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SBS: We’ll Miss You, But it’s Time to Move on

SBS quietly left us on December 31st 2013. We will remember SBS as a hard-working, dedicated piece of technology in the small business environment.

As a Microsoft partner, I LOVED SBS. As with most partners, initially I wasn’t thrilled with losing SBS, but after working with the options offered with Windows Server 2012 R2, I have come to appreciate the opportunities that arose when the SBS “windows” closed.

As a recap, SBS provided Exchange for email, and SharePoint for document management. Typically everything was installed on one server. Now with Server 2012, Exchange and SharePoint are not included. Microsoft has provided other alternatives to the software, such as Office 365, Exchange On-Premise, or hosted Exchange.

All three are great solutions and it’s just a matter of finding the right solution for your small business or your small business client. Let’s look at each option here.

1. Office 365 – If you read my blog you know I am a big fan of Office 365. For a small business who is already using some type of hosted email, moving to Office 365 is a no-brainer. They get awesome email, plus Lync and SharePoint for a similar cost to what they are already paying. Essentials can be configured to connect to Office 365, and you can easily add both local and Office 365 email accounts, via a single pane of glass. To see how easy it is to connect the two services see article:

2. Exchange On-Premise – Some companies will insist on continuing to host email internally, and for these clients we can easily add an Exchange Server to the infrasture. Essentials will easily tie into this server and you will be able to manage both servers and accounts from a single pane of glass. I will do a post on how to connect these two options in the future. Personally, I’m not an Exchange expert and it would be a good experience for me to play with the new version of Exchange.

3. Hosted Exchange – If your client does not want to use Office 365, or manage an On-Premise Exchange server, a hosted Exchange service is also supported.

There is no stopping the steady progression to the cloud, and for the small business, Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials can provide all the big business tools at an affordable cost. While SBS focused on keeping everything on-site, Essentials seamlessly allows the small business to take advantage of cloud technologies; if an On-Premise Exchange server is required, we can easily manage this server just as easily.

As we start the New Year, let’s make a resolution to embrace Server Essentials and not grieve SBS. SBS would have wanted us to move on and continue to serve our small business clients with the best of the technologies.

SharePoint Online and On-Premise Syncing almost

Several months ago I had a client who wanted to move to Office 365 and asked if we could sync SharePoint Online with their on-premise Windows Server 2012 Essentials server.  Unfortunately we were unable to do so, then. This has changed in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, and I will also assume when using the Essentials Role on Standard and Datacenter editions. (I’ll do a post on the this great option for business with less than a 100 seats in the near future).

One question you may have is why would I want to have my files in two different locations?  You may wish to have certain files on SharePoint and easily accessible by others from anywhere and you may want to keep your private files private, securely on the server in your office, such is the company financials.  In the past we had to keep the files in two spots and manage each repository separately, now we can keep the files in one location and “sync” the files from the server to SharePoint or from SharePoint to the server.  And the best part, it’s really easy to setup.  In a previous post I step you through how to “connect” Office 365 with your Essentials server. The procedure is basically the same.  Here’s the quick overview for R2:

Select Services from the Dashboard, then click on the Integrate with Office 365 link to the right.

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Follow the prompts and your done. For more information on how to “connect” the two services see article.

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That’s it! How easy was that???

When you reopen the Dashboard you will have a new Office 365 tab, which connects your server to your Office 365 subscription.

The rest is pretty straight forward.  In the Storage section of the Dashboard, you will have a tab for SharePoint Libraries.

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So at this point we think, great I can just dump files into either the SharePoint OnLine repository or the local folder and poof…they will be synced.  This would be awesome but in reality, we still have one more step.  Microsoft has released the SkyDrive Pro (download here) which allows us to sync folders on our server with folders on SharePoint Online.  I installed the application on my server.

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All you need to do now is setup the folders to be synced.  To do this, right click on the SkyDrive Pro icon in the taskbar and select, sync a new library.  Then add the appropriate path.

SkyDrive Pro Sync Settings

Personally, I prefer to set this up from within Office 365.  I select the library I would like to sync with the server then click the Sync button at the top.  This method automatically creates the matching folders on the server for you.  

Sync

That’s it.

As you can see my files on the server match the files on Office 365.

 Files on Server

I’m so happy to see this feature has been added to the overall offering.  I had several requests for this type of functionality with several of my Office 365 and Server Essentials clients.

The only downfall is this is a manual processes.  Meaning you have to push the sync when you need it.  I wonder if a schedule could be setup using Powershell commands.

