Microsoft Azure Growth Rate Continues to Accelerate While Amazon Growth Rate Slows

Synergy Research has published a comparison of cloud service growth rates based on the latest two quarters from Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce. 

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While the overall market has grown by 45%, Microsoft is far and away has the fastest growth rate and is now the clear #2 in market share behind Amazon.  Amazon’s growth rate in the meantime has slowed considerably.

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Public Folders vs. Site Mailboxes vs. Document Libraries vs. Shared Mailboxes

Microsoft has increased the limit on the number of public folders available in Office 365 to 100,000 folders, which is a 10x increase in capacity. 

Public Folders in Exchange admin center

In Exchange 2013 (or Office 365), there is also now a new feature called “Site Mailboxes” which represent a new way to collaborate by allowing users to store both email and documents in a SharePoint document repository.  There is also a new concept in Exchange 2013 called a Shared Mailbox which allows you to make it easier for groups of users to send emails from a common account.

There is also the traditional SharePoint document library which allows you store just about any kind of document in it and provides access to content via SharePoint search, browse, etc. 

With so many options, this opens up the key governance question, “Which mail/collaboration option is appropriate?”. 

Here is a quick comparison of the options available and in what scenarios they could be used.

SharePoint Document Libraries

  • Documents are stored in SharePoint which comprehensive document management and records management features.
  • Document libraries can be “mail enabled” which means that you can assign the document library an email address and any email messages sent to that address will be stored in the document library.
  • There are configuration settings to decide on how to store attachments and enable security as to who can send emails
  • Document libraries can be surfaced directly in Outlook in the same way as a public folder by adding the URL of the document library to your Outlook favorites.

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Site Mailboxes

  • Key requirement for Outlook integration – Office 2013 on the desktop or use the Office 365 web app
  • Emails are still stored in Exchange
  • Site mailbox is an app that you add to your SharePoint site.
  • Once you have created a site mailbox, you can’t change it’s email address.
  • Site mailboxes are designed for teams collaborating by email and by documents by storing team emails and documents together in SharePoint.
  • Invoking the site mailbox is done by cc’ing the email address of the site mailbox. 
  • You can add folders from your site mailbox to your outlook favorites so that it is directly visible in Outlook.
  • When viewing a site mailbox from outlook, both email and documents are visible.
  • You can add documents by attaching them to an email message.
  • Security is driven by SharePoint team site permissions – if you have access to the team site, then you have access to the site mailbox.Sharing documents through outlook means that Outlook generates links to the SharePoint document library instead of attachments!

Public Folders

  • Public folders and all the content within them are stored in Exchange.
  • Public folders have been around for ages, so they work well with enterprises with older versions of Office still deployed.
  • Documents stored in Exchange don’t have the benefits of SharePoint document libraries (e.g. workflows, version control, metadata, etc.) and aren’t visible within SharePoint
  • Public folders can be mail enabled so that any emails sent to an email address are routed to a public folder.

Shared Mailboxes

  • Designed to provide a generic email address that can customers can use to send emails to a team.
  • Access to shared mailboxes governed by Exchange permissions.
  • Allows users to monitor and reply to an email
  • Reply email address is the shared mailbox email address

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Power Map Now Supports Auto Tour Refresh

One of the ways that Power Map is being used is for kiosks or large public displays– you can create a tour of your BING map, layer on some data from Power Pivot and then have Power Map replay your tour on a loop.

In the latest Power Map update, you can also set up your tour to be on “Auto Refresh” and this will update the underlying data in the Power Pivot model every 10 minutes, ensuring that your display is showing the latest data and to display geo-located data points on a map in near real time.

A good example of a Power Map tour can be found in this video:

Power Map Demo

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Power BI Q&A Now Supports Customization of Natural Language Vocabulary

One of Microsoft’s Power BI features is the support for natural language based querying on Power Pivot models.  You can see a demo of this feature through a demo site that Microsoft has created using World Cup data.

Introduction video on Power BI Q&A

 

As I previously posted, the results are mixed – some phrases work well while others miss the mark.   As a cloud service, the results over time are expected to improve as Microsoft’s BING based machine learning algorithms optimize the query language.

Microsoft has now provided the ability to add your own “phrasings” to your data model using Office 365.  Microsoft calls this “Cloud Modeling” and you can optimize your model from the Power BI Site Settings Menu by adding your own custom phrasings and synonyms.

 

Optimize permissions are granted automatically to the person who uploaded the workbook.  In addition, they can be granted by the SharePoint Administrator.

For more detailed information on Q&A optimization, see this article.

The following are the types of custom vocabulary and grammar items you can add to your model:

  • Synonyms: add additional terms for tables, columns or field names in your model.  For example, if your table has a column called “Country” you might want to have a synonym for “Region” or “Location” depending on your context.
  • Phrases: add custom phrases based on nouns, adjectives, verbs and prepositions that resolve to queries in your data model.  These can be added to resolve ambiguities in user queries.

Power BI auto generates both of these based on your Power Pivot model when you upload your Excel workbook to SharePoint.   The customization feature allows you to add additional terms and grammar to help users search more effectively.

In addition to this customization, Power BI also provides a usage report that allows you to monitor how effective and usable queries are for your users.  Users have the ability to rate the search results and flag questions that didn’t match their expectations.  This will allow you to see how your tuning of the language models are improving the overall search effectiveness of your models.

