Is Windows Server 2016 the last version of Windows Server?

Having been on vacation the last week, I get a lot of time to think among all the kids and theme parks we visit… It truly makes we belive that we guys are capable of multi tasking… Well enough of that. back to the point!

Thinking back about the development that has been done on Microsoft Azure the last couple of years is truly astonishing, going from a  PaaS solution to integrating IaaS features and now having a large Container ecosystem, load balancing, firewalls, a large third party ecosystem, identity management and much more… Just over a couple of years . While on the other hand we have Windows Server, which has a predetermined release cycle, with updates coming with each release, where it seems to be like there is less development done then being on the Azure side of things.

Now in Windows Server 2016, we see that much of the new stuff which is coming is Nework virtualized functions, Enhancements to Storage (Software-defined), enhancements to Hyper-V, DDA, Identity and so on.. Alot of these features are also the same as their counter-parts in Azure. For instance DDA is a new feature which came because of the need of N-series in Azure (or the other way around) but more features are added to remove the dependency on hardware.

Now many conclude with the same fact that most larger organizations will have some form of hybrid IT now or in the future. Because many services are cost-effective and of course the addition that new services are constantly being added that can make buisnesses more agile and effective. While on the same time having their on-premises solutions where they have controll of data and the custom solutions that needs to run locally.

When looking back at the development being done in Windows Server with 2016 it seems like the feature set is mostly ported from Azure. Also with the release coming from Microsoft around Azure Stack it seems to me like they want to have Windows Server look and feel more like Azure as well. Having that consistent platform vision that Microsoft has been speaking so much about over the last couple of years. The only problem with that vision is the feature gap between Windows Server + Azure Stack and Microsoft Azure by alot! and that is not going to change with the development cycle that is being made to Windows Server.

Should Microsoft move away from Windows Server and make their server operatingsystem a portable Azure hypervisor core where their additional services are just addons that can be added on the top?

When Microsoft released Windows 10 they envisioned a common code platform across different devices (Mobile and Desktop) What if Microsoft did the same with Windows Server?

Having the same code base between the infrastructure running on Azure and the same as on-premises, and when the Azure team releases an addon, being able to use it cross cloud from Microsoft and implementing in locally. That would be pure Hybrid Cloud…

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Well this was just some random thoughts, it is not  something that is easily done because of the way Microsoft is structured and how they have done development so far. They state that Azure runs on Hyper-V but its a long way to go to having that consistent platform vision that they want to have.

Webinar on the future of NetScaler!

So as part of the admin group of the Networking SIG (Special Interest Group) on MYCUGC I try to get stuff out to the members, now is has only been a couple of months since we launched the group, but with the amount of updates happening in the NetScaler space the last couple of months and what is about to happen, we decided to arrange a webinar.

So we have an webinar (our first!) on the 13th July! Hopefully we can see alot of people there!

The agenda for the webinar is

  • Quick introduction to the SIG from the SIG leaders.
  • Recap of Networking news from Synergy
  • What’s coming in NetScaler 11.1
  • Deep-dive on Netscaler Management and Analytics
  • Overview of Microservices, containers and NetScaler CPX

So there is alot of stuff we need to cover in one hour, but since this is our first attempt we are allowed to adjust-as-we-go Smilefjes

If it sounds interesting for you, sign up here –> http://bit.ly/2993ifP
If not, let us know if there are any particular subjects or features you would like to be discussed, also if you don’t have time to look at the webinar it will be recorded and uploaded somewhere.

CUGC User Share: This webinar will focus on the latest Citrix NetScaler 11.1 release, CPX, Management and Analytics and the latest NetScaler announcements from Citrix Synergy.

Who: CTP Jason Samuel, Dave Brett, and Marius Sandbu; all CUGC Members and Networking SIG Leaders, as well as active bloggers and «NetScaler Enthusiasts»

What: With Citrix Synergy out of the way and the release of NetScaler 11.1, CPX and NetScaler Management and Analytics System we will give you a high level look at what NetScaler CPX is and what it can mean for you, how NetScaler Management and Analytics System will change your management and visibility plus get all the latest NetScaler announcements from Citrix Synergy!  This will be a jam packed hour with Overviews, technical information and demos of the latest NetScaler release. Presentation will include participant Q&A.

