Monday, June 30, 2014

ITIL 2011 - The Big Picture

ITIL is not a new term for our IT folks, Most Organizations has accepted this world renowned IT Service Management framework and using it in their day to day activities, having some basic idea on how this framework functions and how it benefits our IT Infrastructure makes our job easier. I recently came across this below ITIL 2011 big picture poster which clearly shows the critical components of ITIL Service Lifecycle providing a clear visual approach to learn and understand the topic in a nutshell.

Download here: ITIL 2011 - The Big Picture

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Office 365 Outages in a Row!!!

Yesterday and today are quite a bad day for Microsoft and Office 365 customers, Microsoft team recently made new enhancements to the way they deliver updates for  Office 365 customers using the new Office 365 for Business Public Roadmap which was a great innovation and welcomed by everyone in the community. Though great things are in place at one side and everywhere we see Office 365 and Microsoft Cloud on the top on the other end, its quite unfortunate that we had two major unexpected outages in the last two days affecting major customers during production hours causing severe business impact at a large scale, Yesterday it was Lync Online and Today its Exchange Online. Being a Office 365 Administrator for a global client managing one of  the major tenant affected by this issue I literally felt the impact it had on my Environment and Organization's Business.

Though Outages are unavoidable with any service which is inevitable. Though we take this in to consideration and ideally call these as a "Service Interruption"  its quite unacceptable if they occurs during the business hours one after the other in consecutive days causing drastic impact to customers, which eventually put a thought on customers mind that though Microsoft team is doing great enhancements at one side they need service improvement on the support side. New enhancements are always secondary for any customer if their primary goal of providing highly available service to critical services like E-mail and Instant Messaging are at-stake and needs critical attention. All these shows still Microsoft needs improvement in this key area.

There are more customers out there in the Market who are planning to adopt Office 365 service, my recent post " Office 365 Evaluation with Gartner" is one key example and they all are now in a state to reconsider whether they can move or not due to these major outages. Because nothing is hidden in today's IT world and everyone knows that during this critical issues all we can do is to just wait for the dash board to get refresh with the current update from Microsoft, Raise support cases to report our issue to receive updates and also keep updating our internal users and management regarding the status without any great action from our end till the issue gets fixed, by this time all our users would have really frustrated with the downtime and end up blaming us for moving to cloud, We alone know that we were handcuffed at this stage without being able to do anything on this from our end to restore the service which we could ideally do if we are on On premises over which our users were used to for long years before we adopt Office 365, promising them that they will have highly available service as before with many add-on features.

Below is the ZDNet post which outlines these issues with the current status update, Its getting updated once there is a new update from Microsoft end and if you are one of the affected customer like me keep a track of your mail delivery queue towards Exchange Online from On premises if you are in a Hybrid environment and check your user's web mail and outlook performance periodically. Ensure that your dashboard is refreshed often to review the current information form Microsoft team and act accordingly, Update Microsoft team if you face any issues which didn't get fixed once the portal gets updated as resolved for their further action.

Review here: Some Exchange Online users reporting email problems
If you surf Online you can find some of our Technical Experts, Community members and Customers affected by these issues already started to share their views in the global community, few vital ones are mentioned below for your reference.

Microsoft's Exchange Online becomes Exchange Offline as service goes dark - Computer World Magazine

Microsoft Restores Exchange Online Service after Tuesday Outage - Redmond Magazine

Hello, Microsoft. Welcome to IT - WindowsITPro

I wrote this post today to share how the world reacted to these unexpected events occurred with Office 365 in a row, which I never expected, As I always recommend my clients and well known folks to move to Office 365 and continue learn more about it, amazed over its new enhancements and tend to share my good experience on the product line all the time through my blog and other means, these are quite bad events which I wanted to keep a track and share my thoughts. Hope Microsoft team acknowledges these pain points from customers and improve their service and ensure that these sort of Outages won't occur and if they do occur unexpectedly then efficiently update the customers and partners to handle the situation in a controlled manner in the mere Future.


