cloud-made-of-gears

Three Things to STOP Doing On Premise Today

There is still a lot of complexity in Public Cloud Computing today but the rate at which it is becoming easier is accelerating.  Most organizations will not go from 0% to 100% in the Cloud.  Like server virtualization was in the data center, it will continue to be a crawl, walk, run approach for many organizations.  Creating the right Hybrid Cloud strategy to allow your business to take advantage of the Cloud to reduce cost, complexity, and management of on premise solutions today can allow you to re-purpose resources (people and dollars) from maintaining the current state to growing your business.

Here are three simple things you can be doing in the Cloud today to increase your team’s productivity.

Messaging (Email, Instant Messaging, and Virtual Meetings)

Migrating email and messaging systems to the Cloud is as easy as it gets.  The benefits and features obtained in the areas of ease of use, security, record retention, and backup make this a no-brainer.  Turnkey compliance, simple and secure messaging, and high, SLA driven, availability make this very appealing to most, if not all, businesses.  Pricing models for solutions like Microsoft Office 365 and the ability to manage (or have a partner manage) your primary messaging platform make deploying, managing, and upgrading on-premise mail, SPAM, and Security solutions a thing of the past.  By migrating your messaging to Microsoft Office 365 you can:

  • Pay Monthly or Annually for only the Features you use
  • Increase Security through secure and encrypted email as a standard feature
  • Reduce SPAM and Antivirus costs through protection as a standard feature
  • Have up to 50GB of mail data per mailbox and the ability to set the retention periods required by your business
  • Optionally route mail on-premise for on-premise backup
  • Bundle solutions such as the Microsoft Office Suite, Skype for Business, SharePoint, OneDrive, and others to increase your feature set.

Migrating messaging platforms to the Cloud has become a very well-defined practice.  Experienced partners that have done many migrations can migrate your email and collaboration solutions with very little to no downtime for the end users.  In most cases, the updating of mobile devices or client systems is automatic and non-disruptive.  In the worse-case scenario, it is end-user self serviceable in an intuitive way.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Storage, Disaster Recovery Sites, and Physical Backup solutions are costly and still require significant capital investment in the hardware and physical data centers to support them.  Most organizations lack a true disaster recovery solution or an off-site backup location.  The costs to implement these highly available solutions are either out of reach for the Small and Medium Business or continuously growing as data and retention period requirements expand.

Microsoft Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery offer two simple solutions that fit the following use cases:

  • I need to backup all or some of my data offsite:  Microsoft Azure Backup allows you to specify exactly what files, folders, or systems you want to backup using an easy to use client for all of your systems or just your critical data.  With very little cost associated.  You can achieve up to 99 Years of secure, encrypted, retention.  Restoring data, either one file, or an entire server, can be done through the same easy to use client.
  • I need a fail over site for High Availability and Disaster Recovery:  Microsoft Azure Site Recovery allows you to replicate with a little as 5 minute Recovery Point Objective (RPO) your physical or virtual  (VMware or Hyper-V) servers to the Microsoft Azure Platform.  Since the virtual machines in Azure are not online when standing by, you are not paying for resources you aren’t using.  Thus, significantly reducing the costs of implementing and maintaining a second data center or disaster recovery environment.

Configuring these solutions can be classified as easy (Azure Backup for Files) to somewhat complex (Creating a DR Site in Azure) but the costs and time savings to build and maintain a second physical data center is significantly more than the cost of leveraging the scale, availability, and security of the Cloud.

Collaboration and Workflow Solutions

Managing Intranet, Business Intelligence, and Business Process Workflow platforms on-premise is complex.  For some organizations, tight integration to line of business systems make this a necessity.  For most organizations, Microsoft SharePoint Online, PowerBI, and Office365 Groups can solve the same challenges with significantly less IT administration overhead to support the back-end of the solution.

Most organizations looking for an Intranet are concerned with a few things:

  • Effectively communicating policies, information, culture, and important notifications to members of the company that allow them to be more productive or access information more efficiently.
  • Create workflow solutions that allow manual business processes to be automated or consistently executed
  • Allow members of the company to collaborate effectively with a variety of technical and social solutions that also are designed to keep information protected, secure, and backed up.

Historically, businesses turned to Microsoft SharePoint to be the central hub for these various goals.  Most organizations have struggled with the complexity of the one-stop-shop solution either from administering the back-end technology or creating a governance strategy that made the end result intuitive to the end-user.  SharePoint is still alive and well but in the Cloud, it is more clearly defined into it’s business uses so that the end user experience can be more intuitive and purpose-built.

