Microsoft

Prepare the Enterprise for Office 2016!

On September 10th, Microsoft announced the official release date for Office 2016 as September 22, 2015. According to a blog post by Julie White Julie White, general manager of Office 365 technical product management, Office 2016 will be “broadly available” starting Sept. 22 and Organizations with volume license agreements, including those with Software Assurance, will be able to download the new version beginning Oct. 1.

The blog post also mentions that Office 365 Home office and Personal edition will be able to manually update starting September 22, however automatic updates for these editions do not start until October 1st. These release dates do not leave much time for organizations to prepare to be updated. The new version boost of new features and changes that can have some administrators scrambling to attempt to control the nest.

What’s new?

Office 2016 takes on the new update process of Windows 10, with the updates through the concept of branches. For organizations that currently control how their Office 365 deployments are updated, using an internal source, this will need to determine which branch they will use. The three update options:

  • Current Branch – Monthly updates pushed out by Microsoft’s Content Delivery Network. The default setting for Office 2016 installation is to use Current Branch.
  • Current Branch for Business – Provides updates 4 times a year. This is for organizations that are not bleeding edge and need to have some control on when updates are installed and take some time testing compatibility with other products.
  • First Release for Current Branch for Business – Monthly patches that provide the ability to test patches before the rest of production users are updated.

Some additional enhancements to the new version of Office 365 is the support for Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS).  BITS helps control network traffic when updates are deployed by using idle network bandwidth in that it can increase or decrease the rate at which files are transferred based on the amount of idle network bandwidth available. BITS can be configured regardless of the source of the update, such as an internal source or Microsoft CDN. Microsoft has yet to release the specific details on how to configure BITS, according to the blog more details to come soon. Office 2016 also has added support for Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and Multi-factor Authentication.

Preparation yourself to be Updated!

As with any new software release there is always gotchas and Office 2016 is no different. Knowing the gotchas is have the battle to a successful upgrade and less headaches.

If your organizational uses the Office Deployment Tool or Group Policy to manage settings in Office 365 be warned you will need the versions of Office deployment tool and Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) for Group Policy. Microsoft has not released the new versions of the Office Deployment Tool and Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) for Group Policy yet so hang on tight.  You can continue to use the previous version of the Office deployment tool if you plan on to continue to deploy the Office 2013 version. If you choose to continue to deploy the 2013 version remember security updates for this version stops after 1 year of the release of Office 2016.

The Office 2016 install is bigger with core installation files at a whopping 850mb and an additional 200mb for any language packs. This means longer installation times. Monitor and review your network accordingly because who wants the network to go down because of office upgrades?

Support for installing other versions of office side by side with the Office 2016 version of Office 365 ProPus has changed. Installing the volume licensed version of Visio 2016 and Project 2016 on the same system of Office 2016 version of Office 365 is not supported. This means that if you want Visio 2016 and Project 2016 you will need to shell out the dough for the Visio 2016 and Project 2016 version of Office 365 ProPlus. If you have the 2013 version of Visio Pro for Office 365 or Project Pro for Office 365 installed on a computer that is updating to the Office 2016 version of Office 365 ProPlus, those versions of Visio and Project are removed during the update process.

Now that you know what to look out for on a successful Office 2016 update go get prepared to be updated!

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Skype for Business Mobile App Coming Soon to iOS!

Look out all you Lync 2013 mobile app iOS users, a new updated and renamed version of the mobile app is on it’s way! As announced earlier this year, Skype for Business for iOS  was set to be released this fall. It looks like Microsoft has kept their word and the new Skype for Business iOS app is expected to be released October 2015, according to a notification received on my mobile app this evening.

Skype For Business is coming!

Skype For Business is coming!

After clicking on the “Learn More” button, I was redirected to Microsoft’s support page which announces the new app and has some FAQs.

Some key take aways are:

  • The new mobile app has “Skype” look and feel similar to the desktop version
  • iOS version 8.0 or later is required- update now if you want to enjoy the new app
  • If you are running an older version of Lync mobile app, you can continue to use that
  • Skype for Business for Windows Phone is available now and the Android version is in technical preview.

Can not wait to see how the new version works compared to the somewhat buggy Lync 2013 iOS version.  Here is a preview of what the new mobile app looks like!

Skype For Business for iOS - New Look and Feel

Skype For Business for iOS – New Look and Feel

 

 

Using Group Policy to Manage Office 365 updates

Office 365 ProPlus deployments by default are configured to automatically update. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Good, because you are always current and up to date on the latest fixes and security updates from Microsoft. But bad for organizations that have an enterprise patching process that has testing and validation for patches and updates. These types of organizations need to have control to establish compatibility and support across many platforms.