Microsoft Rajesh Jha, Corporate Vice President, Office 365 Engineering team apologized for the Lync Online and Exchange Online downtime to the affected customers in North America Region. He wrote a post today and expressed his apology, also explained the root cause for the issues and the action taken to restore the service, soon PIR will be released providing the complete RCA with the next steps for service improvement.

Access the Office 365 Community webpage below to know more in detail.

Recent Office 365 service issues 

Additionally review the ZDNet post from Mary Jo Foley and Redmond Magazine post from Kurt Mackie covering some key aspects on this announcement.

Microsoft explains roots of this week's Office 365 downtime

Microsoft Offers Explanations for Lync and Exchange Service Outages 

Review the below WindowsITPro blog post from MVP Tony Redmond sharing his views over the issue and recommendations.

Directory flaw led to Exchange Online outage

Final thoughts...

Though these issue were related to Microsoft they typically throw some light to us that not all services can be stable all the time and as a precautionary measure ensure that we monitor our Environment proactively and keep an eye components like Dirsync and ADFS (if you have SSO), Network/Firewall connectivity changes etc., with a reporting mechanism to avoid other potential issues that could occur from our end which will still have similar impact like this. One key factor here is we do have the in hand control to address the issues in these areas if they occur but Effective monitoring plays the major role to make this happen on time, If you don't have one in place already then start to plan for it in your road-map from today.

* Check out my new blog post "Office 365 Availability and Performance Monitoring" for some additional information on monitoring Office 365 for High availability and better performance.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Office 365 for Business Public Roadmap Released!!!

Microsoft team recently announced that they are making some significant changes to the way the deliver new updates to Office 365 and the user communication and stated that customers will have a clear visibility on what is coming next and what is going to be available in the mere future.

Microsoft team has a very strong Roadmap for Office 365 and many great features were recently rolled out and some were announced and under evaluation and going to get released soon for customers and to have a clear vision on their Roadmap they launched the Public Roadmap site which clearly shows what is Launched, what is currently Rolling out , what is yet to come (In Development), what is Cancelled along with previous releases if applicable under a single roof providing an attractive and feasible way of understanding the present and future with Office 365.

The most important thing which attracted me is the First Release opt-in  program which is released along with the Public Roadmap and now its available under Office 365 portal and if you don't see it then it will be available soon as Microsoft team started to rollout this for all the tenants. This will be quite useful if your Organization is interested in opting into the release group to test the new features as the name states once released, an Office 365 admin can log into the admin portal and select First Release under service settings to enable this feature. Go to Admin > Service settings > Updates.

Review the Official Announcement here:  Improving visibility to service updates

Access the Roadmap here: Office 365 for Business Public Roadmap

*Access the Office 365 Technical Network in Yammer and join yourself to the Roadmap Communications YamJam Group and Log in at 9:00am PT on Tuesday, June 24th to get your questions answered from Microsoft.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hybrid Cloud Series - Episode Two Webinar

Its time for another Excellent Webinar on the Hybrid Cloud Series, I wrote a post earlier this April referring you to the First Hybrid Cloud Webinar on the series hosted by Microsoft Azure Team and speakers were none other than the two key people who Architect and lead the Microsoft Cloud business " Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich and Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson".

Register to attend this complimentary webinar on Monday, June 23rd, 2014 from 10:30 A.M. - 11:45 A.M. PDT to learn about:

  •     A hybrid approach to management
  •     New options for connecting to the cloud
  •     Hybrid options for disaster recovery
  •     Keeping security front and center

Register here: Hybrid Cloud Series - Episode Two

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) Guide Updated!!!

Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) is not a new tool for Administrators who are performing Cross Forest migrations during M&A Activities and a well renowned tool for performing domain migrations within and outside the forest.  I wrote this post today to refer you to the latest updated ADMT Guide published by Microsoft team available for download to know more on the usage and functioning of the Tool.

