Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The classic SharePoint Online migration mistake

I see this so many times that it isn’t funny. People simply upload the contents of their network ‘S:’ drive to a single Document Library in SharePoint Online and then try and synchronize the entire contents of that to every desktop or to a network server and attempt to share it again from there.

This is a really, really bad idea simple because SharePoint Online is designed as a collaboration tool first and foremost rather than simply a storage location. Traditional on premise file systems are arranged in some structure and the argument I see from so many people is that they want all the benefits of the cloud BUT they don’t want to change the way they work to make the most of a tool like SharePoint Online.

You know what? If you are not prepared to change the way that you work with the tools then I would seriously question why you are using those tools at all.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine you are using a paper based ledge to total up figures. You write values in one column, then the next and then you manually add them up and place the result in the third column. If you need to change any of the values in column one or column two you need to erase it, enter the new number, recalculate the result, erase that column and update it. Hard work.

Now what happens if I show you Excel? If you type the numbers into the first two columns again, manually calculate the total and type it into the third column. What have you achieved by using Excel? Nothing much, now have you? Excel allows you to create a formula that totals the sum of the rows automatically so that it updates if anything changes. How much easier is that? Heaps.

In the process of adopting Excel you have needed to learn more about what the tool can do and learn how to create and input formulas but the end results are well worth it, because now you know that you can apply that to every ledger you create. Small investment up front, small change in the way things are done results in huge productivity gains going forward. That is how technology works.

The same is true with SharePoint Online. Desiring SharePoint Online to work ‘exactly’ the way traditional files and folders works is like driving a high performance car in first gear everywhere. It is a waste of resources. If this is solely what you are looking to achieve with a move to SharePoint Online my advice is to read no further and look elsewhere for a solution. If you do that however, I’ll bet that sooner or later you’ll realize how limiting that decision will turn out to be, since storage is NOT collaboration and provides NO major productivity gains.

As I said initially, SharePoint Online is a collaboration tool, files and folders is just storage. Migration from files and folders to SharePoint Online means you should take the opportunity to look at how you have structured things and whether there is a better way to organize your information because at the end of the day it is all about FINDING your information now isn’t it? Tell me, how much data do you actually have in files and folders today that you use? How of much of it do you have no idea what it was ever for? And how often do you never find what you are looking for in there?

SharePoint is a way of approaching these problems from a different direction. This means that you (and only you) have to make decisions about how to arrange your information. SharePoint can help with the arranging but you need to decide HOW to arrange it. What is the outcome you desire? Simply replicating what you may have in traditional files and folders is simply using SharePoint Online in first gear, that is, a complete waste of time and effort.

So prior to any migration to SharePoint Online for you files and folders, stop and think about how to COLLABORATE with your data not simply store it. Ask how you end users WANT to access the information. Ask them what makes the MOST SENSE to them. In short make their job easier when it comes to working with information and there is no better tool for that than SharePoint. Like Excel, you need to invest a little up front but the rewards are HUGE.

If you are simply going to migrate gigabytes and gigabytes of data to one Document Library in SharePoint Online DON’T! If you are prepared to learn how to take SharePoint Online out of first gear and use it for COLLABORATION not storage then you will reap the benefits.

Stay tuned to this blog for more suggestions on how to migrate to SharePoint Online for collaboration and avoid the common mistakes.

Need to Know podcast–Episode 58

In this episode I speak with the creator of Brightgauge Eric Dosal. Eric gives us his insights into running and MSP business, how important metrics and peer networking are as well as an insight into software development and the opportunities that abound for technical people.

Check out more of Eric’s information at:

Brightgauge

Dosal Brothers

If you own or are part of a managed service provider IT business then this is an episode you can’t miss.

You can find the episode at:

http://ciaops.podbean.com/2014/04/23/episode-58-eric-dosal/

or subscribe via your favourite app like iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/ciaops-need-to-know-podcasts/id406891445?mt=2

Remember, if you have a suggestion or want to appear on an episode simply get in contact with me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I finally get Microsoft Azure

Ever since Microsoft Azure (recently renamed from Windows Azure) has been available I have struggled with a reason to use it. This also flows over into reasons of why other SMB reseller or customers would have cause to use it. Does that mean that it was merely a tool for the enterprise? The answer is definitely ‘NO' now that I have come to better understand its application for me and potentially others in the SMB space.

So here’s the challenge that brought me to my Azure epiphany.

