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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.


Windows 10 – How to Upgrade

Windows 8.1Microsoft would quite like to get a billion devices onto Windows 10 so if you could help they would appreciate it.

You’ve probably heard a lot of chatter about Windows 10 being a free upgrade and for many customers that will be true for the first year.  Microsoft has a Windows 10 free upgrade program geared toward consumers, however many SMBs will also take advantage of it.  That’s fine; if their devices will run windows 10 then Microsoft are happy for them to do that.  Microsoft will offer a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified new or existing Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the first year.  After 1 year, you’ll need to buy a full-packaged product (FPP) or volume licence to install Windows 10.

There are things to be aware of for the upgrade so please read about the Windows 10 upgrade specifications.

Windows 10 upgrade paths

 

What do you notice from this eligibility list?  Windows Enterprise editions and Windows RT are specifically excluded.

Windows RT is likely being replaced with Windows 10 mobile edition anyway so more will become known on that in the next few months.  Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 Enterprise edition are not eligible for the free upgrade offer so how would those customers acquire Windows 10?

Customers with Software Assurance (SA) on their Windows licences have rights to Windows 10 Enterprise through the software assurance new version rights benefit.

In the days when you acquired Windows Enterprise by buying Windows Pro + SA, your underlying licence was Pro but even if you stopped SA you could retain perpetual rights to enterprise.  In this case you could revert to Pro edition and go for the free upgrade.  That does involve a reinstall though so not a nice option.

Or you could buy Windows 10 Enterprise + SA all over again.  Possibly not an option which will be greeted by cheers.

Or you could go for Windows 10 Enterprise without SA and stick with the Long Term Service Branch.

Limitations with the Upgrade

The Windows 10 licence created during the upgrade is a consumer licence that is tied to the device.  The licence will continue to work for reinstalling Windows 10 after the free upgrade period ends but only on that specific device.  so if you need to replace the hard drive or do a reinstall for any reason other than replacing the motherboard, it will work.

For volume licensing customers, the licence created is not a Volume Licence (VL) and will not be in VLSC (Volume Licensing Service Centre).  Whilst there won’t be any differences in the end-user experience between the free upgrade and a new VL purchase of Windows 10, the licence is different.  If you buy Windows 10 Pro through VL, you could not use the image or keys from the VLSC to apply the upgrade for free to other, unlicenced machines.  At present the Windows 10 Pro Upgrade licenses will be priced the same as the existing Windows 8.1 Pro Upgrade licences in case you do want to buy the full edition.

A couple of last points; even though customers on Windows 8 will get a lot of nudges to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft will not force people to upgrade.  They can remain on Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 and the support lifecycle for those remains in place.

Education customers have the same criteria.  Upgrade goes by the eligibility of the device and installed operating system; nothing special or limited for education.

See part 2 of this blog post for information on how Windows 10 is becoming an evergreen service.


Never Pay for Windows 10 Again

Windows 8.1

Will Windows 10 be the last ever version?  Is Windows 10 going to be free?  Can you plan a surprise birthday party for a psychic?  Well, let’s tackle the first question here and the second question in our how to upgrade to Windows 10 blog post.

Never Pay for Windows Again

Currently, you might buy a pc and it will come with Windows preinstalled.  You’ve paid for the OEM (original Equipment Manufacturer) licence of Windows.  You’ll get feature updates and security patches from time to time and you can choose to install them or hide them.  It’s up to you (or you organisation’s IT policy).

With Windows 10, you won’t have a choice.  Windows updates will be applied when they’re ready.  So in a way, Windows 10 will be the last version because you will never have to pay for the next version of the client OS on the same pc; new features will just be installed.  If you need to buy a new machine, you’ll pay for the OEM licence as part of the pc’s purchase price and then Windows will just be kept up to date for the lifetime of the device.

You may be concentrating on the negative here that you won’t get a choice and must install new features.  Think about two huge positives though:

  1. you never need to pay for Windows again on the same machine and you’ll always have the latest version
  2. Software vendors and developers can almost guarantee that 90% of Windows users will have the same build

The second point there should make you smile if your pc has ever crashed or you’ve needed to phone support because an application isn’t working.  There are so many combinations of OS, patches, drivers, runtime files and versions around that reliability and consistency are devilishly hard to achieve.  Applications and peripherals should work far better if the manufacturers and developers can work to a stable and single platform.  Sounds a bit Apple-like doesn’t it?

Why is Windows Becoming a Service?

