Random Stuff, Part 42

Between work, studying, tinkering and trying to have something close to being considered “a life”, I haven’t been blogging much lately.  And every time I get close to having that magical, mythical thing called “a life”, I have to travel.  I can’t complain, since it gives me new perspectives on “life”, which help me to feel like I have “a life”.

And speaking of travel, here’s a cheap diagrammatic view of how I roll (literally, since my suitcase does in fact have wheels)…

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This is just the backpack.  I also didn’t include tampons, whips, chains, hand grenades, latex gloves, surgical masks, or bags of unmarked pills.  Those tend to slow me down with TSA, and I’d rather they spend most of their time with their hands around my privates.  If I touch myself in public it looks unsettling, but when they do it for me, it’s professionalism at its best, and they love it when I smile during the procedure.

Speaking of TSA, I’ve found that the passive aggressive score follows the scale of the airport, at least in the U.S.  Meaning, the bigger the airport, the less humor they tolerate.  The friendliest bunch I’ve encountered would be Medford, Oregon (MFR), and the other end of the scale would be Boston (BOS).  I love Boston.  The TSA have a consistent and warm way of welcoming travelers to bean town with that glaring “I’ll stomp your face in if you make eye contact for more than 5 seconds!”

I’ve also been updating some PowerShell-related projects.  I have always maintained personal project time to keep my sanity.  It also makes my dog want my attention more.  She leaves me little gifts to express how much she misses my attention.  And at 95 lbs, the size of those gifts can almost clog the toilet.

Here’s a few examples of what too much caffeine, too much vlog watching, and access to PowerPoint will do to someone like me, a latent marketing student.  I’m just kidding, I would’ve gone into statistics as a “statistician” but it’s too difficult to pronounce after 3 or 4 beers, and the pay doesn’t come close to most IT related jobs.

fudgepop.pngFudgePop

 

cmhealthcheck.pngCMHealthCheck

gpodoc.pngGPODoc

cmbuild.pngCMBuild

They almost look professional.  And almost as if I know what I’m doing.  Cooked up with only a frying pan, a little butter, some chunks of PowerPoint and sprinkled with Paint.Net.  All four took a whopping hour to create.  The pencil was the most fun.  I highly recommend the shape tools (Boolean stuff, like Union, Subtract, etc.), you can spend hours immersed in that strange world, forgetting to shave and bathe too.

You can find the rest of this exciting stuff at https://www.powershellgallery.com/profiles/skatterbrainz/ – where I publish things I almost know how to do.  CMBuild is still in beta, so if you get really, really, reeeeeeally bored, and you have a lab environment in which to try things like this – feel free to post angry, hurtful, mocking and demoralizing comments and bug reports.  The more condescending the better. My doctor enjoys this too.  The visits for medication help his kids through another semester at medical school, and I don’t want to let him down.

Travel

I forgot to mention that MFR, while being a very small airport, also has some really nice artwork on the walls around baggage claim…

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Approaching Norfolk (ORF), the most dynamic and interesting place for underpaid IT professionals…

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Leaving San Fran (SFO).  The most dynamic and interesting place for well-paid IT professionals who can’t afford to live there…

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Getting ready to board my next flight.  I have the window seat just behind the wing…

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Back in my office…

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Technical Stuff

In the past month, I’ve been dunked into projects involving a variety of different beatings, I mean challenges.

  • 2 involving MDT+Windows 10 with distributed/replicated MDT deployment shares.  One using DFS and the other using Nasuni, for the replication service.  Both worked out very well.
  • 2 involving Office 365 ProPlus.  One mixing C2R Office with MSI Visio and Project.  The other mixing C2R Office using O365/AzureAD licensing, with C2R Visio/Project using KMS licensing.  Neither was that difficult, but I did come away with a continued wonder and amazement at how something so simple (C2R deployments) could be left half-baked by Microsoft and nobody seems to care.
  • 3 involving Configuration Manager.  1 focused on SUP strategies for servers.  1 focused on being a crying shoulder for an overloaded admin and under-give-a-shit managers.  1 focused on replacing some horrific mess some other (independent) consultant attempted while in between binges of drinking and glue sniffing.

The rest of the time has been Azure, Intune, O365, PowerShell, PowerShell with Azure AD, PowerShell with Intune, PowerShell with System Center, System Center with PowerShell, PowerShell with PowerShell, and a little bit of PowerShell. I’d think by now I’d know something about PowerShell, but I’m not going to pat myself on the back just yet.

