Personal Cloud: Microsoft Expands User Cloud Storage Choices

Personal Cloud: Microsoft Expands User Cloud Storage Choices

For over 30 years we have referred to our computers as a “PC” that we may have forgotten that the acronym stands for “personal computer.”  If we use personal computers, shouldn’t we also have personal clouds?

Many of you are already thinking, “well, isn’t OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) a personal cloud service?” and you are absolutely correct.  Microsoft OneDrive is a cloud storage service that goes one step further in that the Microsoft Office applications are all so well integrated with it.  It’s easy for users to save and retrieve their Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other documents for editing.  In fact, with the Microsoft Office Web Apps you can even perform many editing tasks without even having Office loaded on the PC you’re using.

Two recent introductions from Microsoft make the personal cloud experience even more robust!

Microsoft in a Multi-Vendor World

Thanks to Microsoft’s initiatives to participate in a world filled with PC and PC-related vendors, Office users now have even more choice available to them.  On November 4, 2014 Dropbox Inc. and Microsoft Corp. issued a press release announcing that they would be “integrating their services for collaboration across Dropbox and Microsoft Office on phones, tablets and the Web.”

As a result of this collaboration, Dropbox and Microsoft users will now be able to:

  • Access Dropbox from Office apps to get to their files and folders faster.
  • Edit Office files directly from Dropbox and sync them across devices.
  • Share new or edited files from the Office apps using simple Dropbox sharing functionality.

This will be especially powerful for those who use tablets or smartphones to access their files.  Now, instead of having to download a file for editing, those users will be able to open them directly from within the mobile Office apps, edit them, and share them without having to jump from one interface to another.  Also, those with small-capacity storage devices such as 128gb solid state drives popular in Ultrabooks, will no longer have to replicate locally to take advantage of native Office integration with Dropbox.

The functionality will first be included in the next updates to the Office apps for iOS and Android, coming in the next few weeks. The Web integrations between the Dropbox website and Office Online will be available in the first half of 2015. Dropbox will also make its application available on the Windows Phone and Windows tablet platforms in the coming months.

“In our mobile-first and cloud-first world, people need easier ways to create, share and collaborate regardless of their device or platform,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Together, Microsoft and Dropbox will provide our shared customers with flexible tools that put them at the center for the way they live and work today.”

“People around the world have embraced Office and Dropbox to empower the way they live and work today,” said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. “Our partnership with Microsoft will make it easier than ever to collaborate seamlessly across these platforms, giving people the freedom to get more done.”

You Can’t Beat Unlimited Storage

In perhaps an even more stunning announcement, Chris Jones, Microsoft corporate vice president for OneDrive & SharePoint, announced in an October 27, 2014 post on The OneDrive Blog, “Today, storage limits just became a thing of the past with Office 365. Moving forward, all Office 365 customers will get unlimited OneDrive storage at no additional cost.”

From the standpoint of “personal clouds,” it’s important to note that Microsoft has started by rolling unlimited storage out to Home, Personal, and University Office 365 customers prior to rolling it out to corporate and commercial customers using OneDrive for Business.  In fact, those customers will not enjoy unlimited storage until it is rolled out to them in early 2015.

Jones emphasizes the importance of application integration in personal as well as business cloud storage in his post, saying, “While unlimited storage is another important milestone for OneDrive we believe the true value of cloud storage is only realized when it is tightly integrated with the tools people use to communicate, create, and collaborate, both personally and professionally. That is why unlimited storage is just one small part of our broader promise to deliver a single experience across work and life that helps people store, sync, share, and collaborate on all the files that are important to them, all while meeting the security and compliance needs of even the most stringent organizations.”

Need it Now?

For those of you who are Office 365 Home, Personal, or University customers, you can move yourself to the front of the rollout line by turning on First Release in the service settings of your Office 365 admin center.  Visit Office 365 Release Programs for complete instructions!

Why Line-of-Business Applications are Better Served in the Cloud

Why Line-of-Business Applications are Better Served in the Cloud

line of busines

With all the talk of “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives and mobile computing and tablets and smartphones and hybrid laptops you’d think that computing, especially cloud computing, was all about devices.  But anyone who has spent any time even talking about information technology with businesspeople realizes that all of computing is about the applications that drive the business outcomes we all need to achieve.

It also seems that many have come to the conclusion that all “cloud” applications must be, by definition, of the productivity-enhancing or communications variety.  Either that or games and shopping, but that’s outside the scope of this discussion.  Perhaps it’s better to say that cloud-delivered applications are of the “General Purpose” nature, which makes them better suited for “public cloud” delivery.

The other side of the application world consists of software designed to manage very specific business functions.  These are commonly referred to as “Line-of-Business” (LoB) applications.  Primary amongst these are Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software which delivers the core functionalities businesses run on, including order entry, invoicing, accounts payable and receivable, inventory control, payroll, general ledger, and related analytics.  Other line-of-business applications are purpose-developed for highly customized differentiating functions within specific companies.

