Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adding Project Online to existing tenant

One of the big opportunities with the Microsoft cloud offerings I have always maintained is Project Online. However, a good question was asked as to whether you could roll a purchase of Project Online into say a small business (P) or Mid-sized Business (M) plan?
It is hard to test directly so all I can do is rely on what I can dig up up. I believe the answer is NO. Project Online is a Enterprise (E) product and therefore can only be combined with other Enterprise plans. The reference for this is at:
Office 365 Plan Options
Where it says down the bottom of the page:
The following online services are available on their own, as standalone plans. They can also be added to Enterprise service family plans that don’t already include them
and in the list below you’ll find Project Online.
Thus, you can always purchase Project Online if you have an M or P plan but it will be in a different tenant with different logins.
As I say, this is why E plans are worth the additional cost!

Monday, April 28, 2014

SharePoint Online migration–Start up is key

This post is part of an on going series covering migration to SharePoint Online. If you haven’t already I suggest you read the previous posts:
The classic SharePoint migration mistake
SharePoint Online migration – Pilers and Filers
In this post I’m going to focus on the area that is most important post-information upload to SharePoint Online.
As way of an analogy take a look at this clip from UK Top Gear. Ensure you watch the section from 2:06 to 3:45 and take note.
What it illustrates is that a high performance track day car like the KTM X-bow and many other such high performance cars don’t have a very ‘standard’ starting procedure. It is all very simple when you know but left to your own devices (like James May in the video) you’ll get nowhere but utterly frustrated.
The same applies to a SharePoint Online migration. Why? Because moving to SharePoint Online is a very different environment from traditional files and folders. Things are different (and better) for a number of reasons but if you don’t know how to at least start using SharePoint Online you are going to get pretty frustrated pretty quickly just like if you’d bought a KTM X-bow and no one had shown you how to start it!
In my initial post in this series I noted how that if you want things to stay the way they are with your files and folders in the cloud then SharePoint Online may not be for you. What I also noted was that I believe this to be a very small minority of businesses since most want to receive the productivity benefits of true collaboration and are willing to invest the time to get the most from SharePoint Online.
However, there is nothing more frustrating that buying something new and then not even being able to use it. Imagine you where lucky enough to afford something like a Ferrari 458 Speciale and then you couldn’t even start it. Even though there is whole lot more to ownership than just starting the car, initially after purchase getting some usage out of what you bought is a huge aspect of the experience you will have with it going forward. Having a good experience (i.e. being able to fire the beast up and drive it immediately) makes things more positive, even if you have a few set backs (say curbing the rims) down the track. However, if you have bad experience immediately at the start (i.e. you can’t work out how to make it go) you’ll remember that far more and have a much greater challenging overcoming that initial negative impression. It is simple human nature really but understanding this is also the key to a successful SharePoint Online migration.
In essence what I am saying is that even after all the data has been copied across and categorized the most important part for the success of the project comes immediately after this – getting the users over the initial usage hurdle as quickly as possible (i.e. a few quick wins go a long way). Most users will be apprehensive about things changing. Most don’t trust technology and believe all machines ‘conspire’ against them constantly. This is the challenge the migrator needs to overcome. In short this means training.
Once the data is over and users are about to be unleashed on SharePoint Online you need to make that transition as smooth and easy as possible. If you don’t, chances are the customer will always have a negative opinion about SharePoint Online and you will be starting from behind. You want to ensure the best possible experience. You want to ensure users get up and running quickly. You MUST ensure they can do their jobs better, quicker and easier than before. As with any new technology, that first hill is the largest but once you are over that it is generally all downhill from there.
Like I have said in previous posts, this means the process of migration is NOT complete after merely copying the data across. The migration process is only complete once everyone is HAPPILY using SharePoint.
This means you need to need to develop processes and material around the critical element of user adoption as much as the technical process of actually copying data. In so many instances I have seen, data gets copied but users then get abandoned to work it out for themselves. The chances of that ending with a good experience are almost zero. However, with a bit of planning and TLC the chances of a positive result are very high. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it a lot.
As you will hear me say over and over again, SharePoint is more than cloud storage and should be treated as so. Like any other Office tool you need to learn how to work it, even the basics, so you can help those you are selling it to. Thus, if you are selling SharePoint migration services then you need to incorporating into that site design and adoption training. For most people selling SharePoint this means extending their skill set.
Don’t just drag and drop and run away. Don’t be afraid of it. Invest a little bit of time to reap the rewards. With so much implementation of SharePoint Online being done currently it leaves a HUGE opportunity for those who do it right. Getting the user started is the key and never overlook the fact that making that as painless and simple as possible sets the stage for adoption of the more advanced features of SharePoint as well the deeper integration into the business and that spells business opportunity for those to take it up. As the Top Gear clip illustrates, having a key doesn’t always mean you can start the car!
p.s. I believe in this adoption process so heavily that I created many publications around exactly that. They are not deep dive, they are not aimed at IT Professionals. They are aimed at end users who want to get on the gas with products as soon as they can. I created these because I saw no others in the market.
You can find these at:
and any purchase supports the work I do and allow me to create more such guides.

