10 Facts About Deploying Microsoft Office 365

O365 - @SeniorDBA

Microsoft Office 365 is a popular choice for enterprises that want a cloud-based suite of productivity and collaboration applications. The latest version of Office 365 gives you access to online Microsoft Office solutions anytime and anywhere on multiple Operating System platforms.

Microsoft’s marketing description of Office 365:

Microsoft Office 365 now includes Office 2016 and gives you the full Office experience. With access to the latest Office applications as well as other cloud-based productivity services, whether you need Office for home, school, or business, there is an Office 365 plan to meet your needs.
Our Office 365 subscription plans include Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal, Office 365 University, and Office 365 for Mac. With each plan, you can install the 2016 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote (Access, and Publisher are also included only for PC users). When a new version of Microsoft Office is released, you’ll get instant access to it so your applications are always up-to-date – and because Office 365 is optimized across your devices it’s easy to get anywhere access to your stuff on your laptop, phone, tablet and more.

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Understanding StorSimple

StorSimple - @SeniorDBA

Microsoft is selling an appliance named StorSimple, that can be used for archiving files, a network backup target, or even as a file server. Microsoft bought the company named Xyratex, a former subsidiary of Seagate, to acquire this solution. This appliance was originally not very useful, because:

  • It shared storage via iSCSI only so it didn’t fit well into a virtualization stack, especially Hyper-V which has moved more to SMB 3.0.
  • The file storage engine that decided which files stayed local vs. were moved to the Azure cloud was almost useless.
  • The physical appliance required space in your server rack, when virtualization is the focus for most solutions.
  • While the box was free, it did require a purchase of an enterprise agreement and paying for moving files out of Azure as some files were accessed.

Microsoft has improved StorSimple over the years and now the product is much more useful.

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Ransomware Lessons

USB Hacks - @SeniorDBA

Ransomware is malicious software that attacks a computer or your entire network to force you to pay a fee (ransom) to regain access to your systems. If the fee is not paid within a set timeframe, the criminals who now has access to your systems will wipe the data. Since those systems are unavailable to your organization most businesses are faced with a decision to pay the ransom and get back to business or refuse to pay the ransom and risk forever losing customer data.

Like any other virus or malware the ransomware is usually downloaded from the internet, most often by clicking a suspicious link in an email or on a website.

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Spam and Outlook

Microsoft Outlook - @SeniorDBA

Many people don’t understand how a spam filter works, especially with the email software from Microsoft called Outlook. In my experience, people are confused about how emails are blocked, or how emails are filtered into the Junk Email folder inside Outlook.

Generally speaking, your email server is usually used to block common unwanted emails, known as spam. This means the email server has the ability built into the server software to detect and filter (block) emails from being delivered to your email interface, or there is some additional software installed and configured to perform that filtering process. This means less unwanted email is delivered to your inbox.

There is an additional feature built into Outlook that looks at the emails delivered to your Outlook client to determine if it should block the email and redirect it into your “Junk E-mail” folder.

Junk E-Mail - @SeniorDBA

Any email forwarded from your email server (usually Exchange, but could be Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) but identified as spam by our Outlook client will be automatically moved to your “Junk E-mail” folder. Depending on your spam filter settings inside the Outlook Options, you may find you missing emails in this folder. You may disable the filter, but that doesn’t mean all your emails will now be delivered to your Outlook inbox.

As we discussed already, the spam filter on the email server could have blocked the email, Outlook may move the email to Junk E-mail, or even your anti-virus software might have blocked the email. If you work with your team in you IT department, they have tools available that can tell them if the server ever received the email, if it was forwarded to our computer, if it was intercepted by your anti-virus software, etc. They will need to know the address of the person sending you the email, when it was sent, and the subject line (when known).

How can I disable the Outlook spam filter?

How can I mark emails detected as spam by Outlook as “not spam”?

Microsoft Plans Office 365 Upgrades

Office 365 - @SeniorDBA

A few months ag0 Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would receive major updates just twice a year, scheduled for September and March. Based on feedback from enterprise customers wanting a more tolerable schedule, Microsoft moved to make their release schedule more predictable.

What some people missed is that they also announced an identical schedule for corporate subscribers to Office 365. They aligned the update schedule with Windows 10. Microsoft says they plan to deliver and support Office 365 ProPlus updates, starting in September.

Microsoft also extended support 50% from 12 months per update to 18 months. The additional six months means your IT team can choose to push updates just once or twice a year.

Office 365 update channels, showing the new update channel names and release cadence

The twice-a-year feature updates will be named Semi-annual Channel (Pilot) and Semi-annual Channel (Broad), each describing how Microsoft envisions them being deployed in the enterprise. Most people will probably just refer to them as simply “Pilot” and “Broad”.

You can get more information here.

Effective Disaster Recovery Planning

Server Stack - @SeniorDBA

In your business, you might be the only one tasked with understanding what types of disasters can strike your business and assigned the responsibility of planning to prevent those disasters from bringing down the business. As Alan Lakein said many years ago, “Failure to plan is planning to fail”. As an information technology professional, one of your many tasks is to understand the risks to your business systems and plan to prevent or overcome those risks from impacting your business.

About 40% of businesses do not re-open after a disaster and another 25% fail within one year according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Similar statistics from the United States Small Business Administration indicate that over 90% of businesses fail within two years after a disaster.

Understand The Risk

Do you fully understand the risks to your business? Have you looked at the systems your business uses and depends on each day and thought about what would happen if those systems were unavailable? Have you thought about the common risks for the area? These risks could include tornadoes, earth quakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.

Disaster Map - @SeniorDBA

Maybe there are man-made risks unique to your location, like frequent power outages, dangerous break-ins, poor building construction, etc. Each of these unique threats can be just a dangerous as natural disasters. You don’t want someone stealing your servers or hard drives in the middle of the night, or cracks in the walls leading to mice chewing through your network or power cables.

Written Plan

You need to think about each of the risks scenarios, and write down your plan for how you and your team would address each scenario to keep the business up and running with minimal down time. You may have to adjust the plan to address concerns about cost and time, and there may be periodic changes as systems and risks change.

  1. List of Employees (what they do, when they do it, why they do it, etc.)
  2. Inventory Systems (office equipment, servers, laptops, etc.)
  3. Office Space Requirements (you will need space to restore your systems, but can everything be done remotely, or will the users need office space to access restored systems)
  4. Insurance and Budget Concerns (who will provide money during an actual recovery)
  5. Share The Plan (make sure you aren’t the only one with a copy of the plan, and make sure the plan can survive the disaster)

Testing

Just like database backups aren’t useful if you can’t restore them, a Disaster Recovery Plan is worthless if you can’t implement the plan. You should conduct a formal test at least once each calendar year, testing if the plan will work for one or more of the scenarios you are planning against. The test should be a realistic as possible, and make sure you have a method of measuring the level of success.

There will be issues, like a system that wasn’t included in the written plan or a technical issue that you didn’t know existed. An issue could be something a simple as unknown system passwords or a missing software installation key. But that is what a test is all about. You have to test to find those little things that were forgotten or unknown, and then update the written plan to make sure it isn’t an issue during the next test. Eventually you will have everything you need addressed in the plan, and the next test will go smoothly. That means in the event of a actual disaster, when your team is confused and under an elevated level of stress, you are more likely to get these core production systems up and running quickly.

Team Meeting - @SeniorDBA

Don’t allow your business to fail because of an interruption you could have resolved with the proper planning and some simple testing.

Economics of the Cloud

Cloud Economics

For most companies, maintaining a large IT presence implies large capital expenditures and a non-trivial amount of accounting and record-keeping to track depreciation, tax considerations, and so forth. When you purchase the hardware and the software, they become yours (in every sense of the word) and your long-term responsibility.  The traditional model of enterprise computing is a capital-intensive function that requires expensive data centers (electricity, air conditioning, servers, networks, storage, etc.) and operations staff (hardware swaps, networks, backups, OS updates, upgrades, etc.) to keep it all running effectively. With an on-premises data center, you must plan and provision for maximum utilization, which is financially inefficient.

Data Center

The appeal of cloud computing includes the ability of enterprises to pay for only what they use. If demand decreases and you no longer need the assigned capacity, you can turn off systems and you are no longer charged for those systems. Since the cloud is a subscription-based model, it is an “operating expense” model. Computing becomes a service for which businesses are billed a monthly charge that is metered by actual usage. The more (compute, network, and storage resources) that you use the more expensive your monthly bill. The less you use, the less you will be charged.

Another way to save money is cloud operations frees your enterprises of the costly tasks of system backups, routine network maintenance, software patches, etc. because you cloud provider can handle these tasks.

Azure Spend

Most IT organizations find wide variations in system utilization. Some applications are seasonal and other applications run for a short period of time before being shut down. You might have other applications that are simply unpredictable and you can’t apply a cost saving model.

Building your server infrastructure in a cloud environment can save your business money and allow for greater innovations for less money.