Microsoft 365, SharePoint, Teams & Azure Upcoming Changes

Microsoft recently held their annual tech and development conference at Orlando Florida and there are a lot of exciting changes coming to the Microsoft platforms. We’ve summarised a few of the key developments in our blog post and what we’re most excited about.

SharePoint Online

Intranet

There are a huge number of features coming to the platform these range from functionality, branding and mobile improvements. A few of the upcoming changes can be found below.

  • Branding – Improvements to the layout options including the ability to add a header, footer and mega menu.
  • Personalised Web Parts – That will show information tailored to that user rather than generic information for the whole company.
  • New Web Parts – Countdown Timer, Events Roll Up
  • Improved Mobile Capabilities – Accessing Documents, News and Information from the SharePoint application

OneDrive Mac

Microsoft’s fantastic OneDrive on Demand tool allowing for users to sync live copies of SharePoint Document libraries to their PC without consuming storage (effectively replacing file shares) is now available in Beta for the Mac platform. This has been one of the most requested features for Macs for Office 365 and will be a huge step forward for Microsoft and Macs.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft are investing heavily into their Microsoft Teams platform. Here at Valto we’re huge fans of Microsoft Teams and have been deploying this for many organisations and applying our best practices and governance. A few of the key announcements can be found below.

Background Blur

This fantastic feature will make remote and home working much easier and potentially less embarrassing! Microsoft have released a video demonstrating the capabilities of this below.

Teams & SharePoint Integration

Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are already integrated allowing for Teams to display SharePoint sites within the app and visa versa.

 

The new changes will bring much deeper integrations allowing for Lists, Libraries and Web Parts to be displayed within Microsoft Teams directly. More bots and connectors are being worked on to allow for News to automatically be displayed within Channels and Teams. More details from Microsoft on the SharePoint Blog.

Recording Meetings & Stream

Another brilliant feature we’ve been making extensive use of at Valto is the ability to record meetings and have the videos automatically sent to the attendees at the end of the meeting. 

This will be extended further in the future to use Artificial Intelligence to automatically detect actions and create meeting minutes that can be used following the meetings.

Replacing Skype for Business

New tenants will no longer include Skype for Business and will be given Microsoft Teams by default. On top of that, new tools have been created to migrate existing tenants to a Teams Only environment.

Microsoft Azure

Windows 10 Desktop in the Cloud

One of the most exciting announcements for Microsoft Azure and the Modern Workplace is the new capabilities of being able to launch a Windows 10 Desktop in the cloud. In other blog posts predicting the future of the Cloud and Microsoft we talked about the ability to use a mobile device to replace your PC with a dock and monitor. Having the ability to spin up a Windows 10 Desktop in the cloud brings this further to reality.

There are a lot of organisations out there that use thin clients and don’t have a requirements for running a desktop 24/7 this new functionality could potentially save enterprises a lot of money.

Office 365

Artificial Intelligence

This is a big focus for Microsoft at the moment as gleamed from the Microsoft Inspire and Ignite Conferences. There is a huge focus on delivering AI that will improve the modern workplace. A lot of the current announcements are about building the platform for this including,

Office 2019

With Office 365 you always get the latest version of Office features as they are rolled out. Microsoft have released the latest on-premise version of Office to the general public which contains a lot of the improvements of the Office 365 version.

Replicating and Improving your SharePoint Farm in Microsoft Azure

For many organisations, the main reasons for adopting a cloud hosting solution for SharePoint are the cost effectiveness and reliability that is offered when compared to legacy on-premises hosting solutions or traditional datacentres.

Unfortunately, many businesses do not get the performance enhancements that they expect when migrating their SharePoint hosting to Azure. This is usually due to mistakes in the architecture process that lead to insufficient resource being used.

Proper Planning Prevents Performance Problems

Prior to any migration of SharePoint to Azure, it is essential to conduct a thorough review of the existing solution you are using. This involves auditing the specification of all aspects of the hosting including all the application and database servers, as well as the connectivity in and out of your data centre.

In some cases, a SharePoint cloud deployment is simply configured at the basic recommended levels rather than considering the specific needs of an organisation. While this may save money on your existing hosting, it can also create massive performance issues if the existing solution is more powerful.

