About Ed Hands

 I have been working in the IT field for over twenty years.  

In addition to spending time with my beautiful wife and two lovely daughters,  I enjoy practicing the guitar, Tae Kwon Do, reading, and grilling out  I am always trying to plan the perfect road-trip with my family.  Hopefully there will be coffee.

The purpose of this blog is to journal my experience in the IT field and hopefully provide a useful guide to those doing likewise.  And to journal my random musings on technology, computers, or whatever else strikes my fancy.  Adult ADD FTW!!!!  Ohhh...look...something shiny....


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Apple maps, you suck!

All I wanted to do is go get me some Mongolian Beef extra crispy at PF Chang's. Was that adking so much? Instead, you put me in the midfle of nowhere between a parking garage and a contruction site. Then you had the audacity to mock me with "Artived at PF Chang's!!!"

I hate you, Apple Maps!


ActivEcho Review

One of the challenges that network admins face these days is the constant fight against the cloud storage system like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google drive, box, etc. These systems are very appealing to end users but are a never-ending source of frustration and a huge security issue for the organization. In addition to being a huge open hole for data to leave the friendly confines of the organization, and in addition to not having adequate password and/or encryption security on the data being removed, the terms of service of these services normally do not align themselves with the best interest of the company.

With that in mind I set off to find a solution that would be a good substitute for Dropbox.

It was almost by mistake that I happened about ActivEcho. I was actually looking for a solution to allow a MobilEcho type interface on Macs and PCs that weren't on the network. I was asking my sales rep at Acronis about this issue and he suggested ActivEcho.

While not what I was looking for originally, the users and abilities of this software quickly piqued my interest. This piece of software was far and away better than the Dropbox that most of my users were using. Some of the features that made it superior are:

1) Essentially unlimited storage. It is only limited by the size of the storage array I attach to the server.

2) Integrated with Active Directory (and thus enforcing my password security policies on it.)

3) Encrypted file storage

4) The ability to restore precious versions.

5) Logging to see what happened when and by whom.

6) No Terms of service that conflict with proprietary rights.

7) Price based on user base and not storage amount.

8) Data is hosted in house on our servers.

9) Integrates completely with MobilEcho on mobile devices.

ActivEcho has a web interface as well as a PC and Mac client.

Because my network is spread out and connected via expensive MPLS data lines, I prefer not to use them to transfer the data to the ActivEcho server, so I configured my DNS to give the external IP address of the server and the configured the local firewall to redirect that IP address to the correct internal IP address. Another way to do it would be to put the server in a DMZ behind the firewall. So the one downside to the whole solution was the additional internet bandwidth it requires in my configuration. But still it is better than using the expensive MPLS bandwidth.

The user adaptation has been very high and it a great collaboration tool to use with clients and co-workers alike. I highly recommend this software for anyone looking to get our of the Dropbox trap.



VMWare, I have bested you!!!

I recently got a new iMac at work to replace my desktop and clunky, heavy HP Elitebook laptop(which clocks in at a mighty 8.25 pounds).  The idea was to slim down to an iMac and a Macbook Pro and use VMWare Fusion to run the Windows operating system for the items I could not do with the iMac.

Everything started off great.  I began by installing Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 (which is pretty great) and then a few other nifty little programs I cannot live without on my Mac (Dropbox, LastPass, XMarks, KeePassX, Jump Desktop, and Evernote) and then downloaded and installed VMWare Fusion 5.

Pretty sure I was on my way doing a migration from my clunky 32-bit Windows 7 machine to the new Mac.  I kicked it off and went home.  The next morning, the migration was complete and I fired up the VM with no issues. Yes!  One down, two (or three) to go.

The next one was an already existing VM for Windows XP, and that was simply moving the VM from an old machine to the iMac.  About an hour later that was finished (And the was moving from VMWare workstation 7 to VMWare Fusion 5.)

So then it came time to do my main PC: An HP Elitebook 8540w with 8 GB of RAM and 4 CPUs.  As I had great success with the Migration Assistant in Fusion 5, I would give that a shot.  I kicked it off and let it run its nine (ugh) hours.  Sadly, nine hours passed and I got the "migration failed" message.

I tried again (thinking perhaps it was a transient error and got the same result.

So it was time to try the Standalone converter.  I uninstalled the PC Migration agent and installed the new version of VMWare Standalone Converter.  I had a pretty good feeling about this as I had run this converter before and it worked very well.  So I attached an external hard drive to the machine and kicked of the conversion.  It got to 98% and failed.

So I uninstalled the Migration Agent, the Standalone converter, and my AV and firewall, then reinstalled the latest Standalone Converter agent and tried again.  It failed again at 98%.  It was time to call VMWare.

I called and spoke with a person that seemed to want to help at first, but wasn't real committed to the process.  He remoted into the machine and kicked off another migration, this time setting the processors to 1, the memory to 2 GB, disabling all NIC cards and setting the hard drive pro "preserve source."

I told him it would take a few hours and I would email him when it was finished.  Naturally it failed again (at the now incredibly frustration 98%) and I emailed him the results and asked him to call me. 

The next day he called me (he when home sick apparently) and remoted in to see the results screen.  He asked around a spoke to a few other techs there and they were all in agreement that this issue was unresolvable and nothing further could be done with this PC or to assist me in getting this converted.

I didn't like this answer.

I thanked him, hung up the phone, opened a web browser and started doing some investigating.  Certainly I couldn't be the only person with this issue, right?  The frustrating part of this is that I had done a Standalone migration on this PC before and it worked fine.

