Blog Archive

Rolling Back with Office 365



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

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

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

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

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

     2- you can disable automatic updates

     3- you can rollback to a previous update

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

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

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

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

 

Option to Disable Office 365 updates

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

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

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

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

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


How to Coexist A and D VMs in Azure



Microsoft Azure LogoMicrosoft Azure virtual machines are not the same as on-premises VMs.  Steve Plank’s excellent blog post on the difference between Azure Cloud Services and Azure VMs goes some way to explaining the reason why.  Bearing this in mind there are some common questions which only make sense when you think about how Azure services work.

Many customers have mentioned that they can’t change between an A series VM and a D series, or they can’t mix A and D series within the same cloud service.  However, it’s entirely possible to do both of those.

Firstly, why would you need to?  Let’s take a customer who has moved an on-premises line-of-business server application onto Microsoft Azure to take advantage of the cost-efficiency, super-reliable data centres and the ability to scale.  The customer has started with a Standard-tier A2 compute unit (11p per hour for 2 cores and 3.5GB RAM) but after their data volumes increase they find the IOPS from hard disk drives are becoming a bottleneck so they’d like to move the workload onto a D series to enjoy increased throughput from solid-state drives.

Having created the VM as an A2 in a new Azure virtual network or cloud service, they find that when they log on to the Azure portal and try to scale the VM up, D series machines aren’t available.

Scale Azure VMs

 

If the customer tried to create a new D series VM in the same VNet or cloud service, they will also receive the following warning message telling them the cloud service doesn’t support those compute units.

Warning for Azure A Series Cloud service

 

If you create an A series VM in a new cloud services, Azure’s cloud fabric will host that VM in a cluster that currently may only support A series.  That’s why you’ll see the behaviour that our customer has experienced.

It is not possible to move a VM between cloud services either so even if you had a service currently hosting D series VMs, the customer would need to delete their VM (but choosing the option to keep the attached disks) and recreate the VM from the attached disks in the other cloud service.

So our little trick would be for this customer to create the VM as a D series initially and as soon as it’s created, scale the VM down to an A2.  That way Azure will host the VM in a cluster capable of supporting both A and D series compute units.  The customer can scale up, down and mix VMs of A and D series to their heart’s content (with the exception of the A8-A11 compute sizes).  The image below shows a cloud service with both A and D series compute units.

Azure mixed VMs in a single cloud service

 

This doesn’t work with G series currently but at present they can only be hosted in the West US and East US 2 data centres anyway.  Of course the feature release cadence of Azure is rapid so it’s likely this will be possible at some point in the future.

How would the customer have known to create the D series first to avoid this trap?  We’d recommend utilising a Microsoft partner with experience in Azure services or attend one of our training courses; that’s what we’re here for.


Azure Direct to Azure in Open



Moving vanThere are three main routes to purchasing Microsoft Azure services:

1 – Direct through Azure.com and your credit card is billed monthly in arrears for the services you use.  Can result in a scary bill if you’re unsure of the cost of the Azure services.

2 – Purchase an Azure ‘top-up’ via an IT reseller through the Open volume licence channel.  Just like a mobile phone top-up; the top-ups are available in multiples of $100 and if your credit runs out, your services stop until you top-up again.

3 – Purchase via an Enterprise volume licence agreement.  You can read more detail in an earlier blog post about How to buy Azure.

Imagine you are an IT reseller.  You might actually be one in which case, not so tricky.  You have a new customer who has been running some infrastructure on Azure and purchased the services direct.  You’ve worked hard to persuade them that you can offer a nice managed service with single billing.  To effect this, you’ll need to move them from direct into Open licensing.  How do you do this?

Call Ghostbusters Support

First, you need to create the new Azure in Open subscription and also make sure that the service administrator is the same on both the subscriptions.  This will involve the following steps:

  1. Log into https://account.windowsazure.com using the Live ID of the account owner or delegate for the new Open subscription
  2. Once you log in, you should be at the Subscriptions page of the Account tab but if not, click on the Account tab at the top of the page.
  3. Select the subscription for which you want to change the Service-Administrator
  4. Click on Edit Subscription Details on the right hand side of the page
  5. Change the Service Administrator to the same as the customer’s direct subscription

Then phone Azure billing support to ask them to migrate the existing services across.  Billing support is included in all Azure subscriptions.

