Office 365: Mail page blank in Firefox, shows ‘Continue’ on tab

Blogging this one from a colleague in case anyone else hits the same symptoms.

User was logging into Mail in Office 365 using Firefox.

The page was completely blank.

Instead of the browser tab label saying Mail – Username it just said CONTINUE.

Worked correctly in Internet Explorer.

Could access the same Office 365 account correctly from another computer on the network using Firefox.

Troubleshooting things that didn’t work:

  • Opening Firefox in safe mode
  • Resetting Firefox to defaults
  • Clearing cache
  • Deleting cookies
  • Removing save password

The fix was to create a new Firefox user profile:

  • Sync Firefox current user profile settings to the internet
  • Create a new user profile, using the Firefox user profile tool
  • Sync old settings to new profile

All settings should come across, except pinned tabs.

Thanks Brian Messenger for sharing your wisdom with me!

-SCuffy

 

P.S.  Looks like the error was a Java problem. Java was installed & active. In fact, all java versions had been removed, the latest reinstalled and verified, but the Firefox console was showing some java commands in a recursive loop.

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Netflix & skill: The magic behind the streaming media provider

I have a whole new appreciation for Netflix.

It should be pretty simple, right? I turn on my smart TV. The Netflix app authenticates me & checks I’ve paid my subscription fee. It delivers content suggestions based on my profile & my previous viewing choices. And it does this on an enormous scale, globally. So you assume they have some pretty big, redundant networks and servers.

That’s the problem with consumer technology that’s this good – we assume it’s simple.

The Atlas team of 5 people (1 devops engineer and 4 platform engineers) might even agree with you, to a point. You see, they’ve made the complicated things simple. Or at least I think they’re complicated. And Matthew Johnson has an incredible way of explaining concepts and details in English, without talking down to you. So without understanding the nuances of his technology, I could follow the bouncing ball as he explained their telemetry system. It’s pretty damn cool.

Like all good telemetry systems, Atlas provides an automated process by which measurements are made and other data is collected and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring. Thanks, Wikipedia. I had no idea.

Before I start talking about some impressive numbers, it’s important to note that we’re talking about the data collection from one part of the Netflix machine – the Cloud control pane. This bit runs the Netflix API, handles the user data, signups, billing etc. Nothing to do with content delivery. Nope, you haven’t even pushed play yet.

Atlas is running in AWS in real time storing data in memory. It’ll hold the last 14 days and anything older will be persisted out to S3, accessible via Hive jobs. It’s designed for operational intelligence – do we have a problem now? Are we currently in a peak demand time or off peak time? This is operational monitoring on steroids.

It’s collecting on average 2 billion metrics per region per minute. Minute. Can you imagine how long it takes to query that amount of data?

1.6 seconds.

Not 16 seconds. That’s not a smudge on your screen. One point six seconds.

Yes, really.

Well, in one example anyway. But that example is fairly typical. Running a particular query on 2 weeks’ worth of data, 1.4 billion input points, 1.3 million output points across 2 output lines … renders your results graph in 1.6 seconds.

And I haven’t mentioned yet that it’s available as Open Source on Github: https://github.com/Netflix/atlas/wiki/Overview

Mind blown.

So just how do they keep it so speedy?

The SLA for metrics is 5 minutes. Anything that takes longer than that will terminate.

Output lines are restricted to a maximum of 1024. Smaller number of output lines = faster response.

Maximum query times and max concurrent queries are enforced.

Alerts are limited to the last hour. Anything else is irrelevant. So only the last hour is feeding into engineers for investigation.

They keep stateful and historic data clusters separate.

The use rollups and filters on data.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the technology in use in this company.

Servo comes into play as a Java library to create & collect metrics and it supports timers, counters and gauges. Spectator is a next gen API wrapper sitting on top of Servo.

Atlas plugin (not open source), handles automatic tagging, metrics batching, and a binary JSON codec which dramatically improves performance of sending metrics to the Atlas backend. That’s important when some apps send up to 350,000 metrics per instance per minute to the Atlas backend.

Their ‘critical metrics’ runs as a separate stack, collecting every 10 seconds and dumping after 2hrs.

They’ve also got on-instance alerts and Atlas polling to monitor the monitoring, providing health checks of the Atlas system itself.

The Atlas Publish component now autoscales. But Netflix had to write it to do that after they had manual scaling issues. They use a rolling red black deployment of instances for high availability which is normally a 12 step process. So Atlas Deploy was created as a ‘stateless multi-threaded deployment automation service that enforces immutable infrastructure with declarative desired end-state configuration’. Or, as I like to call it, ‘self-spawning’.

