HD Voice and O2 Out in the Cold

HD Voice is the name given to a feature which offers Wideband call quality through your mobile. Mobile networks haven’t exactly been all over this because I suspect of the largely falling call volumes across their networks due to the increasing prevalence of smartphones and apps like Skype and WhatsApp but does that mean they should stop trying?

A couple of weeks’ ago, Vodafone announced that they have been rolling out HD Voice on their network leaving O2 UK as the only network in the UK to not offer this now?

The reason networks had been slow on the uptake of Wideband call quality was previously due to the lack of handset support but gone are those days so there really is no excuse now for the networks but what with O2?

Well Engadget spoke to O2 (http://www.engadget.com/2014/09/11/vodafone-enables-hd-voice/) and they have said that they have no plans at all to implement HD Voice.

To me, this is like a kick in the teeth to anyone who actually cares about making phone calls. I know that the anomaly that is picking up the phone to someone gets rarer and rarer as more people use mobile apps to call either other or more commonly, message or chat to each other by other means, but O2′s statement really tells you that they no longer care about calls. O2 obviously seem to only be interested in pushing packets these days so if you like making calls and talking to people, find another network.

Whilst I’ve just slated O2 above, I should point out that no network is perfect. O2 after all have just recently added support for Windows Phone Visual Voicemail, the first network in the UK to do so, however the problem I observed with this is that it only works on phones with an O2 ROM image and my old Lumia 820 from O2 shipped with a carrier unbranded ROM so doesn’t get the feature.

The one thing that I haven’t been able to find out is whether HD Voice works between networks as well as within. Back in 2012, Orange claimed a network of a HD Voice call between countries (http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/network-wifi/3406390/orange-claims-first-hd-voice-call-between-two-countries/) but from the wording of the article, it would seem that this was entirely within their own network. I suspect that it does work inter-network as well as intra-network otherwise it’s really a bit pointless.

If you want to hear the difference between narrowband and wideband HD Voice audio, check out this BBC News article which has a little audio clip comparing the difference at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/thereporters/rorycellanjones/2010/09/hd_voice_-_can_you_hear_me_now.html/.

A Swathe of Microsoft Azure Updates

I’ve been a bit lazy over the last couple of weeks when it’s come to blogging a) because I’ve been on the road quite a bit with work and I haven’t fancied sitting in front of my PC when I got home in the evening and b) I’ve been too hooked watching Ray Donovan on TV to think about picking up the laptop.

The problem with not blogging for a while is that I have a lot of pent up desire to post things that I’ve been thinking about and doing over the last couple of weeks, not enough time to do it, nor the will power to type it all out.

As we all know, Azure is fairly close to my heart these days and three’s been a lot of activity in Azure across a whole host of offerings.

The biggest changes are covered in full in the blog post by Scott Guthrie over at http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/azure-sql-databases-api-management-media-services-websites-role-based-access-control-and-more.

Azure SQL Service Tiers

For me and my love obsession with running WordPress on Azure, the biggest changes here are the General Availability of the Azure SQL Database Service Tiers. These are the tiers which have been in preview since early this year and are due to replace the legacy tiers next year. The good news here is that Microsoft appear to have made a change during the course of the year which means you don’t need to actually migrate your data and you can simply switch between the tiers so there’s no excuse now.

Azure Websites

Another big change is to Azure Websites. Azure Websites have previously not been able to integrate with a Virtual Network to allow you to easily consume on-premise resources as part of a website. You could get around this to an extent using a BizTalk Hybrid Connection however the setup of this required agents to be deployed across the servers you wanted to connect to and meant extra configuration and complexity. We can now consume resources on-premise via our Virtual Network to on-premise resources whether it be a SQL Server, a back-end application server or whatever your website needs.

