Blog Archive

Save the Photographs!

My wife takes digital photos and downloads them onto her laptop.  Then she deletes them from the camera.  If you have ever taken a hard-drive apart, on those rainy days to avoid doing dull IT tasks, you’ll know how fragile they are.  Lots of memories on those small platters of film.  No matter how many external hard drives I buy, or funny-shaped USB sticks to persuade her to back up her files, she never does.  So it’s with great anticipation that Microsoft Azure Backup Vaults now support Windows client OS (Windows 7 and Windows 8) as well as Windows Server.

Windows Client backup to Azure


If you’re a techie, you might be thinking why didn’t I set up a home active directory domain on an HP Microserver, back-up the client devices that log-on, including my wife’s laptop, and then back the server and thus the client files up to Azure?  Well, I did but the big blue light on the front on the Microserver started to annoy me at night because it was really bright so I keep turning it off and that’s not really a good infrastructure decision.

Let’s walk through how to set your home pc to back-up to the Azure cloudy goodness.  A couple of basics first; you will need an Azure subscription and this back-up solution will cost you money.  However, backups are compressed, encrypted, triple-replicated inside Microsoft’s datacenters and once you’ve set up your back-up schedule, it’s automatic.  And think of your photographic memories safe and sound (although of course you should periodically test your recovery processes as well).

Log onto and go to the Azure portal.  Select Recovery Services and create a new Backup Vault.  Once you have your vault, the dashboard will show you the next steps to take.

Azure backup vault dashboard


The client machine needs to register with the Azure Backup Vault.  A few months ago this required creating a certificate but now Azure simply provides a credentials file to download and save onto your local machine.  Next, download the Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent onto the local pc and run it.  The Azure portal provides two options for the backup agent; pick the first option (Windows Server or System Center Data Protection Manager or Windows Client).  The setup wizard is going to ask about proxy settings and will also download the pre-requisites but typically on a home network, you’ll be able to breeze through accepting the defaults.

Azure backup agent installation


Azure backup agent installation


Azure backup agent installation


The final step allows you to Proceed to Registration (or you can Close the setup but if you’re ready to schedule the backup, you may as well proceed to register your pc with the backup vault).  The backup agent will ask for the vault credentials file that you downloaded and then you’ll need to specify a passphrase.  This will be used for encrypting the data before transfer to Azure.  Note the data is encrypted on the client device and stored in Azure encrypted.  Microsoft do not hold the passphrase so it’s vital this is kept safe and secure otherwise you’ll only be able to restore encrypted data.  In fact, the agent will not let you proceed to the next step until the passphrase is saved to another location.

Azure backup agent

Once you’ve registered the server (the agent still refers to your client pc as a server; can’t change everything overnight), the Azure Backup app will be started and you can set your backup schedule.

Azure backup app

The wizard is pretty straight-forward to navigate; you select the items from you local pc to backup (note that Azure will only backup the data that changes after the initial backup).

Azure backup app

The next step is to set up the frequency of the backup, i.e. when it will run, and how long Azure will retain the backups for.  A recent change was the increase of the maximum retention period to 3,360 days; essentially about 9 years so this is an archiving solution as well as a disaster recovery.  However, remember your costs.  Even though Azure backup will compress the data before storage, the more backups you keep, the more storage you’ll use and the higher the monthly cost.  There’s also a limit of 120 recovery points so you may need to balance the frequency with the retention range or you’ll get an error message when you hit the Next button.  For example, the screenshot below is trying to backup once a week and keep these recovery points for 9 years which would easily exceed 120 points.  However, if I set the frequency to monthly (4 weekly to be exact), I’d be fine.

Azure backup app

There’s also a size limit of 1700GB per volume to each backup operation (so if you’re backing up files from multiple drives, you have around 1.7TB from each).  You can stop the backup or change the items to backup and then schedule by clicking Schedule Backup in the main Azure Backup application window.

Recovering items is also straightforward; you can specify the recovery point (date) to restore from and which items you want to restore.  You can also restore these items to the original location or a new location.

Back in the Azure portal, you can see the registered server (or in this case client pc) and also view the protected items and the recovery points.  You can register up to 50 machines against each backup vault and as of December 2014, you can have up to 25 backup vaults per Azure subscription.

Azure backup protected items

And just as a final part to this blog, we have to thanks one of our trainers, Thomas Lee who scored this coup by asking nicely for it!

Dude, where’s my data?

Office 365 Logo

A play on the film title from “Dude, where’s my car?” in which, well actually, we can’t remember the plot but we do remember the title and something about a scene with tattoos.

Putting movies to one side, customers often want to know where their mailboxes reside in Office 365 and Exchange Online.  If my billing address is in Europe I can assume my data centres are located in Dublin and Amsterdam but can I verify that?  Also, the mailboxes for individual users and resources might be in either of those locations.  Here’s where a little PowerShell comes in handy.

There’s a useful getting started with Powershell resource on the Microsoft website.  You can also search the web for myriad explanations but be aware many of these will be out of date especially if you’re using Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.1 includes PowerShell by default so on the Start screen, type PowerShell, right-click Windows PowerShell in the search results and select Run as Administrator.  I’ll explain why you need to run it as admin in a moment.

How to run Windows powerShell


So many memories of the old DOS window.  PowerShell doesn’t speak Office 365 by default so we have to teach it by installing the Windows PowerShell cmdlets for Office 365 management and deployment.  Your keyboard should now be bristling with all the power you have at your fingertips.

1 – Set the PowerShell execution policy.  The default setting for execution policy is restricted which would not allow PowerShell to run scripts at all; secure but not very useful.  RemoteSigned tells PowerShell it can run scripts on the local machine but any scripts downloaded from the Internet must be signed by a trusted publisher.  This is also why you need to run PowerShell as administrator; in order to change this setting.

Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

2 – Set your Office 365 admin credentials.  A popup window will appear where you type in your Office 365 admin user and password.  This will also tell the PowerShell cmdlets which Office 365 tenant you want to connect to.

$cred = Get-Credential

3 – In order to perform administrative tasks on Office 365 you can connect to the online service using the credentials you supplied.

Connect-MsolService -cred $cred

4 – You can list all the Office 365 admin commands.  Note that Exchange, SharePoint and the other cloud services have their own set of commands.

Get-Command –Module msonline

5 – To connect to Exchange Online, type the following commands.  You don’t need to change anything here; again, the tenant to connect to is specified by the login ID in the credentials.

$Session = New-PSSession -ConfigurationName Microsoft.Exchange -ConnectionUri -Credential $cred -Authentication Basic -AllowRedirection

Import-PSSession $Session

6 – Return your mailbox information to see where they’re located.  If the server name begins with db you’re in Dublin and if it’s am you’re in Amsterdam.  Happy travels!


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