Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksHome What's New B2B Blog BlogPost

  • Microsoft Classroom – Part 2
    27 July 2016
    3:40 PM

    Category:Cloud Services
    Post By:David Norris

    In our first entry for Microsoft Classroom, we covered the benefits and examples for: (1) setting up classes as groups, not destinations, (2) creating the classroom landing page, and (3) setting up assignments for classes as well as individuals. Today, we are moving forward with the Microsoft Classroom discussion to include Microsoft Forms, Class Notebook, integrating 3rd Party Learning Management Systems and Professional Learning Communities. Let’s dive in! 

     

    Microsoft Forms 

    Typically, an assignment will reference additional resources or activities, and Microsoft has developed some of the essential tools for teachers which are integrated with the Microsoft Classroom experience.  For example, teachers will always need to assess their students' comprehension of the concepts being taught.  This typically means creating worksheets, formal quizzes and tests, or even simple surveys to help steer the conversation during class time.  To simplify the process of creating, collecting and grading these types of assessments, Microsoft developed Microsoft Forms (https://forms.office.com/). Microsoft Forms empowers educators to quickly and easily create assessments with multiple choice, short and long answer, and other types of questions which can be completed by students using a web browser, even on mobile devices.  Results can be viewed in real-time using built-in analytics which is useful for surveying the class or collected in Excel to simplify grading.  Forms can even be used to prepare for standardized testing without requiring valuable class time and minimizing the effort for teachers. 

    image6.png


    Class Notebook 

    If you are reading this post, you likely track Microsoft education related news and solutions at some level which means you are very likely already aware of Microsoft OneNote and, specifically, the Class Notebook add-in and creator tool (https://www.onenote.com/classnotebook).  Class Notebook provides a shared OneNote notebook ideally organized to support K-12 classes.  Once created, a Class Notebook provides the following: 

    • Individual Student Notebooks which are private section groups that are shared between the teacher and each individual student.  These include sections for Homework, Class Notes, Quizzes, and any other custom sections.      

    • Collaboration Space which includes sections that are shared by all students and the teachers, and are useful for group work. 

    • A Content Library section for class resources 

    Image 


    image7.png 


    Microsoft Classroom is tightly coupled with OneNote Class Notebook and automatically generates a Class Notebook for each of the classes.  In fact, OneNote Class Notebook is integral to the assignment creation, collection and grading workflow and is arguably the centerpiece of the Microsoft Classroom experience.  For example, new assignments can be created from within OneNote and are created in a chosen section of the Student Notebooks. 


    image8.png

    Image 


    3rd Party Learning Management System integration 

    Class Notebook also manages connections with third party Learning Management Systems (https://mix.office.com/watch/85avqddwdyk8).  This provides access to courses within the chosen LMS and allows specific notebooks to be mapped to these courses.  Once mapped, assignments created in Class Notebook can be published to the related course in the LMS.  From within the Class Notebook, teachers can review students' work and grade published assignments.  

    image9.png


    image10.png



    Professional Learning Communities 

    So far we have focused on Microsoft Classroom and the enhanced Office 365 Groups it provides for class management.  However, Microsoft Classroom also creates another type of group designed specifically to support Professional Learning Communities ("PLCs").  PLC groups allow teachers to collaborate with other using many of the same tools available to classes such as group conversations.  Teachers often work together on formal projects such as creating a new assignment, or planning cross disciplinary lessons.  Microsoft Classroom PLCs help teachers manage these projects more effective by incorporating the new Office 365 Planner tool.  Using Planner teachers can easily create, share, and track project tasks, and quickly review the progress of multiple projects in a single dashboard. 


    image11.png



    Wrapping Up 

    Microsoft worked closely with educators throughout the development of Microsoft Classroom and this is evident across all aspects of the solution.  Classrooseamlessly consolidates many of Office 365’advanced capabilities with other Microsoft education specific tools such as OneNote Class Notebook and Forms to provide an easy to use and relevant experience for teachers and students.  To ensure that most districts will be able to easily deploy and use platform, Microsoft has partnered with the top Student Information System and Learning Management System providers to simplify integration and ensure a unified experience. 

    B2B Technologies has assisted many K-12 clients adopt Office 365 since its release and we are looking forward to helping districts incorporate Microsoft Classroom for their students and educators.  If you are interested in learning more or discussing options for your school or district, please contact me at dnorris@b2btech.com 


    Thank you. 


  • Microsoft Classroom – Part 1
    20 June 2016
    2:56 PM

    Category:Cloud Services
    Post By:David Norris

    ​In a previous post, we introduced School Data Sync and Microsoft Classroom, two recently released extensions to Office 365 for Education which can transform Office 365 into a powerful teaching and learning platform.  This first article focused on School Data Sync which leverages the school or district's Student Information System ("SIS") to simplify the provisioning of Office 365 accounts for students and teachers, and most importantly creates special groups representing individual classes and assigns users to these groups in accordance with SIS class roster data.  It is Microsoft Classroom (https://classroom.microsoft.com), the topic of this post, which "lights up" these class groups to enhance the teaching and learning experience by providing students and teachers ready access to class resources and assignments, as well as rich opportunities to connect with each other both in and out of the classroom.

    Classes as Groups, Not Destinations 

    Before describing the capabilities of Microsoft Classroom and the experience for teachers and students in detail, it is worth taking a peek under the seams to better understand a subtle but important aspect of Microsoft's approach.  It is tempting to assume that Microsoft Classroom creates a classroom site for each class, and adds the teachers and enrolled students as members.  However, in a move that reflects the concept of the flipped classroom, Microsoft defines each class as a group of users, more specifically as an Office 365 Group ( which has been enhanced for education, rather than a destination.  Unlike Exchange distribution lists, SharePoint Groups, and Skype groups, Office 365 Groups provide a single identity and set of permissions for a group of users which is recognized throughout Office 365.  The following screenshot shows the Microsoft Classroom landing page with the list of the user's classes in the left hand navigation. 

    image2.png

    ​This same list of classes is available across the different Office 365 services and the results from selecting a class is contextually relevant.  For example, if a student is reviewing her calendar and wants to plan for an upcoming test, selecting the class will open the class calendar next to her personal calendar.  As another example, if a teacher wants to pose a question to his students, he could select the class within Outlook email and would be presented with the class conversation, a threaded discussion board.  This pervasive access to class resources encourages and enables class participation and engagement outside of dedicated class time.