Not all services can be migrated from one subscription to another but here is a list of services that should be ok to move:
Virtual Machines
Cloud Services
CDN
Web sites
Media Services
Service Bus
Storage
Multi Factor Authentication
Traffic Manager
Mobile Services
Virtual Network
Access Control Service

Some services can be migrated easily by the partner or customer (self-service migration):
VSO
SQL DB
Multi-Factor Authentication

Finally, some services cannot currently be moved:
Azure Active Directory
BizTalk Services
HD Insight
Backup 
Hyper-V Recovery Manager
Azure Store
Import / Export
Scheduler
Management Services 
SQL Reporting
Caching

If in doubt, support will be able to advise but this should give you an idea of what’s possible.


How to Price Azure Backup



Safe backupAzure Backup is a great feature for simple disaster recovery to the cloud.  As with many of the Azure services, it improved and can now retain backups for a silly 99 years.  The pricing model originally depended on the total storage that was backed up but it was a lot more expensive than simple Azure storage and that made long-term retention uneconomical.  Pricing changed in April to reflect a more logical, but harder to understand, model.

Azure Backup differs from Azure Storage because it’s a service which includes bandwidth for transferring the data, the backup agent, compression and encryption.  You could simply run an on-site backup and copy up the backup files to Azure storage but you would not have encryption, you would need to manually perform the upload to cloud and if you wanted to restore any files, you might incur bandwidth charges.

The Azure pricing calculator is rather confusing but essentially when pricing Azure Backup you have the following two steps:

First, determine what you are protecting and how large each instance is.  You might be protecting a Virtual machine (this could be on-premises Hyper-V or an Azure virtual machine, Windows or Linux).  You might be protecting a Windows Server (perhaps running a server application or just a file server).  Finally, you might be protecting a Windows client machine as we blogged about previously.  Note that instances should all be 64-bit and some workloads, especially application servers like SQL Server or Exchange, will require System Center Data Protection Manager.

How to calculate Azure backup cost

Small and medium are pretty easy to calculate.  If you have large instances, you will be paying £6.109 (prices as of May 2015) per 500GB so a 1.3TB backup would cost you £18.33 per month.  A simple protection estate could be:

Instance Size Cost
 Windows Server 300GB £6.109
 Windows 7 laptop  45GB £3.0545
 Linux virtual machine 30GB £3.0545

And the cost for those would be £12.22 per month.  So that takes care of the backup service; the agent, compression, encryption and bandwidth.

Next we need to calculate the cost of the storage.  Microsoft have wisely brought this in line with the standard Azure Storage costs and you have the choice of locally redundant where your backup files are replicated three time within a single datacentre (e.g. Dublin) or zone redundant where they are replicated three times in one data centre and then three times in geographically paired datacentre (e.g. Dublin and Amsterdam).

How to calculate Azure backup cost

 

We’ve put a typical price per GB in the table above.  The actual figures vary with the amount of data you store and you can view current prices on the Azure Storage Prices.  Determining the amount of storage is a bit of a guessing game as it depends on how much the data changes (the churn), how many restore points you want to keep and the level of compression that can be achieved.  A file server with lots of Word documents will be compressed far more than a file server containing hundreds of .jpg images because the jpeg format is already compressed.  Azure will only charge for the actual storage used so your estimate doesn’t need to be accurate.  In our example, we might use the following factors:

1- the total storage of 375GB

2 – locally redundant storage because we only want an archiving and backup solution to replace tape-drives

3 – 20% of the data changes between backups

4 – 10% compression (this is conservative; a typical compression should be around 30-40% depending on the type of data being backed up)

5 – a backup every week

6 – retention period for the backups of 1 year (for a maximum of 52 backups stored after a year)

Our back-of-a-napkin calculation would be 375GB initial backup + 52 further backups would just be the data changes at 75GB (20% of 375GB).  Total of 4.275TB, with compression at 10% this comes down to 3.8475TB.

