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Is Office 365 Subject to the Patriot Act?

Great Seal of the United States

 

David from Newcastle upon Tyne asks “is Office 365 subject to the Patriot Act?”

This is a very common question when dealing with cloud services, not just office 365.  In short, the USA Patriot Act makes lawful access to stored data easier in certain instances.  If the request is lawful and obligatory, Microsoft cannot simply refuse.  Nor can any other company.  And don’t forget, the UK has similar powers and made almost as many law enforcement disclosure requests as the US between July 2013 and December 2013 (4,213 requests from the UK against 5,652 from the US).

Customers can be assured that Microsoft follows clear principles in responding to any government legal demands for customer data (whether from the US government, UK or other bodies):

There must be a valid subpoena or legal equivalent before Microsoft will consider releasing a customer’s non-content data to law enforcement;
There must be a court order or warrant before Microsoft will consider releasing a customer’s content data;
In each instance, Microsoft carefully examines the requests received for a customer’s information to make sure they are in accord with the laws, rules and procedures that apply.

Because Microsoft is committed to transparency in regards to who has access to customers’ data, when and under what circumstances, they publish the details of the number of demands they receive each year in a Law Enforcement Requests Report which is updated twice a year.  They have just released a report on US government requests (as opposed to law enforcement requests) and between January 2013 and June 2013 there were less than 1,000 orders seeking disclosure of customer content.  Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel & Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs highlights that “while our customers number hundreds of millions… only a fraction of a percent of our users are affected by these orders.”

It’s also possible for customers on Microsoft’s cloud services to find out whether someone has accessed their data.

Due to the frequency of this question, the Office 365 Trust Centre is a useful source of information around privacy and transparency.


Internal Use Rights for Software

A question from Nigel: “Do MS Partners have to take out MAP or a Silver/Gold Competency to get access to Office 365?”

Excellent question Nigel and I fear you already know the answer; yes.

Internal use rights (IUR) are licences that allow companies to use selected Microsoft software for their production use.  As you can imagine this can save thousands.  So why does Microsoft allow this and how can commercial companies get these?

Why Does Microsoft Allow Internal Use Rights?

Why do Ford sales staff drive Ford company cars?  They don’t normally need to travel as they’re showroom-based.  The dealership tends to do this so the salespeople understand the product better and that translates into sales figures.  Microsoft wants their partner channel to do the same.  The amount of partners I see that aren’t using Office 2013 on their primary machines is pretty high and these are often the same partners that struggle to sell Office 2013.  Use the software and you’ll soon discover little gems that make brilliant anecdotes, demos and proof points for customers.

How Can a Partner Obtain Internal Use Rights?

Up until the early part of 2014, any organisation registered on the Microsoft Partner Network could enrol into a program called Cloud Essentials which allowed partners to sell Office 365 and other cloud solutions.  Becoming a registered partner is free and very easy; my mum could do it.  Furthermore, becoming a Cloud Essentials partner was easy.  It required no minimum purchase and just involved taking an online test (which shows you the answers afterwards) and signing an online agreement.  Again, my mum could have registered, taken the test once, got it wrong but noted the answers and taken it again.  Cloud Essentials partners then had access to 250 seats of Office 365 E3 plan, 100 seats of Dynamics CRM online as well as Intune.  This was over £50,000 in software and more than most small and medium business (SMB) partners required.  It also devalued ‘real’ partners.  By that I mean Microsoft has a lot of inactive registered partners; companies that perhaps only registered to get access to a webpage that asked them to register or companies that only registered to gain the IUR.  I’ve even seen a couple of registrations where the partner’s registered web address was along the lines of Daddy@TheStevensFamily.org (names changed to protect the innocent).

Cloud Essentials is now closed to new enrolments and existing IUR benefits will not be renewed at the end of the enrolment period for those partners who were Cloud Essentials partners.

Internal Use Rights are now obtained by purchasing a Microsoft Action Pack (MAP) or by gaining a competency (e.g. Small Business, Communications, Server Platform or Learning).  Simply being a registered partner (aka community) does not accrue IUR.  This makes them harder to obtain but means Microsoft are concentrating on committed partners.  IUR have also changed to become more flexible as they allow partners to allocate their licences on-premises, in the cloud or as a mixture of both.  At the time of writing the Action Pack subscription costs £310 + VAT.  Competency fees vary according to the competency you earn but are in the ball park of £1,000-£2,000 for Silver and £2,000-£3,500 for Gold.

Microsoft partner Network Levels

Again, as a guide an Action Pack would earn 10 Windows 8.1 Pro licences and 5 Office licences which can be a mix of Office 2013 on-premises or Office 365 E3.  This is in addition to a host of other software titles.  A Silver competency would earn 25 windows 8.1 Pro and 25 office licences.  A Gold competency would earn 100 of each.

Partners who were enrolled in Cloud Essentials could enjoy £65 of free credit for Microsoft Azure per month; the offer states this is no longer available but it will continue for previously-enrolled Cloud Essentials Partners.  I’m hoping this free credit will still be available to any registered partner but I’m yet to test this.  Looks like I’ll need to set up one of those Daddy@TheStevensFamily.org partner accounts.

