ConfigMgr – 2 Minute Microwave Style

Genesis – I posted a tweet about someone I know getting stressed at learning Configuration Manager in order to manage 50 Windows devices.  All desktops.  The background is basically that his company had planned on 1000 devices running Windows.  But the end-users, who wield more purchasing power, opted to buy mostly Macbooks.  So the total Windows device count was capped at 50, BUT…. they already approved the purchase of ConfigMgr.  It’s worth noting that the end-users also purchases JAMF (formerly Casper) and set it up in their own secret underground lab, complete with a diabolical German scientist in a white lab coat.  Ok.  That last part isn’t really true, but the JAMF part is true.

So, the “discussion” slid into “okay mr. smarty-pants skatter-turd-brainz, what would you want in a ‘perfect’ ConfigMgr world to address such a scenario?” (again, I’m paraphrasing a bit here)

MC DJam, aka DJammer, aka David the Master ConfigMaster Meister of ConfigMgr, popped some thermal verbals in front of the house and the room went Helen Keller (that means quiet and dark, but please don’t be offended, just stay with me I promise this will make sense soon…)

Yes, I’ve had a few beers.  Full disclosure.  I had to switch to water and allow time for the electric shock paddles to bring my puny brain back online.  That was followed by a brief gasp,”oh shit?! what have I started now?”  Then some breathing exercises and knuckle crackings and now, back to the program…

So, Ryan Ephgrave (aka @EphingPosh) stepped in and dropped some mic bombs of his own.

And just like having kids, the whole thing got out ahead of me way too quick.

So, I agree with Ryan, who also added a few other suggestions like IIS logs, Chocolatey package deployments (dammit – I was hoping to beat him to that one).

So the main thing about this was that this person (no names) is entirely new to ConfigMgr.  Never seen it before, and only gets to spend a small portion of their daily/weekly time with it, due to concurrent job functions.  This is becoming more and more common everywhere I go, and I’ve blogged ad nauseum about it many times (e.g. “role compression”)

What do most small shop admins complain about?

  1. Inventory reporting
  2. Remote management tools
  3. Deploy applications
  4. Deploy updates
  5. Imaging
  6. Customizable / Extendable

These are the top (6) regardless of being ConfigMgr, LANdesk, Kace, Altiris, Solarwinds, or any other product.  All of them seem to handle most of the first 4 pretty well, with varying levels of learning and effort.  But Imaging is entirely more flexible and capable with ConfigMgr (or MDT) than any of the others I’ve seen (Acronis, Ghost, etc. etc. etc.)

ConfigMgr does an outstanding job of all 6 (even though I might bitch about number 6 in private sometimes, it is improving).  ConfigMgr is also old as dirt and battle-tested.  It scales to very large demands, and has a strong community base to back it up in all kinds of ways.  In some respects it reminds me of the years I spent with AutoCAD and Autodesk communities and the ecosystems that developed around that, but that’s another story for another time.

The challenge tends to come from just a few areas:

  1. Cost and Licensing – ConfigMgr is still aimed at medium-to-large scale customers.  The EA folks with Software Assurance, are most often interested and courted into buying it.  Some would disagree, but I set my beer mug down and calmly say “Walk into any major corporate IT office and ask who knows about ConfigMgr.  Then walk into a dentist office, car dealership, or small school system and ask that same question.”  I bet you get a different response.
  2. Complexity – ConfigMgr makes no bones about what it aims to do.  The product sprung from years of “Microsoft never lets me do what I want to manage my devices” (say that with a nasally whiny tone for optimum effect).  Microsoft responded “Here you go bitch.  A million miles of rope to hang yourself.  Enjoy!”  It’s an adjustable wrench filled with adjustable wrenches, because it was designed to be the go-to toolset for almost any environment.  And it’s still evolving today (faster than ever by the way)
  3. Administration – Anyone who’s worked with ConfigMgr knows it’s not really a “part-time” job.  But that’s okay.  It’s part of the “complexity” side-effect.  And rarely are two environments identical enough to make it cookie cutter.  That’s okay too.  Microsoft didn’t try to shoehorn us into “one way”, but said “here’s fifty ways, you choose“.  The more devices you manage with it, the more time and staff it often demands in order to do it justice.  I know plenty of environments that have scaled to the point of having dedicated staff for parts of it like App deployments, Patch Management, Imaging and even Reporting.

None of these are noted with the intention of being negative.  They are realities.  It’s like saying an NHRA dragster is loud and fast.  It’s supposed to be.

Now, add those three areas up and it makes that small office budget person lose control of their bowels and start munching bottles of Xanax.  So they start searching Google for “deploy apps to small office computers” or “patching small office computers cheap as hell” and things like that.

