Partner Technical Services Blog

A worldwide group of consultants who focus on helping Microsoft Partners succeed throughout the business cycle.

Partner Technical Services Blog

  • Chalk Talk for Developers: How to use and debug Background Transfer API issues

    In this talk we will take a look at how to use and debug Background Transfer API issues in your windows Store App.  For a brief preview of the talk, check out this video:

    Please join us on Wednesday February 26th, 2014 from 10am-12pm PST.  We’ll be hosting a live chalk talk with technical experts from our developer support team.

    We’ll look at demos of real-world scenarios, how the technology works, best practices for implementation, and development troubleshooting tips. There will also be plenty of time for you to ask your questions.

    If you are interested, sign up today as space is limited.

    WHAT: How to use and debug Background Transfer API issues

    WHEN: February 26th, 2014. 10am-12pm PST

    WHERE: Online Meeting

    REGISTRATION: email Wsdsctreg@microsoft.com with the subject “Feb 26th Chalk Talk”.

    COST: Free

  • New Windows Azure Training for Partners

    Seems like everywhere you turn these days, Windows Azure is a hot topic.  We get questions daily about where to find some great Windows Azure training.  Well, we’re excited to let our Partners know that a new set of Windows Azure training is available for you.  The training, Partner Practice Enablement: Windows Azure Technical Training, is available in multiple formats (more on that below).

    What Kind of Training is it?  What will it cover?

    The level 200-300  training starts with an introduction to Windows Azure Virtual Machines and Virtual Networks (Infrastructure Services). It delivers the foundational knowledge needed for users intending to run new workloads in Windows Azure or migrate existing workloads from on-premises.

    Students will be introduced to the rich features of Windows Azure Active Directory and see how it can be used to achieve single sign-on across cloud applications, protect application access, enforce multi-factor authentication, and integrate with Windows Server Active Directory. The 8 modules in the training are:

    Module

    Title

    1/8

    Introduction to Windows Azure Infrastructure Services

    2/8

    Windows Azure Infrastructure Services Networking

    3/8

    Windows Azure Active Directory

    4/8

    Windows Azure Active Directory Integration

    5/8

    Cloud Services, Websites and Infrastructure Services

    6/8

    Development and Test

    7/8

    SQL Server and SharePoint Server in Windows Azure

    8/8

    Management and Monitoring of Virtual Machines

    Each module includes an instructional session, Q&A, and self-study guides for additional hands on learning.

    Who should attend?

    Anyone who is new to, or has not worked with Windows Azure at all, can benefit from this training.  The training will have a technical focus, so technical sellers, implementers, and support experts are encouraged to participate.

    When is the training and how do I sign up?

    Web-based live training will run weekly from March 4th until April 24th.  The webcasts are offered twice a day at 7AM and 5PM Pacific time.  The schedule is as follows:

    Module 1: March 4th Module 5: April 8th
    Module 2: March 11th Module 6: April 15th
    Module 3: March 18th Module 7: April 17th
    Module 4: March 25th Module 8: April 24th

    image

    in addition to the live training, we are making self-study recordings of the training sessions available via an MPN Learning Path:

    image

    What does this training cost?

    The self-study content of the Learning Path is provided at no cost.

    For the live webcasts, two Partner Advisory Hours will be deducted from your organization's balance per session independent of the number of attendees from your organization.

    Questions?

    If you have any questions, please send an email to ppebootcamp@microsoft.com

  • Windows Azure Diagnostic Runtime Configuration

    Visual Studio 2013 enables you to modify the collection of diagnostic data after a cloud service is deployed to Windows Azure. This is a useful technique to collect troubleshooting information from a single instance or to temporarily increase the logging level in order to diagnose a problem. Changes that you made via the Visual Studio Server Explorer will persist until you do a full re-deployment of your cloud service because the diagnostic configuration is written to the wad-control-container in your storage account.

    These are the links shared at the end of the video:

  • Automatically convert your 3D meshes and assets for use in your Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone apps

    In this video blog we talk about two powerful but overlooked features of Visual Studio 2013 that can help to speed up the DirectX development process on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. We will take a look at the Visual Studio 3D asset viewer and modify our 3D model directly in the viewer. We will also take a look at setting up your project to automatically modify your standard 3D mess assets to a format that is more DirectX and Direct3D friendly.

  • Getting Started with Side Loading Windows Apps

    If you have worked with Windows 8 for any length of time, chances are your customer has wanted to deploy a custom app. The app isn’t something you want to publish to the Windows Store, so what is the best way to go about deploying it to all the customer’s devices?  Consider side loading.  This brief video will explain how to get started with side loading in test environments.

    After watching the video if you want to go deeper, or have specific questions please don’t hesitated to contact Partner Support.  We are here to help.