For more information on the number of licences you can obtain through IUR as well as how to increase the IUR seats, you can read this page directly on the Microsoft Partner Network.

If you currently enjoy IUR and you want to read up on the transition, this Cloud IUR guide will help you.


Office 365 Roadmap

The Office 365 roadmap monthly email is a thing of beauty.  It lays out the changes and service improvements to the Office 365 Services, billing and licensing for 3-6 months ahead with the information coming directly from the product team.  Essential for keeping up to date with such a regularly changing service.  However it was always under NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so recipients weren’t allowed to disclose the contents.  Not even with a nod and a wink.

Office 365 Public Roadmap

The public roadmap site was announced yesterday and can accessed via the OnRamp site.

Office 365 Roadmap shot

In addition to the public roadmap, there’s also a new program called First Release which allows customers (once they opt-in) the opportunity to get significant enhancements to Office 365 at least two weeks before customers in the standard release group.

Please read the blog release for more details on the Office 365 Roadmap, the First Release program and an FAQ.

And importantly, bookmark that futures page!


Excel Chart Conditional Formatting

Craig from Lloyds Banking Group asked if Excel’s conditional formatting can be applied to charts.  I’d like to provide the answer in the form of a news sandwich (good news, bad news, good news).

It’s a nice sunny day as I’m writing this article.

No, you can’t I’m afraid, Craig.

You can create a pseudo conditionally formatted chart.

Excel Conditional Formatting – a Recap

You have a list of customer accounts and due dates in Excel.  You want to highlight customers who have due dates within the next week in orange and you want to highlight customers who have due dates within 2 days in red.  That makes your list more readable and Excel more human.  Back in the old days of Excel 2003 you’d need to do some functions to achieve this and you were limited to 3 conditions per cell.  Conditional Formatting was introduced in Excel 2007 and has improved ever since.  It allows the user to create some nifty formatting based on cell values with just a few clicks.

Excel Conditional Formatting Date Example

 

You can also choose conditions based on averages, top %, text occurring, duplicate values and many more.  You can also use icons such as red, amber and green or perhaps smiley faces.  And also you can choose data bars which allow you to visualise the value according to magnitude.

Excel 2013 Data Bars screenshot

 

So Craig’s question asked if one can apply this Conditional Formatting feature to bars or segments within Excel charts?

And if you recall, the answer is no but you can create a similar experience by categorising the data into distinct, banded columns and charting those.  Let’s take a table (below) with data series and values which we want to chart.

Excel table ready for conditional formatting

 

A default chart will represent each column in the same colour (below).

Excel chart without conditional formatting

We want each bar coloured according to the band of values it falls into.  To do this we can create the bands we want to chart as additional columns in the table (below).  In rows 1 and 2 we list the boundaries of each band (e.g. 0 and 500).   Each value cell (G4-M16) is then calculated using a formula =IF(AND(G$1<$F4,$F4<=G$2),$F4,””).  For each cell, the Amount (F4-F16) is compared to the boundaries.  If the value falls within a boundary then value is written into that cell, otherwise it’s left blank.  The result is our mapped table below.

Chart with additional columns for conditional formatting

 

Now if we click on the default chart we created earlier, Excel highlights the table data used for the chart (below).

Excel data used for the default chart

 

Drag the red and blue boxes to select our new data (below).

New data selection for chart

 

And voila, we have our chart with conditionally coloured bands and a key to those bands (below).  Note, in true Blue Peter fashion I’ve adjusted the colours for each band and also adjusted the gap and spacing of the bars (simply double-click on any of the bars and you’ll have access to those settings).  This is a rough and ready but effective solution.  It won’t be the most efficient for large volumes of data because we are running the calculations for every cell repeatedly.  We could use VBA for a more efficient method but that’s another blog entry for the future…

Excel chart with conditional formatting

 

 


Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 Bootcamp Content

We recently had the pleasure of co-presenting a series of bootcamp events for Microsoft resellers alongside HP and Zynstra.  The content covered Windows Server 2012 R2, Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Service Provider Licence Agreements (SPLA), HP Hardware and Zynstra cloud appliances.

If you would find the content useful, we’ve made the available for you to download: the Microsoft and Zynstra slides and the HP slides.  Nothing like attending an event in person of course so if this kind of event is of interest to you please do contact us as there may be some upcoming events we can let you know about.


Activate Office 365 Partner Features

A question from David in Romford: How does a partner activate the Office 365 control panel for all their clients?

The partner features enable you to act as a delegated admin on behalf of your customer’s account; useful tasks such as adding new users, assigning licences, resetting passwords and raising support calls to Microsoft.  The partner features also allow you to create and send purchase offers and trial invitations for Office 365 plans and packages.

The process of activating the partner features is simple enough to set up but varies depending on whether you have an online account (Intune or Office 365) already or not.