I have always been a big users of virtual machines. I have used products like Microsoft Virtual PC and Hyper V to allow me to have access to a number of different operating systems for support. Over time I migrated my six independent servers into a single Hyper V machine that used to host things like web sites and my old SharePoint blog. In an effort to save money, stay simple and utilize the cloud more I decommissioned this production Hyper V server a few years ago.

The problem was that besides running production environments that Hyper V box also had a number of test machines that I used to power up and down as required. My need for these virtual test machines continued even after decommissioning the Hyper V server.

I was able to use a product like Virtual Box on a more powerful laptop to achieve the testing environment I required. With 8GB of RAM and some big disks the laptop faired well for demos and training purposes. It certainly was a lot to lug around but with Virtual Box on there it did the job.

One of the other reasons I need a number of virtual servers is for when I do a SharePoint migration. Typically this involves swinging the database into a new version of SharePoint and allowing it to convert. Unfortunately, you can’t for example template a calendar element in SharePoint 2010 and import it directly into SharePoint 2013, you can only go from 2013 to 2013 version. Thus, this meant converting the data to the same version and then migrating.

Where this started to become an issue was the release of SharePoint Foundation 2013. No longer could I deploy a stand alone SharePoint Foundation server, I now needed to have a Domain Controller as well since SharePoint Foundation required a domain login to install. It was certainly possible to install SharePoint Foundation 2013 on a domain controller but that really wasn’t supported and it also provided a different experience. So now even to do the most simple thing with SharePoint Foundation 2013 I needed two virtual machines running.

The requirement of two virtual machines started to make it hard to work with the old laptop I was using. All I needed was more RAM but that wasn’t an option with this laptop. So my thoughts then turned to potentially replacing my aging desktop with a more ‘beefy’ box with plenty of RAM so I could run all the virtual machine I needed. This however wasn’t going to be cheap and would take up space and chew more power. It also wasn’t going in the direction I wanted to head, which was simplicity, small devices and cloud based systems. It also meant that I wouldn’t have a portable solution as I do now with the laptop. So where to now?

I considered perhaps getting my own equipment in a datacentre or ‘renting’ a server but then I wondered with Microsoft Azure could do the trick.

Spinning up a server is easy enough and after a few false starts when it came to networking everything together I finally got two servers connected together using Azure. I made one a domain controller and the other a SharePoint Foundation Server 2010 box. With that accomplished I then set up a SharePoint Foundation 2013 box with ease.

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So here’s one of the first benefits of Azure. As I have documented in this blog previously, SharePoint Foundation 2013 requires a lot more resources than SharePoint 2010. In Azure that’s no problem. I can start with the lowest spec machine and easily scale up as required. So for this initial machine I have bumped it up to 2 cores and 3.5GB of RAM (which still isn’t really enough) and I can continue to bump it up if required.

After also building a stand alone Windows SharePoint Services v3.0 server also in Azure I now have all the machines I need to do a migration. Best of all, say the migration has a lot of data that will take a while to process I can simply ramp up the power of each Azure virtual machine to allow it to complete the task quicker. When I have finished, I simply scale it back to what it was before.

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Previously, people would physically mail me their SharePoint data to convert, now I can simply give them access to the Azure virtual machine and they can directly upload it there. Once I convert the data I can also give them access to the same machine so they can check it before proceeding. Easy.

So now I no longer to carry around my laptop with my SharePoint migration machines, I can do it all on Azure from any machine on which I can access the Internet with, including my Mac! That means that I don;t have to ‘waste’ my money on getting another super powered desktop. I can throw it out and use my Surface PC instead.

Now enamoured with Azure I began to consider what else I could use it for and found yet another example.

Another virtual machine that I maintain is one that is set up to use for PowerShell access to Office 365. That way it is isolated and can be used independently of what maybe installed on my desktop. I have now set up a similar machine in Azure so now I can use PowerShell with Office 365 no matter where I am. This makes it far more convenient than having to fire the laptop up to do something simple. Again, I can do this wherever I have a browser.

Now you might be asking about the cost of all this. Because most of the time these machines are powered off the cost of usage is extremely low. With all the running up of a domain controller, three SharePoint servers and a PowerShell machine my total cost (including all the data transfers for install files) is less than $5! A new powerful desktop would have cost be probably in the range of $2,400 dollars. That is an allowance of about $200 per month for 12 months of Azure which I can’t see myself getting anywhere near. Thus, it may only cost me $10 – $50 per month which over the year is a huge saving from shelling out for a desktop (not to mention the run up time which I didn’t include).