    The Landing Page

    Microsoft Classroom also includes a landing for each class which provides consolidated access to all of the shared services available.  In the screenshot below, the user has selected their Biology class.  From here she can work on current assignments, read class announcements, open the class calendar, review and participate in the class conversation, open the class OneNote notebook, and access class files and resources.  Microsoft Classroom sets up all of these capabilities automatically when the class is created.  While Microsoft Classroom can be used without School Data Sync, it is worth reiterating that School Data Sync leverages SIS information to automate the creation of classes, and ensures that students and teachers have access to their classes.  Together these solutions save a tremendous amount of time for both IT and teachers.

    image3.png

    Assignments
     

    The ability to create, collect or turn in, manage and grade assignments is one of the key enhancements of Microsoft Classroom versus standard Office 365 Groups.  In the screenshot above, we see the list of current and future assignments for the Biology 8A class.  In this case, we are viewing the class as a teacher.  Note that each item provides a brief description of the assignment and quick snapshot of the assignment's status.  For example, we can see that four students have turned in the Biology Homework 1 assignment and all of these have been graded. 

     image4.png


    Working on an assignment, whether as a student completing the work or a teacher grading submitted assignments, is simply a matter of selecting the assignment from the list to view more details and access links to assignment resources such as an online worksheet or a related OneNote activity.  A teacher can create a new assignment in a number of ways.  Perhaps the simplest method is selecting the Add Assignment option at the top of the assignments list which will open a dialog where pertinent details can be added.  Assignments can also be created directly within OneNote which is described in more detail below. 

    image5.png


    We will continue this discussion next week with several other topics under Microsoft Classroom, including: Microsoft Forms, Class Notebook, integrating 3rd Party Learning Management Systems and Professional Learning Communities. Check back in next week!

  • School Data Sync Transforms K12 Education
    05 May 2016
    4:04 PM

    Category:Cloud Services
    Post By:David Norris

    ​Having assisted more than 50 education customers with their adoption of Microsoft Office 365, the tremendous value of the platform is undeniable.  In nearly every case, hosted Exchange based email was the primary focus for B2B's education clients.  However, more and more schools and districts are showing interest in the broader set of capabilities Office 365 provides, specifically those that might enhance their core mission of educating students. 

     

    It is easy to imagine how the powerful document collaboration with role and user based permissions and built-in workflow could support lesson planning and assignments; or how unique tools such as digital shared class notebooks, document co-authoring, and Yammer discussions present new opportunities for students to work together.  And how remote access to these services on laptops, mobile devices, tablets, shared lab computers and home PCs, facilitates flipped classrooms so valuable class time can be reserved for exploring or using concepts, active engagement, mentoring, and personalized learning.  Indeed, many of B2B's K-12 clients have begun exploring these possibilities which is why Microsoft's recent announcement that School Data Sync ("SDS") and Classroom have launched is so exciting.

     

    If you are not familiar with these new tools, do not fret.  While they have been under development for more than a year, Microsoft has remained fairly quiet as they worked directly with schools and educators during an extended beta period.  Despite the lack of fanfare until recently, School Data Sync and Classroom are extremely compelling additions to Office 365 for Education.  Together they remove some of the largest deployment obstacles districts face as they consider Office 365 for learning management: provisioning and user adoption.


    Below is a video from Microsoft that describes just how powerful SDS has been for their K12 environment. Even the students get a chance to describe how thier work process has been transformed. 

     


     

    In general, provisioning users and licensing services within Office 365 is not complex.  Azure AD Connect simplifies the creation of accounts based on Active Directory information which also populates some parts of the users' profile data.  Active Directory groups can also be used to manage permissions, and licensing for services can be assigned through the online administration interface or programmatically using PowerShell scripts.  All of this works very well for commercial Office 365 customers, however, education is surprisingly complex when considering user roles and access, and organizational structure.  Teachers have multiple classes throughout the day and students are of course enrolled in multiple courses.  Unlike businesses where membership within a department is relatively static, schools and districts go through a major "re-organization" every year, if not every semester.  All of the data which manages this is stored in the district's student information system ("SIS").  However, until recently, there was no simple way to leverage SIS data to efficiently provision Office 365.  School Data Sync solves this by harnessing SIS roster data so it may be used within Office 365, specifically by education aids like Microsoft Classroom.

     

    Today, SDS offers two methods for syncing SIS data with Office 365.  Detailed information on both of these is available on Microsoft's SDS overview site (click here for their overview).  The first option is to deploy SDS using CSV files.  In short, an administrator would export data from the SIS and organize the data in six CSV files.  Microsoft provides templates for the CSV files and related guidance.  This process of exporting the data and creating the CSV files could potentially be automated depending on the capabilities of the SIS.  Once the CSV files have been prepared, the administrator would go to http://sds.microsoft.com and, using global admin credentials for the district's Office 365 tenant, sign in to create a new sync profile.  The CSV files will be uploaded during the creation of the sync profile and the site will provide guidance to perform the sync.  Microsoft has also released the Microsoft School Data Sync Toolkit which validates the CSV files and enables some automation of the process.

