Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Accessing Multiple Exchange Accounts for Multi-Company Executives

Have you got an executive that has more than one company to exec at? I do. What do you do to allow them access to multiple Exchange accounts from one computer? Pop3? You lose Calendar, etc. OWA? A little different interface with limitations. RWW? Got to have a pc at the office or a virtual machine at the office to login to. RDP? Same issue as previous.

Well, none of those are very elegant. All either require extra steps and/or give up some of Outlook's strengths. BAH! Need real Outlook that is local and quick. Something simpler that allows them access to their all their different companies' exchange accounts from the same computer/laptop even when not connected to the internet.

You see, Outlook will only support one exchange account at a time. "AT A TIME" is the magic phrase. With some extra thinking, I thought myself out of this box. Two solutions (gems produced by the overheating of my brain and pressure inside my head) have come to mind.
  • Outlook Profiles:
    Create a profile for each exchange account, setting them up as "Outlook Via HTTP". The executive would have to select which profile to access at a time, but not a time intensive or error prone problem.

  • Virtual Machines (Coolness!!)
    This is the techie "Cool" way to do it. It involves running Outlook in multiple virtual machines at the same time. I created a virtual machine on an XP Pro workstation, loaded XP Pro on the virtual machine, and then loaded Outlook into the virtual machine. The host XP Pro computer had Outlook that accessed one exchange account and the virtual machine had an Outlook that accessed a different exchange account. Sure its more complicated. Sure it requires more licenses. But it is COOL. ... And it does work. I can have both Outlooks open and see them get email AT THE SAME TIME! Did I mention it was COOL?

I am glad to "work around" my original problem of providing this for an executive. The practical way is the first one. It can be done without any additional software cost. The second is appropriate if the executive requires more than one PC attached to the domains of the different companies. Thankfully, that is not the case with my executive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I am sitting in the Yellow Lounge at the Microsoft World Wide Partner Conference 2007, in Denver. This is the premier conference for All IT professionals that support Microsoft software and the Vendors that make the software and hardware that depends on Mr Softie's software.

"Sure", you say, "but it is expensive!" Yes, you are right!. Microsoft is not a cheap date.

Exposure to new products, discussion with product managers, business courses, networking with your peers, etc... How can you not be here? We are saving a space for you.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Swapping Motherboards - No More Nail Biting!

Swapping motherboards in a existing computer is nothing to be relished. Driver incompatibilities will drive you to chew your nails off.

Fear no more.

The HIR (Hardware Independent Restore) feature in the ShadowProtect IT 3.o Edition is marvelous! But it can be used in a case where you did not backup an image.

I had a client that had a computer go to electric heaven this week. Just the motherboard stopped working. The hard drive was replaced within the last four months. Told the client today that I would build them a new computer and have it ready with all the employee's stuff on it before the employee returns from vacation on Tuesday. There is just one problem.

EQK! I am leaving for WWPC in Denver on Sunday.

How could I get this done in time? StorageCraft to the rescue. I had a revelation earlier this week. Since ShadowProtect HIR has a mode to allow it to work on the image after it is restored, I could use it to change and match drivers on hard drives without restoring an image!

That fit my current situation. I ran by my favorite component distributor just before they closed on Friday and picked up all the parts for a new computer except the hard drive. I constructed the new computer and transferred the old hard drive to the new computer. I booted from the IT Edition cd and used HIR to replace the drivers. I only used drivers that were a fair match or higher. The network card and audio card showed no driver matches, so I did not replace the drivers. A quick reboot and Voila! Windows XP booted on the new motherboard. I then ran the drivers cd for the new motherboard.

What a relief! I will hand the computer to my backup tech tomorrow night at dinner and he will install it on Monday for me while I am hobnobbing at the Small Business Symposium :^).

Wow! A quick switch of all hardware except the hard drive, a HIR config, load some drivers, and now a network station from a SBS network is ready to go back on the network WITHOUT any additional configuration! And I still have my nails!
The Waiting Game - Virtual Server 2005 R2 and ShadowProtect

I think Mr. Gates is smiling about that Fossal watch. I could have really used it to track the hideous amount of time that it takes to restore ShadowProtect images to virtual disks mounted in virtual machines under Virtual Server 2005 R2.

