Blog Archive

Azure Cost Estimator v2.0

Azure cost toolThe most common question we get when running Microsoft Azure events is “why are you wearing those ridiculous trousers?”

The second most common question is “How much does Azure cost?”

My favourite analogy is to compare Azure to a box of Lego. Lego isn’t in the business of selling boxes of Lego; go into a toy store and you’ll see a racing car or spaceship or a cityscape or the Sydney Opera House. Think of Azure services like hundreds of Lego blocks and rather than trying to describe this to people (“I have a box of Lego, what would you like it to be?”), create your own scenarios and solutions (“I have a site-to-cloud VPN with 5TB bandwidth”, “I have a high availability SharePoint web farm”, “I have cloud protection for 20 Hyper-V virtual machines”).

The benefit of describing Azure in terms of solutions is that you can price them, market them to whomever is paying for them and very importantly, you can automate them with PowerShell and XML which makes them easy to set-up, move, scale, etc..

A big part of creating these solutions is determining how much they will cost. There are several Azure pricing tools available; Azure.com, a more detailed cost estimator, and the new Azure scenario tool which we’re describing in this blog post.

The tool has two sides to it.  The first is an agent which profiles real-world machine hardware usage and uses that information to recommend the most appropriate Azure set-up and generate a 31-day cost estimate.  The second side is to choose from a selection of Azure scenarios (some of which are pictured below) or putting together your own package.  This menu of scenarios will grow over time as more are added to Azure documentation or come to light from customer and partner suggestions.

Estimator scenarios

The tool can download current Azure pricing with a click of button and it works in multiple currencies (24 at the time of writing).  You can also generate a report on the detailed infrastructure cost broken down by compute, bandwidth, data, support, etc.  Scenarios can be exported to XML but unfortunately there’s no way yet to use this generated file with PowerShell to automate the set-up of a particular package.

The scan agent supports Microsoft technologies (Hyper-V, SCVMM), VMware technologies (vCenter, ESXi) and physical environments (Windows and Linux).  Future updates may include XEN Server support and the option to import workloads from from MAP and vSphere.

Download the tool today from and if you have any useful feedback or suggestions please email feedbackAzureCalc@microsoft.com.


Microsoft Azure RemoteApp Overview

Microsoft Azure Logo

We’ll cover a technical look at RemoteApp in an upcoming blog post but in this post we examine what Azure RemoteApp provides and how to licence it.

Why is RemoteApp Useful?

According to Microsoft, around 75% of employees bring technology of their own to work and nearly 30% of employees use three or more devices at work. These employees clearly want to access corporate resources from their devices. One way for IT to provide this is through desktop and application virtualization where the device is merely used as a ‘window’ to the user’s full Windows Desktop running remotely on a server somewhere. So a user could be sitting in their favourite coffee shop, using their iPad, viewing and interacting with their company pc desktop and applications.

There may be times when the employee doesn’t need access to an entire desktop session but just wants to run a business application virtually. Azure RemoteApp allows IT to deliver virtual application sessions from the cloud. If the distinction isn’t quite clear, imagine sitting in front of your pc or laptop and seeing your Windows start button, background picture and the huge amounts of icons and shortcuts on your messy desktop (unless you’re one of those tidy-desktop people). Now imagine doing exactly the same but from a different device, such as your home pc, iPad or Windows Tablet. You’re seeing your entire desktop and then you would run applications, etc.

Now imagine using your iPad, home PC or Windows tablet and you have a shortcut to a business application that you need for work. Your run that application and you see the application’s window on your device as if it was a native application installed locally. That’s RemoteApp.

You should now understand the first advantage; IT don’t need to virtualize and expose entire desktops, but just collections of applications.

Secondly, at the time of writing, Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) are primarily for hosting middle-tier applications. You wouldn’t spin up an Azure VM and pop client software on it and allow lots of users to remote desktop into it. Technically it can work but an Azure VM only includes 2 Remote Desktop Session (RDS) licences so any more than two people connecting at a time requires additional RDS licences. Azure VMs are good for hosting the middle-tier applications that client (front-end) applications will connect to. The front-end applications might be a Windows application or a web-based application.

