Thursday, October 6, 2016

UPDATED: Skype for Business Hybrid Handbook, Version 2.1

I have just published Version 2.1 of my FREE eBook on the TechNet Gallery, the Skype for Business Hybrid Handbook. This is a minor revision, with various updates and tweaks throughout the book. Most notably, though, are the updated Features Comparison sections for both Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX, and Exchange Integration.

If you have never grabbed your free copy of the earlier versions of this eBook, you just may find it to be one of the most comprehensive resources for your various Hybrid needs in the Skype for Business world. If you have downloaded a copy in the past, its time to get the most up-to-date version!

As always, feedback is key. Feel free to let me know what you think here, but also don't be shy about leaving a Rating on the TechNet Gallery site!

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

RESOLVED: Transfer External Call From Polycom VVX Fails in CCE Environment

My Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) adventures appear to be far from over, and that is a good thing in my book. While the thoughts and opinions on CCE and its purpose have been varied, I personally see a lot of geographically-dispersed companies digging right on in, as they are wanting to become full-Office 365 adopters, but must account for the fact that PSTN Calling is still quite limited in its availability across the globe.

As this adventure continues, however, there is obvious product maturity that is taking place, not just on Microsoft's part, but also on the side of the Vendors whose products will integrate with the environment. In this brief post I want to call out a very specific scenario that some Polycom VVX users might find themselves in when they are kicking the tires on a brand new CCE environment. (Yes, this was a painful troubleshooting experience)

The Scenario

Note: This has only been tested on Polycom VVX 500 and 600s, though it may also pertain to the lower-end models, or other Polycom handset series.

Imagine a situation in which you have a Skype for Business user in your CCE environment, let's call them Jim Bob, and they have not adopted the "No More Phones" mentality yet. They have been using handsets for years, and they simply LOVE their Polycom VVX 600. After all, it is a pretty slick handset! At any rate, your CCE environment is set up properly, everything is working, and this user has been otherwise happy as a clam (I want to know who the psycho is that allegedly determined that clams are even generally happy creatures. Seriously, think about their existence; how on earth can that possibly...I digress).

One day, some one external to the company calls Jim Bob over the PSTN, and this call gets routed through CCE and to Office 365. At this point, Cloud PBX knows which endpoints Jim Bob is active on, and dials him on those. This is when his Polycom VVX 600 rings. Jim Bob cheerfully answers the phone, and after a few minutes of stimulating conversation, he realizes that the call actually needs to be forwarded to a colleague in a different department. No problem; Jim will just transfer the call!

The Problem

As Jim moves to transfer the call via the Call Control mechanisms on his VVX 600, he dials the number of his colleague, and goes to transfer the call. Unfortunately, though, the transfer does not go through, and Jim Bob now needs to figure out what to do with this caller! Please note, Jim Bob already confirmed that he was able to transfer a call from another internal user in his Skype for Business Online tenant within the same CCE deployment, so he was completely stumped about why he could not transfer a call from an external user.

The below diagram shows how the initial call came in, how it was routed to Jim Bob, and then how it would have traversed before being successfully transferred to his colleague. It also shows a big red "X" where the call ends up failing (if you do your homework and trace all the logs through CLS Logger on the CCE VMs):

The Resolution

Now, hopefully you found this blog before doing a whole lot of troubleshooting and digging into the logs, because if you did, you will realize that the issue is fixed by something as simple as firmware upgrade. You see Jim Bob's company tries to keep their phones updated with the latest firmware as much as they can, but there was a new firmware version from Polycom for the VVX phones, 5.4.5, that did not get released until October 3, 2016. While Jim Bob was experiencing the issue, this version was still and Beta and not publicly available, making the Call Transfer problem a difficult one to work around.

Version 5.4.5 is certified for Skype for Business, and will most definitely fix this issue if you have come across it. In addition to this issue, there are a good couple of pages of bugs that are addressed in this version. If you have a moment after updating your phone, check out the Release Notes; there is a LOT going on there.