This guide assists Active Directory administrators in performing domain migration through the use of the Active Directory Migration Tool version 3.2 (ADMT v3.2). ADMT v3.2 has recently been updated and re-released. The version remains v3.2 because it’s functionally the same as its predecessor (that is, there are no new features). This final release includes various bug fixes and can be used with all supported Windows operating systems and versions of Windows Server Active Directory.

*The key point to note here is, earlier the Tool was not supported on Windows Server 2012 and now its updated to work with the Latest Windows Server Operating system thus reducing the need of a Legacy Server Operating system during migrations.

Download here: Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) Guide: Migrating and Restructuring Active Directory Domains

Web Application Proxy (WAP) and Application Request Routing (ARR) - Ignite Webcast

When comes to publishing our Exchange Server to outside world the first thing come to our mind in past days in ISA and then we had its next version TMG, As everyone aware that TMG is discontinued and its Main stream support is ended and its in extended support period and Organization's who has already adopted TMG is still using it and for new deployments we can no longer rely on TMG.

With the advancement of the Technology Microsoft Team made some new enhancements to their Windows Server product line through which we can now publish Exchange without the need of TMG using either Web Application Proxy (WAP) or Application Request Routing (ARR) both has its own pros and cons and different deployment approach and functioning, based on the Organization's requirement we can adopt any one of these to publish Exchange, Having good knowledge on these new TMG Alternatives is now a mandate for every Exchange Admin for publishing Exchange securely with their future deployments.

To know more attend the upcoming Ignite Webcast scheduled this month June 26 9.00 AM PST presented by Senior PFE Georg Hinterhofer MSFT.

Register here:  Web Application Proxy (WAP) and Application Request Routing (ARR)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Directory Synchronization Test Lab Guide

Setting up Directory Synchronization is vital part with Office 365, Microsoft team continue to do major changes with the Identity and Authentication platform where the traditional Dirsync Tool ( Down sized version of FIM) used to sync Objects from your On premises AD to Office 365 has gone through a drastic change in the recent days, if you look at the Road-map over this tool from Microsoft,  you can notice it was enhanced with great features like "password hash" a new feature that provides ability for users to use same password to access Office 365 resources with out the need of ADFS, where now major Organizations are switching from ADFS SSO to Password Hash post this feature, then its further enhanced to support password write back feature where passwords are written back to On premises once they are reset in cloud with Azure AD premium, further more now it acts as a backup for ADFS SSO in a Disaster Recovery scenario.

Microsoft team published a test lab guide with clear instructions for setting up Dirsync Server in lab and test its ability to have hands on experience on the tool, this post is a reference to the tool for readers to utilize this guide and setup Dirsync server on their lab to see how it really setup and works along with few other vital information over this tool in a nutshell.

Download here: Test Lab Guide: Set Up a Directory Synchronization Server to Sync Users with Office 365 

Final Thoughts...

Microsoft team is planning to retire this Tool in the mere future and introduce their new Azure Active Directory Sync Services Tool  which performs the same role as Dirsync server with some advance capabilities that support complex Multi-forest topologies along with other set of enhanced features and serves as a single robust tool, which still under evaluation and development to add few new capabilities before it reaches final availability and soon you can receive an global announcement on the replacement of the Dirsync Tool in the upcoming days.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Office 365 Fundamentals New MVA Course

Microsoft Virtual Academy team has recently launched the new Office 365 Fundamentals course for ITPros to understand Office 365 in a better way covering various vital aspects on the topic, register your self and complete this course to know more with Office 365 from your current level of understanding on the product. If you are new to Office 365 and use it as a starting point towards your advanced learning.

Access the course here: Office 365 Fundamentals

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exchange Online Protection How To Videos now Available!

