Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure created by Microsoft and the Azure Portal is one way for administrators to work with the cloud-based services and resources that are held in Azure. It’s extremely straightforward and as it’s browser based, doesn’t require any new client software to be installed.
The portal can be found at portal.azure.com and it is sometimes known as the Azure Resource Manager or ARM for short. The Azure Portal allows users to conduct a range of activities in Azure including creating and browsing resources, configuring settings for services such as Virtual Machines and monitoring the resources while they are in operation.
Due to the range of activities available on the portal, a detailed description is beyond the scope of a brief article but the main activities of the portal are very easy to use. To log in to the Microsoft Azure portal, open a browser and navigate to https://portal.azure.com. Log in with your Azure subscription account or if you don’t have one yet, you can set one up using the link on the portal page.
Once you are logged in, you can see the Azure dashboard. There is a good search facility, which means that developers and IT architects can find what they need quickly. You can also see your account information at the top right-hand corner. The portal itself is free to access and does not incur any cost to use.
It’s possible to bring your existing knowledge to bear on Azure. For example, the portal has its own Bash functionality and you can deploy JSON templates and your existing web apps via the portal. Azure offers a wide range of varied services on the portal but everything is located in one place. This unified approach means that people can find what they want quickly, rather than having to use different interfaces or applications for different things.
Like most administrative tasks, once your Azure deployments are established, well-known and documented, it’s more likely the Azure API or PowerShell interface will be used to provide ongoing automated operations and functions. For example, a PowerShell script to spin up a new instance of a pre-configured virtual machine with SQL Server for the marketing team who want to store some results of a campaign. This is straightforward to include as part of your operations workflow rather than expect an IT administrator to log into the portal and create the virtual machine.
From the Finance perspective, you can access billing information through the portal so that it’s possible to keep an eye on costs for each service. User rights can be set to allow IT administrators access to the Azure services but not the subscription or billing information and vice versa for finance users. The Azure portal uses Power BI to provide context and clarity to the billing information as well as other types of data such as service and maintenance information. From the users’ point of view, this means it is easy to port experience from the Azure portal onto Power BI, which is another interesting and useful data visualisation and reporting technology from Microsoft.
To summarize, the Azure portal is a unified window into Microsoft Azure. It’s an easy, one-stop-shop to everything Azure.
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.
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
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
Extend the Life of Line-of-Business Applications with Premium Assurance
I used to own an old laser printer which came with Windows 7 drivers. It wasn’t the best printer in the world but I relied on it. Try as I might I could not get updated drivers for it so with Windows 10 I was faced with two choices, keep it running on inefficient and possibly insecure Windows 7 drivers, or buy a new printer. If I had the option to subscribe to updated Windows 10 drivers from the manufacturer, would I have taken that choice? Probably; although shopping for new technology is so much fun.
On a larger scale, organisations often face compelling events that force an upgrade of machinery or software that they rely on. Perhaps the business or product becomes more advanced and existing hardware or software is not capable of the required changes. Perhaps it’s no longer possible to obtain replacement parts for machinery or support for a software package, meaning if it goes wrong and stops working, the very operation of the company could be at risk.
With software, it may not just be the line of business application that needs to be supported, but also the associated systems including the operating system and data platform. If your application only runs on Windows Server 2008, you are faced with the choice of upgrading the application along with the business changes that would bring, or remaining on an unsupported operating system and risk exposure to new security threats or falling out of compliance with regulations.
Premium Assurance adds an Extra Six Years of Support
Premium Assurance (PA) is a subscription service from Microsoft that extends the product support for Windows Server and/or SQL Server versions by six years.
Under our current model, every application is supported for at least 10 years: five years of mainstream which includes feature updates and support calls; and five years of extended support for just security and critical updates but no hotfixes unless you have software assurance or a support contract.
Adding premium assurance increases that total lifecycle period to sixteen years.