  • OneDrive – Document storage and collaboration on any device, any operating system, anywhere.
  • SharePoint – Company Intranet and Business Workflow Solutions
  • PowerBI – Business Intelligence, Dashboards, and Reporting Solution
  • Office 365 Groups – Alternative to SharePoint for team collaboration
  • Yammer – Enterprise Social Media and Communication Platform

In this instance, more is less.  More solutions, a la carte or bundeled pricing models, allows an organization to provision and deploy the right tool for the job as opposed to one tool that can do many things.  Businesses are embracing this as a way to clearly define the purpose and value of a solution.  Further allowing their end users to be more productive in utilizing it to drive efficiency.

All of these solutions are available to try before you buy.  Feel free to utilize some of the links below.  Note:  Shameless plug, the links below allow you to acknowledge that my organization (eGroup) triggered your interest.  If you find this information useful, it would be much appreciated and we are glad to help with any of the solutions above.

Free Trials:

CTC 2015

Carolinas Technology Conference – Get Hands-On Experience with the Modern Microsoft Platform

The Carolinas Technology Conference is just over a week away. On October 1st in Columbia, South Carolina, Jesus Shelby, eGroup Solution Architect, will be at the conference guiding and educating attendees with a hands-on lab environment as he walks through use cases of the Microsoft Hybrid Cloud, Data Platform (SQL and Business Analytics), Mobility Management, and Innovations in Application Development.

This is a great opportunity to experience the modern Microsoft suite first-hand as you are able to engage with the tools, configure solutions, and learn about new features and possibilities.

The all day hands-on lab will be a first-come, first-serve format.  Bring your laptop and be ready to learn by following one or more of the 17 total experiences you can engage in throughout the day.

There will be 4 Core Tracks:

Transform the Data Center – Focused on modern data center design and hybrid cloud scenarios, the transform the data center track will lead you through four unique experiences that expose you to designing modern virtual environments, self-service and automation, application and operational management/insights, and high-availability and disaster recovery solutions.

Data Insights – Focused on the modern data platform, high availability and data protection, leveraging Big Data, Business Intelligence and Analytics technologies in both Cloud and On-Premise.  This experience will allow you to go hands-on with learning how Microsoft can help your organization transform data into insights that lead to actions.

Enterprise Mobility – Focused on the way end users work in the modern age and how businesses and IT need to provide flexible, yet secure, connectivity to a variety of end-user scenarios.  The Enterprise Mobility experience will allow you to go hands on configuring, learning, and testing solutions around Mobility Management, Self-Service, Virtual Desktops, and Secure Mobile Access.

Application Innovation – Focused on Application Developers, The Application Innovation track will allow you to go hands on with Microsoft’s Cloud Application Platform.  Allowing you to see how you can take traditional client-server applications and design them for the future.  Learning how your business can design and deliver mobile and web-scale applications by leveraging the flexibility and power of the Microsoft Cloud.

Immersion

This event packs a lot of material, a lot of enablement, and access to thought leaders and technical experts in the Carolinas into a single day Expo.

Register Today

bored meeting

Hey Engineers – Your Customer isn’t Listening! Tips for running a better technical meeting for Engineers.

I’ve sat through (and been guilty of conducting) many technical post project meetings that haven’t delivered the result they were intending.  I am a big fan of the wrap-up meeting for any technical project, assessment, health check, etc… I think it is absolutely essential to ensuring any technical project transitions from “In Progress” to “Closed” and that the customer receives the full value of what they purchased.

The Goal:  Communicate the outcomes achieved by the project, confirm with your customer you have met their expectations, and clearly define next steps in as concise of a manner as possible.

However, many technical engineers are doing it wrong.  Here are some of the things I’ve witnessed (and done!).

  • The agenda for the meeting didn’t match the customer’s expectation.  Or worse, there was no agenda and no one had an expectation.
  • The Engineer is still trying to establish credibility.  They are over-justifying every small statement and recommendation they make.
  • The Engineer is being WAY too technical.  They are reviewing technical details and findings at a very granular level.  All while the customer is oh so close to falling asleep or thinking about what they want to eat for lunch.  By the time they get to the punchline, whether it be next steps or important details, the customer is already in a state of passive listening.  Just merely passing the time.
  • The Engineer absolutely, 100%, without a question, knows exactly what the answer is.  They proceed to do something that resembles a filibuster about how its the right way to go.  They have given so many points on how their solution is right, they didn’t take a second to realize they aren’t even addressing the customers true questions.  I did this once (ok, maybe twice) but one time it ended in glorious fashion (I got cursed out and hung up on).  It was so epic my boss did some damage control (I am pretty sure he got an earful about me too).  To no ones surprise, we didn’t get the business and the next time I saw the person it was quite awkward.

