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  • 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

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    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


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    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.



  • 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: 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.



  • Tips, Traps & Tricks of Migrating SharePoint Content to Office 365
    08 April 2015
    9:30 AM

    Category:Application Development; Portals and Collaboration; Cloud Services
    Post By:Tyler Bithell

    Office ​​365 adoption is increasing daily and​​ many organizations are seriously considering moving their SharePoint on-premises environments to SharePoint Online.​ Making such a move requires careful consideration and planning. This blog posts seeks to shed ​​light on some things that an organizat​​ion should look for when considering moving​ to the cloud.

    The first thing to consider is the current version of SharePoint that the organization is using. If using 2007 or 2010, a third party migration tool will be required in order to complete the migration. There are many tools to choose from and this decision should not be made without careful consideration. Beyond just cost, an organization is entrusting their content to the software provider. The most important thing to consider in this decision is the level of support that comes with the software. If a company isn’t able to offer 24/7 support and be prepared to go so far as to provide a software patch, you should seek a solution elsewhere. If the current version is 2013, a tool is still going to be required to move the data up to the cloud, and the same considerations should be taken as far as provider support. Get your arms around your content BEFORE you migrate.

    Ask yourselves these questions:

    • - Is it critical that this content be migrated?​​

    • - Does our information architecture need an overhaul?​

    This is also the perfect time to re-organize your content. If there is content you don’t need, trash it. If there are sites that are poorly organized, re-organize them. Just be sure not to do this in a vacuum though - be sure to involve your users early and often. Nothing kills user buy-in like a blanket decision made without the user.

    Over the years, many organizations have expanded SharePoint functionality via farm-deployed solutions. While those solutions are often very useful,​ they are not allowed in SharePoint Online. It is at this point, that an organization should evaluate the need for the solution.​

    During this evaluation, the following questions should be answered:
    • - ​Is this solution mission critical?

    • - Does “out of the box” SharePoint Online functionality replace the solution?

    • - Should we take this opportunity to redesign the solution?

    • - Is it possible to recreate this functionality via the Client Side Object model?

    • - Can we build an app for that?

    • - Is there a third party tool that fills this gap?

    • - Should we consider a hybrid deployment to keep this functionality?​​

    SP Online Migration.png

    Oftentimes, new functionality will replace the need for the solution or it will be possible to perform the same function via the Client Site Object Model. Third party tools are often another option as well. Each of these options will make the migration run more efficiently and should be strongly considered versus a hybrid deployment. If a hybrid deployment can be avoided then it should. And if it is unavoidable, then it should only be used as a bridge to a more permanent solution.

    ​Many organizations have customized the look and feel of their on-premises SharePoint environment. If the environment from which they are migrating is a version prior to 2013, the current look and feel will most likely not work and will need to be redesigned. However, if the current version is 2010, there is an option to avoid a visual upgrade but a lot of front-end functionality is lost if a visual upgrade is not done. While it is possible to customize your look in SharePoint Online, it has been recommended to avoid it when possible. Microsoft is making updates on a regular basis, but those updates won’t make it to your site if it is using a custom masterpage. ​Just remember, custom branding in SharePoint Online is possible and is often done, so if customizations are required for your organization, accommodations can be made​​.​​​


  • The Basics of OneDrive
    01 April 2015
    10:26 AM

    Category:Cloud Services; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    So, tell me: have you ever been in a meeting with a potential customer only to realize the most important document you need is on your laptop back at the office?  Or, what about this: have you ever been doing work on your tablet while out of town and desperately needed a file that was inconveniently stored in one location on your PC at home? Well, we have good news for you (enter: Microsoft)! Microsoft understands your need for constant access to everything no matter where you are, that is why they have created OneDrive. Gone are the days of sending Excel files to your colleagues only to realize you left out an important piece of data. With OneDrive, now you can upload your documents to a shared folder, make edits in real-time and not worry about flooding their inbox with updated versions of the same document. At its core, OneDrive is simple yet critical to your business. Basically, it is a central location where you can store, edit, share, and access all of your files on any device from anywhere.

    What about security?

    One of the best features of OneDrive is that, not only are all of your documents secure within your organization, but you also have the ability to tweak and change those securities based on industry standards and other parameters defined by decision-makers and individual roles in your organization. As a leader in cloud security, you can trust that your documents are stored and secured according to some of the most sophisticated and rigorous standards.   

