Microsoft Ignite @ Atlanta

I would be attending the Microsoft Ignite event hosted at Atlanta, GA on 09/26 – 09/30 courtesy AgreeYa Solutions.

AgreeYa is a global Microsoft Systems Integrator for last 17 years delivering software, solutions, and services to clients in core areas of social, mobile, analytics, and cloud. Being a MS Gold partner along with Azure Everywhere and Cloud deployment partner, AgreeYa is amongst top 1% partners having access to business investment funds from MS to support deployment of Microsoft technologies at customer locations.

Some of the key clients AgreeYa is working with includes, DELL, US Army, State of CA ( Department of Public Health, Air Resources Board), County of San Mateo, Merck, Verizon, Qualcomm, HP, JP Morgan Chase, Standard Charter Bank, Accenture, Bed Bath & Beyond, State Street, …. They have been implementing various MS technologies such as SharePoint, O365, Power BI, Azure, SQL Server, System Center, BizTalk, .Net, EPMS, Delve, PowerApps, Flow, Groups, One Note, Skype for Business, OneDrive and Workflows.

They also provide proprietary award winning solutions like QuickApps, VdiXtend, SocialXtend and BeatBlip. AgreeYa is named as top IT Consulting company along with most promising SharePoint solution provider. They Are HQ in Folsom, CA with 20 offices in 8 countries.

Come visit us at booth #566 to explore how we can help achieve your collaboration and digitization goals with Office 365, SharePoint and Azure.

PowerApps, Flow & Azure Functions – Do you still need SharePoint ?

Its the year 2016. Organizations are wondering if the decade worth of customization on SharePoint has paid off ?  In 2007, they built several shared service providers in MOSS to customize their business needs and keep their end users happy. In 2010, they evaluated buy vs build vs build on SharePoint vs buy for SharePoint (WebParts & Add Ins).  Their productivity increased multifold and so did their time to market for their applications.  In 2013 (and 2016), they developed and deployed several apps (now add-ins) using client side technologies and achieved challenging customizations for the end users. And Office 365 gave them a huge playground for apps that were built with perfection by the product companies.  Now where do they head next?

SharePoint is an excellent collaboration tool with flexibility to customize business needs with out of the box features. Throw in some custom code, java script and BCS and you can build enterprise grade business application. Create some custom content types and you have reusability at its best. And then came a mandate. Conversion to the next version. Every customization, every workaround  and every piece of unsupported code comes haunting your sleep. Large lists that your  end users created with love and affection. And don’t mention terabytes of data in single content database that your database admin has been always warning you about, but his email ended up in your clutter.

So how did all of these happen? SharePoint architects made an informal checklist for every business problem.

  1. Do you require workflow ?
  2. Do you need item level security ?
  3. Are there internal users ? Or external users ? Or public access required ?
  4. Do you need access to external data ?
  5. Do you need findability ?

If the answers to above questions have 3 affirmation, SharePoint becomes the undisputed solution.

I am sure by now SharePoint Architects would be building nasty comments in their minds to criticize this article, but I am a SharePoint Architect myself. And knowing when NOT to use SharePoint makes you a successful architect. There is no defined recipe of where to use SharePoint and when not to use SharePoint.

In my opinion, Microsoft have head subtle hints from SharePoint community to fix long standing issues related to customization and Microsoft did hear them all but offered a completely different but relevant stack of product to address these issues. These are part of Azure cloud stack namely Power App, Microsoft Flow and Azure Functions.

So why do I say Microsoft Flow, PowerApps and Functions presage a new model of cloud applications? Because increasingly, cloud apps are evolving toward a lego-block model of “serverless” computing: where you create and pay only for your business logic, where chunks of processing logic are connected together to create an entire business application.

So how does this all fit in? Let’s say John Doe is a supply chain manager who wants to build a tracking system for every exception in their route management process. He wants to track all exceptions, route them for approval to stakeholders and perform some near complex business logic before sending the response to the exception team. John Doe (or a power user from his team) can create forms in PowerApps at astonishing fast speed.  Want that app mobile-enabled on any smartphone? No problem, you use the Common Data Model available in PowerApps enabling a lingua franca between applications. Kick off a Flow  to create next steps of assignment. And if you need some complex business logic added, have a developer use Azure Functions  that can be triggered by virtually any event in Azure, 3rd party services, or on-premises systems. Azure Functions is built on a serverless architecture, which handles the heavy lifting of building highly available, scalable, end-to-end Functions.