So, ConfigMgr already does the top 6 functions pretty darn well.  So what could be done to spin off a new sitcom version of this hit TV show for the younger generation?

  1. Simpler – It needs to be stupid-simple to install/deploy and manage.  This reaches into the UI as well.  Let’s face it, as much as I love the product, the console needs a makeover.  Simplify age-old cumbersome tasks like making queries and Collections, ADRs and so on.
  2. Lightweight – Less on-prem infrastructure requirements: DPs, MPs, SUPs, RPs, etc.  Move that into cloud roles if possible.
  3. Integrate/Refactor – Move anything which is mature (and I mean really mature) in Intune, out of ConfigMgr.  Get rid of Packages AND Applications, make a hybrid out of both.  Consider splitting some features off as premium add-ons or extensions, like Compliance Rules (or move that to Intune), OSD, Custom Reporting, Endpoint Protection, Metering, etc.
  4. Cheaper – Offer a per-node pricing model that scales down as well as up.  Users should be able to get onboard within the cost range of Office 365 models, or lower.

Basically, this sounds like Intune 3.0, which I’ve also blabbered about like some Kevin Kelly wanna-be futurist guy, but without the real ability to predict anything.

Some of the other responses on Twitter focused on ways to streamline the current “enterprise” realm, with things like automating many of the (currently) manual tasks involved with installation and initial configuration (SQL, AD, service accounts, IIS, WSUS, dependencies, etc. etc.), all of which are extremely valid points.  I’m still trying to focus on this “small shop” challenge though.

It’s really easy to stare at the ConfigMgr console and start extrapolating “what would the most basic features I could live with really come down to?” and end up picking the entire feature set in the end.  But pragmatically, it’s built to go 500 mph and slow down to push a baby stroller.  That’s a lot of range for a small shop to deal with, and they really shouldn’t.  That would be like complaining that the Gravedigger 4×4 monster truck makes for a terrible family vehicle, but it’s not supposed to be that.  And ConfigMgr really isn’t supposed to be the go-to solution for a group of 10-20 machines on a small budget.  Intune COULD be, but it’s still not there yet.  And even it is already wandering off the mud trail of simplicity.  It needs to be designed with a different mindset, but borrowing from the engine parts under the ConfigMgr hood.

Maybe, like how App-V was boiled down and strained into a bowl of Windows 10 component insertions for Office 365 enablement, and dayam that was a weird string of nouns and verbs, they could do something similar with a baked-in “device management client” in a future build of Windows 10.  Why not?  Why have to deploy anything?  They have the target product AND the management tool under the same umbrella (sort of, but I heard someone unnamed recently moved from the MDT world into the Windows 10 dev world, so I’m not that far off).

Does any of this make sense?  Let me know.

 

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Windows 10 Soup Sandwiches

Version 2.1 (I lost Version 1.0 somehow, from the old blog, but it was focused on Windows 7, 8.1 anyway)

An ad hoc collection of wine-infused recipes to help smoosh Windows 10 like a ball of clay, or like a soggy sandwich.

Disable Windows Firewall (MDT, SCCM)

Disable Windows Firewall (GPO)

Disable Windows Defender (GPO)

Deploy .NET Framework 3.5 with Feature on Demand (GPO)

Enable Controlled Folder Access (GPO)

Create Shortcuts on Desktop, Start Menu (GPO)

Disable IPv6 (GPO)

Configure, Start, Stop Windows Services (GPO)

Block and Disable Cortana (GPO)

Set default Web Browser (GPO)

Waste Time Customizing the Start Menu and Taskbar (GPO, Script, MDT, SCCM)

Configure OEM Support info and Company Logo on Support page (GPO)

Block Windows Store and Store Apps (GPO)

Remove Store Apps during Imaging (MDT, SCCM, etc.)

Remove OneDrive from File Explorer (GPO)

Show File Extensions in File Explorer (GPO)

Show Hidden Folders and Files in File Explorer (GPO)

Show File Explorer Menu Bar (GPO)

Expand to Current Folder in File Explorer (GPO)

Customize and Push BGInfo to Desktops (script)

Customize and Push BGInfo to Desktops (GPO)

Destroy and Annihilate SMBv1 by any means necessary

TLS Configuration Guidelines (hotfix, registry, GPO)

Create and Configure a Group Policy Central Store

Updates 2.1

Add Domain User to Local Administrators Group (GPO)

Add Domain Users to Remote Desktop Users on Servers (GPO)

Modify Registry Key Permissions on Domain Computers (GPO)

Create Scheduled Tasks using Group Policy (script, GPO)

Configure PowerShell Settings using Group Policy (GPO)

Prompt for Computer Name / OSD Variable in Task Sequence (script)

Mass Upgrade Windows 10 using PowerShell (script)

Replicate MDT Boot Images to multiple WDS/PXE servers (script)

Set Google Chrome as Default Browser (GPO)

More to be added (version will be updated too)

Rants about Configuration Manager and PowerShell

Note: Although I’m still on hiatus, I was reminded about a few blog posts sitting in my drafts queue that need to get posted before they get stale like me.  There may be a few more.  Until then – cheers!

