Exellent post from the University of Windsor.
All credits go to those guys!

 

Why do I get “Could not perform this operation because the default mail client is not properly installed” error message followed by dozens of blank Internet Explorer windows when I click on a mailto: link or a link in the Pure Message quarantined message digest?

It appears that after installing Internet Explorer 10 on a Windows 7 computer that had Lotus Notes or another mail client already installed, Internet Explorer 10 removes some registry entries that control what happens when a mailto: link is clicked. This results in the following error message:

Followed by dozens of blank Internet Explorer 10 windows.

To resolve the problem, you may run the following registry patch that will add the necessary Windows Registry keys back to the Windows Registry:

mailto.regmailto.reg

Alternatively, you may uninstall Internet Explorer 10 by going to the Control Panel, selecting “Uninstall a Program” (if using the category view) or “Programs and Features” (if using the icon view), selecting “View installed Updates”, then selecting Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 and clicking uninstall.

Advertisements

In Studio > Delivery Groups > Application > Application Properties > File Type Association, you see the list of file types associated with that application. If you check the desired file types and press OK, it works. The file types successfully associate. If, however, you select the desired file types and press “Apply”, studio does not save the information. I’m one of those people who always hits “Apply”, so I never even thought to try pressing OK.

This article is written by: Greg_Shields for http://www.itninja.com, the original article can be found here: http://www.itninja.com/blog/view/tips-for-troubleshooting-group-policy-preferences

All credits go to those guys!

Before the Group Policy Preferences were incorporated into the ‘Group Policy Ecosystem’, there were 18 things you could do with Group Policy. Group Policy Preferences adds another 21 on top of that.

For instance, you can deliver:

  • Shortcuts
  • Printers
  • Drive maps

And a lot more. But when one of these items should fail to work as expected, what are you going to do?

Well, first thing’s first: You’re going to use the previous blog articles to do generalized Group Policy troubleshooting. For instance:

  • Are you getting the GPO at all?
  • Do you have the policy linked to the right place?
  • Is the link disabled or enabled?

Once you’ve been through simple troubleshooting steps, you might need to bring out the ‘big guns.’

All of the Group Policy Preferences have a special logging mode called Group Policy Preferences Tracing.

In short, Group Policy Preferences Tracing gives you immense detail on what the Group Policy Preferences client side extension thinks is going on.

Here’s the basic steps to see this Group Policy Preferences Tracing feature in action.

First, create a new GPO and link it over to where you’re having problems. See how I’ve linked it to a place where Computers live (East Sales Desktops) and not where users live (like East Sales Users.) That’s because we’re troubleshooting the computer ‘ not a user.

Note, of course, that all the desktops will have this particular tracing turned on ‘ all at once. If this isn’t what you want, use a Local GPO to just affect one desktop.


Figure 1: Create a GPO to get started with Group Policy Preferences Tracing

Next, dive down into Computer Configuration | Policies | Administrative Templates | Group Policy | Logging and tracing as seen in Figure 2.


Figure 2: The ‘Logging and tracing’ node holds the Group Policy Preferences tracing options

Next, within Logging and tracing, look for the Group Policy Preferences item type you are having trouble with. For instance, in this example, I’ll pretend I had a problem with the Group Policy Preferences Shortcuts item type.

Find the item type in the Administrative Templates list as seen here then double-click to open it up.


Figure 3: The Group Policy Preferences logging and tracing options

Here is where you’ll be able to select Enabled, and then turn Tracing to On as seen here.


Figure 4: Enable the policy you need, then also turn Tracing On.

Once tracing is turned on, the very next time that Group Policy Preferences Shortcut item is run on the client machine, a log will be generated.

This log file will give ‘excruciating detail’ of what the Group Policy Preferences item (in this case, Shortcuts) thinks it’s doing. In Figure 5, you can see me running ‘gpupdate’ to refresh Group Policy, and then see the Group Policy Preferences trace file generated in c:\ProgramData\GroupPolicy\Preference.


Figure 5: Run GPupdate on the client machine, then see the log file generated.

If you open the log, you will see a huge list of what the Group Policy Preferences ‘thinks’ is going on. In my example, I have no problems. Indeed, my ‘error code’ at the end returned was 0x0000000 which usually means ‘all good.’