So after 1 year (at which point we will have a rolling 52 backups retained), our monthly cost might be £53.87 (for storage at a rough £0.014 per GB) + £12.22 (for the protected instances) = £66.09

For more technical information about Azure, sign up for one of our courses and gain your professional qualification.

 


OneDrive for Business Roadmap



OneDrive for Business logoI thought we’d have the Swedish logo for this post.  We like a bit of international flavour.  Did you know that Excel FlashFill in Danish is Hurtigudfyld?

Back in the real world, we get a lot of questions around OneDrive for Business (ODfB), the perceived reliability of the synchronisation engine and feature requests such as being able to select individual folders for synchronisation as you can do with plain old OneDrive (and just to clarify, this is not something that ODfB can do at the moment).

Back in the Mists of Time (well, 8 years)

A little bit of background often helps people to understand the situation we’re in at the moment.  SharePoint 2001 and 2003 were the early versions of the collaborations and portal tools we know in Office 365 and on-premises today.  They were good at document management and collaboration but had limitations for people that frequently worked offline.  To fill that gap, Microsoft bought a product called Groove in 2005 which allowed sites to be used both offline and between internal and external users.  When I used to demo Groove I asked people what they’d do if they needed to transfer a 50Mb file to a customer in another country; too big to email so it would be a case of posting it or setting up an FTP site.  We all think Dropbox or OneDrive now but they simply didn’t exist back then.

Groove was renamed to SharePoint Workspace before being discontinued and replaced with ODfB.  ODfB doesn’t have all the functionality of SharePoint Workspace 2010 but it does allow for offline synchronisation and sharing with external users.  Don’t get me started on Windows Live Mesh; I loved that but it was in turn replaced by OneDrive.

The reason I’m reaching back into the dim mists of time is that ODfB continues to use the Groove synchronisation engine (Groove.exe) to keep your online and offline files up to date and this is all about to change.

Cloud ODfB vs On-premises ODfB

Before I go into the OneDrive roadmap, let’s also consider for one paragraph, the difference between ODfB in Office 365 and the on-premises SharePoint ODfB.  Although these are called the same the gap in functionality will widen as Microsoft have stated in their “cloud-first engineering model”.  The cloud version of ODfB is already more advanced with features such as shared-with-me, responsive pages, integration with Delve, quick command bars, context menus and drag/drop support.  While many of these changes should be included in the next on-premises release, many will not.  Specifically those related to unique cloud technologies such as Delve.  Also, because Microsoft are running the cloud ODfB, they are able to keep up with market demands for features such as unlimited storage, easy mobile access without puncturing your firewalls, external guest sharing, etc..  These are unique values to a cloud offering and on-premises deployments will never be able to compare.

Big Changes in the New ODfB

The first big change is already available in the mobile clients.  At present on the pc there are two sync applications; OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.  Confusing and it leads to terrible jokes like OneDrive is really TwoDrive.  Ha ha, ahem.  The mobile sync application is a unified app which lets users connect to both OneDrive and ODfB.  This will be coming for rich clients too.  The back-end services will not be merged however: OneDrive will remain consumer and ODfB will remain enterprise-led with service level agreements and so on.  Think Hotmail vs Exchange online; one is consumer and the other is an enterprise service but I can connect to both using a unified client.

The next generation sync client will be in preview sometime after July 2015 for the pc and Mac and should go on to general release in October-December.  There will also be a unified web client.  We’ve already blogged that the storage limit of 1TB is being increased to unlimited storage over this year and the 20,000 file limit is also removed for general release of the next generation sync app along with support for files larger than the current 2GB restriction although this is likely to remain limited at 10GB per file.

