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.


Are Charities Eligible for SPLA?

 

Service Provider Licence AgreementFirstly, there’s no logo for SPLA so we had to make one up.  Secondly if you haven’t heard of SPLA it stands for Services Provider Licence Agreement; a way for hosting companies to licence Microsoft products and host them for their own customers.  You can read about it on Microsoft’s SPLA page and we’ll write a blog about it in the future because if you’re selling cloud such as Office 365 or Azure, you should be looking at SPLA as an additional revenue stream.

A question came up recently as to discounted academic pricing – are charities eligible for discounted academic licensing through SPLA?

Let’s investigate.  The first place to look is the SPLA agreement.  That includes a supplement catchily titled the Qualified Educational End User Addendum.  Paragraph 1 states:

“Definitions. ‘Qualified Education End User’ means a Qualified Education User as defined for various regions at http://www.microsoftvolumelicensing.com/userights/DocumentHome.aspx or at a successor site Microsoft identifies.”

For Aardvark, see Aardvark.  We investigate further and follow the suggested link to come across the Microsoft Product Licensing Search website which provides access to licensing terms, conditions and supplemental information relevant to the use of products licensed through Microsoft Volume Licensing programs.  The page actually says ‘quick access’ but I took the word ‘quick’ out.  In the document list you should find the Qualified Educational User Definition.  This document at no stage mentions SPLA however because the SPLA agreement says that education users are defined here, then we’re good to continue.

Section G lists Charitable Organisations which operate on a not-for-profit basis and whose aims are the relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of social and community welfare; the advancement of culture or the advancement of the natural environment as being included in the definition of Qualified Education User.

Definition of qualified education user

 

I imagine David’s Ferrari California Purchase Fund doesn’t count in this eligibility list.

 

 


Select Plus Retirement

Microsoft retires Select Plus

Microsoft Select Plus was introduced in late 2008 to offer customers flexibility, better asset management and a way to balance growing technology needs with predictable costs when purchasing Microsoft software licences.  Select Plus was for large organisations, above 250 PCs, with multiple affiliates that wanted to purchase their software licenses and services at any affiliate level (centralised or decentralised purchasing), while realising advantages such as discount levels and licence management as one organization.  Since the agreement never expired, customers didn’t need to renegotiate and renew agreements every three years as they did with Enterprise Agreements.

You may have noticed we’re talking past tense here.  That’s because Microsoft announced in July 2014, at the Worldwide Partner Conference, that Select Plus would be retired.  Let’s examine why and what’s replacing it.

Firstly, there is no need to panic if you have a Select Plus agreement as this has always been a phased retirement and a lot of effort has gone into ensuring you will get the best advice from your transacting partner.

The replacement program is the Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA).  MPSA has been in the market in a limited form since December 2013, has gradually been growing in scope and will ultimately supersede all the current volume-licensing plans Microsoft offers across small, midsized and enterprise customers.

Microsoft volume licensing

 

The diagram above summarises the current volume licensing programs, whether they’re aimed at small (blue) or large (purple) customers; whether they require commitment from the customer in terms of covering all qualified devices or whether a customer can purchase as much or as little as they need through a transactional arrangement.  It also shows which agreements offer non-perpetual licenses (shown by the dots) and whether Software Assurance is a built-in component of the agreement (where the SA is shown in a circle) or optional (SA not in a circle).  All of the products purchased through these agreements have traditionally been installed on-premises but a relatively recent change is that customers can buy Online Services through the majority of these agreements too with the noticeable exception of Select Plus.

What does the Select Plus customer do, who doesn’t want an EA and wants to buy Online Services through a transactional agreement?  How did customers acquire Online Services before they could purchase them through their Volume Licensing agreements?  The Microsoft Online Subscription Agreement (MOSA) exists as an alternative way of customers buying their Online Services.

You might be thinking this is sounding rather complex and fragmented.  If you are, you’ve hit the nail on the head and that’s why the MPSA was introduced.  A single, simplified agreement to purchase Online Services, Software and Software Assurance so you decide how and when you license Online Services and Software.

Transactional purchasing rules through the MPSA are just like Select Plus.  Customers can make transactional purchases of software licences only or licence and Software Assurance.  However, unlike Select Plus, customers can also purchase Online Services and work with multiple partners under a single account.  The chart  (click to enlarge) summarises the differences and for a comprehensive comparison of Select Plus vs the MPSA you can download this guide.

MPSA vs Select plus

 

 

 

 

The most recent change to MPSA was March 1st 2015 when it was expanded to include not just commercial customers but also government and academic customers too.  And in the near future you can expect to see MPSA including committed offerings as well as offerings for smaller customers.  The diagram below shows how MPSA fits into our volume licensing pattern for 2015.

Volume licensing with MPSA

 

You can see why we’ve called this a phased approach and figure 3 provides an approximate timeline of where the MPSA is headed; a complete transformation of the Microsoft Volume Licensing programs to encompass enterprise customers and small/midsized customers through the Open programs.