     

    The second option for syncing SIS data via SDS is applicable to those districts which use PowerSchool for their SIS.  PowerSchool provides REST-based APIs which School Data Sync can leverage to extract data programmatically.  This makes manual extraction to CSVs unnecessary.  Once the connection is made between PowerSchool and SDS, and the initial sync is complete, subsequent syncing will occur every 10 minutes to ensure that enrolment information is up to date.

     

    How exactly does Office 365 use the SIS roster data once it is synced?  This is where Microsoft Classroom comes into play.  The roster data is used by Classroom to capture enrolment information and assign membership to students and teachers in the appropriate classes. 

    Classroom provides a place to keep class materials, a class calendar, a shared class OneNote notebook, and the ability to create and respond to assignments and assign grades.  Classroom and its specific capabilities will be covered in more detail in a follow up post.​


  • Skype for Business 2015 Server Hybrid is Better than Ever!
    17 December 2015
    11:27 AM

    Category:Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:James Mazzeo

    Skype for Business Server 2015 Hybrid is easier than ever! Hybrid is becoming a huge buzzword. Hybrid Cloud. Hybrid Cars. Hybrid everything! And each is "hybrid" in a different context. Today, I want to discuss implementing Hybrid in a Skype for Business environment. And with the user friendly GUI interface, integrating your Skype for Business Server with Skype for Business Online has become a simplified process.

    What is Hybrid?
    A hybrid deployment is simply integrating two environments/infrastructures to function and behave as one. Prior to Skype for Business Server 2015 (Lync Server 2013), this had to be done manually with PowerShell scripts and configuration in Lync Control Panel & Office 365 Admin portal. Skype for Business Server has introduced a user-friendly GUI interface to accomplish this task more easily

    What exactly does Skype for Business Hybrid mean? Well, simply put, Hybrid within your Skype for Business deployment is when you have an on-premise Skype for Business Server 2015 and Skype for Business Online (Office 365), and you want to connect the two environments. This way you can have some users in your on-premise environment and others in your online environment, while they are all part of the same SIP domain, and communicate freely as if they were all in the same physical deployment.​

    ​Why implement a Skype for Business Hybrid? 
    Why add the complexity to an already deployed Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment? Or the reverse: why complicate your simple Skype for Business Online environment with a whole new on-premise deployment? Here are a few key reasons:

    1. Flexibility. In today's work environment, users are scattered geographically, and also have varying functionality needs. While some can operate fully within the available feature set of Skype for Business Online, others may need more enterprise-level features that are only found in on-premise, such as advanced Enterprise Voice & Persistent Chat functionality.

    2. Cost Savings. By having some Skype for Business users remain cloud based, you save significantly on licensing costs compared to those users that are on-premise.

    3. Leaner On-Premise Environment. The more users you have in Office 365, the less resource your on-premise deployment has to be. This goes beyond Skype for Business, as well. If those Office 365 users are also using Exchange Online, or SharePoint Online, those on-premise deployments can also likely be scaled down over time.

    Skype for Business Hybrid Prerequisites

    • Directory Synchronization. A mechanism for directory synchronization between your on-premise Active Directory and Azure AD instance is required. If SSO is required, you will need to have ADFS with the ADFS Web Proxy configured.

    • On-Premise Topology. In order to set this up, you cannot have a mix-and-match topology. For a Skype for Business Server 2015 deployment, all servers must be running Skype for Business Server 2015. Likewise, if you have a Lync Server 2013 deployment, all servers must be running Lync Server 2013.

    • Federation Requirements. The Federation configuration that is in place in your on-premise deployment must be mirrored in your Online environment.

    • DNS. The SRV records for your SIP domain, both _sipfederationtls._tcp and _sip._tls, need to be configured to point to the on-premise Reverse Proxy, not the Office 365 addresses.

    • Network Considerations. There are also various requirements for ports and protocols that need to be allowed through your firewall.

    Configure Skype for Business Hybrid Server
    Assuming that you have already satisfied all the pre-requisites above, it is now time to connect your environments using the provided wizard in the Skype for Business Control Panel (on-premises). From the Skype for Business Control Panel, on the Home tab, click the Set up hybrid with Skype for Business Online link. The wizard signs you in to both environments, checks that all prerequisites are met, runs the necessary PowerShell cmdlets, and finalizes the hybrid configuration of Skype for Business. Prior to this version, all of these steps were done manually, allowing more steps for application or user error to occur. At a high level, the Skype for Business Hybrid wizard does:

    1. Signs you into Office 365 (admin)

    2. Checks prerequisites above

    3. Enables Federation on Edge Server

    4. Federates Skype for Business with Office 365

    5. Configures Shared SIP address space

    6. Confirms success and functionality

    With that, your Skype for Business Hybrid is configured. You can move users back and forth between on-premise and the cloud at will, with the Skype for Business Control Panel. And users will be unaware of their location as the infrastructure is seamlessly unified. Hopefully this helps to clear up the process of integrating your Skype for Business on-premise to online. and I hope it laid out a foundation for you to begin planning your hybrid environments!



  • Part 1: ​Can a Small- or Medium-Sized Business Move Completely to the Cloud?
    10 July 2015
    1:00 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging; B2B Tech News
    Post By:Frank Fuerst

    Over a decade ago our CTO, Don Wolf, first described the rationale behind the drive to cloud computing by comparing it to the electrical grid. Everyone needs electricity but few of us want to or need to be in the business of generating our own. We can buy it much cheaper from a power company which specializes in generating electricity at the lowest cost and delivering it with the highest reliability. At that time, this was more of a vision than a reality. Are we at a point where the vision has turned into a reality?  It very nearly is, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Let’s look at the major IT systems and services these businesses utilize.

    Major Business IT Services​​

    Email – Email is an IT service that has one of the clearest cases for moving to the cloud. By far, the most common on-premise email system has been, and is, Microsoft Exchange. With the Office 365 service Microsoft now offers all of the functionality of Exchange is in the cloud.