Figure 6: Example Group Policy Preferences tracing log.

But, if you had a problem, and needed to ferret it out, the Group Policy Preferences tracing log would be where to turn to if you had to.

DDNS

For DDNS to work properly, several requirements need to be met and configuration needs to be done.

The following is involved in DDNS.

  • The DHCP server
  • The DNS server
  • Host PC

DHCP Server

On the DHCP Scope properties, the following settings must be set. According to the environment, configuration may differ.

  1. DNS Settings
    DNS Settings
  2. If Appropriate, enable DHCP name protection.
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd759188.aspx
  3. Scope options must be set
006 – DNS Servers DNS Server IP   addresses
015 – DNS Domain Name[1] DNS Domain Name =   Primary DNS Suffix

In the General IP settings of the DHCP server, under the advanced tab, DNS Dynamic Update credentials must be set. This account should be member of the Active Directory group: “DNSUpdateProxy”
dnsdynamicupdatecredentials

The advantages of using the DnsUpdateProxy group include:

  • Secure DNS updates can work with multiple DHCP servers: If all DHCP servers are added as members of the DnsUpdateProxy group, then the records of a server that fails can be updated by another server.
  • Upgraded clients can update their own records: The first user who is not a member of the DnsUpdateProxy group to modify the set of records that is associated with a DNS name becomes its owner, so when earlier version clients are upgraded they can take ownership of their name records at the DNS server.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd334715%28v=ws.10%29.aspx

DNS Server

Requirements:

  1. Zone must be Active Directory-Integrated
  2. DNS Dynamic updates must be configured (insecure or secure)

Host PC

On the PC’s the following options should be set

  • Primary DNS Suffix or Connection Specific DNS Suffix
    The primary or connection specific DNS suffix can be set by GPO or by the DHCP scope options (check DHCP part)
    gpo1

These settings can manually be checked by requesting an ipconfig /all or opening the System Properties (sysdm.cpl). Choose to change the domain membership and press more…

  • Dynamic Update should be enabled
    gpo2

These settings can be checked by checking the network properties.

network settings


[1] The DNS Domain Name can also be set by GPO, see “Primary DNS Suffix”, also mentioned in the Host PC part.

Post from Technet: What is the Windows Server 2008 R2 / Windows 7 System Reserved Partition?

When you install Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 (or Windows 7) to a fresh partition, sometimes you’ll receive the following message:

Then, after installation, when you inspect the disk configuration in Disk Management, you see this partition named System Reserved.  It’s 100MB in size and it doesn’t have a drive letter.  This 100MB partition is where the Windows boot loader resides.  This is needed if you’re going to implement Bitlocker.  Installation now by default, prepares the installation for Bitlocker.  This has changed from the Windows Vista / Server 2008 configuration where you have to prepare a drive to support Bitlocker.  The installation does not install Bitlocker, it just configures the server in the event you want to enable Bitlocker.  This is a much better plan than before.

The guidance for Vista, Windows Server 2008 was to create a 1.5GB drive to support the boot loader. In Windows 7 and R2, this drive now only needs to be 100MB.  Please do not mess with this partition unless you know what your doing (really).  Messing this up will render your OS unbootable.  The good news is that the repair tools in the install media can usually detect when the System Reserved partition has been damaged and will repair it.  If you’re not going to use Bitlocker, don’t worry, it’s only 100MB, and it is still beneficial in separating the boot loader from the OS.

 

Did you notice how warning during setup says Windows might create additional partitions?  If you’re not installing Server 2008 R2 (or Windows 7) on the boot partition, the install will probably not create the 100MB partition, it will probably put the boot loader on the boot partition.  Say you are setting up a dual boot between Windows Server 2003 and Server 2008 R2.  If Server 2003 is installed on Disk 0 of your server and you’re going to install R2 on Disk 1 of the machine, R2 will install the boot loader on the Server 2003 partition and setup a dual boot scenario during the install process.

Written by GPTeam, original can be found here.

How could something like CRUD be desirable? In Group Policy world, even the impossible becomes possible. In this entry, you’ll discover why Red does not mean Error and what the different colors mean when you make a Preference item. Read on!