As part of the website changes, there is a new gallery template available for Websites named Scalable WordPress. This is a WordPress site deployment on Azure Websites designed for Azure which includes pre-configuration to use Azure BLOB Storage and easy configuration for Azure CDN. This new template potentially puts all my work to hone WordPress for Azure to the waste heap. As a WordPress user and fan, I’m going to be deploying one of these sites in the next few days (maybe longer) to see how Microsoft have built the site template. My money is on either they have used plugins to achieve it in the same way I do or they’ve customized the code base to make it work. Either way, I’ll be interested to see.

Azure RBAC

Finally, at last, the feature that we’ve all been wanting, needing and waiting for. No more, is a subscription the boundary for security and access control in Azure as with the release of Role Based Access Control (RBAC), we can now control access to resources in our Azure subscriptions. I’m really looking forward to having a poke around with this feature as I see this being one of the biggest features ever with Azure.

Azure Active Directory (AAD) Sync

In a separate article over at http://blogs.technet.com/b/ad/archive/2014/04/21/new-sync-capabilities-in-preview-password-write-back-new-aad-sync-and-multi-forest-support.aspx it was announced that the latest version of the AAD Sync tool has come out of Preview and is now in General Availability.

This new version supports Self-Service Password Reset write-back to Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) with DirSync and Multi-Forest sync for complex domain and Exchange Server topologies.

Password Write-Back for organisations using AAD could be really good thing, just bear in mind before you get too excited about the reduction in service desk calls you can achieve through self-service password reset, you need to meet the prerequisites for the writeback agent which are pretty simple but you also need to be paying for Azure Active Directory Premium.

All in all, this has been a great month for Azure and I’m looking forward to trying to get my teeth into some of these new features.

SCOM Hyper-V Management Pack Extensions

If you’ve ever been responsible for the management or monitoring of a Hyper-V virtualization platform, you’ve no doubt wanted and needed to monitor it for performance and capacity. The go to choice for monitoring Hyper-V is System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) and if you are using Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) to manage your Hyper-V environment then you could have and should have configured the PRO Tips integration between SCOM and VMM.

With all of this said, both the default SCOM Hyper-V Management Pack and the monitoring improvements that come with the VMM Management Packs and integration are still pretty lacklustre and don’t give you all the information and intelligence you would really like to have.

Luckily for us all, Codeplex comes to the rescue with the Hyper-V Management Pack Extensions. Available for SCOM 2012 and 2012 R2, the Management Pack provides the following (taken from the Codeplex project page):

New features on release 1.0.1.282
Support for Windows Server 2012 R2 hyper-V
Hyper-V Extended Replica Monitoring and Dashboard
Minor code optimizations

Features on release 1.0.1.206
VMs Integration Services Version monitor
Hyper-V Replica Health Monitoring Dashboard and States
SMB Shares I/O latency monitor
VMs Snapshots monitoring
Management Pack Performance improvements

Included features from previous release
Hyper-V Hypervisor Logical processor monitoring
Hyper-V Hypervisor Virtual processor monitoring
Hyper-V Dynamic Memory monitoring
Hyper-V Virtual Networks monitoring
NUMA remote pages monitoring
SLAT enabled processor detection
Hyper-V VHDs monitoring
Physical and Logical Disk monitoring
Host Available Memory monitoring
Stopped and Failed VMs monitoring
Failed Live Migrations monitoring

The requirements to get the Management Pack installed are low which makes implementation really easy. If you keep your core packs updated there is good chance you’ve already got the three required packs installed, Windows OS 6.0.7061.0, Windows Server Hyper-V 6.2.6641.0 and Windows Server Cluster 6.0.7063.0.

The project suggests there is documentation but it seems to be absent so what you will want to know is what is the behaviour going to be upon installation? If you have a development Management Group for SCOM then install it here first to test and verify as you should always be doing. The Management Pack is largely disabled by default which is ideal but there are a couple of rules enabled by default to watch out for so check the rules and change the default state for the two enabled rules to disabled if you desire.

As is the norm with disabled rules in SCOM, create a group which either explicitly or dynamically targets your Hyper-V hosts and override the rules for the group to enable them. The rules are broken down into Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2 sets so you can opt to enable one, the other or both according to the OS version you are using for your Hyper-V deployments.