SharePoint Online migration–Pilers and Filers

A while back I wrote the first in a series of articles about migration to SharePoint Online. If you haven’t already, I suggest you go back and read the article:
The classic SharePoint migration mistake
What I want to cover in this article are the two styles of existing file storage systems you’ll find already in place at businesses – ‘piling’ and ‘filing’ – both of which have different challenges when it comes to migration to SharePoint Online.

Let’s start with the more common ‘system’ of file storage in a business – ‘piling’. In essence a business that ‘piles’ simply uses existing network shares or local hard disks as nothing more than dumping ground for files. There is no structure, no naming convention and stuff is basically all over the place without any rhyme or reason.
When you see this style of storage ‘implementation’ you should appreciate that the business has not put any time into developing standards for itself. It has all generally been about hast and once the document has been completed it is generally lost forever amongst all the other flotsam and jetsam on the network share.
Therefore, the most appealing aspect to a ‘piler’ is the ability to locate documents and content using search. This is what SharePoint Online is great at. This therefore should be the major aspect in which you use to sell SharePoint to a ‘piler’. Where you are going to struggle is trying to put structure around the existing files.
My initial post on SharePoint migration pointed out what a BAD IDEA simply dumping the files into a single document library is. In the case of ‘pilers’ this means you are going to have to put some structure in place to get their files under control. My advice is to start but dividing things into a couple of big chunks. Maybe one document library for each customer or perhaps some by function or project. Whatever it is don’t get too ambitious with the structure, just break it up enough so it fits comfortably into a couple of document libraries or sub sites. It is important that the structure you create is clear to the customer. That means keeping the naming convention simple and short.
Once you have done that make sure that the customer understands that their data is still there but they can either look in one of the ‘chunked’ document libraries or sites you used or they can use the search function. For ‘pilers’ you REALLY need to emphasize and demonstrate the search abilities of SharePoint Online and ensure that all staff know how to use it to find what they want.
Most importantly, you can’t just leave a ‘piler’ here because what are they going to do? That’s right, they are again simply going to ‘pile’ information into places inside SharePoint Online that you never imagined. The long game here is that you want to start moving ‘pilers’ towards being ‘filers’. You don’t however want to convert them totally, you simply balance out their tendencies.

