Blog Archive

Windows Server 2016 Per-Core

Windows Server

Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2016 will be licenced in a per-core + CAL (client access licence) model.  This changes from Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 which were per-processor + CAL.

Whilst the main editions of Windows Server 2016 remain Standard and Datacenter (US spelling of course), another change is that Datacenter enjoys more features than Standard.  This was not the case with Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 when Standard and Datacenter had exactly the same set of technical features and capabilities.

The licensing rules in brief

  • All physical cores in the server must be licenced
  • Core licences are sold in packs of 2
  • A minimum of 8 cores per processor must be licenced, even if the processor has less than 8 cores
  • For a single-processor server, a minimum of 16 cores must be licenced
  • Only physical cores need be counted; hyper-threading has no effect on licensing
  • Processors that are disabled in the server do not need to be licenced
  • Licensing all cores in the physical server with Datacenter edition allows you to run Windows Server in an unlimited number of VOSEs (Virtual Operating System Environment) on that server
  • Licensing all cores in the physical server with Standard edition allows you to run Windows Server in two VOSEs (Virtual Operating System Environment) on that server.  You can apply extra licences to the physical server if you wish to run more than two.

Some examples

Microsoft Windows Server 2016 Licensing

A bit of background

If you’re scratching your head about the minimum licensing requirement or even why Microsoft chose to change the licensing model at all, a little explanation may help.

The reason for requiring a minimum of 16 core licences per server is to keep the prices of Windows Server 2016 in line with the minimum licensing (2 processors) of Windows Server 2012 R2.  In turn, Windows 2012 required a minimum of 2 processors because it kept the price in line with the per-server + CAL model from Windows Server 2008 R2.

One reason for changing to per-core model is to align with a new benefit that will soon be in Microsoft Azure which will allow customers who have Software Assurance (SA) on their Windows Server licence to ‘lend’ that licence to the Azure datacentre.  So you would only need to rent an empty VM and upload your own Windows image instead of paying for an Azure VM which had Windows.  Azure compute units are based on cores so it makes sense for Windows licensing to match.

With Windows Server Datacenter edition, it gets even better because you don’t lose your on-premises rights and you can virtualise on-premises at the same time as on Microsoft Azure.  We’ll blog about that in more detail at a later date.

System Center 2016 and Core Infrastructure Suite 2016 (a single SKU combination of both Windows Server and System Center) will also be licensed in the new per-core model.

You can read this Microsoft datasheet for the official line.


Office 2016 Releases

Office 365 Logo

Office 2016 is released on 22nd September 2015 and hits the volume licensing pricelist on the 1st October.  What’s new?  Some will be disappointed it’s not radically different from Office 2013.  Others will breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate the consistency between the versions whilst having a good level of improvement over Office 2013 which was a fantastic suite of applications.  We’ll be running a series of hints and tips blog posts over the next month detailing the main changes.

For now, if you’re a Microsoft partner you can visit the Microsoft Drumbeat site, packed full of sales training events and resources to help you start, grow and accelerate your Office 365 practice (registration required).

If you love videos of Americans waving their hands around too much and generally being very excited with words like ‘super’ and ‘cool’ then take a look at the 400 second-long Vimeo video.

FAQ

Q – Is this going to be an automatic upgrade from 2013 to 2016 if I’m on Office 365?

A – No.  If you want to deploy Office 2016 you’ll need to do that using your usual deployment processes, e.g. via the Office 365 portal.  There will be automatic upgrades in the future but there aren’t any full details on that yet, for example how to accept or prevent the automatic upgrade to 2016.

Q – Will Office 2016 still be available as a perpetual, on-premises product?

A – Yes, Office 2016 is available on-premises and through Office 365 subscriptions.  Unless you have Software Assurance on Office 2013 on-premises, you’ll need to buy the licence to Office 2016 as it’s a completely new version.  Office 365 includes new version rights so if you’re on an Office 365 which includes the Office apps (e.g. E3, E4, Business, Business Premium, ProPlus) you have the rights to 2016 immediately.

Q – I’m on Office 365; how long can I stay on the 2013 release?

