SCCM

My Top 10 System Center Configuration Manager Resources

Posted on Updated on

I often get asked the following two questions:

  1. I know you blog but why don’t you blog about Configuration Manager as much as other topics?
  2. What are some good resources for learning about Configuration Manager?

The answers to these questions are definitely interrelated. Let me start with the first question:

First of all, although as an MVP I have an NDA with Microsoft that permits me to get some “inside information” from time to time. That same NDA forbids me from blogging about MS products until they are GA. Other bloggers don’t have the same restriction so they can write about new features and releases before the MVP community can. Secondly, and more importantly, there are already many very good blogs on Configuration Manger written by some very knowledgeable people (fellow MVPs in many cases) that know far more about specific parts of Configuration Manager than I do. With all of these fine writers already producing high quality content, it is difficult to add new, unique, and valuable posts.

In order to answer the second question I will act contrary to my answer to the first question and provide you with a list of t some of the resources that I use on a regular basis. I have limited the list to 10 by convention (otherwise it wouldn’t be a top 10 list would it?) – It was very difficult to choose. I apologize in advance to anybody that I may have omitted from the list. In an attempt to avoid any serious comparison algorithms and because I don’t have any hermetically sealed envelopes I have arranged the list in alphabetical order.

1. Configuration Manager Team Blog This is a great place to get news and information about the product. Things like announcements, latest cumulative updates, new features and capabilities can be found here as well as common scenarios and troubleshooting tips. All of this of course courtesy of Microsoft
2. CoreTech Coretech has a lot of high profile bloggers including Kent Agerlund, and Kaido Järvemets. They do a lot of training and consulting and have seen a lot of real world use cases. As such their Configuration Manager Blog is a great resource.
3. Deployment Research MVP Johan Arwidmark has done some extreme deployments. If you want deep dive and troubleshooting information about deployments including some unsupported workarounds (for your lab of course).
4. Enhansoft Enhansoft is a company that focusses on asset management based on Configuration Manager. They have some free tools to help document Configuration Manager implementations. They also give out a free SSRS report every month. MVP Garth Jones, the founder of Enansoft also writes a blog for SMSUG.ca that has lots of sample reports and queries. I borrow from them often.

If you want detailed information about the inner workings of Configuration Manager, Jason Sandys (another MVP) is a fantastic resource. Not only does he understand the detail level, he can explain it in terms that are consumable by non-experts and help them understand the implications and applications. Many of his posts are linked from the Catapult Systems blog site. Not coincidentally Jason is one of the moderators of the Configuration Manager TechNet forums another great resource.
6. MyITForum MyItForum is really a small community (with only 145,000 unique visitors per day). The resources are provided by the members of the community. There are tons of guides and some very good forums. MyItForum is famous for the running of the bulls at MMS to get passes to their famous party. Click here a link to a video about Community and MyITForum from MMS 2012 featuring Rod Trent is the President of MyITForum (and the Community Manager at WindowsItPro)
7. System Center User Group Belgium Lots of good info here including blogs by MVPs Kenny Buntnix and Kim Oppalfens.
8. TechNet TechNet has a lot of good resources including the official Microsoft Document Library for Configuration Manager, Release Notes, and Technical Publications.Configuration Manager TechNet forums is a great place for moderated support. There are other good resources as well such as ConfigMgrDogs.
9. WindowsItPro WindowsItPro is a great resource for IT Pros in general but I like the independent view of the Microsoft world (including System Center) that they provide. As I’m writing this post and looking at their website, I see the System Center section their site framed by no less than six Amazon AWS ads. You won’t see that on the Configuration Manager Team Blog.
10. Windows-Noob.com This is MVP Niall Brady’s blog. IT is a great place to get walkthroughs of every major feature of Configuration Manager. A good starting point for novices and a reference for veterans trying something new or troubleshooting. Although last on this list alphabetically, it should be the noob’s first place to go to check out the SCCM 2012 Guides.

There are many other good blogs, blog aggregators, and knowledge bases out there. You could do pretty well with a good Google or Bing query for a specific topic. For better results, try some of Kim Oppalfens search providers to make it easier. These are just some that I use regularly and the first ten that came to mind.   The selection process was by no means scientific and I was the only member of the selection committee. Full Disclosure – Yes, I do know most of the bloggers but that’s life.

If you have a good source you’d like to share, let me know. Maybe I’ll make a Top 40 list. Again apologies to any good resources that I failed to mention.

