How to create S.M.A.R.T. support requests to get better help faster

While sending an email invitation to the self-service support portal for a new client the other day, I decided to write up a guide on what makes a good support request.

I ended up defining that a support request should be S.M.A.R.T.:


When asking for help, be SPECIFIC, indicate the problem’s MAGNITUDE, tell me what ACTIONS you’ve already tried, provide any RELATED or relevant info, and please be TIMELY.


Read the rest of the guide on writing better support requests on our Support Portal


Office 2016 Preview (for Business) is available to download

Microsoft’s been busy lately! Skype for Business preview was announced today, as was Office 2016 Preview (for Business). This install is targeted at IT admins with an active Office 365 ProPlus subscription (Project and Visio are also available as part of the preview).

One thing to note that, as the site says, Office 2016 will not co-exist with Office 2013, so once installed it upgrades your existing installation. You will lose InfoPath 2013, since that product is being discontinued, and install notes that you may also lose SharePoint Designer 2013 – which can be reinstalled afterwards. In my install experience, SPD was not removed, so that’s good – the install script must have already been updated after documentation was released :).

Lync has been updated to be Skype for Business – with the new look (although I might have enabled that earlier today when I set the EnableSkypeUI switch to true in my Lync Online tenant, so I’m not sure if the new Skype for Business look comes thanks to Office 2016 Preview, or if it’s both the Preview and my Lync Online PowerShell experiment).

The download process was painless, and the install equally so. The download itself is small – about 3MB – and contains some documentation (known issues, what’s new, etc.) as well as a batch + XML file that kicks off a click-to-run installation for your selected language. At the moment you have to choose the language manually (do not run setup.exe, documentation states), run the batch file, and wait for the install to complete. If you have open Office programs, the install will shut them down for you.

Top to bottom, I upgraded to Office 2016 Preview in about 7 minutes. All my settings have been preserved, although it appears that I will have to re-enter my passwords for all connected services.

Interested in learning more? Check out the Office 2016 Preview Program on the Microsoft Connect site – you will need to fill out a nomination survey first, and if you meet the criteria, you’ll be set to try it out!

Azure may get a new big-data service – Cosmos

According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is planning to bring their internal big-data service, Cosmos, to Azure as a paid service. Microsoft has been using Cosmos internally to handle data from Azure, Bing, Hotmail and other services, and appears poised to complement the current, Hadoop-based Azure HDInsight.

Cosmos will bring new analysis & storage engines, along with SQL-IP, a new language, presumably for working with data in the new offering.

Read Mary Jo Foley’s article on ZDNet for more info, and check out this detailed presentation (albeit from 2011) about Cosmos, its architecture, and functionality.

OneNote Class Notebook Creator app is amazing

If you’re in education or training sector, you should take a moment and review the OneNote Class Notebook Creator app – I just spent the few minutes checking it out and it looks like it offers a great set of features. Here’s the link to the article:

Here’s a summary of what the app allows you to do:

  • Create classes and set up notebook templates
  • Add students to the class and automatically create OneNote sections for their homework, assignments, etc.
  • Create shared content & collaboration libraries
  • Add other teachers / staff to the class notebooks
  • Secure students’ notebooks so only they have access
  • Manage students, teachers, content centrally
  • Notify students by email of notebook creation


I can easily see this being used in schools and in organizations that provide training with a (more-or-less) formal training curriculum. There are a couple of things missing from the app – such as being able to grade student assignments in a structured, reportable way; hopefully that’s something that can be added later – if there’s demand for it.

If you are an accredited educational institution, you can get everything you need to implement this for free, and businesses can get a free trial of Office 365 to check it out.

Get in touch if you’re interested in trying this out!

Move to the Cloud at The Department of Health and Human Services

“By deploying Microsoft Office 365 in a GCC at HHS, all of the operating and staffing divisions will be able to unify systems, enabling employees to collaborate across each department more efficiently and effectively. As an example, when public health outbreaks and emergencies occur, many disparate operating divisions of HHS are involved in the response efforts. While these operating divisions have different missions and responsibilities, much of the data, correspondence and activities are similar. The move to Office 365 will provide greater efficiency in managing cross-division processes, including data and analytics, as well as documentation management and reporting.”

Via Greg Myers Vice President of Microsoft Federal on Government

Non-profit organizations get Office 365 for free!

If your company is a non-profit, you have the opportunity to get Office 365 for free – and get even more features (like desktop versions of Office 2013) at a discount.


There are several plans to choose from – we can help you pick the right one and guide you through the trial or implementation. Here’s how to get started:

Sign up for a trial

This is the standard E3 Office 365 trial. Once your eligibility is confirmed by Microsoft, we will switch you over to one (or a mix) of the available Office 365 nonprofit plans.

Verify your eligibility

Take a look at Microsoft’s eligibility guidelines to see if you’re eligible – we can also help you with that step.

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:


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.