I took another look at the error that it generated.  The warning before it failed said "Warning: Unable to update the BCD on the destination machine's system volume" followed by the Error "An error occured during reconfiguration."  The final status of the job was "FAILED: Unable to find the system volume, reconfiguration is not possible."

So I started my search on the VMWare website and came up with a document that explained how to use BDCEdit to modify the the boot configuration data to allow the Standalone converter to proceed.  It seems there was a 100 MB "system reserve" partition that was defining itself a C: and where my data was as D:. I booted up with the Windows 7 install disc and proceeded as instructed, and retried the migration.  Again, failure.  I went back using the command prompt in the recovery console and BCDEdit shows that the settings had reverted to what they were originally.   I changed them once again and rebooted.  On a hunch I decided to go back in and, once again, the settings had revered to their original settings.  So regardless of how many times I tried this BCDEidt, as long as that system reserve partition existed, the issue would persist.

And this is where it gets a little scary.  I knew I needed to get rid of that system reserve partition, but I also need to make sure I could get back into it if the VM Migration didn't work.

So I proceeded to make a clone of the original disk.  I used a Apricorn Sata data cable and EZGig data transfer software to make a duplicate of my original drive on a spare laptop HD that I had laying around.  The cloning took about two and half hours but once finished I had a duplicate I could safely play with and not jeopardize the original.

I found a good article on sevenforums.com on how to go about removing the system reserve partition and then another on running the startup repair to restore the boot.ini and such to allow the computer to once again boot.  I ran through the startup repair twice and on the third boot attempt I saw the happy windows screen jump to life prompting me to give it a ctrl+alt+del.

Once in I initiated the Standalone conversion.  After two hours this time, however, I was met with a much-longed for green "Success!" prompt.

I copied the VDMK over to my iMac, imported it in the Fusion and, ta-da, it worked like a charm.

And the techs at VMware said it couldn't be done...pashaw!

They just weren't motivated enough.  :)


Syria: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Once again the United States is poised to take military action in the middle east. The quick rush to a conclusion before the evidence has been gathered and analyzed by the Obama administation is troubling on many levels. Not the least of which is that we really have no idea, based on media reports, who actually used the chemical weapons. But the gears of the United States war machine are in motion. And as we saw in 2003, once in motion they are hard to stop. I fear the Obama administration is about to make a terrible mistake.

I certainly don't want to see the Syrian people terrorized by chemical weapons...or any weapons for that matter. But before we let slip the dogs of war, we best make sure they unleashed at the coreect people for the correct reason.

I pray that cooler head will prevail in Washington over the next few days and that the cool, thoughtful, idealist President that was elected five years ago will show up.


Barracuda Spam Filter Out Queue Issue

I recently implemented a Barracuda Spam and Virus Firewall 300 at a business. The configuration was easy enough as they had an Exchange 2010 environment. Having a similar live system at my own company made it even easier as I could just walk through it tab by tab and essentially duplicate the settings I had on my existing system.

The implementation from out of the box to installed and filtering took about three hours. Everything looked great. Or so I thought...

As usual with these type of things, the unexpected always rears it's ugly head. This time it was several days after initial implementation. People we complaining about two things: 1) their quarantined mail didn't have nearly as many items in it as their old system (Postini by Google) and 2) some emails were taking up to eight hours to be delivered.

This first issue they raised was a simple explanation: the Barracuda simply was filtering them out rather than quarantining them. I asked them if they wanted me to dial back the filtering to have it put more in the quarantine rather than outright blocking it. "No, no..." they said "we hated all those emails in there. We just didn't know where they went."

The second issue was a bit trickier. I started looking at the logs and the queues and the Advanced Queue management and sure enough some emails would be queued for delivery but would never make that last jump over to the Exchange server.

Now this Exchange server is nothing special, but it is probably overkill for this company's purposes. It is on a HP Proliant DL380 Gen 5 with 16 GB or RAM and dual processors. Not a monster, but with only ten users, more than enough horsepower to suffice.

I contacted Barracuda support and they told me that the spam filter was having issues connecting to the Exchange server and at times it looked like it wasn't even getting an SMTP connection.

I proceeded to go about applying all software updates and firmware patches on as well as the latest device drivers. No dice. Still had the issue.

They I replaced the NIC cards, the switch and the cables going from the server to the switch and the Barracuda to the switch. Still nothing.

At this point, I talked to Barracuda again and told them that I had pretty much replaced everything I could from a network standpoint, but I was not convinced that it wasn't an issue with the Barracuda Unit. They shipped me another one and I had it the next day. Applied some firmware updates on the new unit, transferred the configuration and....nothing. Same problem.

So back to the drawing board I went. I started to do research the SMTP connector on Exchange 2010. After a few hours of searching, I hit pay dirt. I opened the Exchange Management Shell (EMS) and typed the following:

Get-ReceiveConnector -Identity "Default <Servername>" | fl

It then proceeded to list several key pieces of information. The based on the research I did, I changed the following settings:

Set-ReceiveConnector -Identity "Default <Servername>" -ConnectionTimeout 00:10:00

Set-ReceiveConnector -Identity "Default <Servername>" -ConnectionInactivityTimeout 00:10:00

Set-ReceiveConnector -Identity "Default <Servername>" -Banner "220 SMTP OK"

These ccould actually be combined to the following:

Set-ReceiveConnector -Identity "Default <Servername>" -ConnectionTimeout 00:10:00 -ConnectionInactivityTimeout 00:10:00 -Banner "220 SMTP OK"

So I applied these settings and went back to my Barracuda and checked the queue....and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And nothing happened. The mail sailed right through just like it should. Problem solved.

Hopefully someone else will find this information useful and won't have to jump through all the hoops I did.