MMS 2013 Day 3 Roundup

If today is Wednesday (which it really isn’t since I’m writing this after MMS ended) then it must have been day three of MMS. This was the second full day of sessions, and after crashing the night before and getting 10+ hours of sleep, I actually felt like I was running at 100% again. Good thing too since I had a full day of sessions scheduled. Without further ado… Day Three:

Maximizing Windows 8 Performance: Troubleshooting Tips (DC-B313)
Speaker: Johan Arwidmark (@jarwidmark)

Johan’s session was a review of some of the performance enhancements that exist in Windows 8 (and Windows 7 as well in some cases) as well as tools and tips for investigating those situations when performance isn’t up to par. Make sure you watch the video for the session as the meat of it is in the demos, not in the slide deck. One of the tips he touched upon (after wowing everyone with the specs of his laptop — watch the video and you’ll see why) was enabling data deduplication on his SSD where he keeps his VMs. Jeff Guillet (@expta) blogged about this so be sure to check out his post if you’re thinking of doing the same.

His review of tools included those that come in the box (Task Manager, Resource Monitor, Perfmon, Reliability History) and out of the box such as from Sysinternals (Process Monitor and Process Explorer) and the Windows Assessment Toolkit and the Windows Performance Toolkit, which together make up the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit or ADK (download here). You can use the Assessment Toolkit to run a variety of tests and compare performance across the same systems over time or across different platforms, when you’re evaluating new hardware standards for example. The Performance Toolkit is a powerful tool for capturing kernel and application events which you can use to troubleshoot performance issues.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the Performance Toolkit and how to use it, make sure you check out the Ask Premier Field Engineering (PFE) Platforms blog. Mark Morowczynski (@MarkMorow) has a series of blog posts that show you how to use xperf and use it effectively. Start with this post and at the bottom, he lists the links to the other posts in the series.

I always enjoy Johan’s sessions, and I think my favorite part was when hewas discussing Superfetch and ReadyBoost. He said he didn’t understand the point of using a USB flash drive to boost performance when you’re short of RAM. He said, “Nooooo! If you don’t have enough memory to run Windows 7 you should not run Windows 7.” When you watch the video, it is more entertaining to hear him say it than it is to read it here.

Watch the session on Channel 9

Orchestrating Hyper-V Replica Planned Failover with System Center 2012 SP1 (SD-B309)
Speaker: Charles Joy (@OrchestratorGuy)

I haven’t upgraded to Hyper-V 3.0 yet, so I’m not using Hyper-V Replicas. Nor am I using Orchestrator. I attended this decision, however, to see Orchestrator in action. I figure if the speaker goes by OrchestratorGuy on Twitter, he must be pretty good with the product. Boy was he ever.  As the session title indicates, the demos highlighted how you can use Orchestrator to initiate a failover of a Replica and then failback.  You can use this as a stepping stone and consider the different ways Orchestrator can be used with Replicas and beyond.  As he demonstrates how he setup this solution, Charles gives some good tips in breaking up your runbook into small, reusable pieces. In addition to watching the demos in the session video, also check out his blog post with links to download 56 (!) example runbooks and watch a video of him walking through the demo.

I was impressed with Orchestrator (at the time still called Opalis) during TechEd 2010, but I never found time to explore the possibilities of the tool. Now that we’re a few years down the road and Orchestrator is a full-fledged member of the System Center suite, I need to make an effort to bring it into our environment. I honestly don’t know if I have the resource bandwidth available to make effective use of Orchestrator, but I’m hoping that even some basic runbooks could really help free me up from some time-consuming tasks that I keep doing over and over… and over again.

Watch the session on Channel 9

Provisioning in System Center: Users, Groups, Virtual Servers, Software and More! (IM-B317)
Speakers: Cameron Fuller (@cfullerMVP), Chris Ross (@scsmus), Jason Sandys (@JasonSandys)

The premise of this session was pitting a hapless IT drone named Carl against three System Center MVPs as they work through automating variosu tasks such as creating users, deploying systems, installing software, etc. It was one of those gimmicks that is entertaining for a while, but gets old eventually.  It didn’t distract from the session, but it was close. I did like that the three MVPs each showed the integration points between the different programs, showing how they interconnect. Each scenario could (and usually did) have different solutions that depended on your requirements as well as the System Center products you want to use. For example, the scenario that requires users to be provisioned was solved two different ways. One used Orchestrator along with Service Center to allow user accounts to be requested through a portal and the users were then created using an Orchestrator workflow. Another solution used just Orchestrator with the data for account creation coming from a payroll data file.

I especially liked that Cameron pointed out several times during the session, that he is an Operations Manager guy, not an Orchestrator guy. That he was able to put together the Orchestrator workflows to automate these tasks shows that you can get value from using the product even if you’re not an expert on the product. He had some bumps along the way, but was able to work through them. That gives a lot of hope to someone like me who is obviously not an expert but isn’t afraid of rolling up his sleeves and learning the product.

As I write this, the video for the session is not yet up, but keep checking. Hopefully they’ll get it posted soon.