How many times have you seen PowerShell code that looks similar to the following?

param (
  [parameter(Mandatory = $True, HelpMessage = "Site Server Name", ValueFromPipeline = $True)]
  [ValidateNotNullOrEmpty()]
  [string] $ServerName, 
  [parameter(Mandatory = $True, HelpMessage = "Site Code")]
  [ValidateNotNullOrEmpty()]
  [string] $SiteCode
)
Import-Module "$($ENV:SMS_ADMIN_UI_PATH)\..\ConfigurationManager.psd1" -Verbose:$False

Notice how this is expecting the user to (manually) provide the name of the server, the site code, and so on?  What bothers me most about this is that these two pieces of information are easy to obtain directly from the local computer.  Even when running on a workstation or member server which is not a ConfigMgr site system, you can easily obtain the site server name and the site code.  So why ask a user to key this in manually?

I’ve blogged about this general topic a few times before, but I still see most snippets posted online today doing this exact same approach to setting up the most basic, albeit “core” aspects, on which the rest of the script depends.  Bad idea!  So 1990’s.

Think of this in alternate contextual forms:

  • We expect to drop AD computers and users into Organizational Units (OUs) to automate Group Policy management processes.
  • We expect to drop ConfigMgr resources into Collections to automate policy and content deployment processes.
  • We expect to place AD domain controllers into Sites to automate replication optimization processes.
  • We expect to place AD users into security groups to automate permissions inheritance processes.
  • So why don’t we expect our scripts to drop into execution environments and inherit and automate processes as well?

Reiterating one of the lectures from my CS days in college, “every program needs to start with stated assumptions“.  Other great bits of advice: “If it can be automated, then automate the shit out of it.”, and, “If you automate a broken process, you can only get an automated broken process.” (that was from a manager, not a professor, but still top of my list).  I could go on much longer, but maybe that would be best for an in-person discussion or speaking event.  God help you.

So, the questions should be:  what then are the expectations when executing a program (or script)?  I realize this is 100-level stuff right here, but so-often I see people dive into writing code before they pause to answer some basic questions about how it will be used.  The most basic questions should be…

Where will it be used?

When will it be used?

How will it be used?

and… Who, will use it?

Let’s define some base assumptions:

  • Where?  On the ConfigMgr site server (locally or via PSRemoting, WSMAN/Rexec/WinRS/PsExec, etc.)
  • When?  On demand, or via scheduled job
  • How?  PowerShell + ConfigMgr Admin Console framework
  • Who?  A user or process-owner account which has local Administrator rights

Assuming this is going to be invoked on a Central Administration Server (CAS) or Primary Site Server (PSS), we can also assume that the ConfigMgr admin console will be installed.  And along with that, it will have the PowerShell cmdlet library available as well.

In this scenario, we can easily obtain the name of the server, as well as the Configuration Manager site code.  There’s no need to ask a user to manually input this information, because, as we’ve seen many times, manual intervention causes cars to crash, trains to derail, and space shuttles to explode.  Humans are bad.

There are several ways to get the site server name (locally):

# environment
$ServerName = ($env:COMPUTERNAME+'.'+$env:USERDNSDOMAIN)

# WMI
$ServerName = Get-WmiObject -Class Win32_ComputerSystem | Foreach {$_.Name+'.'+$_.Domain}

# registry
$ServerName = (Get-Item -Path HKLM:SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\ComputerName\ComputerName).GetValue('ComputerName')

You get the idea.  The easiest (and fastest) may be the environment variable option.  So, we can also use this to set a default value even when using input parameters…

param (
  [parameter(Mandatory = $False, HelpMessage = "Site Server Name", ValueFromPipeline = $True)]
  [ValidateNotNullOrEmpty()]
  [string] $ServerName = $($env:COMPUTERNAME+'.'+$env:USERDNSDOMAIN)
)
Import-Module "$($ENV:SMS_ADMIN_UI_PATH)\..\ConfigurationManager.psd1" -Verbose:$False

We can also fetch the ConfigMgr Site Code using the Registry…

$SiteCode = (Get-Item -Path HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Identification).GetValue('Site Code')
$OldLoc = (Get-Location).Path
Set-Location "$($SiteCode):\" -Verbose:$False
...

So, that works fine when the assumption is that the script will be invoked directly on a ConfigMgr site server.