But let me end this geek fest with some observations.

Nothing out of the box would scale up to what Netflix needed. Most of the technology had to be built in-house, but Netflix have fed Atlas improvements back into the open source code.

Matthew’s advice was “If you have the opportunity to invest serious engineering time into metrics, it pays off.” He also mentioned about reporting on the unused metrics – stop collecting them, to get more efficient.

The most outstanding thing for me though was his understanding of how his role in the company and his code actually helps ‘the Business’. Yes, it’s very cool tech stuff. Yes, making it go faster and be more efficient is rewarding. But Matthew had the best expression of what business Netflix is in and how that business is successful, unscripted and not on the powerpoint slides when asked a question:

“Our goal is to win moments of truth. When you go home at the end of the day and sit down with your family & say what do I want to do to relax this evening, if you choose Netflix, we win that moment of truth. We’ve done our job right. We’ve made it easy for you to find something you’re interested in watching.”

Simple.

I hope that in your company, your techs have the company vision in their hearts as well as Matthew does.

-SCuffy

P.S. You can watch Matthew’s full presentation here: https://vimeo.com/146051830

 

Disclaimer: I attended the Netflix presentation as a guest of Tech Field Day at Data Field Day Roundtable 1. My travel expenses were covered, but I’m not being paid to write this post. 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to “The Technical Details”

The-Technical-Details-ver2.1-5-final.jpg

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little bit of a social media addict. My twitter feed is mostly full of technical IT people, some journalists and a bit of emergency management (earthquakes etc). My Facebook is a lot more private and includes the in-laws and my sister’s family, both overseas.

I noticed that I didn’t belong to a technical community on Facebook. My group memberships relate to my neighbourhood, blogging etc, but nothing technical.

Good technical groups are hard to find. I want to talk about sys admin stuff, mainly in the Microsoft space but thrown in some Cloud, Apple etc. I want a space that tells me the latest news. I don’t want a free for all about what anti-virus software is the best or how Company X is screwing us over and we should all go open source.

Being a ‘women in tech’, it also needs to be female-friendly. That should go without saying, but a minority of people still don’t treat females as equal contributors.

So, The Technical Details has been born!

It’s a Page and not a Group – on purpose.

It’s run by Microsoft Ignite Speaker and sys admin extraordinaire Jess Dodson (@girlgerms) and myself (@Cuff_S).

We’d love your contributions too. Send us a message, post something to the page and most importantly, comment and get involved in the discussions.

If you’ve seen a great blog post, heard an awesome podcast episode or if you’re excited about an upcoming technical conference, let us know too so we can promote it.

We won’t specifically be pushing a Women in Tech message because this is about the technical stuff. But it will be a safe place to promote anyone doing great things in tech, no matter what size organization they work for or what gender they are.

So come and join us – let’s talk about The Technical Details.

 

 

 

USA bound for Tech Field Day!

It’s the morning before I leave for 18.5hrs of travel. Stating the obvious, Australia is a long way from America (and I’m only going to the West Coast). But I’m beyond thrilled to have been given this opportunity.

To my non IT friends and family, I’m going to Silicon Valley for a conference.

That conference is Tech Field Day’s Virtualization Field Day 6 http://techfieldday.com/event/vfd6/ If you’re awake during San Jose’s day, you can even see live video streaming of the day on that page. If you have twitter, play along with the hashtag #VFD6

The event is structured so companies can present to the 11 attending delegates and we can discuss their products, ask questions and give them feedback. What a great chance for them to get real world feedback from a small, experienced group of IT Pros, from all sorts of backgrounds and hometowns.

My call came late one night in the form of a private tweet. “Have you thought about attending one of our conferences?” I laughed and said it was a bit far away (read:expensive), to be told that all expenses are paid for delegates. Ok. So some random guy on the internet is offering me an all expenses paid trip to the US of A. You know when things sound too good to be true and you might end up in a hotel bathtub with your kidneys missing??

Fortunately Stephen Foskett from Gestalt IT wasn’t so random and have gave me a few names of past attendees, some who I already knew. This is for real and someone recommended me. Me.

This is where I have to add that if your view of social media is it’s self centred, full of bullying and downright boring.. think again. Through my tweets, blogs etc, the Tech Field Day team could see my level of technical knowledge and my willingness to give back to the wider tech community. Social media just got me a free trip to America, my friends. http://techfieldday.com/about/

So now I had to break the news to my husband. Not only is this amazing man running our business without me for a week, he’s also parenting our 10yo & 6yo daughters by himself (that’s a shorter work day right there). And next week it’s his birthday….when Miss 10 has a full dress rehearsal for her dance concert. Did I mention how much I love this man?

Tech Field Day guessed I’d be hopeless with jetlag and are flying me in a few days early to get my body clock adjusted. This meant I’ll already be in town for an extra day that popped up on the calendar … Data Field Day Roundtable http://techfieldday.com/event/dfdr1/Yippee!

And I still get a day to sleep and a day to shop. That’s very important, because I owe my husband a present from the Microsoft Store!

Right now I’m 26hrs out from my airport checkin time and I haven’t packed a single thing. This is how I operate though. Plenty of time today for packing and charging all the things.

But the highest priority (apparently) is installing Windows 10 Minecraft on my laptop because I’m taking the Surface Pro that Miss 6 uses to play it with her sister. Guess I better get onto that!

-SCuffy

Disclaimer: I’m attending Virtualization Field Day 6 and Data Field Day Roundtable 1 as a guest of Gestalt IT.

The problem with Partners

Handshake channel partners

As a ‘partner’ in the ‘channel’ (just imagine the air quotes), I’m going to stand on my soapbox and have a little chat about the role that we play in making software & hardware companies successful. Yeah, that totally sounded conceited, but follow along with me here.

There are so many facets to this chat that this post won’t be published in its original form. It’s going to take time to organise these thoughts into a logical sequence that flows, because the partner relationship is not a simple conversation.

Let’s start with this: One of the biggest barriers I see to customers in the SMB space adopting Microsoft Cloud solutions is the belief that they need an IT guy (partner) to implement them and manage them. And yes, I’m talking about the smaller Ss in SMB, generally, especially the ones who are used to doing their own IT in house.

Society has grown up with a belief that Microsoft equals complicated and requires a computer nerd and that Google is easy and is all about self service. How many small businesses Googled (pun intended) “Google IT guy” to come and set up gmail accounts, Google Drive or even Google Apps for Business? Now with the last one, yes maybe –  depending on your organisation’s size & complexity, you might have sought some help. But Google made it look like setting up Google Apps for Business was no harder than setting up Dropbox.

Microsoft have tried to do the same with Office 365, but it’s falling on deaf ears. While Office 365 is adopted by small businesses who grab a subscription for Office for 12 months with their new computer, anything more complicated than that sees them tracking down an IT guy.  It’s not that Office 365 is all that hard. It’s that there’s this perception that Microsoft equals hard.

And we’re not doing ourselves any favours when a new generation used to iDevices is no longer interested in building a computer from scratch, formatting it and upgrading it. That used to be the only way to get your hands on technology. If the home computer was broken, you’d be figuring out how to fix it, not performing a factory reset then booking an appointment at the Genius bar. This tinkering nurtured any interest in the tricky side of technology, not just the consumption of it, but now it’s on the decline.

So, in the SMB space, Microsoft is left to the mercy of the partners. And the game has changed. No longer are we dealing with long lifecycles for software products. No longer are we waiting years for new features and months and months and months for service packs. And with this monumental shift to how Microsoft delivers things, the partner community is divided.

In the blue corner, we have the traditional break/fix/wipe/reload guys who are sick to death already of the pace of change. They’re shaking their fists at the Cloud and how much there is to learn, how fast everything is changing, how there’s something new every day (or so).

In the red corner, we have the ‘Born in the Cloud’ partners – the ones who can deliver a convincing cost-effective argument against an on-premises server before you’ve even had time to blink.

And somewhere in the middle, you have a group of partners who are ‘getting it’ – the ones who are investing the time to upgrade their skills and are taking their customers on the learning journey with them, one solution at a time. They won’t race out and convert everyone to Azure tomorrow. But they’ll be smart enough to be looking it as each new customer project comes up.

I couldn’t tell you what the split is like across those groups.  My perception is swayed by the people I hang out with, which for me fall into all three camps. But that’s the reality of what the software manufacturers have to deal with. Who stands between them and the customer? Is that a help or a hindrance? How do you bring the channel along for the ride, educate them on your vision and upskill them, when many of them are busy working for the next invoice? How do you keep the early adopters happy and bring up the technology laggards (I’m still talking partners here, not customers).

