I Like Plumbing

Not the water kind, the telecom kind.

Right now, I’m in the midst of planning and preparing to move our office to a new location. Since telecom is a lot of setting and forgetting, I’ve been having a great time reviewing the phone numbers we use, what they are used for, deciding if they’ll be needed in the new location and refreshing my memory on some of the details of our Shoretel configuration.

Things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Analog Devices – Our existing office has old 66-blocks wired back to the desks that I’ve used to punch down fax machines and analog polycoms.  Our new office won’t have 66-blocks, so I need to allot space on or LAN racks for connecting the wiring pairs from the harmonica whips on the Shoretel switches.  And make sure that the two cable drops we are doing everywhere is going to be enough for each location.
  • Backup Lines – The phone system will use a regular PRI trunk, but we also have regular POTS lines installed as a backup.  Those need to be grouped in a Hunt Group over at AT&T and the configuration on the DIDs need to allow for roll-over if the PRI goes down.
  • AT&T is moving away from their legacy Centrex Voicemail service and with our move, we can’t retain the few VM boxes we have for external uses. Turns out we’ll only need one (as part of our disaster recovery planning) and I’m fine with having an new number issued on the new Unified Messaging platform AT&T is selling now. 
  • We have a lot of guest phones and old devices on the floor now that won’t be needed in the new office. It’s time for me to wander around and start collecting that up.  Today I have that time, I know in the next few week, I probably won’t.

Hope everyone has a great long weekend filled with turkey, stuffing and pie!

What’s A Techie To Do?

Or rather, what have I been up to lately?

Been doing a lot of “spring” cleaning at the office. Trying to tie up loose ends on lots of little projects.

1) Upgrading Shoretel – I’ve been using Shoretel since Shoretel 5. We’ve been through several upgrades since then and last week moved to Shoretel 12.3.  We have a fabulous reseller that did most of the work for me. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch the magic. The trickiest part was getting the MSI file for the new desktop software, Shoretel Communicator, out of the setup file so I could deploy it with a GPO.  This guy had a good blog post that helped me out.

2) Removal of Exchange 2003 – Back in October I migrated our mail to Exchange 2010 SP1. Our old server had going through several stages of being decommissioned and had been left turned off for several months as other more pressing project got to me. I finally turned it back on and ran the setup program to remove it.  It didn’t go completely flawlessly, but most issues were resolved by fixing a few public folder replication issues and then deleting the server from the Exchange 2003 ESM.

3) Training for Windows 7 and Office 2010 – We have finally reached the point where we are doing a bunch of hardware refreshes for staff in the office.  That means moving from XP / Office 2007 to Windows 7 and Office 2010.  I’m not doing the hardware deployments, but I’m responsible for providing basic training to the staff so they are prepared for some of the changes that will come.  My first two sessions were this week and I concentrated a lot on the new start menu and taskbar in Windows 7.  Also, Outlook 2010 has quite a few navigation changes that are notable.

4) De-cluttering My Desk – While not a super-techie endeavor, it needed to be done. I trashed piles of CDs and DVDs of very dated software, including diskettes for installing Windows 2000 Server. Diskettes!! Ah!!  If anyone is looking for the DVD to install Windows 95, I’m your girl. I’m hanging that in my cube for decoration.

A Shoretel Upgrade Hiccup, plus Why I Love Our DBAs

A few weeks ago, I posted about our Shoretel upgrade from version 6.1 to 10.1. Overall, the upgrade was smooth and including an upgrade of the conference bridge hardware and software to version 7. However, there was one little post-upgrade problem. I was unable to view or edit the user configuration for a subset of my users using the Shoretel Director web portal. An “data undefined” error would display in my browser and then once that box was clear, the word undefined appeared in one of the data fields for the user. All other fields were blank and I couldn’t perform any actions like delete, save or reset.

After performing a database repair with our VAR, a ticket was opened with Shoretel directly. A Shoretel engineer looked at the issue, took copies of our database and log history from the upgrade and we were left to wait for a resolution of some sort. The users in question had fully functional phones and voicemail, as well as any other feature they had before the upgrade. Outside of a slowing growing list of tweaks I couldn’t make to those users, the system was perfectly stable.

Because the users had fully functional services, I doubted we were up against any major database corruption. While one could argue that we did an extensive upgrade in one evening (6.1 to 7.5 to 8.5 to 10.1) we didn’t deviate from the standard upgrade process that one could have done over time. While waiting for Shoretel to respond to the escalated ticket, our senior in-house DBA came across some free time and was able to take a look at the MySQL database himself.

The list of affected users spanned departments and had very little in common outright. However, I suspected they had some common component enabled and those settings were causing the new version of the Shoretel Director web portal to choke when loading the information. I’ve noticed that some fields that weren’t required in the past (like Last Name) are now required, so I was hoping it was something along those lines.

I provided my list and my hunch to our DBA who started sorting and running queries on our users table to see what could possibly be mucking up the system. It wasn’t long before he found the culprit – the password hash for the conference bridge for those users in question. For the majority of the users of the conference bridge, I used the same, relatively simple password for every person when setting up their bridge access for the first time. The stored hash for that password, as well as one other password that was used more than once in the system, was causing the problem. Our DBA nulled out the passwords and the user settings were then accessible.

