By Dan Scarfe, Dot Net Solutions
Recently Gartner released their magic quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service Providers: http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-1IMDMZ8&ct=130819&st=sb.
It was fantastic to see Windows Azure placed in the visionary quadrant, outlining the breadth and depths of the platform and its completeness in Gartner’s eyes. We’re seeing the IaaS offering, built on over 5 years’ innovation on the core platform, getting huge amounts of interest from our customers.
Disclaimer: Dot Net Solutions is one of Microsoft’s leading Cloud specialists. I’ve been around Windows Azure since its inception - I’ve lived and breathed it for 5 years. Our business is built on it, but that’s a choice we made because we really like it. A lot.
When reading any magic quadrant report, everyone immediately looks at the picture, what’s far more interesting is to read the commentary.
Leader, Amazon Web Services, is praised for its sheer scale and being extraordinarily innovative, exceptionally agile and very responsive to the market. The cautionary note points out that though Amazon is apparently the price leader (Microsoft has publically stated to price match Amazon), it charges separately for optional items that are often bundled with competitive offerings. These include things such Load Balancers and free connectivity within an entire region, which are available free of charge with Azure. More cautionary is the note about Amazon having multiple generations of compute instance "families" — such as the m1, m2, and m3 families. A recent independent report on Cloud performance showed Azure running Linux VMs three times faster than AWS.
Windows Azure was also praised:
“Microsoft has a vision of infrastructure and platform services that are not only leading stand-alone offerings, but also seamlessly extend and interoperate with on-premises Microsoft infrastructure (rooted in Hyper-V, Windows Server, Active Directory and System Center) and applications, as well as Microsoft's SaaS offerings. Its vision is global, and it is aggressively expanding into multiple international markets.”
This hybrid approach to service delivery is a key part of Microsoft’s vision. Microsoft’s large on-premises installed base perceive Windows Azure as an easy on ramp to public Cloud. UI – a key part of Microsoft’s historic success also shows up in Azure:
“Microsoft has built an attractive and easy-to-use UI that will appeal to Windows administrators and developers. The IaaS and PaaS components within Windows Azure feel and operate like part of a unified whole, and Microsoft is making an effort to integrate them with Visual Studio and System Center.”
One of the other key value-adds with Azure is the range of additional services which are available, often without cost. These includes Windows Azure Active Directory (free up to 500k users), Mobile Services (free up to 10 services), Web Sites (free up to 10 sites). Paid for services such as Media and BizTalk also offer great additional functionality.
On the cautionary side:
“Windows Azure Infrastructure Services are brand-new and consequently lack an operational track record. The feature set is limited and the missing features are ones that are critical to most enterprises. Although Microsoft has a generally good uptime record with Azure PaaS components, it will be challenged to scale its IaaS business rapidly.”
The other criticism was a lack of Linux distributions and language support beyond .NET. This really isn’t the case and Windows Azure actually supports a broad range of languages for its PaaS model and the only major distribution omission is RedHat, which hopefully will be available soon.
The other part of the report I don’t agree with is Microsoft’s score for ability to execute. Two of the ‘high’ rated measures were Viability and Track Record.
Viability describes the:
“success of their cloud IaaS business, as demonstrated by current revenue and revenue growth since the launch of their service; their financial wherewithal to continue investing in the business and to execute successfully on their road maps; and their organizational commitment to this business, and its importance to the company's overall strategy.”
Windows Azure is already a $1bn business. Storage and compute (and associated revenues) are doubling every six months. Cash shouldn’t be a problem with a $77 billion cash mountain which will be burning a hole in the pocket of Ballmer’s replacement. Azure has been the shining light in all of the recent press around Microsoft.
Track Record describes a market that is:
“evolving extremely quickly and the rate of technological innovation is very high. Providers were evaluated on how well they have historically been able to respond to changing buyer needs and technology developments, rapidly iterate their service offerings, and deliver promised enhancements and services by the expected time.”
Microsoft is a completely different business to the one in 2011, or even 2012. It’s been breath-taking to watch. “We’re all in” has now become “Cloud first”. Every major new Microsoft product will be Cloud first. The release cycle for new products has shifted from 3 years to one year. For Azure itself, it’s every 3 months.
