New in Azure

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“New in Azure.” is a phrase I seem to be repeating a lot lately. Azure is constantly changing, evolving and getting better. The name has even changed from Microsoft Azure to Windows Azure. IaaS has been added. I recall last March I was doing a presentation to a medium sized audience. I had rehearsed my presentation the night before and during the presentation, an attendee asked me about running Oracle in Azure. I had heard the Microsoft and Oracle were partnering to try and make things easier for customers but I thought they questioner in the audience was pulling my leg. Really? Oracle on Microsoft Azure? When I logged in and showed the gallery, there they were. A series of Oracle instances ready to provision. They weren’t there the night before. So I used it as an opportunity to do two things:

  1. I told the audience that even one of Microsoft’s biggest competitors in the enterprise space has recognized the value of Azure and chose to be part of something that is growing rapidly.
  2. I told them that this is yet another example of how quickly things can evolve in the cloud and more good things were on tap soon.

I’m thankful that I was able to think quickly on my feet. Of course it was all true. And even more so now. There are new things arriving in Azure all the time. While I was at TechEd in Houston last month there was a series of new items announced in the Keynote. I can’t cover them all and frankly I’m not knowledgeable enough about them all to offer much insight. What I will do however, is let you know about two specific items that I’m excited about and the use cases that I see for them. If you want a complete list of the items announced you can find them in Scott Guthrie’s Blog.

Azure Remote App

The feature that I’m most excited about is Azure Remote App. Azure Remote App is very similar to Windows Remote App. It allows you to run an application on a server and access it through a thin client. From the perspective of the end-user the application appears to run as if it is installed locally but it is actually running on a server. Azure Remote app offers this functionality in a public cloud hosted environment with the option to run it in a hybrid model. The Azure based instance can still access on premise resources if you allow it to.

I’m excited about this for several reasons but mostly because it supports Android, iOS, Mac OS X and of course Windows based clients. I’m working with a lot of organizations that are experimenting with mobility solutions that include tablets and smart phones. This provides them a great opportunity to publish some applications with minimal provisioning requirements. They can pilot the application in Azure and either scale it out in Azure as needed or move it on premise for production.

You can try it out for free during the preview period. Let me know what you think about it.

Hybrid Connections

Another feature that I’m excited about is called Hybrid Connections. Hybrid Connections allow applications running in Azure to access enterprise datacenter resources and services securely and easily without having to poke holes in firewalls or use a VPN. It relies on a BizTalk Service (available in the free tier too). Consider the scenario that I described for Remote App – This makes rolling out an application for mobile users that requires access to on premise resources much easier.

You can learn more about Hybrid Connections using the following links posted in Scott’s blog:

 

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Elements of an MDM Strategy Part 2 – Applications

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Last month I introduced the major Elements of an MDM Strategy. This month I’d like to provide a little bit of depth in in one of the key elements that I believe will be key to your strategy being successful. I like to start by addressing applications because it can serve as a filter to minimize the number of variables required for consideration when dealing with the other elements of an MDM Strategy. Of course the answers to these questions will lead to more questions. For those of you on a diet who just need a snack, here is a short list of questions in a tapas format:

  1. Do you have specific applications that you need to run?
  2. Are they COTS or Custom Applications?
  3. What platform are they available for?
  4. What is the level of expertise that your development team or partner has with various mobile platforms?
  5. Does the application have any specific security requirements?
  6. Does the Application have any specific hardware or software requirements?

Here’s the table d’hôte:

Do you have specific applications that you need to run?

While this question seems academic, many organizations simply use mobile devices for voice, email, SMS, browsing and other out-of-the-box functionality. For these organizations, applications LOB or otherwise are not part of their use case scenario. If you answer no to this question, you don’t need to read any further than the next sentence. Your options for devices will be very broad and you will need to find other ways to rationalize the devices you will support. If you answer yes then please read on.

Are they COTS or Custom Applications?

Are the applications that you require commercially available or are they custom built?

COTS

If the applications are COTS, what platforms does the vendor support and what licensing model do they have for each platform? If they support multiple platforms, do they support mixed environments? What about application deployment? Do they support enterprise deployment and managing through sideloading (or some other mechanism) or is the only option purchase from the platform store (iTunes , Google Play, MS Store, etc.). Is the application available in all geographies and languages that you require?

Custom

If the application is an in-house or outsourced custom application, the same questions that are required for COTS applications need to be addressed however, some additional questions need to be answered as well. For example: What is the level of expertise that your development team or partner has with various mobile platforms?

