Office 365 Service Request Wizard

Here’s a post to help you find the Service Request Wizard for Office365.  I wasn’t able to find it when I needed it.

I was on the beta for Office 365 and I couldn’t remember my password.  I had only 1 account.  And then I found the chicken/egg scenario where I had to contact an administrator (me) to reset my password.  Otherwise I could contact support via some hyperlink.  There was a link to open a service request but that only gave me phone numbers … sorry but I’ve had very bad experiences with consumer support via the phone.  I could not find a service request contact form.

Via Twitter, Paul Iddon told me of the Service Request Wizard.  That gives me exactly what I would have needed – I managed to guess my password so I no longer needed help.  But thanks to Paul anyway!

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Office365 RTW and Office 2010 SP1 RTM

Earlier this afternoon Microsoft launched Office365.  I had a play with the beta over the past couple of weeks.  The online experience was pretty smooth; much better than BPOS was at the same stage.  I am not convinced that an ordinary user will not be able to do a smooth deployment of the on-site piece – yes; you will likely use Office on a PC instead of the web editions, just because of mobility and usability.  You will download a client to (allegedly) configure Office.  I found it downloaded, ran for a while, and did squat.  Anyone with an AD or Exchange to integrate will need to work with a specialist partner to do the synchronization and/or migration.  Note that there is a SKU (or a set of them) that include an on-PC Office 2010 license that you are entitled to use for the life of your Office365 subscription.

Office 2010 Service Pack 1 has also been released for x86 and x64.  Mary-Jo Foley has all the details on changes.

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IaaS Cloud Customers Not Implementing Required Security

I just read on Tech http://dlvr.it/XK5wQ Central that customers of Amazon EC2 are not implementing basic or recommended security configurations. Whoare these guys? They are software developers who are bypassing IT. In my experience they usually have no concept of IT security. Heck, they often can’t even do the basics like sizing the virtual machines that they need. So how can anyone expect that they understand some of the most difficult stuff thwt IT pros do on a daily basis?

This causes the obvious security issues. Firewalls, patching, version control, hardening … none of that gets done. Ask Sony how the wrong sort of headlines impact on company profile. And consider things like IT governance, regulatory compliance, and data protection.

IT needs to be involved in any technology project because they are the security experts. The business needs their flexibility … so give them their private cloud.

Public/Private Cloud Thoughts for the Day

I haven’t figured the structure for presenting this yet.  This post is like I’m thinking out loud through my keyboard.

Every day, there seems to be a new story on my various feeds about “the cloud”.  Today is no different.  Another day, another survey that tells us that X% of business users feel like they have to bypass IT because they are a hindrance to flexibility, or Y% of CIOs plan to deploy cloud applications this week/month/year.  Cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud.

The hype is incredible.  And the talking heads that are in podcasts, radio shows, quoted in press interviews are no help.  Uneducated journalists are bringing in muppets who compare Flickr to a complex application in a complicated business environment.  I love Flickr – but there’s little that I’ve seen in the business world that compares to it’s simplicity.  And that lack of simplicity is not because of IT; it’s because the business requires features and integrations that do complicate things behind the scenes.

It’s clear that the business users have gotten hooked on the concept of consumerisation of IT.  Feeling empowered, they’re now buying SaaS applications for themselves.  App developers are buying PaaS and IaaS services for the solutions that they’re developing.  And this is eating into the very reason for IT being around at all.  We’ll all be gone soon, right?  Not so fast, my friend!

Not everything will go to the public cloud.  Concepts like industry/national regulations, the need for secrecy, the need to integrate various server applications, IT governance, and so on are going to hit home soon enough, and the hype will subside.  Some stuff will hit the cloud.  I can see the scenario where small branch offices use an integrated Office 365.  I can see the scenario where a business uses an elastic presence on the net for web servers, scaling out/in with the seasons.  And maybe a lot of people do want a non-customised CRM solution without buying the servers to run it on.

Interesting titbit: when you dig into the Google Apps numbers, the average deployment size is 10 seats. So much for all those huge corporations and government sites dumping file/SharePoint/Exchange servers and MS Office!

Let me qualify the “it won’t go public cloud” statement.  Less stuff will move to the public cloud if IT responds to the requirements of the business.  The end users (our customers) like the instant accessibility and flexibility of cloud computing.  Giving them that sort of environment to work with in the form of a private cloud that is managed by the business will solve the requirements for instant use, flexibility, elasticity, regulatory compliance, security, and IT governance.  But we cannot do things the same old way, where we lock down and say “no” way too often.  The user is a customer.  Whether you like it or not, they have changed the business relationship by finding a competitor for your services in the form of a public cloud.  You have to win back their business.  Showing your value, being solutions oriented, and treating them like a customer is the way forward.