Microsoft MPSA roadmpa

 

You can read more about the MPSA on the main Microsoft site but now you know why Select Plus is being retired and what is replacing it, let’s look at the critical dates for commercial customers.

July 1st 2015 – Select Plus will no longer be available for new commercial customer agreements and the MPSA will be offered in its place.  Customers with an existing Select Plus agreement can continue to renew their Select Plus agreement after this date or choose to migrate to the MPSA and maintain their current Select Plus price level.

July 1st 2016 – Commercial customers with existing Select Plus agreements will no longer be able to renew Software Assurance through Select Plus agreements, or make new purchases through their existing Select Plus agreements after the next agreement anniversary.  All future purchases will be moved to the MPSA.  Customers will continue to have full rights and access to all software and Software Assurance acquired under Select Plus.

One point to emphasise is as of March 2015 the MPSA does not replace the Enterprise Agreement (EA) or the Enrollment for Education Solutions (EES), so if you have either of those, you should continue to license through these agreements.  Also note that Government and Academic customers purchasing through existing framework agreements or the Government Partner model should continue to do so as neither of these options will be supported through the MPSA at launch for Government and Academic customers in March 2015.

Finally, although most Select Plus customers should now look towards the MPSA, how might the Enterprise Agreement fit with the MPSA?  Customers with an existing EA or EES should continue to purchase through this agreement as this currently remains best option for committed licensing.  Should you want to make transactional purchases of Online Services, software licenses (with or without Software Assurance) or to renew Software Assurance, then we’d suggest purchasing through the MPSA.  Customers with an existing EA can sign an MPSA if they need a transactional option for purchasing in conjunction with their EA.

You can keep up to date on the Select Plus retirement via the Microsoft site and for more information on the Microsoft Products and Services Agreement, contact your Microsoft partner.


Office Demos to Make Customers Cry

User jumping for joy

We don’t mean make them cry in a bad way.  Let me set the scene.  Microsoft have between 1-1.5 billion users of Office applications worldwide.  The Office developers work really hard to make the applications intuitive so users can just get on and use them without needing to take a day’s training course in Outlook or Excel.  However there’s a downside.  Users tend to use new versions of Office in the same way they used the previous version so they don’t really see any immediate improvement and that’s part of the reason we see customer inertia; no-one takes the time to point out some of the fantastic things they can now do.

With new Office versions, there’s really two buckets of goodness – firstly, a bunch of new features and secondly, improvements.  The improvements might include a single button which does what used to take the user 5 minutes and twenty clicks in the previous version.  Or perhaps an improvement will stop users swearing so much!  New features are great too but I find they’re best learnt organically; take a couple of minutes each day to look at a new feature and if it will help, then practice it but don’t try to learn every new trick in Office from day 1.

So we’re starting a series of very quick demos that you can easily emulate either to learn from or to repeat if you have customers that use Office.  Welcome to number 1.

Excel Flashfill

1. Download and open the sample Excel file.  Once you’ve downloaded that, pat yourself on the back for ensuring you had up-to-date anti-malware installed and you can confidently download files from the great unwashed Internet.

2. You’ll see a simple table with five columns.  Column 2 (Data) holds concatenated strings which we need to split out into the correct columns, so the Manager column will hold names such as John, Jenny and Bill and the Category column will hold the type of expense such as Advertising, Events and Digital Marketing.  Some Excel users will look in the help for a string function that will work.  Others will look in the ribbon and perhaps try out Text to Columns.  Most users will see there’s only twenty table rows and just type or copy and paste.  That’s how errors occur; one Bill might be typed with three l’s in it; we won’t notice and the reports will be wrong.

Excel flashfill demo step 1

 

Excel flashfill3. Click in cell D4 and type John.  Hit ENTER to go to cell D5 and type Jenny.  As soon as you’ve typed Jen you should see Excel volunteer the rest of the rows.  It’s as if a little Excel intern has been watching and is now stepping into take over your work.  How lovely.  Hit enter to accept the Flashfill.

4. Now click in cell E5, type Events and hit ENTER.  Hit CTRL+E to force Flashfill to evaluate the pattern at this point and you should see the suggestions.  Press ENTER to accept.

5. Flashfill can do smarter things too.  Click in cell F5 and type John heads up events.  Then hit enter to move down into cell F6 and start typing Jenny heads up advertising.  Flashfill will complete the rows for you, including respect to your capitalisation of the category name (keeping it lowercase).

Customers have asked at what point Flashfill is checking.  You can be reassured that this is nothing scary.  We’re all happy with autofill; type in 1 in a cell and 2 underneath and you can have Excel continue the numbering pattern t0 3, 4, 5, etc.  Flashfill is just an extension of autofill, that’s all.

Flashfill step 3Sometimes Flashfill will not guess correctly first time in which case you ignore the greyed out suggestions and keep typing rows.  Your little Excel intern will keep watching and at some point will guess the correct pattern at which point you just hit ENTER to save lots of typing!  Sheet 2 includes an example of this.  Click in cell C2 and type Adriana from Germany.  Go to cell C3 and type Billy from United Kingdom.  Flashfill is suggesting incorrect matches at this point but you just ignore it and keep typing in the rows.  You will need to get down to row 5 (Damien from Germany) before the suggested pattern is correct and at this point you can accept it by hitting ENTER.

