Microsoft Extends Data Loss Prevention to SharePoint Online and One Drive for Business

Microsoft has extended its Data Loss Prevention service to SharePoint Online and One Drive for Business.  Office 365 has previously had DLP for Exchange Online and Outlook.

Note also that this is only available in Office 365 – it is not available on premise.

Data Loss Prevention provides the ability for users to search for sensitive content within the eDiscovery Center.  A good example of using DLP is creating a search that finds matches for documents that have credit card numbers in them or social security numbers.

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The DLP tools provide 51 sensitive information types that can be used to flag documents.  If you review the list, you can see Microsoft has implemented a few international standards such as Australia Driver’s License Number, Canada Health Service Number, etc. as well as US standards.  You can also define your own DLP types.

The current version of DLP only allows you to run a report and export the list of documents.  It does not automatically apply a policy to remedy the situation such as changing the offending documents permissions or deleting the documents.  This type of functionality will be implemented in future releases

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New Release of Power BI Data Management Gateway Enables Many New Data Sources for Refresh

One of the key components of the Power BI service is the Data Management Gateway.  The Data Management Gateway is a client agent that is installed within your on premise infrastructure to shuttle data from your on premise environment to Power BI running on Office 365.

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Configuration of the refresh is done through the Power BI for Office Admin Center.

When the Data Management Gateway was first released, it was limited to fetching data from SQL Server and Oracle.  With the latest version, all Power Query data sources which include a wide variety of data repositories including Hadoop, SAP Business Objects, Active Directory, Exchange, ODBC data sources, etc. are supported for refresh.

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Azure SQL DB Price Reductions Up to 50% Starting in September

Azure SQL is Microsoft’s PAAS SQL database service (not to be confused with running your own SQL Server on an IAAS Virtual Machine).  It provides a highly scalable, cloud based SQL database that can support up to 500 GB of storage.

In addition, Microsoft has redesigned its service tiers focusing on providing dedicated performance to customers who need it while reducing the price and cost of entry for those basic database users. 

Microsoft has just announced new pricing changes to the Azure SQL offering:

  • Premium and Standard price reductions:  Final pricing will reflect up to 50% savings from previously-published pricing.  Updated pricing will help more customers benefit from higher performance and greater business continuity.
  • New S0 performance level:  Within the Standard service tier, we will offer a new S0 performance level.  This new lower cost entry point will enable more customers to benefit from the features in the Standard tier. Performance levels provide a defined level of throughput that can be easily dialed up or down, based on performance demands.
  • Hourly billing:  Azure SQL Database will move to hourly billing for the new service tiers.  This will provide customers with greater flexibility to shift between service tiers and performance levels, based on demand patterns, to gain cost-effective, reliable performance.

In addition, the SLA for the service will be 99.99% availability.

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Microsoft Will Only Support the Latest IE Browser by 2016–Are You Prepared?

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Microsoft just announced an important change in their policy for providing support for web browsers. 

Starting in 2016, only the most current version of Internet Explorer will receive technical support and security updates.

For those of you running Windows 7 or 8, this means IE 11 and for Windows Vista this means IT 9.  By 2016, this could mean the next version of IE if it is available.

This can pose some challenges with organizations who have custom or third party applications that only work with older browsers.  For example, we have clients who have applications that break or have not been properly tested to work beyond IE 9.

What happens if customers don’t move to the latest browser by the end of support on January 12, 2016?

Customers have until January 12, 2016, to upgrade their browser after which time the previous versions of Internet Explorer will reach end of support. End of support means there will be no more security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options, or online technical content updates.

For those using SharePoint, the current browser support for SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013 is the last TWO releases, e.g. both Internet Explorer 11 and Internet Explorer 10. 

Office 365 is designed to work with the current or immediately previous version of Internet Explorer. We recommend that you upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer after it is released. Office 365 might continue to work with versions of Internet Explorer other than the current and immediately previous versions for some time after the release of a new version of Internet Explorer, but Office 365 can’t provide any guarantees.

It’s not clear how these two policies will be resolved and whether SharePoint will continue to support the past two browser releases in the future. 

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How Many SharePoint Web Applications and Application Pools Do You Need? Default to ONE!

In SharePoint on premise, you can create multiple web applications.  A web application controls security, administrative settings and URLs for your SharePoint portal.  Each web app has its own domain name, authentication mechanism and set of application services.  Web applications live within a IIS Site with an application pool.  Once you have a web application, you can create one or more site collections and sites.

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So how many web applications do you need?  The basic answer should be ONE. 

When we review current state SharePoint implementations, we find that some customers have created multiple web applications to segment their SharePoint farm into zones.  However, this can create some significant performance impacts to your farm and to the underlying IIS server.

