Posts Tagged 'Office 365'

What Does Office 2013 Mean for Office 365 Subscribers?

This past week in San Francisco Microsoft announced the upcoming release of Office 2013. I am writing this post on Saturday so a review of the new look and features is already old news. I am an Office 365 subscriber, though, so what exactly does this new release of Office mean for me? What is the next generation of Office? Is it 2013, is it 365 or is it both? In many ways Office 2013 seems to blur the distinction between desktop and cloud.

Clearly Office 2013 has been designed with the cloud in mind. For one thing Office 2013 documents are saved to SkyDrive by default. These documents are then easily accessible from the Office 365 web apps as well as from other devices (PCs and tablets for example) running Office 2013. I would like to see better integrated support for automatic synchronization between online and offline document versions but perhaps that will be forthcoming. Office 2013 will also feature integration with two cloud collaboration technologies (Yammer and Skype) that Microsoft has acquired.

Although Microsoft has stated that they will push out updates to the Office Web Apps in Office 365 it is not yet clear which of the new Office 2013 features will be supported. Presumably Office 365 subscribers who have purchased a plan which includes Office Professional Plus will be able to download Office 2013 client applications for no additional cost when it becomes a released product and Office 2013 can be acquired by itself in either a traditional or subscription based licensing model.  It also appears that Microsoft intends to target consumers (individuals and families) with the new Office 365 Home Premium version.

To learn more about how Office 365 can be leveraged for productivity Learning Tree offers a comprehensive four-day Office 365 course. It is scheduled to next run in New York on September 18th, 2012. It is a great course and that is a great time of year to visit the city. The weather is a bit cooler and it is less crowded than in the summer. I hope to see you there!

Kevin Kell

Configuring Exchange Servers in the Cloud

This week I digress once again from my intended progression of posts to deal with some real world issues …

Learning Tree’s “choice in the classroom” now offers attendees the option of working either with a partner or on their own when doing the hands-on exercises. As part of this initiative authors are reviewing classroom hardware requirements for each of their courses.

In our Office 365 course we feature a hands-on exercise where the students perform an actual cutover migration from Exchange 2010 Server on premises to Exchange Online in Office 365. This exercise requires one fully configured Exchange server per student team. Allowing students the option to work solo could potentially double the number of Exchange servers needed for an event. Note that this is essentially a load variation problem and is something for which the Infrastructure as a Service cloud delivery model is particularly well suited!

I had previously provisioned 12 EC2 servers and configured them in a VPC where each had an assigned Elastic IP address. This allows for all of the instances to remain stopped until the actual day in which they are needed in the class. The instructor can simply start as many machines as necessary based on the size of the class that week and how many students choose to work solo or in pairs. In this way we only incur instance run charges for when the machines are actually in use. When the instances are stopped there is a modest charge of $0.11 per GB per month. This works out to less than $50 per month for 12 Windows instances with 35 GB of provisioned storage each. It is relatively simple to extend this solution for 24 servers at very little additional cost.

There are some complications I encountered with an Exchange installation that made it impossible to simply clone existing instances. In fact I could not even start from a custom AMI where I had already installed Exchange. Making Exchange work for the exercise required that each server be on a separate Active Directory domain. Further, it required that a “real” UCC certificate (i.e. from a proper Certification Authority, not just self-signed) for a validated domain be installed on each machine.

Briefly, here are the steps I needed to go through:

  1. Start from a custom AMI that has all downloads and latest service packs required for installing Exchange. This AMI has also been setup with the desired user accounts and has had some of the necessary Windows Server roles and features turned on. It has also had some unwanted and unneeded features turned off.
  2. Install the Active Directory Domain Services role and assign the custom domain.
  3. Install and configure Exchange.
  4. Assign license to Exchange.
  5. Create Exchange mailboxes for use in class.
  6. Enable Outlook Anywhere.
  7. Request UCC certificate.
  8. Complete certificate request using certificate file issued by CA.

I was able to script some of this using PowerShell. In actuality building each machine did require some manual effort. In this case, though, it was done as a one-time thing. I will no doubt continue to explore options for rapidly building these and other types of servers for use in the classroom. One area I would like to look at further is orchestrating the provisioning of Exchange server perhaps using something like RightScale’s Configuration Framework. That, however, will have to be a topic for another time.

Kevin Kell

Top 11 Reasons I Prefer Office 365 Over Google Apps

Warning: This post is subjective and highly opinionated!

I will admit to having a Microsoft bias as that is the technology I tend to use most often. That said I think all of the following are valid. I welcome comments and discussion.

11. Office 365 works seamlessly with the Office 2010 software installed on my desktop. Google Apps has no desktop version.

10. There are more subscription options available for Office 365 than Google Apps. I can choose the right subscription for my staff ranging from high-powered knowledge workers and development teams right through to clerical workers.

9. As a systems administrator I believe I have more control over Office 365 than I do with Google Apps.

8. Office 365 Exchange Online has a robust set of features for archiving, compliance, discovery and policy management.

7. If I already have Active Directory on premises I can configure Office 365 for single sign on.

6. Office 365 gives me the ability to synchronize my on premises Active Directory objects to the cloud. This allows me to continue to maintain user and group profiles exactly as I currently do.