Does the application have any specific security requirements?

Does the application have specific requirements based on the data that it will manage and process? For example: Will credit cards be processed and are there PCI compliance requirements? Is there personally identifiable information or health information? Does your organization already have policies for dealing with this data and does the mobile app need to comply with them? Think about items like encryption for data at rest and data in motion, VPN, passwords, etc.

Does the Application have any other specific requirements?

Understanding any hardware or software requirements for the applications will also help to filter the list of potential devices. Consider some of the following as a starting point: Does the application require a specific browser or browser support? Does the application require a camera? Are there any networking requirements (Wi-Fi, 4G, etc.). What about disk space and memory? Is support for adobe flash or java required?

The objective of answering these questions is to start narrowing down the list of potential devices that can meet your requirements and identifying any non-technical challenges (policies etc.) that must be addressed.

Next Month

In my next post I plan to discuss Users but you never now. Stay tuned.

References

A great reference for BYOD with a Microsoft slant can be found on TechNet.  I got a lot of my ideas from this guide. 

Elements of an MDM Strategy Part 1 – Defining the Problem Space

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I was organizing my thoughts about Mobile Device Management (MDM) for some presentations that I’m going to be delivering over the next few months.  As I was structuring my presentation I realized that other people might be struggling with organizing their thoughts about MDM as well, so I thought I’d share.  To that end, this is the first post in a series of posts that will deal with  MDM. I will endeavour to provide a framework for thinking about MDM for different use cases. As this is a work in progress and still evolving, I can’t tell you exactly how many installments there will be but at this point I envision somewhere around a dozen. I will cover various scenarios such as:

  1. BYOD
  2. Lifecycle Management
  3. Security
  4. User Management
  5. Application Management
  6. Policies and Compliance
  7. Profile Management

While I will deal with the business and technology challenges faced by organizations that have a mobile devices in their estate, I will also deal with specific product based solutions. More than likely they will focus on Microsoft technologies however, I will share whatever I can about other products as well. So where to begin? Let’s start with understanding the problem space. This will serve as the context for the use cases that I will cover. Traditionally (can we say that yet in this space?), the MDM problem space is divided into five major segments:

  1. Applications
  2. Users
  3. Protection & Data Access
  4. Management
  5. Devices

Elements of an MDM Strategy

From a framework perspective, we can initially focus on each of these segments independently. This will avoid confusion and minimize the number of variable that we have to deal with. Once we have six independent segment frameworks we will link them together. It may be useful to link some of these segments together to be able to develop more meaningful use cases. The most obvious linkages are between the following:

  1. Users and Devices
  2. Data Access and Protection

Next Post In my next post we will explore some of the segments in more detail. We will start by with a list of questions to answer to help build the various use case scenarios we will deal with. Have I whet your appetite? Do you have any specific questions you’d like me to address? Let me know. References A great reference for BYOD with a Microsoft slant can be found on TechNet.  I got a lot of my ideas from this guide.

What’s on the Horizon?

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For years I’ve been saying that “VDI is a solution looking for a problem.” A problem that is solved for the most part by Terminal Services (RDS) for many use cases (some special cases such as a requirement for local administrative rights  still lend themselves to a VDI solution).

Now it appears that the world’s largest proponent of VDI is starting to see it that way too.

Last week VMware announced Horizon 6. The first question I have for VMware is what happened to versions 1 through 5? IT seems to me like Horizon 6 is emulating what Citrix (and Microsoft have being doing for decades) with a combined instance and session based solution. There’s not much I can tell you about Horizon 6 as it was only announced last week. Apparently you can download a 60 day evaluation. I suggest caution before doing that.

In the past, VMware has been able to get customers to forget that they may already have a solution available to them and get them to look at VDI/View as a potential solution to a problem. My suggestion is to learn what you can currently accomplish with Windows Server 2012R@ and Citrix to help you better understand what VMware is bringing to the party with Horizon 6.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Microsoft and Citrix are going to respond to this. IT will be an interesting TechEd for sure.

For a more in depth perspective on this, see my friend Claudio Rodrigues post here.

