Get all restore points for an Azure VM

Getting restore points out of Azure can be like getting blood from a stone. The portal likes to always set a custom filter showing only ~90 days and your Powershell cmdlet only allows for a 30 day interval for retrieval dates. When running ‘Get-AzRecoveryServicesBackupRecoveryPoint’ you get the following:

Get-AzRecoveryServicesBackupRecoveryPoint : Time difference should not be more than 30 days 

Sigh.. I just want all my restore points for a virtual machine please! All of them, because its my butt if for some reason I don’t have them. Using something like this can be useful to audit your backups against business needs for data retention.

Example: Get recovery points from the last two years for a single VM

# ------Variables--------------#
$retentionDays = 730
$vaultName = "PROD-RSV"
$vaultResourceGroup = "PROD-RSV-RG"
$friendlyName = "Server1"
#------------------------------#


$vault = Get-AzRecoveryServicesVault -ResourceGroupName $vaultResourceGroup -Name $vaultName 
$Container = Get-AzRecoveryServicesBackupContainer -ContainerType AzureVM -Status Registered -FriendlyName $friendlyName -VaultId $vault.ID
$BackupItem = Get-AzRecoveryServicesBackupItem -Container $Container -WorkloadType AzureVM -VaultId $vault.ID

$startingPoint = -25
$finishingPoint = 0
$jobsArray = @()

Do {

$StartDate = (Get-Date).AddDays($startingPoint)
$EndDate = (Get-Date).AddDays($finishingPoint)
$RP = Get-AzRecoveryServicesBackupRecoveryPoint -Item $BackupItem -StartDate $Startdate.ToUniversalTime() -EndDate $Enddate.ToUniversalTime() -VaultId $vault.ID 
$jobsArray += $RP
$startingPoint = $startingPoint - 25
$finishingPoint = $finishingPoint -25
}until($startingPoint -le -($retentionDays))

$jobsArray | FT -AutoSize -Property RecoveryPointid, RecoveryPointTime, RecoveryPointType 


The example above will go back 2 years (730 Days). This outputs to a table but you can quiet easily export to a CSV via:

$jobsArray | Export-Csv c:\temp\restores.csv -NoTypeInformation 

Enjoy.


Azure Application Insights – No Client Source IP Address

Working with one of your customers this week who is implementing Azure API Management alongside their web applications. We are funnelling all the request logs into an Application Insights services to manage visibility of the end-to-end transaction data. We noticed that all the client GET requests had ‘0.0.0.0’ in Client IP Address.

Request PropertiesValue
Client IP address0.0.0.0

I since learned that Microsoft obfuscate this data from Azure Monitor as it’s ingested into Applications Insights for what I call a ‘privacy policy‘. As this was a corporate application anonymity wasn’t needed and the development team wanted to understand when a request was made from their application either from inside corporate network or an unknown internet address.

A good habit to get into is first do a quick review of the latest API version for ‘Microsoft.Insights/components’ which does show a boolean value for DisableIpMasking.

{
  "name": "string",
  "type": "Microsoft.Insights/components",
  "apiVersion": "2020-02-02-preview",
  "location": "string",
  "tags": {},
  "kind": "string",
  "properties": {
    "Application_Type": "string",
    "Flow_Type": "Bluefield",
    "Request_Source": "rest",
    "HockeyAppId": "string",
    "SamplingPercentage": "number",
    "DisableIpMasking": "boolean",
    "ImmediatePurgeDataOn30Days": "boolean",
    "WorkspaceResourceId": "string",
    "publicNetworkAccessForIngestion": "string",
    "publicNetworkAccessForQuery": "string"
  }
}

Reviewing the property values for ApplicationInsightsComponentProperties object DisableIpMasking gave the following short but sweet answer.

NameTypeRequriedValue
DisableIpMaskingbooleanNoDisable IP masking.

Yeah I reckon that is worth a shot!

Update ApplicationInsightsComponentProperties value DisableIpMasking

As this value only seems to be exposed through the API we have to either push a new incremental ARM template through the sausage maker or perform a API request directly. An API request seems like the quicker request method, but doing this in a script with authentication and correct structure takes time. I have a nice trick when wanting to update or add a value to an object when either of those feel like overkill.