One of the other values was sales execution and pricing which is an:
“ability to address the range of buyers for IaaS, including developers and business managers, as well as IT operations organizations; adapt to "frictionless selling" with online sales, immediate trials and proofs of concept; provide consultative sales and solutions engineering; be highly responsive to prospective customers; and offer value for money. This criterion is important to buyers who value a smooth sales experience, the right solution proposals and competitive prices.”
This is the crucial piece. With organisations streamlining procurement and reducing the number of suppliers, a provider able to sell Cloud effectively as an extension of a pre-existing commercial agreement is very powerful.
“Microsoft's brand, existing customer relationships and history of running global-class consumer Internet properties have made prospective customers and partners confident that it will emerge as a market leader in cloud IaaS. The number of Azure VMs is growing very rapidly. Microsoft customers who sign a contract can receive their enterprise discount on the service, making it highly cost-competitive. Microsoft is also extending special pricing to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers.”
Having an effective partner network able to scale and deal with demand is crucial and is something that AWS lacks:
“AWS has field sales, solutions engineering and professional services organizations, but the rapid growth of AWS's business means that sales capacity is insufficient to consistently satisfy prospective customers who need consultative sales.”
Microsoft has an extensive account management structure and over 40,000 partners in the UK able to sell Azure. That’s a lot of bodies.
Azure still needs to do a bit of catching up from a functionality perspective according to the study, but we need to bear in mind the actual date of the study was only 13 days after Windows Azure IaaS went live. Since then there have been a number of major new releases. However, right now on August 28th 2013 there are some features that aren’t available on Azure that do exist on AWS. Azure is missing direct connections between its datacentres and customers’. Azure is missing long-term offline storage and hard drive uploads. Oracle is only available as a VM, not as a service.
But that’s the case today and not necessarily next week or next month. The speed of innovation on Azure is staggering right now.
The other potential players are split in two:
VMWare customers such as Savvis, Terremark and CSC. Terremark just announced a furthering of their strategic partnership with VMWare. These vendors will struggle to differentiate themselves from each other. VMWare’s hybrid story is all about ease of portability between customers’ private Cloud and its public Clouds, but this also means to any VMWare hybrid partner. The report also points out that whilst it is: ”straightforward to move VM images from one cloud to another, truly hybrid multicloud scenarios are rare.”
OpenStack providers including RackSpace and HP. The problem with OpenStack partners, in the same way as VMWare customers, is differentiation. As soon as “partners” seek to differentiate themselves by building protected IP on an open platform the community starts to break down. The same can be seen on Android, where Amazon run a private branch and Google effectively owns the public branch. Also the report points out the fact that “an ecosystem is "open" has nothing to do with actual portability.”
For everyone else
“The gap between the market share leader and the rest of the market is widening. Many providers have solid offerings that encompass the most fundamental capability in this market — the ability to provision VMs rapidly on-demand, coupled with storage and an Internet connection. But most are finding it challenging to move beyond this point. Customer expectations are increasing, use cases are broadening, and many providers have neither the ambition nor the resources to compete across the full breadth of the addressable market.”
The report highlights that, today, steady load on machines can be cheaper on premises. But it’s only cheaper if you have existing investments and existing staff. A huge part of the cost of each IaaS instance is the cost of running, housing and looking after the box. That’s why Cloud has been so popular with start-ups. But start-ups are being born each day inside existing companies, and if those start-ups and joint ventures are adequately shielded from legacy, retained costs, Cloud can provide significant commercial advantages. It can also provide a clear cost breakdown and removes the IT “black hole” line item. Sometimes though, time is money, and getting out of the blocks early can be worth a premium, even if you bring it back on-premises in the future.
Cloud IaaS is still, very much, in its infancy. New terms and new concepts are still be invented. One of the most interesting parts of the report was a new phrase – “Cloud Enabled Systems Infrastructure”. This phrase could be seminal as it describes a model of Cloud consumption which is truly friction free. For widespread adoption of Cloud amongst enterprises to happen, it has to be easy. Really easy. Only now are we starting to see a generation of Cloud platforms, be they VMWare or Hyper-V based (although interestingly not AWS) where public Cloud becomes an extension of your internal private Cloud or legacy infrastructure. When moving an application between your datacentre and a service provider’s is as easy as ordering something through the Amazon Mobile app, then it will hit critical mass. And today as an industry we are almost there.