Mark Crall inspired me to try this. His presentation where he restored a Windows 2003 server ShadowProtect image stored on a flash drive to a virtual machine over a wireless link has now become the stuff of legends. Well, we all know that legends are made from people that were foolish enough to do things that everyone else was too smart to do, and they succeeded! So, I had to take my hand at it. Unfortunately, I used Virtual Server instead of Virtual PC. My bad :(
I have just replaced my server with a new box and used the Swing Migration method to move my AD over. As stated in another post, it took some time, but I finally got a good result. No fault of Jeff Middleton; just preexisting issues that had to be cleared up.
So, I say to myself, "Self, lets virtualize the old server so that we can refer to it in the future!" You tend to use "we" in such conversations. I am very cautious and always want to be able to "dial back" to a previous point in time.
I re-setup the old server and made fresh ShadowProtect images of the system and data partitions, and set them aside. Then I decided to use the old server to actually create the virtual machine and drive. I loaded Virtual Server 2005 R2. Hey, why not? If Virtual PC is good, Virtual Server should perform even better! I gave the new virtual machine a name and created a static virtual drive for it. After creating 2 partitions and formatting them, I booted the virtual machine with ShadowProtect IT Edition 3.0. Since I had the virtual machine and the ShadowProtect images on the same USB drive and since Virtual Server cannot directly give a virtual machine access to a usb drive, I had to create a share for the partition containing the images and let the host share it with the virtual machine.

Do you get all that? Not a wireless network like Mark, but a images on a usb drive being accessed going through 2 virtual network adapters to be restored to a virtual hard drive located on the same usb drive. Well, I was not sure it would work and, sure enough, it gave me the devil for 3 days. The restore of 30 gigs of data to the system partition on the virtual hard drive lasted 14 HOURS before failing. The time indicated to completion climbed to 2 DAYS PLUS! 3 Hours was what I would have expected. 2 DAYS PLUS? Crips!

What was happening here? A problem with the virtual network adapters? Was this just TOO weird for VS 205 R2 to handle?

I was not to be deterred! So, change up on the setup. I placed the images on another drive on another machine on the network. Started the restore again except this time I was not accessing the images on the same drive as the virtual hard drive I was restoring to. Though shorter (1 DAY PLUS), the restore time was ridiculous.
I mentioned to Mark Crall that I was having this weird super elongated restore to a virtual hard drive. A discussion in sued. That is when I learned that he had never done his test with Virtual Server, only Virtual PC. What the Heck! I'll try it with Virtual PC. I installed Virtual PC 2007. Setup and restored the images from a network drive.


It worked. And within the original time frame I expected! Just over 3 hours to restore both partitions ( one 30 gig and one 40 gig).

So... why the drastic difference in performance for this situation? Who knows! I just know that, if I am doing demos, I better use Virtual PC.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Swing" Away and Hit a Home Run on Your Next Server Change

Had an issue with a server that had way too many experiments performed on it. You know. Failed CRM installs, bits and pieces of monitoring packages left over, etc. It was, unfortunately, my main SBS server. Reloading from scratch was not the best option; losing my profiles was unacceptable. I worked hard to gum up that Active Directory and wanted to keep as much of it as possible while cleaning out the refuse (taking out the trash).

Hallelujah, there is an option! Many of you have hear about the Swing Migration technique that Jeff Middleton has produced for cleaning and moving Active Directory to a , new server, saving the lone IT guy from endless hours of work and "cross your fingers" data transfers. My need was for a specific iteration of his technique called "Redeploying SBS 2003".

Success though is predicated on the originating server having a healthy AD. As it turned out, mine did not. I was ignorant of my AD issue and began my "redeploy"...more than once. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth later (screams, howling at the moon, reexamination of my purpose on earth), I found the resources that Jeff provided for diagnosing and repairing AD issues. My server must have just finished a personal diary, because it had a "Journal Wrap" error. Further study indicates that this is possible side effect of CRM installations on SBS.