Finally, here is a link to the latest Polycom UC Software Releases:  Please note, you do NOT want to go for 5.5.0; stick with 5.4.5, as it is actually certified for Skype for Business.

Well, I hope this has helped at least one or two of you on the CCE pioneering front! Till next time...

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Skype for Business at Microsoft Ignite 2016 - All the Right Information

The Expo floor at Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Atlanta, GA


Catching up on Microsoft Ignite 2016...

You might think that fresh off the heels of my trip to Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Atlanta, my first post would be about all the Skype for Business news coming out of Ignite this year. However, there is already a lot of good info out there from very reputable people on the subject, so I don't want to continue beating a dead horse. Instead I want to point you to the spots where the good info already exists.

 For a really good recap of all the Skype for Business-related news from Ignite, check out Mark Vale's (brand new MVP, BTW, Congrats!!!) blog post detailing the various topics:

Also, MVP Matthew Landis always has a great collection of notes from these conferences:

Now, if you want a REALLY good in-depth breakdown of the MAC news coming out of Ignite, check out Mr. John Cook's post (he is rumored to be an unashamed Apple fanboy):

Lastly, while I did not blog on the happenings at Ignite, I did interview Jamie Stark, Technical Product Manager of Skype for Business at Microsoft, and Matthew Landis of Landis Technologies. I also managed to get an Ignite-Edition of the #Skype4BRecap recorded on Thursday. Check out all that fun below:

Jamie Stark Ignite Interview:

Matt Landis Ignite Interview:

And the #Skype4BRecap Ignite Edition:

Finally, Tom Arbuthnot put together an amazing tool for downloading all the video content on the sessions that you could possibly want. Check out the tool, and be sure to leave some love in the comments for him

Stay Techy, My Friends!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition Fails on BaseVM Windows Update

Well, my adventures in Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) just keep on unfolding, and I must say, learning on a curve can be tricky, as the technology is so new, and things are changing between versions so much. I came across one tricky situation with a very specific fix, and I figured this may help some of you out if your are not as geeky on the Networking side as you are on the Skype for Business side.

The Issue

This problem is not specific to any version of CCE. Let's say you have made it as far as prepping your Hyper-V host with all the appropriate settings. You have downloaded CCE, you have downloaded the S4B bits, you have uploaded the Windows OS ISO that you will be using, and properly filled out your entire CloudConnector.ini file (along with all the other required preparation steps). Finally, you are ready to convert that ISO file into a BaseVM that will be used to create your final 4 VMs in the CCE configuration. You run the following cmdlet:

Convert-CcIsoToVhdx -IsoFilePath <Windows ISO File Path, including file name>

A lot happens now. The original ISO is extracted, stuff is happening in the background, then a new VM gets built and the OS is installed. Of course, the configuration information is pulled from your CloudConnector.ini file, so make sure you have that properly filled out ahead of time. During the original OS install, the PowerShell window does not show you much at all, and doesn't update you with the progress until it is finished. If you are like me, and don't have a lot of patience, or just like to know what is going on, pop open the Hyper-V Manager, click on the BaseVM name (it is named some horrible GUID-looking name), and click Connect from the VM options on the right side. This will let you see the VM as the OS gets installed and the machine restarts over and over again - it is more to look at that PowerShell where nothing seems to be happening.

Finally, in your Powershell window, after the OS is fully installed and the machine has gotten through some initial configuration, you see that it is attempting to download and install Windows Updates. But it fails! NOOOOO!!!! It says it will retry again after 30 seconds...

No Bueno...

The Resolution

So, at this point you are racking your brain. You did everything to prep that you needed to. You cleared all the IPs and Network segments with your Network guy. All the DNS settings are accessible, so you know it is not DNS. The Networking guy even did you a favor and setup the firewall rules correctly on the first try (sorry Networking guys, had to throw that friendly zinger in there). So why is the machine still not able to connect to the internet, resulting in the above cmdlet ultimately failing on Windows Updates?