    Contributing & Collaborating

    As we said before, now all of your files can be stored in your OneDrive without ever having to worry about where they are located or making sure to email them to yourself before a big meeting. Along with anywhere-access, you can also create separate shared files for your colleagues, partners and customers, so they can have access no matter where they are. Because OneDrive is completely integrated with Office, it is easy to make changes to your documents, update the file in OneDrive and then share with your team. Worried that you and another team member will try to work on the same document at the same time? Fret no more, because with version control you can be sure that everyone is working on the most recent document and also view and revert to previous versions when necessary. When your document is finished and ready to be reviewed, it is easy to set up an approval process allowing only those with the right permissions to view and suggest changes. 

    New Features for the Future

    As with everything Microsoft does, IT and business gurus are constantly looking for ways to upgrade and add improvements to OneDrive. Some of the features already within sight are: new improvements to mobile apps for OneDrive, additional features to auditing and reporting on documents, a more comprehen​sive cross-platform sync support, and additional ways to prevent data loss and keep your most important files secure.​

     

    It’s easy for us to talk about how cool and life-changing OneDrive is since we use it every day, but why listen to us? Find out more for yourself on our OneDrive for Business page! Don’t forget, always Store. Share. Sync with OneDrive.  



  • Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud: Cloud Hybrid
    25 March 2015
    1:15 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Brad Kazmer

    If you have been following along with our blog series on Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud, you already know that we have covered two other cloud solutions for SharePoint migration - Office 365 and Windows Azure​. ​Today we complete this series by discussing a hybrid cloud solution which could involve ​any combination of SharePoint Online, On-Premises or in Azure. ​After reading through this series, you should have a better understanding of which SharePoint migration is ideal for your situation.

    A Cloud, Hybrid Solution
    A hybrid implementation involves a combination of S​harePoint platforms such as, SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises or SharePoint in Azure.  Hybrid implementations tend to be more common in larger organizations and typically result in leaving a fraction of the existing SharePoint applications on-premises and migrating the remaining content to SharePoint Online.  

    A hybrid deployment is considered when some of the following criteria are met:

    • - Your license or equipment depreciation cycle has not completed

    • - You have a lack of resources to expand the intranet

    • - An area of your portal has significant custom code, restrictive security requirements (geographic, standards-based), or very large files that need extra network bandwidth

    • - Although a hybrid deployment is the most flexible approach, it does have a few limitations to consider:

    • - Search – Although cross-site search can be configured, there are issues with relevance and refiners since results are not treated as aggregated items

    • - Social – Following cross-site documents does not work on the farm that does not contain the user’s profile.  Tags and Notes have similar issues.

    Selecting a SharePoint cloud strategy for your organization will depend on how the benefits of each option match your organization’s needs.  Office 365 is a good choice for distributed users with minimal SharePoint customizations.  SharePoint in Azure is a good choice for portal-wide customizations, heavy workloads and dev/test environments.  A Hybrid deployment is good when SharePoint applications and restrictive data can be isolated from other SharePoint content.



  • Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud: Windows Azure
    18 March 2015
    10:06 AM

    Category:Cloud Services; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Brad Kazmer

    As you know, we are in the middle of discussing ​​​different options for SharePoint cloud migration. Last week, we gave you a little insight on SharePoint migration to Office 365 - the benefits of it and what you get when you move to Office 365. This week, we are discussing the second option in SharePoint cloud migration - Windows Azure.  I'm sure you ha​​ve all heard about Azure by now​, but you might not be familiar with how it works or how your Shar​​ePoint cloud strategy could align perfectly with everything Windows Azure has to offer. 

    Windows Azure​
    Azure is Microsoft's cloud computing platform that run​s in the same datacenters as Office 365.  Among Azure's service options is, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IAAS) which provides an operating system onto which SharePoint Server 2013 (the on-premises version) can be installed.  And to make things much simpler, there is an Azure Resource Group Gallery Template for SharePoint Server 2013 that automatically builds a SharePoint farm in just a few clicks.

    SharePoint in Azure offers a slightly different value proposition than SharePoint Online; but it also shares some of the same benefits:

    • - Hardware and Maintenance

    • - Guaranteed Availability (up to the OS layer)​

    • - Pay-As-You-Go with Scalability

    Keep in mind, however, SharePoint in Azure requires that the customer be responsible for upgrades and patches for the installed software and feature integration with other Office 365 services, like Exchange Online, is less robust than with SharePoint Online.

    SP in Azure.png

    The flexibility of SharePoin​t in Azure provides additional benefits not included with SharePoint Online:

    • - ​Tight integration with other applications. Server-side code is not allowed in SharePoint Online.

    • - Development and test farms. Deployment scripts get you running quickly and test farms can be turned off when not in use.

    • - Large workloads executed. Processes can be throttled in Office 365 to meet the 99.9% uptime guarantee.