Must Line-of-Business Applications be Run On-Premise?

It does seem like many analysts and technologists are of the opinion that LoB applications must be run on-premise.  Some of the reasoning behind this is grounded in the idea that running software on a server contained within the four walls of the company’s premises will, by nature, keep it more secure.  There are two primary reasons to think otherwise:

1)     Though you may contain the infrastructure and therefore the data within the four physical walls of your own premises, connecting your network to the internet in any way punches a big, gaping hole in the wall.  You may construct a firewall to control access through that connection, but then your network is as secure as any other no matter where it may be located.

2)     Even if you could make sure that your four walls keep everyone else out of your network, most studies still conclude that anywhere from 80-90% of data exploits, including corruption as well as theft, are conducted by someone who is inside the network, and therefore inside your four walls.  Keeping your LoB running inside actually exposes it to the majority of potential attackers.

Unless there is something embedded in the source code of your LoB application that restricts it to running alone on its own server hardware, there is hardly any reason not to run it on the virtual server environment usually found in a cloud data center.

 

Why Would Cloud-based LoB Applications be Better?

All the cloud economies of scale apply when running LoB applications on cloud servers using cloud storage in a cloud data center.  Qualified cloud providers offer automated data backup, redundancy to the data center level, high availability, and secure, convenient access from just about anywhere.  This adds tremendous agility to a more and more mobile workforce.  Giving your field-based personnel such access puts the data they need where they need it most, as close to the customer as possible.

Another key advantage is the elasticity of cloud computing.  On your own premises, scalability to accommodate growth usually involves purchasing and deploying more processor and storage hardware when needed.  In a cloud environment, growth can be quickly and easily accommodated by simply subscribing to greater resources.  The flexibility of the cloud’s “pay-for-what-you-use” attributes means you can flex the number of users, the capacity of storage, even the number and speed of processors and the amount of user memory as needed to support whatever manner of growth you may be experiencing.

While there will be a tendency to gravitate to “private cloud” strategies to host LoB applications, it should be remembered that multi-tenant server and storage solutions offer additional economies of scale.  Concerns about “data leakage” can easily be allayed through the effective use of data encryption for all data whether at rest in storage or in transit across the network.

What is Your LoB Cloud Strategy?

To begin developing your strategy for reducing operating costs while providing higher service levels for your LoB applications, talk to your CloudStrategies Advisor today!

Moving Communications to the Cloud – A New Level of Collaboration

moving communications

Resilience

Remember when “work” meant that place you went to every day.  Everything was there.  Your desk.  Your chair.  Your computer.  Your phone.  Also the network servers you used with your computer, the phone switch or PBX that your phone was connected through.  And, of course, the water cooler.

Former Novell Chairman Robert Frankenberg first told us that “Work is an activity, not a destination.”  Today this has become common wisdom.  The servers are no longer at “the office” they are located in some cloud data center far away.  In fact they are probably replicated in several far-flung cloud data centers.  Doesn’t matter much if we can get to the office or not, we can still work from wherever we are as long as we can get electrical power and internet access.

We may not have noticed it, but moving services to the cloud has built new resilience into the infrastructure that enables us to work.  We’re not dependent upon any one facility.  This new resilience brings along with it new agility, expanded capability, and the opportunity to be far more efficient and productive than we’ve ever been, especially as we work in teams.

Of Presence & Placelessness

It could be said that “it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are there.”

The amazing advance in the ways we can communicate and collaborate can best be summed up using the word “Any.”

We can communicate from anywhere,

over any accessible network,

using any device we happen to have with us,

at any time,

to connect to any application

running on any server

in any data center we have secure credentialed access to

Any questions?

When we talk about ‘unified’ communications leveraging the cloud we begin with the concept of “presence” which is often misunderstood or simply not understood.  Think about all the times you’ve called someone and gotten their voicemail.  “Happens more often than not,” you’re probably thinking.  What if you could look at your phone and know whether the person you want to call is available or not?  That’s presence.  If they’re in a meeting and it’s on their calendar, the system automatically updates their presence to tell you that they’re in a meeting.  If they don’t want to be called they can change their presence manually to “Do Not Disturb.”  You needn’t bother to try to reach them.  You already know you’ll be wasting your time.

With unified communications in the cloud, if the person you want to reach is not available, you now have several options:

  • Instant Messages – Type quick messages in a conversational style at will at any time.  The message will show up on the recipient’s screen and be waiting there when they return.  If they are there you can carry on a quick conversation without the formality of phoning.
  • Voice – If the recipient is on your network or federated (connected) to it, you can request a voice call from your computer, handheld, tablet or other device and they can respond.  If they are not on the network the system can automatically reach out to their telephone number to attempt to reach them.
  • Video – Users of computers, handheld smartphones, tablets and other devices equipped with a webcam can instantly see each other simply by selecting video.  Many conversations are enhanced when non-verbal cues such as expression and head movements are added to voice.
  • Conferencing – As the conversation continues, it may become useful to include others in it.  Simply selecting them from a list invites them to join the call.  No need for prior invitations or arrangements to create an ad hoc conference.  Video will be displayed for whichever participant is speaking.
  • Screen-sharing – If the conversation would be enhanced by looking at the same document or other application on the screen, any user can offer to share their screen with the others.
  • Collaboration – Teams editing a document together no longer need to circulate the document from one to the next to the next, a process which could take days or more to complete.  Instead they can all work on the same document simultaneously while discussing it.  Projects can be completed in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks.