Let’s talk about some of the intricacies of Preferences, specifically what we fondly refer to as CRUD options. Now, keep in mind, CRUD only applies to “stuff”, meaning things you can create and delete on the client, like mapped drives andshortcuts and printers. There are no CRUD options for things you just make changes to but don’t create, like “folder options”. More on this at the end.

Despite it’s unfortunate acronym, CRUD is very useful. It is also the reason those little spots of color get associated with you new Preference items. Select one of the four actions from the drop down menu to choose between Create, Replace, Update, and Delete. That decides how your Preference item will be pushed onto the client. Let’s take drive mappings as an example.

image

                       

This is the Preference item

(in UI)

image

(in XML)

image

Now, under the “Action” drop down, you have four options :  Create, Replace, Update, Delete

image

Create – If a drive mapping doesn’t exist for this user for the share “\\share\userDocuments\”,  then create one. If there already is one, don’t do anything! It’s a kind, gentle sort of policy, it won’t overwrite anything you already have, so it has a Green icon associated in the UI.

Replace – Remove whatever drive mapping exists for this share, and create a new one with these settings. If there isn’t one, just create it. No matter what, you’re getting this drive mapping, whether something existed there or not. It’s very insistent, like the bully of the CRUD options, so it gets a Red icon.

Update – Yellow – If that drive mapping exists, it will be updated with the settings specified here. If there are other settings associated with the drive mapping that aren’t specified here, they will be maintained. If no drive mapping exists for this share, create it. Nothing gets blasted away like with the Replace setting, but there is still a chance that you’ll overwrite something, so it gets a Yellow icon (warning! make sure you know what you’re going to be over-writing!).

Delete – X mark – If that drive mapping exists, it will be removed. That’s it, it’s just removed, so it gets an ‘x’ icon. It does not roll back, it gets deleted.

What did we learn? Red does not mean error! X marks the (delete) spot. Another picky note is that if you choose the “remove when no longer applicable” option under the common tab, it’ll force the CRUD action to Replace.

So, really, I’d recommend reading the help associated with each Preference item to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Hope that helps!

liliaG aka @superlilia

P.S. The end! Here’s more on my stuff vs. state discussion. Stuff means something that can be created or deleted on the client machine / user account. Think of at is as something you can see appear. It has a new icon that becomes associated with it: when you add a new printer, an icon appears that looks like that printer in your Devices window. When you add a shortcut to the desktop, that shortcut appears. Similarly, when you remove a local security group, it is gone, the icon is removed, the group no longer exists. That doesn’t mean that not all local security groups are gone, just that instance of one.

State is a state of being, like folder options. You can’t “create” a folder options, but you can make changes like “Show all hidden files”.

GP Preferences has both of these types of things, but CRUD only applies to the stuff bits. You can’t configure CRUD forstate, and the UI isn’t there to let you try.

P.P.S. Here’s the help in the product:

image

Written by Darren Mar-Elia

Darren Mar-Elia is a Microsoft Group Policy MVP, creator of the popular Group Policy site—www.gpoguy.com
and coauthor of Microsoft Windows Group Policy Guide (Microsoft Press, 2005).
He is also CTO and founder of SDM Software, Inc.

AT A GLANCE:

  • Monolithic vs. functional GPOs
  • How to process group policy entries
  • What happens when GP changes occur

I am frequently asked the question, “From a performance perspective, is it better to have fewer, bigger GPOs or a lot of smaller ones?” That question and others related to Group Policy design and performance are the focus of this article. And, as with most sweeping questions,

I can tell you the answer in advance: “It depends.” While this may seem evasive, my goal is to illuminate the mechanisms that underlie Group Policy processing so you can make informed decisions about your Group Policy design, regardless of whether you are just starting out or looking to optimize an environment with hundreds of existing GPOs.