Does Google even have that challenge? It’s a two sided coin. While I can see that a direct customer relationship is working for them, Steve Kiernan at CRN Australia writes that partners are Microsoft’s secret weapon. Perhaps Steve and I talking about different ends (sizes) of the market?

Steve is spot on about Microsoft’s commitment to partners in Australia. I’ve never seen so many free or low cost in person technical events from the corporation. SMB partners don’t sell products that they don’t know and that they don’t already love. The Cloud internal use rights in Microsoft’s Action Pack subscription are the perfect vehicle for partners to touch, migrate and tweak these new offerings, as well as the Office 365 demos. So Microsoft is left wondering what else it needs to do to generate more sales in the SMB market.

Microsoft’s biggest challenge is getting the time-poor partners to  invest their time in learning new products and new skills. That was a no brainer when they introduced Small Business Server, because the partners fell in love with the product. They easily saw an opportunity to sell it and more importantly to sell the migration project that was needed to implement it. But for many partners, the Cloud is still an optional extra when customers have an on-prem environment that currently works. We’ve seen that most partners look at technology like Office 365 when another event precedes it – the Exchange server goes end of life, the customer is opening second office etc. It’s business need led, not partner led. It’s easier to sell to a customer when they are already prepared for a change of some sort anyway.

The truth is, time might be running out for partners. I’m now answering questions from partners that are just starting their Cloud learning journey when we’ve been doing this for 2 years (and I don’t consider that long). Partners are realising that a lot of great new features are now Cloud only or at least Cloud first. Yes, that’s in Microsoft’s mantra, so get used to it.

And I can hear the cries that the pace of change is too fast, that Microsoft hasn’t taken into account the real world, that partners are fed up of having everything thrust on them with no opportunity for input. The last one I’d agree with to some extent but here’s the thing – Microsoft does provide opportunities for you to have your say. You just need to know where to find them (surveys, Yammer groups, User Voice, Windows Insider program, Office 365 fast ring, feedback at every in person session that’s run). That probably won’t change the direction of crucial product feature decision, but it might. Can you say ‘Start menu’?

Microsoft’s launch of the Surface Book laptop (the laptop that’s a tablet that replaces your tablet that replaces your laptop) was a wake-up call to hardware partners/manufacturers. With the Windows 10 operating system coded to be happy across multiple devices, Microsoft needed a show-off piece that would push the performance to its limits. Instead of waiting for a hardware vendor to make one, they made their own, including developing their own chip. Would you be upset if you were a hardware vendor? If you produced high end laptops, you would. Or maybe you’d shrug and continue to push your cheaper, bottom end devices to the market. Either way, it was a bold move on Microsoft’s part, literally taking hardware into their own hands.

In conclusion, while I’ve pulled apart some of the challenges, I don’t think I’ve found an easy answer. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the answer is found in the partners who are successfully embracing Cloud while keeping on-prem customers happy and the invoices rolling in. Should we tap into their secrets?

I’ll tell you one thing though … they’ve had exactly the same training opportunities and resources that the rest of the partner channel have had access too. They’ve just done something with it.

-SCuffy

P.S. I’d love to hear from those outside of the Microsoft space with your views on partner relationships with your software vendor.

KoalaSafe Internet Filter – Review

KoalaSafe

Having a rather complicated home network, I’ve struggled to find an Internet filtering product that lets me work like I need to AND doesn’t need to be ‘installed’ on the devices that my kids use. I was excited to hear about the KoalaSafe kickstarter campaign then, that promised a safe WiFi network of its own.

KoalaSafe

Remember, this works by providing a filtered Wi-Fi network, so if your teens have smartphones or tablets with SIM cards, they will still have unrestricted Internet access via the mobile network. It is great for kids using Wi-Fi only devices or if mum & dad have turned off mobile data (and they aren’t old enough to figure out how to turn it back on again).

The box itself is CUTE and measures only 5.5cm (2.5 inches) square. Though my parcel had sustained some damage, the dense foam inside meant my unit was completely protected, at least from this corner impact. It comes with a Cat6 networking cable (that’s flat – which is a nice little design touch) and a power cable. The instructions in the box are an extremely basic one page diagram, showing you how to plug it into your network and telling you to install an app (Android and iOS).

Koalasafe Side WP_20151003_006 Koalasafe packaging KoalaSafe Instructions

The app is key to everything. It connects to your device, sets up time schedules and allows or blocks websites & apps. Once your KoalaSafe is plugged in and the app is installed, you pair the device with your app, set up a WiFi password and start configuring the profiles.