  1. Navigate to the Azure Resource Explorer
  2. Find the Application Insights Resource Group
  3. Select Providers > Microsoft.Insights
  4. Select Components > ‘Application Insights Name

You will be shown the JSON definition of your Application Insights Object. You can tell this by the line:

"type": "microsoft.insights/components"

To know your in the right place, under properties there will be many values, we should see Application_Type, InstrumentationKey, ConnectionString, Retention, but what will be missing is DisableIpMasking. So it’s as simple as adding it.

  1. Up the top of the page toggle the blue switch to ‘Read/Write’ from ‘Read Only’.
  2. Select ‘Edit‘.
  3. Remember to add a ‘,’ to the previous last line (in my case “HockeyAppToken“) before adding your new property.

The final step is to use the PUT button to update the object. Which intern has authenticated you to the API using your existing login token, constructed the JSON object and is sending a ‘POST’ method to the API endpoint for ‘management.azure.com/subscriptions/<subscriptionId>/resourceGroups/<rgName>/providers/microsoft.insights/components/<resourceName>?api-version=2015-05-01‘. Much simpler than doing a Powershell or Bash script, what a clever little tool it is.

The result will be that new request in Application Insights will have the source NAT IP address. Unfortunately all previous requests will remain scrubbed with ‘0.0.0.0’.

Closing thoughts

This is a great way to tweak services while attempting to understand whether it’s the correct knob to turn in the Azure service. But while it’s quick, it isn’t documented. If you have a repository of deployment ARM templates make sure you go back and amend the deployment JSON. The day will come when it gets re-deployed and it wont come out the sausage maker the same. The finger will get pointed back at that Azure administrator who doesn’t follow good DevOps practices.


Upgrading Megaport Cloud Routers

Recently I had the pleasure of upgrade a Megaport Cloud Router (MCR) from version 1 to the new version 2. Version 2 MCR sits on a whole new code base and a side by side migration is required. In this blog I’ll show you how we went about the process, this could also be used if migrating MCR’s in general or any cloud connectivity for that matter.

The aim is to create the smallest outage possible with the customer on-premises connectivity to the cloud datacenter. In a fault tolerant environment this is usually done via having multiple routes advertised to the on-premises routers via a dynamic protocol. In the case of my example BGP is used throughout the environment and standard times for route propagation is only a few minutes end-to-end without interference.

In my example I will be moving an Azure Express Route. The key to moving the Express Route is that there is a primary and secondary BPG session (Green) for fault tolerance. I’ll move the secondary connection (2) from my active MCR to another MCRv2 in a staged approach to maintain connectivity for as long as possible. Once each Express Route peering sessions are connected to their own MCR, I will move the Megaport physical connection (Blue) from the MCR1 to the MCR2.

Create the new MCR

Create a new MCR in the correct datacenter location.

New MCR in NextDC M1

Add a connection to the cloud provider, using the existing service key out of the Express Route Virtual Circuit panel in your Azure subscription.

Add an Express Route with Service Key

We can see above that we have a secondary connection available. (This was completed ahead of starting this blog).

Finalise your connection, and after you select ‘order’ the designer view will deploy the Express Route connection for you.

Secondary Express Route Peering Session deployed to MCR2

Check the Connection

Give it all of an itch and a scratch and the BPG peers of Microsoft and the MCR will light up.

BPG Session status

Head over to Azure and we can check the ARP records to see the secondary peering endpoints now populating.

Here is the primary that is still online with the existing MCR that is connected to on-premises network.

Azure Express Route ARP records – Primary

We should now have some records for the secondary connection that is between the Azure Express Route Gateway and the MCR2. Select show secondary and reviewing the interface row of ‘On-Prem’ is the MCR Express Route peering IP.

Azure Express Route ARP records – Secondary

All is looking good from a layer 2 (ARP) and layer 3 perspective (BGP – below). From this point if we go look at route tables. We would see that all the primary BGP peer session will have all the on-premises routes and azure VNET routes. The secondary route table will only have the Azure routes and the peering /30 routes.