The next two years are going to be incredibly fun to watch pan out. I think it will turn into a two horse race between AWS and Azure and I’m delighted to have a front seat.
Find out more about Windows Azure www.windowsazure.com
Find out more about Dot Net Solutions www.dotnetsolutions.co.uk
For some people building demo setups is a part of the job, for example Trainers pre-sales Technical roles and evangelists like me. Everything shifts as these evolve for example
Typically a product even an operating system doesn’t live in isolation and all of this means that new setups need to be continually created. So the trick is to have a framework to build from rather than a set of virtual machines that get modified checkpointed and so on. This really hit home to me when I was trying to set up a VDI environment recently as my deployment and desktop wingman Simon May is off to a new role in the USA and my usual hack and slash approach to VMs wasn’t working.
I was chatting over my problems with Marcus Robinson of Gold Partner Octari at the Virtual Machine User Group in Manchester, and he showed me his PowerShell! Marcus was up til 4am preparing for a course and had developed a script on the back of something developed by MVP and certified trainer, Thomas Lee, whose scripts are published on PowerShell.com. My approach was flawed because I was booting up a generic sysprepped VM which while it was joined to the domain had a random name as you can set this in an unattend file. This meant I couldn’t easily persist a session in PowerShell to rename the VM in Active Directory and the VMs have dynamic IPs as well. The “Lee-Robinson” approach I picked up is really clever and works as follows:
1. Use Windows install media to create a sysprepped Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) using the publicly available WimtoVHD Powershell script 2. Modify an unattend.xml file to contain the post sysprep configuration you need, by injecting xml code in fr such things as the ip address and domain name and credentials to join the domain. 3. mount the newly created VHD and inject the unattend.xml file into [mounted drive letter}:\windows\system32\sysprep 4. unmount the drive 5. create a VM around the new VHD 6. start the VM
1. Use Windows install media to create a sysprepped Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) using the publicly available WimtoVHD Powershell script
2. Modify an unattend.xml file to contain the post sysprep configuration you need, by injecting xml code in fr such things as the ip address and domain name and credentials to join the domain.
3. mount the newly created VHD and inject the unattend.xml file into [mounted drive letter}:\windows\system32\sysprep
4. unmount the drive
5. create a VM around the new VHD
6. start the VM
Thomas and Marcus need to do this so they can set up a lab environment for each student or each pair of students on a series of hosts, in Marcus’s case he needed to build a lab to show off Data Protection Manager, while Thomas is constantly pushing PowerShell itself as well as needing to run labs of his own. I see the other advantages of this approach to a lab
This all seems such a good idea I thought I would do more posts on this in a series as I reset my demos for the next round of events I have been asked to do.
Finally if you want a proper deep dive into PowerShell this is not the blog you are looking for and you could do worse than hang at one of Thomas’s PowerShell camps at the time of writing the next one is 19th October 2013.
Here is the programme of sessions for each day of Tech.Days Online from Wednesday November 6-8. We are also delighted to confirm that Steve Ballmer will be joining us on the first day at 12:00 to answer questions from IT Pros and share his views on the exciting developments in the Windows platform and the rapidly growing family of devices.
In fact, if you have a question for Steve Ballmer please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org as your input will help us to make sure we get him to answer as many of the popular questions submitted by you.
All sessions are 30-minutes and the experts will be available post-session for further online chat and follow-up to any questions you have.
Remember that there will also be competitions and prizes to be won throughout each day from T-shirts to an X Box One so do switch on, tune in and join us for all the sessions you want to participate in by registering for Tech.Days Online starting on Wednesday November 6th.
You can register online here to reserve the dates in your calendar and ensure that we update you any more breaking news on the sessions including the speakers, the customers and the other members of the Microsoft IT Pro community that you will hear from over the three-days of Tech.Days Online.
Wednesday November 6 –Windows Client for IT Pros and Developers
Session Title (all sessions are 30 minutes)
Overview of the day
Windows 8.1 – devices galore!
Windows 8.1 – Desktop Optimisation with App-V and UE-V
Management in the cloud with Windows Intune Configuration Manager
Heterogeneous device management
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, Live Interview
Cloud Productivity – Managing Office 365
Building business Apps with Visual Studio DevOps
Windows 8.1 – Workplace Join
Windows 8.1 - VDI
Interview with Microsoft Corporate DPE Executive – details to be confirmed
Wrap-up of Day 1
Thursday November 7 –Server and Cloud for IT Pros
2012 R2 - Virtualisation
2012 R2 - Networking
2012 R2 - Storage
Extreme automation - Learn automation or get better at golf!
