Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quick Gotcha - Outlook Anywhere with Exchange 2007/Server 2008

We've had a curly problem here with our new exchange server and Outlook Anywhere. It was configured correctly on the server, tested fine, and was present in the Autodiscover, but it wouldn't work. OWA, Activesync, MAPI all worked fine, certs were good, everything was working and testing fine, except for Outlook Anywhere.

Everything was pointing towards a client problem, but it couldn't be a client problem.

The reason for this is how the "new" exchange server came about. In December we suffered a big outage, resulting in our Exchange server crashing out completely, and repeatedly. We would rebuild it, it would test fine, a day later it would randomly reboot, and fail to come back up. Eventually, suspecting a deeper problem with our ESX infrastructure/SAN backend, we built an Exchange server on brand new (borrowed) physical hardware, and the problems went away.

Previously we were Exchange 2007 on Server 2003R2. Now, on the interim hardware, we were Exchange 2007 on Server 2008 SP2. Outlook Anywhere worked fine before, and worked fine now on the new hardware. However, the person who had graciously lent us the server was now getting slightly annoyed that, almost 3 months later, we were still using his server. Whoops. So we planned a migration back onto our own (now fixed) ESX infrastructure. Which all went off without a hitch. As you could imagine, following on from our fun in December we were all very proficient in Exchange 2007 recovery and migration.

So over the weekend we backed up the old Exchange server and took it off the network. We built the new Exchange server with the same name as the old box, and installed Exchange using the /RecoveryMode switch to tell it to pick up the configuration from AD. Then it was simply a matter of restoring the databases to the new server, and doing all the misc little jobs like re-keying and installed the SSL certs, and setting up everything else.

This took longer than we had expected, but worked well. OWA was up and working, ActiveSync was up and working, and client mailboxes were talking to the new server without needing to re-sync their entire Cached Mode OST file (the main benefit of doing the migration as we had done, opposed to a Move Mailbox that won't move the "cached?" bit, and thus triggers a re-sync of the entire user's mailbox - potentially a 4Gb mailbox over a wireless/3G VPN link - not nice!).

However, one niggling little problem remained. A number of Outlook 2007 users who previously were able to connect via Outlook Anywhere (RPC over HTTP) were now unable to do so - it was MAPI or nothing. The configuration on the server for Outlook Anywhere was correct. Even still, we disabled it and re-enabled it half a dozen times, both via the EMC as well the powershell. Still no good. Into IIS manager to ensure that the RPC vdir was created, and had the right Auth settings (at one point I suspected it was the NTLM auth not working). Certs were obviously OK - OWA and AS were working perfectly and reporting the right cert. AutoDiscover was working perfectly, presenting the correct HTTP details and MSSTD server name for mutual auth. But OA refused to work.

From the look of it, the client was being presented with all the right OA info, but was just refusing to make the call over HTTPS. But I knew this couldn't be correct, since my machine had previously worked perfectly, and nothing had changed on it - the only thing that had changed was the server. Something must not be right.

I was desperate at this point, and had even installed dotNET 1.1 in a vain attempt to get it working. (SIDE NOTE: this is not as random as it seems. A week earlier I was trying to rebuild a Forefront Client Security server which had also fallen victim to the same trouble we had experienced in December. It deserves a blog post on it's own, due to the dearth of information available on the internet regarding FFCS in general. On all the MS doco, they specify DotNet and ASP.NET as a requirement for the FFCS server console. Most everyone assumes that since Server 2008 comes with dotNET 3.5, that you're good to go. NO! You need to install dotNET 1.1 as a prereq! Otherwise the setup program gives you very weird, cryptic error messages - ie, not just "you need to install dotnet 1.1", which would be the sensible thing to do. So despite appearances, I'm not completely insane. yet.)

Hundreds of google-hours later, and all I had established was that I was pretty much alone with my situation. Everyone else that was having trouble with OA seemed to be doing the obvious things wrong - firewall ports blocked, self-signed certs, AutoDiscover not working correctly, etc. No one had a situation where OWA, AS and AutoDiscover were working, but OA not.

