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Our key cloud technology predictions for 2021

The pandemic has created a challenging and threatening environment for businesses over the last year. Perhaps a silver lining to a bleak 2020 was that many teams were forced to modernise their IT practices in order to remain buoyant. With mass adoption of cloud technology to enable flexible working, and an unprecedented surge in AI and machine learning, it feels like the future cloud-first era has arrived early. In 2021, however, there are still plenty of ways that cloud technology can evolve. Its explosive growth is unlikely to slow any time soon, and companies will continue to provide innovative offerings to the demanding market. Here are our five predictions for the evolution of cloud technology throughout this year. 5 cloud technology predications 1. Public cloud will increase in dominance Public cloud adoption has increased by 83% since 2010, and Forester research predicts a 35% growth in 2021 alone, as organisations look to utilise its productivity advantages to recover from the ongoing pandemic. SMEs will benefit greatly from public cloud. After a period of rapid digital transformation due to Covid-19, many will be looking to capitalise on their investments and take greater advantage of the valuable tools it can offer. 2. Microsoft will strengthen its position amongst the ‘big three’ cloud providers While Microsoft Azure isn’t experiencing the same revenue spike as it did in the early 2010’s, analysts still believe it’s growing faster than main competitor AWS. This year, researchers expect Microsoft to exceed $25 billion in Azure revenue alone; maintaining strong year on year growth. According to Gartner, Microsoft’s ability to provide “a complete end-to-end set of solutions related to a broad range of workloads and applications” is a one reason Azure is so popular. Microsoft have also focused a lot on developing strategic alignments with major European enterprises, so is well-poised for further expansion. 3. The intelligent technology boom will trigger a demand for cloud-to-edge applications As mentioned, the pandemic has marked a rise in AI, robotics, IoT, and autonomy as businesses look to both reduce human contact and make up for lost productivity. With major benefits to be enjoyed, it’s unlikely businesses will ever switch back to manual processes – even when social distancing is no longer required. Microsoft’s latest IoT report reveals that 64% of companies’ decision makers believe AI and IoT are critical to their success. As a result, cloud providers will see more demand for ‘intelligent edge’ workloads. Automation is driven by data, which must be collected, processed and analysed efficiently. According to Microsoft’s insights, its ‘edge computing’ offerings are valued by businesses for their ability to enable more connectivity via protocol translation, reduce the internet bandwidth burden, and improve privacy. 4. Data governance will be a key focus for IT managers The effects of the pandemic and a general increase in cloud utilisation is creating a world in which IT departments will have to put governance and compliance first every time. Many businesses are already undergoing projects to ensure secure and compliant data migration to the cloud, and this will continue in 2021. However, some analysts also predict that there will be changes to data regulations around the world. Following the EU’s GDPR, a Privacera analyst predicts governments will look to provide individuals with more control over their personal information. The analyst further predicts that compliance tools, such as Microsoft Compliance Manager, are likely to play a more central role in businesses security protocols. 5. Augmented reality will support training and enablement of remote employees The benefits of mixed and augmented reality have been proven since the upturn in remote working. Increasingly, augmented reality technologies will supplement or even replace in-person training, especially in the IT sector. Microsoft’s Remote Assist app provides a first-person view to instructors who will be able to walk new hires through step-by-step training with visual aids. The addition of Windows Autopilot can provide further support. IT professionals can easily pre-configure HoloLens 2 headsets via zero-touch tools and ensure the end-user doesn’t need to perform a complex setup process. Mixed reality headsets can help workers far beyond just training – users can preview products, plan architectural builds, and create virtual experiences for consumers. While predictions aren’t always reality where technology is concerned, the technologies mentioned have been growing in prominence since before the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, all of these predictions will build on lessons learnt throughout 2020 – that flexibility is advantageous, effective communication is key, and data needs protecting now more than ever. Developing technological trends can be difficult for businesses to decipher and respond to, so we are here to support you in understanding which technologies and processes could be key to your business development this year.
View case study >

Small business IT priorities 2021

Looking to 2021, SMBs need to set their IT priorities and leverage technologies to regain efficiency. We’ve listed those priorities here >
View case study >
microsoft cloud assessment

Why book a Microsoft Cloud Assessment?