  • Tips and Tricks for Developers Using Search and Sharing in Win 8.1 Apps

    Join the Microsoft Services team for a look at how to develop your Windows 8.1 App with Search and Sharing in mind. We'll look at some examples and jump into the code behind each one.

  • Implementing Drag and Drop in Windows Store Applications

    Join the Microsoft Services team for a look at how to implement drag and drop in your Windows Store applications.  We'll take a brief look at why this is important and then jump right into the code and see how it all works.

  • Building Windows Store and Windows Phone Apps and Sharing Code

    In this short video, one of our developer-focused consultants will show you how to build Windows Phone and Windows Store apps that share code in order to make the process more efficient.

  • SLA and Disaster Recovery Planning for Microsoft Business Intelligence

    (Post courtesy Partner Technical Consultant specializing on Data Analytics)

    Service Level Agreement Planning and Disaster Recovery Planning for the Microsoft Business Intelligence Stack with Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft SharePoint Server

    For a fully implemented Microsoft Business Intelligence stack, which might be composed of SQL Server, SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, SharePoint Server, MDS, and DQS; the question may arise regarding how to ensure the consistent status of all of the applications in case of a total or partial failure, where the different components may be subject to varying maintenance schedules.

    In the worst case, disaster recovery requires us to recover from a situation where the primary data center, which hosts the servers, is unable to continue operation. Even potentially smaller disruptions like power outages, data corruption or accidental deletion of data can force us to restore data or configuration from our backups. It is well known that fault-tolerance is achieved through redundancy, ideally not only at the data layer but also in each and every component of the network and all services (switches, servers, Active Directory, SMTP…)

    In this blog post we would like to focus on the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack and provide an overview what you need to consider when defining Service Level Agreements and how to prepare for a fast resumption of operation after such an unwelcome event has occurred.

    Balancing cost and risk of downtime

    First, let's consider the two factors that determine the Service Level Agreement corresponding to Availability. The whitepaper on "High Availability with SQL Server 2008 R2" at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff658546.aspx explains it concisely:

    "The two main requirements around high-availability are commonly known as RTO and RPO. RTO stands for Recovery Time Objective and is the maximum allowable downtime when a failure occurs. RPO stands for Recovery Point Objective and is the maximum allowable data-loss when a failure occurs. Apart from specifying a number, it is also necessary to contextualize the number. For example, when specifying that a database must be available 99.99% of the time, is that 99.99% of 24x7 or is there an allowable maintenance window?"

    This means that both RPO, i.e. the amount of data you are willing to lose, and RTO, the duration of the outage, need to be determined individually, depending on your customer's specific needs. Their calculation follows an actuarial principle in that cost and risk need to be balanced. Please do not forget that the RTO does not only depend on how soon your services are back online but might in certain circumstances encompass the amount of time needed to restore data up to a certain point in time from backups as well.

    Assuming a 24x7x365 operation, the following calculation applies, taken from "Create a high availability architecture and strategy for SharePoint 2013" at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc748824.aspx:

       Availability class            Availability measurement             Annual down time

       Two nines                       99%                                                   3.7 days

       Three nines                    99.9%                                                8.8 hours

       Four nines                       99.99%                                              53 minutes

       Five nines                        99.999%                                           5.3 minutes

    So now we start to appreciate what it means that in Windows Azure we receive a general SLA of 99.9% across services respectively 99.95% for cloud services, cf. http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/support/legal/sla.

    And here is one more argument in favor of using Windows Azure as your secondary site and standby data center: If you back up your databases and transaction logs to Azure blob storage and take Hyper-V based snapshots of your virtual machines, which you then transfer to Azure blob storage, then you will only incur the cheap storage cost and still be able to turn on the VM's any time you decide to bring them online, and start paying for them only while they are running. Windows Server 2012 Backup and Windows Azure Backup allow you to backup system state and files/folders to Windows Azure storage as well.

    Alternatively, availability can be calculated as the expected time between two consecutive failures for a repairable system as per the following formula:

       Availability = MTTF / (MTTF + MTTR)

    where MTTF = Mean Time To Failure and MTTR = Mean Time To Recover.

    Scope

    A disaster recovery concept needs to encompass the whole architecture and all technologies involved and include best practices on functional and non-functional requirements (non-functional refers to software behavior like performance, security, etc.).

    To summarize, partners need to define in the SLA towards their customers an RPO (recovery point objective) and RTO (recovery time objective). For this, they are looking for a disaster recovery concept that takes into account:

    - full, differential and transaction log backups (assuming the database is in full recovery mode)

    - application backups

    - any add-on components of the software

    - Hyper-V virtual images of production servers

    With that let's take a detailed look at an end-to-end disaster recovery planning for a Microsoft BI solution.

    SQL Server databases

    To begin with, how do the above concepts apply to the SQL Server databases?

    Where would you look in the first place to find out about the recovery time of all of your databases? Correct, it is the SQL Server's error log, which can be read along a timeline.