Azure Express Route route table – Secondary

If we go check our Express Route Virtual Circuits we can validate the peering IP’s used in each session match.

Azure Express Route – Peering Overview

Delete the connection between the MCR to on-premises router

Now we want to swing our on-premises router connectivity from the cross connect of the MCR1 (1) and physical port (2). Back in the designer view we have all of the required routers and connection objects to view. I’ve also underlined the button to ‘delete’ the virtual cross connect (VXC) between the on-premises router and my MCR1. Note – In our deployment this is where the outage will start, we will loose connectivity between Azure and on-premises router as I’ve not used VLAN tagging on the physical port in the example.

Delete the Virtual Cross Connect

Add a connection between the MCR2 and the on-premises router

Quickly, go and create a connection between the MCR2 and your Megaport “Port” (aka. Physical Port).

Attach MCR to Virtual Cross Connect

Make sure its your physical port not your other MCR 🙂

Select the Physical Port attachment

I’m using the exact same peering subnet for my new MCR2 so as long as I include my correct /30 subnet then my peering relationship with the on-premises router will come back willingly in a matter of seconds.

MCR to Physical Port details

Review what you have done in the designer view. You won’t have set anything into motion until you click ‘order’. So do it! From the below view you can see the following summary:

  1. Old MCR with a single Express Route Connection
  2. New MCR with single Express Route Connection
  3. Physical Port with the new connection to the MCR2
Switch the physical port from old to new MCR

Once you click order, you barely have time to scratch yourself again and the status moves from deploying (little red Megaport rocket icons), too deployed. Hurray!

Physical port to MCR connection – status deploying

Once that has all come up green. The rest of work would be done in your edge routers. The edge routers being your on-premises physical edge router connected to Megaport and your Express Route Virtual Circuits/Gateway. Do a few checks to make sure you have established end-to-end connectivity. Here is some ideas:

  • Edge Router – Review the BGP Status of the MCR.
    • show ip bgp neighbors
    • Check the MCR neighbor existing and is BGP State = Active.
    • Remote AS of the MCR by default is 133937.
    • Remember the IP address of the neighbor
  • Edge Router – Review received routes from MCR.
    • show ip bgp neighbors x.x.x.x received-routes
    • You’ll no doubt see routes from your VNET with a path of your MCR+Microsoft e.g. 133937 12076. (Microsoft uses AS 12076 for Azure public, Azure private and Microsoft peering)
  • Azure Portal – Review the ARP records and route tables.
    • The secondary connection should show all your received routes to the Express Route Gateway from the on-premises router.
  • Branch Site Router – Go check what has been advertised down to your client sites. A good old trace route will show the IP addresses of the MCR in the hops.
Express Route secondary connection with on-premises routes received for MCR peer IP

Finishing Up

You pretty much done at this stage. The software defined network engine has done its job, you now are in control of your own destiny with on-premises route propagation.

How good is Megaport! We love networking! Especially when its fast, scalable and consistent.


We love Megaport

Let us take the stress out of public cloud connectivity. Get in touch with us to understand the benefits of using a service like Megaport Cloud Router.


Assign Teams phone numbers using Microsoft Forms, Logic Apps and Azure Automation

Sometimes provisioning users into Office 365 services requires custom settings to be executed with PowerShell. This can present a problem when the teams responsible for managing the ongoing process have varying levels of understanding. How do you provide a front end user interface for my custom code without the need for the operators to need or know PowerShell?

This is the case for Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Phone System ‘Direct Routing’ feature lets you connect your telephony gateway (SBC) to Microsoft Phone System. With this capability you can configure on-premises telephone numbers with Microsoft Teams client. A subtle difference using Direct Routing for your PSTN connectivity over Microsoft Calling (Telstra Calling in AU) is the inability to assign phone numbers to users via the Teams Admin Portal. The only way to assign the phone number is through a PowerShell cmdlet with parameter ‘OnPremLineURI‘:

Set-CsUser -Identity $UPN -EnterpriseVoiceEnabled $true -HostedVoiceMail $true -OnPremLineURI $lineURI

So here in lies my problem. Let’s fix it.