Azure RemoteApp is designed to vitualise a client-application to multiple users from the cloud and all the necessary infrastructure licences are included, including all the RDS licences.

So could a customer deploy Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus onto Azure and deliver it virtually to users via RemoteApp. Yes, in fact here’s a nice little webcast from the Office team stating just that. Office on-premises is still licensed per-device and doesn’t allow licence mobility so Office licences acquired on-premises can’t be used for Azure RemoteApp service; it’s just Office 365 ProPlus.

We must be clear here about the applications that are supported; RemoteApp delivers applications running on Windows Server in Microsoft Azure. Applications must therefore be compatible with Windows Server 2012 R2.

Azure RemoteApp has a selection of pre-built application collections to choose from or IT can upload template images to the Azure management portal. Users obtain the appropriate Azure RemoteApp client for their device via http://remoteapp.azure.com. When they launch the client they are then prompted to login, where they can choose to authenticate with either their corporate credentials, Microsoft account (e.g. Outlook.com) or their Azure Active Directory account. After authenticating, the user will see the applications their IT Admin has given them access to and can then launch whichever application they require.

Each user has 50GB for persistent user data and because Microsoft is using RemoteFX technology here, users will get a great experience: applications will support keyboard, mouse, local storage, touch and some plug-and-play peripherals on Windows client devices. Other platforms will only support keyboard, mouse and touch. Local USB storage devices, smartcard readers, local and network printers are supported and the RemoteApp application will be able to utilize multiple monitors of the client the same way a local application can.

How is Azure RemoteApp Priced?

In order to get started with Azure RemoteApp, you will need an Azure account. Azure RemoteApp is priced per user and is billed on a monthly basis.

The service is offered at two tiers: Basic and Standard. Basic is designed for lighter weight applications (e.g. for task workers). Standard is designed for information workers to run productivity applications (e.g. Office).

The service price includes the required licensing cost for Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services but it doesn’t include the application licence, for example you still need an Office licence if you wish to use that. The bandwidth used to connect to the remote applications (both in and out) as well as bandwidth used by the applications themselves is also included with the service.

Each service has a starting price that includes 40 hours of connectivity per user. Thereafter, a per-hour charge is applied for each hour up to a capped price per user. You won’t pay for any additional usage after the capped price in a given month.  Azure RemoteApp billing is pro-rated per day in case you remove a user’s access part-way through a month.

Microsoft Azure RemoteApp

As we mentioned, you create app collections which contain the applications you wish to run and you can assign these collections to a set of users. Currently you can create up to 3 app collections per customer and each app collection will be billed at a minimum of 20 users. If you have less users, you’ll still be billed for 20. Hopefully this will change as it’s a bit of an Achilles’ heel for small businesses. RemoteApp basic scales to 400 users per collection and RemoteApp standard scales to 250. If you want to extend any of these limits, or if you want users to access more than one app collection, you’ll need to contact Azure support.

We must reiterate that the customer is responsible for complying with use rights of the applications they bring onto the RemoteApp service. This includes Office and as you can see at the bottom of this table, Office ProPlus can be utilized as one of the installs for licenced users and this is treated as Shared Computer Activation.

Most existing 32-bit or 64-bit Windows-based applications run “as is” in RemoteApp but there is a difference between running and running well.  There’s guidance on the RemoteApp documentation pages at azure.com.

So in summary:
• Azure RemoteApp is priced per user per month
• The service is offered at two tiers: Basic and Standard
• Basic is designed for light-weight applications
• Standard is designed to run productivity applications
• Each service has a starting price that includes 40 hours of service per user
• Thereafter, an hourly charge is applied for each user hour, up to a capped price per user
• No charge for any additional usage above the capped price in a given month


Licensing Skype for Business

Skype for Business

 

 

Cast your mind back to November 2014.  Kim Kardashian broke the Internet; the title of the seventh Star Wars film was revealed to be The Force Awakens, or was it Spectre?  Half the USA had quite a lot of snow and One Direction still had five members.