One thing to bear in mind here is the ten years is at the latest service pack level for most software. When a new service pack is released, SP1, SP2, etc., Microsoft will provide either 12 or 24 months of support for the previous service pack depending on the product family. When this period ends, that service pack or initial product release won’t get new updates. So there’s already pressure on customers to keep up to the latest service pack.
If this all sounds harsh, it might be fair to realise how much additional engineering and support resources would be required to support every service pack of every version of every product.
Microsoft are not promising to support third-party line-of-business applications here, but the attraction of Premium Assurance is to provide additional breathing space to plan how to migrate off these older workloads. Having the option for Windows Server and SQL Server means you’ll be covered on most key applications.
How to Obtain Premium Assurance
To see which servers a customer could cover with Premium Assurance, let’s look at an example server estate.
Figure 2: example server estate of Windows and SQL Server
We have 9 licences of Windows Server 2008/2012/2016 and 9 licences of SQL Server 2008/2012/2014/2016. We obtained these via three licensing programs: an Enterprise Agreement, an Enterprise Agreement Subscription and an Open agreement. Some of our servers are covered with Software Assurance and some aren’t.
Rule 1: Only Enterprise Licensing Programs are Eligible for Premium Assurance
As of March 2017 when Premium Assurance arrived on the price list, licences obtained through an Enterprise Agreement, Enterprise Agreement Subscription, Enrollment for Education Solutions or Server and Cloud Enrollment are the only ones eligible.
In our example estate above, we have six Windows Servers and six SQL Servers through these programs. We can disregard the licences obtained through Open.
Rule 2: Only Servers Covered with SA are Eligible
Premium Assurance is sold as an Add-on to Software Assurance so a server licence must have active Software Assurance to be covered by Premium Assurance. This narrows down our eligible servers to four Windows Servers and three SQL Servers.
Rule 3: All Eligible Servers Must be Covered by Premium Assurance
Once you have established the eligible servers, you must add Premium Assurance to all of them. It is not possible to add PA to just a selection. You can subscribe to either Windows Server Premium Assurance or SQL Server Premium Assurance or both.
Figure 3: Servers that would require Windows Server Premium Assurance and SQL Server Premium Assurance coverage
What do you notice missing from this example? That’s right; any detail around versions. Let me explain why that is important.
What Product Versions are Eligible for Premium Assurance?
Premium Assurance is not by version, it’s by product. Our example server estate included a mix of SQL 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016. We want Premium Assurance for the SQL 2008 specifically. If the 2012 and 2014 versions are also eligible for PA then they must be included. The earliest version of SQL Server and Windows Server that can be covered is 2008.
To cover a product version, Premium Assurance needs to be purchased before the extended support period for that version ends. The figure below details the extended support and premium assurance purchase periods. To ensure we have Premium Assurance support for SQL Server 2008, we must purchase PA before extended support ends in June 2019.
Figure 4: Support timeline by product and version.
Buy Early, They Pay Less
If Premium Assurance doesn’t start until the extended support period ends, why would a customer want to pay for it now? It’s true that we’d charge customers straight away for a benefit they’re not going to get until 2019. Doesn’t sound fair does it? But it allows the customer to lock a low price for all future purchases if they maintain Premium Assurance and Software Assurance. Once customers enroll in Premium Assurance, they are entitled to the original purchase price even across Software Assurance renewal cycles and even if the underlying base licence price changes.
There are four levels of pricing, expressed here as a percentage of the base licence cost. The example shown below is for Windows Server Standard edition (2-core licence pack). Prices are illustrative.
Figure 5: Premium Assurance price levels by time of purchase.
As you can see there’s a 58% increase in price if customers wait until the last minute to buy Premium Assurance for Windows Server 2008. Buying early represents 5% of the base licence cost and this rises to 12% from July 2019.
Removing Premium Assurance
You can stop Premium Assurance altogether if it’s no longer required (perhaps you have moved the workloads in question) and you can also reduce the number of Premium Assurance licenses as long as it aligns with your eligible server numbers. Remember, all servers through the EA, EAS, EES and SCE that have active SA need to be covered; not just some of them.