What’s coming from Nutanix? Announcements from .Next

So even though I am on vacation, I needed to take a glimpse of what’s happening on Nutanix the upcoming months. Like other companies they save the good stuff for that time each year that they have their big conferences, and even if this is the second year they are hosting .Next they have about 2500 attendees, which is pretty good. So anyhow… back to the technical stuff of what’s new! sorry about the messy layout but Its gathering info from twitter and other sources.

Nutanix Community Edition test-drive

If you want to test out Nutanix but don’t have the lab or enviroment. you now have the option to do a 2 hour test-drive on a Nutanix public cloud. (This is coming soon!)

ABS ( Acropolis Block Storage) which allows us to present block storage using iSCSI to bare metal solutions, for instance like Oracle or SQL Server. (I’m guessing this is a minor extension of Volume Groups which also use iSCSI to present itself to virtual machines.)

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Acropolis Container Service
Since everyone else is moving into Microservices and containers, Nutanix wants part of it. therefore they are coming with Docker support for containers on AHV.

Included in the 4.7 release will be the following:

  • DSF and Docker Machine that uses the native Docker API and tooling
  • Easy Install and Support: The DSF Docker Volume Plug-in and the Docker Machine Driver work right out of the box and are fully supported by Nutanix.

ACS is scheduled to be available with the 4.7 release, and natively managing containers using Nutanix Prism is expected to be available in a subsequent release. You can look at a demo for the container service here –> https://t.co/uV05KdL5ko

Nutanix Self-service Portal

Quote Nutanix

One of the core capabilities that developers and business users love in the public cloud is the ability to provision applications and virtual machines without the intervention of IT. Nutanix Self-Service is designed to bring this simplicity to enterprise clouds, so that users can deploy applications at any point in time based on policies set by IT administrators.

Admins can create a catalog of projects and assign users (through AD/LDAP integration) and resources (storage, compute, and network) to these projects. Line-of-business users/developers can then login with their credentials, and based on what they have access to, will see these projects and resources. This will radically simplify application development and delivery, as well as bring a lot of automation to the process. The screenshot below from the user view of the portal shows the VM images that the admin has given access to for a specific user. The user can pick one of these images and can deploy it anytime.

Admin Portal capabilities

  • SelfCreate/Manage Projects
  • Create/Add users and groups
  • Assign Resources
  • Assign Actions
  • Run Show-back reports

Tenant Portal capabilities

  • Deploy Applications from a Catalog (VM Template, vDisk, Images from Docker Hub, App Templates)
  • Monitor Applications
  • Monitor Resource Usage

VMware ESXi Management from Nutanix Prism: The one-click simplicity of Prism will be extended to ESXi as well, and customers will be able to perform common VM operations on ESXi VMs from Nutanix Prism. While this doesn’t obviate the need for vCenter, it eliminates the need to go back and forth for frequent VM CRUD operations. This capability is expected to be available in a subsequent release.

PRISM integration Network configuration for AHV (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/15/whats-next-2016-prism-integrated-network-configuration-for-ahv/)

Acropolis X-fit (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/15/whats-next-2016-acropolis-x-fit/)

Enhanced Compression (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/15/whats-next-2016-acropolis-x-fit/)

Metro availability Witness (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/15/whats-next-2016-metro-availability-witness/)

Self-service restore (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/18/whats-next-2016-self-service-restore/)

Any node can be a storage node (http://www.joshodgers.com/2016/06/15/whats-next-2016-any-node-can-be-storage-only/)

Also took note that for those attending .Next in Europe there is a HUGE ANNOUCEMENT coming there as well! Might be this little teaser from earlier on the Keynote.

New eBook in the making – Securing web applications with Citrix NetScaler

As Ive mentioned before I always have a longer project in the making which was to create a large free eBook on NetScaler, and to make that more achiveable I needed to split it out into multiple projects. So far I’ve created an ebook on Optimization and one book on NetScaler Gateway. This time I wanted to focus on Security, since that is always something that I’ve had a particular interest in. Below is the topics that I’ve had in mind for this eBook. First discuss the security landscape and what kind of different solutions we have and where the fit into the datacenter. Next go into the NetScaler how it can help and the move into different subjects and things to think about.