One reason for this approach is that Azure makes it so simple to deploy an off the shelf SharePoint farm straight from the dashboard. While some configuration is still required, it is often overlooked and needs are not thought through. This leads to an unsatisfactory outcome for staff.

Valto’s approach is to fully audit the performance and requirements of your organisation through analysis of log files. This informs us about the number of connections that are required and the likely throughput of data and server requests that need to be accommodated.  We provide a full service that is designed to complement your IT Strategy.

Once this review has been conducted, it is important to review the current hosting arrangements that you have. In some cases, existing solutions may be over-engineered – more powerful than is needed to handle the application. This may be because of previous planning which sought to ensure that the solution deployed would be futureproof by building in additional capacity.

Given that Azure offers more flexibility than traditional data centre solutions, over capacity is not essential – the specification of the farm can be managed in real time – adding capacity when required and scaling back at other times if necessary – this reduces costs.

Similarly, if the existing farm is under-specification, then a plan can be put in place to architect a solution that is in keeping with current needs along with a roadmap for additional capacity as required.

Ongoing Support and Analysis

As noted above, a key reason why legacy systems can appear expensive is that they are often over-engineered to provide future proofing. This is not necessary with Azure and SharePoint, as the virtual machines can be altered as required. This means that ongoing support is essential.

Regular audits of usage levels will help to ensure that the correct range of machines to meet your business’ SharePoint requirements are in place as required.

Find out More

For more information about Valto’s approach or to talk to one of our qualified Azure Consultants about hosting SharePoint in Azure, please call us on 0207 240 1440.

Is Azure Compliant with ISO 27001

An essential part of the procurement and compliance process for both public sector bodies and larger enterprises is ensuring that software and services that they use meet any ISO requirements that they are subject to.   The question of “is Azure compliant with ISO 27001” is hugely important to businesses when selecting a vendor for cloud services.

As the world’s leading provider of both operating systems (Windows) and productivity software (Office 2016 & Office 365), Microsoft provides the software backbone of the majority of global businesses.

is azure compliant with ISO27001

The pace of change in larger businesses can be slower due to regulatory burdens including compliance with international Standards. The availability of certification of compliance with ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 for Azure is helpful in allowing businesses to manage their IT strategy and cloud migration and enable faster adoption of technologies.

Is Azure Compliant with ISO 27001

For the most part, businesses work with approved Microsoft Partners and Technology Specialists like Valto rather than Microsoft themselves.

This gives access to local experts who can provide a service that recognises the specific needs of an organisation rather than being subject to multiple relationships within Microsoft itself.

To facilitate the compliance process, Microsoft offers their Service Trust Initiative. Under this scheme, all software for business is assessed by independent third-party auditors to ensure that it meets both ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 standards for Information security.

As the UK adopts the GDPR in 2018, adherence to the standards laid out in the two ISO certifications is increasingly important. To help businesses meet their requirements, the auditors have published information on several pertinent areas including:

  • The Security Risk Management Programme run by Microsoft
  • The Protections that are in place for Personally Identifiable Information
  • A framework for developing compliant applications

Ensuring compliance with ISO standards is important – and increasingly with the introduction of the GDPR, businesses will need to be ever more vigilant about how and where their information is stored. Properly configured and managed, Azure is compliant with ISO 27001.

Find out More

To book an assessment of your current implementation, or to speak to one of our experienced Azure Consultants about how the platform can be tailored to your business, please contact Valto today on 03335 779 009 and we’ll be happy to help.

 

Azure and the GDPR

In May 2018, the UK government will introduce the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This replaced the old data protection act and has been structured to reflect the way in which data is now handled. The old Data Protection Act has been in place for several years, and over that time, the way that companies manage personal data has changed considerably – both in terms of the type and volume of data that is stored, and the uses of that data.

Although the GDPR is a piece of European legislation, it will still be observed in the UK following Brexit, and as such, it is essential for businesses to both familiarise themselves with the requirements of the legislation, and to ensure that the way they manage data is in line with the regulation.

Who the GDPR Applies to

The way the GDPR Is written covers two specific roles:

  • Data Controllers
  • Data Processors

A data controller sets policies with an organisation about how and why personal data will be processed, whereas a processor acts on their behalf to process the data.