There is a really interesting article just published that describes the impact of creating a new web application with its own application pool, a web application added to an existing application pool or a host named site collection.   In testing each of these scenarios, they tested the amount of RAM consumed by adding these new resources:

  • Adding a new web application with its own application pool: 400 MB of RAM consumed
  • Add a new web application to an existing application pool: 59 MB of RAM
  • Add a host named site collection to an existing application pool: 2 MB of RAM

Note that these numbers reflect just starting up an empty web application with no content, no users, no load.  Another article describes some more real world conditions and this is a pretty clear warning on the disadvantages of creating multiple web applications and/or application pools:

Both Steve and Spencer made a point of emphasizing that performance issues will likely be encountered even before 10 application pools is hit: “If you had 5 App pools all busy then you could easily consume 24GB+ of memory and all four cores very easily on a 64bit WFE Server”. So although 10 is the documented figure, it is neither a “magic number” nor a hard limit imposed by the software and depends largely on farm usage (think user requests and service applications, particularly resource hogs such as Performance Point).

In addition, if you move to Office 365, keep in mind that there is only one web application in your subscription and you have limited administrative control over it.

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Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part and Faceted Navigation now available on SharePoint Online for Intranet

Microsoft has just announced that the Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part will now be available on SharePoint Online.  This web part has been available in the on premise version of SharePoint 2013 but not available online until now.

The Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part (TRPWP) is similar in both name and functionality to the Refinement Web Part (RWP). With the RWP, visitors can filter content that’s displayed on a page; for example, they can filter to display only items that have the color red. The Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part also allows visitors to filter content that’s displayed on a page. But the TRPWP differs from the RWP in two ways: the filters it uses are the categories from the site’s navigation, and it can display category-specific editorial content.

The TRPWP is particularly designed for those intranets that are using managed navigation and category pages.  The TRPWP enables the experience of filtering search results and editorial content based on the managed navigation terms.

Taxonomy Refinement Panel Web Part

In addition, Microsoft has now enabled faceted navigation in SharePoint Online which provides the ability to have a single page that has different filters depending which category is being displayed.  In this example, the filters for the Laptops page is different than the filters for the Printers page. 

Faceted Navigation

These sites are only available for intranet use – despite the sample pictures showing an e-commerce site, you cannot deploy these features to a public web site.  In addition, you need the Enterprise E3 or E4 subscription to have these features available.

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Introducing Microsoft’s Azure Search Service

Microsoft has just announced the preview of its new search service.  You can provision the service using the standard Azure Portal.

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The search service is a text indexing programmable engine for searching across any type of document or data that you can feed it.  One of the cool features is that the API looks to be quite open ended in that you can create indexes based on any kind of text data structure and with user defined indexes for metadata.  Populating the indexes is done using a REST API and results are returned in JSON format.

A couple key feature notes for the current version of the service:

  • Indexing is only on text input only, e.g. you cannot upload word documents and have the search engine parse them.  You would have to parse your own content and then send in the result text to the engine.
  • English is the only supported language at the moment, although additional languages will be available in future releases.
  • There is no built in concept of personalization or filtering by identity.  The query syntax supports a filter query but you would need to program the connection of identity to the filtering query.

The search service includes a concept of scoring profile that allows you adjust how search results are ranked.  In the current version of the service, the scoring profile allows you to boost results based on:

  • Freshness: the age of the document
  • Magnitude: scoring values stored in your metadata (e.g. star rating)
  • Distance: geographic distance (based on lon,lat data you store in the index) from a provided reference location (e.g. you could supply the current user’s position)

Stay tuned for some future experiments in using this service! 

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Microsoft Azure Expands Its NoSQL Offering With Launch of Azure DocumentDB

Microsoft has just announced the launch of a new Azure service – the Azure DocumentDB.  DocumentDB is a type of NoSQL database called a Document Database focused on storing data structures as self-describing tree structures instead of as traditional relational databases with tables, rows and columns.  DocumentDB uses JSON as its core format for storing data structures, support massive storage requirements (Microsoft is claiming testing on hundreds of terrabytes with millions of queries per day) with REST APIs for querying.  Microsoft has also provided .NET, Node.js, Python and Javascript client SDKs.

DocumentDB will compete with open source alternatives that have already gathered significant momentum in the market such as MongoDB and CouchDB.  One of the key differentiators reported so far is improved support for high availability, transactions and scale out than MongoDB or CouchDB. 

Purchasing of DocumentDB as a service will be done through “capacity units” that reserve high performance storage and dedicated performance.  Note that this is quite a different model than the existing Azure Blob Storage and Table Storage models where you always buy a shared service and you only pay per storage unit and not for dedicated performance.

Provisioning a DocumentDB of your own is of course done through the Azure Portal under the Data, storage, cache and backup category.

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You can find some starting tutorials here.

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Great New Example of Microsoft Office Mix

Bill Gates has used the new Microsoft Office Mix technology to create a neat interactive presentation that includes high definition video, slides, annotations and narration.  Check it out as a great example of what can be produced using standard Power Point 2013 combined with the Office Mix technology to deliver as an online teaching tool.

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