Additional features are being rolled out now and existing Office 365 tenants will start to see these soon.  Too many to mention in a single blog post but you can keep up to date via the Office 365 roadmap.  There are some great compliance features being surfaced in an Office 365 admin centre area called the compliance center (sic) so keep an eye out for that in your tenant.  These include:

Auditing and reporting – the ability to view what users are doing in ODfB within a certain date range
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and eDiscovery – notification and control if certain data is uploaded, e.g. files with credit card numbers.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) – tighter integration with Intune
Information Rights Management (IRM) – protection for ODfB files and libraries
Sync controls – being able to block certain pcs from being able to sync files offline
Data retention policies – for example, auto delete or archive files that haven’t been modified for 6 months
Encryption at rest – data store in ODfB will be encrypted
Compliance – ISO, EU Model and other compliances; a key differentiator between OneDrive and ODfB

The compliance center screen is shown below.

Office365 Compliance Centre

 

Microsoft wants customers to be confident about the importance of ODfB and the effort they’re putting into getting it right.  We all swear (a lot) at ODfB synchronisation right now and sometimes it’s embarrassing to discuss this with customers but the roadmap is exciting and the future looks bright.

If you’d like to learn about SharePoint and ODfB in more technical depth, have a look at our courses.  We use the best trainers so not only do you learn the course material but we can provide the most up-to-date information about the technologies.

 


Azure Cost Estimator v2.0



Azure cost toolThe most common question we get when running Microsoft Azure events is “why are you wearing those ridiculous trousers?”

The second most common question is “How much does Azure cost?”

My favourite analogy is to compare Azure to a box of Lego. Lego isn’t in the business of selling boxes of Lego; go into a toy store and you’ll see a racing car or spaceship or a cityscape or the Sydney Opera House. Think of Azure services like hundreds of Lego blocks and rather than trying to describe this to people (“I have a box of Lego, what would you like it to be?”), create your own scenarios and solutions (“I have a site-to-cloud VPN with 5TB bandwidth”, “I have a high availability SharePoint web farm”, “I have cloud protection for 20 Hyper-V virtual machines”).

The benefit of describing Azure in terms of solutions is that you can price them, market them to whomever is paying for them and very importantly, you can automate them with PowerShell and XML which makes them easy to set-up, move, scale, etc..

A big part of creating these solutions is determining how much they will cost. There are several Azure pricing tools available; Azure.com, a more detailed cost estimator, and the new Azure scenario tool which we’re describing in this blog post.

The tool has two sides to it.  The first is an agent which profiles real-world machine hardware usage and uses that information to recommend the most appropriate Azure set-up and generate a 31-day cost estimate.  The second side is to choose from a selection of Azure scenarios (some of which are pictured below) or putting together your own package.  This menu of scenarios will grow over time as more are added to Azure documentation or come to light from customer and partner suggestions.

Estimator scenarios

The tool can download current Azure pricing with a click of button and it works in multiple currencies (24 at the time of writing).  You can also generate a report on the detailed infrastructure cost broken down by compute, bandwidth, data, support, etc.  Scenarios can be exported to XML but unfortunately there’s no way yet to use this generated file with PowerShell to automate the set-up of a particular package.

The scan agent supports Microsoft technologies (Hyper-V, SCVMM), VMware technologies (vCenter, ESXi) and physical environments (Windows and Linux).  Future updates may include XEN Server support and the option to import workloads from from MAP and vSphere.

Download the tool today from and if you have any useful feedback or suggestions please email feedbackAzureCalc@microsoft.com.


Licensing Skype for Business



Skype for Business

 

 

Cast your mind back to November 2014.  Kim Kardashian broke the Internet; the title of the seventh Star Wars film was revealed to be The Force Awakens, or was it Spectre?  Half the USA had quite a lot of snow and One Direction still had five members.

November also saw Microsoft announce that the next version of Lync would become Skype for Business.  Starting from April 1st 2015, admittedly a strange choice of date to make changes, the new client, server and online service are becoming available so what are the implications for customers and when are the key dates?

Everything Lync is becoming Skype for Business.  Lync 2013 clients are changing to Skype for Business clients.  Lync Web app is changing to Skype for Business web app.  Lync admin centre is changing to Skype for Business admin centre.  Lync Online is changing to Skype for Business Online.  If you search for Lync in Windows 8, it will return Skype for Business.

The first thing to realise is the Server is changing first; not so much the client.  Lync Server is changing but the client won’t be new until Office 2016.  However the client user interface will be changing from to reflect the Skype look and feel.  More on that later.