The security landscape.
How NetScaler can help web applications.
NetScaler basics.
Feature Processing.
NetScaler and traffic flow..
TCP Profiles.
Hardening the NetScaler.
Load balancing basics.
SSL Basics.
SSL Policies in NetScaler.
Troubleshooting SSL configuration.
Working with Certificates.
SNI, SAN & Wildcard certificates.
Limiting reconnaissance information.
Handling L7 attacks.
HTTP DoS.
HTTP QoS with AppQoE.
Handling L4 attacks.
Rate limiting.
Access lists.
Combining ACLs with IP reputation.
Geo based ACLs.
Authentication.
Two-factor.
Enhanced authentication feedback.
Authentication levels.
SSO..
SAML & Oauth Authentication.
nFactor.
Authorization.
Auditing.
Application Firewall
NetScaler Security Insight
.

If you think I’ve missing something obvious from this eBook let me know!

Microsoft Intune vs VMware Airwatch–EMM strategy

Yeah, the subject might be a pretty good indication of what’s coming in this article but no…I have had endless debates of this subject the last couple of years (Yeah years! and you can “insert vendor name” here where most state that they are the best. This article is not to conclude if one is better then the other, but more of things you need to think about when you want to adopt an EMM vendor.
A couple of days ago Gartner posted the EMM Magic Quadrant for 2016

Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Since 2015 not much has changed especially for Microsoft and VMware. VMware is still the leader in the quadrant, while Microsoft is a bit higher up the chain and moving closer to the leader quadrant. So even though Gartner has it reports which does say alot about Strategy, Execution, Vision and its feature set, how is the market share like ?

IDC also now states the VMware has the biggest marketeshare among the vendors, which also confirms Gartners report that VMware is the market leader in this space. Also VMware has had a growth of <80% the last year.
NOTE: This numbers are from the IDC report and shows stats from 2015 EMM

image

Now while that is impressive, I am more impressed with the numbers that Microsoft has, even though they are not even among the top 3, they are the only one with <100% growth, they actually have 214% growth (from the last year) which is impressive!

While Microsoft might not have the same capabilities AS VMware, they have a couple of advantages which might allow them to grow quickly in this market….And the easiest way to tell you about those is to show them to you.

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Now if we think about it, the largest advantage here is Office365. Many users are already using Office365 and have their Active Directory synced to Azure AD. Microsoft has Office365 apps with custom MAM policies which can of now only be managed from Intune, and also earlier today I saw that CRM online Apps also came with Intune MAM policies. Which allows for a certain vendor lock-in. Now many are also using Configuration Manager today and to get the MDM and EMM capabilities there in most cases you need to integrate with Intune, and some interesting things to know there is that there are alot of LARGE ConfigMgr deployments. Another thing to think about is that Windows 10 comes with Azure AD Join, which allows buisnesses to join their computer to AzureAD and that also supports auto-enrollment to Intune.

It also makes sense for Microsoft to create a good ecosystem for applications for other platforms, because then they can start to include “Intune” as part of the package for MAM policies.

Alot of buisnesses are also looking into EMS (Enterprise Mobility Suite, which gives them Azure AD Premium, RMS, MFA and Intune) Microsoft is heavily invested into the identity piece, to give SSO to other cloud based services, and since Intune is part of the package it makes sense to use it.

And also in another interesting twist, Microsoft announced multiple integrations coming with Citrix under Synergy this year, which allows NetScaler to integrate with the Intune SDK to allow VPN direct access on applications. Which will also give Intune another advantage in the game. So since then investing heavily with Citrix integration it will allow buisnesses which invest heavily into VDI to make Microsoft the more viable option.

Moving forward we will notice that Microsoft will add more features to the “Microsoft-only” space meaning that more and more stuff will only work in a Microsoft cloud cenviroment and that third-parties will be left out.

So while VMware has a better solution, and a larger feature matrix, I’m guessing Microsoft is going to give them a hard competition in the time moving forward.

Office365 and RDS done right with Citrix and FSLogix

UPDATE: 09/06/2016 Added FSLogix Office365 Profile Container

So this is a blogpost based upon a session I had at NIC conference, where I spoke about how to optimize the delivery of Office365 in a VDI/RSDH enviroment.