What Product Editions are Eligible for Premium Assurance?
The Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter editions of Windows Server and SQL Server from 2008 onwards are covered. SQL Server Business Intelligence Edition is not specifically covered. Windows Server Enterprise editions are covered by purchasing two of the Windows Server Standard edition SKUs for each Enterprise edition server.
Specifically, the new price list titles for these offerings are:
SQL SERVER ENTERPRISE ED PREM ASSU
SQL SERVER STANDARD ED PREM ASSU
SQL SVR STANDARD CORE PREM ASSU
WINDOWS SERVER DC CORE PREMASSUR
WINDOWS SERVER STD CORE PREMASSUR
SQL SVR ENTERPRISE CORE PREM ASSU
WINDOWS SERVER STANDARD PREM ASSUR
WINDOWS SERVER DATACENTER PREMASSUR
How Will Premium Assurance Work Technically?
There will be a software package that customers install on eligible servers to enable the provisioning of updates to those servers. What’s to stop customers installing that package on no-eligible servers? Like much of Microsoft Volume Licensing, it will likely rely on customer trust and the occasional software audit.
Premium Assurance adds an extra six years of support beyond the extended support of Windows Server and/or SQL Server.
Windows Server Premium Assurance and SQL Server Premium Assurance can be purchased independently and this applies to the 2008 or newer versions.
You need software assurance on these products to be eligible to purchase Premium Assurance.
The support offered by Premium Assurance is intended to keep the products secure and compliant. It’s not going to involve features changes.
Premium Assurance became available from March 2017 through Enterprise Agreements and Enrolment for Education Solutions.
There is price-tiering to encourage customers to subscribe earlier.
You can add Premium Assurance at any time in your licensing agreement; mid-term or renewal but it must be for all eligible servers.
But why do we need containers? What do containers provide that virtual machines can’t?
For the developers, containers unlock the ability to build an application, package within a container, and deploy, knowing that wherever you deploy that container, it will run without modification, whether that is on-premises, in a service provider’s datacenter or in the public cloud such as Azure. You can also have complex multi-tier applications, with each tier packaged in a container.
So that’s containers in a nutshell. What about Nano Server? Is that a special edition for my granny?
If you are hosting lots of VOSEs, the last thing you want is for the host OS to reboot because that means everything I’m running on that host either needs to migrate to another server or also reboot. You want to minimise what’s running to reduce the resources used and the surface area open to bugs and attacks. Yes, I used the B word.
Windows Server 2008 came up with Server Core which was a hugely reduced installation intended to just support specific workloads such as hosting VOSEs. Windows server 2012 improved Server Core so it was more modular and you could install and configure the server and then switch into Server Core whereas in 2008 it was an either-or choice at installation.
Windows Server 2016 goes further with Nano Server. Just to give you an idea of the scale here, the charts below compare setup time, disk footprint and VHD size between the already trimmed Server Core installation and the new Nano Server.
Now the big question here is how do you licence Nano Server?
Well, Nano Server is a deployment option within Windows Server 2016. It’s included as part of the licensing of both Standard and Datacenter editions so there is no unique or separate licensing for Nano Server. Good news.
Look Like an Expert with these Extra Facts
Q – Will the Core Infrastructure Suite SKU also be core based licensing?
A – Yes, Core Infrastructure Suite is a single SKU incorporating both Windows Server and System Center at a discount. This will also be core based when Windows Server and System Center are released.
Q – Is the Windows Server External Connector available at the release of Windows Server 2016?
A – Yes, the Windows Server External Connector license will still be available for external users’ access to Windows Server. Just like it is today, an external connector is required for each Windows Server the external user is accessing.
Q – How should I think about hyper-threading in the core based licensing?
A – Just count the physical cores. Windows Server and System Center 2016 are licensed by physical cores, not virtual cores. So you only need to inventory and license the physical cores on the processors.
Q – If processors (and therefore cores) are disabled from Windows use, do I still need to license the cores?
