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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.

Valto Q4 2017 Updates & New Member of Staff

Valto have been exceptionally busy over the last few months with several strategic partners coming on board including Preact a Dynamics CRM Partner.

We’ve also been busy working on some exciting projects including Turquoise Mountain where we are helping migrate the charity to Office365, Consolidate their Windows Licensing and start to utilise Mail, SharePoint, OneDrive & Skype for Business.

This month we welcome Dougie Wood to the team. Dougie is an Office365 & SharePoint Specialist with over 5 years experience in the SME & Enterprise Markets including many clients in the North West and has worked with enterprise clients including Barclays and IMI.

We very much look forward to maximising Dougie’s experience and will be introducing him to our clients during our next visits.

Valto have also launched several new products within their product portfolio including,

  • SharePoint ISO Management – If you’re company has or is working towards any ISO accreditations including ISO 9001, 20001, 370001. Our SharePoint ISO management tool can assist with the ongoing management of this by providing an easy to use Document Management interface including review and approval workflows, intelligent auto updating word headers/footers and version control.
  • SharePoint Leave Request – Our Leave Request system allows you to submit and manage all types of leave request including Holidays, Sickness, Overtime, Time off in Lieu and escalate approvals to employees line manager automatically.
  • SharePoint Phone Directory – Combining the collaborative tools of Office365 including Delve and Profiles our SharePoint Phone Directory allows you to easily view all members of staff and their important information including Phone Numbers, Office Locations, Pictures and Skills.
  • SharePoint SOX Management – Building on the success of our ISO Management process our SOX Management Tool allows you to fully manage the Sarbanes Oxley providing a dashboard for controls that will automatically create actions on a set frequency which can then be reviewed and approved by members of staff.
  • Azure Costing Saving Tool – In partnership with XX we’ve launched a new tool that can help with the ongoing management and control the costs of Azure subscriptions. We’re excited about this product and more information will be available soon.
  • SaaS Security Monitoring Tool – Our new tool that can help you monitor and control critical security settings within Software as a Service cloud applications including Azure, AWS, Office365, Dropbox, etc.

More details and new pages of these products will be published over the coming weeks.

Find out More

If you’re interested in hearing more about our applications or want to speak to one of our SharePoint Consultants then contact us or call on 03335 779 009 .

Author

 

 Valto Hugh Valentine

Managing Director

T: 03335 779 009
E: hugh@valto.co.uk
W: https://valto.co.uk
10 Watergate Row, Chester. CH1 2LD

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.

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.

 

Does Azure Cost More than You Expected?

For a lot of businesses, reducing infrastructure costs is one of the main factors in a cloud migration.  Using the public cloud allows a business to avoid many of the expenses of a traditional data centre such as power, maintenance, and acquisition of hardware.  With a Microsoft cloud subscription, the various components of the price are included in the single Azure cost.

However, what often happens is that once a business moves to the cloud, they find that their monthly subscription rises over time.  The increase in costs can be significant, and it’s incumbent on the IT strategy team to identify what the cause of the rising costs of Azure are, and how to address them

What Are You Paying For?

Azure is charged on a consumption basis.  You pay for the types of virtual machine that you have specified and for the amount of time that you use them for.  A typical deployment may include many different VMs performing distinct functions, and these may be running for different times depending on the demand.

What isn’t always clear in your Azure billing is exactly what makes up the price – what has changed since the previous month or how many instances you have.

Why is Your Azure Cost Rising?

There are two main reasons why your costs for Azure rise.

The first is somewhat out of your control.  Exchange rate changes can have a substantial impact on your bills.  Microsoft, and other cloud providers will vary costs around the world so that there’s very little room to save money by billing through a different territory.  If the currency rates change, the chances are that your bill will go up to reflect it.

The second reason is that you might be using Azure more.  Deploying new machines is straightforward, and not all businesses have full oversight into what’s being used.  Your development team might need to add a machine for testing, or change the spec that’s being used for a function.  You might have more staff working and accessing data than in the past.  Natural growth in the amount of data you have stored can be a cost factor – your IT team may need to add extra hard drives or database servers to cope with demand.

A regular audit of what your subscription includes and what you need to function is important, and speaking to a qualified Azure consultant who can analyse the data that you have can pay for itself quite quickly thanks to a reduction in Azure cost that can be quite significant.

Are You Turning Things Off?

One of the biggest advantages of Azure is that you only pay for what you use.  If you manage your IaaS correctly, you can see significant cost savings.  You can reduce the spec of a VM overnight or turn it off if you don’t need it.  You can reduce the amount of hard drive space that you pay for if it’s not being filled.

Properly auditing your usage is essential.  Contact Valto today and one of our consultants will talk you through your options.  The chances are that we can help you reduce your Azure costs.  Call us now on 03335 779 009 to find out how much!