There are several ways to manage updates in Office 365. During the deployment of Office 365 ProPlus you can configure the update settings the office deployment tool which modifies the XML file that is by the install process or you can simply skip that step and manage everything through Group Policy. In this post I will discuss how to use Group Policy to manage updates for your Office 365 deployments.

Getting Started…

Download the Office 2013 Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) and Office Customization Tool 

Once you have copied the Group Policy Administrative Template files into AD,  the policy settings will be located in the foloowing location in the Group Policy Managment Console:

Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Microsoft Office 2013 (Machine)\Updates

Some key settings to look at include:

Enable Automatic Updates – allows you to disable Office 365 from automatically updating. Be careful when using this option as you could miss out on security updates.

Update Path – This setting controls the source of where the Office 365ProPlus installs get their updates from. If this setting is not configured or left blank it will default to Microsoft’s CDN. If you have an internal source, such as network share, then you would include the path here.

Using Group Policy allows some flexible like applying patching sources for different groups of users, such as pilot users and production users. It also doesn’t require manual changes on each system and can make a change across multiple devices with 1 policy. Group Policy is useful when there are many deployment methods across your organizations but you want to manage the application without adding cumbersome deployment steps. If you decide to make a change later, update the Group Policy setting by using the Group Policy Management Console. The updated policy settings are automatically applied to Office 365 ProPlus, through the normal Group Policy update process.

What is this Skype for Business?

If you have not heard yet or been sleeping under a rock, Microsoft has updated Lync and the Lync client but most importantly a brand new name of Skype for Business. In a nutshell, Skype for Business is a re-branded and upgraded version of Lync Server with improved integration with the Skype Network and added new features. The first round of changes started with a Client update that was released on April 14th  2015  by way of Microsoft Office updates, with the second wave for the Skype for Business Server update which was released on May 4th.

However, between the announcement in March and the actual release dates a month later it didn’t leave much room to test the update and prepare users for the impending changes. Depending on the size of the organization this can be challenging and has caused some headaches for administrators like myself as we quickly tried to prepare. Today we will discuss these challenges and things to consider with the new Skype for Business.

Connecting more people together

The Skype for Business re-branding was a great marketing and business move for Microsoft. Leveraging a familiar consumer brand that has already shaped how people communicate and combining it with an existing enterprise unified communications platform, one can only expect an increase in business and easier user adoption. Making improvements and adding new features only sweetens the deal.

The new and improved features include:

  • New User Interface ( UI ) – A new look and feel to the Server and client interface that was inspired by Skype. For those that have used Skype the UI will be familiar, keep in mind this will look different to your users if they currently use the Lync client. The client update affects those using Lync Online with Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Business Premium or Office 2013.
  • The Call via Work – The former Remote Call Control feature that allowed users to make calls via the Lync client using their existing PBX telephony system has been re-vamped with the Call Via Work.
  • Larger Meetings – Broadcast Skype for Business meetings to up to 10,000 people at a time. This is a great way to hold town hall meetings, especially for companies that are geographically displaced.
  • Collaborate More – Meetings will now allow Pre-loaded meeting attachments and have In-call co-authoring. In-call authoring allows multiple people to work together on a single document right from within a meeting.
  • More High availability – There is now support with SQL Server AlwaysOn
  • Better Reporting – Call quality dashboard to provide richer reporting options
  • Modern meetings – Partnering with vendors such as Crestron, Polycom and Smart, the Modern Meetings will be connecting people and businesses together using meeting devices that will operate with the Skype Room Systems. If you are already using the Lync Room Systems no worries it will be able to upgrade to Skype Room Systems.

For those us not on the bleeding edge of change, thankfully Microsoft provided ways to delay the update. You can either block the update from being downloaded from Microsoft updates or use Powershell Cmdlets that would provide administrators to control the updated change to Lync clients.  Lync Servers can be prevented from being updated by not installing the update.

Spoiler Alert for anyone that has blocked the update from being downloaded!

As administrators found out the Powershell Cmdlets was only a half attempt of controlling the client’s interface, use the existing Lync interface or get the new Skype for Business. The update still changed the Lync icon to Skype for Business and the Lync Meeting plug-in button in Outlook was now Skype for Business. Every time you created a new meeting it was now reflected as a ‘Skype Meeting’ and not Lync Meeting.

 

My Skype is Broken!

Since Skype and Skype for Business are two separate products you can run both versions together on the same computer. In organizations that have BYOD or allow non-business applications to be installed on company computers, this could be a headache for the helpdesk. Take for instance a user calls in saying they have an issue with Skype. The help desk will need to remember to identify which version of Skype the user is calling about or they could be troubleshooting the wrong Skype.