Key Dates

April 1st 2015 – Lync Online Becomes Skype for Business

May 1st 2015 – Skype for Business 2015 Server released (replacing Lync Server 2013)

Lync Online is versionless so only the name and SKU description will change to Skype for Business.  Lync Server On-Premises SKUs will be replaced with new Skype for Business SKUs on May 1st and these new SKUs represent brand new, versioned offerings of the Lync Server products under the Skype for Business branding, for example Skype for Business 2015 Server.  There will be some legacy media SKUs that need to retain the Lync branding for those customers on current versions.

As mentioned, the Lync client software won’t be fully refreshed until Office 2016 but through software updates, there will be some branding changes.

What’s New in Skype for Business and the updated UI?

Lync was called Lync because it was about linking and connecting people everywhere to achieve more.  Skype for Business has:

  • All the capabilities of Lync, both for users and administrators
  • An improved UI that takes advantage of familiar Skype icons and colors to simplify adoption for people
  • Multiple deployment options, including server, cloud, and a combination of the two
  • The security, compliance, and control features that enterprises require

Lync users will have no problem getting around the updated UI and you can see some screenshots on Microsoft.com.  And if you’re a regular user of the commercial version of Skype, then Skype for Business will seem very familiar: the Contacts list, presence indicators, buttons and icons, and even the app sounds should make you feel right at home.

Of course, all the essential Lync features are still there—like the Quick Actions buttons, which let you IM, call a contact and more with just one click or tap.

Skype for Business UI

There’s a lot of similarity between Skype and Skype for Business.  Skype for Business takes advantage of people’s comfort with Skype to make adoption faster and easier within the enterprise.

Skype for Business makes it possible to connect to anyone else on Skype, using IM, audio and video.  Even people who are outside of your business can get the same capabilities.  Doctors can communicate with patients.  Employers can interview candidates.  I’m sure you can use your imagination.  This integration includes support for Skype IDs and directory search within the client.  Video connectivity to the Skype consumer network was enabled back in December for Lync 2013 users.

And Skype for Business has the full set of capabilities that people have come to expect with Lync, usable from small screens to large screens.

The Skype for Business UI will be made available in the Office 2013 so existing customers who use the Lync 2013 client need to prepare users for migration to the new UI.  For click to run users on Office 365, the new interface will be enabled automatically.  Admins will have the option to use a policy setting with the Wave 15 client to retain the vast majority of the Lync UI if desired.

Be aware that for customers with mixed estates (pc and mac), they will need to deal with mixed branding for a while.  Not a huge implication perhaps as they already have to deal with mixed versions (Lync client 2011 and 2013).  The conversation history feature will now be consistent across devices.  Skype for Business is also not supported on Windows RT devices

For IT, Microsoft is offering on-premises, online and hybrid deployment options, all based on the same underlying Lync and Skype technology and all interoperating with Office 365, Active Directory and other foundational technologies such as Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Fabric.

Skype for Business Server 2015 has the same hardware profile as Lync Server 2013 for easier upgrade and most of the existing software and hardware solutions that are qualified for Lync 2013 will also be compatible with Skype for Business.  So current Lync customers can quickly get up and running with Skype for Business and keep their existing investments.

The new Skype for Business Server 2015 (on-premises) adds native interoperability with numerous Cisco Tandberg VTC models, a new Call via Work feature for leveraging existing PBX handsets and support for SQL Always On resiliency on the back-end database servers.

And both on-premises and the online service as part of Office 365 includes the ability to host much larger meetings.  Office 365 currently has an attendee limit of 250.  This will increase to thousands.

Three Key Features and Services Coming up with Skype for Business

First – Call via Work is simple PBX phone integration which allows users to make outbound voice calls from the Skype for Business client.  When a user places a voice call, it is routed from Skype for Business to the originator’s desktop phone.  Once the originator answers the phone, the call is then directed to the destination number.  The call recipient answers and the call is established with Skype for Business serving as the control panel.  The originator can manage their presence and call controls from Skype for Business.  Why would you want to do this?  Well, you may not have headsets and you don’t want to use the pc’s microphone and speaker.  You may experience better audio through your PBX desk phone.  You can also place calls from the client using any phone near you (like your mobile, home or hotel phone).  The person you’re calling sees your phone number as though you were calling from your company’s main phone number.