‘Filers’ are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. What ‘filers’ love to do is create endless directory structures full of nothing but sub-directories and put files at the bottom of these, layers and layers down.
‘Filers’ too also have a significant need to search for information but they have the advantage that they have already started categorizing the information. You can therefore use this structure and mimic it using document libraries, sub-sites and meta data. It will again mean you have to step back and look at what structure works best but the flatter the better.
So can you see what the desired outcome is for ‘filers’? Yes, that’s right, you want to move them towards being more of a ‘piler’ and letting SharePoint Online search, filtering and sorting do all the hard work they used to implement with complex and static directory structures. The important thing when working with ‘filers’ is to show them how although much of their information is now contained in a single document library, they can use filtering, sorting and views to quickly navigate to the information they want. The good thing is that unlike ‘pilers’ they have already created the structure outline for you. All you need to do is map that into appropriate locations within SharePoint Online.
If you leave ‘filers’ to their own devices with SharePoint Online, what they’ll do is start creating more and more sub directories in document libraries. You really want to discourage this as it hides information and that structure usually only makes sense to a very small subset of people in a business. To prevent this happening with ‘filers’ you need to continue to demonstrate how SharePoint Online filtering, sorting and the use of multiple libraries provides a much better and more flexible filing system than what they used to have.
Again, you don’t want to covert ‘filers’ fully into ‘pilers’, you simply want to balance out their tendencies to move too far to one side of the ‘storage’ spectrum.
Thus, in summary, the first determination you need to make when you are speaking to a customer about migrating to SharePoint Online is how much of a ‘piler’ or ‘filer’ they are. Where are they situated in the spectrum? All customers will fall somewhere between the two extremes, however the approach you should be taking is independent of this fact. The approach you should be taking is that you should be aiming to get them to 50% ‘piling’ and 50% ‘filing’ within SharePoint Online. That’s the sweet spot where the product can really work its full magic.
Most importantly, is that any initial migration is just the start of the process and the opportunity if you are a reseller. To achieve the most optimal results continued work is going to be required in order to achieve ‘storage nirvana’ through all the features of SharePoint Online. Migration is therefore not a one shot deal, it is a process that continues to develop and evolve over time as you move a customer from the ‘simple’ storage to full collaboration with SharePoint Online.
Hopefully this second post in my series about migrating to SharePoint Online has given you a simple method to evaluate your customers and secondly given you a direction in which to move with them (i.e. a 50/50 balance for everyone) when considering your migration strategy. I’ll be diving into more specifics in future posts so stay tuned.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Getting Started With PowerShell for Office 365 webinar

I recently completed a 60 minute webinar based around my book “Getting Started With PowerShell for Office 365”. Thanks to SMB Nation that webinar is now available for public viewing on YouTube at:

You can also find a copy of the slides on Slideshare at:

However, you’ll find much more detailed information in my eBook:

which you can obtain directly from my site:


or from other eBook sellers like Amazon for less than AU$5.

I thank SMB Nation for the opportunity to present and those who attended.

Friday, April 25, 2014

We honour their service

99 years ago Australian and New Zealand (ANZACs) forces went ashore on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. For 9 months they remained their fighting a desperate battle against a determined enemy defending their homeland.

In the end the ANZACs were withdrawn and went on to fight with distinction in Northern France and forge a legion that we celebrate today.

April the 25th is the day that we in Australia remember and celebrate all of those brave and committed individuals who served and continue to serve our country.

May their deeds and commitment continued to be remembered and celebrated through the ages as the greatest embodiment of what it means to help your mates without question or requirement.

If you are interested in learning about the sacrifice and history of the ANZACs in northern France during World War 1 check out my website:


We shall remember them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Enterprise social updates for Office 365

I’ve been talking a lot lately about how collaboration is the key requirement going forward for successful teams and businesses. I’ve also highlighted my belief that Microsoft stands alone in understanding what collaboration with technology is all about.

The heart of this understanding has been SharePoint for many, many years, however what I see coming down the pipe, especially from a product like Yammer integrated with Office 365 simply blows me away when I think about the future of collaboration.

If you want an idea of what this all about and why I am so excited by what I see coming take a look at this Microsoft Garage video.

What it demonstrates is fundamentally how Yammer will be seamlessly integrated across every Office 365 product. It also demonstrates to me that Microsoft is the only business that is truly integrating ‘social’ into the enterprise for large and small businesses.

I honestly can’t wait until these updates start hitting customer tenants and I can start helping them change the way the way they work to become more productive with a tool like Office 365. If you want a differentiation point between the Microsoft cloud offering and what the competition is doing watch this video and tell me you don’t agree.