The world of software is changing to cloud aka software as a service.  With that change comes different release cadences.  If you’ve been in IT for a while you’ll be familiar with the terms 3.5 inch floppy, modem and three-year release cycles.  Office 365 has a monthly release cadence.  Azure enjoys weekly updates.  This is the way of the world; goodbye versions and hello evergreen services.  Innovation has become faster and users expect new features quicker.

What if I Don’t Want to Automatically Install Updates?

Microsoft thinks Windows 10 is going to have three demarcations of users: consumers, business users and mission-critical business systems.  For each type there is something known as a ‘branch’.

Windows 10 update Branches

 

Consumers will be subject to the Current Branch and will receive Windows updates as they are released.  Of course, they will have gone through extensive testing via engineering builds, internal testing, early adopters and the Windows Insider program beforehand so several millions of users will already have installed these updates.

Business Users will default to Current Branch but have the option to select Current Branch for Business (CBB).  This allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months after they’re released to the Current Branch.  This provides ample time for testing, compatibility work and fixes and just to wait and see how the hundreds of millions of Current Branch users get on with the updates.  The updates can be deferred but they will need to be installed within that eight-month timeframe.  Organisations will be able to control and manage how updates (including critical and security updates) are deployed using tools such as System Centre Configuration Manager, Windows Server Update Services or a new Windows 10 service called Windows Update for Business.

Mission-critical systems such as medical, aviation, etc. have the option to deploy point-in-time releases known as Long Term Service Branch (LTSB).  These will not be updated with new features but will have security and critical updates although the organisation can manage and control the distribution of these updates.  LTSB releases will be supported for at least 5 years (10 years if the customers has software assurance).  New LTSB releases will be made available every two-three years and customers will have the option whether to install them or not.

In short, if you don’t want to receive Windows OS updates, you will need to be on the LTSB and that requires certain Windows editions.

Long Term Service Branch is only Available for Windows Enterprise edition

Windows 10 editions and update branches

 

Windows Home edition must be on Current Branch.  Windows Pro can be on either Current Branch or Current Branch for Business.  This means that both of these editions will be updated (CBB allows the updates to be deferred but only for up to 8 months).

Windows Enterprise edition is available with or without software assurance.  Windows Enterprise without SA allows the customer to deploy a point-in-time LTSB release, or previous ones (downgrade rights in other words) and for that release to still be supported for 5 years.  Windows Enterprise edition with SA also gives customers the rights to new LTSB release when they become available (every 2-3 years).  They can choose whether to install new releases or not.  SA also means the customer gains extended support so their chosen release will be supported for 10 years.

One important point to note is that Enterprise edition without SA will not enjoy updates on Current Branch either.  Customers with Home and Pro editions will always get the latest features for the life of the device.  Enterprise edition without SA will not.  The release that’s installed will eventually become out of date and the customer will need to buy a licence again to update.

Windows 10 Enterprise Edition with SA is available through all Microsoft Volume Licensing Programs (Open, Open Value, Select+, MPSA, EA, etc.)


Azure Direct to Azure in Open

Moving vanThere are three main routes to purchasing Microsoft Azure services:

1 – Direct through Azure.com and your credit card is billed monthly in arrears for the services you use.  Can result in a scary bill if you’re unsure of the cost of the Azure services.

2 – Purchase an Azure ‘top-up’ via an IT reseller through the Open volume licence channel.  Just like a mobile phone top-up; the top-ups are available in multiples of $100 and if your credit runs out, your services stop until you top-up again.

3 – Purchase via an Enterprise volume licence agreement.  You can read more detail in an earlier blog post about How to buy Azure.

Imagine you are an IT reseller.  You might actually be one in which case, not so tricky.  You have a new customer who has been running some infrastructure on Azure and purchased the services direct.  You’ve worked hard to persuade them that you can offer a nice managed service with single billing.  To effect this, you’ll need to move them from direct into Open licensing.  How do you do this?

Call Ghostbusters Support

First, you need to create the new Azure in Open subscription and also make sure that the service administrator is the same on both the subscriptions.  This will involve the following steps:

  1. Log into https://account.windowsazure.com using the Live ID of the account owner or delegate for the new Open subscription
  2. Once you log in, you should be at the Subscriptions page of the Account tab but if not, click on the Account tab at the top of the page.
  3. Select the subscription for which you want to change the Service-Administrator
  4. Click on Edit Subscription Details on the right hand side of the page
  5. Change the Service Administrator to the same as the customer’s direct subscription

Then phone Azure billing support to ask them to migrate the existing services across.  Billing support is included in all Azure subscriptions.