Components

  • Microsoft Forms – The front end UI with required input fields.
  • Logic App – The glue and manages the process.
  • Azure Runbook – where my code lives to perform the steps against Office 365 API’s.

Microsoft Forms

This is a pretty basic form. I just need enough information as inputs to execute my PowerShell. The great thing about Microsoft Forms is that it has to be authenticated, the fact that it’s built into Office 365 is that it’s all done by Azure Active Directory.

Mobile Preview of the Form

Note: Unfortunately the simplicity of this form is also its short coming. I would love if we can do some form validation on the input string before it was submitted. Especially on the phone number format and length.

Create the Logic App

Open a new Blank Template in the Logic App Designer and search for Microsoft Forms and use the option ‘When a new response is submitted‘.

Start by getting the form data into the Logic App.

Assign all of the form inputs as variables in your Logic App to then be passed to our Runbook.

Azure Runbook

Create a Runbook, make sure you have defined the parameters (highlighted in lines 1-5). The Logic App will reference these automatically for you when working in the designer.

Note: All the settings we need are part of the Skype for Business PowerShell module which isn’t available in the Azure Automation Gallery. If you install Microsoft Teams module version 1.1.6 you will have the ability to execute New-CsOnlineSession and pull down all the cmdlets into the PS session. At the time of writing I don’t know a way of using a managed identity or client secret for New-CSOnlineSession, so it’s just a standard user account with bypass MFA (yuck).

 Param (
[Parameter (Mandatory = $true)][string]$upn,
[Parameter (Mandatory = $true)][string]$lineURI,
[Parameter (Mandatory = $true)][string]$dialPlan
)

$debug = $false

import-module MicrosoftTeams


if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "Connecting to Skype Online..."
}
$creds = Get-AutomationPSCredential -Name "SkypeCreds"
try{
    $sfboSession = New-CsOnlineSession -Credential $creds -OverrideAdminDomain "domain.onmicrosoft.com"
}
Catch{
    $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
        status = "failed" 
        error = $_.Exception.Message
        step = "Connecting to Skype Online"
        cmdlet = "New-CsOnlineSession"
    }
    Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
    exit
}
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "Importing PS Session..."
}
try{
    Import-PSSession $sfboSession -AllowClobber
}
Catch{
    $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
        status = "failed" 
        error = $_.Exception.Message
        step = "Importing PS Session"
        cmdlet = "Import-PSSession"
    }
    Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
    exit
}
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "Processing line: $($upn) "
}
    #Correct User
    if($upn -like $null){
        $sip = (Get-CsOnlineUser -Identity $($user.displayname)).SipAddress
        $upn = $sip.TrimStart('sip:')
    }
    #Correct Number
    if($lineURI -notlike "tel:*"){
        if($lineURI.Length -eq 12){
            $lineURI = "tel:"+$lineURI
        }
        elseif($lineURI.Length -eq 11){
            $lineURI = "tel:+"+$lineURI
        }
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Using values - $($upn) with $($lineURI)" 
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to remove Skype for Business Online settings: VoiceRoutingPolicy" 
}    
    try{
        Grant-CsVoiceRoutingPolicy -PolicyName $NULL -Identity $upn
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "VoiceRoutingPolicy"
            cmdlet = "Grant-CsVoiceRoutingPolicy"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to remove Skype for Business Online settings: UserPstnSettings" 
}    
    try{
        Set-CsUserPstnSettings -Identity $upn -AllowInternationalCalls $false -HybridPSTNSite $null | out-null
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "UserPstnSettings"
            cmdlet = "Set-CsUserPstnSettings"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
    # https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powershell/module/skype/grant-csteamsupgradepolicy?view=skype-ps
if($debug -like $true){    
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to grant Teams settings: user to UpgradeToTeams (TeamsOnly)." #Upgrades the user to Teams and prevents chat, calling, and meeting scheduling in Skype for Business
}    
    try{
        Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy -PolicyName UpgradeToTeams -Identity $upn
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "UpgradeToTeams"
            cmdlet = "Grant-CsTeamsUpgradePolicy"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to set Teams settings: Enabling Telephony Features & Configure Phone Number"
}
    try{
        Set-CsUser -Identity $UPN -EnterpriseVoiceEnabled $true -HostedVoiceMail $true -OnPremLineURI $lineURI
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "SetUser"
            cmdlet = "Set-CsUser"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to grant Teams settings: TeamsCallingPolicy" #Policies designate which users are able to use calling functionality within teams and determine the interoperability state with Skype for Business
}
    try{
        Grant-CsTeamsCallingPolicy -PolicyName Tag:AllowCalling -Identity $upn
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "TeamsCallingPolicy"
            cmdlet = "Grant-CsTeamsCallingPolicy"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Attempting to grant Teams settings: Assign the Online Voice Routing Policy"
}
    try{
        Grant-CsOnlineVoiceRoutingPolicy -Identity $upn -PolicyName Australia
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "VoiceRoutingPolicy"
            cmdlet = "Grant-CsOnlineVoiceRoutingPolicy"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }
if($debug -like $true){
    Write-Output "  INFO: Set Dial"
}
    try{
        