Installing Office 365 Pro Plus on an RDS server

*** Please see this update - http://blog.ciaops.com/2014/09/installing-office-365-pro-plus-on-rds.html ***

Office 365 Pro Plus on a RDS (Terminal Server) is a very common question I see all the time. A while ago I wrote an detailed article around the licencing of Office 365 Pro Plus in an RDS environment. You can read the full blog post if you want to as it is still valid, but in summary what it says is that if you purchase Office 365 via a web console, that is either via the Microsoft console or via the Telstra portal here in Australia that product is NOT licensed to run on any type of RDS environment. The only way that you can run Office 365 Pro Plus in an RDS environment is if Office 365 was purchased via an Open agreement (basically volume licensing). That is basically the same as it is with other versions of Office, RDS is only supported with volume licensing.

With that answered, next question is normally about actually installing Office 365 Pro Plus in a RDS environment. The challenge is the software you get from Office 365 is ‘click to run’ which won’t install on a RDS machine. So how do you actually go about getting Office Pro Plus onto a RDS machine when you have Office 365 via Open?

Strangely enough, it is exactly the same as when you have normal Office, you need to purchase Office Pro Plus software and Volume License key that allows the installation. For reference see the following document;

Licensing Microsoft Office Pro Plus Subscription Service in Volume Licensing

which says:

How do customers get access to Office Professional Plus 2013 media for use with RDS deployments?
Customer must have access to Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) and Volume Licensing keys to install and activate Office Professional Plus 2013 media on network servers for RDS scenarios with Office 365 ProPlus licenses. Access to media and keys in VLSC vary among different Volume License agreements, such as Enterprise Agreement and Open. Depending on your agreement type and previous Office license purchases, you may have access to Office Professional Plus 2013. If Office Professional Plus 2013 media and key are not available to you, a Volume Licensing
partner may assist you with the purchase of an Office Professional Plus 2013 license to support your rights to deploy Office software on a network server with RDS role enabled.

Thus, if you have only purchase Office 365 via Open you will also need to purchase one Office Pro Plus media and key via Volume Licensing to actually support the installation.

This of course is an additional cost on top of any Office 365 licenses purchase which many resellers fail to factor in. They then get a nasty surprise when they attempt an install using ‘click-to-run’ and it doesn’t work. They get an even nastier shock when they discover they have to purchase one additional Office Pro Plus license to do the RDS installation. But by far the worst is when they have to go back to the customer and ask them for more money to cover this or swallow the increase themselves.

I hear lots of bitching an moaning about this from resellers but in all honesty it is the same as it for most other versions of Office. You can’t install Office Pro Plus in an RDS environment with a retail version of Office Pro Plus, you again need to purchase the media and key via volume licensing.

Now, I appreciate that there is an extra cost and it would be nice to get the media an key as part of Office 365 Open, and that may well come down the track, but you do have the additional benefit of being able to install Office 365 on in an RDS environment that you once couldn’t. Time to look at the cup half full guys I think.   

The secret is knowing what you can and can’t do and hopefully after reading this post it will have answered these questions which without doubt are the most common I see.

Office 365 Pro Plus downgrade rights via Open

If you purchase Office 2013 Professional Plus on a PC (OEM) or off a retail shelf there is no downgrade rights. This means you do not have the right to install Office 2010 instead. However, under certain volume licensing programs if you purchase Office 2013 Professional Plus you do have that right. This is one advantage of using volume licensing.
Now in the Office 365 world, if you purchase a plan that includes Office Professional Plus for the desktop what happens? If you purchase that plan via a console (either the Microsoft console or the Telstra console here in Australia) you do not receive any downgrade rights because it is effectively like a retail purchase. However, what happens if you purchase Office 365 via Open licensing?
The answer can be found here:
Licensing Microsoft Office Pro Plus Subscription Service in Volume Licensing
Inside the PDF you will find:
Online Services Downgrade Rights In Online Services customers have access to the latest technology with the newest features and releases. As with all
Subscription Services, Microsoft generally offers only the latest version of the service at a time. Therefore, downgrade
rights are not available with Office 365 ProPlus licenses.