Monolithic vs. Functional GPOs

Let’s start by describing the different ways you can implement your GPOs. The terms “monolithic” and “functional” refer to how you design them. Monolithic GPOs contain settings from many different areas. For example, a monolithic GPO might contain settings from Administrative Templates, Internet Explorer Maintenance, and Software Installation policies—all within a single GPO. By contrast, functional GPOs typically do one thing. For example, a functional GPO may do only Software Installation or enforce Security settings. I’ve even seen functional GPOs that contain only one policy setting! But that is probably the extreme. Figure 1 shows some of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

                          Figure 1 Comparing monolithic and functional GPOs

Issue Monolithic GPOs Functional GPOs
Delegation/Isolation Difficult, since each GPO   can contain settings from multiple areas, and you can only delegate at the   GPO level, not the settings level. Easy, since each GPO   contains a single policy area, you can delegate, for example, the software   installation GPO to the deployment administrator, the security GPO to the   security officer, and so on.
Manageability & Complexity Potentially simpler and   easier to manage, because each GPO contains all settings in a single place. Potentially more   difficult because more GPOs mean more places to look to track down problems   and more complexity determining the resultant set of policy for a given user   or computer.
Performance Potentially slower   because, for a given client-side extension, if one GPO changes, all   extensions would need to run against all GPOs in scope. Depends upon how many   GPOs are in use, and how often they change. Performance could be better in   dynamic environments compared to monolithic GPOs.

As you can see, there is no cut-and-dried answer to which approach—monolithic or functional—is best in all cases. In your environment, you will likely need both. For example, you might find the functional approach preferable when you are creating security policy for your entire domain. Having a single GPO that contains only security settings makes it easy to delegate control of that GPO to your security administrators where no one else can touch it. By the same token, if you delegate GP administration to OU administrators, then establishing one monolithic GPO for each OU gives those administrators a single place where they can go to manage all of their policy settings. That can reduce complexity for them and allow you to moderate the number of GPOs created for a given OU’s users and computers.

How do these high-level design decisions affect the performance of Group Policy processing, and how can you make smart decisions about GP design that minimize performance impacts? The first step in maximizing the performance of your Group Policy infrastructure is understanding how Group Policy processing works under the covers.

Understanding Group Policy Processing

Group Policy processing is a complex set of interactions involving many pieces of your Windows®and Active Directory® infrastructure. At a high level, there are two parts to Group Policy processing. The first is called Core, or Group Policy Infrastructure processing. In this phase, a Windows Group Policy client queries its closest domain controller to determine what the link speed to the DC is, where it lives in the Active Directory hierarchy (that is, which site, domain, and OU the client is a member of), and which GPOs apply to the computer or currently logged-on user. (It’s important to note that in this context a client could be a server or workstation participating in an Active Directory domain.) Once the list of GPOs has been created, the next phase kicks in—Client-Side Extension (CSE) processing. During the CSE phase, each registered CSE processes the list of GPOs that have implemented settings in its area. For example, the Registry or Administrative Template CSE runs first in all cases and processes all GPOs that apply to the given computer or user and that have implemented registry policy within them.

The list that follows details the steps the Group Policy processing cycle goes through, including network interactions between the client and domain controller. It’s important to remember that Group Policy applies to both computers and users. Therefore, each time policy processes—for example during a background refresh of Group Policy—the cycle I enumerate below will be repeated for both the computer and the currently logged on user account on a given system, since each can have a different set of policies applying to them. When this happens, Windows actually performs the processing cycle simultaneously for both computer and user, with each cycle running on a different thread within the Group Policy engine process. (The Winlogon process for Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server® 2003, and the Group Policy Client service in Windows Vista® and Windows Server 2008.)

Processing a GP is a six-step procedure:

  1. The client performs Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) slow-link detection to a domain controller in its site to determine link speed. In Windows Vista, the use of ICMP for slow-link detection is replaced by the Network Location Awareness (NLA) service.
  2. The client reads CSE status information from its local registry to determine which GPOs were processed last.
  3. The client uses LDAP to search the gpLink attribute in Active Directory on each container object within its location in the Active Directory hierarchy—first at the OU level (including all nested OUs), then at the domain, and finally at the Active Directory site level. From the results of this search, it builds a list of GPOs that must be evaluated for processing.
  4. Each GPO is then searched in Active Directory to determine whether the client (user or computer) has the necessary permissions to process it. Its version number, the path to the Group Policy Template (GPT) portion of the GPO in SYSVOL, and what CSEs are implemented in that GPO are also evaluated.
  5. The client then uses the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol to read the contents of the GPT and get the GPO’s version number from the gpt.ini file. The version numbers in the Group Policy Container (GPC) and GPT are one factor that is used to determine whether a GPO has changed since the last processing cycle.
  6. Each CSE runs in the order that is registered under HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\GPExtensions, and processes the GPOs that implement that CSE if the GPO has changed since last processing cycle (as determined during core processing). Each CSE also logs Resultant Set of User Policy (RSOP) data to Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) during each refresh, if available.

