Microsoft Office 365

Office365 for Fringe Use Case Scenarios

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Microsoft’s newest Billion Dollar business units include Office 365 and Azure. There’s lots of marketing, sales, and ROI information about Office365 and cloud services in general. So I’m not going to bore you with another post about how to save your organization money or accelerate value by adopting Office365. I’m going to describe two real world use cases that I have personally found Office365 to help with. I might even through in some anecdotal cost benefit analysis but my main purpose is to explore some less common uses for Office 365 that you may not have thought of.

The two scenarios are:

  1. External consultants
  2. Text and Development

External Consultants

I manage a team of consultants that regularly have to work at client sites. Often at some very security conscious organizations. We can’t always use our own laptops in their environment or if we can it is typically through guest wireless networks. We’ve encountered situations where the guest wireless prevents us from connecting back to our office through VPN. This makes it difficult to access some of our collaboration services like SharePoint. We have moved my team to Office365 specifically to do things like coauthoring documents in SharePoint from customer sites. This enables some interesting scenarios. We’ve had cases where an offsite consultant was able to review and update some documentation while it was being simultaneously authored by another consultant working in our lab.

Test and Development

We do a lot of System Center work. System Center is a complex suite of products that interact with each other as well as core Windows infrastructure like Active Directory and Exchange. When we are building out a proof of concept for a customer, they typically don’t want us to touch their production AD and Exchange environments. I don’t blame them. Ultimately in order to complete the project we would need to somehow build out an Active Directory and Exchange infrastructure dedicated to the proof of concept or pilot. Consider the additional costs in hardware, software, and time required to accomplish this. Lately we’ve started using Office365 to provide Exchange services. It takes minutes to provision and connect to. Examples we’ve used recently include the Exchange connector for Configuration Manager and Service Manager. Using this approach, in under and hour I was able to get more than a half dozen mobile devices loaded into Configuration Manager for a MDM/UDM proof of concept without touching any production AD or Exchange infrastructure simply by adding an additional email account the devices.

We’ve extended this to Azure as well. We have been using Azure to host System Center instances for proof of concept and sandbox deployments. I’m looking forward to combining Azure with Office365 to further accelerate our pilots and proofs of concept deployments.

Getting Started with Cloud Computing

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You’ve likely heard about how Office 365 and Windows Intune are great applications to get you started with Cloud Computing. Many of you emailed me asking for more info on what Cloud Computing is, including the distinction between “Public Cloud” and “Private Cloud”. I want to address these questions and help you get started. Let’s begin with a brief set of definitions and some places to find more info; however, an excellent place where you can always learn more about Cloud Computing is the Microsoft Virtual Academy.

Public Cloud computing means that the infrastructure to run and manage the applications users are taking advantage of is run by someone else and not you. In other words, you do not buy the hardware or software to run your email or other services being used in your organization – that is done by someone else. Users simply connect to these services from their computers and you pay a monthly subscription fee for each user that is taking advantage of the service. Examples of Public Cloud services include Office 365, Windows Intune, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, Hotmail, and others.

Private Cloud computing generally means that the hardware and software to run services used by your organization is run on your premises, with the ability for business groups to self-provision the services they need based on rules established by the IT department. Generally, Private Cloud implementations today are found in larger organizations but they are also viable for small and medium-sized businesses since they generally allow an automation of services and reduction in IT workloads when properly implemented. Having the right management tools, like System Center 2012, to implement and operate Private Cloud is important in order to be successful.

So – how do you get started? The first step is to determine what makes the most sense to your organization. The nice thing is that you do not need to pick Public or Private Cloud – you can use elements of both where it makes sense for your business – the choice is yours. When you are ready to try and purchase Public Cloud technologies, the Microsoft Volume Licensing web site is a good place to find links to each of the online services. In particular, if you are interested in a trial for each service, you can visit the following pages: Office 365, CRM Online, Windows Intune, and Windows Azure.

For Private Cloud technologies, start with some of the courses on Microsoft Virtual Academy and then download and install the Microsoft Private Cloud technologies including Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and System Center 2012 in your own environment and take it for a spin. Also, keep up to date with the Canadian IT Pro blog to learn about events Microsoft is delivering such as the IT Virtualization Boot Camps and more to get you started with these technologies hands on.

Finally, I want to ask for your help to allow the team at Microsoft to continue to provide you what you need. Twice a year through something we call “The Global Relationship Study” – they reach out and contact you to see how they’re doing and what Microsoft could do better. If you get an email from “Microsoft Feedback” with the subject line “Help Microsoft Focus on Customers and Partners” between March 5th and April 13th, please take a little time to tell them what you think

Cloud Computing Resources: