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  • 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?

  • ​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 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.  

    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. 

    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.

    ​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.

    ​​​​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
    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

  • 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. ​​​​

  • The Challenges of Being an Early Adopter: Part 2
    29 January 2015
    8:53 AM

    Category:Application Development; Infrastructure and Messaging; Portals and Collaboration
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    ​In our previous entry for this series​, we introduced the Quiz App and our background in developing Office 365 and SharePoint apps. When Microsoft released their latest app model, we jumped at the chance to learn everything we could about it. Following the implementation of the app, we soon realized there were caveats to the hosting side, which you will find below.

    The Hosting Issues​
    The Quiz App does not access any SharePoint lists and only uses the SharePoint user’s identity. Since the application has been written using .NET MVC and uses server code, the app cannot be hosted by SharePoint.  A provider-hosted or self-hosted architecture would allow us to retain much of the existing code and database schema.  This means that the application web and database need to be hosted by B2B or a B2B Azure (or other cloud) environment.​

    As we all know, apps for SharePoint extend the capabilities of a SharePoint website which are in-part self-contained, fully immersive web applications.  When this new model was released, Microsoft included an Auto-Hosted option in which SharePoint would take care of provisioning any resources required to run the app, included the App Web and SQL Database, if needed.

    Microsoft has subsequently removed Auto-Hosting as a hosting option. As a result, any Apps built using auto-hosting will need to be converted to use another hosting alternative.

    SPHostedPic.png   ProviderHosted.png

    ​• In the current releases of SharePoint, Apps are used to extend SharePoint in the most fundamental ways, such as adding lists and libraries.

    • The lowest overhead and complexity in building new SharePoint Apps would be using SharePoint-Hosting, custom lists, HTML5, and client access technology.​

    • Azure is the logical cloud environment to use to develop and deploy a custom SharePoint Hybrid App.

    • Registering your app in the Seller Dashboard will enable you to design your app with a multitenant architecture without requiring individual administrator registration.

    Don't miss the last part of the series next week on, The Challenges of Being an Early Adopter: Part 3 - The Choices!

  • SharePoint Collaboration with Yammer Group Feedback!
    14 January 2015
    10:18 AM

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

    Recently, I was talking to a friend from Microsoft and he told me I should look into Yammer Document Conversations. He thought they could be really useful for a Knowledgebase I am putting together.


    After doing some digging, I found that Microsoft has added Document Conversations to Office Web Apps to further integrate Yammer and Office 365.

    The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t have the small Yammer icon on the right portion of my screen. I checked and verified that Yammer was my social tools of choice by navigating to Admin >>> SharePoint >>> Settings

     Enterprise Social.png

    I met all the requirements but still no conversations. I submitted a ticket to Microsoft and they fixed an issue that was impacting my tenant.

    Once that was fixed, I had the Yammer Icon that I was searching for before…


    At that point, I was able to navigate to Yammer and see the same conversation in my SharePoint 2013 Yammer Group. I’d advise creating a group prior to starting the conversation to give the conversation context.

    In the screen shot below I’ve hovered over the document to show the options.


    If you click on “Go to Page” you are brought to the page dedicated to this document conversation.

    Yammer 5 Pic.png

    To me, this is a great way to step up document collaboration and we will be using this as often as it makes sense.​



  • Create Your Disaster Recovery Plan using Azure & System Center
    24 December 2014
    10:19 AM

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

    Microsoft System Center Data Protection Management (DPM) 2012 has presented a new feature that provides a solid, online protection solution for the customer’s production data. When fully implemented, this is a backup administrator’s delight.  Not only does this benefit IT administrators, but CIOs and business owners are extremely happy about the reduced total cost of ownership as the need to take tapes off-site vanishes. When you combine the rich features of System Center DPM with the power and convenience of Windows Azure, everyone benefits. Customers save money and resources while IT administrators have the best backup and disaster recovery plan in place for their company.