Exchange Online Protection (EOP) is the current version available with Office 365 replacing FOPE and also available as a stand-alone product to provide support for On premises customers, most of the customers who are familiar with FOPE find some difference in managing EOP which now comes within the EAC for GUI management and Remote powershell management by connecting to the EOP Service. We no longer need to manage things separately as before with FOPE. Being said all these, there are still some dilemma exist among the Admins to know how to manage EOP for various day to day tasks, to overcome this Microsoft EOP team has published a video series covering most of the common tasks with EOP.

This Series includes below walkthrough videos,

Set up mail flow

Configure IP allow and IP block lists

Configure spam content filtering

Find and release messages from the quarantine

Configure the outbound spam policy

Configure the anti-malware policy

Configure transport rules

Start using Remote PowerShell

Review the complete Video Series here :  Videos for getting started with EOP

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Troubleshooting Outlook Connectivity and Performance issues with Office 365

I am writing this topic today as this post is a vital one to cover which was long pending from my end and got a chance today to cover this, There are many knowledge base articles and blog posts available from Microsoft and Technical experts already on the topic and I decided to reference them all here instead of rewriting the whole story and share my personal experience along with it so that it makes a complete post on the topic with maximum information made available under a single window, which makes you more strong while troubleshooting Outlook Connectivity and Performance issues with Office 365 and provides you adequate tools and resources which will help you to resolve the issues on time and take corrective measures and approach Microsoft team with the right data if things goes beyond our hands for effective resolution.

Lets begin here, Outlook client issues are the most painful issues that any admin could face in an Exchange On premises or Office 365 Environment and the more delay in resolving these issues will result in poor end user experience and this puts the Admin under pressure from the business end because E-mail has become the most prominent mode of business communication and any minor downtime in this area causes a major impact to the Organization's Business and needs critical attention. We cannot expect the environment to be up and running all the time as issues are sporadic and having strong understanding on the architecture and product knowledge with effective troubleshooting skills paves way for proper resolution over issues with minimal downtime and providing a seamless Admin and End User Experience.
Outlook client remains the same when it comes to either On premise or Cloud (Office 365 )and their behavior varies with each service model and we need to understand how the client behaves amongst these two models and also how it behaves when we have both in a co-existence model (Hybrid) is the key for providing support when things break unexpectedly over time.

When it comes to Office 365 Microsoft team recommends Outlook client used with the service is the latest one available in the market, currently we have Outlook 2013 with SP1 available with rich set of features to work great with Office 365 also Microsoft team still supports legacy Outlook 2010 and 2007 clients but for maximum performance and enhanced experience the suggested client is the latest one.

Review the Office 365 System requirements Overview article referenced below to know the supported clients that work with Office 365.

Check here: Office 365 System Requirements 

*Also ensure that the following IP addresses and URLs for Office 365 are allowed in your Firewall which is a basic requirement for everything to work with Office 365.

Check here: Office 365 URLs and IP address ranges

Ensure that you subscribe to the RSS Feeds so that you can stay up to-date with the IP address changes and allow them on your firewall and proxy proactively to avoid issues, its always recommended to use URL based filtering and not rely on IP based filtering when you use Outbound proxy as suggested by Microsoft, this will covered in the later part of this article.

Next, Ensure that you have the latest service packs are updates available for the client which is released every month from Microsoft team to ensure that your client stays update to date with the service, If you are using Legacy Outlook clients like Outlook 2010 or 2007 ensure that you have the latest or the supported service packs and public updates installed which are a mandate requirement to have the client connectivity possible with Office 365, Microsoft team has successfully rolled out the Wave 15 upgrade to all tenants and as stated in the below referenced service upgrade guide under Outlook client section ensure that your legacy clients are updated with the required service pack and public updates to avoid issues when connecting to the service.

Review the Service upgrade guide here : Guide to the Office 365 Service Upgrade for 2013

Note: Outlook 2007 main stream support is ended in 2012 and if you are still using this client ensure that you plan for a upgrade soon as stated in the below detailed TechNet post on Office 365 System requirements under the "Office clients in extended support" section soon you will start to see some issues with the service if you use Outlook 2007 in your environment and you will not have any fix for the same and support from Microsoft team. Also ensure that you met other requirements stated in the article for better support experience.

