Blog Archive

How Does Premium Assurance Differ From CSA?

How Does Premium Assurance Differ from Custom Support Agreements?

We detailed the new Premium Assurance in a previous blog post.  At a high level it looks similar to an existing Microsoft service called Custom Support Agreements.

They are very different beasts though.  Custom Support Agreements are where organisations cannot move off an older software version and take out a support contract with Microsoft.  They are typically expensive, not off-the-shelf and thus taken by larger organisations with complex needs.  They cover different products, are sold and supported by different Microsoft teams, have different objectives, business rules and pricing.

Premium Assurance is a standard add-on to Software Assurance and is listed in the price list.  It’s easy for customers to purchase, for partners to sell and for everyone to understand.

Will Premium Assurance spell the end of Custom Support Agreements?  Microsoft hasn’t elaborated at this stage but so far it looks like all existing CSA products in the market today will continue unchanged.

Premium Assurance

  • Software Assurance Add-on (requires SA)
  • Only for Windows Server and SQL Server starting with 2008 versions
  • All eligible servers must be included
  • Up to 6 extra years of support
  • Includes ‘critical’ and ‘important’ security updates
  • Available through certain volume licensing programs
  • Published prices
  • Sold via Worldwide Licensing with commissions paid to sellers
  • Discounts and price-protection for signing up early

Custom Support Agreements

  • Premier Support Add-on (requires Premier)
  • Software Assurance not required
  • Covers multiple products including Windows and Office but does not cover Windows Server or SQL Server
  • Typically last 1-3 years, not 6
  • Customer can cover just a subset of affected licences and pricing is tiered according to numbers
  • Only includes ‘critical’ updates but ‘important’ can be included sometimes for a fee
  • Bought when a product goes end-of-support; no discounts for buying early
  • Sold through Microsoft Premier and Services staff
  • Faster support through Premier-level support services and Technical Account Managers

Clean Install of Windows 10 Upgrade

Microsoft Windows 10

Performing a clean install of the free Windows 10 upgrade is a 2 step process.  Firstly as an in-place upgrade to register the free upgrade and then as a clean install.  This is an inconvenience especially when upgrading multiple desktops and sometimes in-place upgrades from one version of an OS fail to complete.

In-place Upgrades can Fail

Reasons for failed upgrades range from undetected incompatible hardware drivers, erroneous applications, user tweaked settings, malware, antivirus and hard disk accelerator software through to not enough disk space, underlying bad disk sectors and proprietary disk compression or encryption software.

Although these possibilities have been around for many years, the free offer of a Windows 10 upgrade has made more people than ever want to jump up onto this new release and because of the time limitation before the free upgrade offer expires in July 2016, it has made the heightened the perception of urgency to do it now (it could just be because ‘the grass is greener’ or maybe even some think Microsoft will suddenly have a change of heart and whip this free upgrade from under them).

And while the vast majority of people will simply perform the in-place upgrade and allow Windows 10 to merge onto their existing PC setup, some, however, prefer to go down the ‘purists’ route of a clean install.  Migrate all the useful data off their existing system, wipe the drive (preferably after having run a HDD surface scan on older drives), install a fresh OS and enjoy the challenge of searching out any missing drivers for those odd hardware pieces.

In order to be eligible for a Windows 10 free upgrade you must allow the upgrade process to identify that your existing OS installation is valid in terms of version (Windows 7, 8.0, 8.1), edition (Home or Pro), and activation (genuine software, not a trial, or otherwise not properly activated).  For those interested in more detail, go to the Windows 10 FAQ.

Two-Step Upgrade Process

This leads us back to our original point; performing a clean install of Windows 10, whilst trying to qualify for the free upgrade, is a 2 step process.  Firstly the existing OS must be registered as being eligible and secondly that eligibility must be migrated over to the new clean install.