Let’s dissect this process and look at how performance can be impacted. The first thing to realize is that there is a difference between foreground and background processing. Foreground processing occurs for computers during a system restart and for users during a user logon. Background refreshes occur on workstations and member servers by default every 90 minutes plus up to 30 minutes in a randomized value. Background refreshes occur on domain controllers every 5 minutes by default. In Windows Vista, you can also have NLA-based refreshes, which are essentially background refresh events that are triggered by a previous failure of Group Policy processing due to the lack of access to a domain controller (as when the client was offline when a background interval occurred). Why are these distinctions important? Primarily because certain CSEs (for instance, the Software Installation and Folder Redirection CSEs) will not run during a background refresh. Likewise, logon/logoff or startup/shutdown scripts do not run during a background refresh.

Similarly, in Step 1 of this process, I mentioned the slow-link detection process. In pre-Windows Vista systems, this process relies on clients using ICMP to ping the domain controller to determine its availability and link speed. If the calculated link speed falls below a certain threshold value (the default is 500Kb/s) the link is considered to be slow and, again, certain CSEs, such as Software Installation, Folder Redirection, and Internet Explorer Maintenance, will not run. All of these conditions can have an impact on performance as well as on the expected delivery of policy.

Probably the aspect of the policy processing cycle with the greatest impact on performance is the logic that determines whether GPOs applying to a computer or user have changed. The Group Policy engine has a built-in optimization that says that if nothing has changed for a computer or user since the last time GP was processed, then no processing occurs. This can obviously have a tremendous impact on the time it takes your clients to process policy, especially if your GP environment is fairly static. Let’s look in more detail at what constitutes a change.

When Group Policy Change Occurs

So, what constitutes a change in terms of Group Policy processing? There are a number of factors but the most obvious is that if you make a change to a GPO, clients processing that GPO will detect the change and reprocess that GPO. How does a client know that a GPO has changed? It relies on version numbers on the GPO and within the client to figure it out.

A GPO is composed of two pieces—the GPC stored in Active Directory under the CN=Policies, CN=System container within each domain, and the GPT stored in SYSVOL under the “Policies” folder. Each piece of the GPO contains a version number. For the GPC, this version number is stored in the versionNumber attribute on the GPC object. For the GPT, it’s stored within the gpt.ini file at the root of a given GPT. The client also keeps a record of the version numbers of the GPOs it has processed (both per-computer and per-user) within its registry. This version information is held under HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Currentversion\Group Policy\History for the computer and HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Currentversion\Group Policy\<SID of User> for the user on each client.

When Group Policy processing occurs, one of the parts is to examine the version numbers of all GPOs that the computer or user are subject to and compare them to any processed during the last cycle, as found in the registry. If any of the version numbers of the current GPOs are different (note that they only have to be different—they could be bigger or smaller!), those GPOs will be processed during the current processing cycle. If not, they are not processed unless one of the other change conditions are met. Those other change conditions are as follows:

  • A change in the list of GPOs that apply to a user or computer (a GPO has been added or removed)
  • A change in the security group membership of a user or computer
  • A change in a WMI filter linked to a GPO (a WMI filter has been added or removed)

If any of these change conditions are met, the client will reprocess policy during that cycle. But there are subtleties in this process that you need to be aware of, since they can have a significant impact on performance. For a given CSE, if 1 GPO out of 10 changes, then all GPOs must be processed for that CSE. Remember that processing happens on a per-CSE basis. However, CSEs must process policy in the order of precedence that controls processing (local GPOs first, then site-linked GPOs, then domain-linked GPOs, then OU-linked GPOs). Given this requirement, let’s say a user has 10 GPOs that apply, each linked at different levels of the Active Directory hierarchy. And let’s say that each of those 10 GPOs implement some Administrative Template policy settings. Now, an administrator comes along and changes a GPO linked to the domain—adding a new Administrative Template policy setting. Then the computer or user goes to process policy and notices that the version number of that changed GPO is greater than the last time it was processed, so the GPO needs to be processed again. But in order to maintain the order of precedence of GP processing, it must process all of the Administrative Template settings that apply to all of the GPOs. So a simple change to one GPO can have a potentially significant performance impact for that client.

