Blog Archive

Microsoft Certification Map

Microsoft retires Select PlusThe path to qualifications can be a little confusing so we’ve produced a handy interactive PDF which shows the current Microsoft MTA, MCSA, MCSE and MCSD qualification routes along with the courses and exams required to get you there.

Think of this as your handy CertNav!

Why strive for an IT qualification?

For employees, 85% of IT hiring managers consider certifications a medium to high priority according to the CompTIA research paper Employer Perceptions of IT Training and Certification.

For managed services providers, a 2009 research report by Beth Vanni (then Director of Market Intelligence for Amazon Consulting) found 60% of customers trust a certified partner more and involved that partner more readily in future decision making.  Also, 60% engaged more repeat business and purchased services beyond products from certified providers.

And my favourite research finding is quoted on the Microsoft certification site: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Microsoft Certified IT Professional, and Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator are among the top 25 highest-paying IT certifications.

You will try to remember us when you’re sunning yourselves on your yacht in the Bahamas won’t you?


Rolling Back with Office 365

talk_show_interview_1600_clr_8350A question from our Twitter feed: “@imageframeuk Can you download the old version of #MSOffice when you purchase #office365? The new #MSOffice2016 for Mac is very buggy…”

Great question.  Forgive us because we’re going to answer for the Windows platform here, I don’t have my demo Mac handy but when I get it back we’ll include Mac-specific information.

Office 365 is an evergreen, versionless service.  This means there isn’t strictly what Microsoft would call a major version although in this case going from Office 2011 applications to Office 2016 applications is a major upgrade.

There are no downgrade rights with Office 365 so it’s impossible to subscribe to Office 365 and install Office 2010 applications or Office 2011 Mac applications.  Depending on the subscription plan you have:

     1- you can control how and when future updates are installed

     2- you can disable automatic updates

     3- you can rollback to a previous update

There are limitations to this though.  Option 1 is discussed in this TechNet blog article Managing Updates for Office 365 ProPlus.

Option 2 can be achieved through company-wide policy or in the individual program.  In any Office 365 ProPlus for Windows application, select File, Account and you’ll see the update options on the right-hand side.

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

Select Disable Updates and none of your Office applications will be updated; you won’t need to do this in each application.  Somewhere in the world a puppy will start crying however, because you are defying Microsoft.

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

This action shouldn’t be taken lightly though; you will also not receive security patches so your products may become vulnerable.  And at some point, your installation of Office will become unsupported.

Option 3 is performed by running OfficeC2RClient.exe from an administrative command-prompt and using the updatetoversion switch with the specific version you want to deploy which can be newer or older than the current version (or you may not have one installed at all).  If you don’t specify a version, it defaults to the latest one.  The versions only go back so far but theoretically you could deploy an older release going back a couple of years.

How will rollbacks work when Office 2016 applications are brought into mainstream Office 365?

We’ll post an update to this blog when we try it.

The last point may seem obvious and irrelevant but we have to mention it for completeness.  You can of course still use Office 2011 for Mac on the device whilst connecting to the Office 365 cloud services.  But this is not going to help if you’ve subscribed to an Office 365 plan which includes Office applications; who wants to pay twice for the same thing?


Reimaging Windows 10

Confused people

A question on Microsoft’s UK TechNet blog: “Do Reimaging Rights also apply to Windows 10 Professional?  I’ve a customer using desktops licensed with both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.  Can I upgrade these machine and reimage them at a later time?”

The short answer is possibly.  As you can tell, we like to keep our advice helpful and in no way ambiguous.

So as I understand it, the scenario is that you have some devices licenced with Windows 7 and some with Windows 8.1.  You want to upgrade these machines to Windows 10 via the free upgrade offer.  In the future you may want to reimage these machines, for example to repurpose them or provide them to another employee.

There are some assumptions we need to make in order to answer this correctly as these subtleties make a difference to the rights and upgrade paths.  Firstly, which edition of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are currently installed?  We’ll assume they are Windows Pro.  We also need to know where you’re getting the Windows 10 media that you will use to reimage these machines.  Will it come from a Volume Licence (VL) agreement or will it be the media supplied via the Windows 10 upgrade offer?