Learn more about our Microsoft Cloud Assessment service and how it can help you become the business you want to be.
View case study >
cloud vs. on-premise

Cloud vs. on-premise: cost differences

Is cost a key driver in your IT decision making process? As with most business decisions, cost is inevitably a key consideration when choosing between different solutions. When it comes to your IT infrastructure, understanding the cost difference between cloud vs. on-premise IT solutions is an important factor. Here we look at the different costs involved in storing data, and compare cloud storage with on-premise servers. Are you ready for the cloud? Download our Cloud Readiness worksheet to find out > Cost differences between cloud vs. on-premise servers Start up costs It is clearly cheaper to opt for cloud storage over on-premise servers when considering start up costs. The cost of hardware, server room and power needed to implement on-premise storage is far greater than signing up to a cloud solution. Labour costs should also be factored in, setting up a new server and integrating it with your existing IT needs resources. Cloud storage is a clear winner if you’re starting from scratch. Maintenance costs Cloud providers are responsible for all upgrades, patching and other maintenance. You’re responsible for your on-premise servers. While your monthly cloud subscription fee pays for maintenance, as cloud providers use a shared service business model long term it’s a fraction of the cost of maintaining on-premise IT hardware. Day-to-day running costs for on-premise servers are mostly confined to power usage, however regular upgrades are needed to ensure optimal performance and therefore you need to factor in labour costs. Whether this is done by someone in-house, or an external IT technician, these costs add up considerably. Over time cloud storage is cheaper than on-premise. Security costs As with general maintenance, cloud providers are also responsible for implementing and maintaining appropriate security tools. Although it is your organisation’s responsibility for ensuring that data is protected, stored and managed in a compliant way. As well as the cloud provider’s your business may also need to implement security solutions which might range from basic security best practices to additional tools. On-premise servers are your responsibility to protect and ensure that security tools are fit for purpose. Cloud storage providers include IT security tools which may reduce overall costs. Cost of storage Here’s how cloud providers make their money. They charge for storage. While they’ll probably give away some free storage, many will offer between 5GB to 15GB free, many organisations need a lot more than that. On-premise servers are effectively free. Scalability costs Is your organisation growing and may need to increase its data storage? Here’s another cost where cloud storage wins hands down. The cost of increase data storage on-premise, if you’re operating at capacity involves those initial start up costs again. Buying hardware, installing it, having the physical space, an increase in power usage and additional maintenance costs. One of the cloud’s USPs is it’s scalability, you can upgrade your service at a click of a button for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new server. Cloud storage beats on-premise for scalability and respective costs. Legacy costs A major challenge for many organisations is their legacy IT infrastructure. When systems and hardware have been superseded with new technology, maintaining legacy IT infrastructure can be expensive and can limit IT’s ability to develop solutions that support the business proactively. Cloud providers are responsible for their technology and need to be innovative to be competitive. Many businesses choose to use a cloud provider to get access to technology they can’t afford to continually upgrade on-premise. Cloud wins with no legacy costs. Downtime and loss of productivity costs A cost that can be difficult to quantify but an important one. Any disruption to critical systems that causes downtime or a loss of productivity, costs organisations. Cloud providers are not immune from outages and other service disruptions, but on average on-premise solutions experience more downtime than the cloud. In fact, migrating to cloud solutions to reduce the risk of downtime is another common reason that businesses move their storage. Cloud providers use failover solutions to ensure business continuity, and any remedial costs are incurred by them. Cloud providers stipulate their commitment to service uptime and connectivity in Service Level Agreements, which are legally binding. They also set out how they will compensate customers if they fall short. However, it’s important to conduct a risk analysis when considering cloud storage which  includes the cost of downtime on your organisation. Cloud storage may not be risk free but remediation won’t cost your organisation. Total cost of ownership Try out Microsoft Azure’s Total Cost of Ownership Calculator here to get an estimate of the cost savings your organisation could make by moving from on-premise to the cloud. Ultimately, while the cloud offers many benefits and cost savings, it will depend on your organisation, internal capacity, the amount of storage required and your risk analysis whether it’s a better and cheaper solution for you. If you want to discuss any of the subjects raised in this blog post, please get in touch.
View case study >

What is Microsoft Azure and is it safe?

Many enterprises and SMEs are migrating their IT infrastructure to the Microsoft Cloud. Which begs the question "how secure is Azure?"
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difference Office 365 and Microsoft Azure

What’s the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365?