Watch the session on Channel 9

Manageability of Mac & Linux Using System Center 2012 Configuration Manager SP1 (UD-B317)
Speakers: Jeffrey Sutherland

I’m not going to talk about the Linux side of the session since I don’t have any Linux machines I want to manage.  We do have a number of Macs at work, however, both in staff and faculty areas, but we’ve always had a mostly hands-off policy for them.  There are a number of products in he marketplace that let you manage MacOS systems like we do our Windows boxes, but we’ve never been able to justify the expense with as few as we have. When I heard that SP1 was going to bring those systems under the same roof as Windows, I was hopeful. For one, I’d be able to stop licensing Symantec for malware protection and manage that with our Windows PCs.  This session was going to show me how that brave new world would look.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like what I saw of that new world. Instead of a completely integrated solution, what Microsoft is offering is a Band-Aid.  The Mac connects into Config Manager as would a remote client which means you need to use Microsoft PKI. Now, I’m setting that up to support other needs, so that requirement isn’t so bad, and I like that the Mac is not required to be domain-joined. You can’t push-install the Mac client however. Instead the user downloads a package which they use to install the client. Then the user has to drop down to Terminal to enroll the Mac via the command line. On top of that, the client has to be re-enrolled when the certificate expires after  year. There is no auto renewal.

Once the client is installed, you can use it to manage settings on the Mac. Unfortunately you need to uses shell scripts or plist files, knowing the exact path (and proper case) for the files. You can only change settings for system settings; changing user settings isn’t supported yet. Software distribution? Sure, but there’s no app catalog for end users. Anti-virus? Yes, Endpoint Protection is there, but only as a standalone client. You can’t manage the clients once they are deployed.

Sigh.  I was expecting a lot more than what we’re receiving in SP1.  It looks like an awful lot of work for not much benefit. At best I can characterize it as a start, a very early, and quite basic start.  Will I deploy it? Yes, if for no other reason to not need to license Symantec anymore. I’m sure their support will get better, but in the meantime I’m going to take a look at Parallel’s Management Suite for SCCM to see if they offer the kind of integrated management I expected to see in SP1.

Watch the session on Channel 9

Better Together: Microsoft Application Virtualization 5.0 and Office (DV-B305)
Speaker: Ele Ocholi

I haven’t deployed App-V 5.0 yet, but after seeing this session, I’m going to bump up the priority on that task.  We’re currently running Office 2010, but I’d like to be able to introduce 2013 to our users soon. I had been expecting to push this out using a traditional install since I wasn’t aware there was an alternative. It turns out you can create an Office 365 ProPlus (Click-To-Run) App-V package right from the Office Deployment Tool (ODT). No need to sequence Office, just run a command, take the resulting App-V package, and deploy to your clients. To update the package, simply create a new one using the ODT as it always downloadable the latest bits from Microsoft. Deploy that new package and you’re good to go.

The real value in being able to deploy Office 2013 via App-V, beyond the ease of doing so, is the ability to run Office 2013 alongside an existing MSI-based installation of Office 2010. I can give my users a transition period as they move between versions. Office 2013 looks different enough from 2010 that letting them have both to work with will help ease their trauma from the move.

Ele also touched upon the new support for sequencing Office 2010 that is part of the release this week of SP1 for App-V 5.0. Two new package accelerators were released, one for Windows 7 clients and one for Windows 8 clients, that you can use to sequence Office 2010. Check out the Springboard Series blog post for more details and links to downloads and instructions.

I can’t wait to give this a try and see how using App-V for both Office 2010 and 2013 will work in our environment.

Watch the session on Channel 9

Configuration Manager in Higher Ed (BOF03)
Facilitator: Mike Murray (@nurnay)

The Birds of a Feather session for Higher Education attendees was well-attended with perhaps 40 people attending. That number may be off, but I didn’t take a count, and now I’m trying to visualize the room and the people in it. As we munched on warm pretzels and sipped our beverages of choice from the bar, people would throw out questions a about how other institutions were using Config Manager. I didn’t participate directly in the conversations since I’m really only using CM for software deployment and Endpoint Protection and at a basic level. Since we’re a fairly small IT shop in a single school at the University, our usage of these products always pales in comparison to that of larger schools.  Many of the issues and challenges they were having aren’t anything we’ve ever encountered.

It was an interesting discussion but an hour isn’t really enough time to dig in to the topics.  The layout of the room didn’t lend itself well to making the session more interactive.  Everything was arranged classroom style which forces the groups attention towards the front and the facilitator. Different layouts would have helped switch the focus to other members of the group. I thought the layout of the discussions at the Windows Higher Ed conference worked better with smaller groups at circular tables and each table focusing on a different topic.


After the BOF session ended, I was off to the hotel for the nightly bag drop and Ri Ra visit for dinner. I didn’t have any invitations to the night’s vendor parties and several people had expressed an interest in meeting up at Ri Ra later. I was focused on getting a spot at the bar for dinner early so I didn’t waste any time in getting over there. As you may recall, I tried to order mushy peas on Saturday night only to be told they were out until Tuesday. I was bound and determined to get there before they would run out again. People started to show up just as my dinner arrived, so we grabbed a table, and I relocated my food. (Unfortunately Rick Claus was a no-show; it turned out he was shanghaied into recording some interviews at the HP Serverquarium.) Afterwards it was back to the room to get ready for the last full day of MMS on Thursday.