Skype for Business – The Joy of Ad Hoc Conferencing

Skype for Business – The Joy of Ad Hoc Conferencing

It’s about time.  Actually, it’s all about time.  Whenever we talk about cloud computing, or mobile computing, or both, we talk about how it’s all meant to save time.  Instead of passing a document around from person to person for review, we all gather together and review it online, making revisions and arriving at a final version within the day, instead of within the month.  Instead of making users remember drives and volumes we provide them with simple lists and search.

Then there’s the Conference

One of the few leftovers from the old days of meetings in conference rooms is that most of us seem to still feel the need to schedule a conference call.  Skype for Business and Outlook make this easy as all we need to do is click the “Skype Meeting” button and the connection information appears.  Seems simple enough.  Of course then there’s the stream of “Propose New Time” messages that flash back and forth before a universally acceptable date and time are arrived at.  Feels like the good old days…

Skype for Business Conference

Loses the Spontaneity

Admit it, when a good idea happens you really don’t want to wait.  You want to pull everyone needed into the conversation to make a plan, agree on it, and get started right away.  You grew up with television.  You expect instant gratification.  And you should have it.

So the next time you’re talking to someone on Skype for Business, perhaps even a video call with a document you’re sharing and discussing, when that urge hits you to bring someone else into the conversation, indulge yourself.

Those who are already using Skype for Business know what this means.  For those who aren’t using it yet, or those who were never shown how to use it, just go to your contact list, find the person you want to add to the conversation, and drag them into it.  Literally.  Point, click, and hold on their picture and drag them into the window containing your conversation.

Need someone else’s input?  Drag them in, too!  Want immediate approval?  Drag in the boss.

Yes, it is just that simple to create a sudden conference call on a completely ad hoc basis by simply dragging more contacts into the conversation.  It instantly becomes a multi-point conference.  Everyone can share everything.  Everyone can be a presenter.

Also, anyone who needs to can defer.  If they’re busy but haven’t set their presence to “Busy” they can simply refuse the connection.

But who wants to feel left out?

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Save to… The Cloud with OneDrive

Save to… The Cloud with OneDrive

Here’s a great way to vividly demonstrate to yourself and colleagues the simplest and most intrinsic value a user gets from cloud computing.

You’ve Completed a Document.  Now what?

Stop to think about what you do every time you complete a document.

  • You may open up File Manager, find the document, and email it to a colleague or a customer.
  • You may open up File Manager, find the document, and upload the document to another drive or even a cloud service.
  • You could print the document before saving and mail the print to someone or present it to someone.

The point is that you will save the document and then, in some fashion or other, share the document.

Where do you save documents?

With the proliferation of tablets, mini-tablets, phablets, and smartphones we’re moving to a time when users will be carrying around less and less storage capacity.  As laptops give way to Ultrabooks with smaller, thinner, faster, more expensive solid state drives (SSD), again users will have less capacity to store documents locally.

Beyond that, many companies don’t want users storing their work on a local drive where nobody else can get to it.  Concerns surround the survival of those assets even if the user leaves the company’s employ, and the survival of the documents in the event of damage to the user device.  People have been forgetting to back up their own hard-drives since the first IBM PC rolled off the line.

The Cloud as Default Storage

Since Microsoft Office 2010, users have been able to save directly to the cloud.  Now, users can have a specific OneDrive folder set as the default location to which documents are stored, so whenever they save a document the Save Dialogue is open to OneDrive.  In many companies, network administrators may choose to “lock down” this default either through policy or configuration, making it impossible for users to save to anywhere but OneDrive.

Automatic Back-Up

Documents saved to OneDrive are automatically replicated across multiple data centers, precluding the possibility of documents being lost or destroyed due to physical disasters.

Simplified Sharing

One major advantage of saving directly to OneDrive is that it becomes simple and less burdensome to share documents.  Emailing documents back and forth creates a growing risk of version control problems that could be very costly to rectify later down the road as multiple versions of the same document are being circulated.  Many email systems will not allow the sending of very large documents.

By saving directly to OneDrive, rights can be assigned easily allowing users to open, edit, or just read documents by simply emailing a link to them.  Teams may all save their documents to a shared repository from which they can readily collaborate on the development of documents.