You can set up profiles for people individually, add which devices are theirs and also set a profile that applies to ‘Everybody else’.

KoalaSafe Create Profile

Create a new profile then set schedules for when the Internet will be on or off each day. More than one time schedule per day is allowed. If you want to extend the Internet ‘ON’ time during a scheduled time, the app allows you to have the internet on for another 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever.  You can also turn the internet off during a normal ‘on’ time schedule, so if the kids normally have an hour now, you can override that and only give them 30 more minutes from now, for example.

KoalaSafe Profile KoalaSafe Schedule

Then take a look at App and Site Blocking. The list of categories lets you drill down into specifics (eg Minecraft, Facebook, YouTube with SafeSearch etc) and you can manually add a website to allow or to block.

KoalaSafe Blocking KoalaSafe Blocking KoalaSafe Game Blocking

Grab the device you want to filter and connect it to the KoalaSafe WiFi network. You’ll need to make sure you ‘forget’ any other other WiFi networks they’d previously connected to at home. It’s also a good idea to change those WiFi passwords so the kids don’t try and reconnect to them manually.

Once the device is connected, you can go into the profile you created and add the device to it. There’s no authentication via profile names –  KoalaSafe just matches the device’s MAC address to the profile it has been added to.

All restrictions on a connected device can be overridden by using the app to put that profile\device into ‘Parent Mode’ for 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever. This is really handy when you share an iPad with your kids, but you’ll need your iOS or Android device handy to toggle it.

Support is mainly via an online forum, which the KoalaSafe team are quick to respond to. The app has a diagnostics test and communicates with the KoalaSafe server, so the support team aren’t flying blind if you do have a hiccup. They’re also keen to hear your suggestions for improvements including other sites to add to the category lists.

If I had to be picky, there are only 3 things I’d improve:
Error messages: Because behind the scenes there’s DNS redirection happening, a failure to connect to a website looks like just that – a ‘page cannot be displayed’ error. There’d no redirect to a branded error page telling you KoalaSafe is blocking it. This isn’t a show stopper though.

Different blocking rules per time schedule: Ideally I’d like to be able to allow Google SafeSearch and homework type websites during ‘homework hours’ and not allow social media. Then another time schedule (say after 5pm on weekends) would allow the fun stuff too. This might get pretty complicated to display & configure though, given the limitations of an app interface.

Access to local network resources: The DNS redirection applies to ALL traffic. This means that when a device is connected to KoalaSafe, it can’t connect to anything on your local network (eg other computers at home, your printer and in our case, my local Minecraft server). This is currently being discussed in the support forms.

Usage reporting is coming soon, showing you a graph of usage by time throughout the week (eek) and how that was broken down into each of the categories (by percentage). Fortunately I won’t be connecting my work computer so my husband won’t see just how much of my day is spent on social media.

KoalaSafe Usage

Overall, after a little bit of setup, the KoalaSafe works well for keeping my kids from unexpectedly seeing things on the Internet that they shouldn’t see and from creating Facebook accounts without me knowing (well, at home anyway). I like knowing that their devices aren’t running the extra overhead of filtering software and the KoalaSafe is a one-off purchase price, not an annual subscription.

You can purchase a KoalaSafe at http://koalasafe.com/ for USD$90

-SCuffy

NB:This review was independent and NOT sponsored. But hey, if you’re reading this and ever want to send me some stuff for free to review, go right ahead! I promise I’ll disclose it. 🙂

Scam email from Microsoft Management Team

This landed in my Inbox last week.

It’s a phishing scam, designed to capture your real login details and is definitely not from Microsoft.

It’s good practice to log straight into the website or Cloud service in your web browser to check the validity of any warnings like these. Don’t click on links in your emails!

From: Microsoft Management Team <update.m01205@outlook.com>

Subject: Your Microsoft account requires update

Hi Microsoft User,

Your mailbox Size is almost full. Incoming mails might soon be rejected and Your mailbox might be closed.

1969MB 2000MB

kindly click here and sign-in to update your mailbox immediately to avoid account deactivation.   Note:If the LlNKS are not working, please move message from bulk to “Inbox” folder and try CLlCKING again.

Warning:Account owner that refuses to update his/her account after 5 days of receiving this warning will lose his or her account. Please do not ignore this notice.

Thanks.

Best regards,

The Microsoft Team

Microsoft Management Team Scam

-SCuffy