Controllers and Processors are defined roles, but they are applicable in all organisations who store data – whether this is data about staff or customers.

In terms of these two roles, the responsibilities under the new GDPR legislation have changed considerably, particularly for Processors. Data processors are now required to maintain records of activity related to personal data. In practice, this becomes a responsibility at a policy level to provide tracking of usage within the organisation.

In short, if you are an organisation of any size that holds any personal information, then you need to ensure that your policies for controlling the way that data is used are compliant with GDPR guidelines.

The GDPR brings in several rights for individuals about whom data is stored. They now have explicit rights to be informed about what data about them is held, along with a right to accessing that information. An individual now has a right for data about them to be deleted, or rectified and to restrict how that information is used.

Data Storage

One of the requirements of the GDPR is that consent is obtained if data about an individual is going to be stored outside the European Union.
There have been historic requirements in the UK for some personally identifiable information to be hosted within a UK data centre, which has limited the ability of businesses and local government to take full advantage of the cloud. The GDPR doesn’t change this much at an EU level, although for the UK, it does mean that data can now be warehoused in the EU rather than just physically in Britain.

Consent is still required if you want to store personal data outside the EU.

This change reflects the way that data is managed by many businesses already, but has benefits where a company wants to host their database in the cloud. If the public cloud provider that you use spreads load across multiple regions, then it may be possible to breach the GDPR.
The new legislation better recognises cloud services and offers more flexibility to businesses – provided that their systems are compliant.

Azure and the GDPR

Over the past year, there have been many developments within the Microsoft Cloud portfolio that are relevant to the GDPR. Microsoft have major European data centres already in the Netherlands and in Ireland which are both EU, and as such are under the legislation. The company has also opened large UK datacentres to meet demand in this country. This provides additional flexibility for data owners to choose where their information is hosted.

In parallel with the Microsoft Owned data centres, the rise of Azure Stack implementations in 3rd party data centres provide additional flexibility about where data is warehoused.

What do I need to Do?

As a business, it’s essential that you ensure that your IT Strategy and data policies are compliant with GDPR before the law comes into effect in May 2018. For businesses using cloud services such as Azure, it is particularly pertinent, and important to perform a comprehensive audit of where and how data is stored to ensure that responsibilities are being met.

Valto are experienced cloud specialists with a team that are fully briefed on the requirements for businesses and other organisations under the GDPR. For more information or to book a compliance audit, please contact a member of our team on 03335 779 009 and we will be happy to help.

Improving Cloud Security in Azure

Exponential increases in the amount of data that modern businesses use to operate effectively mean that the value of that data is also rising at a staggering rate.  The value of this data to businesses makes it a major threat, and over the past couple of years, we’ve seen many high-profile cases of criminal activity targeting this data.

The biggest story in information security this year was the WannaCry exploit which encrypted user data and held it to ransom.  While this exploit was countered relatively quickly, it has been followed by several other similar attacks.

Quite rightly, data security is now very much on the agenda in board meetings around the world, the threat to a business’ operations from data being stolen or made inaccessible is being taken seriously, and CTOs are demanding full audits of their current security procedures to ensure that data is safe.

Is the Cloud Secure?

In common with many viruses and other InfoSec threats, WannaCry exploited a vulnerability in older versions of Windows.  This particular vulnerability had been patched in modern Windows versions, but was accessible in legacy OS versions used in many organisations – particularly the NHS.

The bigger issue was that the data that was encrypted was held locally (or on a network connected server).  This meant that if a specific machine became compromised, the data on it would become encrypted and inaccessible.

Unless the ransom was paid, the data would remain encrypted and eventually deleted with no hope of recovery.

While the same could happen on cloud hosted Virtual Machines – if it was deployed to run an unsupported version of Windows – the data could potentially still be accessed in a back up version.  Rather than needing to pay the ransom, the IT department could just roll back to an older version of the VM or database, apply the patches that had been put in place and then move on.

In this scenario, the cloud is not necessarily more secure, however it would be easier to recover.  However, there are a few tools available – particularly for Azure – that do make the cloud much more secure and a better choice for businesses wanting to protect their valuable data.

Azure Security Center

Azure Security Center is a Microsoft Product that is designed to manage policies across your Azure deployment.  It includes a dull range of tools to handle security.