November also saw Microsoft announce that the next version of Lync would become Skype for Business.  Starting from April 1st 2015, admittedly a strange choice of date to make changes, the new client, server and online service are becoming available so what are the implications for customers and when are the key dates?

Everything Lync is becoming Skype for Business.  Lync 2013 clients are changing to Skype for Business clients.  Lync Web app is changing to Skype for Business web app.  Lync admin centre is changing to Skype for Business admin centre.  Lync Online is changing to Skype for Business Online.  If you search for Lync in Windows 8, it will return Skype for Business.

The first thing to realise is the Server is changing first; not so much the client.  Lync Server is changing but the client won’t be new until Office 2016.  However the client user interface will be changing from to reflect the Skype look and feel.  More on that later.

Key Dates

April 1st 2015 – Lync Online Becomes Skype for Business

May 1st 2015 – Skype for Business 2015 Server released (replacing Lync Server 2013)

Lync Online is versionless so only the name and SKU description will change to Skype for Business.  Lync Server On-Premises SKUs will be replaced with new Skype for Business SKUs on May 1st and these new SKUs represent brand new, versioned offerings of the Lync Server products under the Skype for Business branding, for example Skype for Business 2015 Server.  There will be some legacy media SKUs that need to retain the Lync branding for those customers on current versions.

As mentioned, the Lync client software won’t be fully refreshed until Office 2016 but through software updates, there will be some branding changes.

What’s New in Skype for Business and the updated UI?

Lync was called Lync because it was about linking and connecting people everywhere to achieve more.  Skype for Business has:

  • All the capabilities of Lync, both for users and administrators
  • An improved UI that takes advantage of familiar Skype icons and colors to simplify adoption for people
  • Multiple deployment options, including server, cloud, and a combination of the two
  • The security, compliance, and control features that enterprises require

Lync users will have no problem getting around the updated UI and you can see some screenshots on Microsoft.com.  And if you’re a regular user of the commercial version of Skype, then Skype for Business will seem very familiar: the Contacts list, presence indicators, buttons and icons, and even the app sounds should make you feel right at home.

Of course, all the essential Lync features are still there—like the Quick Actions buttons, which let you IM, call a contact and more with just one click or tap.

Skype for Business UI

There’s a lot of similarity between Skype and Skype for Business.  Skype for Business takes advantage of people’s comfort with Skype to make adoption faster and easier within the enterprise.

Skype for Business makes it possible to connect to anyone else on Skype, using IM, audio and video.  Even people who are outside of your business can get the same capabilities.  Doctors can communicate with patients.  Employers can interview candidates.  I’m sure you can use your imagination.  This integration includes support for Skype IDs and directory search within the client.  Video connectivity to the Skype consumer network was enabled back in December for Lync 2013 users.

And Skype for Business has the full set of capabilities that people have come to expect with Lync, usable from small screens to large screens.

The Skype for Business UI will be made available in the Office 2013 so existing customers who use the Lync 2013 client need to prepare users for migration to the new UI.  For click to run users on Office 365, the new interface will be enabled automatically.  Admins will have the option to use a policy setting with the Wave 15 client to retain the vast majority of the Lync UI if desired.

Be aware that for customers with mixed estates (pc and mac), they will need to deal with mixed branding for a while.  Not a huge implication perhaps as they already have to deal with mixed versions (Lync client 2011 and 2013).  The conversation history feature will now be consistent across devices.  Skype for Business is also not supported on Windows RT devices

For IT, Microsoft is offering on-premises, online and hybrid deployment options, all based on the same underlying Lync and Skype technology and all interoperating with Office 365, Active Directory and other foundational technologies such as Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Fabric.