    To estimate the roll forward rate for a standalone system, one could use a test copy of a database and restore a transaction log from a high-load time period to it. The application design plays an important role as well: Short-running transactions reduce the roll forward time.

    Upon failover in an AlwaysOn failover cluster instance, all databases need to be recovered on the new node, which means that transactions that are committed in the transaction log need to be rolled forward in the database, whereas transactions that got aborted have to be rolled back.

    Side note: In a Failover Cluster Instance, the time for switchover is furthermore impacted by factors like for example storage regrouping or DNS/network name provisioning. Regarding the client side, one can configure the connection timeout in order to accelerate the time needed to reestablish a broken connection.

    The new SQL Server 2012 Availability Groups make it easy to observe the RPO and RTO. For details, see "Monitor for RTO and RPO" at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn135338.aspx.

    Here are some tips for an efficient backup strategy of your SQL Server databases:

    - Use a separate physical location where you store the backups.

    - Have a schedule to carry out regular backups, for example nightly full backups, every 6 hours a differential backup, and every 30 minutes a transactional log backup, if you need a point-in-time recovery.

    - Enable CHECKSUM on backups. This is the default with backup compression, which is available in Standard, Business Intelligence and Enterprise Edition.

    - Test your backups periodically by restoring them because you might unknowingly carry on some data corruption, making your backups useless. Monitor the suspect_pages table in MSDB to determine when a page level restore is sufficient.

    - With regards to long-term archival, it is considered good practice to maintain three different retention periods. If you leverage three rotational schemes, thus for example create full backups daily, weekly and monthly and store them onto different media sets each, then you could regenerate your data from these if necessary. This is called the grandfather-father-son principle and allows for reusing the media sets after their retention period. As an example, a backup on a Monday overwrites that of some previous Monday and so on. The screenshot at http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/92fbf076-3cd1-4ab2-97d2-1ae6c9e909c7/grandfatherfatherson-backup-scenario depicts these options very well.

    - Filegroups for historical partitions can be marked as read-only, hence require only a one-time filegroup backup. A piecemeal restore of read-write filegroups can accelerate recovery.

    - Use "SQL Server Backup to Windows Azure" to upload the backup files for offsite storage, optimally with compression and encryption, even for versions earlier than SQL Server 2014. Check out the "Microsoft SQL Server Backup to Microsoft Windows Azure Tool" at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=40740.

    - While the RBS FILESTREAM provider, which uses local disk storage, is integrated with SQL Server's backup and restore procedures, with a third party RBS provider it will be your responsibility to back up the Remote Blob Storage separately in a consistent manner, cf. "Plan for RBS in SharePoint 2013" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff628583.aspx.

    Fortunately, all Microsoft products are built to scale for availability. With SQL Server Availability Groups in SQL Server 2012 and higher you get a highly available set of databases and of secondary replicas for failover, disaster recovery purposes or to load-balance your read requests. Availability groups are a feature of SQL Server Enterprise Edition, which comes with even more online features than the other editions to allow for higher availability and faster recovery, noticeably online page and file restore or Database Recovery Advisor. The latter is helpful for point-in-time restores across sometimes complicated backup chains. For a concise list please see the table at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc645993.aspx#High_availability.

    With SQL Server Availability Groups spread out to Windows Azure virtual machines it is even possible to host your secondary database replicas in Azure and, for example, run your System Center Data Protection Manager and its agent in the cloud against them.

    Marked transactions allow you to restore several databases, for example the MDS database, the SSIS catalog and your corresponding user databases on the same instance of SQL Server consistently up the very same point in time, which can be advantageous if a major event, for example a fusion of two companies’ databases, occurs. See "Use Marked Transactions to Recover Related Databases Consistently (Full Recovery Model)" at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms187014.aspx.

    SSAS

    Since SQL Server Analysis Services is mainly a read-only system, you can do without things like transaction logging or differential backups. If metadata (.xmla files) is available, then this is sufficient to recreate and reprocess your cubes. If you even have functional database backups (.abf files), then those can be restored and used.

    It is possible to run a separate SSAS server, which has the same configuration settings, in a remote location and supply it regularly with the latest data via database synchronization.

    Hints:

    - When running SSAS in SharePoint mode (as the POWERPIVOT instance), the SharePoint content and service application databases contain the application and data files.

    - If you host your secondary replica for read access in Windows Azure, you will want to place your SSAS instance running in an Azure VM within the same Availability Set.

    SSIS

    SQL Server Integration Services since version 2012 offers two deployment modes: package-based for backward compatibility and the new project-based deployment. Backup and restore procedures depend on the storage location of the data. The package store can be folders in the file system or the msdb database. Any files should be copied away together with a script for dtutil to be able to upload them, additionally any centrally managed configuration files. Starting with SQL Server 2012, it is strongly recommended to use project deployment for the Integration Services server. The SSISDB catalog is a database that stores projects, packages, parameters, environments, operational history, and as such can be backed up into a .bak file. You also need to back up the master key for the SSISDB database, whereby the resulting file will be encrypted with a password you specify. Unless the key changes, this is a one-time operation.