    Document Sharing and Management – Along with Email, Microsoft’s Office 365 service includes SharePoint Online for document management and OneDrive for personal or professional file storage.

    ERP and Accounting Systems - All of the major ERP vendors, from SAP and Oracle to Microsoft Dynamics to Quickbooks, are available as SaaS (Software as a Service). 

    CRM – No software vendor has done more, or benefited more, in legitimizing the SaaS concept than Salesforce. Built from the ground up, as a cloud service, they quickly came to dominate this market. Every other CRM vendor had to play catch up, but now they all have similar offerings.

    Custom Apps – There are millions of applications, custom-developed by companies who have unique requirements, that aren’t fulfilled by commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software. Because of this, there is now a major battle raging amongst software vendors to be the company that runs these for you. Amazon’s AWS (Amazon Web Services) offering literally created the market for Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); additionally, Microsoft’s Azure service is now running a close second. It’s best to think of these services just as servers and operating systems you access over the Internet. They are just as accessible if you were to access the apps on your own in-house network.

    Identity Management – Perhaps the final frontier in moving completely to the cloud is Identity Management. When you log onto a laptop that’s attached to your network, one of the most important IT services of all is invoked – authentication (determining who you are) and authorization (determining what IT services you have access to). To perform these services, your ID and password, along with attributes about your authorizations, must be stored in some sort of directory such as Microsoft’s Active Directory. Nearly all companies are running these directory services on in-house servers now. With Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory, this directory can now be stored and maintained in the cloud.

    In this quick overview you can see how many of the important IT services can be run in the cloud. So, the simple answer to the question in this blog’s title is yes. In Part 2, we will look at two other areas that have to be looked at for any company considering migrations of their IT services to the cloud. First, are there some reasons why an app should not be moved to the cloud? Second, what are the costs of migrating?



  • Death Match: Azure vs. Amazon Web Services (AWS)
    24 June 2015
    1:17 PM

    Category:Cloud Services
    Post By:Tyler Bithell

    There are plenty of comparisons out there that line up Windows Azure against Amazon Web Services (AWS) and provide you with the pros and cons of each cloud solution. This makes sense given that they are probably the two most common competitors in your search for a cloud provider. However, rather than rattle off a long list of comparisons that will populate with the same feedback as every other blog on cloud solutions, I will get specific with a couple questions and detail how both services address this issues.  

    Do you need a Hybrid Cloud Solution?
    If a hybrid cloud solution is what you are in search of, then Azure is definitely the way to go.  Simply put, AWS doesn’t have a viable, hybrid cloud solution…yet.  Rumor has it this is being developed and worked on, but at present Azure is the only solution providing cloud and on-premises solutions. Azure provides the most flexibility for connecting your on-premises datacenter to Azure, making it very useful during an organization’s transition to the cloud. This allows an organization to take advantage of their on-premises datacenter while Azure handles the other areas. The key is flexibility. Azure provides flexibility to move data around, as needed, and lets you customize your cloud environment to suit the needs of your organization.  

     

    Do you want or need to use Platform as a Service (PaaS)?
    This is a pretty interesting, time-saving and useful benefit of Azure that the Amazon cloud does not currently provide as an offering. Azure allows developers to hit the ground running by providing an already-built foundation of infrastructure. This allows a development team to develop against a ready-made platform without having to wade through the configuration process. The scalability of the offering is very “what you need, when you need it” and, in many cases, is a better fit than Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas). This is an already-in-place Azure offering, and not even in the works yet for the Amazon hosting services, so if this is what you need, Azure is the obvious choice here. 

     

    Are you a Microsoft Shop?
    If Microsoft is what your organization lives and breathes - then yes - choose Azure and call it a day. Organizations that already have Microsoft solutions implemented will be more capable of easily integrating their systems with Azure.  For instance, you can hook Azure Active Directory to your existing on-premises Active Directory.  

    However, if your organization has different solutions implemented then the decision won’t be quite as simple. First, you will need to determine your needs, your wants and your ‘nice-to-haves’ in order to eliminate any solution that can’t provide these for you. Then, you’ll need to do more digging on each service to see which aligns more with your budget, needs and culture. For example, Azure has some Linux offerings already; however, Red Hat is missing from the Azure solution.  Therefore, organizations already using Red Hat and seeking to host it in the cloud will need to go with the Amazon cloud (AWS) for this reason.  

    Azure vs. AWS.png
    Click on the screenshot above for more information.


    Have you seen their Pricing Calculators?
    If pricing is a priority and you want to compare prices, you can use the pricing calculators provided. Both Azure and Amazon offer pricing calculators for their cloud hosting services that will provide you with a good idea of what you can expect to spend. Being a Microsoft shop, B2B Tech works a lot with the Azure Pricing Calculator but not so much with the AWS Pricing Calculator. I will say, the AWS Pricing Calculator is slightly outdated and in need of some improvements, but it gets the job done. I have provided links to both calculators below – check them out and see which works best for you!

    Amazon Pricing Calculator​

    Azure Pricing Calculator​​

    Hopefully some of these answer will give you guidance when determining which cloud hosting provider you want to go with. It can be a tough and daunting task, but just remember, know your needs and budget ahead of time and the rest will come in time!



  • ​Azure and the Art of Cake-making
    17 June 2015
    2:52 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Bryant O'Hara

    "How much do want to control?" 

    Windows Azure (or "Azure" for short) is all about answering this question. It's a hard question to answer, because there are a lot of pieces that make up Azure. This article will try to give a *very* high-level overview of what Azure is, and the type of things you can do with it – by way of cake. Windows Azure offers a host of features and benefits when it comes to cloud computing, cloud storage and flexibility. Because of the flexibility and scalability of the Azure pricing model, you only pay for what you use. It’s great – no longer are you paying the same price as an enterprise-level company when you might only use 1/5th of what they use. Nope – you only pay based on the amount of storage and hosting space that you require, and you can scale up or down at any time!