Thus, Azure now makes sense to me in terms of agility for my business. It now makes sense to me in terms of cost saving. It also makes sense to me in the opportunity to do so much more with the product. All I have done is play with virtual machines, which is only a very small component of what is possible with the product.

I have a long, long way to go to truly understand and utilize the product to its full extent but now I GET IT. I am beginning to see the benefits it can provide me and thus it is opening my eyes as to what is possible for customers.

So if you are an IT Professional I urge you to get into Azure and understand what it can do. Like me, I’m pretty sure that once you do you’ll see the light like I have.

I’ll be posting more about Azure from now on as I discover more about how it works and how to configure it so stay tuned.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

SharePoint Online metadata basics

One of the problems with files stored on a local hard disk is that you are typically relying only the file name to describe the contents of the file. We all of course know that most businesses don’t have policies and procedures around how their files are name. They therefore end up with a ‘dog’s breakfast’ of gobblygook that makes sense to no one.

Studies show that most employees spend at least 30% of their week looking for information and having files in unintelligible locations with random names doesn’t make that job ANY easier! This is where moving such files into SharePoint can help.

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As you see above, if I simply upload documents to a SharePoint Document Library they are just as ‘higgildy piggidly’ as they would be if they were stored on your local hard disk.

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If I now press a column heading, in this case Name, you’ll find that the documents are sorted A-Z and if I press it again, Z-A. Nothing unusual about that, you can do that on your local hard drive.

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If now however I select the File Type column heading I see the above which lists all the file extensions that appear in the list. If I select say the docx option what I get is:

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I now see a filtered version of my files based on the file extension I selected (i.e. only those that match the filtered criteria). I can of course select more than one file extension if I want. You can tell that the list is filtered by the little filter icon net to the file type column heading.

To remove the filter just select that column heading again and select the option Clear Filter from Type.

You can of course perform this filtering on any column but even better you can add your own columns to describe the files. This is know as adding metadata.

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To do this select the Library tab top left of the page to reveal the Ribbon Menu and from the right hand side of the Ribbon select Library Settings.

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Scroll down this page until you locate the Columns heading. Under the list of existing columns select Create column.

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Give the new column and name (here Customer), select the type of column it will be (here a choice) and add a description. Scroll down for more options.

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In this case we’ll elect to Require that the column has information, which is not the normal default. This means people can’t add documents to this location WITHOUT also selecting which customer they apply to, which is great for enforcing compliance.

In the choice box you see 4 choices have been entered (Starbucks, Microsoft, HP and Other). These are the options that will be available for this field. You can always return and edit these if necessary later.

All the other fields are left as default and the OK button is selected at the bottom of the page to save the changes.

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When you return to the Document Library you will see an extra column, Customers, to the right as shown above. Obviously, any existing files won’t have a value for this field since it is new, however if you edit an existing entry you will be required to enter one.

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If you edit the properties of the first file you can see that there is now an additional field called Customer displayed. You will also notice that it has a star (*) next to it indicating it is a required field. You will also find a drop down selection box, which when selected will display all the options entered when the column has created.

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Since it is a required field, if you attempt to leave it blank you’ll get a message like that above and you won’t be able to save any updates.

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You can now go through and update the customer field for every item in the Document Library. The easy was to do this is to use the Quick Edit option from the Ribbon Menu which displays the entries like a spreadsheet so you can easily move between fields using the arrow keys and even copy and paste between cells.

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When you return to the list you can now select the new column heading you created and you’ll again see a list of entries on which you can filter.

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In this case, just selecting Microsoft will filter the list of items to only display those that have Microsoft in the Customer column as shown above.

It’s really that simply to add metadata to your SharePoint items. Don’t forget adding metadata works on just about everything in SharePoint, Document Libraries, Lists, Calendars, etc and is a great way to help you filter, sort and most importantly locate your data. Now isn’t that better than what you might be using with you local hard disk?

You can of course extend the concept of metadata way beyond the basics demonstrated here, however the most important thing is to think about, and define you metadata up front. What columns do you need? What type of information will they contain? How will you display the information? etc. 