So if I start a call from Skype for Business client, my desktop phone rings.  I pick up the receiver and hear the other person’s phone ring.  They answer, I say hello and they say hello David, lovely to hear from you.  We can talk and if the other person is also on Lync or Skype we can IM, app share, transfer files, etc.

Call via Work is only available for the on-premises Skype for Business.  There are also some things you can’t do in this scenario including record your meeting, upload a PowerPoint, use video, Whiteboard, OneNote integration, polling or Q&A features.  And you won’t be able to add people to the call; this is a you-and-one-other-person call.  If you need any of these features, then you should set up a regular conversation that isn’t routed through your PBX desk phone.

Second – Lync Room Systems evolve into Skype Room Systems.  There will be a range of devices optimised for Skype for Business from hardware partners like Crestron, Polycom and Smart.  These will be built on a Windows 10 platform and available for customers in the Windows 10 timeframe.  Polycom also have a new series of solutions called Polycom RoundTable, purpose-built for Skype for Business.  The first device in this new offering is the Polycom RoundTable 100, designed for small and medium businesses and expected to be around $1,000.  Spoiler; it’s not round at all.

Polycom Roundtable 100

The Microsoft Surface Hub is a new large-screen device built for ink and touch, optimized for group collaboration and designed specifically for Skype for Business.  It delivers digital white boarding based on OneNote, the ability for multiple people to share and edit content to the screen from any device and support for Windows 10 apps.

Both the Surface Hub and RoundTable 100 should be available around summer 2015.

Third – the addition of Broadcast Meetings to enable very large meetings.  This is because it leverages Azure Media Services and it will scale to thousands of endpoints.  Attendees view the video and content and listen to the audio of the broadcast using any browser; no client or plug-in is required.  Social streams like Yammer can also be integrated into the attendee experience and Broadcast Meetings can be recorded and stored in the cloud.  The Broadcast Meeting scenario is delivered as a cloud service add-on.  Lync Server customers have access to new cloud services when they take advantage of unique Hybrid capabilities in Skype for Business.  Hybrid effectively opens the door to new online add-ons, the first of which will be the support for Broadcast Meetings.

When will the Skype for Business service support PSTN calling?

Well, Microsoft intends to provide two methods for customers to add PSTN calling to Office 365.

The first is to buy a calling service from Microsoft in the same way customers might buy the service from telecom providers like BT today.  Microsoft will begin offering this in the US in the 2nd half of 2015, then expand to Western Europe and beyond in 2016 so a little way off yet but at least there’s a name for the service now.  The first targets in Western Europe are Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain.

The second method is to use existing on premises assets including trunks from the PSTN or PBX systems.  Using this option will require the use of some on premises equipment, based on Skype for Business Server technology.

In reality, don’t expect much detail on either method until Microsoft’s new financial year (July 2015 onwards).

It’s important to remember that Office 365 E4 plan provides Enterprise Voice (EV) on-premises and cloud service for meetings.  It does NOT provide EV in the cloud.  By having E4 now, customers will be positioned to move to EV in the cloud at a lower cost via a Skype for Business add-on when it becomes available.

Licence Transition from Lync to Skype for Business

The transition from Lync to Skype for Business has different implications for the client and the server/Server CALs.

Skype for Business 2015 Server is a new version of the Server.  As usual customers without SA will require new Server Licences and new CALs to access it.  Customers with current SA on their Lync Server will have rights to the Skype for Business Server when it releases to the pricelist on May 1st.

Skype for Business 2015 client is not a new client version.  The new UI and brand are being released as part of an Office Product Update for the Office 2013 Pro Plus Lync client.  This means that customers without SA can begin using the new UI and rebranded client without acquiring a new licence for the client.  As mentioned, IT Pros have the option to not expose the new UI to end users and to retain the Lync 2013 look and feel via admin policies.