Comparing Performance of Monolithic and Functional GPOs

Now that we’ve looked at the processing cycle and at how changes to your Group Policy environment impacts processing, let’s loop back to our discussion of monolithic versus functional GPOs and how each approach impacts performance.

Monolithic GPOs can have a hidden performance penalty due to the way Group Policy versioning works. The reasons for this are not altogether obvious, but they have to do with the fact that there is no concept of per-CSE versioning within Group Policy processing. Let’s say a user has three GPOs that apply to him. Each GPO is monolithic in that it implements several policy areas. For example, let’s assume that each GPO implements Administrative Template policy, Software Installation policy and Folder Redirection policy. Now let’s say that an administrator makes a change to Administrative Template policy in one of these GPOs. Its version number is advanced by that change. Then the user comes along and processes Group Policy. The Administrative Template CSE starts up and sees that one of the GPOs has changed, so it processes those three GPOs again.

When the Software Installation and Folder Redirection CSEs run, they also look at the GPO version numbers and notice the new version number on one of the GPOs. But because that version number doesn’t tell them about what policy area was changed in that GPO, they go ahead and process all three GPOs again, just in case. The result is that, in a monolithic GPO implementation, making changes to one area of policy can cause processing activity in another area.

True, in the case of software installation or folder redirection policy, those CSEs may not actually perform any work because, for example, if an application has already been installed it’s not going to be installed again. But the point is that this behavior can happen with any CSE and should be taken into account when you are designing monolithic GPOs. If you have a policy area that changes frequently, you might consider keeping GPOs that implement that policy area separate from other policy areas.

From a functional GPO perspective, the performance considerations are more obvious. If you have more GPOs per user or computer (because the functional approach typically involves more GPOs for a given set of policy settings), it means that the Group Policy engine has to spend more time enumerating those GPOs during the core phase of Group Policy processing. However, as we’ll see in the next section, this may not necessarily impact performance in a significant way.

Measuring Group Policy Performance

Ultimately, in order to make good decisions about the performance of your Group Policy infrastructure, you need to be able to measure how Group Policy is performing in your real-life environment. Modeling or predicting Group Policy performance is nearly impossible, given the large number of factors that can impact a given processing cycle. For that reason, empirical measurement is your best bet for discovering if GP processing performance is a problem. What constitutes bad performance? Well, bad performance is any situation where Group Policy processing impacts your users’ experience on their systems. This may be different for every organization, but the key is knowing you have a problem.

So how do you measure the duration of a given Group Policy processing cycle? Well, again, the answer is not simple. If you are running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008, you can take advantage of the new Event Viewer Operational Logs. The Group Policy operational log within the Event Viewer, found under Applications and Services Logs\Microsoft\Windows\Group Policy\Operational, provides excellent instrumentation of each step of the Group Policy processing cycle, including time spent during each phase of processing (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Group Policy Operational Log Event showing policy processing time (Click the image for a larger view)

However, if you are not working in a Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 environment, the mechanisms for measuring policy processing times are less direct. In that case, your choices are to enable verbose userenv logging (see the Microsoft support article atsupport.microsoft.com/kb/221833) and view the timestamps within that file for a given processing cycle, or to use the values held in the registry on the client that indicate start and stop times for policy processing. These values are stored in the following for the computer

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Group Policy\State\Machine\Extension-List\
{00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000}

and here for the user:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Group Policy\State\<SID of User>\Extension-List\
{00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000}

The values are stored in FILETIME format and must be converted to a normal date and time. You can also use the free GPTime.exe utility I wrote (available at gpoguy.com/tools.htm#GP_Time_Utility) to get the same information.

If you don’t have a Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 environment, but do have access to a userenv log, you can still get valuable information about how much time has been spent in each policy processing cycle. For example, Figure 3 displays a snippet of the userenv log showing part of the core phase of Group Policy processing.

