Grammar Checking and Spelling Goes Cloud in Word 2016

Microsoft has released a new service called “Editor” which provides the equivalent of the grammar and spell check in previous versions of Word.  Editor provides these tools now as a cloud based service that uses more advanced analytics and human experts to identify issues.

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The key advantage over the traditional spell check or grammar check features in Word is the Editor service will improve over time as it reads through and digests millions of supplied text samples and the rules and suggestions are augmented based on feedback from experts and users. 

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Microsoft Unveils New Bookings App for Office 365

Microsoft has unveiled a new application as part of Office 365 that enables businesses to provide bookings for appointments, orders or service requests online as a service to their customers.

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Bookings is available for First Release customers with roll-out world wide in the next few months. 

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Bookings represents an interesting return to anonymous, public facing web sites since Microsoft shut down the public facing web site as a service option in Office 365.  Customers will not need to authenticate or be an Office 365 customer themselves – they can book with a name and an email address.

Bookings also represents a move by Microsoft to provide more specialized, fit for purpose applications within Office 365 instead of focusing on generic platforms such as document management, search, etc. 

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Microsoft Revamps Office 365 Video Portal with new Microsoft Stream

Microsoft has revamped its Office 365 Video Portal, transitioning it to a new Azure based video services called Microsoft Stream.  In a similar way to how Microsoft has moved Power BI into its own service, Microsoft Stream represents an independent video service that can be used in conjunction with Office 365 or independently as an pure streaming service.

Getting started

The Office 365 Video Portal was baked into the Office 365 subscription plan – it’s not clear how the new Microsoft Stream will be priced either in conjunction with an existing Office 365 subscription plan or independent of such a plan. 

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Azure Data Warehouse is Released to General Availability

Microsoft has just announced the release of Azure Data Warehouse to general availability.  Azure DW is a fully managed data warehouse that leverages elastic and hyper scale database cloud technologies to provide massively scalable SQL capabilities. 

Azure SQL Data Warehouse uses an elastic massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture built on top of the industry-leading SQL Server 2016 database engine. It allows you to interactively query and analyze data using the broad set of existing SQL-based tools and business intelligence applications that you use today. It uses column stores for high performance analytics and storage compression, a rich collection of aggregation capabilities of SQL Server, and state of the art query optimization capabilities. With built-in capabilities such as Polybase, it allows you to query Hadoop systems directly, enabling a single SQL-based query surface for all your data.

Azure DW comes with a number of features including polybase for combining HD Insight and SQL queries, very fast scaling,  transparent encryption, auditing, threat detection and Active Directory integration. 

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Azure SQL Always Encrypted Now Generally Available

Microsoft has just announced that their “Always Encrypted” feature for Azure SQL has now been released to General Availability.

Always Encrypted allows you to consistently store columns of data within SQL tables as encrypted data.  The encryption/decryption happens at the .NET calling layer so that the underlying data at rest is always encrypted.  In order to encrypt/decrypt the calling application has to be registered, have sufficient permissions and access to the encryption keys.

By leveraging Always Encrypted, any DBA level access has no ability to decrypt the data without going through the application tier.  Any direct SQL call will result in encrypted data being returned.

Another advantage to this approach is selective column encryption – only columns specified by the schema are encrypted such as personal information, credit card numbers, etc.

Always in Encrypted in Azure SQL Database

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Updated Visio Stencil for Office 365 Just Released

Microsoft has updated its Visio Stencil for Office 365 that includes a number of symbols for building diagrams related to Office 365.   The stencils can be downloaded here.

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The stencils seem to work much better in this version in that the captions appear at the bottom instead of in the middle and they work properly with themes.

Old Version

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New Version

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However, I also notice that some of the shapes from the 2012 and 2014 versions have not been carried forward so you may still want these versions of the stencil and they are still available for download.

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Microsoft Launches New Integrated Dynamics Offering and New App Store for Partner Solutions

Microsoft has launched new versions of its ERP and CRM cloud offerings and coming soon will be integrating them into a single service – Dynamics 365.  In a similar way to Office 365 which integrates Exchange, SharePoint, Skype and Office, Dynamics 365 will provide integrated bundles of Dynamics CRM, NAV, and AX as cloud offerings.

In addition, Microsoft has a new app store for business solutions from third party vendors that can be deployed to the dynamics products.  Using the new AppSource, Dynamics users can easily pull in third party apps into their cloud offering as needed.