Given that quite often the reason for a clean install is that this existing OS is experiencing some of the issues I mentioned right at the very start of this article this can mean that this initial in-place upgrade never completes, preventing enrolment of the PC to enable a subsequent clean install.

However, this is a shortcut to this initial step – that of enrolling/registering/certifying (call it what you will) the PC’s existing OS that it is indeed suitable and eligible for a free Windows 10 upgrade without having to perform the entire Windows 10 in-place upgrade first.

Naturally, before proceeding, any data migration from the old PC must be completed, either in the form of a backup, file transfer or Easy Transfer Wizard.  You may even want to consider performing a full system image copy in case you do not successfully complete the fresh install phase.  Proceed only if you have a way to recover.

  1. Download a copy of Windows 10.
  2. Use your preferred method to access the files within the downloaded ISO (such as burn it to disk, mount it within Windows or use a 3rd party utility to expand it).
  3. Search for gatherosstate.exe.  Depending on the version of the image you chose, it will either reside in sources or \Windows\x64\sources or \Windows\x32\sources.  Copy gatherosstate.exe to your desktop.
  4. Ensuring you are properly connected to the internet, run the gatherosstate application.  After a few seconds, an additional file should appear on your desktop – GenuineTicket.XML.  This is confirmation that your existing PC and OS have passed the pre-requisites needed to perform a clean Windows 10 install.  Save the file GenuineTicket.XML to a location NOT on your system HDD (as this is going to be wiped).  Any location will do; USB, network share, even email it to yourself!
  5. Perform your clean install of Windows 10.  When requested for the product key, click the ‘SKIP’ button.
  6. When the clean install has completed and you’re looking at your fresh desktop, locate GenuineTicket.XML and copy it to the hidden folder C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\ClipSVC\GenuineTicket.  You can navigate to it directly by pasting this URL directly into a RUN dialog box (Win+R to activate, or Win+X,R or just type in RUN into the Cortana search box).
  7. Reboot your PC.
  8. That’s it!  In order to confirm activation, bring up the SYSTEM panel (Win+Pause, Win+x, S, or type SYSTEM into the Cortana search box).  The System dialog box will now confirm that this new installation is activated.
  9. Allow updates to be performed on your new system, via SETTINGS, Update & Security.
  10. Enjoy that new-fresh Windows 10 installation smell!

Windows 10 – More Licensing FAQs

Microsoft Windows 10

Windows 10 was released on the 29th July and was made available in volume licensing on the 1st August.  The licence agreements are available on the Microsoft Volume Licensing documentation site (for software purchased through volume licensing) and the Microsoft Licence Terms site (for OEM and full packaged product, FPP).

So now is a good time to revisit some questions regarding the retail version.  For Windows 10 bought through Volume licensing, you can read the Windows 10 Volume Licensing Guide.

Q – Where can I download the ISO media for the free upgrade so I can upgrade several machines from a USB stick?

A – http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10.  Of course this isn’t a free version of Windows to download and install but it allows you to upgrade several machines without requiring each of them to download the Windows 10 build from the internet.  You can also use it to perform a clean install if you have a Windows 10 product key.  Full instructions are given.

Q – When does a device cease being the same device?  If a faulty PC motherboard is replaced but the HDD remains unchanged will Windows 10 continue working?  We frequently re-install existing Windows operating systems to return to a clean test environment.  How many times will we be able to do this with a Windows 10 licence before the re-installs are blocked?

A – Typically, the motherboard is the critical mass here.  You can change the hard drive(s) and reinstall, change the video card, even upgrade the processor and Windows will still work on the device.  With the free upgrade offer, you must upgrade on a pc that has Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 already installed (except Enterprise and RT editions).  Once you have upgraded to Windows 10 on the PC and successfully activated it, you won’t have a Windows 10 product key but you will be able to perform a clean installation and select the Skip button on the product key page.  Your PC will activate online automatically so long as the same edition of Windows 10 was successfully activated on the PC by using the free Windows 10 upgrade offer.