Part of consumerisation of IT is empowering the user.  I don’t know how ready we are for lots of these concepts, either skills, business or technology-wise.  I think we’re getting there.  For example, SCVMM 2012 can be the central part of the private cloud for underlying IaaS.  It can deploy things like IIS, SQL, and applications (collectively forming a service) but I’ve rarely encountered an app developer who knows what their new service will require up front.  Maybe the new ConfigMgr 2012 user centric software deployment can be combined with the likes of Server App-V?  Maybe we need to be able to build VMM 2012 services on the fly, after the original VMs have been deployed?  DPM needs to adopt the cloud model, much like is found with the various online backup solutions, empowering the end user (on a server) to pick and choose what they want to backup (and potentially be billed for it).  And that’s just the technology.  I think the whole service-centric treating-the-user-like-a-customer will be totally alien for those of us who have been BOFHs for the last 15 years, enjoying those moments when we can torture our L-users.

Long story short – the business is moving away from the traditional internal IT service provider.  They’ve gone to the public cloud where there are legitimate issues for many applications.  We can win back that business with a change of direction comprised of private cloud and service attitude.  And that can give the business what they wanted originally and resolve some of those other issues.

IBM Up In The Clouds

IBM rolled out their Smart Cloud Enterprise public cloud offering earlier this Spring.  It is based on RedHat KVM virtualisation.  Right now, it offers support for RHEL, SLES, and Windows Server 2003/2008 guest operating systems.

  • Databases: You can have anything as long as it is DB2 or Informix, both from IBM.
  • Monitoring: Tivoli .. yay?
  • Application Servers (such as IIS or SharePoint): You can have anything as long as it is IBM WebSphere
  • Business Intelligence: You can have anything as long as it is IBM Cognos.

Hmm.

OK, I’m sure the IBM support will be amazing.  Oh? … Yeah, I nearly forgot.  Of course, big government departments and corporations will lap this up and IBM will make a lot of money.

Right now it is available to USA customers only, according to the website.

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UFC and Public Cloud Are Not That Different

The battle to see who will dominate the public cloud arena is shaping up like one of those original UFC tournament events where fighters of all sizes and backgrounds fought each other to see who was the ultimate fighter … and to see who had the ultimate martial art. 

We know Amazon are the dominators right now based on their customised XenServer (I believe but could be wrong).  Microsoft has, and continues to, put together a formidable threat to them, based on SaaS and Azure.  Google has a SaaS offering too.  And there are lots of other offerings from various point solution SaaS providers and hosting companies too based on VMware, XenServer, and Hyper-V.

Stepping up now are Dell and HP.  Dell have recently started recruiting developers and software architects in Dublin for their cloud offering.  OpenStack seems to be their preferred cloud solution with Azure Appliance … we do know that they have considerable custom hardware engineering expertise for large scale cloud deployments.  That knowledgebase will give them an advantage.   I read yesterday of a Linked In “leak” that leads us to believe that HP are focusing on VMware for their cloud.  They are announcing their cloud at VMworld according to the latest rumours, and it will be engineered to be similar to Amazon EC2. I know that their Galway (western Ireland) R&D operation has been recruiting Java and opensource skills and that seems to be backed up by the same “leak”.

IBM are also in the game.  The have Lotus Live (seems very limited compared to Office365 or even BPOS based on the brief look I had), but they also are doing something in the cloud arena.  Funnily enough, an ex colleague who started his first post-college job on the same day and in the same team as me is involved in their Dublin operation.

Using the UFC comparison, who will be the big powerful wrestler, throwing around their competition?  I think Dell stands a very good shot at that.  As a consumer, I’d be worried about HP’s commitment.  They were in the online backup game for a while and backed out, leaving a lot of customers in the lurch.

Who will be the boxer/kick-boxer who can always deliver that knockout punch, even when losing in the 5th round?  IBM are a mystery to me.  Other than some software that I hate (yes, I know many, but not the majority, of you love Domino/Notes), IBM makes an absolute fortune every year doing stuff we never hear about.  That makes them a heavyweight to me.  I’m also thinking Microsoft.  Their advantage is that they own a huge percentage of the on-premises market which is not going to disappear.  Integration via the hybrid or cross-premises cloud will be a nice clip to the chin.

