Hello world!


Yes, I’ve left the default title up there – because this is indeed my “hello” from within the walls of Microsoft. I started working for Microsoft back in August 2015 and it’s been a head-spinning, firehose-drinking exercise ever since. Looking forward to sharing some good thoughts and info on my new blog in the coming weeks, months & years!


Pre-Populating SharePoint Farm Details for ULSViewer


The new ULSViewer for SharePoint introduces the capability to monitor all the ULS logs in your SharePoint farm at once, in real time. While this is a fantastic enhancement to an already near-perfect piece of software, I found one tiny little pain point with it. When configuring ULSViewer to monitor an entire farm, you need to manually specify all the servers in your farm as well as the common ULS log path.


As a seasoned (crusty) SharePoint IT pro, I thought to myself, “hey ULSViewer, you seem smart… figure it out yourself!” After all, this isn’t top-secret information, it’s all right there within the farm configuration. And being the type of person who hates doing anything manually (especially more than once), I wanted some sort of automated fix.

So I set upon writing a fairly simple PowerShell script that would query the farm to grab all the SharePoint servers in the farm, plus the diagnostic (ULS) logging path. These pieces of information are available via two SharePoint PowerShell cmdlets: Get-SPFarm and Get-SPDiagnosticConfig. The rest was just reading and if necessary adding to ULSViewer’s Settings.XML file.

Head on over to the TechNet Gallery to grab the PowerShell script for yourself… heck it could even save you seconds of your precious time!

What I Do.


Over the past few weeks and months I’ve been contemplating putting together a post that describes what I do – partly as a reference to others (to answer that oft-asked question), partly to inventory my own activities and interests, and in no small part to get myself thinking about what lies ahead. I also expect this will be something that gets updated periodically and thus won’t be a snapshot of a particular time in my career (I hope, anyhow).

Why here? Well I thought about making this my LinkedIn summary but I’m not sure if it’s really the appropriate place. Maybe parts of it will make their way in there though. So here goes…

Current / Typical Activities

On any given day you might find me building SharePoint farms (either for testing purposes or for customers of my employer, Navantis). In fact, I build a lot of farms. Or perhaps, more appropriately, AutoSPInstaller does. That’s the PowerShell-based scripted process (which I created over 4 years ago and still maintain regularly) that hundreds of folks across the world have downloaded and used to help build their own SharePoint farms – kinda cool.

But before you build a SharePoint farm, you need to plan, size and architect it. So I also spend a fair amount of time meeting with customers to discuss their SharePoint infrastructure requirements – with a business angle as much as possible. It’s all well and good for a client to say “oh, we want everything turned on” as far as features and service apps go. But that’s akin to saying you want a 12-bedroom house for your family of 4, “in case we ever grow”. You might be able to afford that large house, but can you afford to heat, cool & maintain it? Similarly, now that you’ve turned on every single available SharePoint service (Lotus Notes connector, anyone?), those things consume memory and resources – and if nobody’s using them (yet, if ever), they’re costing you in terms of server resources.

If all goes well, the outcome of these planning and requirements gathering activities is a good solid SharePoint architecture design, which then feeds very nicely into the afore-mentioned scripted installation procedure.

It’s not all net-new builds of course. I find myself doing SharePoint health checks more and more these days, which quite often transition into either remediation mini-projects or full-blown farm re-builds, depending on the results of the health checks. I expect these types of engagements to increase in frequency as all those on-premises SharePoint 2007, 2010 and 2013 environments out there age and, as is unfortunately typical, don’t get the TLC they deserve.

With regard to SharePoint/Windows operations and management, well I also create and maintain some scripts for that, too. Mind you, I certainly wouldn’t say I do proper software development or coding; however, having worked with and supported developers for most of my career in IT, I have a good understanding of the development lifecycle and the peculiarities and challenges faced.

Otherwise, I do a fair bit of estimation and project management ‘lite’: How long will this particular SharePoint deployment take, based on number of farms, servers,  service apps being provisioned, etc.? What’s the anticipated project velocity, given the level of knowledge the customer’s own resources have, their change management processes, overall policies, and other intangible environmental factors? Finally, what are the assumptions we’re making, and the associated risks if our assumptions are wrong or not met? Experience has led me to a fairly robust personal process for gathering all of this information, which I refine with each engagement. You might even catch me fussing about in Microsoft Project to collect a lot of this information, too.