There are multiple stuff we need to think / worry about. Might seem a bit negative, but that is not the idea just being realistic Smilefjes

So this blogpost will cover the following subjects

  • Federation and sync
  • Installing and managing updates
  • Optimizing Office ProPlus for VDI/RDS
  • Office ProPlus optimal delivery
  • Shared Computer Support
  • Skype for Buisness
  • Outlook
  • OneDrive
  • Troubleshooting and general tips for tuning
  • Remote display protocols and when to use when.
  • FSLogix Profile Container

So what is the main issue with using Terminal Servers and Office365? The Distance….

This is the headline for a blogpost on Citrix blogs about XenApp best pratices

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So how to fix this when we have our clients on one side, the infrastructure in another and the Office365 in a different region ? Seperated with long miles and still try to deliver the best experience for the end-user, so In some case we need to compromise to be able to deliver the best user experience. Because that should be our end goal Deliver the best user experience

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User Access

First of is, do we need to have federation or just plain password sync in place? Using password sync is easy and simple to setup and does not require any extra infrastructure. We can also configure it to use Password hash sync which will allow Azure AD to do the authentication process. Problem with doing this is that we lose a lot of stuff which we might use on an on-premises solution

  • Audit policies
  • Existing MFA (If we use Azure AD as authentication point we need to use Azure MFA)
  • Delegated Access via Intune
  • Lockdown and password changes (Since we need change to be synced to Azure AD before the user changes will be taken into effect)

NOTE: Now since I am above average interested in Netscaler I wanted to include another sentence here, for those that don’t know is that Netscaler with AAA can in essence replace ADFS since Netscaler now supports SAML iDP. Some important issues to note is that Netscaler does not support • Single Logout profile; • Identity Provider Discovery profile from the SAML profiles. We can also use Netscaler Unified Gateway with SSO to Office365 with SAML. The setup guide can be found here

https://msandbu.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/netscaler-and-office365-saml-idp-setup/

NOTE: We can also use Vmware Identity manager as an replacement to deliver SSO.

Using ADFS gives alot of advantages that password hash does not.

  • True SSO (While password hash gives Same Sign-on)
  • If we have Audit policies in place
  • Disabled users get locked out immidietly instead of 3 hours wait time until the Azure AD connect syng engine starts replicating, and 5 minutes for password changes.
  • If we have on-premises two-factor authentication we can most likely integrate it with ADFS but not if we have only password hash sync
  • Other security policies, like time of the day restrictions and so on.
  • Some licensing stuff requires federation

So to sum it up, please use federation

Initial Office configuration setup

Secondly, using the Office suite from Office365 uses something called Click-to-run, which is kinda an app-v wrapped Office package from Microsoft, which allows for easy updates from Microsoft directly instead of dabbling with the MSI installer.

In order to customize this installer we need to use the Office deployment toolkit which basically allows us to customize the deployment using an XML file.

The deployment tool has three switches that we can use.

setup.exe /download configuration.xml

setup.exe /configure configuration.xml

setup.exe /packager configuration.xml

NOTE: Using the /packager creates an App-V package of Office365 Click-To-run and requires a clean VM like we do when doing sequencing on App-V, which can then be distributed using existing App-V infrastructure or using other tools. But remember to enable scripting on the App-V client and do not alter the package using sequencing tool it is not supported.

The download part downloads Office based upon the configuration file here we can specify bit editions, versions number, office applications to be included and update path and so on. The Configuration XML file looks like this.

<Configuration>

<Add OfficeClientEdition=»64″ Branch=»Current»>

<Product ID=»O365ProPlusRetail»>

<Language ID=»en-us»/>

</Product>

</Add>

<Updates Enabled=»TRUE» Branch=»Business» UpdatePath=»\\server1\office365″ TargetVersion=»16.0.6366.2036″/>

<Display Level=»None» AcceptEULA=»TRUE»/>

</Configuration>

Now if you are like me and don’t remember all the different XML parameters you can use this site to customize your own XML file –> http://officedev.github.io/Office-IT-Pro-Deployment-Scripts/XmlEditor.html

When you are done configuring the XML file you can choose the export button to have the XML file downloaded.

If we have specified a specific Office version as part of the configuration.xml it will be downloaded to a seperate folder and storaged locally when we run the command setup.exe /download configuration.xml

NOTE: The different build numbers are available here –> http://support2.microsoft.com/gp/office-2013-365-update?