What’s new in Ops Manager
Cluster in a box
Moving VMs from on-premise to Azure
Automating the Azure Datacentre with PowerShell
Windows Azure Platform
Wrap-up of Day 2
Friday November 8 –Visual Studio, Azure, Dev tools for Developers
What’s new in Visual Studio for App Developers
Agile development with team Foundation Server
Building a Cloud Back-end to connect Windows Phone and Windows Apps
Azure Cloud Services Architecture
From whiteboard to deployed in 15 minutes
What’s new in Visual Studio for Web Developers
What’s new in Windows 8.1 for App Development
IE11 for Developers
Asynchronous C# development in Visual Studio 2013
Wrap-up of Day 3
End of Tech.Days Online 2013 Broadcast
We hope you are as excited as we are with this upcoming event, please keep an eye out on the Facebook and Twitter accounts running up to the event as we will be sharing more competition info soon. Make sure you have the dates reserved in your calendar for the next Microsoft Tech Days Online 2013 this November! You can register online now here.
By Geoff Evelyn, SharePoint MVP and owner of SharePointGeoff.com.
Look through the job advertisements for any online job site or computer journal for an indicator of what most organisations seems to regard as a key attribute of SharePoint support staff. The need, desire and hunt for technical knowledge seems to jump out at you from the pages. I’ve seen advertisements for SharePoint members that reads like a list of SharePoint third party products and affiliated integrated Microsoft products. The closest match of the candidate to that list is the first step towards being interviewed.
Even Microsoft seems to lay great store by this. Microsoft provides a range of qualifications which can be pursued. These qualifications become a marketable commodity; a SharePoint support person whose technical competence is measured by a Microsoft endorsed certificate commands a higher salary and is in greater demand than one whose ability is not so endorsed. In fact, an entire market is already in operation to provide Microsoft recognised training courses, with a range of quality, pace and price to suit most pockets.
With certification programmes, SharePoint software producing companies have nothing to lose, and so very much to gain. They can sell training courses, appoint recognised trainers. They can ride on the back of the hype the qualification brings in its wake. They can reduce their support burden by encouraging customers to pay to be able to do their own support.
Organizations generally face issues in finding the right level of technical support for their products. SharePoint could be considered to be different in the mix of Microsoft products because SharePoint is a platform. That means more interaction from support level to the business, not just solving technical issues. The support the business is after from a SharePoint perspective goes beyond into the land of solving business challenges. Questions like the following are normal directed to SharePoint support:
But what exactly makes up a great SharePoint support person. Is it simply technical? Definitely not. This article attempts to answer the fundamental questions concerning how to determine what constitutes a ‘super-duper’ SharePoint support person. To do that, I am going to break the article into seven points. Each point relates to an attribute that a SharePoint support member should have. I have also tried to keep this article version agnostic. I will not be going into any particular version of SharePoint, or product.
So, let’s kick off with a basic statement. SharePoint Service Delivery is about capability. The solution being provided to users must be capable of fulfilling their requirements. At the same time, the relevant solution needs to be supported by individuals who will be able to provide help and aid to those using the relevant solution. Therefore, it goes without saying that the skills of those who need to support users’ needs to go beyond just technical aspects of the solution being provided.
A 2013 Gartner report called “ITs Aspirations Require Addressing Current Realities” described a disturbing trend:
“CIOs have consistently reported a lack of skills as the single biggest factor limiting IT’s successes”.
The report goes on to say:
“One in four CIOs believe that the IT labour market is ‘working’.”
That can mean at least two things. First, that those being recruited to provide support are not skilled enough. Secondly, that the recruitment process in identifying the right person to provide support is not working. The key to organisations having the right people is based on their capability to provide support services.
In addition, the constantly changing face of technology as it expands and morphs will lead people to become continuously productive as explained in this article:
This will therefore impact on how support is provided, particularly for those products which are in the centre of collaborative tools. In order for SharePoint to be capable of providing a support service to the user base, the user base needs to be adequately supported. The environment in which SharePoint can be employed, for example, on-premise in an organization, off-premise through Office 365, and on any mobile device, being smartphone, tablet, etc. means that the environments in which SharePoint support could be employed is also varied:
Irrespective of the environment (which may in fact be a combination of the above), SharePoint support persons require particular attributes to ensure that a SharePoint service can be effectively provided.