A – For 12 months after the release of Office 2016.

Q – InfoPath is no longer included in the 2016 release, where can I get this?

A – InfoPath 2013 is the last version and can be downloaded from Microsoft’s download centre.  Your Office 365 ProPlus licence allows use of InfoPath 2013 and it will still be supported


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.)


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.

 


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)

 


Select Plus Retirement

Microsoft retires Select Plus

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

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

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

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

Microsoft volume licensing

 

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

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

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

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

MPSA vs Select plus

 

 

 

 

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

Volume licensing with MPSA

 

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

Microsoft MPSA roadmpa

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Windows Server 2003 End of Support

Windows ServerJuly 14th is a day perhaps better known as Bastille Day.  History buffs might remember it as the birth day of both former US President Gerald Ford and Jim Gordon (drummer for one time super group Derek and the Dominos).  Windows focused IT pros, on the other hand will know that July 14th 2015 is when the lights go out for Windows Server 2003 (and Windows Server 2003 R2).  In less than 200 days’ time from now, Server 2003 will no longer attract bug fixes or patches.

Looking Back at Server 2003

Server 2003 was another great version of Windows Server with a wealth of new and improved features.  It was released to manufacturing in April 2003.  This release coincided with the release of Windows XP as the client operating system for both home and business users, in effect replacing Windows 98/ME.

Windows Server 2003 included a load of new and improved features including Distributed File System, support for SANs, ISCSI, NUMA and Multipath I/O.  Active directory and it’s underpinnings (including DNS) were also much improved.

Server 2003 shipped in a large number of separate SKUs: including Standard, Enterprise, Data Center and Web. Server 2003 shipped for 32-bit and 64-bit processors and for the Intel Itanium range.  In addition a number of derivative versions were also shipped, including Windows Computer cluster Windows Storage Server, Windows Home Server, Windows Server for Embedded systems and of course Small Business Server

In December 2005, Microsoft issued a major update, Windows Server 2003 R2 (which also reaches its end of life this summer coming).  The R2 version kept the same kernel and driver set of Windows Server 2003, but included a number of non-kernel improvements, including better branch office support, improved identity and access management and, in an attempt to improve manageability a free add on Services for Unix (aka SFU) was also included.

So what?

But in just a few short month, the Server 2003 party will be over.  From that all free support will cease.  There will be no further publically issued patches.  Organisations may be able to contract with Microsoft for longer support – but such contracts will be expensive (certainly more expensive than the cost of upgrading).

From August, Microsoft will issue patches for bugs that may well have been in Server 2003 – but no patches will be issued for Server 2003 itself.  These later patches provide significant input to the hackers who can use the patches to help develop malware that would target Server 2003 specifically.  At some point in the future, any Server 2003 box that is internet facing will simply not be safe (or yours).

Now of course the sky won’t fall down on the 15th of July the day after end of life.  The world will not cease to exist from then.  But from that point on, your older systems are increasingly at risk.  One could argue that IT departments and possibly the company’s management, that fail to upgrade in time and later get hacked, were negligent.  If those servers are running inside some sort of compliance regime, you may find those servers out of compliance.  In the case of PCI compliance, you could find that Visa/MasterCard may cease doing business with you – and for some companies this could mean the end of the organisation.  Other compliance regimes can impose other sanctions.  All in all, there’s little upside to continuing running Server 2003.

There may be some cases, where upgrading is difficult, if not impossible.  Server systems running certain applications or supporting specialist hardware may find that software or hardware is not supported on later versions of the OS.  It’s easy to say that you should have had a plan B for such situations and had it figured out a long time ago.  But upgrading is rapidly becoming a requirement not an option.

Upgrading to what?

So let’s assume you do want to upgrade – what do you upgrade TO?  There are a lot of factors that you need to take into account.  These include the advances in hardware and software as well as the impact of both virtualisation and the cloud.

A lot of systems still running Server 2003 and R2 are old and well ready to be retired.  Technology has improved significantly since you implemented Server 2003.  Server hardware today is significantly faster and more energy efficient.  X64 systems now allow huge amounts of RAM, and SSD disks are significantly faster.  Networking has seen speeds rise by several orders of magnitude.  The whole hardware landscape has evolved significantly.

