Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
First post of the new year! also can't be arsed to install WL Writer so doing this in the web form. blech. :) One of my "projects" for 2012 is to suss out DirectAccess, a transparent "VPN-less" secure connection back to the mother ship from a roaming corporate laptop. On paper it sounds pretty good, but from a demonstration point of view, it ranks up there with watching grass grow or paint dry. When set up and configured, a laptop (or desktop I suppose) out of the office and off the corporate network can access network resources behind the firewall. Going the other way, IT can centrally control corporate laptops out in the field via Group Policy, WSUS and other technologies. To give a demo, you'd take your laptop off-campus, fire it up, log in... and... use it... not much of a demo :) the stuff going on behind the scenes is interesting, but not for the average person. My engine, however, gets running. I ordered up an HP Microserver last month to try this out on. I suppose I could have installed 2008 R2 on any old computer kicking around, provided it had two network ports on it, but I also wanted to do a hands-on with this little server. The HP Microserver is ridiculously cheap for what it is: an HP ProLiant server. it's about half the size of a breadbox and has four non-hot-swap SATA drive bays, two memory slots, a PCIe x16 and and a PCIe x1 half-height slot, a 5.25" drive bay for an optical or tape drive and one large low-rpm fan on the back so it's really quiet. All that for about $400. I bumped up the price somewhat by doubling the RAM and adding a server NIC card to get a few more network ports on it, but it was still under $1000. Putting a copy of Windows Server on it is where most of the expense comes from. Since this is a test, I put a TechNet/MSDN copy on it and fired it up. There are a lot of pre-requisites for setting up DirectAccess including a good CA/PKI setup, and probably the most difficult part: 2 consecutive public IP addresses that don't end in 09-10. I've got all that covered now, so my next step will be to make some changes to Active Directory, my edge firewalls and then I can try it out!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 8:28:53 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Active Directory | Hardware | Microsoft | Networking | Servers | Windows#
Monday, August 30, 2010

About a year ago or so, I tried to enable SNMP monitoring on m SonicWall TZ170. SNMP is useful for monitoring things like bandwidth usage (by port… so in the TZ170’s case it would tell me how much traffic this hour/day/week/month/year/etc had been funneled through the LAN connection and each of the WAN connections) I wrestled with it for a week or so, failed and gave up. I read the documentation, I configured everything correctly (according to the docs) and… nothing.

Earlier this summer, my TZ170 started flaking out. It would stop responding (like a reboot) for 30 seconds or so. Two times this morning, another time in the afternoon, again overnight… and when it did it took down both internet connections, incoming and outgoing email and all the inter-office VPN links. Not a great situation. By the time anyone noticed and called, it would be back up again. The TZ170 has been discontinued for awhile now, and I wasn’t even able to get any more from a used/recertified reseller in California that had kept me going for awhile. Fortunately, the newer TZ210 is backwards compatible with the TZ170s AND I was able to take advantage of the competitive upgrade to get one cheap cheap, if I signed up for three years of SonicWALL services (content filtering, gateway antivirus, etc).

The TZ210 is great. Each of it’s 8 ports can be configured as a LAN or a WAN port which gives you a lot of flexibility. With the help of a local Sonicwall Partner/technician we were even able to export the settings on the old TZ170 and import it onto the TZ210 and then just re-configure a few things and be back up and running in an hour or so, rather than a day or so of re-creating all the settings and VPN tunnels manually. We even upgraded the VPN tunnels to a better encryption scheme and documented everything (now where did I save that text file…)

Now that I had 8 more-configurable ports, I decided to give the SNMP monitoring another shot. I installed PRTG freeware version on a spare computer, downloaded the MIBs from SonicWall’s support site and then converted/imported them into PRTG as OIDs (Most of these TLAs are beyond even my knowledge…) I added a new device in PRTG and then attached some sensors to it… I gave it the IP address of the SonicWall TZ210, selected SNMP and… it failed.

I went into the SonicWall web interface and confirmed that the network interface’s properties had the SNMP checkbox checked, and that on the Administration tab, that SNMP was configured and had the IP address of the PRTG computer entered and that the community string was set correctly, but it still failed.

Using some of the PRTG testing tools, there was flat-out no response from the SonicWall on port 161 or 162 (the default SNMP ports). Without breaking out a packet sniffer, I deduced that the SonicWALL was dropping the packets. I went to the Firewall config and added a rule allowing LAN to LAN using protocol SNMP. Still nothing.