User Groups

Our geographic region seems to have very few IT-related user groups with regards to the population of professionals.  We do have a few, such as groups for Docker, SQL Server, .NET, Machine Learning/AI, and a few others.  So, I’ve been trying once again (third time) to get a Microsoft-related group off the ground.  And I’m happy to say it’s actually starting to get off the ground!  It’s called Hampton Roads Cloud Users Group.  “HRCloudGroup” on Slack, and Facebook.

For those not familiar with this interesting little area, it’s officially comprised of 7 cities in the southeastern corner of Virginia, at the North Carolina border.  Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  But the actual list of surround municipalities include Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Yorktown, Suffolk, Surry, and Smithfield.  There’s also a large number of people who commute from North Carolina to jobs in this area, so it extends beyond Virginia.

Some call it “Tidewater”, which is a stupid name.  Some call it “Hampton Roads”, which is a less stupid name.  Some call it “that shitty place I hated being stationed at while in the Navy/Marines/Air Force/Army/Coast Guard/CIA/FBI/NSA/DEA/NATO…” eh, you get the idea.  I would venture to say it is the most militarized area of land in the United States, maybe in the world.  Every branch of military, intelligence, logistics, special operations, tactical operations, is located within a small enough radius to be a ridiculously appealing target for Russian satellites.  My house, is under the flight path between Little Creek JEB (SEAL team 6 or DEVGRU), Fort Story and Oceana NAS.  I can name the fighter jet, cargo plane, or helicopter models by sound alone. I just haven’t found a way to earn a living doing that yet.

Enough Rambo talk. Our group is still very small, at about a dozen members, with about 4 or 5 people attending the monthly meet-ups so far, we’ve been fortunate to get some very skilled, very creative members, so I couldn’t be happier.  I feel like my role is more of a facilitator than a leader.  The others have way more experience than I at this point, so I’m happy to just connect the wires and keep the engine running, and learn what I can along the way.  We’ve only had 2 meet-ups so far, but I’m optimistic.  Our next one is December 14, 2017 at 6pm.  If you live in the area, hit us up.

Miscellaneous

As if the entire blog post isn’t already “miscellaneous”.  Shit, my whole life is “miscellaneous” when I get down to it.  But who’s complaining? Okay, I do from time to time.  Anyhow, shotgun blast…

  • PlatyPS is cool.  Once you remember to actually put comments in the right places and import the module before running New-MarkdownHelp for fifth time and cursing at the monitor for not reading my my mind.
  • Carbon is still cool.  Even cooler.
  • The Tesla semi is freaking awesome.  The Roadster is obviously cool as well.  I can afford neither.
  • I had my first MSATA failure today.  A Lite On 256 GB card in my HP Elitebook.  RIP.  It was nice having you while you lasted.
  • Shout out to Whitner’s BBQ in Virginia Beach.  Still the best I’ve had anywhere I’ve traveled, and it’s right in my backyard.
  • Shout out to the group of kids who yelled across the busy street “I like your chocolate dog!!”  She loved it too.
  • I need fish food for the aquarium.  Off to the stores on a Saturday.  Wish me luck.

Chocolate dog.  Aka “Dory”

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Random Thoughts and Stuff

While packing for travel I was having a conversation around the “state of IT” with a friend. So I figured (A) it might be worth jotting down some of the key points, and (B) do it before I fly out, in case some underpaid mechanic forgets to tighten that one bolt that holds the engine onto the wing.  Actually, who am I kidding, that mechanic probably earns more than I do.  Anyhow…

this is rambling, so drink plenty of medication and smoke your wine before continuing.

(travel-packing sidenote: Oreo is 15 years old, and like most humans, used to hate my guts.  Eventually, as daughter number 3 moved out, and I became her sole source of attention and food, she has become my friend.  She follows me around all day.  Every time she sees my suitcase out the night before I travel, she does this.  I’ll need to go over that ball cap with a ball of tape in the morning.)

The Future of SCCM and MDT and EMS

This is admittedly a Microsoft-centric topic. The discussion mentioned above was about “how long” will SCCM and MDT be “of interest” to consumers?  Obviously, I do not own a real crystal ball.  I only have a Dollar Tree knock-off, and I don’t have access to real business data, therefore I rely upon what scientists often refer to as ‘shit talking‘.

I’ll admit, after day 1 at MS Ignite this year, I was feeling the angst.  For example, while riding the bus back from the conference center to the hotel, staring out the window, I kept thinking “why, why, why did I leave app-dev to move into this infrastructure rat race?!  wtf was I thinking?!” and “I hope my dog isn’t chewing up my last pair of flip flops right now.”  It really felt like the job market for anyone walking around a typical IT shop today, would be dried up to around 10% of that volume within 5 years.  And who really knows?  It could go in any direction.  I think everyone is in agreement that there is already a major tectonic shift in play, with traditional operations moving into software-defined operations.  The thought of learning things like JSON, Git, VSTS, on top of PowerShell and Azure, is adding wrinkles to quite a few faces I see.