By sheer chance I stumbled onto this article: Exchange Genie - Configuring Outlook Anywhere for Exchange 2007 SP1

yup - yup - yup - same stuff. How to configure it via the console. How to configure it via the PowerShell if you really hate yourself. yup - yup - yup. Then, on about the 5th page down, the "Eureka!" moment. It was talking about reghacking a specific RPC-Proxy key to ensure that the RPC Proxy would forward requests onto specific servers - in this case, our CAS and mailbox servers.


I remember having to do this previously! Only the once though - other times it has just worked. But I remember once having to work with this reg key!

Some furious googling later bought up an article from the Exchange Team Blog here : You Had Me At EHLO -How Does Outlook Anywhere work (and not work)?

I remembered this article from the last time it had happened to us. It's a great article, and I thoroughly encourage anyone troubleshooting Outlook Anywhere to read through it and ensure you understand it. I have a hard time searching for articles on the Exchange Team Blog, but when you find them, they're solid gold.

I quickly added in the right servers and ports to that regkey. For us, it was the internal FQDN (ie, the mailserver.local name) as well as the netbios name (ie, just the server name: mailserver), for both the ports required. IISReset, and restarted the Outlook 2007 client on my laptop. Voila - connectivity via HTTPS! And this was still whilst connected to the VPN, showing that Outlook was correctly interpreting the "On fast networks connect via HTTPS first" setting as well. Excellent!

Here's the snippet from the Exchange Genie site, in case it changes:

Once we have Enabled Outlook Anywhere we can validate the registry key has configured correct ports for communication to our mailbox servers. Note only the name listed in the key can be used by clients to connect and you will notice there is no IP address listed so testing via IP will fail through the rpc proxy.

1. Click start Run
2. Regedit – this will open the registry editor
3. HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Rpc\RpcProxy
4. Notice the Dword called Enabled set to 1
5. There is a String value called “ValidPorts”

**Note if the port are not listed it could take up to 15 minutes to update or you can restart the Microsoft Exchange Service Host **
we can see that the rpc proxy connects to our mailbox server on the following port 6001-6002 and 6004. Each port is defined below

Microsoft Exchange Information Store service: 6001
referral service of DSProxy: 6002
proxy service of DSProxy: 6004
Active Directory (if the global catalog server and Exchange Server are on the same server): 6004

I would highly recommend reading the Exchange Team Blog as well though, as it goes into much greater detail about these settings, and why they're required. There's also a couple of caveats around manually changing this reg key that the Exchange Team Blog explores a bit deeper.

So - it's all magically working!

But why did it happen in the first place? Well, I have a theory. The Exchange Team Blog article describes how this reg key is maintained by RPCHTTPConfigurator servicelet that runs as part of the Exchange Service Host service. It's responsible for putting the right values for your exchange server into this key. When you add a new CAS or mailbox server, the servicelet will update this key on the RPCHTTP Proxy server to ensure that clients with mailboxes on the new server can talk through that RPC Proxy server to the new backend machines.

What I think happened here is that did not have the RPC over HTTP Proxy feature installed before we installed Exchange 2007. We had IIS installed, and all the other pre-reqs, but not the RPC over HTTP Proxy feature. So when we enabled OutlookAnywhere the first time, the servicelet couldn't add the correct values into that registry key, because it didn't exist.

(UPDATE - The servicelet didn't update the registry key because the Microsoft Exchange Service Host service wasn't running! It's startup type was set to Automatic, but it wasn't running. Because the RPCHTTPConfigurator servicelet runs inside of the Service Host process, therefore it wasn't running, and couldn't automatically update the reg key. After manually hacking it myself as described here I discovered this, and started the service. Immediately my entries were removed and replaced with the correct ones as stated in the articles, and it was all good.

So - first step - check to see if your Microsoft Exchange Service Host service is running, and if not, start it up!!!)