Configuration Manager Distribution Points – Use case scenarios

Posted on Updated on

Configuration Manager is a constantly evolving and improving product. Distribution Points (DPs) in Configuration Manager have advanced quite a bit since SCCM 2007. Configuration Manager 2012 introduced bandwidth scheduling and throttling to the DP role. A feature previously limited to secondary sites. For many organizations, secondary sites are no longer required. The new Distribution Point functionality is sufficient to replace many secondary site use cases.

TechNet does a fantastic job of educating IT Pros on what the new features are and how to configure them. What I’m going to attempt to do in this post is help identify the some use case scenarios where they make sense.

Let’s start with a high level review of the different types of Distribution Points (DPs).

Distribution Point Concepts

Distribution Points (DPs) provide content (applications, software updates, etc.) to clients. Boundary groups (groups of boundaries containing AD site info or IP subnet, IP range, IPv6 prefix) are assigned to DPs to help clients locate preferred DPs. A DP can optionally be configured as a fallback content point so that clients that cannot retrieve content from a preferred content point can access it from the fallback location. For a client to successfully retrieve content, it must be in a boundary associated with a boundary group on a preferred or fallback DP.

Standard Distribution Point

A standard Distribution Point is used to serve content to clients. There is a limit of 250 DPs per site (and secondary site).

Use Case:

Pull Distribution Point

A Pull DP is very similar to a Standard DP except that is gets its content from another DP (known as a source DP). This minimizes the load on the site server since the Pull DP manages its own content transfer in much the same way that a Configuration Manager client would. There is limit of 2000 Pull DPs per site (and secondary site)

PXE & Multicast Distribution Points

DPs can be configured to respond to PXE requests and send multicast streams as part of OSD scenarios. In order to support these features, WDS must be installed ad enabled on the distribution points. Both Standard DPs and Pull DPs support PXE and Multicast.

Cloud Distribution Point

A Cloud DP is an Azure hosted distribution point that can be rapidly scaled up or down to meet changing requirements.
IT has many of the advantages of other cloud based IaaS offerings. Cloud DPs do not support OSD or SUS since they do not support PXE or software update packages. There are other limitations as well. For more information on Cloud DPs check TechNet.

Use Case Scenarios

DP Type Sample Use Case
Standard DP Standard DPs make sense anywhere that there are large numbers of clients to serve. Although there is no clear line in the sand, it’s fairly easy to make the case for a DP at a location with more than 50 clients.
Pull DP Augment the number of DPs beyond 250 per site (up to 2250) and or minimize the content distribution load on the site server(s).
PXE & Multicast DP Support for OSD. Example Migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 , 8, 8.1, etc.
Cloud DP Support for elastic operations such as a temporarily large distribution to clients. Example, rollout of a new CRM tool.

Depending on the complexity of your environment you may need to mix and match DPs to meet your specific requirements. Of course, all of these scenarios can be made more efficient by incorporating BranchCache support on clients. For more information on how to use BranchCache to optimize software distribution while minimizing infrastructure components see my post on CanITPro.

System Center 2012 Configuration Manager: How to Test Backups and Restores

Posted on Updated on

I’m sure that most organizations perform some sort of backup of their System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (CM12) sites, however, how many of them have actually tested their backup?

Probably very few, as it can be very difficult to simulate a failure in production and perform a site recovery. Backups are good. Backups that you know you can actually restore from are better.

This post is intended to give the reader an understanding of the general case backup requirements of CM12, a sample backup strategy, and how to test the backup by simulating a failure and performing a restore of the database portion of the site. I typically walk my clients through this process before handing them the keys to their new CM12 environment.

The instructions provided here are based on System Center 2012 Configuration Manager SP1 and MS SQL Server 2012 SP1.

The Scheduled Backup Task

CM12 has a built in maintenance task call Backup Site Server. It performs synchronization between the database and the site control file and other key configuration elements of the Configuration manager site. Although a restore from a database backup is also supported in CM12, this post will only address using the Configuration Manager scheduled backup task as most administrators should be familiar with it.

As part of the site configuration, the maintenance task to perform a site backup should be configured to perform a daily backup stored in an easily accessible location. For the purposes of this post, let’s use E:\CM12_Backup

102613_1547_SystemCente1.png

Figure 1 – Configure Backup Maintenance Task

The success of the backup task can be verified in the following ways:

  1. Review the timestamp on the SMSBKUP.LOG file that the Backup Site Server maintenance task created in the backup destination folder. Verify that the timestamp has been updated with a time that coincides with the time when the Backup Site Server maintenance task was last scheduled to run. Review the log files for errors.
  2. In the Component Status node in the Monitoring workspace, review the status messages for SMS_SITE_BACKUP. When site backup is completed successfully, you see message ID 5035, which indicates that the site backup was completed without any errors.
  3. When the Backup Site Server maintenance task is configured to create an alert if backup fails, you can check the Alerts node in the Monitoring workspace for backup failures.
  4. In <ConfigMgrInstallationFolder>\Logs, review Smsbkup.log for warnings and errors. When site backup is completed successfully, you see Backup completed with a timestamp and message ID STATMSG: ID=5035.