Well, if your situation was like mine, it was because you did not realize VLAN Tagging was at play! Yep, all your IPs and network information is correct, but the individual vNICs on each VM have to set up with the properly VLAN ID. Luckily, this can be done with the machine still running and doing its thing. With the VM still highlighted in the Hyper-V Manager, click on Settings under the VM options, and then click on the name of the Corpnet NIC as you have set it up on the VMs properties. Once there, you will need to check the box next to Enable virtual LAN identification, and then enter the proper VLAN ID in the box below it. Don't forget to hit Apply before closing the window!

Wasn't that nice? I even added numbers to show you the order to set those VLAN IDs! ;-) 

Once you do this, the VM will almost instantly pick up its connection, and if you are still on the WIndows Update step, you should see updates detected:

And that's that! VLAN tagging is one of those things that is not really covered in the CCE documentation, at least that I have seen, so be aware that you will have to figure it in if it is in use in your environment, or your clients' environments. Please remember, you will need to set it on ALL VMs, not just the BaseVM. On that Edge VM, though, you will have two NICs to set it on, and they should likely each be on different VLANs, thus different tags for each NIC.

Hope this helps at least one or two of you fumbling through a CCE deployment out there!

Stay techy my friends!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) Deployment - Lessons Learned

Hey everyone! Yes, I know, it has been STUPID long since I wrote a blog post, and my excuses are pathetic. Pathetic as they may be, let me list a couple out to try to redeem myself a bit:
  • I changed jobs. Again! - Yep, I my stay at Deloitte ended up being a little shorter than I originally thought it might be, but an opportunity at Integration Partners came my way, and I just couldn't pass it up. While I worked with an amazing team at Deloitte, and was very grateful for that opportunity, this new role has been a pretty awesome ride already, with an awesome team to boot!
  • I've been keeping up with my weekly #Skype4BRecap webcast. -  Yes, I know, webcasting alone is not good enough, but with a weekly schedule, it does actually take up quite a bit of time!
  • My family did a cross-country move. - You have to admit, that is a pretty big task, moving an entire household from NC to TX. And all the packing/prepping was being done while keeping the house in "Showing" condition for potential buyers.
  • And the lamest excuse of all... I was a bit burned out on "written" material after Version 2.0 of my Skype for Business Hybrid Handbook. - I know, cry me a river, but hey, Version 2.0 was a pretty big increase in content, with an entirely new chapter devoted entirely to Cloud Connector Edition! Which leads me to today's topic.

One of the more recent projects I have had the pleasure to dive into has centered around a Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) deployment. The situation was that the company was deploying a greenfield Skype for Business Online environment in Office 365, meaning they did not already have Skype for Business (or Lync Server) on-prem, and wanted to bake in PSTN calling capability for their Skype for Business users. This was all fine and great for their U.S.-based users, who could simply use Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling. However, this company also had a small group of users in a South American country, and with no PSTN Calling functionality outside of the U.S. and U.K. (ok, AND technically Puerto Rico), they would not be able to place PSTN calls via Skype for Business for their South American users.

Enter CCE! The plan was to move all users into Office 365, with all U.S. users using Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling, and all South American users using Cloud PBX with a new on-prem CCE deployment (the CCE would be connecting to a Sonus SBC as the PSTN Gateway, but that doesn't really matter much for this post). So far, all is well! Below is a nifty little network diagram of how CCE was to be deployed (networking info changed to protect the innocent, of course!):

As you can see above, there was only going to be a single PSTN Site created (a single CCE instance); there was no HA to plan for, or other potential complications. A simple deployment was right up my alley, though, as this would be my first production CCE deployment. I was quite excited.

About those "Lessons Learned"?

Alright, I know you are ready for me to quite blabbing and get on with my pointers already, so I want walk you through this step-by-step - we'll save that for another time! Today is simply about a few lessons that I learned when deploying CCE.