    SSRS

    With SQL Server Reporting Services in native mode being a stateless service, it is the ReportServer database which contains the metadata and report snapshots with data. It can be protected as required for your SLA and RTO via full or differential backups. Experience has shown that doing just full backups oftentimes works fast enough. The ReportServerTempDB database can be recreated anytime. Do not forget to back up the RecoveryKey, which encrypts the database. This should be done at creation time, which suffices unless the service identity or computer name changes. In case of subscriptions, you need to back up the SQL Server Agent jobs as well. This can be accomplished via a simultaneous backup of the msdb database. For a backup of the Report Server configuration and custom assemblies kindly refer the corresponding links in the final section of this blog post.

    Concerning SQL Server Reporting Services in SharePoint mode, the SharePoint 2013 built-in backup does not take care of the SSRS databases – with the additional Reporting Service Alerting database - so the previous paragraph is still valid, which means you must use SQL Server tools for SharePoint Server or SQL Server (Express) tools for SharePoint Foundation. As for the application part, since SSRS in SharePoint mode is a true SharePoint Service application, configuration occurs through Central Administration and SharePoint Server's own backup and recovery applies.

    SharePoint Server

    The BI, also called Insights, features of SharePoint Server, like for example Excel Services, Access Services, Visio Services, PerformancePoint Services benefit from SharePoint Server's backup options for service applications. A restore of a service application database has to be followed by provisioning the service application. Please find further details in the TechNet articles referenced below.

    MDS

    Master Data Services consists of a database wherein all master data as well as MDS system settings are stored plus a Master Data Manager web application. Scheduling daily full backups and more frequent transaction log backups is recommended. MDSModelDeploy.exe is a useful tool for creating packages of your model objects and data.

    Side note: In our experience it is less the IIS-hosted website that tends to cause a bottleneck at high load than the MDS database itself. Hence, a scale-out would not necessarily involve just several MDS web sites, pointing to the same database, although this allows for redundancy and increased availability while web servers get updated. Rather it would separate out models into different MDS databases. On the one hand, this increases the overhead for security accounts and administration, given that the metadata tables are completely isolated from each other; on the other hand, blockings are avoided and databases can be managed independently.

    DQS

    Data Quality Services keeps its information in three databases: DQS_MAIN, DQS_PROJECTS, and DQS_STAGING_DATA, therefore can neatly be integrated into your SQL Server backup and restore processes. With the help of the command DQSInstaller.exe it is even possible to export all of the published knowledge bases from a Data Quality Server to a DQS backup file (.dqsb) in one go.

    Cross-cutting best practices

    - Making use of SQL alias for connections to your SQL Server computer eases the process of moving a database, for example when a SQL virtual cluster name changes. For instructions see for example "Install & Configure SharePoint 2013 with SQL Client Alias" http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sowmyancs/archive/2012/08/06/install-amp-configure-sharepoint-2013-with-sql-client-alias.aspx. It shows how you gain flexibility over the SQL Server connection string by appropriately populating the SQL Server Network Configuration and SQL Server Client Network Utility. This procedure has significant advantages over the DNS A record or CNAME alias in that the SQL alias does not change the Kerberos SPN format for connections. You continue to use the registered DNS host name (A record) in the Service Principal Name when connecting. Furthermore, it allows you to specify more than one alias pointing to the same instance. For example, you can create an alias for your content databases, search databases etc. and thereby plan ahead for future scale out.

    - System Center Data Protection Manager can be used for both database backups and application server backups. For a list of protected workloads please see the left-hand navigation bar on the page "Administering and Managing System Center 2012 - Data Protection Manager" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh757851.aspx.

    - In the context of private clouds, System Center comes into play with its Operations Manager to monitor SQL Server instances and virtual machines and its Virtual Machine Manager to quickly provision new virtual machines.

    Closing words

    SQL Server and SharePoint Server allow for robust disaster recovery routines as part of your business continuity plan. New hybrid and cloud based solutions enhance traditional possibilities greatly.

    As has become clear, configuration changes that occur outside of user databases should always happen in a controlled manner, requiring a tight Change Management process.

    Further reading

    "Microsoft SQL Server AlwaysOn Solutions Guide for High Availability and Disaster Recovery" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh781257.aspx.

    With some good discussions: "Simple script to backup all SQL Server databases" http://www.mssqltips.com/sqlservertip/1070/simple-script-to-backup-all-sql-server-databases/.

    "Back Up and Restore of System Databases (SQL Server)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms190190.aspx.

    "SQL Server AlwaysOn Architecture Guide: Building a High Availability and Disaster Recovery Solution by Using AlwaysOn Availability Groups" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj191711.aspx.