The backup files in E:\CM12_Backup should be moved to an archival media as per corporate standards. Multiple copies should be maintained in the event that one copy is corrupted or unavailable as it is preferable to restore from an older backup that to recreate the entire infrastructure manually if the latest backup is unavailable.

Additional Items to Backup

The Backup Site Server task is intended to backup key elements of the Configuration Manager site that require synchronization, or other special attention.

Items that are not backed up by the Backup Site Server maintenance task that should be considered for inclusion in any supplementary backup tasks are listed below:

  1. Any custom reports and extensions used to create them (models, views, tables, etc.)
  2. The content library stored in the <drive:>\SCCMContentLib folder
  3. Package source files
  4. User State Migration Data

Site Recovery

To restore a Configuration Manager Site Server, follow these steps:

  1. Run the Configuration Manager Setup Wizard from installation media or a shared network folder. For example, you can start the Setup wizard by using the Install option when you insert the Configuration Manager DVD. Or, you can open Setup.exe from a shared network folder to start the Setup wizard.
  2. On the Getting Started page, select Recover a site, and then click Next.
  3. Complete the wizard by selecting the options that are appropriate for your site recovery

Once the site has been successfully recovered, the following tasks need to be performed:

  1. Re-enter the passwords for any accounts that are used by site systems (refer to the Configuration guide for a list of accounts – you have one right?)
  2. Reinstall and hotfixes or Cumulative Updates applied to the site since the initial build
  3. Restore the Content Library
  4. Restore the Package Source Files
  5. Restore the User State Migration Data

Partial Recovery – Database Only

The site recovery wizard will run the same prerequisite checks that a full install will perform. If a full rebuild of the server OS was not performed and only a database recovery is required, the restore process may fail on the detection of a dedicated SQL instance with the following error:

Dedicated SQL Server instance Failed

The same error may be encountered during a test of the restoration process due to remnants of the site in the registry that may indicate a previous installation.

To remedy this error, delete the following registry keys:

  1. [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Components\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP
  2. [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Operations Management\Components\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP
  3. [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Tracing\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP

The same issue may also arise when testing the DR process. The same resolution method can be used. I have created a batch file that I use to speed up this process. Here is the source for my DelKeys.bat file:

102613_1547_SystemCente2.png

Performing a Database Only DR Test

As the base OS, SQL Server and, Configuration Manager Application software can all be rebuilt from generic source media, the most important part of a DR test is to verify that the site configuration and database can be restored as these items will be specific to your organization. The following method can be used to simulate a failure and restore.

  1. Create one or more objects (such as collections) and make some configuration changes (such as a boundary).
  2. Perform a site backup.  To quickly start a site backup without modifying the backup schedule, use Service Manager to start the SMS_Site_Backup service.
  3. Once the backup has completed, delete the objects and configuration changes made in step 1
  4. Use the command PREINST.EXE /STOPSITE to stop all CM12 services. Browse to “\Program Files\Microsoft Configuration Manager\Bin\x640000409” to find the executable.
  5. Use SQL server Management Studio to Detach the site database

102613_1547_SystemCente3.png

Figure 2 – Detach Configuration Manager Database

  1. Rename the <DB_Name>.MDF and <DB_Name>.LDF files which are found under \Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL10_50.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA
  2. Delete the following three registry keys:
    1. HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Components\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP
    2. HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Operations Management\Components\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP
    3. HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\SMS\Tracing\SMS_SITE_SQL_BACKUP
  3. Perform the Site Recovery task and select restore database from backup.
  4. Browse to the location of the database backup.
  5. The site recovery details will be pre-populated.
  6. Browse to the location of the downloaded prerequisites from the initial installation process.
  7. The pre-requisite check will run and complete and then the installation will begin.
  8. Site and installation settings will be pre-populated as will the database information.
  9. Once the process is started it will appear as the original installation. Refer to the Server Build Guide for more details.
  10. Once the recovery is complete, verify that the objects and configuration items that you created in Step 1 are recovered.
  11. Remove the Test Objects and configuration items.
  12. Additional information about the restore can be found in the c:\ConfigMgrSetup.Log file

Now go test those backups.