Figure 3 A portion of the userenv log (Click the image for a larger view)

Note that each line of the log file includes a timestamp. The core part of the Group Policy processing cycle begins when you see an event that says something like “ProcessGPOs: Starting user Group Policy (Background) processing …” The CSE part of the processing cycle begins when you see the line “ProcessGPOs: Processing extension Registry.” You can use this log and the timestamps within it to determine how long each part of a policy cycle takes.

General Observations on Performance

When you spend enough time looking at userenv log files, you begin to see patterns emerge, and though you can’t predict how long policy processing will take, you can start to make some general observations about where time is spent in a given processing cycle. For example, during a policy processing event, when policy changes are being processed and CSEs have work to do because of a change, the time spent in the core part of GP processing is typically much smaller compared to the CSE part.

This is true for most policy areas because most CSEs need to perform tasks that run longer than the core portion of their processing, whose most expensive operations are querying Active Directory and SYSVOL. For example, there’s no comparison between time spent in core processing versus the Software Installation CSE running a Microsoft® Office install. However, for a normal background refresh of policy where nothing has changed since the last cycle, the core part of the processing cycle takes roughly the same time as the CSE portion. The exception to this is registry policy processing—which is actually fairly fast unless you have tens or hundreds of registry policy settings in place for a given user or computer.

In addition, disabling the computer or user side of a GPO because it is unused has little effect on policy processing performance. If a policy side is unused, the only overhead will be in querying Active Directory to determine that, and the same query must be performed to view the disable option as the one that occurs to determine whether any CSEs have been implemented for that side of the GPO. The effect of disabling a side is negligible.

Design Recomendations for Optimal GP Performance

Now that we’ve looked at many aspects of Group Policy processing performance, there are some design recommendations that can directly impact performance. These are summarized in four key points.

  1. If you are making frequent changes to your GPOs, keep in mind the effect mentioned earlier, where a change to one CSE can impact the processing of all CSEs. To that end, if you plan to make frequent changes to, for example, registry policy, it makes more sense to put your registry policy into functional GPOs (GPOs that only do registry policy) as that will isolate other CSEs from processing when changes occur.
  2. When thinking about how many GPOs are too many, keep in mind that policy processing only occurs during changes, and “expensive” CSEs like Software Installation, Folder Redirection, or handling a large number of registry policies or setting permissions on large file or registry trees take up the most time. The time spent querying Active Directory for the list of GPOs during core processing is often the smallest part of the processing cycle. So, 30 GPOs that apply to a given user but do minimal registry policy changes and don’t change frequently could take less time to process than 5 GPOs that are running expensive CSEs on a regular basis because those GPOs are changing frequently.
  3. Avoid behaviors that force obvious slowdowns in policy processing performance. For example, you can set policy to force CSEs to process even if a GPO has not changed (under Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Group Policy). However, if you do this, expect policy processing to take longer during each cycle.
  4. Keep in mind the trade-offs of disabling Fast Logon Optimization in Windows XP and Windows Vista (this is done by enabling the policy at Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System\Logon\Always wait for the network at computer startup and user logon). When this policy is enabled, foreground processing switches from asynchronous to synchronous. This means that computer and user policy must run to completion before the user gets control of the computer and desktop. However, it can also be beneficial because it gets around the problem of requiring two or more restarts or logons for Software Installation and Folder Redirection policy to take effect.

Wrap-Up

While Group Policy processing performance is not an exact science, there is some insight you can bring to your design process that can mitigate performance issues.

Understanding how the processing cycle works and where time is spent can go a long way toward tracking down performance issues. Use the Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 Operational logs (or userenv logs in earlier versions of Windows) to get instrumented information about the processing cycle. Keep in mind the vagaries of CSE processing and what constitutes a change in policy from a CSE perspective. And remember that, in dynamic environments with lots of changes, functional GPOs may make more sense than monolithic ones. But the bottom line is that Group Policy is a technology designed to help you better manage your Windows environment. It’s very important that your business needs drive your Group Policy design rather than the other way around. Keeping in mind some of the performance behaviors discussed here can help you accomplish that goal