The mere mention of “new certs” is probably having a measurable effect on the sales of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, which should keep these guys employed for a long time.  For many I’ve known over the years, the feeling is like being shoved onto a rollercoaster by your drunk buddies, against your will, and now you’re approaching the top of the first peak in the run.

After 3 more days, and soaking up session content, food, beer, and more importantly: engaging vendors in deep discussions out on the expo floor, my initial expectations of SCCM/MDT doom were relaxed quite a bit.  Mainly out of realizing the following points:

  • The majority of imaging work I see being done at most mid-sized and large customers is refresh of existing hardware.  The mix of new vs. reuse is cyclical at most larger shops, due to budget cycles and SLA’s about hardware refresh programs.  So at various times in a given year, there’s more new imaging, but for the remainder of the year it seems to be more refresh/reuse.
  • Most of the (above) people I’ve spoken with are very interested in AutoPilot, but quite a few hadn’t yet been allowed access to the preview at the time I spoke with them (I think most are now seeing it in their portals)
  • In-place upgrades are still a minority (far too low in my opinion)
  • The description of “automatic redeployment” got their attention, but most are still tied to the comfort of a “clean wipe and load” for various reasons.
  • Ultimately: Regardless of what anyone says, things which “work” have a very VERY tough time dying in the IT world.  Hence why so many machines still run XP.  I’d also wager my tombstone that Windows 7 will easy to find running on machines in 2027.  That’s because I’m planning to be cremated on a Walmart grill.  But that’s beside the point.

The weeks after Ignite I’ve made it a point to casually interview my customers to get a feel for where they see the biggest and most immediate changes coming.  It’s a delicate thing to ask, since it can easily smell like a sales pitch.  Sales pitches have a distinct odor that is often confused with bus station toilets or dead cows laying in the sun.  However, most of them are well aware of my dislike for sales people in general (some of my friends are in sales, so there are exceptions).

  • The biggest hurdles they have today are keeping up with device models and drivers, patching, moving to some new system for IT operations (ticketing, change mgt, etc.), and endless training of each new-hire who is replacing three who just left.  See what I did there?
  • The single biggest complaint about imaging in general revolves around drivers.
  • There’s still quite a bit of frustration and confusion I hear around Intune capabilities.  Some is related to Intune agent vs. agentless, management; Some is around app deployment capabilities; Some is inventory reporting.

Windows 10

I still spend way too much time explaining Windows 10 servicing models and the naming convention.  They were just starting to grasp CB, and CBB, but now “Semi-Annual” and “Semi-Annual Targeted” are leaving them in one of two modes: pissed off or chuckling.  The most common response I hear from the former is around the constant renaming of things in general.  “Active, Live, Visual, and now CBB, then Semi Annual Targeted, WUS, then WSUS”, and so on.  Their words, not mine.

I’m always surprised to find so many shops still heavily invested in MDT and doing very well with it.  The other interesting thing is that the majority of them assume they’re doing everything wrong and are panicked when I arrive that I’ll redline their papers.  In fact, most of them are doing very well.  They’ve read the blogs, the tweets, bought the books, watched the videos, done the TechNet labs, and so on.  A few have been lucky enough to attend training and/or conferences as well, but that’s a very small percentage.

The pace at which organizations are getting their Windows 10 rollouts moving is gaining speed and volume.  However, the Office aspect has thrown a wrench into quite a few (see below)

Office

This reminded me of a discussion I had at Ignite with the Office team on the expo floor.  It was around the issue of third-party extensions (add-ons) for Office, and how many are produced by small shops which do not stay current with Office versions.  The result I’ve continued to see is a fair amount of shops who can’t upgrade Office until the third-party vendor puts out an update or a new version.  Then there’s the cost factor (is it free or not?).  In many of those cases, the hold-up triggered the IT department to wait on other projects such as Windows 10.

The number of Access applications interfering with Office upgrades has dropped significantly for me in the past 3 years.  Not just the projects I’m working on, but also from reports I get from other engineers and customers.  That’s a good thing.

Controls vs. Controls

I’m still seeing a continued reliance on inefficient control mechanisms with regards to device and user configuration management.  Way too much effort put into the imaging side, and not enough on the environment side.  Way too much on the “nice to have” side, vs. the “gotta have” side.  Not enough attention is being paid to ‘baseline’ and ‘continuous’ control models, and when to use which one, and how best to apply tools for each.  For example, hours and hours spent on wallpaper, shortcuts, and folders in the imaging process, being manually adjusted with each update cycle, rather than letting Group Policy Preferences step in and mop that shit up with one hand.