        if($dialPlan -eq "National"){
            Grant-CsTenantDialPlan -PolicyName $null -Identity $upn
        }else{
            Grant-CsTenantDialPlan -PolicyName $dialPlan -Identity $upn
        }
        
    }
    Catch{
        $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
            status = "failed" 
            error = $_.Exception.Message
            step = "DialPlan"
            cmdlet = "Get-CsEffectiveTenantDialPlan"
        }
        Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
        exit
    }

    #Completion Output
    $errOutput = [PSCustomObject]@{
        status = "Completed" 
        error = "None"
        step = "endOfJob"
        cmdlet = "None"
    }
    Write-Output ( $errOutput | ConvertTo-Json)
 

Link the Runbook to your Logic App

Now we can update the Logic App with our Runbook information.

Output the details via Email

I found the best way to get consistent structured results is to have error handling in your Runbook, and parse this back to the Logic App as outputted JSON with a known schema/structure. A sample output of the JSON can be used to generate a schema, like the example below.

{
    "status":  "failed",
    "error":  "One or more errors occurred.: Unable to find an entry point named \u0027GetPerAdapterInfo\u0027 in DLL \u0027iphlpapi.dll\u0027.",
    "step":  "Connecting to Skype Online",
    "cmdlet":  "New-CsOnlineSession"
}

This enables you to have sufficient levels of diagnostics logs as part of the output. In this case I’m using a email.

The example workflow is below.

Additions

Additional functionality you could include might be:

  • Check for licenses
    • AAD Module in PowerShell, or
    • AAD Group Membership in Logic App
  • License the user via PowerShell or Graph
  • Send the response in a Teams Notification, rather than email or teams channel.
  • Email the user on successful completion detailing they have a new phone number.
  • More error handling
  • Smaller more specific Runbooks that are executed rather than a large script block, allowing for more conditions to considered per step.

Lets Talk Teams!

We have years of experience deploying unified communication in the Microsoft stack. Reach out, we have a rapid deployment solution for Teams Direct Routing leveraging the public cloud and we have tried and tested a number of flavours of SIP Providers. Trial or PoC a voice solution with minimal effort leveraging public cloud deployments

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Tips for purchasing your next Teams video solution

I’ve been asked by many customers over my years implementing Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams voice solutions:

“Which video conferencing equipment should we look into?”

This can be a hard decision for organisations and IF you find that you didn’t do your homework, you can be left in a situation where you have to sweat an expensive asset for a few years, which becomes the ugly child that is unloved and no one wants to play with gathering dust in the corner. Now the current state of Microsoft Teams Room’s (MTR) means that all packaged solutions have the same software, so the experience during a meeting on-screen is consistent. Thanks Microsoft. Where it will differ, is what the capability of the hardware it’s getting peddled on.

