All I Want For Christmas…

So I continue to battle with Windows 8.1 and Outlook 2103 on my nice big Dell workstation. Our IT support department have given up on me, saying it's obviously a problem with my own network configuration. And it looks like they are correct. It's just a shame they can't tell me what the problem is.

For a long while Outlook has been doing strange things. It had a few days of keeping count of how many messages I sent during the day (see Downwardly Upgraded) but that problem seems to have gone away again. It also regularly loses its connection to the mail server and then restores it - sometimes immediately but at other times it takes several minutes. And, best of all, it waits about ten minutes before displaying the Windows 8 desktop notification of new emails. Usually I've read and deleted them by the time it pops up.

The same issues occur on other computers as well, both Windows 8 and Windows 7, but only when connected to my internal domain and going out through my ISA proxy server and load-balancing router to one of my ISPs. Bypassing all this, and plugging directly into the back of the ADSL modem, seems to solve the problem. So it's increasingly looking like an internal network issue.

I've checked all the DNS servers I use as Forwarders and they resolve fine. There are no event log warnings in any of the servers. The ISA proxy server log reveals no denied requests to my email host, and only one or two to anywhere else - certainly not enough dropped packets to justify the problems with Outlook. I turned on logging in Outlook and used the new Microsoft Message Analyser to read them, but I can't make any sense of the contents. I tried network packet sniffing, but that revealed nothing useful from the few bits I could decipher.

And then there's browser. Occasionally it has a spell of not being able to find sites. Today it couldn't find Bing for about five minutes yet other sites worked fine. Then it couldn't find the MSDB Blogs site. Other days it can't find anything for several minutes, then it all starts working again. Yet everything else seems to work just fine. My internet radio plays radio, Lync links, Team Foundation Server serves, and News has the up to date news.

I've tried disconnecting the modem for the cable ISP connection and just using ADSL to a different ISP, and vice versa. I've run network diagnostics and DNS validation checks. I've monitored the performance of the ISA 2006 server, and double-checked all the rules. I've played with the routing tables in the separate hardware load balancer. I tried specifying the proxy server settings manually in the browser. All to no avail.

Maybe my network is just too complicated. It's left over from the days when I was an IT consultant (well, jumped-up writer and occasional conference speaker actually) when I needed lots of infrastructure for developing and testing the few applications I built for customers. And, I guess, because I enjoyed playing with hardware. Perhaps it's time to review that decision. Do I actually need:

  • A file server
  • A Hyper-V host
  • A cold-swap backup Hyper-V host
  • An ISA server
  • A web server
  • A SQL Server
  • A domain with three domain controllers
  • A 24-port switch, three 4 port switches, and 300 yards of Cat-5
  • A wireless access point
  • Load-balanced routing to two ISPs
  • A NAS, a backup NAS, and two more for archiving

...just to use Word, Visio, and Visual Studio? Probably not. And all of a sudden I can see why my electricity bill is so high.

Perhaps my Christmas present to myself will be a nice hardware firewall that I can just plug everything else into and forget about it...

Comments (2)
  1. Simon says:

    Not sure about the dropouts, I haven't seen that kind of behaviour often. Specific sites playing up says firewall or routing to me, probably something to do with your load balancing.

    Buy an RB2011 routerboard from Mikrotik – I've been very happy since giving up and getting one, you can set it up to connect to Azure still if you want and connect back in with SSTP or ipsec, load balance still, do firewalling to the same level as ISA albeit with their own little windows app, run your wireless and it won't drop out like that.  It also adds BGP, OSPF and a bunch of other good stuff – plus it uses as much energy as a normal home router.  I went from a RRAS server to one and found it a pleasant improvement for simple reasons like it booting faster, software updates in seconds and my infrastructure not being reliant on a computer being on (can even solar power one if needed).

    You could also move one or two of your DC's to the cloud – as long as they're in different sites in AD it'll use the closest one anyway unless it's down and reduce the number of NAS to two in favour of external drive caddies (I use small 6 bay esata ones with 3TB disks, but the idea of using more dumb JBOD capacity extension rather than multiple NAS is still valid unless you want more parallel performance at the NAS').

  2. Alex Homer says:

    Thanks Simon. Still investigating, but one thing that seems to be an issue is slow DNS lookups. It would be nice if the browser told you why it couldn't load a page – the Fix Connection button just reports no issues every time! I cleared the DNS cache on the DCs and that seems to have helped. I'm also investigating interference on the network cables from the solar panel inverter. Meanwhile I'm looking at upgrading the LB router and getting rid of ISA, as you suggest. I considered installing ForeFront but it seems that TMG is gone and I'm not sure I need the complexity of UAG. I'll also think about the Azure option – it's a nice idea. Thanks for your advice!  

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