I’ve had fairly good results convincing customers to drop the continuous meddling with reference images, instead, (at least trying to)…

  • Change the data storage process to keep users from storing anything valuable on their device
  • Remove as many non-critical configuration controls as possible
  • Move continuous controls to the environment (GPO)
  • Move baseline controls to the environment wherever possible (GPP)
  • Move remaining baseline controls to task sequence steps

There are obviously exceptions that require mucking with the install.wim to make a new .wim, but I’m finding that’s only REALLY necessary in a small percentage of the time.  The vast majority of controls I see are voluntary and serve little functional or operational benefit.  Things like hiding Edge, Forcing IE, hiding Cortana, forcing Start Menu and Taskbar items, etc.  Just educate users to avoid them.  Treat them like adults and who knows, maybe they’ll stop urinating on your office chair.  Try it and see.  The worst you’ll get is whining (you get that anyway), but the best (and most likely) outcome is less work for you and less risk of something breaking.

Role and Salary Compression

It not only continues to thrive, it seems to be accelerating its pace.  Almost every customer I meet tells me how they’re expected to do more with fewer people, less training, less budget, and shorter time constraints.  Most haven’t had a significant raise in a long time.  This seems more prevalent at companies which are publicly-traded than those which are not, but it affects both.  Personally, I see a correlation with public organizations and cost reduction priorities over innovation and revenue increase.  Then again, I have no formal training in such matters, so again, I’m probably talking shit.  Again.

Intune

Speaking of Intune.  I’ve been spending more time with it this past week, along with Azure AD, and AzureADPreview powershell module.  I’ve always like the concept of what Intune and EMS are aimed at. The mechanics are still frustrating to me however.  There are plenty of design quirks that drive me batshit crazy.  Like devices / all devices vs. Azure AD devices, and the differences in how provisioning an app for iOS or Android and Windows, from the Windows Store no less.  As Ricky Bobby would say, “it’s mind-bottling”.

Then again, I’m not at all a fan of the “blade” UI paradigm.  The Blade model is (in my humble, semi-professional, almost coherent opinion) marginally efficient for direct touchscreen use, but for mouse and keyboard it blows chunks of post-Chipotle residuals.  I’m sure that will infuriate some of you.  But that’s just how I feel.  Drop-down menus, panels, heck, even ribbons, are more efficient in terms of hand and finger interaction (mouse, touchpad) for operations involving closely related tasks (settings, options, etc.)  Ask yourself if moving ConfigMgr to a blade UI would make it better?  Or Office?  If you think so, try switching to another brand of model glue.

Back to Intune.  I would really look forward to seeing it mature.  Especially in areas like agent vs. agentless device management (it’s very confusing right now, and the differences are weird), AutoPilot, Redeployment/Reset, and expanding the features for deploying applications, remote management (TeamViewer, etc.), and GPO-to-MDM migration.  I’m thinking Windows desktops and laptops of course (if you hadn’t already figured that out).  Phones are great, but nobody, who isn’t masochistic, is going to write a major app using their phone most of the time.  Auto-correct and latent-rich touch screen typing, would cause most PowerShell, C# or Ruby code writers to massage their head with a running chainsaw.

I think I digressed a bit.  sorry about that.

Other Stuff

I’ve spent some after-hours time keeping my brain occupied with scripting and app-dev projects.  I’ve been doing Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, MDT and SCCM lab builds and demos for months, along with real implementation projects, and starting to burn out on it all.  I needed a break, so I’ve managed to get a few things done and few in the pipeline:

I ran across a couple of (seem to be) abandoned Git projects focused on DSC for building ConfigMgr sites, but none of them appear to be factored into a template construct.  Meaning?  That they’re still built on specific parameters, or require extensive customization for various roles, configurations, environments.  I’m still poking at them and forked one to see what I can make it do.  In the meantime, I’m moving ahead with CM_BUILD and CM_SITECONFIG being merged into a new CMBuild PowerShell module.  So far so good.  And when that’s done, I’ll go back to see what I can in that regard with DSC and applying that towards Azure VM extensions.

I’ve come to realize that there’s 4 basic types of southern dialect in America:  Fast, Slow, Twangy and Crooked Jaw.  Think about it, and you’ll see that’s true.

The shortest distance between two points is often the most expensive.

If you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough.

If you fail most of the time, you’re probably in the wrong career path.

I’m on travel next week.  Expect more of the same stupid tweets about mundane stuff.  If you tire of me, unfollow me.  I don’t mind.  It’s just Twitter after all.  I will do my best to keep my camera ready for anything interesting.  I need to watch some air crash documentaries now, to get my mind relaxed for tomorrow.