There are certainly many missteps you can make when trying to properly translate technical details, issues, or creating a sense of urgency to a business audience that can send your customer to your competitor to solve the problem.  In this post, I want to discuss a better way to go about tackling a post project session that might lead to a better outcome for you and your customer.  Here are some tips:

Tip 1:  Take the time to organize your Agenda

Your agenda should start with the outcome you want to achieve during the meeting.  Hopefully, this outcome is very directly related to the goal of the project you are about to discuss.  Your agenda should be focused on business level objectives, not on technical details.  You should be very clear about the goal of the meeting, why everyone is there, and deliver the agenda well ahead of time.  If you aren’t sure you have all the customers needs met, it never hurts to ask them what they would like to see added to the agenda.

Tip 2:  Focus on your audience

Know who you are presenting to.  Understand what is important to them.  If you are presenting to a mixed group that includes the CIO, Business Leaders, etc… as well as Technical Resources it is often helpful to brief the technical resources beforehand.  Seek their buy-in on all potentially “up for debate” technical decisions.  The business resources hate nothing more than getting on a call and hearing a bunch of technical bickering.  It creates confusion, communicates a lack of success, and ultimately creates doubt in the direction you are trying to communicate.  Make sure everything you are communicating is focused on the value it provides.  Example:  Instead of telling your customer how super fast that new storage array you just installed is.  Tell them how the increased speed makes their employees more productive because reports are delivered on time.  Include measurable data when you can.

Tip 3:  Ask Questions, lots of them

Take everything you want to communicate and phrase it as a question.  Engage your audience.  Combined with Tip #2, you can ask the customers technical resources questions and know what the answer will be.  This not only helps transfer knowledge, it helps the customer see that the project was successful, making them much more likely to act on any follow-up items.  This is also very helpful when reviewing technical documentation

Make sure to leave intentional space for questions.  Instead of assuming your customer wants to hear a technical detail, ask them what they would like to know before diving in.  Remember, open-ended questions (the kind that don’t result in yes/no answers) will create better conversations than closed questions.

Tip 4:  Assume Credibility

You just worked on a project for days and weeks for the customer.  They likely have already purchased from you.  You would have known by now if they didn’t respect your opinion.  Don’t fall into the trap of over-justifying your recommendations.  It ultimately makes your argument look weaker.  Instead of justifying every statement, ask questions at appropriate times that seek and gain agreement from your audience.

Tip 5:  Ask for instant feedback

“Did the material covered in this review meet your expectations?”.  This is a great and generic way to close out the conversation.  Remember, your goal is to effectively close the project.  One component of effectively closing projects is to answer all your customers questions.  If you get a “Yes” to the question above, follow it with “Is there any more information we can provide to make this engagement more successful for you?”.

There are lots of tips I can go over for conducting a more effective project close-out meeting.  Below is a sample agenda that you can utilize and bend to your need.  Remember, always communicate and confirm the agenda up front.  Nothing is worse than a presentation where the agenda doesn’t match the need!

Sample Agenda:

  • Why we are all here – Start with the goal of the meeting.  Quick and Concise.
  • Summary of Outcomes – Your project had outcomes for the customer, think of this like the Executive Summary.  Treat it like it is the only thing your customer will hear.  You need to quickly and concisely state the clear outcomes achieved by the project.
  • Detailed Review – Solicit and ask questions about the technical details.  Stay away from reading the materials to them.  Assume they have reviewed it prior to the meeting and ask questions with the goal of understanding where your customer wants to know more.
  • Next Steps – Define the action items coming out of the meeting.  Clearly define who is to complete each action.
  • Close – Confirm the project met their objectives.

Certainly there are many ways to close a project.  What tips and tricks have you seen be helpful to creating more valuable outcomes to your customers?  I would love to hear from some of business leaders on what they expect as well from their technical resources in the comments below.

Power BI Dashboard

Microsoft Power BI – Solution Overview, Observations, and Review

In an earlier post, I wrote about the business value of PowerBI and Microsoft’s vision to provide tools that turn data into action.  I have been working with PowerBI for the last several months testing to dive deeper into the value it provides.  I made the statement that PowerBI is a “mature solution out of the gate”.  With several new features, new ways to access, and new platforms I still think that statement is somewhat true, albeit there is some immaturity (aka… issues) in the new solutions.  In this post, I want to dive into a few of the core features of PowerBI and what my experience has been with them to date.