At that point (late last week) I gave up (again). I did some Googling and came across a couple of entries on Experts Exchange, but even though I have a login it wouldn’t show me the answer, instead telling me I needed to become an expert or pay $12.95/month to see the answer. Lame. That’s new…

I bitched about it on Twitter, stating it was too bad that I couldn’t automatically append a “” to all my queries to make sure I didn’t get any (now useless) search results from their site. Someone responded that if you follow a link from Google or Bing directly to Experts-Exchange, it will show the answer if you scroll down past all the ads… which is the behavior I was used to, but wasn’t happening on these particular articles.

I tried the SonicWALL forums, and people were using SNMP, so it wasn’t broken or anything… Ultimately I opened a support ticket with SonicWALL (hey I paid for 3 years of it, may as well make use of it!) and they called me first thing this morning and got it sorted out.

I'm not sure if SonicWALL does things differently from the SNMP spec… but then again I’m not an SNMP expert who would know the difference. Here’s the gist of what Darshan the tech went over with me:

  • You DO need the IP address of the system/software that’s monitoring the SNMP does have to be entered on the SNMP configuration page.
  • You DO need the checkbox on the network interface page does have to have SNMP checked.
  • You DO NOT need to create a firewall rule allowing SNMP traffic from LAN to LAN on the firewall. When it’s configured correctly, it auto-creates one that you can’t change.
  • You DO have to use the SonicWALL MIBs that are specific to each model of firewall.

We did end up doing a packet capture and seeing that the SNMP packets were being dropped, which led us back to the Firewall config page and removal of the custom firewall rule. Once we did that (and I think this is the key) we removed the SNMP checkbox from the interface config, let the firewall save/update it’s settings and then re-enabled it. After that, PRTG magically worked.

Now I just have to figure out which settings and ports I want to monitor and get those set up in PRTG! Smile

Monday, August 30, 2010 8:13:49 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Tech | Hardware | Networking#
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I’ve written before about what a huge, horrible, steaming pile of horse shit you have to wade through to install a 32-bit (x86) driver on a 64-bit (x64) server. It’s SO counter-intuitive it makes me want to scrape my eyeballs out with a grapefruit spoon and then chop off my fingers so I won’t be able to see a computer or type ever again.

In a nutshell, you need to have a 32-bit client running Vista or Windows 7, install “the full meal deal” printer driver on that client, THEN connect to the 64-bit server’s printer share (\\server\printer) and then tell it to use the existing driver. That will then UPLOAD the driver from the client machine to the server and make it available to other 32-bit clients who try to connect to it.

Today I’m in the opposite situation. I PURPOSELY set up a 32-bit Windows Server 2008 (not R2, which is 64-bit only) to run my print queues because 99.9% of my network is 32-bit Windows XP clients and I didn’t want to have to go through this rigmarole for every single one of them. *MY* laptop, however is running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit and it’s unable to connect to the shared printers on the 32-bit server.

Rather than duplicate the steps above, since I was feeling saucy and experimental, I went the other(old) way around. On the 32-bit server, I opened the printer properties, went to the sharing tab and clicked on Additional Drivers. I checked the 64-bit box and it asked me for a driver. I clicked Browse. I navigated to the folder where I had the 64-bit driver .inf file for the printer, selected it and clicked OK.

Fast-forward a few seconds and the window closed, and the box was checked. Just like that. Just how it USED to be in older versions of Windows Server. I went back to my laptop, tried to connect to the printer, and this time instead of failing and saying “Driver Unknown” or even worse, the  0x0004005 error which is one of the more generic error codes you’ll ever see. (I always thought it was “Access Denied”, but that’s just ONE of the errors it COULD be.) Up came a NEW dialog box. Do you trust this printer driver? Yes, of course I do. Just like that, it mapped the printer, using the 64-bit driver on the 32-bit server.

If it’s so bloody easy to do that with a 64-bit driver on a 32-bit server, why the HELL is it SO difficult and bass-ackwards to do it on a 32-bit driver with a 64-bit server??

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:09:35 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Tech | Deployment | Hardware | Microsoft | Networking | Servers | Windows#
Friday, May 28, 2010

Two lies for the price of one!

This morning I took a new server out of the box for a small branch office. It’s an HP ProLiant ML150 G6 tower server: Xeon Quad-Core processor, 2GB RAM and a 250GB SATA HD. I also upped the RAM to 4GB, added a 2nd 250GB drive and a pair of 500GB drives to give me a RAID1 array for the OS & Apps and a RAID1 array for the data.