Not all services can be migrated from one subscription to another but here is a list of services that should be ok to move:
Virtual Machines
Cloud Services
CDN
Web sites
Media Services
Service Bus
Storage
Multi Factor Authentication
Traffic Manager
Mobile Services
Virtual Network
Access Control Service

Some services can be migrated easily by the partner or customer (self-service migration):
VSO
SQL DB
Multi-Factor Authentication

Finally, some services cannot currently be moved:
Azure Active Directory
BizTalk Services
HD Insight
Backup 
Hyper-V Recovery Manager
Azure Store
Import / Export
Scheduler
Management Services 
SQL Reporting
Caching

If in doubt, support will be able to advise but this should give you an idea of what’s possible.


How to Price Azure Backup

Safe backupAzure Backup is a great feature for simple disaster recovery to the cloud.  As with many of the Azure services, it improved and can now retain backups for a silly 99 years.  The pricing model originally depended on the total storage that was backed up but it was a lot more expensive than simple Azure storage and that made long-term retention uneconomical.  Pricing changed in April to reflect a more logical, but harder to understand, model.

Azure Backup differs from Azure Storage because it’s a service which includes bandwidth for transferring the data, the backup agent, compression and encryption.  You could simply run an on-site backup and copy up the backup files to Azure storage but you would not have encryption, you would need to manually perform the upload to cloud and if you wanted to restore any files, you might incur bandwidth charges.

The Azure pricing calculator is rather confusing but essentially when pricing Azure Backup you have the following two steps:

First, determine what you are protecting and how large each instance is.  You might be protecting a Virtual machine (this could be on-premises Hyper-V or an Azure virtual machine, Windows or Linux).  You might be protecting a Windows Server (perhaps running a server application or just a file server).  Finally, you might be protecting a Windows client machine as we blogged about previously.  Note that instances should all be 64-bit and some workloads, especially application servers like SQL Server or Exchange, will require System Center Data Protection Manager.

How to calculate Azure backup cost

Small and medium are pretty easy to calculate.  If you have large instances, you will be paying £6.109 (prices as of May 2015) per 500GB so a 1.3TB backup would cost you £18.33 per month.  A simple protection estate could be:

Instance Size Cost
 Windows Server 300GB £6.109
 Windows 7 laptop  45GB £3.0545
 Linux virtual machine 30GB £3.0545

And the cost for those would be £12.22 per month.  So that takes care of the backup service; the agent, compression, encryption and bandwidth.

Next we need to calculate the cost of the storage.  Microsoft have wisely brought this in line with the standard Azure Storage costs and you have the choice of locally redundant where your backup files are replicated three time within a single datacentre (e.g. Dublin) or zone redundant where they are replicated three times in one data centre and then three times in geographically paired datacentre (e.g. Dublin and Amsterdam).

How to calculate Azure backup cost

 

We’ve put a typical price per GB in the table above.  The actual figures vary with the amount of data you store and you can view current prices on the Azure Storage Prices.  Determining the amount of storage is a bit of a guessing game as it depends on how much the data changes (the churn), how many restore points you want to keep and the level of compression that can be achieved.  A file server with lots of Word documents will be compressed far more than a file server containing hundreds of .jpg images because the jpeg format is already compressed.  Azure will only charge for the actual storage used so your estimate doesn’t need to be accurate.  In our example, we might use the following factors:

1- the total storage of 375GB

2 – locally redundant storage because we only want an archiving and backup solution to replace tape-drives

3 – 20% of the data changes between backups

4 – 10% compression (this is conservative; a typical compression should be around 30-40% depending on the type of data being backed up)

5 – a backup every week

6 – retention period for the backups of 1 year (for a maximum of 52 backups stored after a year)

Our back-of-a-napkin calculation would be 375GB initial backup + 52 further backups would just be the data changes at 75GB (20% of 375GB).  Total of 4.275TB, with compression at 10% this comes down to 3.8475TB.

So after 1 year (at which point we will have a rolling 52 backups retained), our monthly cost might be £53.87 (for storage at a rough £0.014 per GB) + £12.22 (for the protected instances) = £66.09

For more technical information about Azure, sign up for one of our courses and gain your professional qualification.

 


Excel – Paste into Visible Cells Only

Microsoft Excel

 

Sometimes Microsoft Excel is just too helpful.  Like American shop assistants to an English shopper (I’m not being xenophobic, I’m just not used to lots of people asking if I want help finding things (try shopping in Reading on a Saturday afternoon).

Anyone who has tried to paste data in a filtered Excel spreadsheet knows this.  Excel will also paste the data into the hidden (filtered out) cells.  It obviously thinks it’s being helpful but it’s really not.