CMHealthCheck is now a PowerShell Module

What is it

CMHealthCheck is a PowerShell module filled with bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, and 2 possibly useful functions, aimed at collecting a bunch of data from a System Center Configuration Manager site server, and making a pretty report using Microsoft Word.  But doing so without needing to manually download and store a bunch of script files and so on.

It’s still based on the foundations laid by Rafael Perez, with quite a bit of modification, prognostication, prestidigitation, and some coffee.  Special thanks to Kevin (@thenextdotnet) for helping point me in the right direction to move it all from scripts into a module.

Why is it

I get asked (okay, told) to help customers find out why their site servers are running slow, showing red or yellow stuff, or just to get them ready to upgrade from whatever they’re on to whatever is the latest and greatest version of ConfigMgr.  They also like a pretty Word document with a spiffy cover page.

How to use it

  1. Install the module on the ConfigMgr CAS or Primary server you wish to audit –> Import-Module CMHealthCheck
  2. Run the Get-CMHealthCheck function (see documentation on Github – linked below)
  3. Install the module on a Windows computer which has Office 2013 or 2016 installed (hopefully NOT the same computer which was audited)
  4. Run the Export-CMHealthCheck function (see documentation on Github – linked below)
  5. Save the Word document and mark it up.

Where to Get it

How to Complain About it

Because I know some of you will, but that’s okay.  Without complaints, we have no way of identifying targets.  Just kidding.  I need feedback and suggestions (or winning lottery numbers and free food coupons).  Please use the “issues” link on the GitHub repository to submit your thoughts, gripes and so on.

Invoke CM_Build over the Web

Updated 10/15/2017 – Added -Override example

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First off: WTF is CM_BUILD?

CM_BUILD is a PowerShell script that configures a “vanilla” Windows Server machine into having Configuration Manager Current Branch installed.  This includes ADK, MDT, Server Roles and Features (WSUS, BITS, etc.), SQL Server, ConfigMgr itself, and a few goodies like Right-Click Tools, ConfigMgr Toolkit.  The GitHub repo has a cute readme markdown page filled with overcaffeinated gibberish on how to use it.  CM_SiteConfig is the “part 2” to cm_build, which configures ConfigMgr into a semi-functional site.

Short answer: https://github.com/Skatterbrainz/CM_Build

Okay, why CM_BUILD?

I don’t know.  Why do we do anything?  For the thrills? I could have taken up robbing banks, raising a crocodile farm, or breaking world records of swilling down cans of Four Loco while working on electrical equipment.  But I chose the boring life.  And while I’m bored, I hate clicking buttons repeatedly, so …

I got inspired by Johan and Mikael’s ConfigMgr Hydration Kits and Deployment Fundamentals Vol. 6 book examples, and Niall’s noob scripts, (I know it’s not actually called that, but it sounds cool to say “Niall’s noob scripts“), and after 45 cups of terrible coffee I said “I can shove all that into an XML file and call my JSON friends up and laugh hysterically at them, saying things like ‘You and your snotty little JSON drivel!  Always mocking poor, starving little XML.  Well, I’ll have you know I can still write XML, and probably even a little COBOL! So what do you think of that?!  Hello?  Hello?  Did you just hang up on me?!! WTF!

Anyhow…. Hold on, I need to get my dog outside before she has an accident….

okay, I’m back.

Why Invoke it over the Web?

There are several potential reasons for wanting to do this:

  • I was really bored and it’s been raining all freakin day, and…
  • It’s 3am and I can’t sleep, and…
  • I saw this, and …
  • I wanted to pull this off within Azure, using a VM extension, without having to import any actual files, and it would be cool to tie all this together with a runbook so I can send a text message “new lab configmgr p01“, to fire off a lab build in Azure and have it text me back “your stupid lab is ready, now leave me alone!” then I can forget it’s still running and it runs all my MSDN credits down to $0 until the next monthly cycle, and…
  • I scrolled through Dan Bilzerian’s twitter feed just long enough to hate my boring life, and needed a distraction, and…
  • It seemed like something cool to try

Example

Time to put on a poker face and act serious now.  The example below calls the cm_build.ps1 script from the GitHub master branch URL, converts it into a -ScriptBlock object, and passes in the -XmlFile parameter value using the Github Gist raw URL (you can make your own by copying the cm_build.xml into your own “secret” Gist, so you don’t openly share sensitive information to the whole world)

$ps1file = 'https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Skatterbrainz/CM_Build/master/cm_build.ps1'
$xmlfile = '<your-gist-raw-url>'

$script = Invoke-WebRequest $ps1file
$scriptBlock = [ScriptBlock]::Create($script.Content)
Invoke-Command -ScriptBlock $scriptBlock -ArgumentList @($xmlfile, $True, $True, $True)

But you can also invoke the interactive gridview menu using the -Override parameter, by simply appending one more $True into the -ArgumentList array.