Office Bitness (64bit or 32bit / x64 or x86)

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I recently had to rebuild my Windows 8.1 laptop. In fact, this is the first real piece of work that I am doing on it while I reinstall apps in the background. As part of the process I had to re-install Microsoft Office. As long as I have been using a 64bit OS as my standard desktop (Windows 7 was the first OS that I only ran as x64)) as I have always used the 64bit version of Office. When downloading the ISO for Office 2013 SP1 from the MS Partner site, I noticed that Microsoft has posted the following message:

Important: Microsoft strongly recommends the use of 32-bit (x86) versions of Office 2013, Project 2013, and Visio 2013 applications as the default option for all platforms. Learn more about the deployment considerations for x64 and x86 at TechNet.

I consider myself somewhat of a technically savvy user (maybe a poor assumption?) and I have always assumed that all things being equal 64bit is better than 32bit. Just like 32bit is better than 16bit (and 16bit is better than 8bit etc.)

So Off I went to TechNet to find out why this strong recommendation from Microsoft. Considering how hard it has been to get users and enterprises to give up Windows XP, you’d think that they want everyone to upgrade to the latest generation of tools right?

Here is the key reason for the strong recommendation directly from TechNet:

32-bit Office is recommended for most users

We recommend the 32-bit version of Office, because it is more compatible with most other applications, especially third-party add-ins. This is why the 32-bit version of Office 2013 is installed by default, even on 64-bit Windows operating systems. On these systems, the 32-bit Office client is supported as a Windows-32-on-Windows-64 (WOW64) installation. WOW64 is the x86 emulator that enables 32-bit Windows-based applications to run seamlessly on 64-bit Windows systems. This lets users continue to use existing Microsoft ActiveX Controls and COM add-ins with 32-bit Office.

So what about my assumption that all things being equal x64 is better than x86? Well, I wasn’t wrong but it turns out that all things aren’t equal. Third party vendors don’t pay equal attention to 32bit office and 64bit office. There are other good reasons to consider Office x86 such as:

  1. The 64-bit version of Microsoft Office isn’t compatible with any other 32-bit version of Office programs. So you must first uninstall all 32-bit versions of Office programs before you install the 64-bit version of Office.
  2. Any add-ins you want to run for Office must also be 64-bit editions.
  3. Third-party ActiveX controls and add-ins. None of these work with the 64-bit version of Office.
  4. There is no 64-bit version of Visual Basic 6, so many of these objects need to be ported and rewritten.
  5. Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) won’t work unless you manually update the “Declare” statements.
  6. Compiled Access databases The .MDE and .ACCDE files, a common way for Access application developers to distribute solutions and protect their intellectually property, don’t work in the 64-bit version of Office. You must contact the application developer to recompile, retest, and redistribute the solution in the 64-bit version.

With all of the reasons not to use 64bit Office, why on earth would anyone chose to use it? It still makes sense for some users such as the following examples from TechNet:

  1. Excel expert users who work with complex Excel worksheets can benefit from using 64-bit Office 2013. This is because 64-bit Office doesn’t impose hard limits on file size. Instead, workbook size is limited only by available memory and system resources. On the other hand, 32-bit Office is limited to 2 gigabytes (GB) of virtual address space, shared by Excel, the workbook, and add-ins that run in the same process. (Worksheets smaller than 2 GB on disk might still contain enough data to occupy 2 GB or more of addressable memory.) You can learn more in Excel specifications and limits and Data Model specifications and limits.
  2. Users who use Project 2013 also benefit when they use Project files over 2 GB, especially when they are dealing with many subprojects to a large project.
  3. In-house Office solution developers should have access to the 64-bit Office 2013 for testing and updating these solutions.
  4. Office 2013 offers enhanced default security protections through Hardware Data Execution Prevention (DEP). (DEP) is a set of hardware and software technologies that perform additional checks on memory to help prevent malicious code from running on a system. For 64-bit installs, DEP will always be enforced for Office applications. On 32-bit installs, you can configure DEP by using Group Policy settings.

If you need to deploy both versions of Office with Configuration Manager, you can use the same application with different deployment types as I’ve explained in my previous post Managing 32 bit and 64 bit versions of applications using Global Conditions, Requirement Rules and Deployment Types.

BTW – I’m running 32bit Office now.