    5-Azure-Myths-Debunked.png ​
    Click on the image to download the infographic on "Five Microsoft Azure Myths Debunked"

    Think of Windows Azure as a very large kitchen, with all the tools and ingredients needed to make cake. This cake can be any size, any flavor, any shape, and you can make as many as you can pay for. Depending on how good a cook you are - or how much time and money you have since Azure pricing is scalable to your needs - you can make the cake yourself or pay somebody else to do it.

    The three big acronyms you'll hear when people talk about Azure (or cloud computing in general) are IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Intimidating, yes? Don't worry, we'll fold these bits of jargon into our metaphor until they start to make sense.

    IaaS stands for Infrastructure as a Service, and in terms of our cake-making metaphor, IaaS is the kitchen: the pantries, the refrigerators, the ovens, and the ingredients. Examples of the IaaS aspect of Azure would be its global data centers (the kitchens); Virtual Machines (the ovens); and Storage and backups (think refrigerators and pantries).

    PaaS stands for Platform as a Service, and those are closer to the pieces of the cake like baking pans, the cake mix, the icing, and decorations. They're not totally raw materials, but more pre-made pieces that you can put together with less work. Examples of PaaS in Azure would be Cloud Services, Media Services, and Azure Active Directory.

    SaaS stands for Software as a Service. You can look at Software as a Service in two ways - from a vendor's perspective or a customer's perspective. From the vendor's perspective, it’s the cake (or a cake-making service) that you sell to a customer. From the customer's perspective, SaaS is the cake you buy, already made, so that all you have to do is put it on a table and serve it. Examples of SaaS would be services like Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and SharePoint Online.

    Serving a cake can be as simple as going out and buying one or as complex as renting out a kitchen and hiring professional bakers. Windows Azure gives you that same spectrum of options when it comes to IT services. The acronyms may be a little imposing, but in the end, they're all about answering one question: ​​"How much do you want to control?"

    Microsoft actually offers a free trial of Windows Azure that anyone can take advantage of. If you're ready to try it out, you can get started here!​​ Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Azure banner​ for a free trial.



  • An Almost Codeless School Registration Application
    10 June 2015
    11:03 AM

    Category:Application Development; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:David Frankland

    There are plenty of canned applications available to handle the student registration application processes for public school systems, and many can be extended and customized to meet the needs of the system.  But, when a technical high school explained their special requirements to the IT department of one of our local school systems, it was obvious that customizing the canned solution would be prohibitively expensive.  The technical high school struggled to manually handle the annual registration of roughly two thousand students, using spreadsheets and various reviews of each student’s past performance using disparate systems.  The process was painful, and something needed to be done.

    As I walked the school throug​​h their pain points, documented their registration process in Visio, and began to document all of the information that was required to admit a student, the registrar produced an InfoPath form that she had begun to develop.  It looked great, and she had put a lot of thought into it.  I asked, “What if I could allow students to fill this out as a web form, and then when you reviewed the form, I could populate it with the various attendance data, earned credits by subject, grade averages, discipline incidence, etc.?”  Everyone in the meeting literally lit up at the idea!

    With the excellent​​ help of a data analyst in the schools system’s IT department, within days I had eleven stored procedures that produced all of the data that was involved in the decision process.  There is a maximum of five roles involved, including ESOL Teachers, Special Needs Teachers, Counselors, the Assistant Principal, and the Registrar, so it was fairly easy customizing the form to display only the appropriate information for each role.  Finally, to make the whole process work, I developed a SharePoint Designer workflow to change the status of the process, based on data in the form, and to send descriptive emails with links to the relevant form to review to each of the roles, as their involvement was nee​​​​ded.

    InfoPath.png   SharePoint_Designer.png

    Other than a few dozen lines of C# to help with the student data fetchi​​ng, the entire solution was built using out-of-the-box InfoPath and SharePoint Designer features, which will make future updates easy for the IT department.  The managed code shouldn’t really change over time.

    When we showed the demonstration a couple of weeks after that first meeting, you could feel the joy in the room!  In the first weeks of school registration applications, some “nice-to-have” features were identified and the requests were quickly approved, so we were able to further improve the process.  Not all project requirements are met so nicely into the out-of-the box features of InfoPath and SharePoint, but when they do, like this one did, the return on investment can be dramatic.



  • Get Ready Now for Windows Server 2003 End-of-Life!
    03 June 2015
    10:40 AM

    Category:
    Post By:Jim Mazzeo

    As Microsoft Windows Server 2003 support is ending, firms must look at their options on how to move forward with their servers and applications. With an estimated 3.75 million machines still running the operating system, this poses an extremely large, complex, and resource-intensive project for some IT infrastructures.

    So, what does Microsoft support “ending” mean to companies still running Windows Server 2003? Servers will still continue to function, obviously, but it will mean no more patches or security fixes without a custom support agreement in place. The security and uptime implications of your applications are about to be refactored in a dramatic way. Many compliance requirements, especially in regulated industries, state that applications have to run on a supported Operating System (OS).

     

    The options are an in-place migration to another on-premise server, virtual or physical, or a more forward-thinking ‘move to a cloud-based infrastructure, specifically Microsoft’s Azure offering. Costs wise, the price of Azure’s IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) may be more practical than the upfront costs of hardware and ongoing maintenance and licensing of on-premise equipment. Our partners tell us that “stand-alone migration costs per machine run from $1,500 - $4,000 with the average costing around $2,500.” Companies must weigh these options when deciding how to move forward with migrating their Windows Server 2003 machines.

    Once the decision is made to utilize Microsoft Azure for migrating legacy Sever 2003 machines to the cloud, what is the process? At a high level, there are 5 steps to go through to make your migration as seamless as possible. Various tools can be used to automate one or all of these steps. 