It is easier said or written than done but so was SharePoint. But as the question of my blog post suggested, has SharePoint become irrelevant? I would say no. Not for the purpose SharePoint has been built in the first place. SharePoint is still the first choice for content management, business intelligence portal, enterprise social, enterprise search and workflow to leverage team collaboration and publishing features. But when evaluating complex application development with critical functionalities, it makes sense to evaluate vis-à-vis availability of  compute time and resource for Microsoft Azure with the organization. But as the code of conduct for Architect community says, plan to leverage existing licenses and investments but not at the cost of architectural debts. That’s where we (the architects) come-in. Provide the best bet solution to the business problems. And next time a business user walks up to your desk asking can I solve this on SharePoint, calm down-take a deep breath-and show him this blog.

Disclaimer – No SharePoint Architects were harmed while writing this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

The Microsoft Cloud Journey

The Microsoft Cloud Journey

Microsoft’s cloud focus has been both interesting and encouraging. In last few years, we have seen world wide adoption of Office 365 & Azure. Five years ago, Microsoft’s server products were much more powerful than their Office 365 counterparts. Today, those differences are shrinking, and Microsoft is increasingly offering Office 365 services that have no in-house counterparts. IT departments continue to struggle with understanding how Office 365 services interoperate with other Office 365 services, Microsoft server products and third-party solutions. The devil is in the details, and the details constantly change. And then there has been an interesting feedback from CIOs and IT Leaders, that they all prefer to start hybrid and continue to use in-house infrastructure and software in concert with Office 365.

As a CXO, you have had your leaders establish cloud first strategy, but have you defined your tolerance for SAAS and PAAS based applications in your cloud journey? Because once these pitfalls are understood and tolerance is defined, you are very close to commence your cloud journey.

There are unique challenges about several Microsoft cloud products that lead to failed implementations and thus reducing confidence in the cloud strategy. Some of them are

  1. The misconception about Azure as VM service: Azure is way bigger then spinning few VM. Its has full stack cloud portfolio that provides services and workloads across identity management, machine learning, big data, storage, API management, CDN and many more. You can see the directory of Azure Cloud Services here.  It is important to consider these services when building a cloud first strategy.
  2. Treating Office 365 as a quick fix: The time to market for Office 365 product line is quick but it needs detailed assessment and planning before jumping the bandwagon. The pre configuration for integrating with Active Directory for sync and single sign on takes time, effort and resources.
  3. Planning performance & delivery: Multinational organizations find that connecting to Office 365 has challenges with the individual services — the bandwidth required, the data and the quality of service. Under Microsoft’s current delivery model, customers must pick a region for the primary delivery and storage of the data for the services.
  4. Upgrades & New Functionality– Office 365 is ever evolving and dynamic with a new functionality being rolled out every quarter (or less).  Organizations can, at the most, delay the release, but not completely avoid it. Communication has to be frequent and consistent before, during and after new functionality has been rolled out.
  5. Deciding what to use when – Organizations face a very unique challenge. Over availability of solutions to address single problem.  You want your network drive that needs to be migrated to cloud, you have solutions ranging from OneDrive, SharePoint Team Sites,  Azure Storage, StorSimple to name a few. You want a digital media solution, you have Office 365 Stream, Videos, Azure Media Services and SharePoint sites. You want workflow based application and you have PowerApps + Flow, SharePoint Online, Azure App Services, etc to address these problems.

Most organization treat cloud as a single project. May it be Office 365 migration or Azure implementation. And this is generally followed by implementing all services at one go.  And then there are other organization that focus on single service model for Office 365 or Azure. They start with Exchange Online and then stop at everything.

In order to mitigate these challenges, it is imperative that organizations use methodology that allows them to tailor-make their deployments that are best suited to achieve their goals. As a consultant, I have come across instances where a cloud service is brought in for a proof of concept, then converted into production and finally end up building processes and metrics to support that deployment.

I consistently thrive to help organizations address these problems by following an approach that brings in agility to adopt cloud services based on their appetite to handle change.

cloud

 

This 4 step approach follows a service catalog methodology that helps define owners for each service and plan the migration accordingly. It involves different teams like cyber security, data center & network and firewall early to plan if hybrid deployment is needed and how to assess the readiness of on premise infrastructure to integration with cloud. Each Service would follow a swimming pool analogy with multiple lanes for swimming.

  • In some lanes, the organization will dive in and swim as fast as possible (for example, when implementing services such as Exchange Online).
  • In some lanes, the organization will stay in the shallow end of the pool. E.g Identity Management
  • In some lanes, the organization will merely dip a toe in the water. E.g PowerBI
  • Some lanes will not be entered at all.

If these challenges are well mitigated, your cloud journey can be as smooth as a summer trip to the beach with adequate sun tan and anti glares to keep you woes at bay. If you are interested in building your Microsoft Cloud strategy, reach out to me at ravee@gokulgaandhi.com and I would be happy to help.

