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I remember when I first started using SCCM about four or five years ago, I was delighted to learn there was a built-in PowerShell module. But then the more I used it the more it left me wanting. It seemed that each time I searched for solutions to common tasks, most of them relied on WMI queries and didn’t even bother with the first-party module.

This would frustrate me to no end, as there was this massive first-party module available to admins, but all these scripts and functions people provided that boiled down to figuring out the best WQL queries (a simplified SQL syntax). Well, I’ve come around on my thinking on this for several reasons.

First, my initial hesitance was largely based on my past experiences using Get-WMIObject and Get-CIMInstance: it’s often really, really slow. When writing deployments with the App Deployment Toolkit, I would run Get-WMIObject Win32_Application and then lock my screen and go get a cup of tea. (Side note: the ADTK has a built-in function that looks in the registry which is much faster and more convenient.) But, as it turns out, WMI queries against SCCM are pretty fast, even if you’re pulling large sets. In fact, I need to search further, but I would not be surprised if the ConfigurationManager module itself heavily relies on WMI.

Second, I was just really annoyed that people were ignoring a perfectly good module that everybody has. This was my own lack of experience with working in enterprise IT. SCCM 2007 had no PowerShell support, and 2012 didn’t receive it until SP1. Since then, in current branch, the support has only been better. But… most admins don’t have the luxury of updating to the latest branch every time they feel like it. Changes come slowly, especially if everything currently works. We as admins always want to lay the foundation for a brighter, easier to administrate future, but there’s this thing called change management. The nice thing about the WMI scripts and utilities people have written is they tend to be pretty backward compatible, versus relying on CMDlets or features only available since, say, 1710.

Third, and finally, I didn’t realize that even hundreds of first-party CMDlets aren’t going to cover all of the bases. There are a lot of edge cases, that may be commonplace for some environments, that the official module can’t fully support. For instance, if you need to know the distribution status of all of the references for a task sequence, that’s going to require looking beyond the official module.

Once I got past these prejudices, as so often happens, I learned a lot about both WMI and SCCM, and gained competencies I probably wouldn’t have previously. And to be honest, that’s the most satisfying work for the scripting administrator, isn’t it? Work done; knowledge acquired.

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PowerShell 6 finally made it out of Beta two weeks ago. That is cause for celebration, as there are a lot of quality of life improvements for those of us who work all day in the shell. But it’s… not what you think if you have not been following the team blogs or at least perusing tech news the last year or so.

PowerShell 5 and the versions before it are based on the .NET Framework. You know, those giant packages that Windows developers love because they’re so easy to work with and end users and administrators tolerate, since it occasionally means having to update something else in addition to the software we are trying to run. Version 6, on the other hand, is based on .NET Core 2.0.

That means PowerShell 6 is open source, cross-platform— hello, PowerShell on a Raspberry Pi 3 —and part of Microsoft’s recent and radical trend toward cloud-first, open source friendly business. The bad news is that it does not support some existing modules, chiefly, Active Directory. The good news is that you can run 6 and your current version side-by-side and that Microsoft will probably be supporting version 5 for years to come, but… man, I hope they fix that bad news.

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For day in and day out administration, we should engage in best practices and encourage our colleagues to do the same. Write scripts for longevity and legibility; comment thorougly; test, test, and test again. Sometimes, though, we just need a snippet of PowerShell to live fast and die young.*

Recently at work I was faced with a challenge: our technicians were going to be going to a few dozen computers, logging in locally, and performing some specific steps. We developed a process and accompanying documentation for them, but because they were authenticating locally, there would be no easy access to Domain-gated resources, including a soft copy of the documentation itself (for copy-paste). The solution seemed to be a to put the instructions on a temporary webserver with anonymous auth, and then blow it away at the conclusion of the maintenance.

IIS would work fine for this, but I had so far not had a reason to install IIS on the 2012 server that hosts my customized reports and other scheduled tasks and, besides, that would not be much fun. PowerShell and easy access to .NET classes to the rescue!

The core of the disposable webserver is the .NET [HttpListener] class. The only real “innovation” my script offers over similar online examples is that it utilizes the “GetContextAsync()” method, versus the typical “GetContext().” This lets us easily start and stop the service interactively, so we can inspect any of the objects at will. This can be a fun way to learn both about PowerShell and web services.

To learn the most from it, I suggest creating a simple index.html file in the same location as the script, and firing it up in the PowerShell ISE (as admin—it will not work othewise). At any point, hit CTRL-C or the ISE stop button to stop the server and interact with the objects the script has created. Note that you will need to stop the listener by executing the following in the shell before you can restart the script.