    Step 1: Discover
    Start by making a list of the servers that are running Windows Server 2003. Don’t forget to note, for each, whether it is running the 32-bit or 64-bit version, as that will come in handy later.

    Tools: Windows Server 2003 Migration Planning Assistant; Windows Server 2003 Roles Migration Process

    Step 2: Assess 
    Now that you have your list, it is time to answer these three questions for each server: 

    • - What is the server doing today?

    • - Is what the server is doing critical, or can it be retired?

    • - Is the server running an application that can be upgraded to run on a more modern version of Windows or as a SaaS application?

    Tools: Microsoft Assessment Planning Toolkit; Azure Virtual Machine Readiness Assessment

    Step 3: Target 
    Now that you’ve assessed the servers and applications, it is time to determine what to do with each of them. We call this setting a target. You may have different targets for the various workloads. Certain applications or software might not be cloud compatible, so your targets might be:

    • - Windows Azure

    • - On premise Windows Server 2008 (legacy 32 bit applications)

    • - On premise Windows Server 2012

    Tools: Cloudamize Estimator; Microsoft Azure (IaaS) Cost Estimator Tool​

    Step 4: Migrate Hosts
    Now that you’ve set the targets, it is time to migrate. There are resources, training, and tools available to help you with this step.

    • - Prepare Azure virtual machines

    • - Connect Azure virtual network to your infrastructure

    • ​- Build out Windows Servers

    Step 5: Migrate Applications
    You can easily migrate your existing websites that run on Internet Information Service (IIS) 6 or later to App Service Web Apps. Web Apps Migration Assistant can analyze your IIS server installation, identify which sites can be migrated to App Service, highlight any elements that cannot be migrated or are unsupported on the platform, and then migrate your websites and associated databases to Azure.​

    The Azure Websites Migration Assistant will analyze your IIS installation and identify which sites can be migrated to the cloud, highlighting any elements which cannot be migrate​d or are unsupported on the platform. Once analyzed, the migration assistant will also create the website(s) and database(s), under a given Azure subscription

    The fast-approaching, end-of-support for Windows Server 2003 presents opportunities for customers to get current and stay supported, and also begin implementing a more hybrid- or cloud-like approach to their IT infrastructure.

    By: Jim Mazzeo
    Senior Consultant, Infrastructure



  • What Makes Power BI So Powerful?
    27 May 2015
    11:23 AM

    Category:
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    By now, I’m sure you’ve at least heard the words Power BI thrown around in company meetings or in smaller chats around the watercooler at work. You might not have any idea what Power BI is or you could have a high-level understanding but no idea how to use it or the potential it has to open up new ways to understand your company data. 

    At a high-level, Power BI is way to collect, organize and transform your company data into colorful and easy-to-understand visuals so you can focus on the important things. The visuals can come in the form of charts, graphs or percentages, to provide you with an immediate understanding of business trends, company spending and income, and identify areas of growth. Power BI lets you extract all of these things so you don’t have to spend hours analyzing numbers and sifting through pages of reports that you barely understand. 

    power BI.png

    Getting Your Data
    Obviously, in order to take advantage of Power BI, you must first have the data you want to analyze. The data can come from Excel Spreadsheets (let’s be honest, this is where most of us store our company data) or any of your online services. Power BI then collects all of that data into one central location so that you can stop searching through thousands of spreadsheets and start making sense of the numbers in front of you.

    Create Pretty Graph Pictures
    Once all of that data is in one place, you can start creating colorful graphs and diagrams that will allow you to dive into your data and gain insight into what is working and what’s not.

    Get Updates, Constantly…
    ​Now that you have an understanding and grasp of what your data means, now you can design a plan of action to increase opportunities and eliminate risk. Once you and your team are aware of the plan and new goals, now you can create your own, personalized dashboards that will auto-populate when new data is submitted. This will provide your team with real-time updates on their successes and help in identifying areas where growth is needed. 

    Power BI is the best tool for providing snapshots of company projections, trends in your industry, recognizing where the best opportunities are, and identifying and eliminating unnecessary risks. You can ask the simple questions, like: ‘Which territory saw the most growth in the last quarter?’ without having to recall difficult formulas or use multiple reports to answer the question. Rather, Power BI’s drag-and-drop feature allows you to move data and manipulate reports with just a few clicks. ​

    If you’re running a business or the head of your departmen​t and you’re not using Power BI to manage and evaluate your data and goals, you’re missing out. Power BI is really the most powerful tool you can use to work for you and help you make decisions. You can check out our Power BI page​ to get a more in-depth look at what Power BI can do for you!



  • Single Sign-On: ADFS or DirSync or FIM or EMS or not at all?
    13 May 2015
    2:47 PM

    Category:Infrastructure and Messaging; Cloud Services; Portals and Collaboration; Enterprise Mobility Suite; Application Development
    Post By:Cherie Knight-Batey

    Single Sign-On (SSO) can be achieved in multiple ways. In this blog, I will go over some of the most popular ways to achieve SSO. The four most popular ways users typically use SSO are: Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), DirSync (with Password Sync), Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) and Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). As with most things in life, there certain advantages and disadvantages to each of these and usually there are one or two options that fit each need the best. Today, I will give a brief description and provide you with some of the benefits and drawbacks to each solution.

    ADFS
    ADFS with federated login provides, what is referred to as, true Single Sign-On with Office 365. I point this out because, other SSO options, like DirSync with Password Sync, only provides Same Sign-on. Same Sign-On means that the user will be prompted to re-enter their credentials when accessing Office 365, even if they have the same credentials.

    DirSync with Password Sync
    As mentioned above, DirSync with Password Sync provides Same Sign-On - where the user must re-enter their credentials even if they are the same. Since ADFS is not deployed in this scenario, DirSync is responsible for periodically synchronizing user profiles to Office 365; thus, there is no need to manually create users in the cloud directory.  