Optimize Usage tab

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Nintex Announces New Salesforce Workflow Integration to Augment Microsoft’s Salesforce Partnership

For those unfamiliar, Nintex Forms and Nintex Workflow are a suite of products that sit on top of SharePoint and provide a web based designer for development of online forms and business process workflows.  We have used their products for years and we recommend them over using SharePoint Designer (hard to deploy and re-use, lots of governance issues) or Visual Studio (developer centric) in cases where business users want to build their own forms and business process workflows.

Nintex Workflow Overview

Nintex announced today that their Nintex Workflow product will provide business process workflow integration between Office 365, Salesforce and Dynamics CRM.    Scenarios for integration could include:

  • Drive business processes in SharePoint in response to events in CRM so work flows better between previously siloed systems
  • Automate the process of creating, updating, retrieving, and querying records in Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics using simple drag-and-drop workflow actions
  • Post status updates, links and polls to Salesforce Chatter or Microsoft Yammer, and progress workflows based on user responses in social channels

Nintex has also announced that they have partnered with DocuSign to integrate digital signature management into their workflow product.

SalesForce has been a competitor for Microsoft for several years now, in particular with its existing product, Dynamics CRM.  Microsoft has a web page dedicated to illustrating why Dynamics CRM is better than Salesforce.

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At the end of May, Microsoft announced a strategic partnership with Salesforce.  This partnership promises deeper integration between Salesforce and Microsoft including:

  • Native Windows Phone Support
  • Sharing of Office 365 Documents in Salesforce
  • Integration of OneDrive with Salesforce
  • Using Salesforce within Outlook
  • Use of Microsoft SQL Server as the database for ExactTarget (one of Salesforce’s products)
  • Integration of Salesforce apps into Office 365
  • Querying of Salesforce data in Power Query / Power BI

As with Oracle and SAP, Microsoft engages in co-opetition, partnering on some initiatives such as cloud hosting, integration and sharing while competing fiercely on other fronts.

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Create an Entire SharePoint Farm on Azure in less than an Hour!

Azure has always provided a gallery for servers that you can provision as virtual machines.  The new Azure portal provides now the ability to provision collections of servers all provisioned to work together and are ready to go quickly.

A good example where this is really helpful is provisioning a high available SharePoint farm.  In Azure, you had to create each server, network configuration, etc. manually through a series of steps.  This article is a good example that describes all the steps to create a basic SharePoint farm in Azure.  It’s quite a lengthy process.

Microsoft has now released a new template that will provision an entire highly available SharePoint farm for you through the gallery wizard.

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The new SharePoint Farm wizard creates all the required servers including your AD, SQL, and SharePoint servers all preconfigured and ready to go for a high availability farm!

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Satya Nadella’s Message to Microsoft Employees: Be Bolder, More Ambitious and More Innovative

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella released his FY15 employee memo today.  His message to employees: Be Bolder, More Ambitious and More Innovative.

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At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

Microsoft at its core has always been a software platform company that dabbles into direct consumer and/or business experiences.  Windows, Office, Developer Tools, Cloud, etc. are all enablers to some other person or company creating a solution that impacts a customer.  Azure is a platform that only sings when lots of businesses use it to create business solutions, empower their customers and innovate.

Interestingly, one of the few direct consumer experience brands, XBOX, gets special mention.  There are has been some media speculation that Microsoft might sell off XBOX but in his memo, Nadella positions XBOX has another key platform and one in particular that is driving innovation by pushing the boundaries of cloud, mobile, interactive experience, massive networking, etc.

How Do We Leverage this “Productivity Platform”?

What do we mean by “productivity” in this new era?  It means harnessing these new platforms to create massively disruptive businesses that engage customers in a different way than traditional businesses. 

Thoughtworks published an interesting article and keynote video that describes how the integration of Big Data, Ubiquitous Touch and Cloud create a radically different platform than the web and traditional IT stack of ten years ago, leading to new ways to create customer engagement.

These new enterprises have shifted from traditional 19th century top down organization structures to networked communities of employees, partners and customers all working together to create value. 

Ecosystem View of the Next Generation Enterprise for 2014: Workforce Community, Customer Community, Partner Community, Market, Social Business

 

So can Microsoft’s venerable technologies such as SharePoint, Dynamics, .NET, Windows and Office be transformed into a platform that supports businesses ambitious plans to harness cloud, mobile, and data into next generation enterprises?  This is the mission that Satya Nadella’s has established in his short tenure at the top…looking forward to see whether this can be delivered and as a Microsoft partner our mission is to help businesses harness these new platforms to deliver innovative new ways to disrupt the market.

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SharePoint Site Collection Best Practices – Lessons From the Field

Site CollectionWe have been conducting some migration analysis and SharePoint planning for a couple of our clients and as part of it we did an inventory on their site collection structure.  We found two contrasting site collection deployment strategies:

  • Client 1 has 4 site collections in their SharePoint 2007 farm, each with more than 500 GB of documents.  Each site collection was stored in its own content database.
  • Client 2 has created site collections for every small team, department, etc.  Anyone who wanted a site essentially got their own site collection.  They have 400 site collections for ~600 GB of content and about ~2500 sites.

A Site Collection in SharePoint is perhaps the most important logical boundary in the farm.  However, when we perform assessments on SharePoint programs for our clients, we find that the Site Collection is very often abused or misused to the point where it has a direct impact on the effectiveness of the platform.  People don’

I have put together a presentation that is now available on slideshare that outlines recommendations on the use of the Site Collection based on industry best practices and our own direct experience. 

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