What I’m passionate about

I love automating mundane tasks, templating, and all-around maximizing re-use. I also have a knack for (and get energized from) solving tough technical issues, digging under the covers, taking a step back (or several steps back) when required and methodically walking through an issue – and realizing there’s no such thing as dumb questions along the way.

Applying best practices – a frequently-used term that’s actually tough to nail down (e.g. as defined by whom? And for whom?), though luckily within communities like SharePoint there appears to be consensus on most so-called best practices, blessed by those with  ample field experience, with backing evidence. I like to count my own experiences among those, which gives me that additional confidence and personal satisfaction.

New technology! I’m an early adopter (to a fault sometimes). Phones, tablets, laptops, servers, I love reading about news & advancements on all of these. However, as much as I’d like to, say, install that Windows 9 preview on my work laptop, experience (age?) has taught me that sometimes it’s best to hold off. But then again, here comes technology to the rescue – I can run it in a local virtual machine 🙂 which I do frequently with a lot of new tech. I consider it almost a duty to test out new SharePoint updates for example – at least so far as how they install and integrate.

What I want to do more of

Knowledge transfer (fancy consultant phrase for teaching)… Standing up in front of individuals and audiences and presenting my perspective on how things should be installed, should run and be maintained/operated, etc. This could involve travel to different cities for brief stints (conferences, yay), although admittedly that’s tough at the current point in my life with 4 young kids (including 3 under age 5). One of my regrets in life is that I didn’t catch the speaking bug earlier in my career – would have loved to travel to conferences around the world speaking on the topics I’m passionate about. Hopefully as things get easier on the home front this dream will become more of a reality.

Teamwork is unfortunately something that seems to be getting more and more rare in my current role. Seems I’m a bit of a lone wolf – most projects don’t have the budget to support more than one of me! While there may be several developers, business analysts, etc. I tend to be the only infrastructure architect. So I actually (gasp!) look forward to meetings where I can interface with the other team members and share my thoughts and advice.

What I want to do less of

Documentation for documentation’s sake. Yes, I get it, it’s a big part of a consultant’s job. But there are two problems as I see it. One, I consider myself really slow at writing documentation because I’m a perfectionist. I’m constantly correcting and re-correcting my writing to the point where a paragraph seems to take forever to put together. Second, so much of the documentation us consultants write seems to end up in a black hole, or filed off in some file share (document library) somewhere where it quickly grows old and obsolete before anyone really reads it. To me, the time spent writing these pages upon pages could be better spent teaching, scripting (yay), actually doing, or worst case, writing concise, quick-reference material that’s both easy to read and easy to keep current.

In fact, much of the motivation behind AutoSPInstaller was to replace the long series of screen caps & instructions found in typical SharePoint “build books” with something that would not only help someone rebuild a SharePoint environment, but would do so in the most automated and error-free way possible. I get a great sense of satisfaction telling customers “There will be NO build book… <dramatic pause> – you will get something better.”

Extreme multi-tasking is another thorn in my side. Sure I like to be busy – way more than I like having idle time. Being busy on a handful of tasks while feeling they are all moving forward is one thing, but being busy trying to juggle tasks, where a lot of effort is spent just switching contexts does not amount to a lot of productivity and just leaves me feeling bewildered and like I haven’t accomplished anything.

Work environment

Delivery-based work – in other words, being given the autonomy as a seasoned IT pro to make the call about where I can best be productive given the type of work I’m currently engaged in – be it a coffee shop, library, home (though not likely with 2-4 kids in the house at any given moment!), the client site, or maybe even the office (!) I want my (prospective) employer to say (implicitly or explicitly) “we don’t care where you work, as long as you get it done”. Mind you, if the “it” is something like “gather requirements” then obviously that won’t work nearly as well from the comfort of my own basement than it would in the same room as the customer. The point is, *I* can make (and have consistently made) the right decision about the where, and luckily these days it seems more and more employers are realizing the direct benefit of granting their staff the same degree of flexibility.