Background:

Microsoft PowerBI has been around for over a year now as Microsoft’s Office 365 based Business Intelligence soluton.  In 2015, Microsoft split the product into two different solutions.  PowerBI and PowerBI Pro.  PowerBI is a free platform that just recently was made available to the public in a production release.  PowerBI Pro is Microsoft’s paid for solution that offers additional features and functionality to the base PowerBI product.  Microsoft recently released several mobile apps for PowerBI targeted at iPhone, IPad, and Android devices to already add to their Windows phone solutions.  This was a critical step for the PowerBI platform to compete in delivering sleak dashboards and reports to mobile devices.

Overall Impression:

Microsoft is on the right path with PowerBI.  However, it has a few missing features or interactions that feel not entirely intuitive that make the end-user experience a little more painful than it should be.  These issues are minor and correctable, the great side of PowerBI is that it can connect to a wide variety of data sources, making it a powerful self-service BI platform.

Challenges –

  • Datasets, Reports, and Dashboards:  The interaction between these three core entities is a little awkward.  There are limitations based on which data source you are extracting information from (On-Premise SSAS or OneDrive Excel Spreadsheet, for example) that make it a challenge to provide a streamlined user experience with multiple data sets.
  • Sharing Dashboards and Reports:  This is where I think the solution has missed the mark the most.  Sharing a dashboard or report with internal or external audiences should be as simple as it is from OneDrive.  You should be able to click Share, and based on your security requirements, be able to share a link or provide read only access directly to the dashboard or report.  PowerBI uses Content Packs and Catalogs to share information with others.  It works, it just isn’t as seamless as it could or should be.
  • Mobile Applications:  I primarily worked with the iOS app on iPhone 6 and iPad Mini.  While it worked for the most part, I was met with several annoying freezes, some moderate battery drain, and sluggish performance.

Successes –

  • It is really easy to connect data.  In some cases, really really easy.  Once the data is connected and after a small investment in getting familiar with the PowerBI Designer (Desktop or Web Browser versions available), you can have dashboards that provide great insights in a matter of minutes.
  • “Ask this Dashboard a Question”.  I provided PowerBI two sample data tables on two sheets in an Excel Workbook that resided on OneDrive for Business.  One was a Sales Bookings table and the other was a Sales Pipeline table.  Within a few minutes I was able to type the question, “Who is the top sales rep in Q3 2014 based on revenue booked”.  It knew the answer.  I asked it several other questions and it knew those as well.  When it didn’t, it thoughtfully suggested relevant questions to get to the right answer.  Very powerful and works better than I expected.
  • Mobile Applications:  Although there are challenges, the stage was set for great apps on Windows, iOS, and Android platforms.  The apps are intuitive and provide some great visualizations.  Once mature, they will be a great solution for accessing data securely anywhere.

Service Connections:  

PowerBI offers great first party integrations and several easy to use ways to surface your data.  Providing out of the box service connections and dashboards from popular platforms such a CRM Online, SalesForce, and Quickbooks Online, PowerBI is able to provide powerful visualizations and inspection of data after a few minutes of use.  I found that it was fairly easy to connect PowerBI to these various services.  For the everyday end-user, this is a great way to engage in self-service Business Intelligence without technical complexity.  There are many Service Connections available today:

PowerBI Service Connections

Once connected, you have access to out of the box reports and dashboards that you can quickly expand upon and customize to your needs.

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business Data Sources:

The second offering is the ability to access table data on Excel Spreadsheets stored on OneDrive or Local file sources, which goes against everything I have stood for in the past as an individual that has designed several Data Warehouses lobbying to get rid of Excel Spreadsheets on random servers, desktops, and file shares.  This is easily the most user-friendly capability.  Connect your spreadsheet, build your visualizations, and share with your colleagues.  It is simple and very powerful by utilizing “Ask this Dashboard a Question”.

PowerBI One Drive

SQL Server Analysis Services Connector:

The SQL Server Analysis Services Connector allows on-premise SSAS Tabular Models to be exposed to the Power BI environment.  The setup was very simple.  All you need to do is install the connector client on-premise (preferably on the SSAS server directly)  and start to build your reports in the Cloud.  The downside of this service is the lack of ability to take those reports and publish them as dashboards.  Without dashboards. as noted above, there are limitations to some of the more advanced functionality and ease of sharing.  Nonetheless, it is a powerful and simplistic way to easily surface on-premise data and this is an area where it should be easy to improve upon in future releases.