Oh, Jeff, you are good. Thanks for the information and excellent troubleshooting guides. I should have turned to you sooner. Then I could have smacked that home run much much quicker!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Put an X-Man in your laptop bag

Many thanks to Brendan I. Koerner for putting the Lenovo T61 laptop's Magnesium Rollcage into perspective.

Thinkpads have an excellent reputation. With this latest line of the R61, T61, and X61 models, Lenovo had made them even better. Wow! True shock mounted hard drives! Rollcage on the main body and the lcd! Much increased cooling and a super quiet fan! And more!

Many have wrung their hands over Lenovo buying IBM's laptop and desktop divisions. Security concerns about the China connection are well published. If there is controvesy about this vendor and so many other products to choose from, why am I looking here? Thats easy.

Despite the political and economic angst, Lenovo has kept up the quality and actually improved on a legendary product. Panasonic with its Toughbook line is the one other vendor that I would place in this class. To be fair, I will let any other vendor prove to me that they are as tough and innovative as these two vendors. Any takers?

I am sooooo tired of consumer ( and some so called business grade) laptops that place my clients' data at risk and waste their time (and, by extension, my time)! Hard drives shoved into torturous hell holes, cases that flex like warped 2x4s, broken display hinges, excessive bottom heat that lowers your chance of having children... Enough!!

Some of this is my fault, of course. Personally, I thought my clients would not pay for "business grade" laptops. I did not see enough difference to speak with conviction that such units were worth the extra dough. Some recent experiences, though, have left me wanting more for my clients.

They may not be made of "adamantium", but I am going to do my best to put these "super skeletons" in my clients' laptop cases.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou, Workshop?

Pain and strain... Lack of sleep... Equipment malfunctions... Friends in the crowd hee-haw-ing at you... A nightmare? Well, sort of. I just planned and conducted my first workshop.

Susan and Dana, is it always like this?

The short version. We at the AZ SMB UG have been discussing the viability and subjects for Saturday training workshops, but had not had any recently. I have used ShadowProtect from StorageCraft and knew there was a new HIR version coming out. Storagecraft agreed to go through the beta version with some select IT guys. So, I volunteered to plan a workshop to facilitate putting the "squeeze" on the product beta. Sorry, I can't tell you what HIR stands for. That's why they call it a Non Disclosure Agreement (if you aren't Dis-close-tur the meeting, we Agree you get Non of the information, yuk, yuk).

What goes wrong when you plan a workshop? Quite alot. Clients suddenly want service, equipment doesn't get completely prepped, the equipment I supplied did not have the specs I thought they did, Virtual Server admin page cannot be displayed, etc. Griping, embarrassed, humiliated. Well, I can just get up again and do better next time.

Actually, though my high plans did not get accomplished, work did get done at the workshop, peer networking occurred, and other topics of interest got covered. :)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Importance of the Small Business Specialist

Why is it important for a computer consultant to become an SBSC? Does it say anything about the consultant that takes the time to earn the certification and recognizable from Microsoft? Darn toot'n.

From the start, the SBSC program at Microsoft is "different" than their other certifications. A good portion of the test is on "right-sizing" the technology solution to the client size and technical savvy. In doing so, Microsoft generated a "filter" to sift out the serious Microsoft oriented independent computer consultant from the have beens, hobbyists, stales, and incompetents. Am I saying that all SBSCs are competent and all non SBSCs are not? NO! If we relate computer techs to mechanics, I would use a repair shop with a AAA sticker in the window as I have confidence in the AAA (RAC in UK) to monitor and only recommend shops that have a good reputation. In the same way, the SBSC designation is an indicator of quality to the small business community.

I was just listening to a conference call on the subject of "The Benefits of Hiring a Small Business Specialist". A number things were brought up that characterize your average SBSC. 1) An SBSC will work to improve their technical skills. 2) SBSC's will partner with other competent IT professionals that have expertise in areas that the SBSC may not. rather than trying to "fake it" through something they don't know. 3) SBSC's have the health and welfare of the client's business at heart, recommending appropriate technology. What more reason does anyone need to hire an SBSC?