    "SQL Server AlwaysOn Architecture Guide: Building a High Availability and Disaster Recovery Solution by Using Failover Cluster Instances and Availability Groups" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj215886.aspx.

    "Backup and Restore of Analysis Services Databases" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms174874.aspx.

    "Disaster Recovery for PowerPivot for SharePoint" http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/22137.disaster-recovery-for-powerpivot-for-sharepoint.aspx.

    "Package Backup and Restore (SSIS Service)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms141699.aspx.

    "Backup, Restore, and Move the SSIS Catalog" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh213291.aspx.

    "Backup and Restore Operations for Reporting Services" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms155814.aspx.

    "Migrate a Reporting Services Installation (Native Mode)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms143724.aspx.

    "Migrate a Reporting Services Installation (SharePoint Mode)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh270316.aspx.

    "Backup and Restore Reporting Services Service Applications" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh270316.aspx.

    "Planning Disaster Recovery for Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services in SharePoint Integrated Mode" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj856260.aspx.

    "Overview of backup and recovery in SharePoint 2013" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee663490.aspx.

    "Plan for backup and recovery in SharePoint 2013" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc261687.aspx.

    "Backup and restore SharePoint 2013" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee662536.aspx.

    "Supported high availability and disaster recovery options for SharePoint databases (SharePoint 2013)" http://technet.microsoft.com/EN-US/library/jj841106.aspx.

    "Database Requirements (Master Data Services)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee633767.aspx.

    "Web Application Requirements (Master Data Services)" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee633744.aspx.

    "Export and Import DQS Knowledge Bases Using DQSInstaller.exe" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh548693.aspx.

    "Using AlwaysOn Availability Groups for High Availability and Disaster Recovery of Data Quality Services (DQS)" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj874055.aspx.

    "Install SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence Features" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh231681.aspx.

    "SQLCATs Guide to High Availability and Disaster Recovery", "SQLCAT's Guide to BI and Analytics" http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlcat/archive/2013/10/23/sqlcat-com-ebook-downloads.aspx.

    Case Study for failover to a standby data center: "High Availability and Disaster Recovery at ServiceU: A SQL Server 2008 Technical Case Study" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee355221.aspx.

    "Business Continuity in Windows Azure SQL Database" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh852669.aspx.

    "SQL Server Managed Backup to Windows Azure" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn449496.aspx.

    "SQL Server Deployment in Windows Azure Virtual Machines" http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/dn133141.aspx.

    Hybrid storage appliance "StorSimple cloud integrated storage" http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/storsimple.

    This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.

  • Introduction to the Windows App Certification Kit

    If you are building any kind of Windows App and have not used the certification kit to test your app for all the things Microsoft tests for take a few minutes to check out this video on how to get started.

    You can download the Certification Kit here.

  • Using Visual Studio Templates for Designing Windows Store Apps - Quick Start

    In this video we'll show you some of the default Visual Studio templates you can use to quickly get started building your Windows Store Application

  • Tips and Tricks for Using Notifications in Windows Store Applications

    This short video/blog will focus on how to quickly implement notifications and the best practices for when and how to use them as well as how to manage them through Azure Mobile Services.

  • Debugging the Visual Studio Direct3D template for Windows Phone 8

    Debugging your first Direct3D app for Windows Phone 8 is as easy as changing the debug mode. This video blog will walk you through navigating your Direct3D Windows Phone app built from the standard Visual Studio template. It also shows you how to change the debug mode to allow you to set breakpoints in your Direct3D code.

  • Designing Apps for Different Window Sizes

    We often recieve questions from partners about the best way to manage different window and screen sizes when building an app.  Below is a short video that will help you through some of the common scenarios.

  • Build a Live Tile for Your Windows Store App in Minutes

    In this 6 minute video one of our consultants, Gaurav Sharma, shares how to easily add more life to your Windows Store app by adding a Live Tile.

  • SQL Azure Import and Export

    In this brief training video one of our consultants, Michal Morciniec, shows you how to Import and Export databases from the SQL Azure platform.

  • In Depth Training from the experts who built Windows Azure

    Partners, we are excited to share with you an excellent learning opportunity on Windows Azure brought to you by the Microsoft Virtual Academy.  Below are more details.

    Join us for a week long series of (FREE) live, interactive sessions from the experts who built Azure that will show you how to start using Windows Azure in your solutions today. In addition to seeing lots of demos and real world examples, you’ll be able to get your questions answered in real time Q&A.

    Scott Guthrie, Azure Guru and Microsoft Corporate Vice President, will kick off the week on Monday January 27 by building a real world application from scratch, end to end, to show you the latest capabilities of Azure. Then each day, we’ll have deep dive sessions led by Microsoft’s top cloud platform development experts, including Scott Hanselman, Scott Hunter, Marc Mercuri, Cheryl McGuire, and Miranda Luna.