I explain the process in Webinar 2 of the Building an Office 365 Practice series we ran in conjunction with Ingram Micro (partner features are explained at 40’44 into the video).  You can also view a (slightly outdated) presentation from Microsoft which includes a bit more detail and extra screenshots.

 

Activate Office 365 Partner Features

Windows 8.1 Enterprise without SA

Windows 8.1

Historically Windows Enterprise edition was only available by attaching Software Assurance (SA) to Windows Professional edition.  The Enterprise edition was never directly listed on the pricelist or listed as an OEM product.  From the 1st March 2014, Windows 8.1 Enterprise is now on the pricelist without needing to pay the recurring Software Assurance annuity.  For volume licensing (VL), this only affects Open and Select Plus programs because all the other VL programs include SA.

Customers who buy through the Open or Select Plus programs can therefore save some money and still get the benefits of Windows 8.1 Enterprise.  What’s the difference between Windows 8.1 Enterprise licence only and Windows 8.1 Enterprise with SA?

We’ll describe Software Assurance in more detail in a forthcoming blog but in a nutshell, you get all the extra technologies with Enterprise but none of the licence modifications that are required to enjoy those technical benefits.  The technical benefits for Windows 8.1 Enterprise include Windows To Go creator, Start screen control, DirectAccess, BranchCache, AppLocker, Virtual Desktop infrastructure (VDI) enhancements and Enterprise Sideloading.  However you’ll still need SA to modify the licence rights to take advantage of VDI or Windows To Go.  So you won’t be able to fully utilise Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) without SA.  VDA is the ability to store the client operating systems on a server instead of directly on the desktop pc or laptop so the user can use any licensed device to access their Windows desktop.  A form of thin client computing which gives IT much more control over the deployments.

This volume licensing brief provides further detail.

Both Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise through VL are still upgrades and they require a qualifying underlying operating system.  Also customers will be able to add SA onto Windows 8.1 Pro OEM licences up until July 1, 2014.  The brief actually says the PC needs to have been purchased before July 1st but of course customers should be ok to add SA up to 90 days afterwards.


1TB for OneDrive for Business

Microsoft OneDrive for BusinessMicrosoft are announcing increased storage from 25GB to 1TB per user for all OneDrive for Business customers.  This includes customers that have OneDrive for Business as part of their Office 365 ProPlus subscription.

Although this is immediate, it may take a few months to roll the change out to all customers.

You can read the full release in the Office.com blog.


I Survived Windows XP End of Life!

The world hasn’t ended; cats and dogs still hate each other; there’ll be another series of the X-Factor (the apocalypse has its upside).  You are thinking the Windows XP end of life was a bit of a Y2K scare.  Perhaps it was and we can only hope.

But April 8th wasn’t the date you had to be worried about.  May 13th is.

Patch Tuesday is the day every month that Microsoft releases patches for their software.  Patch Tuesday is always the second Tuesday of each month.  April 8th 2014 was a Patch Tuesday and May 13th is the next one.  So on May 13th, Microsoft are likely to release security updates to their supported operating systems which describe and overcome vulnerabilities.  Those lovely little script kiddies around the world will read the updates and assume the vulnerabilities might also apply to unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP.  They will then attempt to exploit these because they know they will not be fixed.

Think about the recent Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL.  As soon as this was made public, untold numbers of malware writers rushed to take advantage of it before the affected servers were patched.  Now imagine if those web servers were never patched.  Welcome to the fun world of unsupported software.

The Microsoft Security Intelligence Report analyses threats, vulnerabilities and malware using data from Internet services and over 600 million computers worldwide.  Volume 15 of the report included some intriguing graphs.  Many people argue that Windows XP is more vulnerable because it has been around longer and is attacked to a greater extent.  However, the diagram below (click to enlarge) shows the operating systems are attacked at a fairly even rate (right) and worryingly Windows XP is far more susceptible to attacks (left).  This may be because anti-virus wasn’t included in the OS (until Windows Defender in Windows 7) or because people might be more lacklustre in patching old machines.

Infection rates across Microsoft OSs

 

The graph below provides a historic take on why you should be concerned.  The blue line shows the level of infections rose dramatically when Windows XP service pack 2 (SP2) went end of life and we can only assume the same behaviour will occur for Windows XP SP3 (the final service pack).

Graph showing Malware attacks on Windows XP SP2

 

 

 

 

 

You can check the support lifecycle of all Microsoft software through their Support Lifecycle Search.


Another Name Change

Microsoft Azure LogoMicrosoft has a real habit of changing the names of products and technologies.  One could believe there’s an entire department devoted to the practice.  There isn’t of course because if there were, we wouldn’t have the same codenames for different technologies and the names would be more consistent.

Sometimes, names are changed because of legal action (SkyDrive became OneDrive due to Sky taking Microsoft to court).

Sometimes it makes sense.  Windows Azure became Microsoft Azure in late March and this is a good thing because Azure has grown and is no longer just about Windows services or infrastructure in the cloud.

Whatever the reason for the name changes, I can’t help thinking about the huge amount of collateral we now need to change to keep it up to date.