Perhaps most impressive is that all this enhanced ability to communicate and collaborate is available to the smallest companies or the largest without need for heavy initial investments.  Users can be subscribed to the service for dollars per user per month.

If you believe that people are your greatest asset, investing in enabling them to work together in this agile, flexible, resilient any-any-any way can only increase their value to your company.  For more information on how easy it is to put these tools to work for you, contact your CloudStrategies Advisor today!

Running on Azure

CloudStrategies website is now running on Windows Azure.  After a few weeks of testing, we changed our DNS settings to “go live” on Azure.  This post outlines our experience to date.

CSWebsiteSeveral months ago, CloudStrategies replatformed our website to a WordPress content management system.  WordPress has offered us many benefits in capabilities and functionality.  That said, running on a standalone web-server gave us some concern and occasional availability glitches.  A website needs to be highly available.

At the same time, CloudStrategies has been working with Windows Azure to evaluate its capabilities.

It took about 5 minutes to create a new WordPress site in Windows Azure – WordPress is an App within the Windows Azure Gallery.  This process was as straight forward as one could expect – a few clicks and a blank WordPress site was running.  The process of moving our production site to Azure took just a little more work.

Researching some available WordPress site migration tools, we quickly found the WordPress Plug-In – Duplicator.

Duplicator allowed us to make a snapshot of our current site and easily move everything over to our Windows Azure site.  Duplicator worked as advertised and we would endorse it highly.  Without going into full depth, the process was as simple as uploading a zip file of our website with FTP to our Azure location as well as an “Installer” file.  Once there, you run the Installer by calling it through a web browser.  The installation requires the location of the MySQL database created in Azure and appropriate credentials.  A couple minutes later and the site was live.  The final cleanup activities included removing the installation files from the site and updating our WordPress Permalinks.

AzureManagementThe final testing and transfer steps included verifying that everything was running smoothly – which it was – and associating our domain DNS settings with Azure.  This too was straight forward and included verifying our domains within Azure using the Manage Domains link.  Azure identified some CNAME resource records to add with our DNS provider to demonstrate that we were the proper owner of our domains.  Once we added the entries, we were able to associate the domains within the Azure Management console.  From there, it was as simple as changing the DNS settings to direct web traffic to the new web server address.

Monitoring the performance of our site on Azure, we’re pleased with our initial results.  We have confidence that the built in redundancy of Azure will take care of our availability concerns and that our website should see smooth sailing ahead.

Seeing how straight forward moving our website to Azure has been, we’re looking forward to working with Azure for additional workloads for both CloudStrategies and our clients

Microsoft SMB Advantage ’13

SMB Advantage

Last week, Microsoft announced it’s latest offer to help Small & Midsized Businesses leverage Office 365 (and several other Microsoft solutions).  SMB Advantage provides partner subsidy funds to help implement the solution.  The program provides a rebate of 10% of the first year’s Office 365 subscription price in the form of a rebate check that can be applied to CloudStrategies’ migration and deployment services.  The offer is good for qualified purchase made between Sept 3, 2013 and Nov 30, 2013.

 

Contact CloudStrategies today to see how you can leverage Microsoft’s SMB Advantage program for your Office 365 deployment. SMBA Banner c340x230

How does SMB Advantage help my business?

A comprehensive solution can seem out of reach for some small to mid-sized organizations. Many are accustomed to purchasing products and solutions piecemeal, and postponing planned upgrades or refreshes due to budget constraints. With the SMB Advantage, you can earn partner subsidy funds, which can be used for additional purchases of Microsoft software, or associated services from your Microsoft partner – a welcome injection to your IT budget.

SMB Advantage includes Microsoft cloud services, which help businesses to access scalable and reliable applications while lessening the burden of provisioning and maintenance – saving money and simplifying IT management.

 

 

 

 

CloudStrategies Continues Expansion

Please join us in welcoming the newest additions to the CloudStrategies National Team

 

Jay Pilkington – Client Relationship Executive

In Ligo Jay Hi Res Passport Photo Jay has over 25 years’ experience in IT solutions with a focus on enterprise content management.  Whether in sales, consulting or sales management, Jay’s goal is always the success of his clients.  Prior to joining CloudStrategies, Jay was the VP of sales and marketing of a Microsoft Cloud Champions partner for the last three years where he increased sales 10x, brought on largest contracts in company history and had 100% client referenceability.  Jay joins CloudStrategies to drive our sales efforts and customer successes in the Northeast.

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