Core to the Security Center is a suite of tools that can be used to define security across different areas.  The Suite includes recommended actions to take and take the guesswork out of what is required at various levels.

A key feature of Azure Security Center is the availability of third party solutions that can be deployed from inside the suite.  Tools from most major firewall providers and antivirus providers are available.  Rather than just being available as an app model, third party security solutions are integrated for data collections to allow analysis through a single dashboard making spotting security threats more straightforward.

Analytics software within Azure Security Center detects threats quickly and provides notification of any events.  This means that risks can be addressed before they become critical.  The depth of data available through Microsoft’s wider resources means that the number of false positives is reduced.

If an attack does affect data or systems in Azure, the Security Center provides the insights about exactly what resources have been affected.  This means a quicker clean-up is possible with solutions suggested by the tools.

Ready to Find out More?

Valto’s team are fully qualified Microsoft Azure consultants with experience in deploying and providing ongoing Azure management.  Talk to us about your security needs today and find out how we can help you achieve your IT Strategy goals.  Call now 03335 779 009 .

 

 

 

Advantages of Deploying SharePoint in the Cloud

Many businesses choose to host SharePoint on physical servers in a data centre and there are a number of advantages of deploying SharePoint in the Cloud. A typical on premises SharePoint Farm includes multiple machines to handle the application, databases, and front end of the platform. There are a number of disadvantages with this approach, and as cloud technologies become more accessible to businesses, an increasing number of companies are choosing to migrate their SharePoint farm to the cloud.

Improved Reliability & Resilience

The biggest disadvantage of a local or on premises SharePoint farm is reliability. If there are any issues with the equipment that is being used – from a simple power interruption through to a failure, the whole installation can be compromised. This can significantly impact on productivity and may even result in data loss that could be highly costly.
By migrating to the cloud, you remove that point of failure and create an environment that is naturally more resilient. Cloud applications run on virtual machines that are spread over a number of physical servers which means that the risk of data loss or an interruption is minimal.

In the event of a physical machine failing, there can be a gap in service while the machine is replaced. Depending on the spec of the server being used, there may be a long lead time for a like for like replacement which may mean that an interim solution is required that could impact performance until a solution can be provided. Virtual machines can be provisioned almost immediately.

deploying sharepoint in the cloud

Reduce Costs by deploying SharePoint in the Cloud

The total cost of ownership (TCO) of an On Premises hosting solution for SharePoint is high. Aside from the up front cost of the equipment itself, other ongoing costs are incurred. These include general costs such as the electricity to run the service, and also (more importantly), the cost of managing the platform. This includes back ups, physical maintenance, software licenses, and patches.

With virtual infrastructure, back-ups can be automatic, and most ongoing costs are built into the subscription. There may be an upfront cost for the initial cloud set-up, but many of the day to day management tasks that are required for a datacentre can be either automated, or are not required which means a lower overall management cost.  If you are already using cloud services for SharePoint, the chances are that Valto can help you to reduce your Azure Costs through better optimisation.

Increased Flexibility

In most cases, an on-premises SharePoint farm will need to have a higher specification than is needed at the time it is set up. The reason for this is that it needs to be able to support changes in the business over the time it is used. Typically the capital expenditure for infrastructure investment is high and the servers are a long term commitment.
Migrating SharePoint to the cloud gives you more flexibility which can reduce costs. Rather than needing to create a spec for the future, you can create a spec that’s right now, and then change the requirements as the business scales.

In fact, cloud platforms like Azure can provide granular flexibility, so you can adapt the specification depending on demand at different times of day – reducing the spec of your VMs at times of lower demand reduces the subscription costs leading to savings.

Ready To Find Out More?

If your business is currently hosting SharePoint on legacy equipment, migrating to the cloud could help you to improve performance and free up some of your IT budget. Contact a member of our team today to find out more about deploying SharePoint in the Cloud. Call now on 03335 779 009

Hosting Applications in Azure

With Azure, you benefit from a scalable computing resource which enables application hosting in a way that can reduce infrastructure costs, increase stability, and improve flexibility.

If your staff work in a flexible way and need to access information from multiple locations but still need to access applications when they need them, Azure lets you deliver those applications without the need to maintain legacy infrastructure.