 

Windows 10 reimage paths

 

Upgrading the Existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Desktops to Windows 10

As we’ve discussed in How to Upgrade to Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Home and Pro editions) are eligible to benefit from the 1-year free upgrade offer.  If your desktop machines are upgraded within that year they have a perpetual (but not transferable) licence for Windows 10 and they are able to be reimaged or reinstalled with Windows 10.

Using Windows 10 Media as the Initial Upgrade Image

The Windows 10 free upgrade offer is aimed at consumers and most people will initiate the upgrade from their own pc.  However organisations with Windows Pro are eligible to take advantage of the offer and are unlikely to want to sit in front of each pc to upgrade it so upgrade media will be provided as part of the free upgrade offer.  This media can be used on a machine (or multiple machines) to initiate the upgrade process.  The media image can be customised like any other Windows image, for example via DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) to include drivers, applications, etc..  During the upgrade process, a Windows 10 licence will be obtained from the Windows Store for the specific device.  The upgrade media is intended to be used to initiate the upgrade process from within a currently-activated, eligible Windows OS.  It shouldn’t be used as bootable media because the upgrade process validates the currently running OS to ensure it is eligible to be upgraded.

Using Windows 10 Free Upgrade Media to Reinstall or Reimage

As long as the specific device has been upgraded within the free offer year, Windows 10 can be reinstalled or reimaged on that device because the licence is tied to the motherboard, so even a hard drive upgrade is fine.  So in theory, reimaging using the Windows 10 upgrade offer media will be allowed but as stated earlier, the advice from Microsoft is that it can’t be used as bootable so that makes reimaging tricky.  Allowed: yes.  Technically possible: it’s not clear because the upgrade media isn’t available yet.

Using Windows 10 VL Media to Reimage

One key benefit of licensing Microsoft software under a Microsoft Volume Licensing program is the right for customers to use VL media to deploy a standard image of software across multiple licenced devices.  It doesn’t matter whether those devices are licenced under that particular VL program, an OEM or retail so long as certain eligibility rules are followed.  The main rule is VL media may be used to reimage devices as long those devices are already licensed for the edition and version being reimaged onto them.

As long as your devices have upgraded to Windows 10 Pro within the free upgrade period, you will be allowed to use VL media to reimage them.  If your VL licence is for Windows 10 Enterprise you must down-edition to Windows 10 Pro.

Get Proof

The Microsoft Product Terms document (a new document from July 2015 combining the Product List and Product Use Rights document) states “If a third party intends to re-image Windows on Customer’s separately licensed devices, Customer must first provide that third party with written documentation proving it has licenses for the software the third party will install.”  So to cover your backs in case of an audit, ensure you have proof that the current installations of Windows are valid.  With OEM, that should be easy as there’ll normally be a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) sticker on the device.

What if the Current Editions are Windows Home?

The Product Terms document states that down edition rights for Windows through Volume Licensing are from Enterprise edition to Pro (see the image below).  You cannot down-edition Windows in volume licensing to Home edition because they are different products and that’s against reimaging rules.  Therefore you won’t be able to use Windows 10 VL media to reimage devices if they are only licenced for Windows 10 Home (hence the big red block in the top right of our flowchart above).  Licensing is full of exception though and it is possible that rights to reimage by using a different version or edition may be granted in the EULA that came with your OEM version of Windows.

Windows Down Editon rights

One Last Point

The main points in this article are taken from the Product Terms document which hasn’t yet been updated for Windows 10 but as far as we’re aware the Windows 8.1 rules will apply, and the Licensing brief: Reimaging rights document from February 2015.  We’ve also included some information from Microsoft sources in the case of unreleased bits such as the Windows 10 media and as such, they must be viewed as unconfirmed.

We hope that’s clear but feel free to Tweet us or contact us if you have any questions.


Windows 10 FAQ and Licensing Video

Windows 10 screenshotThere’s lots of chatter about Windows 10 so we’ve posted a licensing call that we recorded for Microsoft which sets out the fundamentals of how Windows as a service will work, the editions of Windows 10, licensing Windows per-user instead of per-device and how customers can get the Windows 10 upgrade.

You can also read our earlier blog posts on Never Pay for Windows Again and How to Upgrade to Windows 10.