1. Plan your networking ahead of time.

This may seem silly to even call out, as it should be obvious, but I found it really helpful, and almost necessary, to have Visio or other diagram that gave you a good visual of how all the networking components were going to be layed out, and more specifically, what IPs would be assigned. Unlike a Skype for Business Server 2015 on-prem deployment, where you can deploy certain pieces in phases, coming back for things when you are ready, CCE requires you to modify a single text file (CloudConnector.ini) with ALL the necessary values for building out your ENTIRE VM environment before deploying your build script.

This means that you needed to prepare your SSL and have it issued and placed on the server prior to running the script, whereas you could simply execute Step 3 in the Skype for Business Deployment Wizard when you were good and ready for on-prem. You needed to provide the public IP for your Access Edge component, as well as the IPs for each of the 4 VMs, and an additional public-facing (but internal) IP for the Edge server, on a separate network than the 4 IPs assigned to the other VMs. You needed to provide the DNS server IP addresses that your VMs would use for public name resolution (I used Google's public DNS servers at for all public name resolution). As you can see, there were plenty of variables to have completely laid out before pressing that Enter button to execute the PowerShell cmdlet for building the environment.

2. No Errors on the build script doesn't mean everything deployed as expected.

After getting all the requirements gathered and documented in your config file, running it smoothly, and seeing that the cmdlet finished without any errors, you may think the execution was flawless. You may be especially tempted to think this when you see those 4 shiny new VMs in the Hyper-V manager, and start accessing them, noticing the presence of all the right software. Sweetness! Or maybe not so much...

Let's say you go to make that call after getting your user configured completely and logged into a client, and bummer of all bummers, the call doesn't go through. First you try an outbound call from the client, and it doesn't even ring; it pretty much just kills the call after a couple seconds. Then you try an inbound call, dialing the assigned LineURI of this new CCE user. Unfortunately, it may start to ring, but never gets through.

In my case, I ended up installing Skype for Business Debugging Tools on the Mediation server VM, and using CLS Logger. With CLS Logger I could not see any attempts at all when placing an outbound call. Looking at the diagram above, we see that the CCE user would first hit Office 365, and then the call would attempt to route through the Edge role and then the Mediation role before moving on to the SBC (my test users was external to the corporate network). Since I saw nothing on the Mediation server via CLS Logger, this meant that the traffic was only getting as far as the Edge role. I then installed Wireshark on the Edge role, and discovered that a Reset was being sent back to Office 365 from the Edge server every time the outbound call was made.

At the same time I noticed that INBOUND calls were getting further, making it to through the Sonus SBC and to the Mediation server, but were not getting any further as the CLS Logger revealed a 503 error, stating that the Invite failed via the proxy, and that it was unable to establish a connection. With both issues, the Edge server appeared to be the common denominator. This confused me, as I would have figured that any problems with the build would have been reported on the PowerShell window during the build. After all, there wasn't any custom config; all config was done by the script, using the values provided in the config file.Well, I thought I would check out the Edge server for the heck of it.

What do you know, there were several Skype for Business services stopped on the Edge, including the Access Edge service! Trying to start these services failed, and further analysis of the Skype for Business event log showed that the reason for the services not starting was missing certificates. How could this be? The CCE cmdlet succeeded in building the environment, and didn't complain about any certificates...I opened up the Skype for Business Deployment Wizard, go to the certificates section, and sure enough, all of the external certificate fields were blank!

Alright, I don't get how that happened at all, but when I highlighted the External section and clicked "Assign", the external certificate was present as an option. This means that the script did in fact install the certificate on the server, but just didn't assign it during the Skype for Business deployment on the Edge. *SIGH*. I assigned it, restarted services, and BOOM. Traffic started to flow through, and calls started ringing. There were still issues to deal with at the carrier level, but the CCE portion was now fixed.

3. Location, Location, Location (for Office 365 License assignment)

Remember how I said that some of the users in this company were in the US, but others were in South America? Well, when this test account was setup, it was configured like most of the other accounts, leaving the default location as US when assigning licenses. No big deal at first, but remember, I was getting ready to test dialing from with this user, making the assumption that the user was located in this South American country. Well, when I try to dial out international, using the expected format for the specific country, the dialing did not work. At all! Never made it to the Edge server. As a matter of fact, the only way I could dial and make it to the Edge was to start out dialing an E.164 formatted number.