Just an In-Place upgrade?

Skype for Business is easy to upgrade to using the in-place upgrade option but there are considerations that should be taken into account when you do in place upgrade. Does your current hardware meet the requirements for Skype for Business? An in place upgrade does not guarantee performance will be the same. The upgrade also adds the call the quality dashboard. A component that was not in the Lync deployments and requires an additional SQL database.

Let’s Skype!

Overall I think it’s a great move on Microsoft’s part with the re-branding, even with it’s a set of headaches, will allow companies to communicate better with each other and their partners they do business with. With some communication and planning an upgrade or deployment of Skype for Business can be successful.

Remove Hidden Devices From Servers

One of the things I do after a successful P2V of a server is do some cleanup on the newly virtualized server. Cleaning up involves uninstalling any software , such as Broadcom  and Dell Open Manage software, that is no longer needed for the server. I also perform clean up of the any old or removed devices through the servers Device Manager that may still be lingering around. Removing these hidden or ghost devices can prevent or  fix any issues you may have with the vm.

To remove the hidden devices you will need to go to Device Manager and tell it to Show Hidden Devices, the devices will be displayed in a lighter shade than the installed devices. However, after performing many P2Vs , I found out that Device Manager doesn’t display all the devices that server may have had at one point.

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One would think by selecting this view everything would magically appear based on the fact that we just told Device Manager to “show hidden devices”. Since we are dealing with Windows and something that would be logical isn’t, we can the modify the registry  to see these “hidden” devices . Once the registry value has been added ,reboot the server then you will be able to see all those hidden devices that were never uninstalled and you can properly uninstall them.

Add the following Registry Settings

Registry Settings
System Key: [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTE\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Environment]
Value Name: DEVMGR_SHOW_NONPRESENT_DEVICES
Data Type: REG_SZ (String Value)
Value Data: (1 = show all hidden devices)

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After Rebooting the server go back into Device Manager < Select Show Hidden Devices again and you will now see the hidden devices shaded lighter.

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To remove a device , right click on the device and select uninstall.

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You may be prompted to confirm that you want to remove the device , select OK and the device will be removed.

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You can remove hidden devices  on VMs or even physical servers  that has been running for a while as part of overall server maintenance plan to keep your servers running in tip top shape.

TechEd 2014 – It’s more than KoolAid and Swag

IT conferences are a place where us nerds flock to a designated destination to discuss all things IT related and get your yearly supply of vendor t-shirts. Microsoft’s TechEd conference is no different and this year it’s held on  May 12-15 in Houston, TX. Tech conferences are more than the KoolAid and who has the best swag, it’s also about the parties/events and the people you meet there. The networking that one can do at a tech conference is amazing; you have vendors and IT professionals all in one location at your disposal. Making those connections can mean new business deals or even a job, you never know the sky’s the limit.  Not only are you building your IT professional network but attending social events after hours keeps you from watching re-runs on TV in hotel room. Who really wants to do that? Not I.

If you are new to TechEd or don’t know where to start with all this social activity I’ve made a list of some events that you may want to check out.  You never know you may even run into me at one these events…

Sunday Night 5/11/2014

  • The Krewe Meet and Greet at House of Blues – 7:30pm – 10:30pm

Kick off TechEd by meeting members of the world famous #TheKrewe- #TheKrewe is a community organized professional networking group. Their mission is to build a dynamic networking community through various activities and gatherings that extend beyond TechEd. The event is on a wait list but email  meetngreet@iamkrewe.org  to try to get yourself on the wait list.

Monday Night 5/12/2014

  • TechEd Expo Welcome Reception – 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Tuesday Night 5/13/2014

  •  Petri IT Author Meet and Greet –  5:00pm- 7:00pm

Come meet the authors of Petri IT knowledgebase (including myself!) sponsored by Veeam and Proximal Data.
The following Petri authors, contributors, and editors should be in attendance:

Aidan Finn – @joe_elway
Damian Flynn – @Damian_Flynn
Phoummala Schmitt – @PhoummalaSchmit
Jeff James – @JeffJames3
Daniel Petri – @p3daniel
Peter De Tender – @pdtit
J. Peter Bruzzese – @jpbruzzese
Mary Branscombe – @marypcbuk
Simon Bisson – @sbisson
Jonathan Hassell – @jghassell
Jeffrey Hicks – @jeffhicks

Space will be limited – RSVP ticket by clicking on the following link and registering for the event http://www.eventbrite.com/e/petri-it-knowledgebase-author-meet-and-greet-at-microsoft-teched-2014-tickets-11225258049

  • Join NetApp for craft beer, food and fun at Saint Arnold Brewing Company- 4:30–7:30 p.m

Stop by at the Netapp Booth with your TechEd Badge before Tuesday for an invite and party badge.Transportation to and from will be provided. Pick up will begin at 4:15 p.m. and runs through

5:30 p.m. outside of Hall F at the George R Brown Convention Center. Just look for the

NetApp logos.