There may well be additional monetary benefits soon.
Eric Ligman put on an excellent webcast yesterday about Microsoft's strategy with the retail chains. There are programs coming that will allow the retail chains to partner with SBSC's to roll out technology projects to small business clients. Vlad has an excellent recap of the webcast. It is refreshing to see Microsoft trying to be a "rainmaker" between its partners and the big box retailers. There is a catch, though. Only consultants that are at least an SBSC will be invited to participate.

With so much benefit to being an SBSC, why would any computer consultant working with Microsoft technology not strive to become one. Additionally, why would any business looking for computer help not hire one? There are still mysteries in this world...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why oh Why did I stay up to get Vista?

Oh, that's easy. I wanted to see how many other crazy small business people stayed up to midnight to get Vista. Has Microsoft created "froth" in the small business community?

Strolled down to the local Best Buy just before Midnight to find out. Should have been in bed, but a personal invitation from my Best Buy for Business guy overrode my practical judgement.

There were 35-45 non staff in the store, looking like lost sheep waiting for some one to open the gate to their favorite pasture. Mostly hobbiests and geeks. Did not see anyone I would classify as accountants and business owners. Perhaps they bought a "Geek" outfit so they could be there incognito. Susan Bradley, our beloved accountant/geek mix, could probably tell us. My Best Buy for Business guy was NOT there, How did he get out of this? He invited me! Ryan, I will wring your neck!

Midnight came and went with no Vista. Maybe the truck was late? Flat tire on the Interstate? Cargo hijacked and driven to Mexico where the duplicating factories are waiting? Oh, good. They brought out the boxes! Best Buy's version of a dramatic pause, I guess. Finally, they started selling at 12:15. Darn, I did not win the HP laptop giveaway. Now I needed something to lift my spirits. Good that I found a couple of things...

1) I got to buy a "Signature Edition" copy of Vista. I didn't even know about these. Bill is supposed to have signed all 25K copies himself. Yep, it has a serial number on the front to tell which one it is out of 25 thousand. I dunno. If he signed it, he is the lightest writer I have ever seen. Hold it so the light reflects off the signature area and you will see NO indication of indention. Looks printed to me.

2) Ran into a Windows MVP in the parking lot and found out about the "Family Pak". If you have multiple computers at home, this is a great deal! If you buy any retail copy of Vista Ultimate (Full or Retail), you can go to this website and buy up to TWO copies of Home Premium upgrade for $50 each. The product keys will be digitally delivered to you and you can use your Ultimate media to install the Home Premium copies.

CAUTION : Do not get IMPATIENT while loading Vista. This public service announcement (eh, WARNING!) was handed to everyone that purchased Vista. Nice of Best Buy to make sure that your first experience with Vista is not a blown computer.

Yes, folks. The Ultimate Edition comes in Black. I guess that makes it as exclusive as American Express's "Black Card". Thanks to Brian for his Vista modeling skills. He is really taken with the shiny case. I would call him a monkey, but then I would need to go to Vlad's School of Monkey Management. Brian really is a great guy. Brian, remember this at raise time.

** After all the fun I had, did I answer my question? Is business waiting for Vista? About as much as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! Forced change, while beneficial in the long run, is painly in the near term and always distracts from sales, marketing, and customer service. In regards to Vista, very few businesses will embrace it today. That is today's answer. Perhaps it will be different 6 months after the launch.

EDIT - 1/31/2006
Thanks Susan for those wonderful comments. Yes, I am an Uber Geek. But a Business Uber Geek. That means that, since I run my own company, I can relate to my clients about how the introduction of new technology can affect the immediate cash flow in the form of lost productivity. A new technology must be compelling to get a client to suffer that pain. We will have to talk them into it by the use of practical examples that WE have experienced.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to Google...

This did not happen to me, but it could have.

Thanks Dana for giving me a laugh on a stressful day. View this hilarious video on the perials of clicking on Google searches.