So, in summary, no matter where you purchase Office 365 Pro Plus from, it does not come with downgrade rights.

Review - Veho Pebble Smartstick Emergency Charger

Full disclosure – the review unit was supplied by Mobilezap. You can find this device and others at the Mobilezap category pages.

How many times have you needed to charge your phone and you couldn’t find a power point? Or all the power points have been taken by others charging their devices (happens at conferences and at airports a lot). All you need is just enough charge to send that email or make that quick call but without a recharge you are stuck? We’ll here’s a great little gadget to help, the Veho Pebble Smartstick Emergency Charger.

Basically, you charge it up from a USB port prior to stepping out. Then you connect it to your device, with the huge variety of connectors that are provided. This will normally give you more than enough charge to keeping going through the day and get done what you need to do.
Obviously, it takes a while to fully charge the Smartstick but the idea is that you do that the night before from your PC or wall jack. You then throw into your bag as you head out and you’ll be pretty secure that you should be able to get through a whole day not needing to look for a charger.
The really great thing is that it comes with so many connectors that fit just about all your devices. It is small and convenient and quite stylish. It is a little bit heavier than you expect but that’s because it is a battery. However that is not a hindrance at all.
This is a really great travelling accessory and I’d recommend to anyone who have every had to scrounge around for a power point to do some ‘desperate’ charging. Adding one of these to your kit and topping it up before you leaves almost guarantees that you’ll never need to look for a power point during the day.

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:


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:


or subscribe via your favourite app like iTunes:


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.
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.
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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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,


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’.


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.


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.


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


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).

Thursday, April 10, 2014


One of the things that I notice about the public in general (and IT resellers especially) is the the alarming amount of extra body weight many are carrying around. All the reading I have done on the subject tends to indicate that a major cause of this is due to the large amount of sugars in modern diets.

Don’t believe me? Stop and take a look at all the sugar you are consuming each day. You may think that you are doing a good thing but eating ‘lite’ and ‘fat-free’ food. The problem is that to make such food enticing the fat has been replaced with sugar and loads of it!

Why do I mention this? I see that there is a new documentary coming out very soon called Fed Up which focuses on the ‘sugar-issue’ and I would suggest that it is a must see for many. Here’s the trailer:

One of the things that you should appreciate as a small business operator is that if you can’t work you can’t earn a living. Thus, if your diet and lifestyle is making you unhealthy the sicker you are going to become, especially as you age.

If like me you are interested in trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it isn’t hard. However a very good starting point is the 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.


I’d also recommend you getting something like a FitBit (which I have) and using that to track how active you are each day, how far you walk and your sleep patterns, which are all very important to your health. You can see my stats above since I got my FitBit recently for Christmas.

The first step in becoming more healthy, much like improving your business, is to start monitoring what is going on. I say start looking at your daily sugar intake and how active you are. I’d be surprised that if you reduced your sugar intake and increased your activity you wouldn’t become healthier.

Remember, you only have one life and it ticks away from you at every moment of every day, so make the most of it. If not for you then for the ones you love because you are an important part of their lives as well and you owe to them to look after yourself.

eDiscovery is part of OneDrive for Business stand alone plans

I have been looking at the OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan recently to try and understand what it is all about. If you haven’t read my initial blog on this have a look at:

First look at the OneDrive for business stand alone plan

Upon reviewing what OneDrive for Business Stand Alone offered at:


I noted the fact that it includes eDiscovery as you can see below.


Now, the eDiscovery features is actually a part of SharePoint Online Plan 2 as you can see below:


The conclusion that I came to in my initial blog post on OneDrive for Business Stand Alone was that it was that it had the equivalent feature set of SharePoint Online Plan 1. Clearly, with the ability to have eDiscovery (which is an advanced SharePoint Online feature) that assumption is no longer correct it would seem.


So to test out the eDiscovery feature I logged into the OneDrive for Business Stand Alone Plan and went to the SharePoint admin center and created a new site collection.


