New Website! - Apr 22, 2019
Website

Finally!

As you can see the new website is up and running. It's not so much new as new and improved I guess. As mentioned previously, originally I had wanted the refresh ready in time for the 15th anniversary of this site. I had started working on a new design and was a few weeks into it when the hard drive crashed and I lost everything (yes I know, backups). So that was somewhat disheartening and then life got in the way combined with general laziness and it didn't happen.

When I finally got around to giving it a second try I quickly felt overwhelmed. It had been so long since I really even considered what website authoring platforms were out there that I felt somewhat like a Luddite. This site was obviously long in the tooth having been authored with Frontpage 2003. Wordpress is the current darling of bloggers everywhere but I don't like Wordpress sites. I don't care how many different themes and templates they offer, to me they all look the same. I had worked hard on my site and wanted to retain it's unique look. I also enjoy knowing the nitty gritty details of how everything works - for me just drag and dropping pictures and typing some content wouldn't be fullfilling. So in the end I went with Microsoft Expressions which while still dated, is about a decade newer than what I was using. It also has the benefit of being free.

But even with a new platform I wasn't sure how to tackle my biggest issue of how to make the site mobile friendly. In the end I found a local web design company and paid them to do the heavy lifting. I was confident they'd be able to supply the necessary coding that I would be able to integrate without having to do a complete rewrite. Turns out I was right.

So now things look good on any platform - whether computer, tablet, or phone. If you're using a phone it defaults to a new mobile menu and if you're using a computer and resize it to a small size it will auto switch as well. In addition to the mobile focus I also updated to version 2 of Slimbox which is the code used when looking at sets of pictures. I also put in a search button which uses Google search. Currently it's add supported, but if I wanted to I could pay them a yearly fee and it would strip that away. The only downside is that most results will show from prior to the update so will look out of place, but over time as more content is published post-upgrade it will all look consistent.

I struggled with how far back to go with the new format - redoing the entire site was not going to happen due to the amount of effort involved. In the end I decided just to go back to last year. I might eventually go back five years, but we'll see.

I also put in a quote generator at the bottom. Instead of just randomly showing different quotes each time a page is visited it will only show a new quote once per day (per browser). This was a blatant rip off of the one they have on Slashdot which I've always gotten a kick out of.

Finally I have obtained a 3rd party certificate and plan to make this site secure at some point in the near future. Personally I think the whole insistence on encrypted sites to be a money making scam by the search engine companies. Unless you're doing banking or inputting other personal information into entry fields websites do NOT need to be encrypted. But to the average user at home they just see the warning at the top of their browser and think something's wrong. So at some point I'll give in and submit to the inevitable.

So there you have it, it's a new era for Jamesplee.com!

Broken WDS - Apr 9, 2019
Microsoft

Got a phone call recently from our Help Desk asking if Imaging was down. Out Imaging consisting of Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) tied into Windows Deployment Services (WDS). Once images are captured and stored on our deployment servers, technicians will PXE boot the client system which brings up the Litetouch menu. They pick a few selections, hit Next and off it goes installing the image.

However this time it wasn't working at one of our locations. It would start downloading the Litetouch boot image...hang for a bit during that process...and then puke up the error below.

So I tried a bunch of things to try and resolve things. Had my counterpart try various different models to rule out it being a driver issue. Had them try different network ports to rule out it being a bad cable, port, switch etc. Restarted the WDS service on the deployment server and when that didn't work did the old standby trick of rebooting the entire system. Nothing worked. Did a bunch of Googling but wasn't getting anywhere.

Litetouch Error
Imaging Failure

Finally I stumbled across this post and a light bulb went off - as the only recent changes done were applying the latest bunch of Windows Updates.

So as per the article I went into WDS, clicked on the TFTP tab, unchecked the 'Enable Variable Windows Extension' option, and rebooted the server. Sure enough that fixed the problem. About the only negative that's obvious from doing this is that the Litetouch boot image loads a little bit slower now. As the March updates broke things, I'm curious if the just released April updates have patched the patch.

Slow clap for Microsoft quality control!

Black Screen of Death - Mar 29, 2019
Microsoft

A colleague asked me why whenever he connected to any of our servers using Remote Desktop Connection (RDP) it would sit at a black screen for minutes before eventually continuing on with the login process.

I had noticed this phenomena as well but hadn't yet gotten around to investigating it. It did seem like it was happening more and more often and when you connect to servers multiple times a day the time wasted does add up.

There didn't seem to be any pattern, it would do it on some, but not all. It would do it on servers running 2012 R2 as well as older ones running 2008 R2. Would also do it on both physical and virtual systems.
So off to Google I went (what did we do before the Internet) and tried to find a solution. Turns out we weren't alone in encountering this annoying issue. It has even been coined 'The Black Screen of Death', a humous riff on the infamous Windows' Blue Screen of Death.

The recommended solution, shown below, was to go into RDP properties on your client and turn off 'Persistent bitmap caching'.