We aren’t sure if it was those two particular passwords or the fact that they were duplicated that was the issue, but we did learn that sometimes knowing your data is more important than anything a vendor could do for you. Because we were familiar with our users, our DBA was able to look for patterns that made sense to us. Our ticket has been with Shoretel for several weeks – it was likely they were looking for a programmatic issue of some kind, because the database was technically sound. Not sure how long it would have taken if our DBA hadn’t had time for a side project.

As a systems administrator, I like to think I can troubleshoot most issues. But database management is an area I don’t spend a lot of time in and I’m thankful for having a great DBA resource sitting nearby. Sometimes being good at your job means recognizing those that do their job well too and making sure they know you wouldn’t be nearly as good without them.

The Long Road to Shoretel 10.1

Last week, I upgraded the phone system in the office to Shoretel 10.1. This may not seem like that admirable of a feat, but it has been a long time coming as we’ve been using Shoretel 6.1 for the last several years. Outside of one small version increase to resolve a couple bugs, it’s been the same software on the same server for well over 4 years. Not that I haven’t been trying to upgrade regularly, because I have. I consider it a testament to how great Shoretel has been to us – it just works and works well. It was hard to justify playing with something that did its job everyday.

And that’s what happened. Every year that passed was another year that the to-do list item of “Upgrade Shoretel” was passed over for more pressing projects. But finally, the looming date of Windows 2000 “end-of-life” was hanging out there. Combine that with ribbing I would get from my VAR whenever I called and had to admit I was still several versions behind and I finally stopping putting off the upgrade.

I have to admit, I didn’t do THAT much of the work. Our VAR handled the majority of the driving for the main upgrade, which had several moving parts though was pretty straight forward. We replaced our conference bridge hardware as well, so I copied the appropriate settings from our existing bridge and had that ready to go once the phone system was completed.

We copied the existing 6.1 database to the new server, which left the original server untouched in case we had to rollback. Then on the new server, we watched the default installations of versions 7.5, 8.1 and then finally 10.1 get layered on top. Once the server software was where we needed it to be, we updated the firmware on the switches and the IP phones.

So what are some of the new things in Shoretel 10.1?

1) The Desktop Call Manager works on Windows 7 – The release notes won’t admit to this and only lists support through 64-bit Vista, but Windows 7 works no problem. The server software is supported on 2003 SP2, 2003 R2 and 2008 SP2. (No 2008 R2 support at this time.)

2) Malicious Call Tracing – Provides organizations with the ability to report a malicious call and record the source of the incoming call, assuming the service provider of your external connections support MCID. This isn’t something our office would seem to need at this time, but it could be important in other lines of work.

3) Mobile Call Manager – Additional support for devices, including the BlackBerry Curve 89xx and the Tour 96xx. This is something I’d like to look into configuring for our BlackBerry devices, so I’ll have to research more about how to go about implementing this feature.

Also, we upgraded to the latest version of Converged Conferencing, so I’m hoping the integrated instant message features and the more robust conferencing features will be something users will take advantage of. The Call Manager will also allow users to personalize call handling for specific callers, if you are using the “professional” or higher version of the desktop software.

So, yes, looks like there is some benefits to staying up to date. Glad I’ve finally caught up!

In My Inbox – An "Enterprise PBX Comparison Guide"

I get a lot of emails for seminars, white papers and other information from a variety of vendors and other marketing venues. Some catch my eye, many don’t. I have a very low tolerance for spam, so I usually remove myself from excessive mailing lists as soon as they start to annoy me.

Recently, a email subject line comparing Shoretel to Cisco caught my eye. Turns out it was a comparison chart covering about a dozen VoIP PBX vendors and not just a Shoretel v. Cisco showdown, but interesting none the less. You’ll be signing up for marketing emails for sure, but if you are shopping for VoIP this might be a nice summary to start with.

Personally I’m a Shoretel girl and I’ll leave it at that. However I will point out that Shoretel did manage to hold it’s own against Cisco in this particular 18-point comparison chart, especially if you are looking for a solution for under 10,000 users. (The Giants’ AT&T Park sure thought so earlier this year!)

What voice mail?

Only had a few days this past work week to get caught up after a short vacation and telecommunications related items seems to percolate to the top of my list at the end of last week. My office runs Shoretel for our phone system and a user reported a problem with her alerts for voice mail, saying all her message are ending up in the “heard” box, so the message waiting indicator doesn’t light up on her phone.

No one else is reporting this issue, but for good measure I restarted some of the voicemail services this weekend. On Monday I’ll need to check her desktop settings to make sure she doesn’t have something conflicting going on with the way Outlook integration handles her voicemail messages, since it’s possible for someone to configure Outlook to automatically move voicemails out of the inbox using a rule and then have them automatically marked as heard, rendering them essentially invisible.

Also, spent part of my Friday down at the Shoretel office in Sunnyvale giving user feedback on some of their future phones. I can’t talk details, but it was certainly fun to be involved. It reminded me that I really need to start planning to upgrade our Shoretel software later this year. We are several (embarrassing!) versions behind at this point and there are some features in the newer versions that I’m sure our office would like to take advantage of.