Remember, SharePoint is an immensely powerful tool like most other Office applications. If you want to get the most from it you need to invest some time understanding what it does. Hopefully, this post will get you started on that path but watch out for more posts on making the most of SharePoint.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cloud Business Podcast Episode 15

So I’ve just completed another podcast over at Cloud Business Blueprint, this time with Mark Penney from SMB Cloud Advisor stepping in for a holidaying Nigel Moore.

You can find the episode at:

http://www.cloudbusinessblueprint.com/podcast/episode-015-big-threat-new-entrants/

where we tackle the question about new entrants into your market and what you can do about it. We also cover the latest cloud news, business reflections and answer a question or two.

If you haven’t subscribed to the podcasts yet you can do so on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Have a listen and let us know what you think and look out for more episodes coming shortly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Partner Online Services Dashboard

One major complaint I hear from Microsoft Partners about Office 365 is that have no way to get an overview of all their online customers in one place. The reality is that there is, all they need to do is login to the Microsoft Partner site (http://mspartner.microsoft.com) with their organizational details.

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After login select Membership from menu that appears across the top. That should display a drop down menu and from here select Online Services Dashboard as shown above.

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You should then see a number of different boxes like that shown above. In the Office 365 box in the Manage Customers section you will see how many Office 365 customers you have (screened here for privacy) for example.

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If you then click on that box you will drill down further to what you see above that lists the total customers, any deployment opportunities and a list of customers and their subscriptions below. You can filter, sort and select much of the information displayed here.

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If you go back a screen and scroll down you will find a Partner of Record box in the menu. Selecting that display the above screenshot. Here you can see how many customers you are partner of record for and how many have been switched from you (or lost). You’ll also get a list of these customers below this.

So if you are a Microsoft Partner and haven’t taken a look at the Online Services Dashboard then you should login and have a look around at all the great information Microsoft has provided right at your finger tips. I’ll bet it is exactly what you have been looking for!

Monday, April 14, 2014

SharePoint Online Check in/Check out

One of the abilities that SharePoint Online has is the ability to ‘check out’ a document. Why would you do that? By ‘checking out’ a file in SharePoint Online you are making the file read only for everyone except yourself (and administrators who can override this if necessary). This means you can continue to work on the document without worrying about others editing it.

So how do you check a document out in SharePoint Online? There are a couple of ways.

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Select the three dots (ellipse) to the right of document name. Then select the ellipse again from the menu bar that appears along the bottom of the dialog box. A drop down menu will appear as shown above and from that you can select Check Out.

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You can also select the item to ‘check out’ and then select the File tab at the top of the page. This will display the ribbon menu as shown above and from there you can select the Check Out option in the Open & Check Out section of the ribbon menu.

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Once you check a file out all users will see a green arrow appear in the lower right of the files icon as shown above.

The person who ‘checked out’ the file can now make as many changes to the files as they want. They can do this either online or offline, updating as many times as they want. Everyone apart from the person who ‘checked out’ the file will be able to view the file as it was just prior to ‘check out’, they cannot however make any edits or updates themselves. The person who ‘checked out’ the file will see any changes or updates they have made to the file.

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When the original person who ‘checked out’ the item is ready they can ‘check in’ the item by either selecting the option via the ellipses as shown above,

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or via the ribbon menu as shown above.

You will also notice that there is the option to ‘Discard Check Out’. This option will basically revert the file back to its original state just prior to check out discarding any changes that have been made since the file was ‘checked out’.

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Once the file has ‘checked in’, you will be prompted as to whether you wish to Retain Check in and whether you want to add any Comments as shown above. Normally you simply add any comments desired and press the OK button to 'check in’ the document.

After ‘check in’ is complete the file will appear as normal, the green arrow icon will disappear and all users will be able to see the updated file.

By default, with SharePoint Online ‘check in’ is optional however you can make it mandatory via the Library Settings.

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You’ll need to have the appropriate rights to make this change. Select the Library tab from the top of the page to reveal the ribbon menu as shown above. From here select the Library Setting button on the right of the ribbon.

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Select Versioning settings from under the General Settings section in the top right of the page.

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Scroll down the page until you locate the Require Check Out section and set that to Yes and press the OK button to save the changes and update.

Check out with SharePoint Online is a great way to ensure that only one person is working on a file at one time. It can greatly help you simplify the way you go about creating and managing documents. You can also require all items to be ‘checked in’ via Library Settings if desired.

Remember, check in/out applies to all SharePoint Online plans as well as for OneDrive for Business (given that is also SharePoint).