Newer versions of Windows Server have also provided significant new features, not least of which is Hyper-V, Microsoft’s approach to virtualisation. If you are wanting to upgrade, it makes sense to go for Windows Server 2012 R2.

Virtualisation has been another huge change in the way one designs a data centre.  In the Server 2003 era, virtualisation was not all that common, with VMware being about the only serious game in town.  Whereas Virtualisation was once a niche approach, today, there’s almost no system that cannot be easily virtualised.  There are of course some exceptions to this, i.e. servers that utilise specialised hardware – but for almost all commercial applications – virtualisation should be the only option.

In summary, you should be upgrading to the latest version of the Server OS you can.  Given that upgrading to a new version may well incur costs relating to the new Operating System – you might as well get the latest version (Server 2012 R2).  Besides the obvious feature benefits, Server 2012 R2 mean your next upgrade will be as far away as you can get!

It might be tempting to just wait for the next version of Windows Server (aka Windows Server 10).  But since Microsoft announced that this version would not ship for another year – you are going to be at risk till you can get the final version.  You could just go live on the beta versions – but going live on beta server software seems to me to be even riskier!  Waiting for the next server release is possible – but certainly a risky plan.

Your Upgrade Project

Gartner reckons it can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months to carry out an upgrade.  Now for some simple scenarios (a Server 2003 File and Print server), moving to the Server 2012 R2 for those features is going to be pretty simple.  But moving LOB of apps is likely to be harder.  And of course, almost every organisation has a number of applications that may not be simple or straight forward to upgrade.

To assist in the Upgrade, Microsoft has a couple of really helpful packages.  The first is the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (AKA MAP). Microsoft say: “The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit is an agentless inventory, assessment and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations”.  You can get the MAP toolkit for free from Microsoft at: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/solutionaccelerators/dd537566.aspx.  This tool should help you to assess your network with respect to upgrading from Server 2003.  It will also help you to plan your project.

Another tool that can be useful as part of an Upgrade Project is the Application Compatibility Toolkit.  Microsoft describe the ACT kit as:  “a lifecycle management tool that assists in identifying and managing your overall application portfolio, reducing the cost and time involved in resolving application compatibility issues and helping you quickly deploy Windows and Windows updates.”  The ACT helps you to identify the applications within your overall application portfolio and to evaluate the upgrade.  The ACT also enables you to ‘fix’ applications so that they run properly in the latest versions of MS operating systems.  As such this tool will be invaluable in making older applications work without having to do costly upgrades.

The ACT and MAP tool sets do overlap a bit but both are extremely valuable.  And they are also both free.  Having said that, undertaking an analysis of your existing network, a step you really need to take as part of upgrading, can take time.  It’s NOT an overnight task.  And what’s more, you may find a whole lot of applications that are both critical to the business or some part of the business but are totally unknown to IT.  You need time to assess these applications and to plan for moving these applications forward.

Get Started SOON

If you are still running Server 2003 in any shape or form – you should have an upgrade strategy.  You should work out what you are going to upgrade, and what to.  This is not necessarily a fast process.  It can take weeks to work out all the applications you have and analyse each and every one for upgrade potential.  And where upgrading to a new OS means an upgraded or a totally new application suite, you can find the upgrade process is going to be longer.

So, bottom line: if you haven’t started now – you are going to be hard pressed to finish in time.  Get moving.

Of course a great first step is to become certified in Windows Server 2012 R2.  It only takes 2 minutes to register for our 13th April Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 MCSA or any of our official Microsoft courses.

About the author: Thomas Lee is a long standing IT Pro consultant, author and trainer.  He has had a consulting practice since the late 1980s after leaving what is now called Accenture.  Thomas has co-authored several books as well as writing for magazines such as BackOffice Magazine and PC Pro.  He has also spoken at Microsoft TechEd across the world.


When 1TB Just Isn’t Enough

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

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

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

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


New Office 365 Datacentres

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

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

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

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

No news about a UK datacentre as yet.