Your OneDrive CloudStrategy

Talk to CloudStrategies about how to derive significantly more value from OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.  Our experts routinely configure OneDrive solutions that take fullest advantage of all the new functionalities, and will work with you to design and deploy solutions to fit your specific needs.

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Your Virtual IT Department

Your Virtual IT Department

One of the big unreasonable fears expressed by Information Technology (IT) professionals in the early days of cloud computing was the question of how they could possibly manage servers that were located in some distant data center.

Unreasonable because, with a secure internet connection, it hardly mattered where the server was located.  They would connect the same console software to the server and do the same things they would do were the server right there in the room with them.

Shared Pool of Resources

Over time those technologists became comfortable with the idea of dynamically sharing a pool of server, storage, and other resources housed in a data center somewhere beyond their own four walls.

The concept of sharing a pool of resources that can be quickly requested and just as quickly released is a core component of the definition of cloud computing.  Memory, processor power and more can be accessed by any user via a self-service portal, and returned to the pool when no longer needed.  Sharing pooled resources instead of over-provisioning dedicated resources to each user creates tremendous economies that form the foundation of the cloud value proposition.

Sharing Support as a Pooled Resource

When you look at IT support there are really two separate strategies required.

Core – The first is the network “core” support strategy.  How to maintain the servers, the storage, the routers and switches, and the rest of the central infrastructure that runs the network.  With cloud computing, responsibility for core support transfers to the cloud service provider.  The cost of this support is folded into the fee you pay for the service.

Edge – The second strategy is somewhat trickier because it involves what those IT professionals like to refer to as the most difficult part of a network to manage, the segment between the keyboard and the back of the chair, the user.

Users require support whenever something doesn’t perform as expected.  Whether due to a malfunction, or an incorrect expectation, the user experiences a lack of certainty as to how to proceed.  The prudent next step is to request support.

This used to be one of those areas in which larger corporations had a substantial advantage because they could justify the expense of staffing their own Help Desk to provide needed user support.

However, many midmarket and smaller companies have realized the same results by simply sharing from a pool of support resources, a Virtual IT Department!

Layered Strategies

A well-designed Virtual IT Department achieves maximum economies by layering multiple strategies into place to provide lowest-cost support wherever possible.

  • They examine which questions are asked most often and provide answers to these on a Self-Support Portal where users can access the answers instantly without waiting for a person to respond.
  • If the user’s question cannot be answered by the self-support portal it is routed immediately to one of a team of support generalists who can either answer it or route it to the appropriate specialist for reply.
  • If the issue is being caused by a mis-configuration or other technical flaw, the specialists can reach in with online tools to resolve it remotely.
  • If similar issues are coming in from multiple users, the support software can correlate all the requests to help with root-cause determination.
  • If the root-cause is a physical problem with a piece of equipment or connecting cables, a field technician can be dispatched to the site where the equipment resides so they can correct it swiftly. In the meantime, the support team can be notifying all users of temporary workarounds as necessary.

The Flexible Support Solution

As with all virtual solutions, a new degree of flexibility is introduced that can significantly improve the speed and quality of support service delivery.  Customized support can be added for line-of-business applications specific to a given customer set simply by training specialists on those platforms.  Alerts, advisories, notifications and other communications are highly facilitated by direct access to the network.

The key to establishing or accessing a successful Virtual IT Department is in the development of an appropriate and effective strategy.  Talk to your CloudStrategies Advisor about your virtual support options!

Who Really Needs Their Own Exchange Server?

Who Really Needs Their Own Exchange Server?

Nobody thinks they need their own private Post Office to send a letter.  In fact, nobody has built their own Post Office since the likes of William Penn, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

Yet many corporate managers feel they must have their own on-premise server running Microsoft Exchange to provide email and other messaging services for their users.


Based merely on distributing the base cost of an Exchange Server among fewer than 50 users it becomes instantly apparent that small companies find it all but impossible to justify the cost of having their own Exchange Server.

Every analyst who tries to arrive at the exact number of users it takes to justify the expense uses wildly different variables and arrives at just as wildly different numbers.  One hosted Exchange provider claims you need to have more than 400 users to justify purchasing your own, while another claims, verbatim, “Unless you’re managing 5,000 seats or more you should not be in the game.  The one guarantee I can give you is that you will lose money if you’re trying to build out your own infrastructure with less than 5,000 seats.”