    Monday January 27, Overview Day: Get Started with Windows Azure Today Jump Start

    Join Scott Guthrie. Azure guru and Microsoft Corporate Vice President, as he builds a real-world application from scratch, and hear about the platform in a nutshell.  Register Now

    Tuesday January 28, Architecture Day: Designing Applications for Windows Azure Jump Start

    Developers, do you wonder how to design apps for the cloud? Are you interested in best practices for architectures that include services that run in the cloud? Join Marc Mercuri for a day of design and architecture lessons for Windows Azure developers.  Register Now

    Wednesday January 29, Developer Day: Building Windows Azure Applications Jump Start

    If you’ve been thinking about Windows Azure for your next application, but aren’t sure where to begin, join this deep dive with Scott Hanselman and Scott Hunter to get started building applications for the cloud today.  Register Now

    Thursday January 30, Infrastructure Day: Windows Azure IaaS Deep Dive Jump Start

    Join Cheryl McGuire for Hybrid Cloud Day, a deep dive on integrating Windows Azure into your infrastructure. She will explore details about creating VMs, how they behave in Windows Azure, and how to configure good network communication to get things up and running in the cloud.  Register Now

    Friday January 31, Mobile Services Day: Mobile Apps to IoT: Connected Devices with Windows Azure

    Join Miranda Luna for a comprehensive, infrastructure-focused look at how your mobile apps can use cloud data, manage users with ease, and quickly deliver push notifications at scale.  Register Now

  • Top 10 Partner PTS Blog Posts for 2013

    Reflecting back on 2013, I just dived (dove?) into the logs for the PTS Blog for 2013, and thought I would share the top 10 posts for the year. 

    It looks like the deeply technical posts are much more popular than the “announcement” type posts.  If there are any topics you’d like to see a Partner Solution Consultant cover, post in the comments!

  • Office 365 New Features for December 2013

    Checking back in after a great holiday vacation, and wish all of our Partners a great 2014!!!

    Normally at the beginning of the month, I post a video and list of the O365 features that were released in the previous month, but December was relatively slow on new feature releases as our Partners, Customers, and Employees spent some well-deserved time with their families.  Don’t worry… there is plenty of innovation in the pipeline, so look forward to a much longer “Office 365 New Features for January 2014” post next month.

    Over on the Office 365 Technology Blog, Andy posted a list of the Office 365 features released in December:

    http://blogs.office.com/b/office365tech/archive/2014/01/02/what-s-new-december-2013.aspx

    Office 365 Home Premium & Office 365 University updates:

    Outlook.com makes it even easier to switch from Gmail - A new tool easily imports your mail and contacts, preserves the "read" status, and enables you to send email from your @gmail.com address from within Outlook.com.

    OneNote for Android update - Capture information from anywhere on your phone with a new Add to OneNote via the Android Share button.  See recent notes from your Home screen with the new OneNote Recent Widget.

    Office 365 for business updates*:

    Office 365 Admin app - Office 365 admins can now see their Office 365 service health dashboard on their iPhone and Android devices.

    Switch Plans to a different Office 365 service family - Customers can now upgrade from Small Business plans to Midsize and Enterprise plans, or from the Midsize plan to an Enterprise plan.

    OneNote for Android update - Capture information from anywhere on your phone with a new Add to OneNote via the Android Share button.  See recent notes from your Home screen with the new OneNote Recent Widget.

    Office 365 Education updates*:

    In addition to the Office 365 for Business updates,

    Student Advantage is now available - Educational institutions that subscribe to Office 365 ProPlus for their faculty and staff can now extend Office 365 ProPlus to their students at no additional cost.

    *Not all updates apply to every Office 365 plan; please check the individual post for specifics.

    Previous feature update posts are available below:

    Office 365 New Features for October 2013
    Office 365 New Features for November 2013

    A playlist with all the Office 365 Monthly Service Update videos is available here.

  • Build and Deploy Solutions Faster: Practice Accelerator Schedule for January–March

    imageMicrosoft Practice Accelerator is a Microsoft Partner Network benefit that provides a detailed framework of resources, spanning from pre-engagement to post-delivery, to help you improve efficiency and deliver solutions faster. The complete documentation set includes project guides, templates, architecture guidance, and planning and design guides. You will also receive customizable leave-behind materials for your customers.

    A Practice Accelerator session can be attended by several people from your organization, so that all roles involved in building and deploying a solution can take advantage of the tools and information. Click on the dates below to register. Read more about Practice Accelerator.