RDP Options
Remote Desktop Options

Sure enough, that has seemed to have done the trick. We can now reliably connect using RDP and now are no longer left staring at a black screen. Doing some more digging it appears to be an issue with when your client has a different resolution than the target system you're trying to connect to. Some other suggestions involve simply running Task Manager which seems to get things rolling, or restarting the RDP service and trying again. But as mentioned, simply turning off Bitmap Caching works for us.

Why Won't You Install? - Feb 26, 2019
Dell

Recently I pulled a server out of service which was functioning as a VMWare ESXi host. The model was a Dell PowerEdge R720 and the plan is to repurpose it to be come a new Exchange 2016 server.

The first step was to upgrade the firmware on the NICs and on the iDrac, and install the latest Bios - which was done without any issue. The next step was the install of Windows 2016. That is where all the fun began.

To date, any OS reinstall I had done was on older server models using the Dell deployment DVD. You'd boot of the DVD and when it told you to do so, swap in the Microsoft OS disc and off it'd go and install everything. With 12th generation and up servers however, I knew you were supposed to install via the Lifecycle Management interface. So I popped into there, picked Deploy OS, clicked on the edition drop down...and 2016 wasn't an option. Did some digging online, and apparently 12th gen Dell servers don't support installing 2016 with that interface. Ok, a bit of a pain, but I figured I'd simply install 2012 R2 instead and then upgrade to 2016 from there. So again, back into the controller interface, picked 2012 R2, had my OS disc in the DVD drive...but the option was greyed out. What was going on?

Did some more digging online and found that you can apparently only install Windows through that interface if it's the retail version and not a volume license disc which is what we use. Some grumbling then ensued and back to the web to do some more searching. At that point I turned up several posts from people saying just to directly boot from the OS media and install it that way. Ok, well I happened to already have Win 2016 on a USB key that I'd previously used to test 2016 and knew was good. So I rebooted, picked the UEFI boot menu...and it didn't recognize the USB key. Did some more searching and found out that the file system - FAT32 - that it was formatted with only supports file sizes with a maximum of 4GB. Unfortuneatly the install.wim file was larger than that. For some reason if I booted into Legacy mode (non-UEFI) it would see the drive and I could install 2016 but then my system partition would be formatted with the older MBR format and not the newer GPT format.

At this point I was really starting to get annoyed. I came across some posts which used 3rd party tools as a solution, or other posts which mentioned booting with Windows 10's media and using the MBR2GPT command to convert the partition, but first you had to go and do some resizing and expanding of the support partitions. Eventually I came across a post which for me was the simplest an easiest solution.

First step was to use the DISM command to split the install.wim file into two smaller files:

dism /Split-Image /ImageFile:sources/install.wim /SWMFile:sources/install.swm /FileSize:4000

Then I deleted the old install.wim file, copied all the 2016 files off the USB stick into a temp directory and reformated the USB key using the DISKPART command:

list disk

select disk 3

clean

convert gpt

create partition primary

format fs=fat32 quick

assign

Obviously 'disk 3' being the USB key Then I copied everything back to the key, rebooted, double checked I was still booting into UEFI, and now it saw the USB key as a bootable option. I picked it and was able to proceed with installing Windows 2016. Much rejoicing then ensued.

Can't Resize Datastore - Jan 13, 2019
VMWare

Our version of vCenter is currently 6.0.

In the past I've had to occasionally increase the size of the Datastores and would increase the size on the SAN and then simply go to the configuration tab on one of the hosts, select the properties for the Datastore, click on the Increase button, it would see the additional space available expand it, then do a rescan and the larger size would now be recognized.

But for some reason, after having upgraded vCenter to 6.0 and going through the exact same procedure I had done in the past, it wouldn't recognize the additional space. When you went to increase it there was no storage listed in the Extent Device dialog. Just to be sure I went online and looked up the procedure from VMWare's documentation and confirmed I was doing everything correctly - it just would not show the storage.

So what was going on? As usual I did a bunch of Googling and came across a post on Reddit of someone complaining of having the same issue. Somewhere in the thread someone mentioned to use the fat client and connect directly to one of the hosts. They also referenced a VMWare support article.

VMWare Resize
Missing Device

Note that the article says that the inability to expand Datastores is a safety feature to prevent possible corruption. Ok great, but I still need to expand the space. The article doesn't mention how you go about doing that in consideration of these new safety filters that are in place. So as always, when in doubt, contact VMWare support before attempting this! In my case I went ahead and connected the vSphere client to one of the hosts directly, went into the datastore properties, and now when I hit the increase button it saw the added capacity. After expanding it I then went back into vCenter and on each of the hosts in the cluster did a rescan and now they all showed the larger size.

I'm guessing in the future, the 'safe' way is to shut down all the VM's first and then attempt to expand the space. But considering we've never had to do that previously this new 'feature' is somewhat of an annoyance.