Skype for Business Server 2015 has the same hardware profile as Lync Server 2013 for easier upgrade and most of the existing software and hardware solutions that are qualified for Lync 2013 will also be compatible with Skype for Business.  So current Lync customers can quickly get up and running with Skype for Business and keep their existing investments.

The new Skype for Business Server 2015 (on-premises) adds native interoperability with numerous Cisco Tandberg VTC models, a new Call via Work feature for leveraging existing PBX handsets and support for SQL Always On resiliency on the back-end database servers.

And both on-premises and the online service as part of Office 365 includes the ability to host much larger meetings.  Office 365 currently has an attendee limit of 250.  This will increase to thousands.

Three Key Features and Services Coming up with Skype for Business

First – Call via Work is simple PBX phone integration which allows users to make outbound voice calls from the Skype for Business client.  When a user places a voice call, it is routed from Skype for Business to the originator’s desktop phone.  Once the originator answers the phone, the call is then directed to the destination number.  The call recipient answers and the call is established with Skype for Business serving as the control panel.  The originator can manage their presence and call controls from Skype for Business.  Why would you want to do this?  Well, you may not have headsets and you don’t want to use the pc’s microphone and speaker.  You may experience better audio through your PBX desk phone.  You can also place calls from the client using any phone near you (like your mobile, home or hotel phone).  The person you’re calling sees your phone number as though you were calling from your company’s main phone number.

So if I start a call from Skype for Business client, my desktop phone rings.  I pick up the receiver and hear the other person’s phone ring.  They answer, I say hello and they say hello David, lovely to hear from you.  We can talk and if the other person is also on Lync or Skype we can IM, app share, transfer files, etc.

Call via Work is only available for the on-premises Skype for Business.  There are also some things you can’t do in this scenario including record your meeting, upload a PowerPoint, use video, Whiteboard, OneNote integration, polling or Q&A features.  And you won’t be able to add people to the call; this is a you-and-one-other-person call.  If you need any of these features, then you should set up a regular conversation that isn’t routed through your PBX desk phone.

Second – Lync Room Systems evolve into Skype Room Systems.  There will be a range of devices optimised for Skype for Business from hardware partners like Crestron, Polycom and Smart.  These will be built on a Windows 10 platform and available for customers in the Windows 10 timeframe.  Polycom also have a new series of solutions called Polycom RoundTable, purpose-built for Skype for Business.  The first device in this new offering is the Polycom RoundTable 100, designed for small and medium businesses and expected to be around $1,000.  Spoiler; it’s not round at all.

Polycom Roundtable 100

The Microsoft Surface Hub is a new large-screen device built for ink and touch, optimized for group collaboration and designed specifically for Skype for Business.  It delivers digital white boarding based on OneNote, the ability for multiple people to share and edit content to the screen from any device and support for Windows 10 apps.

Both the Surface Hub and RoundTable 100 should be available around summer 2015.

Third – the addition of Broadcast Meetings to enable very large meetings.  This is because it leverages Azure Media Services and it will scale to thousands of endpoints.  Attendees view the video and content and listen to the audio of the broadcast using any browser; no client or plug-in is required.  Social streams like Yammer can also be integrated into the attendee experience and Broadcast Meetings can be recorded and stored in the cloud.  The Broadcast Meeting scenario is delivered as a cloud service add-on.  Lync Server customers have access to new cloud services when they take advantage of unique Hybrid capabilities in Skype for Business.  Hybrid effectively opens the door to new online add-ons, the first of which will be the support for Broadcast Meetings.

When will the Skype for Business service support PSTN calling?

Well, Microsoft intends to provide two methods for customers to add PSTN calling to Office 365.

The first is to buy a calling service from Microsoft in the same way customers might buy the service from telecom providers like BT today.  Microsoft will begin offering this in the US in the 2nd half of 2015, then expand to Western Europe and beyond in 2016 so a little way off yet but at least there’s a name for the service now.  The first targets in Western Europe are Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain.