 

 

 

Windows 8.1 Update: First Impressions

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<Rant> As an MVP I’m under and NDA that prohibits me from blogging about Microsoft products before they are released to the general public. While most Microsoft products are available to MSDN, TechNet and Volume License customers several weeks before the official General Availability (GA) date. While I generally have some foreknowledge of what is coming down the pipe and in some cases I have had discussions with the product group about a feature and have been involved in beta testing, I’m not allowed to blog about it until GA. That’s why there are dozens of blog posts about Windows 8.1 Update 1 already published. For instance, the bits have been available on MSDN since April 2nd, 2014. The GA date is April 8th, 2014 (the same day that Windows XP rides off into the sunset). So anybody with an MSDN subscription can download it and blog about it for about a week before I can. Not to mention all of the other sources for the bits that have had it available for a few weeks longer.

I’ve used the scheduling feature of WordPress to schedule the publishing of this post to just after midnight on April 8th so that I don’t violate my NDA.

While I’m in rant mode, let me just say that I hate the term Modern UI. At what point does it stop being modern? Will the next UI be call Postmodern? </Rant>

Now that I’ve had my rant, and explained why there are many other blog posts in the wild that have already dissected this update, I’ll try to add some value to those who have already enumerated the features by giving you my perspective on some of the additions.

How to get the Update?

What do you need to do to get the update? Windows 8.1 Update 1 is free for licensed users of Windows 8.1 (as Windows 8.1 was few for licensed users of Windows 8.) It is actually a series of 6 updates that should be applied in a specific order.  One of the updates became available last month so you may already have it.  If you have automatic updates turned on, you should get it automatically. As an administrator, you probably want to test it and inform users of the impending changes before releasing it into your production environment.

These are a few of my favourite things

What do I like most in the update. The most immediately noticeable items for (those that I expect to increase my productivity and minimize frustration) are included below:

  1. Power to the People – Faster shutdown in Modern UI – No need to go to Charms, then Settings, then Power to shutdown, sleep, restart or hibernate. Of course mousers can Right Click the Start Button , select Shutdown or sign out to get the same options.
  2. Stop Searching for Search – The same goes for Search as for Power – It’s now in the top Right with the Power Icon and your username and avatar.

  1. Pin Modern UI Apps to the task bar.
  2. Show Running Modern UI Apps by hovering on the taskbar icon

Windows 7 Style Start Menu?

This update doesn’t provide a “vintage” Start Menu (Third party add-ons are available free and otherwise) however there are rumours – some of them fueled by MS Staff, like Terry Myerson at Build (Microsoft’s Developers Conference) last week. Since, as I previously explained, I cannot blog about these rumours, please check out one of the blogs below to get your fill of rumours.

 

 

Windows XP End of Support – Do You Need New Hardware?

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Update 2 – April 5th, 2014 – Microsoft is offering up some swag to readers of my blog.  Leave a comment below and let me know what you think is the single most important reason to upgrade from Windows XP, or your favourite new feature of Windows 8.1 and you will be entered to a random draw for a $100 Microsoft Store Gift Card. Winners will be selected on Monday, April 14th.

Update 1 – March 21st, 2014 – Update:  I just found out that Microsoft is offering $100 to Windows XP users to upgrade to a new device.  Click here to learn more

——————————————————–Original Post——————————————————–

If it is news to you that on April 8th, 2014, the venerable Windows XP will transition to an unsupported product, you don’t work in IT. For the IT industry Windows XP end of support has been more of an event than Y2K (remember that?) as the number of applications and systems running Windows XP far exceeds the number of systems that were affected by Y2K. Mostly due to the near tripling of computers in use worldwide.

Table 1.1   US and Worldwide Computers-in-Use Growth
 

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

USA:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Computers-in-Use (#M)

3.1

22.2

51.3

90.2

184

244

306

380

465-485

5-year Growth (%)

60.2

48.6

18.3

11.9

15.3

5.8

4.6

4.4

4.1-5.0

Computers-in-Use Share (%)

64.8

61.6

48.9

37.9

33.3

25.6

20.2

16.3

13-14

Computers-in-Use/1,000 People (#)

13.4

93.0

205

338

652

823

987

1,168

1,365-1,420

Worldwide:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worldwide Computers-in-Use (#M)

4.8

36.0

105

238

552

950

1,514

2,324

2,995-3,120

5-year Growth (%)

64.4

49.6

23.9

17.8

18.3

11.5

9.8

8.9

5.2-6.1

WW Computers-in-Use/1,000 People (#)

1.07

7.40

20.0

41.8

90.4

147

239

321

390-410

Borrowed from eTForecasts

At Cistel we have been involved in dozens of Windows XP migrations. The scale of migration ranges from organizations that can count their devices on one hand to organizations with over 35,000 devices.