A – No, if the processor is disabled for use by Windows, the cores on that processor don’t need to be licensed. For example, if 2 processors in a 4 processor server (with 8 cores per processor) were disabled and not available for Windows Server use, only 16 cores would need to be licensed. However, disabling hyper threading or disabling cores for specific programs does not relieve the need for a Windows Server license on the physical cores.
Don’t Forget CALs
Windows Server Standard and Datacenter editions will continue to require Windows Server CALs for every user or device accessing a server (See the Product Use Rights for exceptions).
Some additional or advanced functionality will continue to require the purchase of an additive CAL. These are CALs that you need in addition to the Windows Server CAL to access functionality, such as Remote Desktop Services or Active Directory Rights Management Services.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions – we love to hear from you!
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.
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.
Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) face a complex and changing landscape when it comes to understanding all of the different ways new technologies can help their businesses.
Many Microsoft partners are capitalising on the opportunity to grow their businesses by expanding their roles to that of a trusted advisor and business consultant — looking for ways to help SMBs modernise across the IT platform.
Microsoft is focused on helping you deliver solutions that address your customers’ key goals and business challenges. So you can use technology to help make them be more successful, whether by improving operational efficiency, protecting data, helping employees be more productive, or better connecting with customers. In fact, only Microsoft offers a complete platform with the flexibility to deliver the solutions your customer’s need, from server to cloud, desktop to mobile devices.
ModernBiz Technical Series
The ModernBiz Technical Series provides training, demonstrations and hands-on instruction on how to use the latest Microsoft technologies to deliver solutions to SMB organisations. This set of training courses is designed to prepare Microsoft value-added reseller (VAR) partners to help customers get the benefits of the modern business by providing solutions and services that span the entire IT ecosystem, from server, to cloud, to devices.
In this training, you will:
Get hands-on experience: With a focus on building real-world solutions, this training consists of presentations, demos, and hands-on labs.
Get the skills you need to build real-world SMB solutions: This technical series is designed specifically for partners working with SMB customers to build solutions using the latest products and technologies from Microsoft.
Any of the ModernBiz Technical Series courses can be attended as a standalone course or as a part of the complete series.
Who should participate: The ModernBiz Technical Series course is for Microsoft value-added reseller (VAR) partners who work with small and midsize organisations. The training is designed for those who are ready to learn more about meeting the technical needs of SMBs with Microsoft solutions.
Audience: IT Professionals, Consultants, SMB Resellers
Level: 200 (Technical) This training aligns to the Microsoft ModernBiz campaign for SMB partners.
There are free one or two day courses for each of these key technology areas.
These courses are designed to help you migrate customers off legacy infrastructure and get the most out of their technology. Example topics are Windows Server 2012 on-premises, Azure infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure.
Grow Efficiently Track 1 is designed to teach you how to migrate SMB customers off of legacy infrastructure to either Windows Server 2012 on-premises or Azure IaaS
Track 2 covers how to migrate SMB customers to Windows 10 and get started with Office 365
Track 3 teaches how to integrate on-premises infrastructure with Microsoft Azure
Safeguard Your Business
In this track, learn how to use the latest Microsoft technologies to deliver solutions that help SMBs protect company information and improve business continuity. Modules in this track include Azure Backup and ASR, Securing Windows 10, Data Loss Prevention in Office 365, eDiscovery and Archiving in Office 365, and Office 365 and Azure AD Premium RMS.
Connect with Customers
These training modules cover Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as well as Office 365 collaborative services.
Track 1 is devoted to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, including Introduction to CRM Online, CRM Online Integration with Office 365, and CRM Online Integration with Power BI
Track 2 teaches how to implement Office 365 collaborative services and business intelligence to solve business problems. Example modules include Modern Collaboration, SQL Server 2014 Data Platform, Azure Relational Database Services, Creating and Exploring a Power BI Dashboard, and Reporting from On-premises Analysis Services with Power BI.