Invoke-Command -ScriptBlock $scriptBlock -ArgumentList @($xmlfile, $True, $True, $True)

Then you get this budget-sized, corner-cutting, hack of a menu to choose from…override-gui

You may see a red warning about “Split-Path : Cannot bind argument to parameter ‘Path’ because it is null.”  I’ll fix that soon.  It only impacts the log output, but nobody reads log files anyway, right?

Anyhow, it’s 3:33 am, and I’m still typing, which is probably bad for my health, but if two people read this and it actually provide useful information one of you, mission accomplished.  Actually, I know for a fact this is bad for my health.  Regardless, I ran the above snippet (with a real URL in the $xmlfile assignment) in my Hyper-V duct-tape and chewing gum lab at home, and it worked like a charm.  Now I can log into the server, open the ConfigMgr console and proceed with CM_SiteConfig, or apply real world tactics and break the ConfigMgr site entirely and start over.

zzzz

My Favorite Ignite 2017 Sessions

Just a heads-up: Not all of the sessions I attended or enjoyed most are posted yet.  And some sessions might not have been recorded (expo area mostly).  Also, some of the videos have flaky audio.  Enjoy!

[ PLACEHOLDER FOR ASK THE EXPERTS: WINDOWS 10 DEPLOYMENT AND SERVICING SESSION ]

[ PLACEHOLDER FOR BRANCH CACHE SESSION (when it becomes available) ]

[ PLACEHOLDER FOR EXPERT LEVEL WINDOWS DEPLOYMENT SESSION (when it becomes available) ]

I Finally Got a Nap after MS Ignite 2017

Microsoft Ignite 2017.  Orlando Florida.  September 2017

It’s been a week indeed.  This post might be humorous, and it might not be.  My brain is still re-assembling after a busy week and finally getting some much-needed sleep.  This is a rambling post, so I won’t blame you for skipping it (TL/DR), but if you’re ready, here goes…

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The Travel

I flew into Orlando on Sunday.  As I left, my cat gave me the finger and my dog took a dump on the floor near my suitcase, which is how she lets me know she’ll miss me.  All good.  My air travel frequency had died down since July, but I was happily surprised that it was one of the first flights in a while without a single screw-up.  In fact, we arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule.  I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, which was very very nice, and the staff couldn’t have been more nice.  The flight back home was uneventful as well, and I arrived at midnight to a tiny little airport with my wife waiting in the car outside.

The Techy Stuff

There was a lot to absorb this year at Ignite.  There were plenty of announcements, rumors, corrected rumors, re-corrected rumors, rumors about corrected rumors, and some incredible events that played out, which I had no idea would happen.

There was plenty of discussion about Configuration Manager, the new Intune/EMS capabilities, and co-management of devices.  There were also quite a few sessions and discussions around Windows AutoPilotWindows AutoPilot, and Automatic Redeployment, as well as Tenant-Locking.  There was plenty going on about Azure Cloud Shell (PowerShell), SQL Server 2017 for Linux, updates to Azure Automation, updates to Intune and EMS, Office 365, SharePoint, a new infrastructure platform for Skype for Business, and the big news about Teams moving into a central role.

OVERALL: The sessions I attended were all very well done.  Even with the occasional glitches, everyone recovered quickly and kept moving without a hiccup.  The audiences seemed to be on board with the topics, content and demos as well.

Some interactions that stuck in my mind:

