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FAQs for Branch Distribution Points

FAQs for Branch Distribution Points

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My last post explained that I was updating the documentation for the unsupported scenario of combining Internet-based client management and branch distribution points.  I don’t usually write on software distribution, but while I had cracked open these topics, I made some other clarifications as a result of customer feedback and questions to date. The majority of these will go into the topic “About Standard and Branch Distribution Points”, which you will see updated for the R2 release.  However, for easy identification, here’s a list of them – with thanks to Dave Randall/Wally Mead for clarifications, and to Jeff Gilbert/Gaurav Dhawan for identifying and verifying the correct conversion procedure.

 

The one FAQ that I haven’t yet included in the documentation is the question about what happens when a branch distribution point is installed on a workstation and the 11th concurrent session is attempted.  The restriction of 10 concurrent sessions is a limitation of the operating system rather than Configuration Manager.  Because this functionality belongs to Windows rather than Configuration Manager, we didn’t specifically test this but we believe that clients will automatically retry that branch distribution point for up to 8 hours.  I’ve asked the product group to test this and when we have more information, I can update the documentation (and this blog).

 

Update November 26th 2008: 

The results of these tests are now in:  Clients do not retry the same branch distribution point for 8 hours, but retry once before immediately trying the next distribution point in the list. See the blog entry Clarifying: Retry Behavior for Distribution Points for more information about the retry tests and results. This information will go into the December Web documentation update.

 

If you have further clarifying questions that are not addressed here or in the current documentation, send an e-mail to SMSDocs@Microsoft.com.  However, if you have technical issues related to the branch distribution point, post them to the TechNet forum for Configuration Manager Software Distribution.

 

 

Branch Distribution Points FAQs

 

Why is the option to enable the branch distribution point disabled?

If Configuration Manager detects non-supported states for a selected site system, the option to enable the branch distribution point will be disabled.  These include:

  • The Configuration Manager client is not installed and/or not assigned to the site.  These states must be reported back to the site, so check that the Client column displays Yes and the Assigned column displays Yes for the computer in the Collections node of the console.
  • The computer is a workgroup client.
  • The computer is running Windows 2000.
  • The computer registered as configured with an Internet-based management point (see my previous post).

I’ve also heard reported that a conflicting record (duplicate GUID) can also prevent this option from being available, and another case where the option was not available until the Configuration Manager console was closed and reloaded.  Also, make sure that the client and site system components are healthy – check status messages and log files for errors,  and if necessary try uninstalling/reinstalling the client and site system.

 

Note: Although the branch distribution point requires a standard distribution to function correctly, the absence of a standard distribution does not prevent the branch distribution point from installing.

 

Can a branch distribution point be installed in a secondary site?

Yes.  I can see how the original message of how branch distribution points can replace the requirement for secondary sites could be misinterpreted as branch distribution points are supported only in primary sites.  However, branch distribution points can be installed in secondary sites as well as in primary sites.  But if the branch distribution point is retrieving packages from a standard distribution point that is protected because it is across a WAN, make sure that the branch distribution point computer is included in the protected boundaries of the standard distribution point.

 

Can I install more than 1 branch distribution point in the site?

Yes.  When you install multiple branch distribution points in the site, requests for content will be automatically distributed among them (assuming the package is targeted to all the branch distribution points).  This isn’t a function of branch distribution points, but of how content location works in Configuration Manager, where the management point will round-robin the list of equally suitable distribution points. To make sure that all the branch distribution points are considered equally suitable, configure them as protected distribution points and include in the protected boundaries the clients that should use them.

 

Why are my clients downloading packages from the standard distribution point in the site instead of the branch distribution point?

When distribution points are considered equal by the management point (for example, in the same site), distribution points that are enabled for BITS are preferred to distribution points that use SMB.  Branch distribution points always use SMB so when both types are available in the same site, clients will not use the branch distribution point.  To resolve this, protect the branch distribution point and configure the clients that you want to use it in the protected boundaries of that branch distribution point.

 

Why does my branch distribution point never install packages and they remain as Install Pending?

The branch distribution point behaves like a standard client trying to access content from a BITS-enabled distribution point.  Make sure that the package is available on a BITS-enabled standard distribution point and if that standard distribution point is protected, ensure that the branch distribution point computer is included in the protected boundaries.

 

I’ve installed my branch distribution point on a server that has IIS installed with BITS. Does this mean that clients will now use http/https instead of SMB when they use the branch distribution point?

No.  Clients always use SMB to download content from the branch distribution point, even if the computer hosting the branch distribution point has IIS installed with BITS.

 

I want to convert my mixed mode site to native mode.  Do my branch distribution points require a Web server certificate?

No.  Native mode affects client-to-server communication and because clients always connect to branch distribution points using SMB, there is no need to install a Web server certificate onto the branch distribution point.  However, the branch distribution point is also a client and uses http/https to a standard distribution point in order to download content – so it needs a client certificate when the site is operating in native mode.

 

In a native mode site, are the packages encrypted on the wire when they are downloaded?

Yes and no.  When the branch distribution point downloads packages from a native mode standard distribution point, this communication is over https and so the packages will be SSL encrypted on the wire.  However, when clients download packages from the branch distribution point, this is always over SMB, which is not encrypted in a native mode site.  If you want encryption in this scenario, do not use a branch distribution point or use IPsec to secure this communication.