If you do have the VMM integration with SCOM configured and you are using Hyper-V Dynamic Memory, you will notice very quickly if you enable all the rules in the  Hyper-V Management Pack Extensions that you will start receiving duplicate alerts for memory pressure so make a decision where you want to get your memory pressure alerts from be it the VMM Management Pack or the Hyper-V Extensions Management Pack and override and disable alert generation for the one you don’t want.

There is still one metric missing even from this very thorough Hyper-V Extensions Management Pack and that is the collection of the CPU Wait Time Per Dispatch performance counter, the Hyper-V equivalent of the VMware vSphere CPU Ready counter. I’ll cover this one in a later post with a custom Performance Collection Rule.

You can download the Management Pack from Codeplex at http://hypervmpe2012.codeplex.com/. I hope it finds you well and enjoy your newly found Hyper-V monitoring intelligence.

Welcome to Fordway

So a couple of weeks’ ago, I said that there were some exciting times coming up for me and I figure it’s time to spill some beans if you haven’t seen already through other sources like Twitter or LinkedIn.

Last week, I started my new role as a Consultant for Fordway of Godalming and it’s been a busy week and one day already. Working for Fordway is an exciting role for me because I get to combine two worlds of IT that I enjoy into one place. This is made possible by the fact that Fordway offer both more traditional consultancy IT services to customers as well as operating a managed services cloud environment in which customers can get IaaS (among others) services in a way which is supported under G-Cloud, the UK government framework for government cloud adoption.

To me, the idea of being able to help support and deliver both in-house IT and customer IT services is really exciting and I’m looking forward to working in both of these areas and continuing to do so with products that I know and love like Hyper-V, System Center and more. Whilst I’m on the subject of employers and products, I just want to reiterate the fact that this is my own personal blog and that everything posted here reflects my own views and opinions and not those of my employers, past, present or future.

I look forward to working on new projects for new people and being able to share some of what I get up to with you all as always.

Prometric Microsoft Exam Vouchers

The team at @TechNetUK have just answered probably the most important question to any IT Pro in the Microsoft space out there with a blog post at http://blogs.technet.com/b/mpn_uk/archive/2014/09/01/pearson-vue-to-deliver-mcp-exams-for-microsoft.aspx and that is the subject of exam vouchers.

As you may or may not know, recently, Microsoft announced that Pearson Vue will be taking over the responsibility of managing the testing and certification for Microsoft exams as of September 2014 and the whole thing has left people wondering what will become of any pre-paid exam vouchers they may have.

Any pre-paid exam vouchers that you may have for Prometric and you will want to read the article to understand your dates and deadlines to use the vouchers before they get retired.

If you are in the business of taking Microsoft exams and certifying for Microsoft technologies, you really should be using exam packs and pre-paid vouchers if you haven’t done so previously. With the cost now £99 per exam, you can get a three exam pack with a discount of around 15% and you normally get Second Shot included with the pack which means you get a second chance to take each exam if you fail for any reason in the first instance.

I’ve got an outstanding exam voucher for transitioning my MCSA Windows Server 2012 to MCSE Windows Server 2012 which I really need to find the time and energy to crack on with and pass so that I can move on to bigger and better things so this could just be the inspiration I need to get the job done. Time to put the Tom Clancy novels down and get my study on I think.

Slow WDS PXE Clients and Bad Memory

Following on from my post last week about UK Regional Settings for MDT 2013, I have been this week testing the deployment of a Lite Touch MDT image using WDS PXE over Multicast. Unlike what you will read online about Multicast, I haven’t personally had any issues with it and Multicast has worked off the bat but the problems I have been encountering are actually with Unicast, with the initial phase of PXE boot, downloading the Boot SDI and the WinPE LiteTouch WIM files.

In this case, I’ve been given eight client machines to test the deployment and we were finding that only about half of them were properly initiating the WinPE environment in a sensible timeframe with the other clients taking over 30mins just to download the Lite Touch WinPE image which obviously isn’t cricket as you should be able to lay down the entire Windows OS image is not much more time than that.