    Microsoft Office 365

    Course description, prerequisites, and course outline
    Download the Office 365 PA Datasheet

    SharePoint 2013: Search, Social, Portals & Collaboration

    Course description, prerequisites, and course outline
    Download the SharePoint 2013 PA Datasheet

    Data Center Infrastructure & Management

    Course description, prerequisites, and course outline
    Download the Data Center Infrastructure & Management Datasheet

    Windows 8 Flexible Workstyle

    Course description, prerequisites, and course outline
    Download the Flexible Workstyle Datasheet

    The dates above are for the US Deliveries.  For international dates, visit the Practice Accelerator page on the Partner Portal, select the Practice Accelerator you are interested in, and choose your language/location.

  • Competing against Google for an Office 365 Deal?

    imageOur Q2 FY14 Google compete campaign was built for Microsoft partners specifically targeting SMB customers. It provides targeted demand generation materials to help guide you in 1:1 conversations with customers who are either considering Google Apps for Business or who have recently purchased Google Apps and aren’t satisfied.​

    One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to the needs of your customers – and we’ve built the Google compete campaign with that in mind.  This campaign provides marketing and readiness tools to help you start discussions with your SMB customers about the benefits of Office 365 when competing with Google Apps for Business.

    This campaign is not intended to replace the campaigns material found in Office BEST for SMB or the Office Small Business Premium campaign – so continue using those as a supplement to your Google compete activity. The intention of this campaign is to highlight the multiple areas where Office 365 beats the competition – Google – and provide specific scenario examples for you to use when marketing and selling.

    Campaign Includes:

    • Google Compete "Win-back Scenario" Emails
    • Google Compete "Consideration Scenario" Emails
    • Google Compete Sales Presentation
    • Google Compete Infographic
    • Google Compete Campaign Talking Points
    • Google Compete Campaign Guidance
    • Google Compete Leave-Behind

    Access the materials on the Ready-to-Go Marketing Campaign site here: Office 365 Beats Google

    If you have a Silver or Gold competency, make sure to take advantage of your Technical Presales Assistance benefit.  Partners who have attained a silver or gold competency receive unlimited presales advisory support for any deal worth US$3,000 or more. For deals worth less than US$3,000, you can access Technical Presales Assistance by phone (1-800-MPN-SOLV) using your allotted partner advisory hours or through the Partner Support Community.

    Submit a request now

    Examples of services
    • Competitive assistance
    • Feature overview and comparison guidance
    • Request for proposal (RFP) questions
    • Business value proposition
    • Proof-of-concept guidance
    • Technical licensing recommendations
  • Office 365 New Features for November 2013

    November was another month full of updates for Office 365.  Partner Solution Consultant Jon Horner runs through the updates in the video above, and you can click through to the various announcements below.

    OneNote for Windows Store v2.1

    A major update for OneNote for Windows Store now available. Now with a redesigned user interface. Included are new views, enhanced sharing, improved ink, and more new features.

    More Information: A BIG OneNote update for Windows note-taking devices
    Download: OneNote

    Folder Permissions and Calendar Delegation in Outlook Web App

    You can now configure folder and calendar permissions in Outlook Web App to give delegates access to your inbox and other folders.  This is particularly useful if you need someone like an admin to manage your inbox or calendar while you’re out of the office.

    More information: Configuring delegate access in Outlook Web App

    November 2013 Update for the Lync 2013 Desktop Client

    Features included in the November Update:

    • Photos of Sender/Receiver – View photos of sender/receiver inline with IM conversation
    • URL Photo Experience – Set your own photo from a public web site instead of using the corporate image
    • Login Trace Files – Easily access Lync client login logs
    • New Recording Options –Choose preferred resolution for client-side recordings

    More information: November 2013 Update for the Lync 2013 Desktop Client

    Office Web Apps Update

    Improved Online User Experience

    • Real time coauthoring and presence across Office Web Apps

    Excel Web App

    • the ability to drag and drop cells
    • reorder sheets
    • open and interact with spreadsheet that have sheet protection
    • see aggregates of the selected range (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE, etc.) in the status bar
    • insert Apps for Office

    Word Web App

    • ability to Find and Replace content
    • apply styles to tables
    • insert Headers and Footers
    • see page numbers as placeholders, and
    • Auto save

    PowerPoint Web App

    • crop pictures

    More information: Collaboration just got easier: Real-time co-authoring now available in Office Web Apps

    SharePoint Online

    Get a Link

    It is now possible to generate a Guest Link (an anonymous link to a document) directly in the SharePoint Online document library user interface. This will remove the step of sending an email to yourself to generate the Guest Link in order to utilize the Guest Link for non-email purposes - and it's quicker and more efficient

    More Information: Get a Link

    Touch Design

    We are updating the default HTML5 "mobile view" in mobile browsers. Users accessing SharePoint on mobile devices will get an updated touch-friendly experience. The new experiences primarily target the Web views of a user's SkyDrive Pro, the Sites hub and default team site pages.