The first thing I did when troubleshooting the problem was to look for the RPC over HTTP Proxy feature, and install it when I found it missing. It then installed itself with it's default reg key, which obviously didn't include the specific Exchange settings required. I can only guess that previous disabling/re-enabling of the Outlook Anywhere feature didn't trigger the servicelet to re-apply the settings to the regkey, because as far as it was concerned, it had already done it. Thus, we ended up with an Exchange server that tested fine, and thought everything was OK, and an RPC over HTTP Proxy that itself was running perfectly fine, but the overall configuration wasn't correct.

That's just a guess, but I reckon it's pretty close to the money. I know previously when I rebuilt the server onto the borrowed hardware, I had ensured that the RPC over HTTP Proxy feature had been installed prior to the Exchange installation. This time, someone else was responsible for the actually Exchange installation, and had missed that step. Understandable, because it's not listed as a required pre-req by the Exchange setup program (especially when doing a /RecoveryMode install). I went wrong when I assumed that it would make no difference having installed the feature after the Exchange install had happened.

Once we'd manually fixed up that inconsistency, and entered back in the details that the servicelet *should* have entered, everything magically worked! Hooray! The moral of the story is - if you're having issues with Outlook Anywhere but your OWA, ActiveSync and AutoDiscover are working perfectly, then check your RPC over HTTP Proxy reg key settings, and ensure you've enabled access to your mail servers!

Good luck!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quick Gotcha - Upgrading to Exchange Server 2007 with connected WinMo Activesync phones

OK - here's one that was very weird. I ran it past the DonK at TechEd, and he couldn't come up with an idea off the top of his head - had never seen it before.

We have an Exchange 2003 server. We've upgrading to an Exchange 2007 server - new server build and migrate the mailboxes across.

We have a number of WinMo smartphones - HTC Touch Diamonds and Palm Treo Pros. These are all connected to user mailboxes on the 2003 server.

I migrated my mailbox to the 2007 server, and edited the connection details on the smartphone to point it at the new external FQDN. Everything worked fine - mail would sync - happy campers. Because Exchange 2007 supports HTML mail, I flicked the switch across to HTML on the mobile client. This is where things started to go wrong.

Certain external emails (not all, but the certain senders/formats would do it every time) would sync to the Smartphone, with a blank body and a "click here to download the rest of this message" notification. Both server and smartphone had the sync size limits turned off, and anyway, the emails were quite often only 2k in size (forum update notifications for instance, with no attachments or embedded images). No amount of mucking around with either client or server settings would fix it. Set it back to plain text, and the entire messages would sync perfectly.

In desperation I broke the partnership between the device and the server, both on the device (removed the sync settings) as well as on the 2007 server (removed the device from my mailbox). Re-initiated the partnership from the device - same settings as before.

Now, it works perfectly.

So not quite the seamless upgrade that I was expecting, but we have a resolution. Unfortunately it means we need to schedule time with all our smartphone users once their mailboxes have been migrated. On the upside, their devices will still work fine in Plain Text mode following the upgrade, so we can schedule this at our leisure, and dangle the carrot of enabling pretty html mail for the users to encourage them to come see us.

Monday, September 14, 2009

TechEd 09 - All over for another year!

We came, we saw, we geeked. TechEd 09, on the Gold Coast, has been run and won.

It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it. After our accommodation people stuffed up and double-booked us, they upgraded us to their sister hotel. It was a little further away, but a lot flasher. That's a shot from our room on the 27th floor.

We still were pretty close to the convention centre - only a 5 mins walk. You could easily see it from our balcony - it's the white-roofed building (centre-left) next to the Casino in this photo:

As far as the conference itself went, well, there's not much to say that hasn't already been said. I found it tremendously useful.The thing I like most about TechEd is the ability most times to hang around after a session finishes, and talk to the (very knowledgable) presenters and get some real one-on-one advice and questions. There were three areas in particular - Hyper-V, DirectAccess and TMG - where I was able to have a quick chat to the respective presenters, lay out an idea of our organisation, and get recommendations and ideas directly from them, which are specific to our environment. In a lot of cases, the presenters are either people who've worked on building the technology, or have a lot of experience in installing and configuring it in customer sites. In other words, they're the people who know it inside out. And the ability to tap directly into that knowledge for answers to our specific issues is a great opportunity.