Once I configured the RAID arrays, I booted using the Easy Setup CD. The Easy setup CD is something that HP and Dell (among others?) send out with a server to speed up and make life easier on the person installing Windows. It’s Linux based and walks you through picking a drive to install it on (the HP one even comes with an admin tool for the SATA RAID controller to configure those if you hadn’t already done it in the BIOS) and then provide your Name, Company, Product Code and which version of OS you’re installing from a list incl Windows Server 2003, 2003 R2, and 2008 and different flavors (32-bit or 64-bit) The Dell one goes even further into pre-configuring IP addresses and even joining to a domain. Once it has all the information it needs, it creates partitions and copies/pre-stages drivers from the CD to the hard drive so Windows Setup knows where to find it and can “see” your drives on your RAID controller.

I went through the steps and when it came time to choose an OS, Windows Server 2008 R2 was not on the list. I figured Windows Server 2008 x64 was the closest thing and chose that. It did all it’s gyrations and then prompted me to insert the Windows OS disc. I put in my Windows Server 2008 R2 disc and… was rejected. Odd. I tried again, same response. “Please insert the Windows Server 2008 x64 OS Disc”.

At that point I realized that it was looking at the volume name on the disc and whatever my disc was, it wasn’t what was expected. Le Suck.

I got on to HP’s support site to find an updated Easy Setup CD, and eventually found the right page, but it only lists Server 2008, not Server 2008 R2. Lame. I kept looking and searching and ultimately hit the Support Chat button and got an HP Tech Support agent on the line. I explained to him my predicament and he sent me a link back to the page I was just looking at. I knew it was the same page, because the link was purple instead of blue. (ie already visited)

I explained that I already looked at that page and it wasn’t what I was looking for. Then he decided that I must have had a 2008 R2 Hyper-V error and pushed me a link to an MS KB article  that had 3 steps: 1) disable hardware virtualization. 2) install this hotfix. 3) re-enable hardware virtualization.

I calmly explained that I didn’t have Windows installed yet, so how could I possibly install a hotfix? He said I should download it, burn it to disc and then boot off the disc and apply the hotfix. I re-iterated that I did not have Windows installed, so there was nothing to patch with the hotfix.

“OK, skip step 2 then”

Riiiiight. so that leaves me with “disable hardware virtualizations” and “re-enable hardware virtualization”. Since I hadn’t turned it on yet in the first place, it was still a moot point and told him so. He had reached the end of his flowchart now and didn’t know what to do next.

At that point I booted off the Windows Server 2008 R2 disc itself and-as expected- it couldn’t see any drives. I downloaded the SATA RAID controller driver, extracted it to a USB flash drive, jammed it in the server and clicked “load driver”. I pointed it at the folder and it found a driver for an HP BI110i Embedded SATA RAID controller. Jackpot! the drives showed up, but… Windows could not be installed on the selected disk.

After searching Google with the error number that was presented, it turned up some “Windows 7/2008 R2 can only be installed to the first boot device/C drive” so I went back into the BIOS and RAID setups to make sure that Disk 1 was the first device. It was.

I got back up to the Load Driver screen and noticed that my USB flash Drive was designated C:, the DVD-ROM drive D:, Disk 1 Partition 1 was E:, and the WinPE boot drive X:. I deleted the partition on Disk 1 and tried again. Same thing.

Finally, I booted back again without the USB drive, waited for the Load Driver screen to show, clicked Browse and THEN jacked in my flash drive. It showed up as C. I picked the driver and loaded it, and then removed the flash drive, waited 5 seconds, just to be sure, then clicked “Disk 1 Drive 1 Unallocated Space”, held my breath and clicked “Next”…


It worked.


Windows Server 2008 R2 is now installed on my new server and I’m running through Windows Updates and configuring it to be part of my network. Had I done what I knew worked to begin with, I’d be sippin’ a margarita by now but instead I tried to do things “the HP way” and it wasted my lunch hour and most of the afternoon. The Easy CD way (if it had worked) would have been equally quick.

It galls me that a company the size of HP, with the volume of servers they sell, hasn’t released an update to their software yet. Windows Server 2008 R2 was released to manufacturing in June 2009 and went on sale October 2009. It’s almost June 2010 and they still have not addressed this yet. What makes it worse is that this entry-level server is aimed at the segment of the market that doesn’t really have their own IT departments that would be able to figure this out on their own.

I think I’d like that margarita now, senor, por favor!

Friday, May 28, 2010 2:35:35 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [4] | Hardware | Microsoft | Servers | Windows#
Thursday, January 28, 2010
About a week later the server died. I diagnosed over the phone that it was the power supply and rather than travel over for 5 hours & a ferry ride and then have to stay over just to replace a $100 power supply, I had them take it to a local computer store and have them replace it.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:23:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Tech | Active Directory | Hardware | Microsoft | Servers#
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