And who will be the weedy looking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy that takes everyone by surprise by dislocating the opposition’s ankle/knee/elbow or choking them out?  In my opinion, these are the folks to watch.  They’ll be the ones that are small enough to adjust to this emerging business.  Customer requirements, regulatory compliance, and other complications, are all still evolving.  The likes of IBM, Dell, Microsoft, HP and Amazon are all so big that change will be slow.  The “smaller” guys can adapt to the environment more easily.  When I say “small”, this could be a Rackspace or similar which are still very big presences but not on the same scale as the big boys, or they could be the smaller hosters who have even more freedom to engineer quickly.

Those early days of mixed martial arts saw this relatively unknown Brazlian choke out bigger, and allegedly badder guys than him.  Over the follow two decades, the sport evolved.  Now you normally cannot be a UFC champion without learning wrestling, (kick)boxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) all at the same time.  Any weaknesses are exposed and taken advantage of as a fighter moves up the ladder.  But there are many fighters who have decent careers being one-trick-ponies, as long as they always put in a good effort.  They may lose a bit, and might not be champions, but fans want to see them because they are entertaining in the octagon (ring).  And this is where things get interesting in the cloud world.

Microsoft do appear to be that complete fighter who does a little bit of everything.  They could be the complete George St. Pierre to defeat the traditional wrestler/boxer of Matt Hughes/Amazon EC2.  They have PaaS in Azure.  They have a form of IaaS (stateless so it’s limited) in Azure VM Role which could develop to a more complete IaaS down the road.  And they have a growing SaaS offering in Office365, Intune, System Center Advisor, CRM, etc.  They have the huge on-site presence that can be integrated.  They’re all over the world and are marketing like crazy.  Sales people are being instructed to sell cloud first, then infrastructure.  IBM talk at very high levels but I’ve never heard specifics.  HP are building something that is open source based.  There is room for that in the public cloud arena.  Dell are doing Azure Appliance which will give them a PaaS, and HP were thought to be doing the same.  Amazon are an infrastructure company right now.  They may not be the right company to build a PaaS to pair with their IaaS.  Google are just a SaaS offering right now. 

Those “BJJ” hosters are in for interesting times.  I’ve bleated on before about the Patriot Act.  It’s the smaller local companies that are in a position to take advantage of that opening to cater for sensitive customers who want to go into the public cloud.  And those folks that do innovate new services, develop customer bases, and grow, will be the folks who become acquisition targets in the future.  They will be the new “fighting skill” that must be acquired to become a complete champion of the “sport”.

All that remains to be seen now is who will be the ultimate fighter … of the public cloud!

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More Ramblings: User Virtualisation

This topic will be something familiar to those who’ve worked in server based computing (AKA terminal services/remote desktop services and VDI) as well as those who have made it a mission to turn their PCs into stateless appliances.  The idea is that we try to decouple the user (identity and profile made up of settings and personal data) from the machine.  This can be for many reasons.  Say a person works on 2 or three machines, be they a laptop & desktop or a virtual desktop & remote desktop servers, then you want to make sure that when they hit their browser favourites, all the short cuts are there.  Or if they fire up Outlook, it connects to their mailbox.  Or maybe if they travel from office A to office B, their My Documents follows them.

You can do an awful lot of this for quite a while.  Roaming profiles have been with us since before I started working in IT in 1996.  But let’s face it; roaming profiles suck.  They can drag around things that are machine specific, and they are OS version specific (XP has V1 profiles and Vista has V2 profiles).  How many times have you had to set up roaming profiles for a single user in different branch offices, or recreate a corrupted roaming profile?  I had to do it quite a bit when I last managed desktops.  An alternative is to combine local profiles with folder redirection.  That means that folders like My Documents are stored on a file server, and the local “folders” are actually links that redirect applications like Windows Explorer to that location on the file server.  The user thinks they have a normal, local, My Documents … until they take their laptop and try to open a Word document in the airport, at home, or in a hotel.  Then you have issues.  No worries; you probably learned about Offline Files in your XP or 2003 MCP exam.  Turn that on and then My Documents will be replicated from the file server to the laptop.  In theory; yes.  In practice, I banned Offline Files on XP using GPO because it caused so many helpdesk calls.  It was a nice idea, but it just didn’t work very well.  Vista fixed that.  I hammered Offline Files on Vista and Windows 7 while writing the user/group chapters of Mastering Windows Server 2008 R2.  It held up; now I’d allow it … no; I’d demand it … for those operating systems.  So Redirected Folders with Offline Files works great on those OSs – I even did step-by-steps on setting that combination up in that book.