All of the machines are HP 8000 desktops with a matching hardware specification and matching firmware revisions so we were left wondering if the problem was the network, routing or such like however earlier on this afternoon, we found the issue and I have to say, it’s one of the craziest reasons I’ve seen something not working in a long time, especially considering how software defined our worlds have become.

Hynix Memory 2GB PC3-10600U-9-10

Yes, that is correct, the above is an image of a Hynix 2GB PC3-1006U-9-10 DIMM and this was the cause of our problems.

The machines in question were all configured with 6144MB of RAM in the form of three 2GB DIMMs. What we didn’t notice at an early stage and why would you really, was that some of the machines exclusively had three DIMMs of HP certified Micron memory in them and our faulting machines had a combination of HP certified Micron memory and Hynix HP certified memory.

All the DIMMs were of the same unregistered type, all of the same PC3-10600 speed and all have the same 9-10 CAS latency so it’s just crazy to think that a mismatched batch of Micron and Hynix memory could ruin things for us given that all of the other factors like registration, speed, latency and ranking were matched.

Simply by removing the Hynix DIMMs from the machines and leaving them with 4096MB made up of two 2GB DIMMs of Micron memory allowed these machines to load the Boot SDI and Lite Touch WinPE WIM files at the speed we expected to see and were already seeing on the other clients.

When we look at this logically, you can see why our issue was a memory problem because the download of the Lite Touch WinPE WIM is done into memory and the hard disk is not touched at this point but I cannot remember the last time I saw a simple DIMM cause so much of a problem. These days we automatically assume that hardware works and that our problems exist in software due to the configurable nature of everything but this was certainly a lesson to never forget the simple things in computing: the basic hardware like processors, memory, motherboards and the like.

Exciting Weeks to Come for Me and the Lab

I haven’t done an off-topic post in a while, but I’m going to keep this one short.

Over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to be some exciting things happening that I’m looking forward to. I’ve got some great ideas about website deployments on Microsoft Azure which I’m trying to compile together into another one of my TechNet Guides to publish and the hardware for my home lab project is finally coming together after much waiting for a couple of critical pieces so I will be able to finish my series of the project. Once the environment is put together, I will be hoping to post a tonne about the things I get deployed in there: System Center, Windows Azure Pack, MDOP and more.

I’ve also got some personal news that I’ll be letting out in a few weeks too.

In the mean time, if there is anything you’ll especially like to see be build or document in my home lab relating to the Microsoft stack, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can fit it into my plans.

UK Regional Settings for Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013

As we all know and hate, everything in Microsoft products and operating systems defaults to English United States and a time zone of -8hrs Pacific Time.

This week, I’ve been working with Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) for a customer to image client machines in their environment. In MDT, we want to use the Deployment Share Rules configuration to hide the wizard selection panes for setting the time zone, region and locale settings and automatically set them to the UK settings and as such, prompt the user for one less piece of information, making our Lite Touch Installation (LTI) as Zero Touch Installation (ZTI) as possible. The MDT documentation tells us that we need to use the SkipLocaleSelection and SkipTimeZone properties to hide the panels in the wizard but it doesn’t give us the values for overriding the default values.

Luckily for us, a helpful blog post from Andrew Barnes at http://scriptimus.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/mdt-2010-regional-settings/ gives us the values without us having to dig through the full code and value listings on MSDN. If you are in a country other than the UK, sorry, I don’t have those codes to had, but Andrew does provide the links to the MSDN pages which have the full listing of codes.

With those values and settings added to the Deployment Share Rules, our users invoking a LTI via the Boot Media or via PXE will have to answer a few less questions helping them to get the process moving faster and also means that we don’t have to worry about our mixed up ” and @ symbols on UK and US keyboards. It’s also very important for troubleshooting early on in MDT deployments as if we want to review a setup log on the client, we want to have our time codes in the correct time zone so that we can figure out when certain events are taking place.

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