As a side note, there’s plenty of other useful information exposed in the Registry location HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS

Going Remote

Now, let’s change the assumptions a bit.  Now the script will be invoked on a workstation, which is joined to the same AD domain as the ConfigMgr site.  Assuming the workstation is also a ConfigMgr client, and the desired Site Server is also the Management Point (MP) for this workstation, we can fetch the server name from the local machine as well, but it resides under the client Registry tree, rather than the site system Registry tree…

$mp = ((Get-Item -Path HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CCMSetup).GetValue('LastValidMP') -split '//')[1]

Even if the MP is not the Primary we wish to connect to, we can use the MP information and perform additional queries against its Registry to “walk-up” the hierarchy to find the Primary we wish to connect with (if necessary).

Note: The actual value of “LastValidMP” is stored in URI format… example…

"http://cm01.contoso.com"

So if we split the string into a 2-element array on the instance of double slashes, we can then grab the index=1 value (2nd element), which is the FQDN of the MP.  You could also use .Substring() or .Replace() to manipulate the string in order to remove the http:// prefix.

$mp = (Get-Item -Path HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CCMSetup).GetValue('LastValidMP')
$mp = $mp.Substring(7)
# or
$mp = $mp.Replace('http://', '') # or -replace 'http://', ''

So, now we have the ConfigMgr site server (again, assuming this is a small site and the MP is the primary), we can still fetch the site code either from the local client environment, or from the remote registry.  Either will work…

$SiteCode = (Get-Item -Path HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CCM\CcmEval).GetValue('LastSiteCode')

You may be thinking (or saying aloud) right about now “so what? what can I do with this from a workstation?”  Well, if the ConfigMgr Admin console is installed, you have access to the same PowerShell module that is available on the site server.  So, if you intend to run your script locally on a workstation (or member server) which has the ConfigMgr Admin console installed, you can automate the site server name, and site code parts of your script very easily…

$mp = ((Get-Item -Path HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CCMSetup).GetValue('LastValidMP') -split '//')[1]
$SiteCode = (Get-Item -Path HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CCM\CcmEval).GetValue('LastSiteCode')
Import-Module "$($ENV:SMS_ADMIN_UI_PATH)\..\ConfigurationManager.psd1" -Verbose:$False
$OldLoc = (Get-Location).Path
Set-Location "$($SiteCode):\" -Verbose:$False

Keep in mind that no matter where you execute your script code, it will only be able to access resources which are allowed for the user context under which it is running.  So, if you run the script under your own domain account, and that account has limited rights in ConfigMgr, it’s going to be limited in what it can do against the site system environment as well.  I know many of you will shake your heads when reading this, but it is very often overlooked.

Speaking of the ConfigMgr Registry (SMS) tree

Beneath the HKLM:SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS registry tree, there are plenty of other useful pieces of information.

  • Server
  • Full Version
  • Domain
  • Parent Site Code (useful for Secondary sites and CAS environments)
  • Parent Server (ditto)
  • Site Name
  • Installation Directory
  • DatabaseMachineName
  • DatabaseName

So, even if your script needs to make some database connections to SQL Server (ADO, etc.) you can fetch the site database server and site database name, to automate the connection setup and continue onward.

Okay, so now what?  Well, there’s more.  Another thing I see way too-often is reinventing the wheel.  And not just any wheel, but octagonal wheels.  Here’s a few examples, and corresponding suggestions to avoid unnecessary work:

  • Writing elaborate ACL manipulation code, or invoking a blob of .NET reflection mess.
  • Writing elaborate code to manipulate local user permisions, like “logon as a service”
    • Use the Carbon PowerShell module – done (thank you Rob!)
  • Writing elaborate code to query or manipulate SQL Server settings
    • Use dbatools or SQLServer PowerShell modules
    • You can configure server memory and recovery model settings this way also (example)
  • Writing elaborate code to check if script is being executed via “run as administrator”
  • Manually writing help documentation
    • Enforce consistent commenting
    • Use PlatyPs to generate markdown files automatically (thank you Kevin!)
  • And finally…

Some final bits of advice:  NEVER test your scripts on a live Configuration Manager environment.  If you don’t have a test environment, build one, and test everything there BEFORE introducing into the production environment.  Also, when you are testing scripts against Configuration Manager and/or SQL Server, always keep the Task Manager window open and watch the Performance tab closely.

Summary

Am I some sort of “expert” when it comes to PowerShell or Configuration Manager?  Only when I’m around people who can’t spell “computer” and they’re serving alcohol.   I’ve just spent too many years soaking up what others have shared.  You are free to disregard everything I’ve said.  In fact, in America, it’s expected. But that’s okay too.

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)…

packing.png

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…

20171105_213501.jpg

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

20171111_102616.jpg

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

20171110_193714.jpg

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

20171110_204509_Burst01.jpg

Back in my office…

20170902_231019.jpg

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