    FIM
    ForeFront Identity Manager (FIM), also known as Microsoft Identity Manager, uses Microsoft Enterprise Single Sign-On (ESSO) to provide an encrypted store for secondary credentials that a user may have to present to an application in order to be authenticated and authorized by that application. Additionally, FIM helps your organization ensure users have appropriate access to corporate information regardless of where that information is located—in your datacenter or in the cloud. FIM does this by providing self-service identity management, automated lifecycle management across heterogeneous platforms, rich policy framework for enforcing security policies, and detailed audit capabilities. 

    EMS
    Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) centrally manages identities across your datacenter and the cloud, providing secure single sign-on to all of your applications. This is a cloud-based identity and access management solution on Azure Active Directory.


    ​Tool​Pros​Cons
    ​Active Directory Federation Services• ​Users logged in to a domain-joined machine do not have to re-enter their password when signing in to Office 365

    • Allows for Client Access Filtering (good for limiting access by remote or off-hour users)

    • No password hashes are synched to the cloud; all authentication is managed on-premises

    • Immediately block user access (i.e. when users leave the company)

    • Support for multi-factor authentication
    • ​Additional infrastructure required

    • Multiple points of failure

    • SSL Certificate from a public CA is needed and requires renewal 

    DirSync with Password Sync​• ​Easier and faster to implement and configure

    • Secure password hash-sync feature so that users don't have to enter a separate password
    ​• Automatic DirSync syncs occur every three hours; possible security-access issues

    • Does not provide true "Single Sign On" 

    ​Forefront Identity Manager​• End-User password reset

    • Common identity between applications and heterogeneous platforms

    • Custom solution - often complex and costly

    • Additional infrastructure required; ADFS is no longer required - can use Azure AD Sync Services
    ​Enterprise Mobility Suite
    ​• Create and manage a single-identity across your hybrid enterprise keeping users, groups and devices in sync

    • Enable application-access security by enforcing rules-based Multi-Factor Authentication for both on-premises and cloud applications

    • Self-service password reset and application access requests

    • Secure remote access to on-premises web apps

    • Greater security for mobile devices
            
    • Highly available​

    • Cost of individual options with the Enterprise Mobility Suite



  • Mail Migration: Our Six-Step System to Mail Migrations
    06 May 2015
    9:48 AM

    Category:Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Paul Johnson

    ​​So, for the last two weeks we have been talking about the basics of mail migrations - what it is, how it works and how they're all different. In this week's blog post about mail migrations, I want to give you an outline for start to finish on these type of projects. At the end of my post, I also offer three recommendations for third-party, mail migration tools. ​

    ​After working on and completing numerous mail migrations, I have designed a systemic approach.  Remember, not all migrations are the same, so my approach​​​​ may not apply to every single situation.  In any case, this is a framework that will assist you in planning a successful migration.  ​​

    B2B Tech's Six Systemic Steps:

    • •​ Assess, plan & design your migration project - Determine the “who, what, when and how’s” of your migration project.

    • • Create a plan to archive your existing data - Make sure your data has been saved or ensure that it will not be deleted immediately after or during your migration.  You should complete your Post Migration Task list before delet​​ing any mail data.

    • • Provision users and deploy their mail clients - Never move any mail from your source until you have acquired and confirmed that the destination mail systems can adequately accommodate your organization's mail needs.

    • • Test and implement data migration - Always test your mail migr​ation tool.  Make sure that the data can be moved and attempt to assess the amount of time it will take, per batch or per mailbox, using a pilot group.  Once your pilot group’s data has been moved, conduct quality assurance testing to insure the data is correct.

    • • Schedule Mail Cutover - Regardless of project deadlines, consider the following items before determining your mail cutover date. 

      • Rate of data transfer during the Pilot

      • Consistency of the migration tool during the Pilot.  All issues should be considered at this time.

      • Change control processes

      • Organizational culture of the company

    • • Complete a Post Migration Task List - Post Migration task list consist of testing mail flow, testing groups, filtering, forwarding etc.

    Office365Migration.jpg
    ​​​​Recommendatio​ns on our top 3 mail migration tools

    There is an old saying that goes, “don’t bring a knife to a fist fight.” Well, the same applies to finding the right tool for your mail migration. There are tons of criteria that can be considered when finding the right migration tool for your project, but not all apply and some are more important than others​.  For instance, some tools are better suited for small migrations and some are better suited for larger migrations.  

    In every instance, please consider the organizational culture of your client, but do not compromise the integrity of your project. Your clients will appreciate the hard truth early rather than excuses later.  For example, some organizations may place high importance on security and require a migration tool that can e​nsure the safety of their data. B2B Tech has completed a plethora of migrations during our time, and I personally, have worked on many of these. We have tried and used quite a few different third-party migration tools over the years, but there are three migration tools we have found to be the most successful in recent mail migrations: 

      1. Metalogix

      2. BitTitan’s MigrationWiz

      3. Dell Quest Tool



  • Mail Migration: Not All Migrations are the Same!
    29 April 2015
    2:11 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Paul Johnson

    In my blog from last week, I discussed what a mail migration is and why companies might need to migrate all of their mail data. Now that we both know what a mail migration is, today I want to go over how all migrations are different and some things to consider when prepping for each migration. All migrations are not the same.  I have completed more than 40 migrations and none of which have been identical.  Factors such as the number of users, mailbox size limitations, or the lack thereof, can present intricacies that will impact the overall migration project time, resources needed to migrate mail and even infrastructure requirements.  I have listed two scenarios below that represent two different types of migrations – let’s take a look!

    Scenario #1

    Take the scenario of a large accounting firm. This particular firm has low email traffic and a high need for security.  Clients will email Social Security information, tax information, banking and credit card info, as well as expenditures.  Although the firm has less than 50 employees, each email can contain a large attachment, such as: photo images of receipts and contracts that could be stored for an indefinite amount of time.  The company currently uses GroupWise as its mail carrier.