Find out the 7 ways of identifying a super-duper SharePoint support person here.
We are currently within planning stages of TechDays Online 2013, which we are incredibly excited about.
Last year was a huge success, we had 3 days of exciting Dev and IT Pro content. Highlights included Jeffrey Snover (father of PowerShell), lots of great MVP’s and even world cup winning rugby player Will Greenwood joined us for a Skype Call.
Building on last year’s success, we hope to make this year event even bigger, and even better. We have a wave of innovation coming through which will undoubtedly feature, but also want to throw it out to you the audience to impact what happens this year.
- What would you like to see featured this year?
- Last year we delivered dedicated IT Pro and Developer content days, we would like your feedback on whether this worked well for you?
- Would prefer to have dedicated days split up over two 1/2 day sessions and a general technology day for both audiences?
- What did you think of TechDays Online 2012?
We are keen to learn your thoughts on how to improve and enrich your online experience for TechDays Online 2013!
PLEASE COMMENT BELOW.
How tidy is your physical environment? Have you any cabling left lying around or temporarily put in place which has now become 'live'?
Being the curious cat's we are, we thought it would be fun to see a few photo's of your server rooms. Chaos or Clean? To find out we have decided to run a monthly competition, kicking off this month we want to see just how chaotic or well maintained our readers keep their server cabinets.
Prize ‘bundles’ (bundles I hear you say… yes bundles) awarded to both – ‘Tidy’ and ‘Untidy’ server cabinets each month.
So are you a ‘Super Server Sammy’?
Or are you a ‘Chaotic Cabled Colin’?
1. Like the TechNetUK Facebook page.
2. Upload your server cabinet housekeeping image to the TechNetUK Facebook page wall, using the hashtag - #TechNetTidy
1. Follow the TechNetUK Twitter page.
2. Tweet your server cabinet housekeeping image to @TechNetUk, using the hashtag - #TechNetTidy
Find full competition terms and conditions here.
- The tidiest entry of the month will win a branded ‘TechNet UK’ cup as well as a winning competition t-shirt (as seen sported here).
- The untidiest entry of the month will win a ‘booby’ prize (which will help you clean up your technical act), as well as a competition t-shirt.
HOW TO WIN
Winning entries will be determined by the TechNet team and at least one independent judge on the 23rd September 2013. Judging will be based on:
- Originality and Compliance with theme - think outside the box!
Keep an eye out on our Facebook and Twitter pages for entries, good luck to all!
Last month it was brought to my attention the achievements of Antonio Vargas, a Microsoft Exchange senior solutions architect at Intercall Unified Communications UK, who in July 2013 had been awarded a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master’s certification in Exchange Server 2013.
A Quick Insight…
Antonio has held 12 years’ experience in Unified Communications, mostly working for a large IT Firm in Portugal. His willingness to progress led to a job invitation from Unified Communication experts Intercall based in the UK, where he’s been working for the last year.
He gained his first Microsoft certification 12 years ago on Active Directory. Since then he’s completed 24 additional Microsoft certifications all based around unified communications.
With 25 certificates under his belt, Antonio was ready for his next challenge – to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) in Exchange Server 2013.
If I’m being entirely honest, I hadn’t a great deal of knowledge on what an MCSM entailed, but I knew it was a great achievement. I decided to track Antonio down to find out more about his mammoth undertaking to get a better understanding of the process, how it works and why you’d go through it. It was a fascinating conversation so I thought others might find it interesting too... so here’s what he said.
What was the driving force behind your decision to take the Master’s accreditation?
Having successfully passed numerous certifications I was getting to the point in my career where I‘d exhausted all the potential courses at my current level. I’d wanted to specialise in a particular area for a while, so in order to do that and progress a Masters certification was next on my list.
Unified Communications is the area I am most interested in, but it goes beyond interest. A Master Certification in any technology is incredibly hard, and you truly need to love that technology as you’re going to be devoting lots of your time on self-learning, it’s not going to be easy to do a masters in a technology you’re not entirely sure of. Exchange was my favourite, hence why I choose it.
What’s the process for completing a Masters?