  • Veeam TechEd Party at House of Blues – 8:00pm – 11:00pm

To register for the Party Apply  stop by at the Veeam booth or pre-register here: http://go.veeam.com/teched_party_2014.html

  • CommVault TechEd Jam Session at House of Blues- 9:00pm – 1:00am

Come hang out with your fellow attendees and see who has some musical talent. If you’re not into singing or jamming on stage just sit back relax and enjoy a beer, you might even see me swinging by.

Wednesday night 5/14/2014

  • TechExpo Happy Hour and Best of TechEd North America 2014 Awards – 5:00pm – 6:00pm

The purpose of the UC Roundtable is to gather Exchange and Lync admins, MCMs, MVPs, Exchange product group members, architects, and experts for a free-flowing discussion about issues, questions, and experiences related to Exchange, Office 365, and Lync Server.  If you work with Exchange, Office 365, or Lync you need to be at this party. Come join other Exchange and Lync admins, MCMs, MVPs, Exchange product group members, architects, and experts to discussion about issues, questions, and experiences.

Please RSVP to jeff@expta.com for event details and location

  • Scheduled Maintenance Party hosted by ENow – 9:00pm – 12:00am

The awesome folks at ENow are bringing all of us Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint admins much needed “Scheduled Maintenance”. This is a party you don’t want to miss. It will be EPIC!

You can also stop by the ENow booth for more details.

Go to http://schedulemymaintenance.com to request a pass.

  • Meet the DevExpress Team at TechEd and Lucky Strike Houston! – 7:00pm -11:00pm

Come meet the DevExpress Team and enjoy a night of cocktails, appetizers and bowling.

RSVP as soon as possible @ rsvp@devexpress.com

Thursday night 5/15/2014

  • TechEd 2014 Closing Party at Minute Maid Park – 7:30pm 11:00pm

Close out TechEd by enjoying an evening at Minute Maid Park where attendees have exclusive access to the entire park. There will be lots of food, drinks, music, games, and activities. You must have your wrist bracelet to attend party. Guests of attendees can purchase tickets for the party , see information/registration desk at convention hall.

If you need a daytime guide for TechEd, check out some of these sites:

My Thoughts on TechEd 2013

I was recently just asked what my thoughts were on TechEd 2013 after just returning from the conference in New Orleans. My first instinct was to say “It was great, had a fabulous time!” but I figured I should sit on the question a little bit and really think about how I really felt. I would not have been lying if I simply just said I had great time because I did. New Orleans is an exciting city with so much activity how can one not have a good time down there? So…what are my thoughts on TechEd 2013?

I thought it was a good conference overall but felt content was a little weak in some areas. The Azure sessions were good though, especially for someone just getting into it. You can definitely tell the push was Azure and the all things cloud. If you didn’t get that hint I have no idea which conference you were attending. There good buzz around SCCM 2012 R2, Visual Studio and of course Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2. Now content related to Exchange was weak & lacking any real excitement which was expected because MEC is just around the corner. For those that don’t know what MEC is, it’s the Microsoft Exchange Conference where all the IT Professionals of the Exchange world gather to discuss and learn all things Exchange.

As an Exchange admin I am excited for MEC but think it hurts TechEd content because it seems as if Microsoft holds back on big announcements at TechEd. In my opinion they should stick with TechEd and stop the focused conferences. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that the Exchange community can get together and bring out our Exchange geekness together. It’s just sometimes too much to try to attend all these conferences, most businesses can’t afford to send people to both TechEd and a specialty conference. It’s not only the cost of conference but the time away from the office that businesses need to take into account, with IT shops running thin; sending people away can be a real issue.

If Microsoft were to combine the conferences again it can make TechEd even easier to attend for someone that is struggling to choose between which conferences to go to. TechEd is great a conference because you can connect with all sorts of IT professionals not just your specialty and you have the option to take sessions that is outside of what you typical attend at MEC or any other specialty conference. One of the big values of attending one of these tech conferences is the networking, making the contacts that you normally wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere. If being able to do it at one place that’s even better for someone that can’t get away from the office all the time.

So that’s how I really feel, it’s not right or wrong, just an opinion.