When you create a new site collection you can select which template you wish that site based on. As you can see from the above screen shot, one of the options under the Enterprise tab is eDiscovery Center.


Once you have created the site and it has been provisioned you will see it appear in the list of site as shown above.


You can of course navigate to that site, as seen above, and start using the eDiscovery functionality of the OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan.

This is interesting to me. Why? Because clearly OneDrive for Business Stand Alone is based on a SharePoint Plan 1 (as deduced in the previous blog post) but as you can see now it includes the advanced eDiscovery feature from SharePoint Online Plan 2. So that means what we effectively have here is another SharePoint Online plan here with a different feature set.

Those additional advanced features are great, don’t get me wrong, but they make understanding what each SharePoint Online plan offers far more confusing for people. For example, OneDrive for Business Stand Alone doesn’t include advanced features like form services but does include other advanced features like eDiscovery.

Having eDiscovery as part of OneDrive for Business Stand Alone is a huge bonus and real differentiator with other cloud storage products, however it also means that it is a lot more complicated than competing products. OneDrive for Business Stand Alone is clearly not aimed at end users as are other cloud storage products BUT is does means that people that use and implement OneDrive for Business Stand Alone are going to have to spend some time learning about the product (and specifically SharePoint Online) if they are going to get the most from it.

The great thing about OneDrive for Business Stand Alone is that has much more functionality and power than you expect. However, that could also be its disadvantage if all you are looking to do is save files to the cloud. I personally think the market is moving more to a product like OneDrive for Business Stand Alone for compliance reasons but we are not there yet for most smaller customers who want simplicity over just about everything else.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Office for iPad resources

Here are some resources for Office for iPad that I took from a recent webinar that are worthwhile.

First look at the OneDrive for business stand alone plan

With the move to OneDrive for Business from SkyDrive Pro Microsoft has also announced the availability of a stand alone OneDrive for Business plan. It is clearly aimed as a ‘Dropbox killer’ so I thought I’d take a look under the covers and see exactly what it is.

I signed up for a trial at:


and for that I received


The sign up process is just like any other Office 365 plan.


You complete all the address details, create an admin login and password and then you are live. This trial was for 25 users of OneDrive for Business.


After creating the admin account you are immediately signed into the Office 365 Administration Portal which is identical to any other plan. However, you will note that the top menu has the items Newsfeed and Sites listed as shown above. These disappear after a short while (obviously some provisioning happening in the background).


When I checked the subscriptions I could see what I expected, 25 licenses of OneDrive for Business.


When you actually check the license assigned to the user you see they have rights to Office Online (the old Office Web Apps) and OneDrive for Business (Plan 1).

Now that’s interesting. Firstly you can remove the ability to view document in a browser by removing the Office Online license but even more interestingly what’s this (Plan 1) thing about? My thoughts on this further on.


Upon returning to the main administration page I saw that Newsfeed and Sites no longer appeared in the menu bar at the top of the page.


So being logged on as the administrator account I thought I’d next have a look at the SharePoint admin center.


To do this you select the Admin option from the menu bar across the top and then SharePoint from the menu that appears.


Doing so takes me to the familiar SharePoint admin center common to both Enterprise and Mid-sized Business plans. What you will also see is that I have three standard SharePoint Team Sites provisioned! Say what? So not only do I get personal a OneDrive for Business for each licenses user but I ALSO get a standard SharePoint Online shared Team Site. More importantly, via this interface I can also create more shared sites it would seem. Interesting.


The other thing to note here is that I have approximately 25GB of free pooled space I can allocate! So each user gets the standard 25GB for OneDrive for Business as you do with any SharePoint Online plan BUT you also seem to get additional shared space as a bonus.


With normal SharePoint Online plans as you find details at:


You only get 0.5GB of additional shared storage per licensed user. Here with OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan it seems you get 1GB per licensed user. That explains the additional 25GB of pooled space I am seeing. It also indicates to me that all SharePoint plans will soon change to add 1GB per user to shared storage (I wonder how long that will be? Not long I’ll bet).