Flashfill is available as a Ribbon command too (on the Data tab) and is a feature of Microsoft Excel 2013 and Office 365 ProPlus.

Subscribe to our Twitter feed for more hints and tips, take one of our Office courses or let us run an Office Buzz Day for your users.


Buy-out Subscription Licences

Microsoft Volume Licensing Logo

One of the customers during a recent Microsoft Volume Licensing training event asked for some clarification around their Enterprise Agreement Subscription (EAS).  As the name suggest, EAS licences are non-perpetual, the customer only rents them so at the end of the agreement term, typically 3 years, the customer can either renew the agreement, uninstall the software or buy-out the subscription licences to make them perpetual.

There are two categories of product within the agreement; enterprise (or platform) products and additional products.  The enterprise products are so-called because they must be taken enterprise-wide – every qualified device must have a licence so if the customer wants to licence Windows 8.1 through their EAS, every qualified device the customer owns must be included, they couldn’t just licence 100 out of 500 pcs.

The agreement states that should a customer wish to buy-out their subscription licences, all enterprise products must be bought-out and additional products, such as SQL Server can be bought-out as required.  But many people interpret this as the enterprise products must be bought-out in order to buy-out the additional products.

The best place to check is the agreement document itself.  Take a look at the Corporate “Enterprise Subscription Enrollment” form that is signed for EAS customers and section 6 (End of Enrollment term and termination) states “If Enrolled Affiliate elects not to renew” and then goes on to offer the buy-out option “(i) Subscription Licenses buy-out. Enrolled Affiliate may elect to obtain perpetual Licenses as described in the Section titled ‘Buy-out option’ for Licenses in which a buy-out is available.”

The Buy-out clause (Section 2, paragraph g, clause v) details that

“The buy-out order must include Subscription Licenses for:

(1) Qualified Devices and Qualified Users added during the final year of the Enrollment term; and

(2) any Additional Products used by Enrolled Affiliate for which it has not yet placed an order; and

(3) either of (sic) both of the following:

1) for all Enterprise Products which allow buy-out, the number of perpetual Licenses equal to the total number of Enrolled Affiliate’s current Qualified Devices or Qualified Users for such Products, and/or

2) For Additional Products, the number of perpetual Licenses Enrolled Affiliate elects to obtain.”

Firstly it looks like there’s a mistake in the form on part 3 and it should say either or both of the following.  So if a customer wants to buy out any of the enterprise (platform) products then they must buy-out all of those products.  However they can instead buy out just additional products and there’s no need to buy out the complete order of additional products.

Finally, how do you know which products are enterprise and which are additional?  Check the Microsoft Volume Licensing Product List or attend one of our Licensing Training Courses.


When 1TB Just Isn’t Enough

Unlimited storage with OneDrive for BusinessSpare a thought for all those workers out there who still have storage limits.  A 200MB inbox for example.  For a while now, Office 365 customers have been able to enjoy unlimited Exchange Online Archiving and 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage.  But Microsoft likes to set limits that customer’s aren’t going to hit.  Starting in 2015, all Office 365 customers will enjoy unlimited OneDrive storage at no additional cost.  No specific timescales but every customer will be notified of their service changes.

The Office blog highlighted the change in October last year but we’re starting to see Office 365 consumer and commercial customers receive this upgrade.

One step at a time however, as the current limit on items within a OneDrive for Business library is 20,000, including files and folders.

[Update for May 2015 – the current limits of 20,000 files and 2GB per file will be removed in Q4 of 2015 when the next generation OneDrive synchronisation client is released.  However a single file limit of 10GB looks likely]


New Office 365 Datacentres

New Office 365 locationsThe issue of data sovereignty arises a lot with cloud computing so it’s good to stay up-to-date with plans for local datacentres.  Offering Office 365 services from local datacenters helps customers feel more confident about complying with regulations that require data to be kept in their own region.  Microsoft has a regionalised data centre strategy with Office 365 and the billing address of the customer, which the customer’s administrator inputs during the initial setup of the services, typically dictates the Office 365 region and the primary storage location for that customer’s data.  You can view these regions on the Microsoft Office 365 Data Maps page.  For example, customer’s in Asia Pacific will have their Office 365 hosted in datacentres in Hong Kong and Singapore, however some data may reside elsewhere such as Active Directory and Global Address Book data.

Microsoft announced they’ll be launching Office 365 services from datacenters in Japan (December 2014), Australia (March 2015) and India (late 2015) and these regions will replicate data across datacenters in a single country only.

Customers should be able to create new tenants inside these additional regions as soon as they’re online (for example Japan is available now).  Existing customers in the affected regions will have their data moved to the new Office 365 datacenters from September 2015 and will be given six weeks advance notice of their move date.

You can read more about these plans on TechNet and also about the Japan datacentre on the Office 365 blog.

No news about a UK datacentre as yet.