    With cloud storage and backup becoming common place worldwide, a majority of current System Center DPM users are warming up to the idea of fully utilizing all the capabilities and features offered through System Center DPM 2012 and are extending their backup options via Windows Azure. One can’t over-emphasize the importance of good backups while developing a reliable disaster recovery plan.
    One of the most difficult things with a backup solution is the quality of disaster recovery. Often, we develop what we believe to be a good backup plan but never attempt to test it. What good is a backup that is never tested for accuracy and reliability? Using System Center DPM and Windows Azure to backup, you will never to have to worry about the quality of the tape or the backup itself once you have tested and practiced this backup recovery plan.

    Graphical View of a DPM Console with Azure (online) subscription

    B2B Tech Success with Azure and System Center DPM
    B2B Technologies has already implemented this solution internally and is extremely happy with its practicality and reliability. We share our own success story with our customers to reinforce its importance in the IT workplace and provide the best possible option when it comes to creating a disaster recovery plan.

    Best Practices: Facts & Tips
    •    You can use Windows Powershell to recover a DPM backup from Azure using the Windows Azure backup agent

    •    Azure Backup provides a Disaster Recovery (DR) solution more than a long-term archive solution. 30 days is the maximum retention period at this time for Cloud Backup of Windows Servers. (DPM can provide up to 120 days retention of Cloud Backup protected data.)

    •    Azure Backup may incur storage charges. This link has up-to-date pricing information on Windows Backup charges for Azure storage:

    •    Azure Backup simplifies the process of getting data out of the building. It’s much easier than backup tapes or offsite storage services.

    •    To make this work, the Azure Backup agent must be installed on the DPM server only when used in this configuration. When Azure Backup is used in conjunction with System Center DPM, there must be an additional location for recovery data storage.

    •    This will protect your SQL, Exchange and SharePoint just as if it were on-premises

    •    The cost is as little as $0.28 per GB per month (please check with your MS vendor)

    By: Stephen Aluko
    Senior Consultant, B2B Technologies

  • Use Your OneDrive!!
    17 December 2014
    8:09 AM

    Category:Business Intelligence; Cloud Services; Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    If you’re an Office 365 customer, you’re already paying for it.  So why do so many businesses and even individuals not take advantage of OneDrive for Business?  I usually find that it’s because they don’t understand the service and what it offers them.  But it begs the question: where are you keeping your work documents and files?  Are they on a network drive?  Do you save everything to your “My Documents” library?  Or are you a fan of storing everything in your Dropbox?  OneDrive for Business offers benefits over all of these options, and it’s just as easy to use as all of them.
    There are a lot of problems with using network drives for file storage.  They’re normally difficult to reach on a cell phone or tablet.  They usually require a VPN connection to reach from outside of the business.  It costs money to back them up, both in terms of personnel and in equipment and media.  And when you make changes to a document, they’re permanent.  There’s no “undo,” once you close it.
    If you save everything to your “My Documents,” they may not be backed up at all!  If your computer dies or is stolen, you would lose everything that you hadn’t manually backed up to another location, something most of us rarely do.  If you’re lucky, your IT department has gone to the trouble of automatically backing up your “My Documents” for you, but all of the problems associated with saving your valuable files to a network drive also apply to using your “My Documents” library. Unfortunately, many companies do not allow the use of Dropbox on their networks.  They have valid security concerns, in particular when it comes to personal Dropbox accounts.  