    • - ​Public website with a vanity URL. Office 365 does not allow unique DNS entries - only redirection.​

    It's obvious that there are some definite benefits to migrating your SharePoint farm to Azure, but there are also benefits to SharePoint Online. Now that we have covered the primary cloud solutions, be sure to stay tuned for next week's blog update on a hybrid cloud solution for SharePoint hosting! 



  • Migrating SharePoint to the Cloud: Office 365
    12 March 2015
    10:11 AM

    Category:Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Brad Kazmer

    It’s no secret that more organizations are migrating their IT workloads to the cloud.  In 2014, an estimated 87% of organizations were using the public cloud, up from 61% in 2013.  Yet many organizations are undecided on how SharePoint fits into their cloud strategy. ​There are 3 choices for a SharePoint cloud strategy – Office365, Azure​ or a Hybrid deployment – and to complicate matters, there’s no single solution that works for every organization. In some situations, the best solution can be a little of both Office 365 and Azure, but how are you supposed to know which is the best solution for your organization? In this three-part series, we will explain the advantages and disadvantages of each cloud solution – providing you with the right questions, tools and resources in determining the appropriate cloud strategy for your organization. 

    Just to make sure we are all up-to-date on what Office 365 is and how it works, let's watch this quick video.

     


    Migrating SharePoint to Office 365

    Office365 is Microsoft’s leading Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) offering that bundles messaging with Exchange Online, unified communications with Lync Online, and collaboration with SharePoint Online.  Of the three cloud options for SharePoint, SharePoint Online provides the lowest total cost of ownership by including:

    • Hardware and Maintenance

    • Upgrades and Patches

    • Guaranteed Availability

    • Pay-As-You-Go with Scalability
    ​​
    Since SharePoint Online is fully managed by Microsoft, customers receive the benefits of Microsoft’s privacy practices:
    ​​​• No Advertising – customer email, documents and data is not scanned or mined

    • Data Portability – customers own their data and can export at any time

    • No Mingling – customers can keep their corporate data separate from their consumer data

    SharePoint Online is able to provide so much, at a low cost, because the software runs in a multi-tenant environment.  For the customer, this means that SharePoint Online is not as customizable as the on-premises version of SharePoint.  Complex applications built on SharePoint and deep integration with other systems outside of Office365 can be restricted in SharePoint Online.

    ​Be sure to follow this blog - next week we'll be talking about the Windows Azure solution for SharePoint migration. ​​​​


  • EMS: What It Is AND Why You Need It - Part 3
    04 March 2015
    9:48 AM

    Category:Cloud Services; Enterprise Mobility Suite
    Post By:Jennifer Bluemling

    ​We’re rounding out this three part series on the Enterprise Mobility Suite by covering the last part: Azure Active Directory Premium. Last week, we wrote about Azure Rights Management​ and the first entry covered Windows Intune​. So far, we’ve learned about updating multi-device platforms, keeping them secure and keeping company confidential data in the hands they belong to. But, what about keeping your employees working quickly and securely without a bunch of extra login credentials to deal with? Or how about keeping them secure with multi-point authorization and not bogging down the IT team for resetting passwords?​

     

    That’s Where Azure AD Premium Comes In

    If your information workers are anything like ours they probably have an average of ten business apps they login to on a daily basis. Each requires a separate password, each is most likely forgotten or the “remember my password” options is chosen (not very safe) or even worse… they keep a passw0rd file on their computer somewhere. Yikes! It’s no wonder that the rise of single-sign options have taken over the Identity Management world. This is the same problem that several consumer-based apps face, hence their reason for implementing the “Sign on with Facebook” option so that people don’t have to remember passwords. You can think of Azure AD Premium as the “Facebook Sign On” power for all of your apps with the encryption and enterprise level security added in. 

    ​Another immensely popular feature of Azure AD Premium is the ability for employees to reset their own passwords when they absolutely have to. We hear all of the time how our client’s IT teams spend a large part of their resources just responding to reset requests. With the multi-touch authentication process, an employee can now do this with a simple online interface that sends them a text to the authorized company cell phone with a special code to enter. It’s that easy! Now, think about all the other projects your IT team could work on with those resources back. 


    Additional Benefits of Azure AD Premium Include: 
    • Group-based provisioning and single sign on for over 1000 SaaS apps
    • Machine learning-driven security reports for visibility and threat management
    •​ Robust sync capabilities across cloud and on-premises directories

    ​For more information on the rest of these features, or to discuss the Enterprise Mobility Suite, please contact us! You can also visit our EMS page​ for further details.



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