Here, you’ll learn how to enable SMBs to work from anywhere on any device. Topics include Windows 10 Management (with IE 11 and Edge); Mobile Device and Identity Management with Intune, EMS, and Office 365; Remote Desktop Service and Azure Remote App; Deploying Office 365 ProPlus; Skype for Business Conferencing; and Securing Windows 10.
Imageframe are pleased to be running many of these courses so come along and say hi!
We described the new Office 365 E5 plan and standalone features as well as how to licence them in previous blog posts. One of the features included in the PSTN Conferencing for Skype for Business (SfB) is to allow presenters to dial-out to a national phone number in order to add attendees into the meeting (or for attendees to ask SfB to dial them back on a national phone number).
The word national is important there because the plan wouldn’t allow you to dial-out to international phone numbers. This would be enabled when consumption billing is introduced in 2016 and customers could maintain a credit balance that international and freephone call costs would be drawn against.
However, today Microsoft have announced a free trial period where international dial-out will be enabled at no cost.
PSTN conferencing for Skype for Business is available to buy in 15 countries (as of the date of this blog post):
During the free trial period, users of PSTN Conferencing will be allowed to make international dial-out calls at no charge to phone numbers in any of those 15 countries where PSTN conferencing is available for sale. International dial-out calls outside of the 15 countries will not be enabled. This free period will last until April, 30th 2016. After that, customers will be billed per minute for all International Dial-Out calls.
Whilst Microsoft are selling PSTN conferencing in 15 countries, the users can be worldwide so this makes it easier to sell to multinational accounts. For example, a UK company who subscribe to PSTN conferencing can host a webcast and offer a New Zealand dial-in number even though PSTN Conferencing is not available to buy in that country yet.
December 1st marked two extraordinary launches: a brand new Office 365 plan called E5 and Microsoft becoming a Telco.
We described the key new features and capabilities in an earlier post and we’re going to concentrate on the licensing concepts in this blog post.
Some of the new features will be included via updates to the E1 and E3 plans. Most of the new features will be included in the E5 plan with the exception of PSTN Calling which will be an add-on subscription. All of the new features will be available as standalone subscriptions which will suit customers that don’t require all of the E5 functionality but do want one of two of the new capabilities.
This does mean that Office 365 E4 plan follows E2 in being discontinued. E4 will remain on the pricelist until the end of Microsoft’s financial year, June 30th, 2016. Customers on E4 will be able to renew it as E4 prior to that date but should look to transition into E5 or into E3 with the Cloud PBX add-on. If customers want to maintain E4 functionality after June 30th, they can transition to the E3 plan and add the new Skype for Business Plus user subscription licence (USL) that was released on the 1st December.
Table 1: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange
How can customers licence Office 356 E5?
Office 365 E5 is available as a:
Full User Subscription Licence (USL) for new users
Step-up licence for existing Office 365 E3 and E4 customers
From SA USL for customers who currently own licences for and have active Software Assurance (SA) on Office and a Client Access licence (CAL) Suite
Add-on licence for customers who already subscribe to the Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS)
At launch, what you’ll see on the price list is Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing. Office 365 E5 and Cloud PBX is available worldwide, however the PSTN conferencing feature is only available in fifteen countries from the 1st December. Lucky UK; we’re one of those fifteen. The remaining 191 countries (bonus points if you can name them all; I had to source from the United Nations) cannot enjoy PSTN conferencing yet so it‘s unfair to sell them full E5.
Where PSTN Conferencing is available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencingand Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing
Where PSTN Conferencing is not available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing
At some point in the future, we’ll announce a single Office 365 E5 licence on the pricelist which is likely to be priced the same as the combination of E5 w/out PSTN Conferencingand the Skype for Business PSTN Conferencinglicences.
What channels are the new plans available through?
Being a telco brings tax and regulatory responsibilities. Microsoft needs to sell these PSTN features in the right way so whilst the Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN ConferencingSKU is available worldwide and through all licensing channels, currently Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencingis only available through direct channels: the Microsoft Online Subscription Program (MOSP) and direct Enterprise Agreements.
How can customers licence the new features as standalone subscriptions?