The state of the VC market has gone gang busters lately. Microsoft Teams has really pushed the device catalogue forward and now we have multiple vendors continuously pushing their new products out into Microsoft’s certified list of Teams Meeting Room devices. In theory, from a workflow prospective, all of them will look the same during the meeting experience from the touch device and on-screen. Microsoft publish the MTR software and all things being equal, they should all get the updates. No favourites, no bias. So if we remove the software feature list, what do I look for when creating my short list as of 2020? Here are some key physical features that are more hardware specific and do vary amongst solutions that I believe enable a positive experience when using the device. I will generalise an MTR with having common components of a video camera, a table top touch device, with the addition of possibly a sound bar and additional microphones. Here’s a summary of my ‘hot-tips’ to look out for:

  • Minimal cabling required to touch device on table.
  • Ability to have 2x HDMI outputs on the ‘CODEC’/NUC to support duel screen workflows.
  • Ability for table microphone expansion.
  • Ease of HDMI/USB-C input on the table tap device for screen sharing.

Some other notable mentions:

  • Double check for auto-focus/human tracking, this should be on most devices now.
  • Options for additional noise cancelling features to turn on/off never hurts. Vendors talk about AI or ML to remove unwanted sounds that reduce the quality of the audio i.e. keyboard typing, table tapping or air-conditioner static.

Cabling matters

Reducing the cabling required to get to your table top device is just common sense. Nothing is more annoying than trying to run multiple cables (HDMI, ethernet, audio and power) through floor space from the front of room up inside whatever cable management you have at the table. Also, with only a single cable connecting to the table top device it becomes much more flexible and has the ability to be swung round between seating positions to accomodate musical chairs. This cable is usually done with ethernet, a nice and flexible medium that can carry all data and power needs.

HDMI outputs

Not everyone needs dual screens in their meeting rooms, especially if it’s a small huddle room or space. BUT the price of TV screens is by far the easiest and cheapest component to splash on this new rig. Make sure the new rig lists the number of HDMI outputs and ask yourself the question “will this fit within my room?“. Many vendors will offer setups at two price points with the lower seemingly looking like a good investment, but will only give you one screen. This to me, in the year 2020, ‘the year of video conferencing‘, seems to be a bit old school. I’d even go as far to say, rather than buying one Godzilla screen (that Teams will never do native resolution on, think 1080p), look to buy two slightly smaller screens and get more capability in your meeting experience i.e. two screens, one with screen share + one with video feed simultaneously.

Microphones

MICROPHONES!” or “microphones” (the lack of), can turn a crystal clear, high definition video experience into a ‘bl ub be ri ng’ mess. Acoustics in a room are hard to judge, I’ll admit that I can’t walk into a room and say that “this is going to be your problem, just tweak that before you install”. I don’t know the science behind removing sound echo, just be careful of hard floors, high ceilings, loud air conditioning and busy streets. If you don’t want to change these things or can’t, sometimes more microphone pickups can be away to eliminate the problem somewhat, especially when attendees further away from the microphone have decent call volume (can be herd) but sound distorted or choppy. This is generally a tale tell sign of a room with too much sound bouncing around. The ability to extend your setup with additional microphones on offer in its solution are a good ‘safety-net’ to have. Something that is modular gives you a ‘get out of jail free card’, if it sounds like your meeting is being held in a basketball stadium or toilet (for some reason that is a very distinct sound in a phone call and we all pick it when it’s presented to us…strange).

‘Legacy’ screen sharing

Not to be overlooked. Let’s set the scene, you’re in the heat of the video conferencing battle, 10 minutes passed the meeting start time and your ring-in (visitor) presenter suddenly can’t get the USB wireless dongle thingy to load with the software on their laptop because of reason ‘X’ (i’ll let you imagine one, there’s many). Nothing can beat a quick physical cable to screen share inside the meeting room. Nothing. Modern laptops are ready to have things plugged in for second monitors and this is just that. You wont kill the aesthetics of a room if there is a 1m HDMI or USB-C cable hanging out the back of the table top device. Words like ‘wireless‘, ‘proximity join‘ and ‘dongle’ sound attractive to our tech heads, but no one likes to be the ad-hoc end user support, while the Brady Bunch video tiles of Teams look over you. Secretly muttering disapprovals of how you’re wasting their time, while on mute. If you’re using Teams meetings to communication with your customers and clients, don’t be the latest episode of ‘amateur hour’ live from your very own video feed. Catering for hard-wire means you catch the 10% that don’t have Teams or can’t control the installation of software on their devices. Plus it’s just fast.

