Windows 10 supports device sign-in via Azure Active Directory

If, like many of my customers, you’re considering ditching all local servers in favor of cloud-based infrastructure, there’s one thorny problem you have to overcome: central account management without a domain controller. Until Windows 10 there weren’t many good options – sure, with Windows 8 PCs you could switch to using Microsoft Accounts to sign in to your local device, but that approach brings other problems.

Windows 10 offers a fantastic new option – the ability to connect your machine to Microsoft Azure Active Directory, and use your AAD credentials to log in to Windows! That solves the “last-mile” problem, so now your Office 365 sign-in (which uses AAD) is also your Windows sign-in (which now uses AAD), and you can use central administrative creds to manage the machine and enjoy all the other benefits of being part of a managed environment, and when you add Microsoft Intune into the mix, the device management picture is that much more complete!

For businesses with mobile users or an aversion to on-prem technology (which all business should be on-prem tech averse!), this option offers a really compelling reason to move to Windows 10.

Are you still running Windows Server 2003? The End is Near(er)!

Back in November 2014, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team issued an alert about the end of support for Windows Server 2003. It’s now the end of March of 2015, and the end-of-support date will be here in less than 4 months. Starting on July 15, 2015, Windows Server 2003 will no longer receive security updates, fixes, or technical assistance from Microsoft. To borrow a phrase: the end is near!

The sky, however, is not falling.

Migration from your on-premises server to a different system is not terribly complicated, generally-speaking (the devil’s in the details, of course). And you have options – sort of. You can get a new server and move your stuff, or you can choose to migrate to a cloud-based offering, such as Office 365 and Microsoft Azure. Considering that here at inWorks LLC we believe that you should not be running a server unless you’re in the datacenter business, I suggest that you take the following path:

Take your email to Exchange Online with Office 365. With ridiculously low per-user prices, virtually unlimited disk space, and enterprise-grade features you simply cannot find a better messaging & collaboration system. Some may suggest Exchange hosted by other providers, Google, or Amazon (which recently added its own mail service), and unless you have very specific, compelling reasons for choosing those routes, don’t. Exchange Online will give you the best email, calendaring, contact management system you can buy in terms of usability, functionality, compatibility, extensibility, and some other *ilities I’m probably forgetting.

Take your files to SharePoint Online with Office 365. Some folks are apprehensive about SharePoint Online. It does represent a departure from the typical local server-based file access, with its familiar mapped drives and network shares. It also represents a major step forward for your business, in terms of managing documents and data – and it doesn’t have to be scary, or painful.

With a little bit of advanced planning and proper execution and tools, the transition can be painless, and using SharePoint – liberating. Plus, this is the one opportunity you’ll have to really clean house with your documents!

Even if you don’t take the time to explore SharePoint’s moderately advanced capabilities you will still end up ahead – with things like automatic document versioning, recycle bin, search indexing to make stuff easy to find, top-notch security, simple external sharing, easy access on all devices from anywhere, and so on. I haven’t even talked about building apps on top of SharePoint Online – apps that may not require any code at all! I won’t this time, either, just to keep things brief.

Move business apps to the cloud.
Microsoft Azure provides a datacenter in the sky that’s at your beck and call – pay just for what you use, with no upfront costs and no capital expenditures. Don’t need it anymore? Shut it down and the bill stops.

Anything you want to do that can’t be done with Office 365, can be done in Azure. Virtual machines, websites, storage, custom scripts, databases, et cetera – are now in your business IT tool belt, and with the recent addition of RemoteApp to the already deep and wide set of services that Azure provides, you can deliver even legacy applications from the cloud directly to the desktop, tablet, or phone. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is really cool.

Sign up for MSOnlineHelpdesk.com. This service grew out of our experience helping other businesses that made the cloud switch. It’s optimized for cloud customers and uses a similar, utility-based cloud model for all your needs, whether cloud or not.

With a monthly subscription you get what essentially amounts to Technology Insurance for your business – in return for a monthly “premium” you get someone who’ll pick up the email when you send in a support request, get back to you right away, answer your question without charge if it doesn’t take long, and get you help at lower support rates if it’s something gnarly. We’ll also handle hardware, software, and licensing procurement, set up backup if you need it, manage remote access to your systems, and provide antivirus software along with central device inventory & management, plus security for your mobile devices.

Don’t believe me? Have questions? Would like to discuss migration planning or ongoing support? Want to talk haiku form? Drop me a line!

Microsoft updates Office 365 Admin App

Today Microsoft released an updated version of the office 365 Admin app for mobile devices. Lawrence Chiu, senior product marketing manager on the Office 365 team writes:

Administer Office 365 on the go with the updated Office 365 admin app, which now enables you to complete common admin tasks when you are away from your computer. This could be resetting your CEO’s password, adding a new hire or deleting a user who suddenly has left the company. In addition, to help you stay in better touch with us, we added the Message Center—a central location for Office 365 service communications.

The app provides Office 365 health status tile on the home screen, and gives easy access to messages about Office 365 – which is awesome because I always have trouble keeping up with the stream of announcements.

Two features I’d like to see that aren’t (yet) there:

  • The ability to switch between tenants to make administration easier for those of us who manage multiple accounts – without having to sign out and sign in as different administrators!
  • For Windows Phone – a live tile that provides service health and message updates

I’m also a bit surprised it’s not a universal app, so it’s not available for Windows 8.1 (and Windows 10). It also doesn’t look as though the tiles on the home screen are as dynamic as they could be – even after catching up on all the messages, the display still says there are 6 ‘latest’ to review.

Despite these minor shortcomings, it’s a useful tool, so head on over to the Office blog to get details, and get it from your app store: the app is available now for Windows Phone 8.1 and Android 4.0 or later, and coming soon to iOS 8.

Microsoft SharePoint Online ups its storage max per site collection

This is a pretty big deal for SharePoint Online. Up until recently you could only have (for Enterprise plans) site collections up to 100GB in size. 100GB isn’t anything to sneeze at, but there are cases – quite a lot of them, actually – where storage accumulated over the last, say 10 years, exceeded that quite a lot. There are also folks who use SharePoint Online for storing lots of high-res imagery, and in any scaled operation, 100GB limit starts to become restrictive.

Good solution architecture and planning can overcome such constraints, of course. In many cases it is preferable to segment a solution across site collections – regardless of storage limits. There are scenarios, however (long term archiving), for example, where it may be preferable to let storage grow (and grow).

Microsoft announced (almost a month ago, actually) that SharePoint Online now supports site collections up to 1TB in size. In addition, you can grow your tenant almost without limits – creating as many of those 1TB site collections as your budget and business will allow (up to 10,000, which is the current limit).

Here’s the original blog post explaining the details: http://blogs.office.com/2014/03/14/sharepoint-online-announces-1tb-site-collections-and-unlimited-tenant-storage-scale/

 

Office 365 Multi-factor authentication is now available

Microsoft has made available multi-factor authentication for the following Office 365 plans:

  • Midsize Business
  • Enterprise
  • Academic
  • Non-profit
  • Exchange Online
  • SharePoint Online

Multi-factor authentication will allow you to use your mobile phone, office phone, or a smartphone app as a secondary authentication mechanism to increase sign-in security. While client application (Microsoft Office) updates are forthcoming to enable seamless integration with multi-factor authentication, for the time being you have to use a feature called App Passwords, which automatically generate a 16 character secure password to use when signing in from applications other than the web – just another reminder that security and convenience rarely go hand-in-hand :).

To learn more about Multi-Factor Authentication for Office 365, read the Office Blog post.