If I now actually click on the OneDrive option from the menu I get a video to watch and I’m told to wait. This is very much like what happens with OneDrive for Business with any standard SharePoint Online plan.


After a few more moments I am deposited in the familiar OneDrive for Business web interface (like the old SkyDrive Pro in many ways). So this user now has 25GB of personal storage they can use to sync their files.


With the personal space set up I navigate to the shared Team Site and sure enough it comes up like any standard SharePoint Online shared Team Site as you can see above.


My next question is, ‘That’s great, but exactly which SharePoint Online plan is it? 1 or 2?’. To find out I edit the home page and look at the web parts available in the Business Data section shown above.


If I now look at the same location but on an E3 tenant (i.e. that includes SharePoint Online Plan 2), you’ll see there are lots more web parts available in the same area including those for Excel Web Access and Visio Web Access, both exclusive features of SharePoint Online Plan 2.

So, my conclusion is that OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan is basically like (if not identical) to SharePoint Online Plan 1. Given that it also includes Office Online the plan that it is probably more identical to is Office Web Apps Plan 1.

Here’s where my thinking on what the license saying OneDrive for Business (Plan 1) Stand Alone is all about as I pointed out earlier. My guess would be that we are going to see a OneDrive for Business (Plan 2) Stand Alone that will perhaps include more storage and SharePoint Online Plan 2 as the default Team Site. Only speculation on my part, but it seems logical to me.


Now I do a double check on OneDrive for Business Stand Alone Plan including SharePoint Online Plan 1 by looking at the web parts in the Forms section.


In the same area on my E3 plan (that includes SharePoint Online Plan 2) I see the InfoPath Form Web Part as shown above. So, I’m now pretty confident that OneDrive for Business Stand Alone includes the full Office Web Apps Online Plan 1 in its offering. Bonus!


With other SharePoint Online plans you have a menu item called Sites at the top. When you select that you get a list of promoted sites and what you see is like that shown above from an E3 tenant.


Even though the Sites menu option is not displayed in the OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan I manually entered in the appropriate URL but was greeted with a 403 Forbidden as you see above. So there is one difference, the Sites URL doesn’t work!


I then attempted to create a public website in the OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan and it seemed to allow me. However, I couldn’t select a Web Site Address. It seems like that might be blocked but I’ll need to have a fiddle to see whether that is really the case or me just not doing something. But, it certainly seems possible.


There is a lot more to this OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan than meets the eye and I’ll need to investigate further and report back. However, to round off I took a look at what happens when you want to actually convert the plan to a paid subscription. I had created 2 users and when I wanted to convert I was asked to pay for these two users as well as any additional space. Total cost would have been $5.00 ( 2 x $2.50 ) per month, on special ($10 normally). Pretty good value for what you are getting from what I see.


So it seems to me that OneDrive for Business Stand Alone on first glance:

- is almost identical to Office Web Apps Plan 1 that includes SharePoint Online Plan 1 and Office Online (the new Office Web Apps).

- provides each licensed user with a default of 25GB of personal storage in their own OneDrive for Business as with any other SharePoint Online plan

- can have additional pooled storage added that can be allocated to any existing users personal OneDrive for Business to take any personal OneDrive for Business up to a current maximum of 1024GB. Again, just like any existing SharePoint Online Plan.

- includes shared Team Sites accessible via the standard SharePoint admin center just like all E and M plans.

- seems to include an additional 1GB per licensed user of pooled storage that can be allocated to either the shared Team Site or an individual users OneDrive for Buiness. Other SharePoint Online plans currently only provide 0.5GB per licensed user (but I get the feeling that will change).

- seems that there maybe additional stand alone plans coming that include more storage and the features of SharePoint Online Plan 2 (i.e. Visio, Excel, Access services, etc).

For the cost, you get a lot of the features of SharePoint Online which is great. However, that still makes it a little more difficult for people to use when compared to other file syncing options like DropBox. However, if you want enterprise functionality and collaboration OneDrive for Business stand alone stands out.

I’ll be doing further deep dives into this OneDrive for Business Stand Alone plan very soon so stay tuned.