Table 2 lists the new standalone licences along with the relevant pre-requisite.
Table 2: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange
How can customers licence the PSTN Calling Plans?
These are not available as of December in the UK. In fact they are only available in the US but the UK should be able to enjoy this in the first half of 2016.
There are two PSTN Calling Plans: Domestic and International. Domestic will have a set price per user/per month for 3,000 minutes of national calls. The International Plan will include the domestic quota and add 600 minutes of international calls. These quotas will be allocated to the organisation as a whole, rather than each user so a customer with 10 USLs for the International PSTN Calling Plan will have 30,000 national minutes and 6,000 international minutes.
What do the PSTN features include?
At launch, PSTN Conferencing includes the ability to advertise a national, non-freephone number (e.g. 0118 for Reading, 020 for London, etc.). The person dialling into the conference will pay for the call charges. Customers can also dial-out to a phone using a national phone number in order to bring someone into the Skype conference.
In 2016, there will be a consumption billing model, similar to Azure consumption billing, where customers can maintain a balance of monetary credit. This can then be used to advertise Freephone numbers to conferences and dial-out to international phone numbers to bring people into the conference. The call charges will be met using the consumption balance.
The same goes for the PSTN Calling plans. If a customer exceeds their quota of minutes, or a customer subscribing to the Domestic plan wants to make international calls, the charges will be drawn from their consumption balance.
E5 and the PSTN features mark a very exciting chapter in Microsoft’s online capabilities. Keep a close eye out for the release of UK PSTN Calling plans and the consumption billing in 2016. We’ll continue to keep you up to date with blog posts.
We should be used to Microsoft announcing new capabilities and investments in Office 365 but December 1st marked two extraordinary launches.
Firstly, a brand new Office 365 plan called E5. This joins the current enterprise plan line up of E1, E3 and E4 and becomes Microsoft’s new ‘hero’ plan. We’ll cover what it contains in a moment.
The second extraordinary launch is Microsoft is becoming a telecommunications provider (or simply telco in modern syntax). Microsoft has extraordinary capacity in its global data network and is putting it to good use by offering PSTN conferencing and PSTN calling plans for Skype for Business.
Before you worry that Microsoft will start making adverts starring Maureen Lipman about ‘ologies, these PSTN capabilities are aimed squarely at organisations rather than consumers at this point.
What do I need to know from the December launch?
The key new features and capabilities are below. There’s a post on Microsoft’s Volume Licensing site covering how to licence Office 365 E5 and the standalone features.
PSTN Conferencing (Public Switch Telephone Network) offers audio conferencing within Skype for Business web conferences. If people can’t connect to a conference over the internet, it’s nice to give them a phone number so they can dial-in and listen to the audio. Currently you need to set up an account with one of the audio conferencing providers in the Office 365 Marketplace, or have on-premises Mediation Servers and PSTN gateways.
Dial-in conferencing allows meeting attendees to dial into Skype meetings through a local phone number and in the near-future, a Freephone number (when consumption billing is released for Office 365).
Dial-out conferencing enables presenters in the web conference to add others to the meeting by dialling their phone number. It also allows attendees to join the audio portion of the meeting by asking Skype for Business to call them on a specified phone number.
PBX stands for private branch exchange and is the internal phone system an organisation uses. Cloud PBX can offload that requirement entirely to the cloud, or connect cloud PBX to an on-premises PBX in hybrid configurations.
It includes all the features you’d expect including calling by name & number from Softphones, IP Phones and mobile devices, Call History & Redial, Call Hold/Retrieve, Transfer, Forwarding, Call Waiting, Simultaneous Ring, Team Calling, and so on.
Like the rest of Office 365, updates are delivered over the cloud so customers can avoid the headache of upgrading their on-premises PBX. A notable update in the pipeline will be PBX features for call centres.
Cloud PBX can be connected to the PSTN through two different capabilities. First, a customer can purchase a PSTN calling service add-on to Office 365, available initially in the US only. Alternatively, a customer can use Skype for Business software on-premises to provide PSTN connectivity.