    More information: SharePoint Online introduces the Touch Design mobile experience

    Improved Sharing Emails - All on To... line

    Now everyone you share with will be on the To... line. When you share with multiple people via the sharing dialog in SharePoint, SharePoint will send one email to everyone you shared with and cc you as the sender, rather than sending a separate email to each recipient. Note: external email addresses typed in the people picker will still send individual external invitations, since external invites need unique redemption links.

    More information: SharePoint Online improves external sharing

    Outlook

    High DPI Improvements

    The latest update of Outlook 2013 is now optimized for high pixel density screens on tablet devices.

    Compact Message Header

    In the latest update of Outlook 2013, the email message header in the reading pane can be collapsed to provide more screen space for the body of the email.  Also, when the reading pane is too narrow to show all recipients in the message header, an indicator appears to tell you how many recipients are not shown.

    Yammer

    Yammer Channel Expansion

    Yammer Enterprise will be included in O365 E1-E4, including Government and Non-Profits, for the Direct, Syndication, and Open channels with automated self service provisioning. Additionally, new SKUs Yammer Enterprise Standalone and SharePoint Online Plan 1/2 + Yammer will launch for Direct and Syndication Channels.

    More Information: Getting it done with social: Yammer introduces new features, expands to all Office 365 enterprise customers

    Identity

    Windows Azure Active Directory Premium – PREVIEW

    Windows Azure Active Directory Premium, which is currently in preview, provides a number of directory related features through the Windows Azure portal. Many of these will be very valuable for Office 365 customers. The new features for Windows Azure Active Directory Premium include

    1. Self-service Password Reset for Users
    2. Group-based provisioning and access management to SaaS apps
    3. Customizable access panel
    4. Machine learning based security monitoring and reports.

    Stay tuned as there are additional features are planned in future previews. More information about Windows Azure Active Directory Premium in preview now is available here.

    To stay completely up-to-date on the latest announcements, make sure to visit the Office 365 Message Center. This is where tenant-specific announcements or items requiring administrative action will be posted.  The following blogs are where the product teams will release announcements about new features:

    Technology-Specific Blogs

  • Office 365 ProPlus Deployment for IT Pros

    If you are planning a rollout of Office 365 ProPlus (the client bits), make sure to head on over to Microsoft Virtual Academy to watch the Office 365 ProPlus Deployment for IT Pros Jump Start.

    The goal of this course is for the audience to learn about the IT Pro deployment features of Office 365 ProPlus, such as licensing and activation, Click-to-Run, Office Telemetry, and building App-V packages. Join us as we deliver demo-rich sessions that discuss these topics, first as an overview and then more in depth. Come hear how these new IT investments make upgrading Office a lot easier, faster, and economical.

    The presenters have a wealth of knowledge. Curtis Sawin is a Technology Solutions Professional specializing in Office Compatibility and Office Deployment for Microsoft, while Dean Yamada is a Senior Premier Field Engineer, specializing in proactive deliveries of Office Premier Workshops and onsite Office Setup, Deployment and Migration advisories.

    imageimage

    Modules include:

    01 | Office 365 ProPlus Identity, Licensing, and Activation
    An overview of the identity, licensing, and activation requirements of Office 365 ProPlus

    02 | Office Telemetry Overview
    Introduces Office Telemetry, what Telemetry can do for you, and details all the Office Telemetry components

    03 | Advanced Telemetry
    In-depth about the Office Telemetry infrastructure, capacity planning, performance, and the Telemetry Dashboard Administration Tool

    04 | Telemetry Custom Reporting
    Examples of how to mine data from the Office Telemetry database, and a behind-the-scenes look at custom reporting

    05 | Office 365 ProPlus Click-to-Run Deployment Overview
    Introduces Microsoft’s new streaming and virtualization technology, Click-to-Run, which is used to deploy Office 365 ProPlus

    06 | Click-to-Run Deep Dive
    Internals of how Click-to-Run works, and real world tips and tricks that will enable you to successfully deploy Office 365 ProPlus

    07 | Office and App-V
    Office 365 ProPlus and App-V work together, discussing the advantages of this approach, and demonstrating how it works

    image

  • Implementing a Loading Splash Screen for your Windows Phone App

    One of our Escalation Engineers from support put together this fantastic video for Windows Phone App developers.

    This video tutorial demonstrates how to create a loading screen in your Windows phone App that is bound to a property in the ViewModel.  It covers how to use Blend to create a simple loading screen and use the DataStateBehavior in conjunction with a Boolean ViewModel property to display the loading screen when data is loading, and the main view for the page when data has been finished loading.

  • Windows Azure: Identifying and Updating Expiring Certificates, Symmetric Keys and Passwords

    For the Technical folks out there, this one is for you.

    If you have a Access Control Service (ACS) namespace you will periodically see email indicating your certificate, key or password  is about to expire. This video will guide you through what to check for to ensure all you certificates, keys and passwords are up to date.

    The code references it this presentation can downloaded at http://aka.ms/P4rzx3

    Links