Build SharePoint 2016 Environment (Part 1)

Build SharePoint 2016 Environment (Part 1)

Introduction

In this article, I am going to build from scratch a SharePoint 2016 on premise deployment. We will also configure Office 365 in this deployment and use several configurations like external DNS, Azure AD Connect, ADFS and Web Application Proxy to build this environment. The focus of this article series is to help an administrator build a SharePoint 2016 environment from ground up with Active Directory Domain Services, Active Directory Federation Services, Web Application Proxy, Azure AD Connect, Azure AD Proxy, SharePoint 2013 Application Server, SharePoint 2013 Web Front End and Office Web Apps Server. The following figure depicts our end goal. As we progress on the On Premise farm, we will design and build the Office 365 tenant as well.

Figure 1

Let’s look at hardware and software requirements for building each of these server.

Workload

OS

RAM

CPU

Storage

SharePoint Application Server Windows Server 2012 R2 16 GB 64-bit 4 Core 80 GB
SharePoint Web Front End Windows Server 2012 R2 12 GB 64-bit 4 Core 80 GB
SQL Server 2014 Windows Server 2012 R2 12 GB 64-bit 4 Core 80 GB 100GB
Active Directory Domain Services Windows Server 2012 R2 8 GB 64-bit 4 Core 80 GB

Other necessary pre requisites

  1. Registered domain name (E.g. infrafusion.xyz) – In this tutorial, we shall not use non-routable domain name but a routable domain name infrafusion.xyz to depict real life enterprise scenario. And at the same time, a domain name registered with internet authority will be required to validate on Office 365 tenant and use for several cloud workloads.
  2. Office 365 Tenant – You can use existing Office 365 tenant if you have global admin access to but I would recommend against using a production Office 365 tenant. You can register for a trial Office 365 tenant. If you are an enterprise in United States and would like me to support your Office 365 trial needs, you can register for an Office 365 tenant using this link. For other regions, if you need supported trial, reach out to me at ravee@gokulgaandhi.com and I would be happy to help you with your Office 365 trial configuration.

This concludes part 1 of the Build SharePoint 2016 series. In Part 2, we shall build our first Active Directory Server and all the required service accounts. Till then stay tuned on the blog.

Office 365 – Configuration, Migration & Support

Office 365 – Configuration, Migration & Support

You have acquired your Office 365 tenant!!! Congratulations.

Every organization thinking about moving to cloud based services using Office 365 and Microsoft Azure services encounters a common question. How do we move there? And once we are there what do we do next? Enterprises willing to move to Office 365 have common goal in mind. Showing quick wins. Quick savings and quick accolades. But realistically, there are many challenges that restrict them from taking the first step.

As a consultant, I help organizations achieve their execution goals to move their workload to Office 365. The service offering is depicted in the following illustration.

Figure 1

Configuration: This is very critical stage that defines how would a particular service in Office 365 would be used and covers configuration of following feature and functions.

  1. Domain Validation and DNS Configuration – Domains are validated for use by making changes to your domain registrar and DNS catalog.
  2. Active Directory Sync using Azure AD Sync client – This is optional but very effective if you are currently using Active Directory to manage your identity and access.
  3. Single Sign on configuration – This is very complex but effective configuration to allow your users to leverage single sign on by login from your domain joined computer.
  4. Readiness – Readiness for Exchange, SharePoint & Skype for Business services.

Migration: At this stage, we prioritize migration of mailboxes and content.

  1. Exchange Migration: Whatever would be your current mail server, there is a migration path defined. Be it Google Apps for Work, IMAP based mail services or several PSTs, I have got it covered.
  2. SharePoint Migration: Migrating content from various document repositories like Network Share, Google Drive, Dropbox or your My Documents folder, I can help migrate content to OneDrive for Business or SharePoint sites.

Support: This is the stage where your tenant has stabilized and your user are so excited and overwhelmed that they seek changes and support. The following support options are available.

  1. Managed Services – As a partner on record for your Office 365 tenant, I would provide end to end tenant support which includes user management, Level 1 support, coordinate with Microsoft Support. This would also include remote administration of your tenant, notification of upcoming service issues and end user support.
  2. Training – I offer training services administrators and engineers to administer, support and maintain office 365 tenants. These training also includes understanding of mailbox migration, content migration and addressing single sign on issues.

I have seen organizations getting overwhelmed with requests around Office 365 and it is of utmost importance to have well established process and guidelines in place to avoid misconfigurations and unavoidable changes that break critical functionality.

For more details and quick quote, please write an email to ravi@gokulgandhi.com