Brady Bunch” Video Conferencing
cloudstep.io meeting tiles. Not always smiling this much about being in another video conference.

Oh, there’s also cost. For most of us we need to stretch the money and do more with less, the lesser of organisations have a long standing history of video conferencing and the budget is ripe for the picking. Lucky. As the allocation of dollars from 5 years ago got you a lot less for a lot more. Anything from $3k-$8k gets you a decent kit these days that even your director could probably setup…probably.

What do I suggest?

Okay so take all my considerations for a good piece of kit and who does it end up with? Noting, that I don’t get paid or partner with vendors, nor will some of them talk to me after spreading my opinion over the internet. That being said, I really like them all. But if you made me choose, this is what I’d come back with for a standard meeting room ranging anywhere from 4-15 (ish) people.

Yealink….yes, Yealink. I’ve seen my fair share of Yealink IP phones implemented over my years, they do there duty of making phone calls, the same as the other IP phone brands. So I was never really bothered about what the customers preference was with phones. Make a call, does it ring and could they answer? Microsoft video solutions is a new feather in Yealink’s cap, and I’m happy to say that they meet my demands. While much later to the Microsoft Video Solutions then other VC vendors, they have hit it out the proverbial ‘Arran Peterson Teams Device‘ Park in regards to features I want at a good price point. The ‘MVC II’ range of systems will have me covered, purchase units on the sliding scale based on size of your attendees space. All of which offer you the capability of dual screen workflow.

  • Cabling – The MTouch II Touch Panel is connected via a single ethernet cable. Look at cable guides for each model, they are easy to follow and help you visualise your setup in the room prior to purchase.
Example: The MVC500 II datasheet
  • HDMI Out – The MCore Mini-PC has 2x HDMI video output wih CEC Support. (CEC gets you the ability to start a meeting and wake the TV’s up to the correct channel etc). Just like your AppleTV does magically at home.
  • External Mics – All but the MVCII 400, which has an external mic port on the camera, but i’m not sure what can be used. Maybe anything, maybe nothing…
  • Screen Sharing – The MTouch II Touch Panel offers both HDMI and USB-C inputs (I like USB-C for all the latest MacBooks we have in our office with a single glorious port).

Icing on the cake

Because we like cake, and if there is more slices to eat let’s know about it now. Or maybe, If you going to make cake, put the icing on it, it makes it extra special. My point is “If your going to buy a solution, go to the effort to make it the best you can“.

Content Camera

I like the idea of Content Camera’s in Teams Meetings. Whiteboards are a way of life in consulting. Explain a complex problem through circles, squares, lines and arrows (rather than hacking about the english language) is a method I use often to convey a complex problem. You need a certified MTR to enable the Content Camera. While it isn’t hard to find a certified webcam to use (theres a few and they aren’t expensive), its much trickier to cable and mount. I have seen little in the way of mounting brackets and extension arms until just recently. Prior, I’d done lots of google searches for keywords like ‘project/camera arm mount’, ‘camera mount thingy’ and so on. Amazon returned nothing great, that didn’t require extensive ‘tinkering‘ which wasn’t enterprise grade and I can’t tell customers go buy this and get your cordless drill out and add more holes etc. I was pleased to see my new favourite child Yealink have tried to make our lives easier with the UVC30 Content Camera Kit. Problem solved! I think a MTR + Content Camera is probably the best solution available and is more useful than an expensive all-in-one Surface Hub.

UVC30 Content Camera kit

Wireless sharing dongle thingy

If the Content Camera is the icing, then perhaps a wireless sharing dongle thingy is the sprinkles. If you do want to play with wireless dongles, Yealink have one that will work with all the MVC II range and is included in most bundles. While I haven’t played with the WPP20 at all, the fact its ‘kinda’ thrown in, is a big plus. If your familiar with ClickShare by Barco which is the common standard equipment in this department, you will be happy to know they cost money, and a reasonable amount. Possibly more than one of your TV’s. This is more than I’m willing to part with, so an affordable alternative that keeps the solution all within one vendor support is a positive.


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