$listener.Stop()

For some fun, try changing the authentication to NTLM or Negotiate and see how that changes the $context variable. This can be a very practical way to learn about claims and tokens. Add a query in the URL when you make the request. Try returning JSON formatted data and consuming it from PowerShell with Invoke-RESTMethod. Try Posting data.

Just make sure you close the console window when you’re done because, after all, we’re Adminning Dangerously.

*The author does not admin dangerously. The author wishes to express that this is a figure of speech and there are many more dangerous things people regularly do than this simple, temporary script that provides read-only information. The author does not condone any actual dangerous adminning that readers of this article may undertake.

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Beginning last year, the company I work for as begun blocking some web traffic by geographic IP. As an admin, there are all sorts of great resources hosted worldwide that I would like access to. While my friendly networking team is more than willing to help by adding necessary exceptions, I decided to write the following function so I could easily provide the relevant information when I suspect a resource is blocked.

The function uses the simple and useful freegeoip.net site which allows 15k anonymous calls per IP per hour. I cannot recall exactly why I set it to do a separate DNS lookup rather than calling the API by name instead of IP. I think doing it this way returned more data.

I might have goofed a little on the regex where it validates IPs to see that they’re external (I’m looking at you, 172.16.0.0\12) but it’s checked out in my testing so far. Honestly… it would just return blank data if a local IP gets through and you can always manually check any IPs that get warned out as internal.

There are a lot of little tasks like this that PowerShell is great at. I mean, look at that script above. If you’ve been using PowerShell for a year or more, and were pressed, you probably could have banged out a functional version in 5 minutes or less (15 minutes with the fiddly regex, which is an art unto itself). And then you could automate it into the background and move onto something else.

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Some months back I was trying to sort some Active Directory accounts so they looked nice in a report, but finding it a bit tedious using my usual methods. Consider the following fictitious accounts:

$list
GivenName Surname SamAccountName Enabled
--------- ------- -------------- -------
Steve     Jones   J3921             True
Will      Spencer S1134            False
Mary      Smith   S4498             True
Juanita   Galvez  G2059            False
Henry     Chang   C1209             True

Suppose I want to sort the list so enabled accounts appear at the top. That’s not terribly difficult.

$list | Sort-Object -Property Enabled -Descending
GivenName Surname SamAccountName Enabled
--------- ------- -------------- -------
Mary      Smith   S4498             True
Henry     Chang   C1209             True
Steve     Jones   J3921             True
Will      Spencer S1134            False
Juanita   Galvez  G2059            False

As you can see, it defaults to listing the disabled accounts first (I’m assuming this is because “F” comes before “T”), so I have to use the -Descending switch to reverse the sort. But what if I then want to sort by the last name?

$list | Sort-Object -Property Enabled,Surname -Descending
GivenName Surname SamAccountName Enabled
--------- ------- -------------- -------
Mary      Smith   S4498             True
Steve     Jones   J3921             True
Henry     Chang   C1209             True
Will      Spencer S1134            False
Juanita   Galvez  G2059            False

Well, it did sort on the Surname property… only it sorted backwards! My instinct for dealing with this dilemma was to break the list out with Group-Object or create a new property using Select-Object used solely for sorting. But that is undeniably clunky and if you’re suspecting there is a more elegant way to sort our list then you are correct correct—PowerShell lets us provide one or more hash tables to Sort-Object that utilize additional logic.

The correct way to sort the list above is really quite straightforward

$list | Sort-Object -Property @{expression='Enabled';Descending=$true},Surname
GivenName Surname SamAccountName Enabled
--------- ------- -------------- -------
Henry     Chang   C1209             True
Steve     Jones   J3921             True
Mary      Smith   S4498             True
Juanita   Galvez  G2059            False
Will      Spencer S1134            False

The only available keys we can use in the hash table are ‘Ascending,’ ‘Descending’ and ‘Expression.’ The Expression can be the name of a property, or a script block that applies some intelligent sorting. To help get the creative juices flowing, see if you can solve the “puzzles” below by figuring out how our list would be sorted.

$list | Sort-Object -Property @{expression={!$_.Enabled}},Surname
$list | Sort-Object -Property @{expression={($_.GivenName + $_.Surname).length};descending=$true},Surname
$list | Sort-Object -Property @{expression={[int]($_.SamAccountName.SubString(1,4))}}

Solutions below!

1. Does the same sort as our example in this post. Enabled accounts first, then alphabetically sorts the last name.
2. Reverse sorts by total name length, then alphabetically by Surname.
3. Sorts based on the 4-digit number in the SamAccountName. Note: this assumes that all SamAccountNames follow this pattern.

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