Further to my earlier claim as a lone wolf of sorts, I enjoy work environments with a healthy social component. Anyone who’s subject to my social media posts will attest to the fact that I love to (over)share my various exploits and experiences, but nothing beats human interaction – be it a pub night (SharePint!), sporting event, or casual lunchtime conversation. Work environments that promote this type of collaboration are tops in my books.


This concludes a brief bit of insight into the life of a consultant, architect & IT pro, currently working in the SharePoint space. Again, this post is really more of a self-inventory – a fulfillment of a promise to reflect on and record my professional activities, attitude and interests. Hope you found it useful, or at least mildly interesting…!

Using AutoSPInstaller to Run Specific Configuration Changes


-UPDATED May 2019-

While AutoSPInstaller (my open-source project for installing SharePoint 2010-2019) is designed so it can be run and re-run as often as required to complete or tweak the installation and initial configuration of a SharePoint farm, there admittedly are times when executing the entire scripted process might seem like overkill.

For example, you might want to provision a service application that you accidentally had left set to “false” the first time around. Or, you might want to rewire which servers in your farm are running the Distributed Cache service (maybe to create a dedicated Cache cluster). Alternately, maybe several months (and changes) have passed since your farm was built, and your level of confidence that something hasn’t diverged from your original XML configuration (to the point of conflicting with it) isn’t rock-solid.

Luckily, since the included file AutoSPInstallerModule.psm1 is, as the filename suggests, now an actual module with a collection of PowerShell functions, you can actually isolate and run these chunks of script code individually. The advantages are twofold: First, you can continue to leverage the consistent and automated approach that helped get your farm built quickly in the first place. Second, you can completely bypass all the redundant steps in the process (such as checking for and creating web apps, adding managed accounts, etc.) and can be assured that only the net-new changes you need will be executed.

To do this, you’ll obviously need the AutoSPInstaller script files themselves, as well as the AutoSPInstallerInput*.xml file you used to originally build the farm (with your new modifications included of course). For the steps below, you’ll want to be logged in as the SharePoint installer account (you did use a dedicated account to install SharePoint, right?)

First, we want to grab the full path to your XML, so we can easily paste it below. A quick shortcut to do this is to shift-right-click the XML file itself and select Copy as path:


Now, launch a SharePoint Management Console (as Administrator), and enter the following in order to assign the content of our input file to an XML object:

[xml]$xmlinput = (Get-Content "<path to your XML file which you can just paste here>") -replace "localhost", $env:COMPUTERNAME

Note that you can simply paste the path to your XML in the designated space above (by the way, the line above was basically pulled straight from AutoSPInstallerMain.ps1).

Now that our entire XML input file is loaded and available as $xmlinput, we can use it to pass parameters to many of the functions found in AutoSPInstallerModule.psm1. First however we’ll need to make those functions available to us in this console – this is accomplished by simply importing the module. Here we have another one-liner, and if we use the same technique to copy the path to our AutoSPInstallerModule.psm1 as we did above, we can just type something like the following:

Import-Module -Name "C:\SP\Automation\AutoSPInstallerModule.psm1" -Verbose

(TIP: including the -Verbose switch above will output all the available functions for easy reference)

Finally, we’re ready to call nearly any of the functions in AutoSPInstaller (in fact we can use familiar tab-based autocomplete to get their names, too) since they’re loaded in memory for the current PowerShell console.

Let’s say for example we want to provision Business Connectivity Services on this particular server (the one we’re logged on to, that is). We would simply enter:

CreateBusinessDataConnectivityServiceApp $xmlinput

At this point, the BCS service app should get provisioned based on the details in our XML input file:


Note, if nothing happens, it’s likely because you forgot to change the XML Provision attribute from “false” to either “true” or the name of your target server.

That’s really about all there is to it. Hopefully this helps folks who are leery of running the entire monolithic AutoSPInstaller process just to make small changes to their existing farms.

(Oh I realize the current layout & structure of AutoSPInstaller may not be optimal – namely, much of this should probably have been implemented as one or more PowerShell modules… it’s in the queue of future enhancements!)