But hard core remote desktop services guys will tell you that those techs are just a starting point.  They know more about the innards of profiles and user virtualisation than anyone.  They drive demand for specialist solutions, like those from AppSense (a long-time contributor to PubForum).

Personally, I think this is just a start.  I think we need to think BIGGER.  We’re only thinking in 1 dimension – how to get people’s data abstracted to move across machines in the business.  We need to go 3D.  Wait!  Don’t run away – this isn’t a Hollywood movie that sucks and tags on 3D to get a few extra ticket sales.  I see two additional dimensions that user virtualisation needs to expand into.

1: Cross Platform

Recent surveys find that more and more non-Windows machines are making their way into the business, not just the home.  I don’t mean the small business either; I am talking about the multi-national corporation.  Whether it’s the CEO who wants the latest trendy device from the electronics store in the airport, or some device that solves a unique need, we now are facing the need to get personal data available on different platforms.  Should My Documents be on that iPad?  Let’s put security aside for a moment.  Well, if I’m a sales person that travels about, I want something light with good battery life.  If the iPad does the job and nothing else does, then I’m going to demand an iPad.  And you’re damned skippy that I want My Documents on there.  How do we do that now?  DropBox.  Yick! There’s no corporate control.

But that’s a starting point.  I can envision a day when the profile is simply just an instantiation of something that is stored in a central database.  An agent on the machine downloads appropriate data from that database and creates a My Documents folder.  In the case of a Windows PC, it downloads details of the mail server and mailbox and configures the Outlook profile.  In the case of an iPad it might configure the Apple mail client.  In the case of the PC, there might be some Adobe Photoshop settings to dowload.  th iPad doesn’t have an install of PhotoShop so that data is not downloaded.  Maybe the agent is really clever and syncs back up the block level changes to any files contained within the profile. 

This would be a huge departure if Microsoft did this.  There are some cool possibilities if they did.

2: Federation

This one splits in two.  Many organisations have partnerships.  A person can work in company A but spend a lot of time logged into the network of company B.  They probably have 2 identities; one for each network.  And that means they have 2 insulated profiles.  That’s a right PITA.  If they’re lucky to have admin rights they might use something like Live Mesh, DropBox, or SugarSync to replicate key folders between the two networks.  There’s probably various security and compliance issues with that.  And it doesn’t give the best solution for the user.

What if we took the solution that I brainwaved above and extended it, so that the two companies could be federated.  It could be something like ADFS, creating a trust between the profile store in company A and the network of company B.  Selected users could be authorised in both sites (for security reasons) and then user Bob could travel from his regular office in A and log into the network in B when he has to work closely with them.

The second branch breaks out into the home.  Given the bandwidth, I think a reinvention of the profile, taking advantage of how modern cloud apps work, would turn the virtualised user profile into a SaaS application.  Maybe this federation approach could also extend to the likes of Microsoft Live.  If Microsoft allowed a person to log into a PC with a Live ID then they could download their profile from work while sitting at their home office computer.  Or maybe it could be a Mac?  Remember, we’ve decoupled the user data from the OS so it’s no longer dependent on the OS – it’s just a bunch of files and or settings in a database that can be “translated” for any OS in theory.

Maybe Microsoft does this, and maybe not.  I don’t see it happening soon, but it would be a really cool way to extend something like Live Mesh, essentially turning it into a Windows Domain in the cloud.  I really don’t see them going cross platform with it; Marketing would see to that.  And they’d also see it as a way to drive sales of the latest OS, forever putting pressure on the user to upgrade for support.  I hope I’m wrong.

Now think B-I-G-G-E-R!  With something like this …

  • We don’t need online backup solutions because the personal data store is stored in the cloud (be it public or private)
  • This could be a part of something bigger like an Intune or an Office365.  Throw in lockdown/encryption policies, along with remote wipe and device tracking and you have a secure and manageable mobile working platform.
  • OS and device replacement projects become easier. 
  • DR design and invocation becomes easier.
  • I could make a serious amount of money if I knew how to develop this …

But maybe a third party, like AppSense, will do something like this?  They’ll have to do something with that $70 million investment they recently got from Goldman Sachs.

I think that’s a pretty good brainfart considering I wrote this post while being hammered with the headache from the dark side of hell.

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