When we are done with the download of the click-to-run installer. We can change the configuration file to reflect the path of the office download

<Configuration> <Add SourcePath=»\\share\office» OfficeClientEdition=»32″ Branch=»Business»>

When we do the setup.exe /configure configuration.xml path

Deployment of Office

The main deployment is done using the setup.exe /configure configuration.xml file on the RSDH host. After the installation is complete

Shared Computer Support

<Display Level="None" AcceptEULA="True" /> 
<Property Name="SharedComputerLicensing" Value="1" />

In the configuration file we need to remember to enable SharedComputerSupport licensing or else we get this error message.

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If you forgot you can also enable is using this registry key (just store it as an .reg file)

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\15.0\ClickToRun\Configuration]
«InstallationPath»=»C:\\Program Files\\Microsoft Office 15»
«SharedComputerLicensing»=»1

Now we are actually done with the golden image setup, don’t start the application yet if you want to use it for an image. Also make sure that there are no licenses installed on the host, which can be done using this tool.

cd ‘C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office15’
cscript.exe .\OSPP.VBS /dstatus

image_thumb31

This should be blank!

Another issue with this is that when a user starts an office app for the first time he/she needs to authenticate once, then a token will be stored locally on the %localappdata%\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Licensing folder, and will expire within a couple of days if the user is not active on the terminalserver. Think about it, if we have a large farm with many servers that might be the case and if a user is redirected to another server he/she will need to authenticate again. If the user is going against one server, the token will automatically refresh.
NOTE: This requires Internet access to work.

And important to remember that the Shared Computer support token is bound to the machine, so we cannot roam that token around computers or using any profile management tool.

But a nice thing is that if we have ADFS setup, we can setup Office365 to automatically activate against Office365, this is enabled by default. So no pesky logon screens.

Just need to add the ADFS domain site to trusted sites on Internet Explorer and define this settings as well

Automatic logon only in Intranet Zone

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Which allows us to basically resolve the token issue with Shared Computer Support Smilefjes

Optimizing Skype for Buisness

So in regards to Skype for Buisness what options do we have in order to deliver a good user experience for it ? We have four options that I want to explore upon.

  • VDI plugin
  • Native RDP with UDP
  • Natnix PCoIP
  • Native ICA (w or without audio over UDP)
  • Local app access
  • HDX Optimization Pack 2.0

Now the issue with the first one (which is a Microsoft plugin is that it does not support Office365, it requires on-premises Lync/Skype) another issue that you cannot use VDI plugin and optimization pack at the same time, so if users are using VDI plugin and you want to switch to optimization pack you need to remove the VDI plugin

ICA uses TCP protcol works with most endpoints, since its basically running everyone directly on the server/vdi so the issue here is that we get no server offloading. So if we have 100 users running a video conference we might have a issue Smilefjes If the two other options are not available try to setup HDX realtime using audio over UDP for better audio performance. Both RDP and PCoIP use UDP for Audio/Video and therefore do not require any other specific customization.

But the problems with all these are that they make a tromboning effect and consumes more bandwidth and eats up the resources on the session host

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Local App from Citrix access might be a viable option, which in essence means that a local application will be dragged into the receiver session, but this requires that the enduser has Lync/Skype installed. This also requires platinum licenses so not everyone has that + at it only supports Windows endpoints…

The last and most important piece is the HDX optimization pack which allows the use of server offloading using HDX media engine on the end user device

And the optimization pack supports Office365 with federated user and cloud only users. It also supports the latest clients (Skype for buisness) and can work in conjunction with Netscaler Gateway and Lync edge server for on-premises deployments. So means that we can get Mac/Linux/Windows users using server offloading, and with the latest release it also supports Office click-to-run and works with the native Skype UI

So using this feature we can offload the RSDH/VDI instances from CPU/Memory and eventually GPU directly back to the client. And Audio/video traffic is going to the endpoint directly and not to the remote session

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Here is a simple test showing the difference between running Skype for buisness on a terminal server with and without HDX Optimization Pack 2.0

Permalink til innebygd bilde

Here is a complete blogpost on setting up HDX Optimization Pack 2.0 https://msandbu.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/citrix-hdx-optimization-pack-2-0/

Now for more of the this part, we also have Outlook. Which for many is quite the headache…. and that is most because of the OST files that is dropped in the %localappdata% folder for each user. Office ProPlus has a setting called fast access which means that Outlook will in most cases try to contact Office365 directly, but if the latency is becoming to high, the connection will drop and it will go and search trough the OST files.