Which brings us nicely onto PSTN Calling. This is an add-on to Cloud PBX that provides national and international calling services directly from Office 365. Instead of a customer contracting with a traditional telco and using an on-premises IP-PBX, they can purchase the Cloud PBX from Microsoft and add on PSTN Calling for a complete enterprise telephony experience for end-users.
So Microsoft is becoming a regulated carrier in each geography that this will be available. Customers can get new phone numbers for users or have phone numbers ported to the PSTN Calling service. Number provisioning will be done directly through the Office 365 admin portal or of course, via PowerShell.
Power BI Pro
Power BI Pro is a business analytics service that enables information workers to visualize and analyse data with greater speed, efficiency and understanding. Users are connected to live data through dashboards, interactive reports and visualizations that bring data to life and make it meaningful to their role. And don’t underestimate the live data here; this could come from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, wearables for example and be up to the second. Power BI provides a Power BI Desktop tool and Power BI mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows. Excel also has Power BI enhancements such as being able to merge and use queries from multiple data sources, including public sources like Twitter alongside corporate data.
You may have heard or perhaps used Delve. Delve allows an individual to see and search the documents and sites that are important to people connected to you. It surfaces knowledge according to what and who you’re working with.
Delve Analytics on the other hand, allows managers to discover how their team or organisation works. It provides insights into important business problems like organization collaboration, who’s talking to whom, siloed team detection, identification of most connected employees, types of meetings taking place across the organization and work-life balance; which teams are consistently working beyond their shifts. Individuals can gain a fresh perspective about the way they work including time management, network analysis and influence and reach indicators.
Both Delve and Delve Analytics use Office Graph and sophisticated machine learning to map the relationships between people, content and activity that occurs across Office 365.
One of the common cloud topics is that organisations want to have full control over their content stored in cloud services. Office 365 has evolved so nearly all service operations performed by Microsoft are fully automated and any human interaction is highly controlled and kept away from customer content. Only in very rare cases does a Microsoft engineer have any reason to access customer content. Microsoft employees do not have automatic access to service operations. All access is obtained through a rigorous access control technology called Lockbox. An extension to this is Customer Lockbox and if an organisation has Customer Lockbox, they have the keys to that engineer access. The customer is notified when their content needs to be accessed by service administrators and the have total control to approve or deny such access. They can set up Just-In-Time access to specific scopes of data and all access control activities are logged and audited. So access currently goes through a secure workflow process but Lockbox makes the customer part of that process.
Customer Lockbox will be available for Exchange Online first and for SharePoint Online in Q1 of 2016.
Advanced Threat Protection
Advanced threat protection has been available for a few months now. It combats unknown & sophisticated threats in email. Let’s say you get an email with a short link, a Bit.ly link for example. When you first receive the email, the link is fine and directs you to the Sugababes fan club site as expected. However, sometime in the future that shortlink redirects you to a malware site and before you know it you’ve downloaded a One Direction virus. Safe Links provide time-of-click protection against such malicious URLs by wrapping external links in special URLs that check the destination link for threats before opening them. There’s also Safe Attachments which opens email attachments sandboxed virtual environments to detect malicious behaviour. And Click Trace keeps a record of every user who has clicked on a URL for additional protection so if you do need to take remedial action, it’s easier to know exactly where.
Equivio Analytics for eDiscovery
Back in January, Microsoft acquired Equivio, a provider of machine learning technologies for eDiscovery and information governance. If an organisation goes through a law suit, it’s extremely expensive and time consuming. Data on a given topic needs to be found and collected and once it’s harvested, typically lawyers are paid lots of money to go through that data and determine relevance. Equivio simplifies the eDiscovery process by using machine learning, tagging and predictive coding to identify relevant email and documents and reduce the amount of data that’s returned.
All of these new capabilities form part of Office 365 E5 and with the exception of the PSTN Calling plans are available as standalones licences.
In the next blog post, we’ll go deeper into the PSTN features and what they include.