Update- the entire post above was updated to reflect the fact that the AutoSPInstaller functions file has been converted to a PowerShell module!

Slipstreaming issues beginning with SharePoint August 2012 CU (Part 2)


In my last post, I described the installation errors that I experienced when attempting to do a slipstreamed install of SharePoint 2010 with SP1 + August 2012 CU, and a workaround that I’d implemented in AutoSPInstaller to allow the script to proceed beyond the error. It seems however that I was a tad hasty… subsequent testing revealed that the errors were not just benign & safely ignore-able – you’d basically be left with a half-patched SP2010 installation afterwards. This was evidenced on two fronts: the version info on certain files were still showing the SP1 build, and the fact that I was able to re-run the August 2012 CU after the supposed successful slipstreamed install and could see it was actually doing stuff (instead of just quickly exiting with an “…already applied” type of message.

In discussing this problem with the usual suspects, we discovered that the August 2012 CU does indeed behave differently. Although SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1 was nearly always listed as a prerequisite for CUs released after it, up until recently it seems it didn’t actually matter whether SP1 was installed before or after the CU. However, with the release of the August 2012 CU, this has apparently changed – the CU won’t even install on an existing farm if it fails to detect the presence of SP1.

Though we have a support case open with Microsoft about this issue, at the moment we don’t have a real solution. One viable workaround though would involve simply using a slipstreamed source containing SP1 (optionally with the June 2012 CU – the most recent one that worked for full slipstreaming), then afterwards applying the August (or October) 2012 CU. Yes, a pain in the butt… You could even go one step further and run the CU with unattended switches to ease the manual pain – probably the best approach if you’re looking for the latest & greatest SharePoint 2010 build with minimum steps & effort.

I’ll update this post as soon as I confirm any new details, either from the open support case or from the general Interwebz/Twitterz.

Update (Jan 14/2013): Trevor has posted this update based on the support case he opened with Microsoft. Let’s cross our fingers that we see a fix before (heck, or even with) SP2.

Slipstreaming issues beginning with SharePoint August 2012 CU (and a fix)


Ever since the release of the August 2012 SharePoint 2010 Cumulative Update (CU), I (and several others) noticed that, during the SharePoint binary file installation portion of AutoSPInstaller, it would fail with a PatchApplicationFailure error in the SharePoint installation log, if we integrated Service Pack 1 + the August 2012 CU in the SP2010 install media. Since this did not happen with any prior CU up to and including June 2012, those of us affected basically thought we’d found a bug in the CU. Famous SharePoint admin dude Todd Klindt even included it on his Bugs & Regressions page.

Feeling smug & confident that I’d been part of discovering a sneaky bug, I waited patiently for the latest October 2012 CU to be released, hoping it would provide a fix. Wellll imagine my surprise when I ran into the very SAME issue with the slipstreamed October 2012 CU media… Hang on, I thought. This couldn’t still be an issue with this latest CU. I turned to a good ol’ search of the Interwebz and found a shockingly low number of hits for the problem. Surely, if it were truly a bug then lots more folks would be experiencing it. But the top search hits actually came back to my AutoSPInstaller discussions on the issue. Hmm.

Time to try a manual (non-scripted) install of SharePoint then. Let’s see if it fails, gives a warning, or otherwise indicates a corruption of the install media. What I found was a familiar dialog box, but with a message I’d never seen before:


Note the text – “Some updates were not installed”. Well, we know that during our scripted install, some updates were indeed not installed – and this caused AutoSPInstaller to blow up & exit. However, the dialog box above simply notes it as an FYI, and allows us to proceed with the usual Config Wizard. Huh?

I did a comparison of the SharePoint installation log files – the log produced when AutoSPInstaller errored out, and the one associated with the apparently successful manual installation above. To my (repeated) surprise, both logs included the PatchApplicationFailure error. But, although this may be a new thing starting with the August 2012 CU, it apparently isn’t considered something critical enough to cause the installation to fail. Further, I noticed that both logs contained the message: “Successfully installed package: oserver” – which I take to be an indication that the setup process as a whole was a net success.