Review here: Office 365 System Requirements - TechNet

Lets get in to the Tools we have handy to troubleshoot outlook issues, The first tool is the well renowned Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer Tool which is the best one that will tell you the actual cause of the issue when you run against it in your environment and gives you the underlying cause and assists you to identify and resolve most of the issues, next we have the new Troubleshooting Walkthrough Tool available handy for troubleshooting various outlook connectivity issues providing suggested workaround and fixes proactively to fix things before you reach support and below is the reference for the same and the best place to begin your troubleshooting post the EXRCA test.

Check here: Office365 Outlook Connectivity Guided Walkthrough

Next you have the OFFCAT tool from Microsoft team which will analyze your Outlook Client on the machine and provide you the detailed report of issues found along with the suggested fixes and this is best tool to analyze your client post you validated that other things work fine to narrow down the issue.

Review here: Office Configuration Analyzer Tool (OffCAT) information

Next you need to review the below recently updated Microsoft Knowledge base article in first place when any user updates about the Outlook client  Performance issues with Office 365 as it covers various key points to check over the cause of the issue and provides the fix, which is quite a good one to follow before you step in to the next upcoming advance deep dive analysis over the issue.

Review here: Outlook performance is slow in the Office 365 environment

The most common performance issue with Outlook clients is either they are not having the latest patches or service packs and gets fixed once you address this, and the next common one is the OST file over size issues and when it comes to Outlook 2010 and 2013 the default behavior of outlook client is to cache other user email and causing the OST file size to increase if the affected user has more additional mailboxes mapped to their client causing performance issues and also these users will complain they have performance issues when they access their secondary mailbox contents which is related to the same issue and  the below Knowledge base articles outline the cause and suggested fixes which address most of the performance issues and if things are beyond this limit it requires some deep dive troubleshooting.

By default, shared mail folders are downloaded in Cached mode in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013

Performance problems when you try to access folders in a secondary mailbox in Outlook

How to troubleshoot performance issues in Outlook 2010

*There are more knowledge base articles available from Microsoft team addressing various Outlook issues related to our topic and few over other issues and the above articles are the vital ones to check and address as these are the common issues that affect Outlook client performance in most of the Environments.

Once you are done with the above learning lets get in to some deep dive stuff as stated, first begin by understanding Outlook Client Autodiscover process and the issues you could face with Office 365 in both fully cloud and Hybrid deployment if things are not configured properly and other hidden issues that could cause Outlook connectivity and performance issues and I have recently written a blog post on the same with various resources and resolution identified with self experience covering the critical aspects on the topic.

Review here: Disable Autodiscover SCP Lookup for Outlook Clients with Office 365

Next you need to understand the impact of Network design between the Client environment and Office 365 along with few other vital aspects on the Outlook Client end that could cause issues while connecting to the service occurring on a larger scale affecting the whole environment and causes major impact, and  if we don't get our hands on this deep dive topics while working on these major issues post regular troubleshooting we will be in great trouble.

I am going to refer you to the below vital blog posts which are quite significant and most important for every Exchange/Office 365 Admin to know and read to utilize the source of information shared to ensure that their environment is analyzed for the same and take necessary action over the Architecture design requirements as guideline by the posts to have proper connectivity and best performance with Office 365 service.

First review the below TechNet blog post from Neil Johnson, where he discusses on the MAPI RPC Latency issue and Client system performance issues that could cause potential impact and showing you the steps how to analyze your environment on the same along with the corrective measures.

Review here: Outlook Performance Troubleshooting including Office 365

Next, check this excellent TechNet blog post on Network configuration issues that could cause potential impact to the connectivity when things are not setup the way as shown in the post, which is a vital one to check and address as this the major cause for most of the environments to have issues with Office 365 and addressing this will provide better experience.