I then used the following cmdlet to view the user's properties:

Get-CsOnlineUser -Identity <user>@<sipdomain>

Looking at the output, I could see that the user's DialPlan was set to "US". Clearly this would not work. So, I went back into the Users section of Office 365, into the Properties for the test user, and went to edit the assigned licenses. When prompted for Location, I changed this to the proper country in South America. After saving the settings, I could now see that the user had the DialPlan that reflected their respective country. Perfect! After waiting about 10 minutes for replication, I signed the user back in, and was able to dial as expected, as if the user was in the South American country.

The thing to remember of this point is that many adopters of CCE are going to be global or international firms that want to make a move into Office 365 for most of their services, but are still not able to move many non-U.S. or non-U.K. users into PSTN Calling; they will be interested in moving as much as they can into Office 365, while leaning on CCE to provide PSTN capabilities to the geographically-dispersed portion of their user base via on-prem infrastructure. With this in mind, specifying the correct location when assigning Office 365 licenses will be very important.

In Summary

Well that's about all the lessons I have to share for now from my recent adventures in CCE. However, I feel like there will be more of these in my future, with maybe other factors to consider, so I may just update this post as I come across any more interesting things to watch for as you wade into the fairly new waters of CCE. Hope this has been helpful in some shape or form. If you have run into any of your own interesting "Gotchas" in a CCE deployment, feel free to share your experience in the Comments section!

Stay techy, my friends!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Published: Skype for Business Hybrid Handbook, Version 2.0

It's here! Six months after the initial release of the Skype for Business Hybrid Handbook, I have published Version 2.0 to the TechNet Gallery. Oh, and the best part: it's still FREE!

So, what prompted Version 2.0? Well, I knew when I created this book, and had it pointed out afterwards, that I chose an area within the Skype for Business product that would be a frequently changing and evolving beast, which would in turn be difficult to keep up with in book form. This was proven to be very true, and so to keep the content relevant, frequent updates are necessary. The last 6 months have had a large number of fairly major changes in the Skype for Business Hybrid realm, and so it was definitely time to get a new version out there.

What's new?

Azure AD Connect 1.1

Chapter 6 covered the Azure AD Connect portion of configuring a hybrid environment, and with the release of Azure AD Connect 1.1, there were a few changes. Not only were there functional changes, but the screenshots themselves were not fully up to date. On top of this change, the Office 365 Admin Portal Preview is in full swing, so I wanted to get some of those shots in there as well.

Cloud Connector Edition

Cloud Connector Edition was still being called "Min Topology" when the first version of the book was released, and there was much uncertainty about what it would be exactly. All this time later, CCE has been released to General Availability, and people are beginning to kick the tires on it. This was clearly a Skype for Business hybrid scenario that should be accounted for in the book! Here is a preview of one of the diagrams I made for the new Chapter 13 of the of the book:

General House-Cleaning

Besides these more notable updates, there was a lot of grammar cleanup to be done, and just some other rough spots that needed to be smoothed over. Now that Chapter 13 is present, I am sure I will have to go back through and clean up some grammar or punctuation that I missed. That is where all of your awesome feedback comes in handy! ;-)

Well, I hope you are able to use the link above (below the first picture) to grab the latest and most relevant copy, and that it continues to be of use! If you haven't downloaded a copy in the first place, again, it's FREE, and I really appreciate the feedback. If you like it enough, please feel free to share it!

Stay techy, my friends!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Welcome, Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition

The road has been a bumpy one, but the project formerly referred to as "Min Topology" is finally out of Preview and available for download in General Availability (GA). Everyone, can we please give a warm welcome to the latest member of the Skype for Business Hybrid family, Skype for Business Cloud Connector Edition!