Making Application Hosting Simpler

Rather than the traditional model of needing multiple physical servers to handle the different elements of the software, the cloud allows you to virtualise and configure machines quickly. This means that lead time for equipment delivery is no longer a factor and you can scale faster.

On top of the basic servers to run applications like SharePoint, the costs of additional equipment for back-ups can become expensive to acquire, maintain, and power, not to mention inflexible.

Compared to this, IaaS is fast to deploy and can bring major cost savings thanks to Pay As You Go pricing, and no maintenance costs.

Application Management in Azure

When hosting applications in Azure, your infrastructure and deployment is managed through a single dashboard. It’s possible to provision new Machines quickly, which allows you to create test environments where updates and patches can be tested quickly.

Custom Development to Run Applications in the Cloud

In most cases, if an application can be run on a physical server, it’s possible to create a virtual environment in Azure that can replicate the original version. This usually precludes the need to add layers of custom development – although you may need to carry out some configuration work to handle data storage or user management.

Azure includes the Microsoft RemoteApp Platform which lets you migrate existing applications painlessly and can be used by your internal team to manage user access and monitor application performance.

As part of our managed Azure service, Valto will work with you to build an effective cloud strategy that includes full systems architecture planning and the creation of infrastructure for most popular applications including SharePoint, as well as custom deployments tailored to any bespoke applications that your business relies on.

Expert Support

A major challenge for businesses as they migrate to Azure is ensuring that the correct skills are available to manage your environment to ensure best performance. This is where Valto can help – our team have multiple years’ experience of optimising Azure to host multiple applications and websites while increasing reliability and reducing costs.

For more information, call us on 03335 779 009 and we can start to discuss your requirements.

Planning a move to Azure

Whether you’re planning a move to Azure to reduce your costs or want more flexibility and performance, the Microsoft Cloud offers a great deal of potential.  Migrating isn’t simple though.  There are many pitfalls that you can run into.  Having a good plan in place and a full understanding of your objectives from the start helps avoid most issues and makes the transition to the cloud more straightforward.

Azure was developed with enterprise IT in mind.  It was designed to integrate with other Microsoft products such as Office and Exchange and popular business applications from the start.  As such, the configuration of the Azure cloud for a business is intended to provide a familiar environment that works well and provides all the features such as instant back up and resilience that are required in a typical modern IT Strategy.

What Planning a Move to Azure entails

When you’re planning a move to the cloud, there are some questions that you’ll want to talk through with your Azure Consultant.  These range from governance through to budget, and getting the right answers for your business needs will help ensure that your move is beneficial.

How Much Does It Cost?

The simple answer is that when you move to Azure, the cost of your cloud will vary over time.  Supplier prices can change based on things like exchange rate, but the level of consumption that you have will also grow.  Many businesses come to Valto with an existing cloud environment and are seeing ever increasing bills.  While we can help to reduce Azure Costs, it’s important to know that the price you pay at the start when you’re moving a small number of applications and data is not the same as your subscription a year later.

Unlike a traditional legacy server where you buy the equipment and then it’s there whether you’re using it or not, your cloud bill reflects actual consumption.  In the long run the cost is lower – if you optimise your usage and keep track of what subscriptions you’re running.

How much do you know?

There is a massive shortage of experienced IT staff with a full understanding of the process of planning a move to Azure. While the deployment and management of Azure is now straightforward and familiar, there are nuances with machine spec and architecture that require expertise.

Having access to experienced support staff is essential.  Microsoft’s own support can be difficult to use – and comes at a cost.  Choosing a managed service for Azure is a worthwhile investment that will pay off the first time you have an issue with backups or identity.

How Secure Is it?

Azure is secure.  If you take precautions.  Modern business doesn’t take place in the office – we access sensitive data via multiple devices and through multiple networks.  This can be a recipe for vulnerabilities.

Securing your data is essential, so ensuring that identities and permissions are properly managed, using a firewall, and maintaining best practice security are all recommended.  Regular Pen testing will also help to identify any risks and take appropriate action.

If you’re thinking about planning a move to Azure, or want advice about your existing deployment, please contact a member of our team on 03335 779 009 and we’ll be happy to talk to you.