Optimizing Outlook

Now this is the big elefant in the room and causes the most headaches. Since Outlook against Office365 can be setup in two modes either using Cached mode and the other using Online mode. Online modes uses direct access to Office365 but users loose features like instant search and such. In order to deliver a good user experience we need to compromise, the general guideline here is to configure cached mode with 3 months, and define to store the OST file (Which contains the emails, calender, etc) and is typically 60-80% than the email folder) on a network share. Since these OST files are by default created in the local appdata profile and using streaming profile management solutions aren’t typically a good fit for the OST file.

. Important to note that Microsoft supports having OST files on a network share, IF! there is adequate bandwidth and low latency… and only if there is one OST file and the users have Outlook 2010 SP1

NOTE: We can use other alternatives such as FSLogix, Unidesk to fix the Profile management in a better way.

Ill come back to the configuration part later in the Policy bits. And important to remember is to use Office Outlook over 2013 SP1 which gives MAPI over HTTP, instead of RCP over HTTP which does not consume that much bandwidth.

OneDrive

In regards to OneDrive try to exclude that from RSDH/VDI instances since the sync engine basically doesnt work very well and now that each user has 1 TB of storagee space, it will flood the storage quicker then anything else, if users are allowed to use it. Also there is no central management capabilities and network shares are not supported.

There are some changes in the upcoming unified client, in terms of deployment and management but still not a good solution.

You can remove it from the Office365 deployment by adding  this in the configuration file.

<ExcludeApp ID=»Groove» />

Optimization and group policy tuning

Now something that should be noted is that before installing Office365 click-to-run you should optimize the RSDH sessions hosts or the VDI instance. A blogpost which was published by Citrix noted a 20% in performance after some simple RSDH optimization was done.

Both Vmware and Citrix have free tools which allow to do RSDH/VDI Optimization which should be looked at before doing anything else.

Now the rest is mostly doing Group Policy tuning. Firstly we need to download the ADMX templates from Microsoft (either 2013 or 2016) then we need to add them to the central store.

We can then use Group Policy to manage the specific applications and how they behave. Another thing to think about is using Target Version group policy to manage which specific build we want to be on so we don’t have a new build each time Microsoft rolls-out a new version, because from experience I can tell that some new builds include new bugs –> https://msandbu.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/trouble-with-office365-shared-computer-support-on-february-and-december-builds/

image

Now the most important policies are stored in the computer configuration.

Computer Configuration –> Policies –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Office 2013 –> Updates

Here there are a few settings we should change to manage updates.

  • Enable Automatic Updates
  • Enable Automatic Upgrades
  • Hide Option to enable or disable updates
  • Update Path
  • Update Deadline
  • Target Version

These control how we do updates, we can specify enable automatic updates, without a update path and a target version, which will essentually make Office auto update to the latest version from Microsoft office. Or we can specify an update path (to a network share were we have downloaded a specific version) specify a target version) and do enable automatic updates and define a baseline) for a a specific OU for instance, this will trigger an update using a built-in task schedulerer which is added with Office, when the deadline is approaching Office has built in triggers to notify end users of the deployment. So using these policies we can have multiple deployment to specific users/computers. Some with the latest version and some using a specific version.

Next thing is for Remote Desktop Services only, if we are using pure RDS to make sure that we have an optimized setup.  NOTE: Do not touch if everything is working as intended.

Computer Policies –> Administrative Templates –> Windows Components –> Remote Desktop Services –> Remote Desktop Session Host –> Remote Session Enviroment

  • Limit maximum color depth (Set to16-bits) less data across the wire)
  • Configure compression for RemoteFX data (set to bandwidth optimized)
  • Configure RemoteFX Adaptive Graphics ( set to bandwidth optimized)

Next there are more Office specific policies to make sure that we disable all the stuff we don’t need.

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Office 2013 –> Miscellaneous

  • Do not use hardware graphics acceleration
  • Disable Office animations
  • Disable Office backgrounds
  • Disable the Office start screen
  • Supress the recommended settings dialog

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates  –>Microsoft Office 2013 –> Global Options –> Customizehide

  • Menu animations (disabled!)