Office 365 to Server Essentials How-To

I was at the Microsoft Partner Summit in Mississauga last week and ended up in a discussion with a gentleman about Windows 2012 Server Essentials and Office 365. Windows Server 2012 Essentials replaces the SBS and does not include SharePoint or Exchange, but you can connect to an existing Exchange server, hosted Exchange service, or Office 365, as I outline below.

SBS 2011 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 Essentials are my go-to server installations for small companies (less than 25 accounts). They’re great operating systems for smaller companies that needs a server for LOB applications, file shares, and backups. Plus, you can easily access your server files and desktop using the Anywhere Access feature. In this post I’ll outline how to integrate Office 365 with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. I used an existing Office 365 account that I currently have access to, and it could not have been easier.

First from the Dashboard, select the Email option.

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In my case I wanted to integrate with Microsoft Office 365 and not an Exchange Server, but if you have an Exchange server, either hosted or on premise, you could integrate with it.

You will be presented with the Getting Started window. Again, because I already have an existing subscription, I selected this option. If you do not have a subscription, uncheck the box that indicates you do, and the wizard will help you set one up.

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I then provided my Office 365 account information.

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Next, agree to the password policy. We should all be using strong passwords anyway!

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Then wait until the configuration is complete. I didn’t even have time to get a coffee.

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And we’re done! How painless was that?

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The next time you open the Dashboard, you will notice the check mark beside the Office 365 integration and a new tab labelled Office 365.

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Selecting the Office 365 tab will display your account information.

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Now that the two products are connected we can easily manage both accounts.

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We can either Add or Assign Office 365 accounts from the Users tab in the Dashboard.

To add or connect existing Office 365 accounts, select the Add Office 365 Accounts link.

If the account names are the same, the application will automatically match the accounts for you. Brilliant! 10

Click Next.

A report stating success and/or failure is now presented. If the installation was a success, you now have the associated server accounts.

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If you already have the Office 365 accounts created, you can easily add them to the Windows 2012 Essentials server.

Select Import Accounts from Office 365 from the Users tab in the Dashboard. Again, the application will create server accounts based on the Office 365 account name.

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A status report is once again presented after the accounts are created.

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You can also add users using the Office 365 web portal. Create the account as you normally would in Office 365.

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Once the account has been created, access the Add a User Account from the Windows 2012 Essentials Dashboard. 16

In the above example I assigned the previously created Office 365 account to the user account (option 2). You can also create an Office 365 account and assign it to a user account (option 1). You can also leave the account alone and not assign it to a matching user account (option 3). The account will then be added to the server users.

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This is a great solution for the small business (less than 25 users). Users can easily be managed by the company, saving them time and money. The one thing I would love to see added is easy integration from SharePoint component to Office 365 to internal folders on the server. I thought this was possible but I haven’t been able to determine how to connect the two. If you know how to do this, please add the solution to the comments. Thanks!

P.S. I’m hoping to turn this into a series of Essential How-To’s.

Getting back into routine

backpackAs the days get shorter and the nights cooler and the sweet sound of “Mom, do I have to go to school?” echos through the house, we are all getting back into routine. For me, that routine includes getting back into the classroom.  If you are interested in joining me at Continuing Ed (Upper Grand District School Board) in lovely Guelph, for evening discussions on Twitter, blogging, social media for business, Facebook, Office 365 or Google Apps for Business, registration is now open.

Here’s the current schedule.

To register click here.

Email Affairs – My Version of “50 Shades of Grey”

Gmail Intro

My first kiss with Gmail.

I have a confession.

As you may know, I am in a committed relationship with Gmail. I met Gmail about 5 months after he launched, back in 2004. Gmail and I have been together for almost 9 years now. It’s been a great relationship. He gives me lots of email storage, and a great interface. As our relationship grew, he gave me a wonderful calendar, then communication and collaboration tools. Yes, there have been some disappointments in our relationship, such as Google Wave, but there have been some great fun times too like “do a barrel roll”. (Really, if you haven’t done this, go Google it now.) Gmail has always had my back, he automatically saved all my documents at his house, with his brother Docs. (It’s a great app called Google Cloud Connect; unfortunately it broke when I moved to Office 2013.) Gmail kept all my information safe and secure there and he gave me the key so I could access my stuff when needed. He understood what I needed, and he even provided the directions for me to get there. He gave me great communication tools and an easy way to share my stuff. It was the perfect relationship. We even expanded our family when I added Google Apps For Business.

But, like I said before, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing someone else. I never intended to have these feelings, but they crept up on me.