One of the most frequently asked questions about the migrating away from Windows XP is “Do I need to buy all new hardware?”

While the question is rather simple, the answer most definitely is not. As with most things, it is difficult to provide a simple answer to a complex problem. The most appropriate answer is “It Depends.” That answer obviously does not satisfy the original question. Instead, it precipitates the obvious, follow up question “What does it depend on?”

Answering that question is probably more important than providing a simple answer like yes or no. So what does it depend on? In order to provide an answer that satisfies as many readers as possible, I will rely on my standby approach: understanding the use case(s). Answering the following questions will help to determine the particular use case being addressed and a potential answer to the original question:

  1. What hardware are you currently running?
  2. What Operating System (OS) are you upgrading or migrating to?
  3. Are there drivers available for your hardware in the new OS or from the hardware vendor?
  4. What applications will you need to run? Can/will you run the same versions of the applications that you used with Windows XP or will you require new applications?
  5. Are you trying to use this as an opportunity to trick your wife into letting you buy a new computer?

Let’s deal with each of these individually:

  1. What hardware are you currently running?

    Remember that Windows XP is a 13 year old OS. The minimum recommended hardware specification is rather modest by modern standards. Many modern smartphones would easily surpass the memory, processing power and storage requirements. Most PCs manufactured in the last 10 years will meet the minimum specification for Windows 7. You will need to verify the hardware specification of your computer. Many manufacturers place certification sticker on the device. If you have a PC that has the Windows Vista logo (or Windows 7, Windows 8) on it you don’t have to buy new hardware to move off of Windows XP, however this may not meet all of your requirements. Read on to learn why.

  2. What Operating System (OS) are you upgrading or migrating to?

    It is normally recommended that the newest operating system that meets your needs and budget is selected, however, many organizations have good reasons for making a different selection. Understanding that a complete analysis for determining the right OS for your needs is beyond the scope of this post, the realistic options at this time are Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1.

    The hardware requirements for Windows Vista and Windows 7 are so close to each other that for all intents and purposes, they are the same. If you have sufficient hardware for Windows Vista you will most likely want to go directly to Windows 7 unless you have a specific requirement for Windows Vista. The biggest difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8 requirements is additional memory, realistically, most computers purchased in the last 7 years will meet the spec for Windows 8.1

    None of your Bitness! – In addition to the OS you are selecting, you will need to consider “bitness”. Bitness refers to the processor architecture that the OS is designed to run on. Typically x86 or x64 (32-Bit or 64-Bit) for most users (There are some additional architectures, such as ARM and IA-64, supported by specific versions of Windows – I mention this purely for completeness as it pertains to a very small minority of devices, most of which are currently running Windows XP.). While a 32-Bit version of Windows can run on 64-Bit hardware, the inverse is not true. There are some advantages to moving to a 64-bit OS however the discussion of them is beyond the scope of this post. Just be aware that the bitness that you chose may impact some of the subsequent questions.

  3. Are there drivers available for your hardware in the new OS or from the hardware vendor?

    If you have older hardware, there may not be drivers available to for the version of Windows that you want to move to. If this is the case, you may have to either replace that hardware component if possible or select a different OS that has driver support for your device. For instance, there may be drivers available for Windows 7 but not for Windows 8.1 or there may be drivers available for Windows 7 x86 but not Windows 7 x64.

  4. What applications will you need to run? Can/will you run the same versions of the applications that you used with Windows XP or will you require new applications?

    One of the most underestimated efforts in moving away from Windows XP is application compatibility. Again, Windows Application Compatibility is a complex topic beyond the scope of this post. The important point here is that not all applications that ran in Windows XP will necessarily run in more modern version of Windows. You will need a strategy to deal with incompatible applications. For most small organizations and home users, the easiest strategy is to replace the application with a more modern version. There is a chance that the newer application has increased hardware requirements. Consider that if you are moving to a 64-bit OS from a 32-bit OS your old applications may continue to run but you may get better performance or additional functionality from the 64-bit version. Is this an opportunity to include the upgraded software with the OS upgrade? Microsoft provides many free tools to help customers deal with application compatibility issues.

  5. Are you trying to use this as an opportunity to trick your wife/husband into letting upgrade your computer?

    If you are looking for validation to buy a new piece of gear, consider it done. There is enough ammunition in this post to beat your significant other into submission. If s/he still holds out, challenge him/her to a round of Titanfall on your XBOX One.