creating application assignments, which is a shame. As a workaround create any nested ones in your local AD instead and sync them up via Azure AD Connect or just create flat groups in Azure AD if you prefer to work solely up there.

Ref: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/active-directory-accessmanagement-manage-groups

Application links

You can either publish your application links via your Intranet or users can browse them via the portal (I’ve linked to the new makeover version as it looks much better than the previous one in my opinion)

https://account.activedirectory.windowsazure.com/r#/applications

image credit Rainer Stropek 

OneDrive storage saga.. Microsoft sees sense at last

9550939064_bf4b0be0bc_zAfter making a monumentally stupid decision to claw back storage space from consumer OneDrive accounts it seems Microsoft have finally seen the light and relented on their decision… in part anyway.

Logging in this evening I spotted an interesting looking email from the Uservoice forum. Basically Microsoft have done what they should’ve in the first place and left long-term users’ current storage alone.

The backtrack on “unlimited” space has stayed in place though, which isn’t surprising really given how it was being used.

Unfortunately Microsoft have done themselves a lot of reputational damage in what they had left of the consumer space. This announcement is the first step in getting some pride back but judging by the comments it may be a bit too late to regain the trust of many contributors on the site.

Like most I signed up to Google Photos after the announcement but now end up in a better position having backups across both services so in a roundabout way it’s worked out well!

Many said that Microsoft wouldn’t go back on their policy but it just goes to show if enough people speak up it can make a difference… unless you take the more cynical view that this whole show is just a way of managing opposition to the reversal of the “unlimited” promises of barely a year ago 😉

onedrive email

If you currently have 15GB loyalty and \ or 15GB camera roll storage make sure you visit the link below asap to claim back your storage. Once done you should see the screens below 🙂

http://aka.ms/onedrivestorage

onedrive-storage

onedrive-storage2

For more commentary on the climbdown head over to the links below:

Ref: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/12/11/microsoft_onedrive_reduces_free_storage/
Ref: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/12/microsoft-to-give-back-some-of-the-free-onedrive-storage-its-taking-away/

Header image credit – Chris Marquardt
https://www.flickr.com/photos/nubui/9550939064

Save yourself from insanity… Dynamics CRM 2013 setspn unknown parameter

images
Sometimes in IT you get tasks that can drive you to the brink of madness, fortunately this series of  posts should help before you end up like the chap on the right >>>

Bizarre problem of the day goes to the setspn command that is recommended as part of a Dynamics CRM 2013 installation. I prefer to set up commands with multiple parameters in Notepad before putting them anywhere near the command prompt so did the same as usual with setspn having read the online documentation and added the required options.

I then fired up the command prompt, pasted in my carefully crafted string and… nothing… setspn spat it back at me saying the parameters entered weren’t recognised despite showing an example with exactly the same syntax!

Just to be sure I started cmd again, making doubly sure I’d ran it as elevated, under the correct user, removed any trailing spaces etc. but still no joy 😦

Finally I thought I’d try typing the command in just in case I was somehow picking up a stray character from the copy \ paste operation… success!

Moral of the story… type this one manually

I’ve never seen anything like it before but bizarrely it seems typing the command manually is the only way to get it to work. Verifying with setspn -l confirmed the records had entered correctly, definitely one for the weird fixes list…

We had to re-install CRM today when moving to a production environment; I forgot about the trick and re-found (!) the solution via TechNet forums, seems I wasn’t alone in experiencing the issue:

https://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/e396df7c-3cf1-47b1-8721-d2774a1f8816/setspn-unknown-parameter?forum=ilm2

https://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/218667e1-2e31-44f0-b0d4-0f4f5805b05f/setspn-command-not-working?forum=crmdeployment