There have been many suggested workarounds but it comes down to using Paste into Excel Visible Fields or a Paste into Excel Visible fields only with code.

There are two solutions that we use.  If you’re running Excel 2013 or above, you can utilise Flashfill.  For earlier versions, you might be able to use the Fill function..

Let’s look at Fill first.  Here is our example sheet:

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

A nice simple table with numbers in column B, whether they are odd or even in column A and the square of the number in column C.  What I would like to do is filter on odd numbers (because I am a little odd), copy the square and paste those into the new column D.

Let’s try to do that in the most obvious way and see what happens.

Filter the table to show only odd numbers.  Select all the squares in column C and copy.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Click in cell D2, right-click and select Paste Values.  But wait!  Only half of the values are shown.  That’s because Excel is being over-helpful and pasting into the hidden, filtered-out rows as well as the visible rows.  It would be lovely if there was a ‘Paste Values into Visible Cells’ option but you’ve already spent an hour searching the internet to discover there just isn’t.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

If we clear the filter, we can see exactly that behaviour.  Our five selected cells have been pasted into the interim rows.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Fill to Successfully Paste into Visible Cells Only

Let’s go back to our filtered table.  However this time select the cells and the column next to it.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

Now go up to the ribbon (Home tab) and click Fill and Fill Right.  Obviously if your destination column is to the left then feel free to hit Fill Left instead.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

And voila, unlike the previous attempt, we are seeing all five desired values.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

And just to be sure, let’s clear the filter condition to make sure nothing has been copied into the hidden rows.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Bingo.  We have our desired outcome.  Obviously this only works in the same sheet and if your columns are adjacent left or right to the cells you wish to copy.  If there are columns in between, you can hide those columns and this method will still work; Excel doesn’t paste into hidden columns in the same way it pastes into hidden rows.  In the screenshot below, I moved column A between the source column and the destination.  I filtered on Odd numbers in the same way, then hid column C.  Select Columns B and D and use the Fill Right method and as the screenshot works, once I unhide column C and clear the filter, everything still works out ok.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Flashfill Will Only Update Visible Cells

In Excel 2013, we have the lovely Flashfill feature which we blogged about previously.  Flashfill will also help but it’s not relevant for Excel versions earlier than 2013 (or Office 365 ProPlus if you ‘re in the cloud).

You can filter on odd numbers, type 1 in the first cell of the destination column, type 9 in the next cell down, hit Enter and then CTRL + E to force Flashfill to take over.  All the desired cells will be copied and if you clear the filter condition, you’ll see that the hidden rows haven’t been touched.  This is why we love Flashfill!

If you’d like more hints and tips, subscribe to our newsletter or better still, sign-up for one of our courses.

 


Modern Attachments in OWA

I’ve just been sent an email with a PowerPoint template attached.  All would be fine except this is the fourth version of the template file.  I’m lucky that I don’t need to worry about storage limits in my inbox but I still don’t like multiple versions flying about and duplicated search results.

We all know we should put the file in a shared location and send a link to so we don’t need to worry about different people having different versions.  But it’s never been easy.

Modern Attachments with Outlook Web App

If the file is on OneDrive for Business (we’re assuming you don’t put business files in OneDrive), I can easily attach them to an email and the sharing is done for me.  I don’t need to go into the ODfB folder and share.

Below I have a document stored on my ODfB but shared with no-one.

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

 

In Outlook Web App (OWA), I compose my email in the normal way and insert attachment.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

OneDrive for Business shows me recent files.  This is a fairly new enhancement along with the ‘shared with me’ view.  I select the file I want to attach.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

The all-important question; do I want to attach this file and endure the pain of resending it every time something changes.  Or do I want the simplicity of sharing the file via OneDrive?

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

Within the email, I can use the dropdown on each attachment to change the permissions from the default of edit.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

And once I send the email, I can see that the share and permissions have been set for me automatically back in ODfB.  Nice.

 

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

An upcoming feature of ODfB is expirations on shared links.  That means I could share a file or folder for a week and the permissions will automatically revoke after that time.  How this will surface in the attachment process, I don’t know.

Currently, this feature is only available via OWA but it will be included in the rich Outlook client sometime in 2015 (no timeline) and in the mobile Outlook apps for iOS and Android before July 2015.

 

 

 


OneDrive for Business Roadmap

OneDrive for Business logoI thought we’d have the Swedish logo for this post.  We like a bit of international flavour.  Did you know that Excel FlashFill in Danish is Hurtigudfyld?