Next is under

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Office 2013 –> First Run

  • Disable First Run Movie
  • Disable Office First Run Movie on application boot

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Office 2013 –> Subscription Activation

  • Automatically activate Office with federated organization credentials

Last but not least, define Cached mode for Outlook

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Outlook 2013 –> Account Settings –> Exchange –> Cached Exchange Modes

  • Cached Exchange Mode (File | Cached Exchange Mode)
  • Cached Exchange Mode Sync Settings (3 months)

Then specify the location of the OST files, which of course is somewhere else

User Configuration –> Administrative Templates –> Microsoft Outlook 2013 –> Miscellanous –> PST Settings

  • Default Location for OST files (Change this to a network share

Network and bandwidth tips

Something that you need to be aware of this the bandwidth usage of Office in a terminal server enviroment.

Average latency to Office is 50 – 70 MS

• 2000 «Heavy» users using Online mode in Outlook
About 20 mbps at peak

• 2000 «Heavy» users using Cached mode in Outlook
About 10 mbps at peak

• 2000 «Heavy» users using audio calls in Lync About 110 mbps at peak

• 2000 «Heavy» users working Office using RDP About 180 mbps at peak

Which means using for instance HDX optimization pack for 2000 users might “remove” 110 mbps of bandwidth usage.

Microsoft also has an application called Office365 client analyzer, which can give us a baseline to see how our network is against Office365, such as DNS, Latency to Office365 and such. And DNS is quite important in Office365 because Microsoft uses proximity based load balancing and if your DNS server is located elsewhere then your clients you might be sent in the wrong direction. The client analyzer can give you that information.

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(We could however buy ExpressRoute from Microsoft which would give us low-latency connections directly to their datacenters, but this is only suiteable for LARGER enterprises, since it costs HIGH amounts of $$)

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But this is for the larger enterprises which allows them to overcome the basic limitations of TCP stack which allow for limited amount of external connection to about 4000 connections at the same time. (One external NAT can support about 4,000 connections, given that Outlook consumes about 4 concurrent connections and Lync some as well)

Because Microsoft recommands that in a online scenario that the clients does not have more then 110 MS latency to Office365, and in my case I have about 60 – 70 MS latency. If we combine that with some packet loss or adjusted MTU well you get the picture Smilefjes 

Using Outlook Online mode, we should have a MAX latency of 110 MS above that will decline the user experience. Another thing is that using online mode disables instant search. We can use the exchange traffic excel calculator from Microsoft to calculate the amount of bandwidth requirements.

Some rule of thumbs, do some calculations! Use the bandwidth calculators for Lync/Exchange which might point you in the right direction. We can also use WAN accelerators (w/caching) for instance which might also lighten the burden on the bandwidth usage. You also need to think about the bandwidth usage if you are allow automatic updates enabled in your enviroment.

Troubleshooting tips

As the last part of this LOOONG post I have some general tips on using Office in a virtual enviroment. This is just gonna be a long list of different tips

  • For Hyper-V deployments, check VMQ and latest NIC drivers
  • 32-bits Office C2R typically works better then 64-bits
  • Antivirus ? Make Exceptions!
  • Remove Office products that you don’t need from the configuration, since this add extra traffic when doing downloads and more stuff added to the virtual machines
  • If you don’t use lync and audio service (disable the audio service! )
  • If using RDSH (Check the Group policy settings I recommended above)
  • If using Citrix or VMware (Make sure to tune the polices for an optimal experience, and using the RSDH/VDI optimization tools from the different vendors)
  • If Outlook is sluggish, check that you have adequate storage I/O to the network share (NO HIGH BANDWIDTH IS NOT ENOUGH IF STORED ON A SIMPLE RAID WITH 10k disks)
  • If all else failes on Outlook (Disable MAPI over HTTP) In some cases when getting new mail takes a long time try to disable this, used to be a known error)

Remote display protocols

Last but not least I want to mention this briefly, if you are setting up a new solution and thinking about choosing one vendor over the other. The first of is

  • Endpoint requirements (Thin clients, Windows, Mac, Linux)
  • Requirements in terms of GPU, Mobile workers etc)

Now we have done some tests, which shown the Citrix has the best feature across the different sub protocols

  • ThinWire (Best across high latency lines, using TCP works over 1800 MS Latency)
  • Framehawk (Work good at 20% packet loss lines)

While PcoIP performs a bit better then RDP, I have another blogpost on the subject here –> https://msandbu.wordpress.com/2015/11/06/putting-thinwire-and-framehawk-to-the-test/

FSLogix Office365 Profile Container (ADDED 09/06/2016)

Now as I’ve mentioned earlier in this article there are alot of issues using Outlook and OST files in Office365 scenarioes. The few options we have are either using Cached Mode (Which makes sense) or regular Online mode if we have enough bandwidth and low latency but this means we lose instant search.