 

Do I need to install a courier sender on the computer running the branch distribution point in a secondary site?

No.  Courier senders should be installed on site servers only and are not used to download packages to branch distribution points.  Instead, this is a function of the client on the branch distribution point.

 

Can I install the branch distribution point on a Windows Server 2008 computer, running Windows Server Core?

No.  Although the Configuration Manager client is supported on Windows Core, and the branch distribution point uses the client components, all site systems must be installed on the full installation of Windows Server 2008.

 

I’ve installed the branch distribution point on a workstation computer.  Can I also install the PXE service point on there?

No.  The branch distribution point is the only site system that is supported on a workstation-class operating system.  If you need to co-locate the branch distribution point with other site roles, install it on a server rather than a workstation.

 

How do I throttle BITS for a low bandwidth connection between the branch distribution point and standard distribution points?

The BITS configuration for the branch distribution point to the standard distribution point is on the BITS tab of the Computer Client Agent Properties (not obvious until you remember that the main functionality of the branch distribution point uses the client components).  However, beware of Group Policy settings for BITS, which can conflict with these settings and will take precedence over the Configuration Manager settings.  For more information about the Group Policy options related to BITS, see the information about Background Intelligent Transfer Service Bandwidth Management from the Infrastructure section of Windows XP Service Pack 2 Feature Management Using Group Policy (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=124012).

 

Why is my branch distribution point reporting zero disk space when there is plenty of hard disk space available on the computer?

When you install the branch distribution point, you configure a reserved amount of disk space that is effectively blocked from the branch distribution point so that users logging onto the computer can still save files locally and the operating system can create local files as needed.  It’s easy to forget about this option after installation and when the branch distribution point has been running for some time.  When the reserved disk space value is reached, the branch distribution point will report zero disk space even though the hard disk is not full.

 

I want to install the branch distribution point on a server with multiple disks and do not want to install it on the system partition.  Will it honor the no_sms_on_drive.sms file?

No.  Unlike the other site system roles, the branch distribution point will install on a drive that contains the file no_sms_on_drive.sms. Instead, when you install the branch distribution point, select the installation partition.

 

Can you install both a branch distribution point and a standard distribution point on the same site system server?

No.  It’s one or the other.  I can’t think of any good reason why you would ever want both on the same computer - unless it was simply down to testing limitations.

 

I have a standard distribution point with a lot of packages installed and I want to convert this into a branch distribution point.  Will I have to download the packages again (in my case, over a very slow WAN), or will it automatically use the existing packages?

Providing you use the same package location on the site system computer, there should be no requirement to download the packages again.  In this scenario, use the following procedure:

To convert a standard distribution point to a branch distribution point

1.     In the Configuration Manager console, navigate to System Center Configuration Manager / Site Database / Site Management / <site code> - <site name> / Site Settings / Site Systems.

2.     Expand the site system server that is configured with the standard distribution point role that will be converted to a branch distribution point.

3.     In the results pane, right-click ConfigMgr distribution point, and then select Properties.

4.     On the General tab, cancel the option Allow clients to transfer content from the distribution point using BITS, HTTP, and HTTPS, and then click Apply.

5.     Select the option Enable as a branch distribution point, and click OK.

Note:

This action causes the branch distribution policy to be downloaded to the client, and the packages that are assigned to it are checked. If a package is already downloaded to the same location, and the hash matches, the package will not be downloaded again. If the package is not already downloaded to the same location, or if the hash does not match, the package will be downloaded. If the location is different, the old package is not deleted before downloading the package to the new location.

6.     If you need to add new packages to the branch distribution point, follow the procedure in How to Send a Package to Distribution Points.

 

 

Update July 28th 2008:

 

Can branch distribution points be used with the new R2 features?

Branch distribution points can support streaming virtual application packages.  Branch distribution points cannot support multicast for OSD.

 

 

Update July 31st 2008:

 

How many branch distributions points are supported in a single site and how many clients can it support?

We have this documented in Configuration Manager Site Capacity Planning as as up to 2,000 per site, each capable of supporting up to 100 clients. There is no change in these numbers if the branch distribution point is installed on a server-class operating system rather than a workstation-class operating system, and this clarification will be added to the documentation. 

 

 

Update November 12th 2008: 

 

When you specify the BITS throttling window start and end time, is this in UTC or the client's local time?

The UI doesn't specify whether the start and end times on the Computer Client Agent: BITS Tab is UTC or local time to the client. It's the client's local time, so when you are specifying these settings for branch distribution points, the time is local to the computer running the branch distribution point.  

 

 

Tips for Branch Distribution Points

 

From a support point of view, think of a branch distribution point as a regular site system with the exception that it can be installed on a workstation.  For example, it cannot be in a workgroup, is not supported on Server Core, and honors the no_sms_on_drive.sms file.

 

From a functionality point of view, think of a branch distribution point as essentially a client, because it uses the client components to locate and download content from standard distribution points.  For example, because it is assigned packages through the client policy mechanism, consider creating a collection just for branch distribution points and then configuring a collection-specific setting for a shorter client polling interval than for standard clients.

 

If you need help deciding whether to use a branch distribution point rather than a standard distribution point, see Choose Between a Standard and Branch Distribution Point.

 

 

- Carol

 

 

This posting is provided AS IS with no warranties and confers no rights.

 

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