5. Office 365 subscriptions can include SharePoint Online. SharePoint Online gives me and my team a common workspace to share documents and to otherwise collaborate.

4. Office 365 subscriptions can include Lync Online. Lync Online’s Integrated Presence feature allows me to see which of my contacts are online right from within my Office applications. With one click I can send email, IM or start a voice/video session with a document’s author from right within that document.

3. There are clearly defined migration paths from my current on-premises email solution to Office 365 and Exchange Online. I can choose to migrate some or all of my users all at once or over time.

2. Office 365 gives me the ability to continue to transparently co-exist with my on-premises solution indefinitely. I can continue to have some users on premises and some users in the cloud for as long as I want.

And last, but not least:

1. I already know Microsoft Office products. The transition to Office 365 is easy and I am comfortable with the interface.

To learn more about Office 365 and how it can be used in your organization consider attending Learning Tree’s new course entitled Deploying Microsoft Office 365.

Kevin Kell

Using Amazon EC2 in Learning Tree’s Office 365 Course

Our upcoming Office 365 course will feature an exercise where attendees will gain real hands-on experience migrating on-premises Exchange mailboxes to the cloud. In order to do this we will require one on-premises Exchange server per student team. Further, each Exchange server has to exist on a unique domain which has been registered with a DNS provider, is available over the Internet and has been added to each student’s Office 365 subscription.

In order to accomodate a large class this could result in a potentially big investment in hardware and classroom setup time. Or, we could look to the cloud as a potential solution. As it turns out this is a perfect problem to solve using EC2.

Why? Well, we can create instances of Exchange Servers on uniquely named Active Directory domains and have them available for use when we need them in class. These, effectively, become our “on-premises” mail servers for our exercise, even though they are actually themselves in the cloud!

In this way we will only incur charges for running instances for the few hours of each class where we actually need them. When they are not needed we can leave them in a stopped state. Sure there will be some charges for storing the volume but those will be relatively small. Also, while the course is under development, we can work with these Exchange servers from anywhere and testing can be done by our geographically dispersed development team.

Are we storing any sensitive data in the cloud? No. Is the application mission critical? Well, I guess if we can’t connect to the Internet for some reason that could cause a problem in the classroom but if that were to occur we would have a problem anyway because the whole class is about the cloud!

So, in summary, the cloud is not a solution to every problem. There are some problems, however, like this case in point where the cloud is a good fit and solves real world technical problems in a cost effective manner.

Kevin Kell

Office 365 Service Requests: Customer Service in the Cloud

Season’s greetings!

Seems like forever ago since my last post. I have been heads-down working on the upcoming Learning Tree Office 365 course.

As part of writing the course I have had to provision multiple Office 365 subscriptions. The development team is using Office 365 as a way to collaborate on the course documents. It is perfect for us since we have team members from Los Angeles to France! I have also had to create accounts to develop and test the hands-on exercises. Finally, we need multiple subscriptions on an ongoing basis to accommodate our students during class.

Last week I discovered that I had oversubscribed and I had an account I was paying for and not using. Even worse was that I had inadvertently requested a year’s subscription not the normal month to month that I usually do. Since there appeared to be no way to cancel the subscription from the Office 365 portal I worried that I was going to have to eat the cost.

That is until I decided to use the portal to submit a service request to Microsoft. I had not done that before and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical as to how well it would work, if at all. Well, to my pleasant surprise I received a phone call from a Microsoft Customer Service representative within 24 hours. Since I was not at my office when the call occurred she left a voice-mail and followed up with an email requesting that I confirm some details about the account. Within a couple hours after that I received another phone call and confirmation that my subscription was cancelled and that I would no longer be charged for the service.

I have to say that I had a perception of anything in “the cloud” as being largely impersonal and difficult when you needed to actually talk to a human. That most certainly was not the case in this instance. It seems like the Service Request mechanism in Office 365 actually does work; at least it did in this case. So, now I can get back to writing the course and not have to worry about that subscription anymore.

Keep a lookout for Learning Tree’s Office 365 course. We are targeting May, 2012 for our first public event. It should be a good one, even if I do humbly say so myself! J

Kevin Kell

Office 365: A Cloud-based Productivity Tools Solution

It is with great pleasure that I can announce the development of this new Cloud and Office course by Learning Tree International!

Microsoft Office 365 offers access to familiar Office applications that are updated and licensed directly from the cloud. There are also online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online productivity services. This course will cover the collaboration and productivity tools of Microsoft Office 365. It will target anyone managing or working in a cloud-based environment, people moving an existing Office infrastructure to the cloud and users interested in the collaboration features of Office 365.

The course will appeal to IT Professionals who are considering an Office 365 cloud-based solution in their organizations. This includes Systems Administrators, Network Administrators, Application Developers, IT Managers and Knowledge Workers. The course assumes a basic understanding of Microsoft Office, Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange and either Lync or Communications Server 2007.

There are many cool things about Office 365. Even beyond that, Office 365 represents a real break-through for organizations wishing to realize benefits of the cloud in a familiar Office environment. Come to this course if you would like to see an objective treatment of Office 365 and for critical thinking tools to help you evaluate Office 365 for use in your own organization.

Kevin Kell

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