The next version of Lync/Skype for Business will ship with Office 16 in H2 CY 15.

Microsoft’s aspiration is to be “Cloud First” by the middle of 2016.  By this time, customers should be able to use the online service without sacrificing enterprise voice or other key scenarios.  Not every feature will be exactly the same but there will be the full set of scenarios.

Skype for Business Licence Stack

Resources

If you’d like some Quick Start Guides for Skype for Business, Microsoft have put them all in a bundle that contains guides in both PDF and PowerPoint formats.  There are five guides including Audio setup and making calls; Contacts, presence, and IM; Meetings; Video and Sharing and collaboration.

And if you still want more to read then here’s a selection of Microsoft links:

Lync Online is becoming Skype for Business

Skype for Business change management and adoption

Skype for Business client on Lync Server resources: Awareness and readiness planning

Skype for Business client on Lync Online: Awareness and readiness planning

Switching between the Skype for Business client and the Lync mode client

Discover Skype for Business (client Help)

SfB Training resources (Download Center)

 


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.


Microsoft Azure Resources



Stack of books and resourcesIf you’re looking to use or build a practice around Microsoft Azure, good on you.  Here’s a bunch of links that might come in handy.  Feel free to bookmark the page, we like being bookmarked.  We like it even more when you train with us.

Manage the directory for your Office 365 subscription in Azure

Get started backing up to the cloud with SQL Server Backup to Microsoft Azure Tool

Building a highly available on-premises VPN gateway

Microsoft Azure in Open Licensing

Active Geo-Replication for Azure SQL Database

Backup and Restore Windows Azure IaaS Virtual Machines using BLOB Snapshots

New Azure Active Directory Sync tool with Password Sync is now available

Install or upgrade the Directory Sync tool

Azure Virtual Machines – Common Questions and Issues

Azure Service Level Agreements

Understanding Azure SQL Database and SQL Server in Azure VMs

Guidelines for Deploying Windows Server Active Directory on Azure Virtual Machines

Installing IIS Dynamic IP Restrictions in an Azure Web Role (PAAS)

Windows Azure Availability Sets

Manage the availability of virtual machines

About Regional VNets and Affinity Groups for Virtual Network

New D-Series Virtual Machine Sizes

Virtual Network Overview

Configure a Point-to-Site VPN in the Management Portal

Configure a Static Internal IP Address for a VM

IP Addressing

Name Resolution (DNS)

How To Change the Drive Letter of the Windows Temporary Disk

High Availability and Disaster Recovery for SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines

SharePoint Server Farm

Active Directory Pricing

Azure Backup FAQ

Deploy Office 365 Directory Synchronization (DirSync) in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure: Connecting multiple VNET’s to a VNET

Add a co-administrator to an Azure subscription

Azure SQL Database Security Guidelines and Limitations

About VPN Devices for Virtual Network

Free Azure eBook – Fundamentals of Microsoft Azure


Free Azure eBook



Man holding the word freeStaff at Microsoft aren’t usually allowed to say the word free.  Someone will sue on the basis of abusing market dominance.  However sometimes, it’s justified.

Eric Ligman, a senior sales excellence manager at Microsoft, has posted a few news items in the past about freely downloadable eBooks.  Microsoft Press can be pretty generous and the latest free eBook released is titled Microsoft Azure Essentials: Fundamentals of Azure.  I heard about this smack bang in the middle of teaching an Azure course.  How serendipitous.

The eBook, written by two Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVP) Michael S. Collier and Robin E. Shahan is a great point to start about the capabilities of Azure, which I describe as an enormous box of Lego.  Azure can be anything and you need to play and practice to get the best out of it.  I’ll explain some concepts and ideas in a future blog post.

The book also has a publication date of February 2015 so is up to date.  The change cadence of Azure is bewilderingly fast so it’s nice to read something which matches the current offerings.

You can download Microsoft Azure Essentials: Fundamentals of Azure along with a host of other titles directly from Microsoft Press.  And of course, we run Azure training courses so if you are looking to gain an MCP in Azure or kick-start your Azure technical knowledge, have a look at our cloud courses or drop us a line.