Those who demonstrate that the price per month per user multiplied by the number of users and then by 12 produces a large number that is far more than the price of their own Exchange Server.  They often do not take into account the hidden costs of owning your own, which according to RackSpace include:

  • Annual hardware costs—servers, firewalls, load balancers, operating systems, data center costs and power
  • Depreciation of existing hardware and costs of hardware refreshes
  • Financing of servers, storage, software, firewalls and load balancers
  • Exchange licenses
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Client software (Outlook) installation and maintenance
  • Storage costs—SAN, DAS or NAS
  • ActiveSync or BlackBerry Mobile Messaging—BlackBerry licenses, BlackBerry admin, BES Server, SQL
  • Staffing costs—staffing related to the design, deployment, hosting, administration and support of hardware, software, storage and mobile devices
  • End-user administration costs—staffing related user/mailbox administration

Now try to do the math.



Time and experience have demonstrated that hosted service providers of any type always invest far more in data and network security to preserve the privacy of messaging and other data than most any individual company would, and they are doing so very effectively.

Also, the Verizon 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report clearly indicates that from 85 to 90% of all data threats are executed by an internal actor rather than from outside.  That has been their report every year since 2010.  The majority of the people who will most likely try to breach your email are on your premises where you want to put that Exchange Server.

So the desire for privacy of messaging data is very likely better served outside your own four walls where only 10 – 15% of the people who are trying to get at it are located!

Messaging Strategy

There are many more logistic and other pragmatic reasons why your company will prefer hosted, cloud, or on-premise email.  As with most things cloud, one size does not fit all.  If time has come for you to upgrade, improve, or otherwise change email platforms, this is a good time to consult with your CloudStrategies Advisor for help creating your most cost-effective messaging strategy.


Protecting Office 365 and Microsoft Azure from Emerging Threats

Protecting Office 365 and Microsoft Azure from Emerging Threats

Trust.  It’s perhaps the main element in any decision you make regarding computer & communication services for your company and yourself.  You need to feel you can trust your provider to keep your data secure, your personal information private, and your communications protected from eavesdroppers.

Millions of people trust services like Microsoft Office 365 with their most prevalent communications, including email using Exchange Online and instant messaging, voice and video over Skype and Skype for Business (formerly Lync).  While it is likely that they implicitly trust these services because they are provided by Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, you should stop to ask what it actually is that Microsoft is doing to earn this trust.  Yes, they have vast resources, but what are they doing with them?

A post on the Office Blogs from the Office 365 Team answers this question very thoroughly.  “From Inside the Cloud: What does Microsoft do to prepare for emerging security threats to Office 365?” introduces us to Chang Kawaguchi, a group engineering manager for security for Office 365, Travis Rhodes lead security software engineer for Office 365 and Vijay Kumar, a senior product manager for Office 365.  These are three of the people who spearhead Microsoft’s strategy for keeping Office 365 and Microsoft Azure cloud services secure and trustworthy.

Assume Breach

The post features an excellent short video that describes several of the security strategies employed by the group, beginning with one that would seem to just be common sense: Assume people are trying to break into your network and data at all times.  Constant vigilance.  Oddly, most people seem to assume that nobody would ever bother attacking them.  Microsoft invests heavily in an “Assume Breach” approach which causes them to constantly be on the lookout for new threats.

Color War!

Assuring viewers that no customer data is ever threatened or even touched in their work, the video describes the work of the “Red” and “Blue” teams constantly “at war” with each other to battle-test the armor that protects these systems.

The Red Team, “an internal dedicated team of “white hat” hackers from varied industry backgrounds such as broader technology industry, defense and government,” constantly conduct penetration testing on Microsoft’s systems.  Counterbalancing them is the Blue Team, “whose role it is to monitor activities within the system to detect anomalous behavior and take action. As hard as the Red team is trying to find and exploit vulnerabilities the Blue team is trying to detect, investigate and mitigate security events.”

As the post concludes, “The combined efforts of our teams go toward improving detection by evolving our machine learning algorithms for the detection of anomalous activity as well as incident response.”

Any IT manager responsible for system security will find valuable insight in this post and the included video.  Those wishing to continue to learn more should regularly visit the Red team blog.  If you have any questions about anything you read, please reach out to your CloudStrategies Advisor for more information!

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