Back in the real world, we get a lot of questions around OneDrive for Business (ODfB), the perceived reliability of the synchronisation engine and feature requests such as being able to select individual folders for synchronisation as you can do with plain old OneDrive (and just to clarify, this is not something that ODfB can do at the moment).

Back in the Mists of Time (well, 8 years)

A little bit of background often helps people to understand the situation we’re in at the moment.  SharePoint 2001 and 2003 were the early versions of the collaborations and portal tools we know in Office 365 and on-premises today.  They were good at document management and collaboration but had limitations for people that frequently worked offline.  To fill that gap, Microsoft bought a product called Groove in 2005 which allowed sites to be used both offline and between internal and external users.  When I used to demo Groove I asked people what they’d do if they needed to transfer a 50Mb file to a customer in another country; too big to email so it would be a case of posting it or setting up an FTP site.  We all think Dropbox or OneDrive now but they simply didn’t exist back then.

Groove was renamed to SharePoint Workspace before being discontinued and replaced with ODfB.  ODfB doesn’t have all the functionality of SharePoint Workspace 2010 but it does allow for offline synchronisation and sharing with external users.  Don’t get me started on Windows Live Mesh; I loved that but it was in turn replaced by OneDrive.

The reason I’m reaching back into the dim mists of time is that ODfB continues to use the Groove synchronisation engine (Groove.exe) to keep your online and offline files up to date and this is all about to change.

Cloud ODfB vs On-premises ODfB

Before I go into the OneDrive roadmap, let’s also consider for one paragraph, the difference between ODfB in Office 365 and the on-premises SharePoint ODfB.  Although these are called the same the gap in functionality will widen as Microsoft have stated in their “cloud-first engineering model”.  The cloud version of ODfB is already more advanced with features such as shared-with-me, responsive pages, integration with Delve, quick command bars, context menus and drag/drop support.  While many of these changes should be included in the next on-premises release, many will not.  Specifically those related to unique cloud technologies such as Delve.  Also, because Microsoft are running the cloud ODfB, they are able to keep up with market demands for features such as unlimited storage, easy mobile access without puncturing your firewalls, external guest sharing, etc..  These are unique values to a cloud offering and on-premises deployments will never be able to compare.

Big Changes in the New ODfB

The first big change is already available in the mobile clients.  At present on the pc there are two sync applications; OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.  Confusing and it leads to terrible jokes like OneDrive is really TwoDrive.  Ha ha, ahem.  The mobile sync application is a unified app which lets users connect to both OneDrive and ODfB.  This will be coming for rich clients too.  The back-end services will not be merged however: OneDrive will remain consumer and ODfB will remain enterprise-led with service level agreements and so on.  Think Hotmail vs Exchange online; one is consumer and the other is an enterprise service but I can connect to both using a unified client.

The next generation sync client will be in preview sometime after July 2015 for the pc and Mac and should go on to general release in October-December.  There will also be a unified web client.  We’ve already blogged that the storage limit of 1TB is being increased to unlimited storage over this year and the 20,000 file limit is also removed for general release of the next generation sync app along with support for files larger than the current 2GB restriction although this is likely to remain limited at 10GB per file.

Additional features are being rolled out now and existing Office 365 tenants will start to see these soon.  Too many to mention in a single blog post but you can keep up to date via the Office 365 roadmap.  There are some great compliance features being surfaced in an Office 365 admin centre area called the compliance center (sic) so keep an eye out for that in your tenant.  These include:

Auditing and reporting – the ability to view what users are doing in ODfB within a certain date range
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and eDiscovery – notification and control if certain data is uploaded, e.g. files with credit card numbers.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) – tighter integration with Intune
Information Rights Management (IRM) – protection for ODfB files and libraries
Sync controls – being able to block certain pcs from being able to sync files offline
Data retention policies – for example, auto delete or archive files that haven’t been modified for 6 months
Encryption at rest – data store in ODfB will be encrypted
Compliance – ISO, EU Model and other compliances; a key differentiator between OneDrive and ODfB

The compliance center screen is shown below.

Office365 Compliance Centre

 

Microsoft wants customers to be confident about the importance of ODfB and the effort they’re putting into getting it right.  We all swear (a lot) at ODfB synchronisation right now and sometimes it’s embarrassing to discuss this with customers but the roadmap is exciting and the future looks bright.

If you’d like to learn about SharePoint and ODfB in more technical depth, have a look at our courses.  We use the best trainers so not only do you learn the course material but we can provide the most up-to-date information about the technologies.

 


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