I always had plans of progressing to a Masters, it’s been something on my to do list for a couple of years now. So when I finally decided to go for it around June 2012, I had to prepare well in advance.
I began to build a study plan, during the 6-9 months period I began out of hour’s preparation, light reading around the varied TechNet articles and blog content and some good books about Microsoft Exchange, the last 6 months leading up to the course I started heavier reading around more focused content, some specialised books and TechNet articles around Office 365 especially. The last few months I was getting hands on learning, taking advantage of the Microsoft Masters advanced training labs which took place in the US, presented by instructors from Microsoft and Microsoft partner organizations. This was a great opportunity to study but also to network with a varied group of like-minded field experts also going for their Masters. My study plan was incredibly helpful but the real experience I was able to gather from my work at Intercall was on par if not as important to the progression route.
Challenges you faced, and how you overcame them?
Time constraints was the main issue - any free time I had, I was reading. Microsoft provide a pre-recommended reading list to anyone planning on taking their Masters, and this helps greatly with finding relative material. My employer was also incredibly helpful, I was provided solely with projects focused on Exchange on the last few months leading up the rotation, this helped further my focus on the product, rather than having to work on other technologies.
Have you reaped any benefits from your experience and certification yet?
Firstly, it’s been beneficial to the company having an employee who masters in a technology which is a large focus of their business, this will hopefully be a real selling point for our customers.
Personally, I’ll also be able to get involved in bigger projects as a result, which will give me greater experience and responsibility. Another huge benefit is the contacts and friendships I’ve formed along the way, I’m now a member of the Microsoft Masters community, a group where we share ideas, resolve queries and network with experts from various IT backgrounds. These are invaluable connections which will undoubtedly be hugely beneficial to my future career.”
Have you got any tips for others seeking a Microsoft Certified Masters or alternative certifications?
(Note: If you choose to take the advanced training course, basic questions need to be pre-determined, don’t waste this valuable experience asking questions which could be found in advance).
Antonio has shown great skill and determination leading up to and throughout his Masters certification and we applaud his achievement as a Microsoft certified Exchange Master. Antonio also told me he not only has future plans to renew this certification in a few years, but also further ambitions of completing a Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) certificate. There’s no stopping him! We wish him the very best in his future career.
If you, like Antonio, are ambitious and eager to improve your skillset and qualifications, we have Microsoft Virtual Academy courses where you can learn at your own pace (?) and gain accreditation. You might not have the stamina or will to go all the way to a Masters, but that’s OK, you can learn through your lunch hour. Check out Andrew Fryer's ‘A Month of Lunchtimes’ article and tell us how you get on!
By Asavin Wattanajantra, Digital Copywriter at Metia
It’s snowing. Transport is a mess. It’s impossible to get to work. Peter still has his regular breakfast and gets dressed for work because he’s got an important meeting with his colleague in Sweden.
Through a USB key he picked from work Steven runs a version of Windows on a computer where he accesses the Microsoft Office applications he’s so familiar with. Through Microsoft Lync he’s able to talk to his colleague in Sweden via a video connection.
Work files are available because his home system has synced them. He opens a PowerPoint document with an app that works exactly the same way as it does in the office. He shares the document with his Swedish colleague. They get down to business.
The workplace is changing. Gone are the days when it was essential for employees to be stuck in an office cubicle for their entire working lives. Good businesses realise that flexibility is beneficial for a happy and productive environment.
It allows them to hire valuable staff that for any number of reasons can’t work in a traditional office: for instance freelancers working in a different country, or people with valuable but extremely unique technical skills that are difficult to find.
An organisation won't lose valuable people who might want to start a family or move to a different part of the country. And you'll find that employees working from home can be more productive without the distractions of an office, or the time wasting of a tortuous car or rail journey.
The biggest challenge that businesses find is putting the right technology in place. If you don't have, for example, the right hardware (laptops, servers or web-enabled devices like smartphones) together with suitable connectivity, you're fighting a losing battle. However, it is becoming much easier for IT departments to implement remote working thanks to cloud computing.
Securing information and data
The ability to access business information and applications on-demand over the internet is a big change. Previously it would have been a huge effort for IT staff to keep business information secure on different devices. Now, software like Microsoft Office 365 is available on demand, which provides access to Office applications and documents across any devices you might have in your company, as well as the various gadgets employees bring in from the outside.