Review here: Network Perimeters & TCP Idle session settings for Outlook on Office 365

Also read this below vital post from the same TechNet Blog "On the Wire" to better understand how Network, firewall and other components configuration play a vital role in Office 365 Connectivity.

Top 10 Tips for Optimising & Troubleshooting your Office 365 Network Connectivity 

One more essential ASK PFE blog post for troubleshooting Office 365 slowness.

How to Troubleshoot Office 365 Service Slowness?

One more vital part over to lookout is the Proxy issues that could potentially cause things to break if the required URLs and IPs are not by passed from filtering and as stated in the initial part of the article, Microsoft team recommends Organizations using Outbound proxy device for filtering to go with URL based filtering and not the IP based ones as the IPs are tend to change over time, to understand this are better review the below EHLO blog post.

Office 365 URL based filtering is just better and easier to sustain

Additionally review the below TechNet Blog post to understand the impact of Proxy configuration while connecting to Office 365 and the suggested workaround to address this issue shared by Michael through his real time experience.

Outlook takes several minutes to connect to Exchange Online (O365)

Also utilize the below referenced Microsoft Knowledge base article that provides the hot fix which will address the connectivity issue with Office 365 if you have your proxy configuration setup as stated in the article.

Outlook may take two to three minutes to connect to an Office 365 mailbox

From my experience I have seen issues caused with Office 365 mostly due to the proxy configuration in the environment and you need to pay critical attention to this topic and ensure that you setup your proxy settings inline with Microsoft guidelines.

Ensure that all the above articles are reviewed thoroughly along with the steps guideline to analyze the environment and troubleshoot issues, I would suggest you mark these articles as vital in your bookmarks and utilize them properly whenever applicable.

Another one I am referencing here is an excellent LinkedIn discussion I recently came across that address the connectivity issue which is caused by a hidden cause which we normally wont check and falls apart from the above shared common issues which is now brought in to visibility. It typically addressed one of the recent issues I came across and thought of sharing this as it might be helpful  if you have a similar issue caused due to Outlook client RPC\TCP fallback and the below discussion explains this along with the suggested fix.

Review here: Office 365 Outlook Connection after upgrade to O365

At last, If things are going beyond your hands you will need end up contacting Microsoft support for further troubleshooting and before your approach them collect the required logs from the Client which will be easy for them to analyze once you contact them for faster resolution, though you will end up doing more troubleshooting analysis like collecting Netmon and fiddler traces etc. the easy one is to turn on Client side logging and provide collect the logs and provide to Microsoft team for initial investigation.

With Outlook 2007 you don't have any special logging available and troubleshooting issues with this client version is quite tough and since the product is out of support you cannot expect a quick resolution on the same and end up in client upgrade, Luckily with supported Outlook 2010 and 2013 you have advanced logging features available that will help you to analyze most of the issues and fix them at the earliest.

Review here:  How to enable global and advanced logging for Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013

New updates: As everyone aware that with Exchange Server 2013 SP1 and Outlook 2013 SP1 we have the new MAPI/HTTP feature available which is an excellent innovation from Microsoft which is beyond all these issues caused by RPC\HTTP which is the current client connectivity protocol and provides enhanced user experience and minimizing issues for the users, This feature is now starting to roll out to Office 365 customers and if your environment is having the right client version then you can approach Microsoft team on the same and start utilizing this for enhanced experience.

Review this EHLO blog post for more information: Outlook Connectivity with MAPI over HTTP

Final Thoughts...

These are the vital articles, posts and Tools that address Outlook connectivity and performance issues from basic to advanced  and the ones that assisted me to fix major issues during my tenure and will be a great read if you review them all which will make you understand how things work and where it might broke and how to check and address it on time for a better support experience. Will continue to update this post once I came across any new content and also share some new stuffs of the topic once I came across any different support experience on the topic in the mere future.