PowerBI SSAS Connector

Mobile Applications:

The mobile applications have me very excited for the future of Microsoft.  They finally have received the message, are getting it right, and are improving rapidly on their any application, any language, any device approach.  Although the iPhone and iPad application was a bit buggy.  Things like selecting an item outside of the top 200 or so items in a slicer fails, random crashes while drilling into reports, etc… caused some pain.  However, bugs are easy to solve and the layout, visualizations, and overall interaction is on point.  I am looking forward to some Microsoft Updates (can’t believe I said that).

Power BI Mobile

Conclusion:  I would have to rate Power BI a B+ solution with a strong future, A+ potential, and enough easy to use functionality that businesses can immediately gain value from.  Although it is not a replacement for the ETL, EDW, and Data Modeling solutions like some all-encompassing BI solutions can be.  It is a great piece, a missing one at that, to the overall Microsoft Intelligence and Analytics portfolio.  A solution that will allow organizations to gain speed to value from adoption and a true competitive advantage through continual investment in turning their data into information that their users can take action on.

…and call me Old Fashioned, but I love that there is a Desktop App that I can utilize.

Windows 10 – Network Connections Missing

I rarely post break-fix posts on the blog but I wanted to share a quick update on my Windows 10 upgrade experience and how I ultimately resolved the issue.

The Issue:  I upgraded to Windows 10 via an ISO from the GA release.  Everything went smoothly until I logged in for the first time and was presented by the red X over the network connection.  On further inspection, all my device drivers in device manager were present and operating normally.  However, when I navigated to Network and Internet -> Network Connections, I was presented with an empty list.  I attempted various network hacks to no avail.

Ultimately, what solved it for me was I found there was a conflict with the Cisco AnyConnect and Cisco VPN services installed previously on Windows 8.1.  The only option?  I reverted back to Windows 8.1, uninstalled these services, ensured the drivers were removed from device manager, and reinstalled Windows 10.  Following the reinstall, I had zero network device issues and was able to completed the upgrade successfully.

Keep an eye out for software based network adapters when upgrading.  I am sure Microsoft will have it sorted out shortly.

 

Charleston Digital Corridor

Event: Charleston Digital Corridor, Battle for the Cloud

Come Join myself and two other knowledgeable tech names from the Charleston, South Carolina development community as we have an entertaining discussion about three of the Cloud leaders for Software Development in Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform.  All three of us will be giving an overview of the various Cloud Platforms as they relate to Software Development Teams followed by some Q&A from the group.  This should be a great event, full of great information, as we talk about the state of Cloud computing as a whole and three of the industry leaders approaches and their value to the development community.

Register for the event here (http://www.charlestondigitalcorridor.com/events/1436396040286-battle-cloud/).  I hope to see you there!

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Microsoft WPC Day 3 – Great Way to Experience the Value of the Microsoft Cloud

Continuing to focus on the delivering an outstanding experience to your target user base, Microsoft has released a partner led program focused on delivering experiences to prospective Cloud consumers in the areas of Data Center Transformation, Data insights, Enterprise Mobility, and Application Innovation.  This program, allows your business to work with a Microsoft Partner to experience outcomes of the Microsoft Cloud with no investment up front to provision resources.

For example, your business may be interested in utilizing the Cloud for data replication and bottomless storage capacity.  With this new program, you can work with your qualified Microsoft Partner to gain access to a step by step, hands-on, environment to tour the solution and see the outcome it delivers.  

Another example may be that you want your end users or data experts to have hands on guidance to experience a new data modeling or Business Intelligence solution.  This end to end experience not only will help you select the right tool, but will accelerate your adoption and implementation cycle by having the full lifecycle exposure.

Hands on, guided, labs have been a common tool in technology to allow technical engineers  to gain rapid exposure to new technologies in the past.  Now, with the Cloud and a focus on delivering a customer experience, Microsoft and Microsoft Partners are able to bring these  experiences to prospective customers to help them make better decisions.
Some more experiences available today:

  • VDI
  • Managing Mobility
  • DevOps
  • Architecting for Cloud Scale
  • Self-Service Automation
  • VM and Cloud Design
  • Data Failover
  • BI
  • Big Data
  • And More!

If interested, let me know and I can tell you more about how to experience the Microsoft Cloud.