Before I discuss too much about Cloud Connector Edition (CCE), let me provide a few helpful links. I must point out this post is NOT a deep-dive into CCE; rather it is a discussion about what CCE is, and how your organization can take advantage of it. The below links will provide deep-dive information from Microsoft for all the specific requirements and deployment steps.

 First, before you go racing to download it, check out the TechNet article on how to plan for it:

Once you feel like you have a good handle on planning for CCE, read up a bit on how to configure it: That last one doesn't appear to be quite ready for prime time yet, though, as it says that it is "Coming Soon", and refers to the product as still being in Preview. So, one of these days soon, that link will be a bit more useful...

Alright, finally, the link to download CCE:

Excellent! Now, if you are still reading this, and haven't raced off to start tinkering with CCE, let's talk a bit about the nature of this product. At the heart of this tool is a very specific deployment: CCE addresses a scenario in which all Skype for Business users in your organization are using Skype for Business Online in Office 365, but you have an on-premises voice infrastructure already in place that provides PSTN connectivity. This means that your organization DOES have the on-premises voice infrastructure, but DOES NOT have any Skype for Business infrastructure deployed on-premises; all Skype for Business users are Office 365-based users. Savvy?

Now, of course your users in Skype for Business Online could simply use PSTN services offered by Microsoft through Office 365, assuming they are licensed for Cloud PBX already, but you will also have to pay for the extra voice licensing (in addition to Cloud PBX licensing). If your organization has already invested in the on-premises voice configuration, and still has a contractual obligation to use this infrastructure, it is likely that the most desired approach would be to leverage this on-premises voice infrastructure to provide PSTN connectivity to your Skype for Business Online users. How, you ask, when there is no on-premises Skype for Business deployment to facilitate the needed hybrid configuration that could provide such functionality? This is where Cloud Connector Edition comes in!

Available as a download from Microsoft, CCE is actually a collection of four virtual machines (VMs) that get deployed on a Hyper-V host server in your organization's DMZ network. These four VMs serve as a mini on-premises Skype for Business deployment, but no users will actually be homed on this instance; it exists solely to facilitate connecting the Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX users with your on-premises voice infrastructure to provide PSTN connectivity to them. The four VMs that get deployed and configured via a guided wizard are:

  1. Domain Controller
  2. Central Management Server (CMS)
  3. Mediation Server
  4. Edge Server
Before you become concerned about the Domain Controller component, let me make it clear that this little virtual environment is completely self-contained, including the Domain Controller (DC). That means this DC is deployed in its own brand new forest, and will not be connected to your corporate Active Directory.

The other pieces are fairly obvious, as they put into the place the bare minimum requirements for a functioning Skype for Business deployment that can facilitate the traversal of the media from your Cloud PBX to your on-premises voice infrastructure (thus the previous term, "Min Topology").

Now, what would this look like in your environment? At a very high-level, we can see the overview of traffic flow through CCE to your on-premises voice infrastructure here:

What would a more detailed media flow look like? The below image shows us that our signaling traffic does have to traverse through Office 365 before coming back through our CCE deployment, and then making its way through the gateway and out into the wild PSTN. It seems like this would be less than optimal for audio, though, doesn't it? Luckily, as we can see in the same diagram below, once the signaling traffic verifies the information for the user, that user's media is able to flow directly to the CCE host (completely skipping the Office 365 infrastructure), and on to the on-premises PSTN gateway. Beautiful!

So, would do you think? Is this a pretty cool solution for providing existing on-premises PSTN connectivity to your Skype for Business Online users without having to have a full-blown, licensed, on-premises Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment? I think so!

Like I said, I am not going to go deep on this post in regards to requirements, planning, and detailed deployment; that is all highlighted quite nicely in the Microsoft links provided above. Instead, I hope this post has been helpful in familiarizing you with what Cloud Connector Edition is, how your Office 365-based Skype for Business users can benefit from it, and whether or not this is something your organization needs to explore a bit more deeply. For the consultant crowd, this is certainly a deployment option to gain knowledge on to be ready to pitch it to the customer that is the right fit!

Stay techy, my friends!