Now using cached mode we in most cases need to point this to a network share, this presents other challenges, why?

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This is because that Outlook needs to keep an open SMB connection to a particular share, and this is now supported by Microsoft but there are some limitations, which can be read about here –> https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/297019

Now Microsoft has a solution for RDS which is called User Profile Disks which allows us to store a user profile on a VHDX profile disk, which makes this alot simpler then doing group policy to redirect the OST file to a network share or doing local profiles for each user. The problem with this, is that UPD is restricted to RDS.

FSLogix is now offering a similar solution, which is not bound to RDS and does not have any particular lock-in all you need is Windows and a network share and some Group Policy.

(You can read more about their stuff here –> https://fslogix.com/products/profile-containers)

Using their approach, Outlook is not needing to have an open SMB connection directly to the file server and the OST file will appear to be local to the Outlook client, while a VHDX disk will be created and mounted and merged with the OS disk

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To set it up, you need to configure some Group Policy settings which you put in the central store

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Enable it, specify a VHD location.

Then also you need to install the agent on each client you want to use this solution, (and yes you can also specify if you want to use VHD instead of VHDX, dynamic allotcation and default size of the disk and sector size to make it more alligned with the storage)

Then lastly add the users you want to be affected by the Outlook Container Profile setting by adding the user locally

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(If I have already logged into the machine with a user, I have to delete the local user profile and log back in again after group policy has been applied.

So next time the user logs in, they will not see any difference. The only difference can be seen in the disk manager

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So now its use block level access to the VHDX disk instead of Outlook having a direct SMB access to the file share, but still important to have good access to a file server!

Their solution will most likely be coming out of public beta pretty soon so stay tuned for that.

Securing your NetScaler solutions

So this is part of one of my sessions at the local Citrix user groups next week, where one of the focus areas are around security. Where I ask the how and why do web services get attacked? Well in most cases it is that alot of the web services out there are vulnerable in one way or another. This might be because of design-flaws ( SQL, XSS, CSRF and so on) There might be because of Web Server exploits, or might just be because of stolen user credentials where someone gets access to the backed information.

Now this focus here is knowing about what information is shown externally to the world. Because if you have a public service you want to make sure that the service which is running is secure.

So for some research for this sessions I basically did a google search for NetScaler solutions in Norway, mostly against NetScaler Gateways.

The information I got back was scary!! ssllabs.com is a online tool that can be used to test web services to see which kind of protocols they support, ciphers and other TLS/SSL parameters such as HSTS and such

I found

+20 Services running old Secure Access Gateway
+30 Services running older version of Access Gateway

So atleast I found a bunch of potential consultant buisness for myself Smilefjes som blunker and maybe a smack to some of the partners in Norway.

When I looked closer at the solutions I also found more interesting stats

Only 30% of these public solution were using two-factor authentication as well. Why is this important? Solutions using for instance SSL 3 are much more open to MiTM attacks, and if you don’t have two factor authentication as well it gets easier for attackers to steal credentials and gain access. Having a low score on ssllabs.com does not say that your site is insecure, but it is an indication on how focused your buisness is on security!

Another interesting fact. This is from one of the largest webshops in Norway…

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Would you trust a provider like this with your credit card information? Well not me!

Another interesting thing is that in most cases alot of information is shown directly back to the web sessions, which also gives hackers alot of useful information when they are doing for instance reconnaissance

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OUCH! Get web server information and what kind of version it is running…. Why show this externally? Even thou this can be easily hidden from the research, another thing is handling 404 error messages. In some cases you get detailed information about the web server (including version and stack and such) which you can get maybe exploit.

But the latest and greatest of Citrix NetScaler is luckily more secure then the older versions of the Secure Access Gateway and such.

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Well almost Smilefjes som blunker  stay tuned for more and ill dig more into the security aspects of how to limit the public information and setting up different solutions.