It soon became clear to me why AutoSPInstaller was bombing out. After the setup of the SharePoint binaries, the script would simply parse the log for the string “Error:” If it found at least one instance of it, it would consider the binary installation a failure and throw an error. This worked fine for every type of slipstreamed installation until the August 2012 CU. For reasons as-yet unknown, this update (and presumably all CUs going forward) does things differently to the effect that a successful installation can still actually contain errors in the log…

Luckily the fix was simple. In addition to parsing the log for the string “Error:”, I now needed to search for the string “Successfully installed package: oserver”, and modify the If statement to look for both the presence of “Error:” and the absence of “Successfully installed package: oserver” – in other words, if there was an error in the log but no message indicating overall success, then AutoSPInstaller should throw an error.

The updated AutoSPInstaller changeset that fixes this problem can be obtained as always from http://autospinstaller.codeplex.com/SourceControl/list/changesets and will eventually make its way into the default recommended AutoSPInstaller download package.

Note: At the time of writing this I realized this is seemingly not all there is to this issue. Part 2 of this post will delve deeper – stay tuned!

Using PowerShell to Automate SQL 2008 R2 SP1 Slipstreaming


Like most of you SharePoint folks, I find myself installing SQL Server quite frequently (since SharePoint has an ever-so-slight dependency on it). However I also like to have the latest & greatest service pack in my environments, and currently this means SP1 for SQL 2008 R2 (yeah I know SQL 2012 is out, but most of my clients are a bit shy with such ‘new’ releases). Since I do extreme slipstreaming of SP1 + CUs for SharePoint as described (for example) in Todd Klindt’s excellent blog post, I looked for a way to do this with my SQL Server 2008 R2 binaries.

The slipstreaming process for SQL Server is a bit convoluted, and for a guy like me, very forgettable. It is however fairly well documented in articles like this one. Therefore I sat down on evening and sought to automate the process, in order to minimize the amount of thought and manual effort required.

I wanted this script to:

  • Copy the original RTM binary files from a DVD/ISO/directory to my designated path
  • Download the SP1 packages for me (cuz I didn’t want to have to remember or hunt around for the URLs for the service packs for each respective platform (IA64, x64, x86) each time I needed to slipstream)
  • Extract each platform service pack (thus avoiding having to remember the associated command-line switches)
  • Make the required edits to each platform-specific DefaultSetup.ini
  • Place a nice little text file to serve as a label in the target path, to remind me that I’d slipstreamed this particular binary source location

Anyhow I’m happy to announce my successful first attempt at tackling the automated slipstreaming of SQL 2008 R2 + SP1 via PowerShell, and you can grab it from the TechNet Script Center Gallery, here.


P.S. My next goal in case you’re interested is of course to automate SharePoint 2010 service pack and cumulative update slipstreaming, but due to the way MS packages their CUs this has proven challenging (apparently there are no known command-line switches for the downloaded Microsoft Self-Extractor packages!)

What’s In Store For AutoSPInstaller v.Next


Well it’s been a little while since the last AutoSPInstaller release (and the last blog post, to be honest) but let me assure you it’s been all work and (slightly less) play! The last few months have seen a pretty intense development crunch for the automated SharePoint 2010 install/config script, and I just can’t seem to figure out when to call it quits and stop scope-creeping myself. Anyhow I think it’s time I came up for air to let everyone know what I’ve been up to.

More Of The Same Goodness, Tweaked

While there’s some notable new features (see below), one of the goals of a new release should obviously be to resolve some outstanding issues. So I managed to fit a bunch of fixes in, and here are some of them in no particular order…

First, the CreateEnterpriseSearchServiceApp function seems to have never been able to successfully have more than one query server and successfully create the query topology (for reasons that turned out to be pretty odd.) Expect a fix for that in v3.

Also, the ValidatePassphrase function will now actually check farm passphrases against all criteria (previously, the requirement for an 8-character minimum was missing).

A nice treat for me was stumbling upon http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2581903. Why? Because it explains a nagging issue I’d been having lately with the PrerequisiteInstaller.exe – namely that it would almost always crap out on KB976462 lately. Well it turns out the fix is simple – as per the article, I re-jigged the InstallPrerequisites function to install the .Net Framework prior to running PrerequisiteInstaller.exe. Done and done.