    However, if you’re an Office 365 customer, you can get the benefits of a cloud-based solution, like Dropbox, for free and without many of the limitations.  So what is it, and how do you get it?  If you’re lucky enough to have an IT help desk to handle things like this, put in a ticket to have OneDrive for Business installed for you.  If you normally handle installs yourself, or you want to also synchronize with your home computer, it’s an easy install.
    When you log into Office 365, click “OneDrive” on the top menu.  If you don’t see it, click the ellipsis (“…”), and then click “OneDrive” on its menu.  Your document library’s web page will be displayed, and you could use the library through your web browser without installing anything, but the real power of OneDrive for Business is the automatic synchronization of all of your computers with the OneDrive library.  And that requires a quick installation.
    Click “Sync” on the document library’s ribbon, and on the dialog box that appears, click “Sync Now.”  If the OneDrive for Business software isn’t already installed on your computer it will provide a page for downloading and installing the software.  After the installation, when you open Windows Explorer and when you save a file from Microsoft Office, you will have OneDrive favorite with its blue, two-cloud logo.  Its name will have your company name or the name of your Office 365 site, so that if you have more than one OneDrive, you can tell them apart.
    You can move all of your important documents to this new location, and they will synchronize to your OneDrive and eventually to all other computers that you configure.  When you save from any Office application, the favorite will be available in the “Save As” screen.  If you ever need to save from a non-Office application, the folder is actually available on your c-drive in the “Users” folder, under your username, and is named the same as the favorite.  In my case, it’s found here: “C:\Users\dfrankland\OneDrive – B2B Technologies LLC”.
    Microsoft has announced that it is doing away with storage limits on the OneDrive document libraries for Office 365 subscribers in 2015.  Some lucky users who signed up early for the increase are already enjoying storage without limits!  Soon, you will be too.  When my personal Office 365 account gets the upgrade, I plan to move every document, photo, MP3, etc. on my home PC into my OneDrive. 

    It might take a little while to synchronize, but when it’s done, I’ll get the following benefits:

    •         Access to my files from just about any smart phone or tablet with an Internet connection
    •         My files will be backed up in the cloud in case of a disaster

    So, if you’ve ever been concerned with losing all of your important folders, documents and pictures but don’t want to go through the hassle of finding enough external storage or time to back everything up manually, OneDrive for Business is the way to go! It saves so much time and has more offers more space than you can ever imagine using.

  • The Features of OneDrive for Business
    10 December 2014
    2:41 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Business Intelligence; Infrastructure and Messaging
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    OneDrive for Business is a feature set that is part of Office 365. The features included in the set are as follows:


    •    This tool is used for syncing files from a user PC to their OneDrive for Business

    •    This tool can be installed via the Office 2013 install or a standalone installer. It is built into Windows 8.1, but also available on Windows 7 and 8.

    •    When you install and setup the OneDrive desktop app on a Windows PC, a copy of your OneDrive is downloaded to your PC and put in the “OneDrive” folder. This folder is kept in sync with your online OneDrive. Note: this refers to OneDrive not OneDrive for Business. OneDrive for Business is a bit different - once installed, the app just sort of sits until you sync a library. At that point, it will add a Favorite in Windows Explorer to that library which now behaves much like any other folder in Explorer.

    •    This features provides a means by which to sync a user’s OneDrive for Business as well as other SharePoint site libraries to the user’s computer up to a 20,000 item limit. It is important to note that both folders and files count toward this limit.  It is also EXTREMELY important to note that you can ONLY sync at the library level, so you’ll want to be creating libraries in your OneDrive for Business versus just adding to the already existing documents.

    •    Since you are syncing to SharePoint libraries, you will be protected from overwriting documents and potentially losing data - provided that versioning is turned on in the SharePoint library. By default, the Documents library in OneDrive for Business has versioning turned on.

    •    It should be noted that this Sync tool IS NOT a backup tool, it does not work much like a backup tool and it can only replace backup tools in very specific cases.


    •    This is often used to replace a user’s personal network share

    •    This data is available on a per OneDrive basis, it is not possible to repurpose the data to another OneDrive or to the Office 365 tenant

    •    OneDrive data is separate from Office 365 tenant data and is not transferrable


    •    This personal site has the same feature set as a typical SharePoint site and can be used much like any other SharePoint site. The user can create list, libraries and additional sites within their own OneDrive for Business.

    •    After a user account is deleted or the license is removed, that OneDrive, along with all documentation and content within it, will be deleted after 14 days. The user’s manager will receive an email alerting them to the impending deletion so that they can copy any business related information that they might need. It is important to note that the deletion is permanent and the items will not be moved to a recycle bin.


    •    From this screen users can keep track of documents they are following


    •    An easy way to access libraries on sites that a user is following


    •    Search allows a user to quickly search for documents within their OneDrive


    •    Content can be shared with people inside or outside your organization. Outside sharing depends upon tenant settings. See below for options.