The second method is to use existing on premises assets including trunks from the PSTN or PBX systems.  Using this option will require the use of some on premises equipment, based on Skype for Business Server technology.

In reality, don’t expect much detail on either method until Microsoft’s new financial year (July 2015 onwards).

It’s important to remember that Office 365 E4 plan provides Enterprise Voice (EV) on-premises and cloud service for meetings.  It does NOT provide EV in the cloud.  By having E4 now, customers will be positioned to move to EV in the cloud at a lower cost via a Skype for Business add-on when it becomes available.

Licence Transition from Lync to Skype for Business

The transition from Lync to Skype for Business has different implications for the client and the server/Server CALs.

Skype for Business 2015 Server is a new version of the Server.  As usual customers without SA will require new Server Licences and new CALs to access it.  Customers with current SA on their Lync Server will have rights to the Skype for Business Server when it releases to the pricelist on May 1st.

Skype for Business 2015 client is not a new client version.  The new UI and brand are being released as part of an Office Product Update for the Office 2013 Pro Plus Lync client.  This means that customers without SA can begin using the new UI and rebranded client without acquiring a new licence for the client.  As mentioned, IT Pros have the option to not expose the new UI to end users and to retain the Lync 2013 look and feel via admin policies.

The next version of Lync/Skype for Business will ship with Office 16 in H2 CY 15.

Microsoft’s aspiration is to be “Cloud First” by the middle of 2016.  By this time, customers should be able to use the online service without sacrificing enterprise voice or other key scenarios.  Not every feature will be exactly the same but there will be the full set of scenarios.

Skype for Business Licence Stack

Resources

If you’d like some Quick Start Guides for Skype for Business, Microsoft have put them all in a bundle that contains guides in both PDF and PowerPoint formats.  There are five guides including Audio setup and making calls; Contacts, presence, and IM; Meetings; Video and Sharing and collaboration.

And if you still want more to read then here’s a selection of Microsoft links:

Lync Online is becoming Skype for Business

Skype for Business change management and adoption

Skype for Business client on Lync Server resources: Awareness and readiness planning

Skype for Business client on Lync Online: Awareness and readiness planning

Switching between the Skype for Business client and the Lync mode client

Discover Skype for Business (client Help)

SfB Training resources (Download Center)

 


Lync Translator – Klingon vs Welsh

Can you Confused peoplespeak Klingon?  Nope, nor can I.  Unless I eat a hot chilli and then I emit sounds which could be mistaken for Klingon.

Lync can translate from and into not just one dialect but two dialects of Klingon.

Lync 2010 client application (and 2013 of course) has a little-known conversation translation feature which is great fun to try but also very useful if you need to collaborate with people who don’t share your language.  Let’s take an example of a local council.  A newly arrived Romanian strolls into the council office reception and sees a kiosk where they can select help with various councily things.  The resident selects their preferred language, selects their requirement (e.g. housing), is connected via Lync to someone in the appropriate team who can instant message (IM) in English whilst the resident IMs in their preferred language.  Or Klingon.  [Disclaimer: I am not in any way stereotyping Romanians, housing applicants, council employees or Klingons.]

In the early days of this feature, Welsh translation was not an option.  I asked Microsoft HQ why they had chosen to offer Klingon before Welsh and they came back with the perfectly reasonable answer that more people in the world spoke Klingon than Welsh so it was a higher priority.  Sorry Cardiff.

The feature does require enabling (if you want to try it yourself you can see one method on this blog page) but is fun to try.  Microsoft is not promising that you’ll be seen as fluent but it overcomes language barriers quite effectively.

Turn on Lync Conversation translator

 

Start Lync Conversation translator

 

Lync Conversation translator preview

The new Skype for Business will go even further by translating the audio in conversations.  Skype Translator is in preview currently and only works with English and Spanish but is a promising feature.

Sign up for the Skype translation preview at Microsoft.com.  You can also read our blog post on licensing Skype for Business and of course take one of our Office 365 or Lync Server training courses and gain your Microsoft qualification.