  • Leaving the first AutoPilot session to speak with the Lenovo folks at their expo booth, and the “device management guru” said “No. We’re not committed to AutoPilot, but we are evaluating the benefits and potential.” Then the next day, after session 2 I stopped back for a follow-up and he said “Oh, yeah, we’re in.”  Must have got a delayed memo.
  • One training services vendor rep at the expo kept repeating “we’re not the Toyota of training, we’re the gold-plated Lexus of training.” I immediately went into blank stare mode.
  • I had a great conversation with the SQL Server 2017 folks about the possibility of someday, somewhere, somehow, that we might see support for automating Maintenance Plans via PowerShell.  Not yet, it seems.  But there are ways around it with duct tape and chewing gum.
  • Nice discussion with the Fujitsu folks about their liquid-cooled (immersed) server rack.  The best part was the incredible language barrier.  Note to this vendor, smart as they may be, try to add some staff that speak the native language of the conference location, wherever that may be.  Example:
    • Me: “Have you calculated the return rate to break-even point between air-cooled and liquid cooled?
    • Them: “Yes, it is liquid.”
    • Me: “How much power does the coolant pump draw compared with fans?
    • Them: “Yes, it is liquid.
    • Takeaway:  Cleaner components due to no air-flow dust accumulation, and lower power consumption per time-unit compared with air-cooling fans.  The rack itself is smaller due to not having air-flow channels or fans.  The trade-offs include increased purchase cost and weight, as well as added space for the pump unit.
  • A rambling Twitter thread with David James about where the line between “big” and “small” customer device-management environments might exist, and the ramifications of how best to manage devices in each realm.  More on that another time/post.
  • The “deep dive” sessions on Windows Server 2016 network services changes, BranchCache/PeerCaching by Andreas Hammarskjold, and Windows Deployment and Servicing by Ami Casto, Johan ArwidmarkMikael Nystrom, and Michael Niehaus, were all indeed “deep”, and well-worth pushing the brain as hard as possible to keep up, let alone absorb the information fire hose.  If you watch nothing else from Ignite, at least check these sessions out.
  • I didn’t make it to any Mark Russinovich sessions, but I did catch a few by Don Jones and  Jeffrey Snover.
  • I missed a few sessions I really wanted to attend, due to conflicts with other sessions, nagging work-related phone calls, emails, and Teams chatting, etc.  Such as two PowerShell sessions by Stephen Owen.  But I was fortunate and honored to meet him in person as well as his wonderful wife, before the week was over.  So I can’t complain.
  • Other sessions I attended in Windows Servicing, Azure, Office 365 (Microsoft 365 now), SharePoint, Teams, PowerBI, Containers, and PowerShell were all very good.  I can’t wait for everything to get posted for viewing online.

The Semi-Techy Stuff

My daytime brain power was really really off this year.  After weeks of finally getting settled into a consistent exercise and sleep routine, even with work travel, I suffered a setback that week.  I was not an interesting person to converse with during the day.  At night I felt fairly normal, or abnormally normal.  Or normally abnormal.  Eh.

Until the closing Friday, I averaged maybe 3 hours of sleep each night.  The conference center was kept at a nice and cozy 48 degrees F.  And the combination of insufficient sleep, forgetting to pack long pants and long-sleeve shirts, an unbalanced diet, inconsistent caffeine and hydration intake, and random work-related emails, along with frequent offensive messages from insane coworkers and former coworkers, left me in a zombie state.  At least I didn’t do this.

Quite a few people approached me, all very friendly, and I tried my best to be friendly and talkative, but my brain kept saying inside, “Hey dumb-ass, you know how you didn’t go to bed until 3am and then got up at 6am?  Yeah, I’m not doing that shit anymore.  Let’s find a nice hard surface to make you do a face-plant.”

Sidebar

I watched the new Jerry Seinfeld show on Netflix.  At one point he commented on being able to speak to a group, but not an individual.  That’s exactly how I felt that week.  It was very surreal.

Some years ago, I used to do a fair amount of public-ish speaking. I say public-ish because it was mostly to captive audiences (corporatey stuff). I did speak at one CAD vendor mini-conference back in 1998, to a room of about 500, and it was a blast. If I have an agenda, I can ramble to a crowd, but ad lib not so much.  Anyhow, I got a case of decent wine, and a Chinese-made Swiss army knife as a token of appreciation.  Not sure what happened to the knife.

I have found, through quasi semi pseudo scientific research, that it’s not so much how MUCH sleep I get, but WHEN I get that sleep.  Even a shifting of sleep-wake periods by a half-hour can throw my entire pea-sized brain into a woodchipper.  My normal sleep cycle is 2 A.M. to 9 A.M. (my company and most of my customers are in the Pacific time zone, but I live in Eastern time zone, so it makes my neighbors really curious).  During the conference my sleep cycle shifted to 3 A.M. to 7:30 A.M., and yes, my math also suffered.

/Sidebar

After each day I would try to get a power nap in.  Usually, I’m great at power naps. My dad taught me the trick and it’s always worked.  However, it only works when people don’t call your phone just when you get your heart rate down.

The Personal Stuff

Some of the other interesting moments…

  • Getting to meet amazing people like Stephen Owen, Ami Casto, Johan Arwidmark, Mikael Nystrom, Andreas Hammarskjold, Maurice Daly, and Jordan Benzing
  • A conversation with a valet at the hotel.  Just a cool exchange of funny stuff and both of us went our separate ways in a great mood.
  • A two hour late-night conversation with George, a colleague who shares many of the same life experiences as I:  marriage, dysfunctional families, cancer, brain tumors, the effects of sleep and diet, religion, politics, work stuff, and so on.  I live in an exceptionally red area of a red state, so the opportunities to have a rather unbiased discussion are few.  Anyhow, it was fantastic.