You see, way back in 1997, Microsoft launched a fresh new email host called MSN Hotmail and I signed up for an account. Now, this was several years before Gmail stole my tech heart. There may have also been a short stint with Yahoo mail during this time (I don’t talk about it much). For those of you too young to remember, in the early days of email service, it was all about experimenting with different services, and not committing to just one. We were all so young and had multiple email accounts at the time. Gmail and I seemed to click, so settled down with him in 2004.

Every so often, over the years, I would check in with Hotmail and see what he was up to. Did he settle down, expand his offering? You know, the general stalking of a previous love. At first, it looked like Hotmail kept the status quo. Nothing new and exciting. But his sexy younger brother, Office 365, was breaking some new ground with small business. I have to admit, a new technology targeted right at my clients caught my interest. Not only did Office 365 target small businesses, but it also had a built-in relationship with my guilty pleasure, Microsoft Small Business Server. This was getting interesting. Then things changed in July 2012. Outlook.com launched; I guess Hotmail decided it was time to try something new and get back into the game. I started spending more time with Outlook.com.  And I was impressed. I loved the way he kept my stuff organized in folders, and it was so easy to share my files. He also has a built-in relationship with my desktop version of Office 2013. The more mature Outlook.com is looking more and more attractive with each new feature.

I haven’t committed to Outlook.com yet, but he is slowly growing on me. I still love Gmail, but his controlling and sometimes pushy attempts to keep me locked to him are starting to bother me. Outlook.com needs to take a few pointers from his younger brother, Office 365, and add instant communication tools, such as Skype. If Outlook.com can meet most of the functionality I currently rely on in Gmail, it may be the end of Gmail.

PS: I have never read, or intend to read, 50 Shades of Grey, so this may not be as exciting as the book to some.

Who’s Your “Bridge” to the Cloud?

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As I dive more and more into cloud solutions, specifically Microsoft Office 365, I keep hearing the same comment: “I tried but I couldn’t figure it out”, “I don’t understand the terminology”, etc.  I don’t think this has to do with anyone not being smart enough to figure it out; I think that cloud companies give the impression that it takes a few simple clicks and you’re done.  It’s just that easy!  I can almost visualize Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, in an Office 365 infomercial: “Come on folks, click here, then click manage DNS and add your TXT record and you are done. It’s just that easy folks!”

I have a client who easily setup Google Apps for Business for his small business, but the company has no idea how to use it or what they could even use it for.  Another client of mine tried to setup up Office 365, but was stumped on how to transfer his domain.  In my opinion, both Google and MS have missed the mark.

I believe most everything we do will be in the cloud within the next few years.  According to Wikipedia, Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients. Think about what you already do that is cloud-based, Gmail, Dropbox, iCloud, Netflix, etc.

The tech industry has been pushing cloud and the benefits, including security and access from any Internet-connected device.  More and more companies are accepting the cloud technologies and are starting to embrace the technology, but are getting stumped when trying to set it up or use it. All this does is cause frustration and these same people will look at other “easier” solutions.

Cloud solution providers should provide both resources and incentives to enable qualified professionals to step in and be that “bridge” between the consumer and the solution.  Users should actively seek out a qualified resource to assist them in moving to the cloud so they get the most out of the service they are paying for.  This “Bridge” should be able to describe, setup and configure the service, allowing the business to focus on themselves, and the cloud partner to focus on providing great solutions.  In the past few weeks, I have had 40 hours of free Microsoft Office 365 training to help me assist small business transitioning to the Cloud. I think Microsoft realizes that it is not “Just that Easy!”, and that it takes time and knowledge that not everyone has.

Points to consider when moving to a cloud service:

  1. Is the service the right one for your company?
  2. Are you getting the features you need?
  3. Are you paying for features you don’t need?
  4. Can you implement it without pulling your hair out?
  5. Can the service integrate or replace you current on-premise solution?

Bringing in a qualified IT Professional or “bridge” can make the transition to the cloud much easier and ensure you and your company are getting the services you need, not just what you were sold.  The “bridge” can also help your company easily transition to the new environment.  Yes, there is a cost, but (ideally) after it is all up and running, you may never need your professional unless you need help for advanced functionality.  Which brings up another good point: have you ever tried to call Google to ask for help?  Can you even find a phone number? Your “Bridge” should be trained to give you the help you need when you need it.

Take advantage of these awesome cloud solutions, and if you need help to reach the clouds, a “Bridge” can support your transition to the connectivity of the future.

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