Some important highlights:

1 – Windows will be an evergreen service and devices on Windows Home and Pro will have Windows updated at no ongoing cost.

2 – Windows Home will be on what’s known as Current Branch which means those machines will get feature updates as soon as they’re released.

3 – Windows Pro and Windows Enterprise with Software Assurance (SA) will default to Current Branch but can be set to Current Branch for Business which allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months.  If updates are not deployed within that time, the OS will become unsupported.

4 – Windows Enterprise is the only edition where customers can fix on a specific release (known as a Long Term Servicing Branch).

5 – Windows Enterprise without Software Assurance (SA) will NOT BE UPDATED.  The update facility (Current Branch or Current Branch for Business) is a Software Assurance benefit for Enterprise edition, not part of the Windows licence.  So Windows will only be kept up to date for Enterprise edition customers if they maintain their SA annuity.

6 – Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 devices can be upgraded at no cost for 1 year after the release of Windows 10.  Windows Enterprise is not eligible for this free upgrade.

7 – The upgrade licence is tied to the specific device and is not transferable.  For example if you bought Windows 8 retail, that can be transferred to another pc but the Windows 10 upgrade cannot be transferred.  Within the first year, you would need to transfer the Windows 8 licence to the new machine and then kick off the free upgrade again.  After the first year, if the new machine didn’t come with an OEM Window 10 then you would need to buy Windows 10 in order to install it on that device.

8- There will be downgrade rights so if you buy a device with Windows 10 you will be able to deploy Windows 8 or 7 in its place.  This varies according to the channel you purchase through.

9- We’d love to get some more questions so please contact us if you have any that you’d like us to answer.

 

 


How to Coexist A and D VMs in Azure

Microsoft Azure LogoMicrosoft Azure virtual machines are not the same as on-premises VMs.  Steve Plank’s excellent blog post on the difference between Azure Cloud Services and Azure VMs goes some way to explaining the reason why.  Bearing this in mind there are some common questions which only make sense when you think about how Azure services work.

Many customers have mentioned that they can’t change between an A series VM and a D series, or they can’t mix A and D series within the same cloud service.  However, it’s entirely possible to do both of those.

Firstly, why would you need to?  Let’s take a customer who has moved an on-premises line-of-business server application onto Microsoft Azure to take advantage of the cost-efficiency, super-reliable data centres and the ability to scale.  The customer has started with a Standard-tier A2 compute unit (11p per hour for 2 cores and 3.5GB RAM) but after their data volumes increase they find the IOPS from hard disk drives are becoming a bottleneck so they’d like to move the workload onto a D series to enjoy increased throughput from solid-state drives.

Having created the VM as an A2 in a new Azure virtual network or cloud service, they find that when they log on to the Azure portal and try to scale the VM up, D series machines aren’t available.

Scale Azure VMs

 

If the customer tried to create a new D series VM in the same VNet or cloud service, they will also receive the following warning message telling them the cloud service doesn’t support those compute units.

Warning for Azure A Series Cloud service

 

If you create an A series VM in a new cloud services, Azure’s cloud fabric will host that VM in a cluster that currently may only support A series.  That’s why you’ll see the behaviour that our customer has experienced.

It is not possible to move a VM between cloud services either so even if you had a service currently hosting D series VMs, the customer would need to delete their VM (but choosing the option to keep the attached disks) and recreate the VM from the attached disks in the other cloud service.

So our little trick would be for this customer to create the VM as a D series initially and as soon as it’s created, scale the VM down to an A2.  That way Azure will host the VM in a cluster capable of supporting both A and D series compute units.  The customer can scale up, down and mix VMs of A and D series to their heart’s content (with the exception of the A8-A11 compute sizes).  The image below shows a cloud service with both A and D series compute units.

Azure mixed VMs in a single cloud service

 

This doesn’t work with G series currently but at present they can only be hosted in the West US and East US 2 data centres anyway.  Of course the feature release cadence of Azure is rapid so it’s likely this will be possible at some point in the future.

How would the customer have known to create the D series first to avoid this trap?  We’d recommend utilising a Microsoft partner with experience in Azure services or attend one of our training courses; that’s what we’re here for.