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Need an Archiving Solution? Check Out Azure Cool Blob Storage…

Microsoft has introduced a new concept in storage – “Cool” blob storage.  This storage is designed for archive scenarios where availability isn’t quite as demanding and where access requirements are lower.  Cool storage is significantly cheaper to store data but more expensive to access it, ideal for long term archives, backups, etc. where the need is primarily storage and not frequent access.

Storage prices are significantly cheaper in cool storage, as low as $0.01 per GB compared to $0.024 per GB. 

Third party backup software providers such as Commvault and Veritas will support selection of either Hot or Cool storage within their backup solutions. 

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Key Considerations when Migrating from SharePoint 2003

We have completed a number of migrations recently, including several from SharePoint 2003 to either Office 365 or SharePoint 2016.  With such an old platform, one is bound to have challenges and any SharePoint migration requires significant planning and testing to ensure content comes over appropriately.

With SharePoint 2003, there are a few additional quirks due to the original architecture of the platform that we have run into that need some additional planning and testing.

Good Luck with Database Migration

In theory, you can do a straight database migration of your SharePoint 2003 content database to SharePoint 2016.  However, there is no direct route – you have to migrate through each version of SharePoint.  From 2003 to 2016, these means you need to hop from 2003 to 2007 to 2010 to 2013 to 2016.

In our experience, leveraging a good third party tool such as Metalogix will help because these tools allow for a direct copying from SharePoint 2003 to 2016 with no steps in between.  We have used this approach successfully and recommend it for very old versions of SharePoint.

Weird URL Structure

SharePoint 2003 doesn’t have the modern friendly URL structures and site paths that you see in modern web sites or later versions of SharePoint.  If you do an inventory of sites, you will see a lot of URLs that are not user friendly such as http://xxx.com/C1/C16 or http://xxx.com/C3/C20.  In our experience, these URLs are not even consistently organized hierarchically, e.g. you cannot assume that C1/C16/default.aspx is a subsite of C1/default.aspx.

This will pose a challenge when migrating because it means your sites will need to be remapped as they are copied over – ideally replacing these arbitrary URLs with more friendly ones.

This is also a change management problem because SharePoint 2003 didn’t have any concept of social bookmarks or favourites.  End users now likely have bookmarks in their browser or email that will no longer work properly.  As these URLs change, you’ll need a communications strategy to ensure that end users can still find their sites.

One Page per Site

SharePoint 2003 didn’t have the WCMS features of future versions such as SharePoint 2007 or 2010.  Each site in 2003 is a collaboration site only with one default page per site.  In future versions of SharePoint, you can have publishing turned on and enable multiple pages per site.

As a result, you’ll see lots of site proliferation as users created a new site every time they needed a page.  When you move to the latest version of SharePoint, you’ll have to make some decisions on how to rationalize all these sites into a simpler site map that can now support multiple pages in a single site.

Invalid Users and Permissions

How many employees in your organization were working there in 2003?  When we inventory SharePoint 2003 farms, we find many cases where site permissions are assigned to users who no longer work for the organization.  In addition, we find key fields such as Created By or Modified By where the user in SharePoint 2003 doesn’t exist in the new SharePoint 2016 environment. 

Using a good third party migration tool, we can remap these users so that we can flag them for further analysis.  For example, we can create a user called “Invalid” and map any documents or sites that have invalid permissions to that user so that we can find these documents and update them.  We can also provide these tools with mapping so that if in SharePoint 2003 I’m “cwoodill” and in SharePoint 2016 I’m “chriswoodill” we can map the old user permissions to the new account.

Lots of Customizations

SharePoint 2003 was pretty limited, which led to many customizations as users added their own branding, site templates, and views.  These customizations included custom site templates, list templates, site definitions, etc.  In moving to the latest versions of SharePoint, many of these customizations can be retired or replaced with new techniques and designs. 

However, this doesn’t solve the challenge of having thousands of sites which are currently utilizing these customizations and will need to be updated to leverage either new out of the box functionality, migrated customizations or new customizations. 

Migrations are Always High Risk

Migrations are always high risk because they involve a significant amount of technical challenges as well as testing requirements.  With SharePoint, there are multiple layers in the platform that need to be migrated including settings, permissions, customizations, sites and content.  Each of these can require significant testing especially for sites that were heavily customized.

Having migrated several SharePoint implementations in the past 12-18 months, I can attest that migrations are not easy and require significant expertise.  If you need help with yours, feel free to contact me and we can share our experience.

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