Finally and maybe worth mentioning is the small but interesting addition of a timer for the SharePoint and Office Web Apps binary installation functions. This is nice for when you’re trying to get an idea of how long each install takes (e.g. for comparing the speed of various servers & platforms).

Sure there are other tweaks and fixes here and there, but let’s get to the new stuff…

Run Once, Install Many

A much pondered (if not requested) feature of AutoSPInstaller was the ability to install and configure your entire farm from a single, central server. Well ponder no more; I’ve had a good deal of success in finally remote-enabling the SharePoint scripted process. Lots of hoops to jump through for this one, including leveraging the ever-useful PsExec.exe to, uh, remotely open the door to PowerShell remoting in the first place. I expect this feature will go through a LOT of iterations since it seems there are a ton of things that can cause remoting to go wonky, never mind trying to do a full SharePoint 2010 install over a remote session!

So far I’ve had repeated luck building 2 and 3-server farms – can’t wait to try it on larger target farms with decently-powered hardware though. Oh and one more thing – the machine on which you trigger the install doesn’t even have to be one of the farm servers…

Simultaneous Installs

Hand-in-hand with the new remote functionality is the promise of parallel installations. Some of the faithful have asked, “Hey, why can’t we have multiple binary installs going at once, since these can take a long time, especially when installing n-server SharePoint 2010 farms?” Following a suggestion that was made on the AutoSPInstaller discussion list, I’ve implemented the ability to pause after the binaries have completed installing. That way, you can safely kick off the script on as many servers as you’d like at the same time, then return to each server one at a time to press a key and configure/join the farm.

Further, if remote installs have been specified, the script will kick off simultaneous remote sessions to each server in the farm and perform the binary install portion of the script. For now, each session will wait for input (key press) before proceeding with the farm config/join, but the ultimate goal is to go fully automated and have each session somehow detect when the farm is ‘ready to be joined’.

DB Control Freaks, Rejoice

Another oft-requested piece of functionality is the ability to spread your SharePoint 2010 databases out to more than just one SQL server. This is certainly a nice-to-have for large farms where (for example) you’d like your Search databases to have dedicated hardware. Or, maybe you need to put a particular content database on an extra-secure and isolated SQL cluster instance.

The next version of AutoSPInstaller will include the ability to specify a different SQL server (and SQL alias!) for each web app, and nearly every service app you can think of. The semi-exception is Search, which does allow for a different SQL instance to be specified, but currently won’t automatically create your alias for you (though you can simply create one manually, in advance).

Even if you don’t plan on using distributed SQL servers now, but are thinking you might need to segregate your DB back-end duties in the future, you can take advantage of this new feature by creating different SQL aliases (pointing to the same SQL instance, for now). The aliases can then fairly easily be re-pointed to different SQL instances later. Cheap insurance for growing farms that aren’t quite ready to spring for all that new SQL server hardware on day one.

Choose Your Input

Last and probably least, the under-appreciated AutoSPInstallerLaunch.bat will support an arbitrarily-named input XML file passed to it as an argument. So, if you’re like me and have amassed a decent collection of AutoSPInstallerInput-<string>.XML files, you’ll appreciate the ability to tell the script exactly which XML input file you’d like to use at that particular moment (and not just one auto-detected based on server name, domain etc. – though that’s still supported.)

Aaaaannnndd a nice little feature I discovered (maybe a little late to this party) is that you can actually drag an input file onto the AutoSPInstallerLaunch.bat:


That way, it gets passed to the batch file as an argument without having to type it all out in a command window – a pretty decent time-saving tip!

Coming… when?

Aha, see the note earlier in this post about scope-creep 😉 Well if I can lock things down in the coming days/weeks, I hope to check in some code that you can download and try out on your own. Something I’d consider beta I guess, although there are really two streams going on:

  • The core traditional functionality (one server at-a-time, script launched on each server manually) which is actually pretty stable and has benefitted from the fixes and features listed above
  • The new bleeding-edge remote/parallel install stuff (which can be completely bypassed by setting the appropriate input file parameters to false).

Both will of course be included in the next source code check-in, so you can decide then how lucky you feel 🙂 You can always subscribe to updates to be notified of that imminent update!