For the IT department, Office 365 takes much of the worry away.
· As Office 365 is cloud-based, your back- end services are monitored 24 hours a day and you get a financially backed uptime guarantee.
· Data is encrypted through transit, and held in datacentres which are independently audited and some of the most secure in the world.
· You can manage security by adding users, setting access rules, and remotely locking and wiping devices if stolen.
To get these types of services on-premises was and is very difficult. Cloud technology allows you to reduce costs, automate processes, increase scalability and simplify your IT. You can manage all the technology from a centralised location, making growth and expansion much easier and with lower setup costs.
But increased remote working brings some natural concerns. Will employees will be equally or more productive without the face-to-face pressure of a manager? And how do you stop the detachment that comes from not being part of the office team? Again, cloud technology could be the answer, as there are powerful online collaborative tools available which will benefit whatever organisation you're working with or for.
Office 365 features include:
· The ability to share up-to-date master copies of Word, PowerPoint and Excel files quickly and easily on different devices with SkyDrive.
· The potential to gain access to company bulletins, docs and policies from anywhere. It also offers the possibility of using a team site to manage reports, proposals, calendars and budgets.
· Functionality with Lync, which means you're just a real-time message or video call away from a mobile worker, and they are with their colleagues
Whether you're IT support in a large enterprise, or an IT manager in a small business, there’s now an expectation integrating remote working into the organisation. With cloud computing, it is now much easier to make it a reality.
Asavin is a specialist technology writer with more than five years experience writing for different web publications. He’s particularly interested in Microsoft technology and how it fits for business needs throughout the world.
By Simon Wright, Managing Consultant at PointBeyond Ltd
As summer takes a firm hold and thoughts turn to holidays, your organisation probably seems a little quieter than usual. This respite can often be an ideal opportunity for IT departments to get around to those long overdue housekeeping chores.
Take your SharePoint environment for example. Having tirelessly served the business for the past year, in the same way you would expect to service and MOT a car, now is the ideal time to prepare your mission critical platform for next year’s journey.
We’ve identified the top five reasons for doing a SharePoint health check, based on our experience of delivering health checks for numerous customers across various sectors:
1. What we originally designed and built our SharePoint environment to do and what it is doing now are completely different.
You may have more users, more sites, more content, more customisations, more third party tools, or all of the above! You want to be confident that your environment is stable and you are not about to experience an outage or failure.
2. SharePoint seems slower/less reliable recently – we want to maintain user confidence in the platform.
Maybe you even know some aspects aren’t working correctly, but haven’t had the time to address them.
3. Nightly backups and/or search crawls are taking longer and longer to complete.
Scheduled tasks regularly run into the next working day and make the whole environment incredibly slow.
4. The business is looking for re-assurance that the environment is secure.
The business critical and sensitive nature of data held on your SharePoint Farm, together with recent high profile cases of systems being compromised, has highlighted a need for ensure that the environment is built to Microsoft Best Practice and is secure.
5. We are interested in laying the groundwork for an upgrade or migration project.
You want to know that your SharePoint environment is stable and you have a firm footing on which to plan a migration.
The overarching theme tends to be that ‘SharePoint has become mission critical for us now. We’re thinking about it more strategically as a platform and want to make sure our house is in order before considering next steps.’
This is understandable given some of the most common mistakes we see, such as:
1. There is little or no SQL maintenance taking place on SharePoint databases
2. Incorrect service accounts are being used to run services and application pools
3. Security concerns around service accounts being local administrators and/or using weak passwords
4. Backups are not regularly taking place, or restores have not been tested
5. Search crawl, user profile import and timer jobs are regularly failing
Time to get your house in order?
With this in mind, we’ve put together a free self-help check list that can be used to determine whether your SharePoint 2010 environment is in need of some care and attention. Covering vital areas such as Services on Servers, SQL maintenance and with explanatory notes for each check point, the list can be an invaluable starting point for organisations wanting to health check or improve their existing SharePoint environment.
Full details can be found here.
Simon Wright is a Managing Consultant at PointBeyond Ltd, UK specialists in SharePoint Strategy and Business Solutions. Simon has extensive expertise in delivering SharePoint implementations, solution strategy, business systems analysis, development and implementation to organisations across many varying sectors. You can contact Simon at email@example.com.