    Scenario #2

    Take scenario number two.  There is a company located in North Georgia whose sole purpose is to answer customer complaint inquiries for several fast food franchises in the southeast.  The company’s 211 employees receive customer emails and simply choose amongst a list of canned responses to answer these complaints; and from there, they then forward the email to the proper department for further follow-up.  The company has a high need for metrics but very little security and storage.  This company uses a small Exchange 2003 server to handle its mail needs.

    The more time you invest in properly planning your project, the more likely you will be to increase your chances of success.  This is even true with migrations.  In the 2 random scenarios above, each migration is extremely different. In fact, the only similarity is that both have a desire to move mail.  The table below will display how the 2 scenarios differ from one another:

     Scenario #1Scenario #2
    Number of Employees50200+
    Mail TrafficLowHigh
    StorageHighLow
    SecurityHigh Low
    Migration Tool3rd Party such as BitTitan or QuestExchange IMAP​


    The assumption that Scenario #2 can be migrated the same way that Scenario #1 can, will cause a migration project to be grossly underestimated and, in most cases, cause the project to fail.​ It's important to always treat each mail migration differently and take into account the different needs and obstacles that you will face when completing the migration.  Stayed tuned next week for the final piece of this blog where I will disucss some of B2B Tech's systematic approaches to mail migration and provide several third-party, migration tools that are very helpful.



  • Mail Migration: Where to Get Started!
    22 April 2015
    1:22 PM

    Category:Infrastructure and Messaging; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Paul Johnson

    When companies first launch, business owners typically use the standard, free email accounts you can find on the market, to communicate with employees, customers and partners. However, as the business grows and additional employees are hired on, a more robust email platform is often necessary​. But, how do we switch email platforms without losing all of the thousands of emails that contain important and sensitive information? This is where mail migration begins. Obviously, there are many other reasons a company or institution might need to migrate their mailboxes; but whatever the reason, mail migration has to occur if you want to maintain all of your data.

    Mail Migrations Explained
    Mail Migrations are often quite tedious and cu​mbersome ​​projects.  An email migration is a process used to migrate mailbox contents from one mail provider to another, such as: moving Gmail mailbox contents to Microsoft Exchange mailboxes.  In this blog we cover the many tools and techniques we have used to successfully move over a petabyte of mail.

    More commonly, mail migrations fail before they ever start.  Migrations require proper and adequate assessment of the current mail systems (source) and a thorough evaluation of the future mail systems (destinations). 

    ​Considerations of the "Source" assessment include:

    • ​​- Features and limitations of your current email system (spam, archiving etc.)
    • - Average size per mailbox
    • - Existing retention policies
    • - Existing mail formats
    • - Identification of special cases such as large mailboxes or resource accounts
    • - Organizing mailboxes into groups such as VIP's, IT, Delegates and Resources
    • - Scrubbing mail addresses for proper formatting

    Considerations for the "Destination" evaluation include:

    • - Identify all the mailbox features offered by the new mail system
    • - Are any features missing in the destination mail system that were offered by the source mail system?
    • - Will the destination mail system accept your source mail formats?  Will mail be altered during the process?
    • - What is the total storage amount per mailbox?
    • - Has the Destination mail system be configured correctly for a smooth cutover?
    • - Have you considered the amount of training required for your end-users and admins?

    These are just a few of the considerations needed prior to beginning your mail migration.  Although every mail issue cannot be predicted, proper planning can reduce the amount of implementation time used during the actual migration of mail. 

    Improper planning on mail migrations can increase mailbox remediation time significantly.  Mailbox remediation is the process of removing errors or anomalies from a previously attempt mailbox move.  We estimate that an average of 5-8% of total mailboxes migrated will experience or require some form of remediation.

    Now that I've covered the basics of mail migration, next week I'm going to go over some of the different obstacles that you WILL be confronted with when migrating mail. No two mail migrations are the same, so there is a lot to look out for and be aware of before you jump the gun!




  • Skype for Business: Skype at Home with Your Friends & Now Skype at Work with Your Colleagues!
    15 April 2015
    10:39 AM

    Category:Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    ​​​​skype for business.png

    Well, you’ve been hearing all about it since November and now it’s here – Skype for Business was released yesterday, April 14th, officially merging Lync and Skype to create the ideal way to communicate in your workplace. The Skype for Business rollout comes as part of the Office updates for April, including Skype for Business Online for Office 365 customers. For those using the Office 365 version of Lync – Lync Online – you will receive the update in the next couple of weeks; however, no matter which Lync version you are using, Microsoft hopes that all updates will be complete by the end of May. 

    The fact is, over 300 million people use Skype every month to connect with friends and family, and more than 100 million people use Microsoft Lync to communicate at work. With numbers like these, users all over the world have some familiarity with video chatting, online meetings and chat windows. Since Skype for Busi​​​​​ness is built right into Office, all of the features you use daily, like: presence, video calling, IM, and online meetings are still at the tip of your fingers, all with the familiarity of Skype.  Additionally, you can search and connect for people throughout the Skype network – even if they are outside of your organization. 

    Dreading the change? Hate the struggle that comes with learning a new product and finding the new places all of your favorite buttons are hiding? I​ get it, we all dread change to some extent. But Microsoft knows that and is giving its customers the ability to switch between Skype for Business and your traditional Lync platform to help while you get acclimated with the new user interface. I can assure you, the changes are minimal and the benefits will greatly outweigh any concerns you might have. For more information on how to configure Skype for Business in a Lync environment, click here​. 

    If you want to learn more about Skype for Business and the features that come with the upgrade, Microsoft is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, May 6th, to answer all of your Skype of Business questions. You can register for the webinar here



Skip Navigation LinksHome What's New B2B Blog BlogPost