    The sharing features are the same as any other SharePoint site except that the only permissions you can grant a user are view or edit.

    Office 365 Sharing Settings.jpg

    OneDrive Sharing Example.png

  • B2B Tech's Top 5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014
    28 March 2014
    3:48 PM

    Category:Cloud Services; Portals and Collaboration; Infrastructure and Messaging; Business Intelligence
    Post By:Chelsea Stephens

    ​1.     SharePoint Online and Office 365 get the love

    It used to be that SPO (SharePoint Online in Office 365) was always lagging behind the big brother SharePoint on premises.  Well the shoe is on the other foot with Microsoft developing a "cloud first" strategy.

    Products will be developed for the cloud and then made available to on premises versions -- if at all.

    In fact, Microsoft has only committed to one more release of SharePoint for on premises (available in 2015).

    Cloud-only features:

    • Power BI​
    • Extended (or Unified) Groups
    • Social through Yammer
    • Office 365 Video Portal
    • OSLO

    Microsoft has not abandoned the on-prem community and did solicit customer and community feedback.  In fact many of the cloud services can be seamlessly integrated with an on premises installation of SharePoint.

    ​2.     Power BI (or power to the people)

    Power BI is a suite of business intelligence tools available only in Office 365.  These tools really lower the bar in making BI reports and graphs available to decision makers.  The suite of tools includes:

    • Power Query – query relational tables, office documents, or even web pages
    • Power Map – make your data geospatial and explore and navigate via a 3d map
    • Power Pivot – create in-memory multidimensional data without requiring SQL Server Analysis Services
    • Power View – provide interactive, animated visualizations (i.e. graphs on steroids)

    Why is it important?  Because Microsoft bills this suite as self-service.  No huge, years-long, enterprise data warehouse project to produce cubed, financial data reports needed last week. 

    Is it truly self-service?  Well, sort of.  You still need a strong data analyst to manage foreign key relationships and understand dimensional data.  However, once the data query has done its work producing graphs are straight forward.  The best part is that the queries are saved and can be re-used.

    Did I mention that all the queries, reports, and graphs are displayed and managed through SharePoint?


    Power Map


    Power Query

    3. Social and Extended Groups

    Microsoft finally clarified the social roadmap.  Yammer has won and the social features currently embedded in SharePoint are sunsetting.         

    Yammer has had "groups" capability for a long time.  Essent​ially a user could define\invite people to be part of an ad hoc group.  This group shared comments and files via a group name and could be public or private.

    Microsoft has extended the groups concept across Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer.


    Additionally, as files in the group are accessed, the Yammer discussion appears with the document.


    4. Office 365 Video Portal

    Microsoft has finally addressed the fact that if you throw a video into SharePoint and a bunch of users access it simultaneously – say for training purposes, you run into a bandwidth issue.

    The new Office 365 Video Portal addresses the optimization, compression and rendering required by heavy use.  Additionally, it provides a YouTube-like interface to manage and find videos.

    In order to do accomplish this it leverages Azure video services.


    5. Office Graph and Oslo

    Jeff Teper the Vice President over SharePoint, Exchange, and Office 365 said that his mission is to address "information overload."  To that affect, he has commissioned Office Graph and a new dashboard interface codenamed, Oslo.

    Both tools are being developed by the same Norwegian com​pany that developed the FAST search engine used by SharePoint 2013.

    Jeff defined Office Graph as "the underlying substrate" for Yammer, SharePoint, OneDrive, and Exchange.  Essentially, it will be an index structure that ties a user and their permissions to objects across Microsoft apps while providing an API to extend it.  The idea is that it will use machine learning to determine which information is most relevant to your working habits.

    Oslo is the cross-platform interface that displays and filters the information collected by the Office Graph.  This dashboard displays the most relevant information based on your habits and the habits of people you are connected.


    Interface is developed for PC, tablet and phone


    Submitted by Matt Tinkler, CIO

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