The Random Stuff

  • Compared with Ignite 2016, I had nothing as unusual or random during the after-hours time this year.
  • I was also reminded of something a homeless guy said to me at a conference in Vegas, back in my Autodesk days:  He patted my arm when I was standing on a corner during a lunch break, and when I turned he said “you might be a nobody going nowhere, but it’s getting there that matters.  Don’t forget to pay attention to getting there.”  Then he tried to sell me a plastic water bottle for a dollar.  But it was the thought that counts.

Final Thoughts

  • I was very much caught off-guard by people wanting to meet me at the conference this year.  I wasn’t expecting that at all, which some found to be surprising.  While I appreciate the attention, I wasn’t ready for it either.  So, I hope that if you did run into me that you allow me to do better next time.  If there is a next time.
  • I heard quite often that people think I’m some sort of “weirdness-magnet”; that I somehow attract unusual events, but I don’t think that’s true.  I suspect that I just notice small things more often than most others do.  Human and social idiosyncrasies.  For example, standing in a grocery store checkout line, waiting in a doctor’s office, or riding a bus.  I typically stop to talk with people who are normally ignored in our society: The people who give directions at the conferences, store clerks, bus drivers, hotel staff, airline staff, TSA agents (well, sometimes), police officers, homeless people, random people, Uber and Lyft drivers; anyone who can’t run fast enough to escape my death ray of chatty-ness.  The stuff that most people don’t see while staring at their phones.  Basically: I’m really not that special.

And now I have to re-bond with my dog.  She’s mad at me again.

Cm_SiteConfig 1.3 – Importing Queries and Collections

Updated:  Added missing graphic of menu

This may be the only blog post I do before I head down to Microsoft Ignite this coming weekend. I’m also trying desperately to keep up with younger colleagues on exam studying, damn it. Getting old sucks. Anyhow. I wanted to discuss some things about cm_siteconfig 1.3 that I may have glossed over (or snored through). I need a break from labs right now anyway.

What is Cm_SiteConfig?

I’ve been working on a pair of PowerShell scripts to automate the building of a System Center Configuration Manager site server.  This could be a CAS or a Primary, but basically, each of the two (2) scripts uses a dedicated XML configuration file to control what it does.  Cm_Build.ps1 installs all of the prerequisite items to make a vanilla Windows Server machine into a Configuration Manager site server.  It does not configure the Configuration Manager site itself however.  So, things like Discovery Methods, Boundary Groups, Client Settings, Site Settings, Collections, Queries, OSD items, Applications, etc. need to be created.  This is where Cm_SiteConfig comes in.

Cm_SiteConfig.ps1 uses Cm_SiteConfig.xml to configure an existing Configuration Manager site server with things like Discovery Methods, Active Directory Forest Connection and Publishing, Boundary Groups, Site System Roles (multiple), Client Settings, Client Push settings, Distribution Point Groups, Operating System Images, Operating System Upgrade Installers, Collections, Queries, Applications, Maintenance Tasks, System Accounts, Enpoint Protection Policies and even Console Folders in which to organize these things.

The Override Feature

Normally, when each script is run, it processes the XML configuration data in sequential order by reading the “use” property of each item (if use=”1″ it’s processed, otherwise it’s ignored).  When using the -Override parameter, you are presented with a graphical menu, from which you can choose individual tasks to execute, while skipping over the others entirely.

For example, if you wanted to just import custom queries and collections, you can do the following:

  1. Edit the cm_siteconfig.xml file to suit your site configuration (within the [cmsite] tag: sitecode, forest, etc.)
  2. Edit the queries and collections entries (if needed)
  3. Open a PowerShell console on the Site Server using “Run as Administrator”
  4. Run the cm_siteconfig.ps1 script as follows (see example below also):
    cm_siteconfig.ps1 -XmlFile cm_siteconfig.xml -Detailed -Override
  5. Select the features you wish to process from the Gridview menu, and click OK (lower right of menu)
  6. Watch the output and refresh your console

You can do the same with other sections of the XML file.

Important Note!

Be sure to run the Folders section at least once, to insure the folders are created prior to other sections being processed which may rely on those folders to be present.

Where to Get it – Here

Feedback / Suggestions / Bug Reports – Here (please!!)

Back to studying.  I hope to run into some of you during Ignite!  I’m easy to spot:  I look like every other white guy roaming the expo floor with too much swag falling out of every pocket and trying to hold a drink and a cellphone at the same time.