You are also allowed to install Windows virtually on the device (but not off the device, e.g. on a network share as that becomes virtual desktop access and requires its own licensing).  Section 2d (iv) of the EULA (end user licence agreement):

(iv)    Use in a virtualized environment. This license allows you to install only one instance of the software for use on one device, whether that device is physical or virtual. If you want to use the software on more than one virtual device, you must obtain a separate license for each instance.

There are limits on how many times you can activate Windows over the Internet on the same device but if you ever hit that limit, you should be able to perform telephone activation instead.  There’s no activation limit enforced in the licence terms.  If you move a HDD containing a physical installation of Windows 10 or move a .VHD with Windows installed to another pc, it may work but you may also find that reactivation is triggered by the changes and unless the Windows licence is transferable you’ll be non-compliant.

Q – How will licensing work for people who build their own PC and would normally buy a retail version of Windows?  Is that licence going to be transferable to a subsequent build, or is the retail licence going to be limited to that particular PC [and if so, what’s the definition of “that particular PC”]?

A – You can still purchase the retail (FPP) licence of Windows 10, install that on a bare-metal pc and the licence will be transferable to another device (subject to only installing Windows on one device at a time).  Preinstalled Windows (OEM) remains non-transferable.  Now this does open up new territory for retail Windows; you can buy the retail version once, enjoy updates to Windows and when you want to upgrade your pc, simply transfer your Windows licence to your new pc without requiring an OEM licence.  It’s pretty tricky to buy a bare-metal pc from the major manufacturers however and OEM licences became a lot cheaper recently so that may not save much money.  Section 4b of the EULA details transfer rights:

b.      Stand-alone software. If you acquired the software as stand-alone software (and also if you upgraded from software you acquired as stand-alone software), you may transfer the software to another device that belongs to you. You may also transfer the software to a device owned by someone else if (i) you are the first licensed user of the software and (ii) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement. You may use the backup copy we allow you to make or the media that the software came on to transfer the software. Every time you transfer the software to a new device, you must remove the software from the prior device. You may not transfer the software to share licenses between devices.

If you are an OEM or System Builder, there remains the COEM (Commercial Original Equipment Manufacturer) product for just that purpose.  Windows 8.1 COEM licence removed the DIY (personal use rights) addendum so if you’re building your own pc for personal use, buying the retail product is the correct way to licence.

Q – How is the lifespan of a PC going to be determined?  If I have a PC with Windows now, will it still be supported as long as the hardware is still operational, or is there going to be a time limit?  Or just a drift towards bits of hardware no longer being supported which would result in being forced to upgrade to a newer PC [and a new Windows licence]?  Not everyone cares about the latest capabilities – plenty of people only use PCs to browse the web.

A – No time limit but you’ll find that certain components will become superseded and as such the minimum system requirements for Windows may change.  The Microsoft Product Lifecycle pages state:

• Updates are cumulative, with each update built upon all of the updates that preceded it.  A device needs to install the latest update to remain supported.
• Updates may include new features, fixes (security and/or non-security), or a combination of both.  Not all features in an update will work on all devices.
• A device may not be able to receive updates if the device hardware is incompatible, lacking current drivers, or otherwise outside of the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (“OEM”) support period.
• Update availability may vary, for example by country, region, network connectivity, mobile operator (e.g., for cellular-capable devices), or hardware capabilities (including, e.g., free disk space). 

Q – How much will an OEM version of Win10 cost; a version to be incorporated into our instruments?  I cannot find any info on this.

A – There are new editions of Windows 10 called Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Core.  These are ideal for industry and embedded devices such as instruments.  They’re on the price list and you should be able to get this information from your Microsoft retailer.

Keep the questions coming!


Rolling Back with Office 365

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

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

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

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

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

     2- you can disable automatic updates

     3- you can rollback to a previous update

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

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

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

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

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.

 


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.


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)