SO - what were the main take-home points for me?
  • Hyper-V Server. We're an ESX shop, and very happily so. However, ESX is very expensive. Hyper-V now offers the features that we care about, and does so for free. Sure, it can't do everything that ESX does. And ESX is better if you've got different VM guests (IE, linux, solaris, etc). But for us, a Microsoft shop with relatively low requirements, it looks like it can save us a considerable amount of money straight away, as well as continuing into the future. I want to seriously investigate what it would take for us to migrate from our current platform to Hyper-V as a priority.
  • DirectAccess. I truly believe that this is going to change the way people think about remote access and corporate connectivity. I think it's going to challenge a lot of current mindsets, especially about corporate-vs-private, and the concept of "Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.". Sounds a bit philisophical? Maybe, but currently you might have a laptop. It's provided for you buy your employer. Therefore, it's a work laptop. You don't use it at home - it's for work. If you need to work from home, you connect it to your internet and fire up a VPN. Then you're working. With DirectAccess, whenever the laptop is turned on and can get an internet connection, you're connected to your corporate environment. So there's no longer that hard divide between work and personal. It becomes just a laptop - something you can use to access all your corp data whenever you want, from wherever. But it's also something that you can use for your own ends if you want. The concept of "connecting to the vpn, thus I'm in work mode" no longer implies. And I think those conceptual benefits far outweigh the technological benefits, actually.
  • TMG / ISA. We were planning on installing an ISA firewall into our organisation soon, and then upgrading to a TMG server later in the peace. However, after seeing TMG beta3 working at TechEd, we've decided to go straight onto TMG instead of touching ISA at all. This means that we'll be running on beta software for a little while, but the presenter and everyone I spoke to about it certainly had no qualms about that. Indeed, Microsoft themselves have been using the beta code in their production environment now for some time, and have nothign bad to say. So that's an example of one area where we've changed our plans based on being able to talk directly to the people involved in the development of the software. And it's going to result in us being able to deliver a better service to the business, quicker, and more cost-effectively.
  • Windows 7 / Server 2008 R2. Having been using Win7 RTM on my main computer for a couple of months now, I was already pretty sold on the benefits it can bring to the organisation. What surprised me was how much extra capability you unlock by having Server 2008 R2 at the back end. Technologies like BrancheCache have the ability to both reduce WAN utilisation, as well as increase performance for users in branch offices at the same time. It's easy to configure, seamless to the users, and it just works. And it's "free", all as part of Server 2008 R2. We'll be looking to upgrade our laptop fleet to Win7 as a priority, to take advantage of abilities such as BitLocker/BitLockerToGo and other security enhancements. Following that, our plan is to roll Win7 to all our desktops office-by-office, and perform rolling upgrades of our remote servers at the same time.
The remainder of the time was taken up by Sharepoint sessions (we're currently implementing Sharepoint, and they were valuable for gaining insight into the architecture of the platform, as well as how easily it can be enhanced through software like InfoPath to provide electronic form routing and workflow, and PerformancePoint to give integrated BI reporting), ForeFront Client Security, Windows Mobile, Office 2007/2010, Exchange and a large variety of others! Often Jeremy and I would find ourselves attending different sessions, and meeting up for lunch and afternoon tea to discuss what we'd just been going through.

All in all, another very successful 3 days. We've come away with a better understanding of the Microsoft roadmap and their overall vision on how their seperate systems all work together. We've come away with ideas on how to increase our assistance to the business, and how to allow our staff to be as productive as they can be by giving them the tools that they need to do their jobs. And we've come away with a solid set of ideas that will see us through the next 12 months, and probably beyond.

When you look at what we took away from last year's TechEd, and how we have either implemented already, or are most of the way through implementing the platforms that we identified as important to us, it's easy to see how much of an impact this event has on the firm. I look forward to looking back on this year's event in 12 month's time, and seeing where we are then!