In this post Chad Stigant explains the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365, what they do and whether you need both.
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Azure Active Directory error

AAD Sync Error: Deletion Threshold Reached

Solution to an Azure Active Directory sync error. Learn what to do when the you reach the deletion threshold.
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Azure Active Directory error

AAD Sync / AAD Connect – Passwords not syncing with attribute filtering

Some AAD Sync and AAD Connect customers using Attribute Filtering are experiencing an error. Learn how to set up a script to automate a full password sync to work around this behaviour.
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Two things you didn’t know about Microsoft Azure

Earlier this year Microsoft made some small but very important changes to Azure which you might have missed.This could have a big impact on your decision whether or not to move your services into the cloud.  Two of the most exciting I have included below: 1. Increased limits for OS Disks for Azure Virtual Machines Until recently the largest size for an OS disk in Microsoft Azure was 127GB. This has been increased to 1TB – the same as data disks, enabling even more of your on-premises servers to be moved into the cloud. 2. Azure Backup for Azure Virtual Machines You can now use Azure Backip to perform scheduled or one time backups for your Azure VMs in exactly the same way as you would for your on-premises virtual machines, allowing you to perform point-in-time backups, set backup retention policies and decide on the frequency of your backups.      This feature is currently in preview but will be going live soon. There is much more that Microsoft Azure is capable of, and if you are interested in moving your infrastructure into Microsoft Azure and how azure could help you, get in touch.
View case study >

Our key cloud technology predictions for 2021

The pandemic has created a challenging and threatening environment for businesses over the last year. Perhaps a silver lining to a bleak 2020 was that many teams were forced to modernise their IT practices in order to remain buoyant. With mass adoption of cloud technology to enable flexible working, and an unprecedented surge in AI and machine learning, it feels like the future cloud-first era has arrived early.

In 2021, however, there are still plenty of ways that cloud technology can evolve. Its explosive growth is unlikely to slow any time soon, and companies will continue to provide innovative offerings to the demanding market. Here are our five predictions for the evolution of cloud technology throughout this year.

5 cloud technology predications

1. Public cloud will increase in dominance

Public cloud adoption has increased by 83% since 2010, and Forester research predicts a 35% growth in 2021 alone, as organisations look to utilise its productivity advantages to recover from the ongoing pandemic.

SMEs will benefit greatly from public cloud. After a period of rapid digital transformation due to Covid-19, many will be looking to capitalise on their investments and take greater advantage of the valuable tools it can offer.

2. Microsoft will strengthen its position amongst the ‘big three’ cloud providers

While Microsoft Azure isn’t experiencing the same revenue spike as it did in the early 2010’s, analysts still believe it’s growing faster than main competitor AWS. This year, researchers expect Microsoft to exceed $25 billion in Azure revenue alone; maintaining strong year on year growth.

According to Gartner, Microsoft’s ability to provide “a complete end-to-end set of solutions related to a broad range of workloads and applications” is a one reason Azure is so popular. Microsoft have also focused a lot on developing strategic alignments with major European enterprises, so is well-poised for further expansion.

3. The intelligent technology boom will trigger a demand for cloud-to-edge applications

As mentioned, the pandemic has marked a rise in AI, robotics, IoT, and autonomy as businesses look to both reduce human contact and make up for lost productivity. With major benefits to be enjoyed, it’s unlikely businesses will ever switch back to manual processes – even when social distancing is no longer required. Microsoft’s latest IoT report reveals that 64% of companies’ decision makers believe AI and IoT are critical to their success.

As a result, cloud providers will see more demand for ‘intelligent edge’ workloads. Automation is driven by data, which must be collected, processed and analysed efficiently. According to Microsoft’s insights, its ‘edge computing’ offerings are valued by businesses for their ability to enable more connectivity via protocol translation, reduce the internet bandwidth burden, and improve privacy.

4. Data governance will be a key focus for IT managers

The effects of the pandemic and a general increase in cloud utilisation is creating a world in which IT departments will have to put governance and compliance first every time. Many businesses are already undergoing projects to ensure secure and compliant data migration to the cloud, and this will continue in 2021.

However, some analysts also predict that there will be changes to data regulations around the world. Following the EU’s GDPR, a Privacera analyst predicts governments will look to provide individuals with more control over their personal information. The analyst further predicts that compliance tools, such as Microsoft Compliance Manager, are likely to play a more central role in businesses security protocols.

5. Augmented reality will support training and enablement of remote employees

The benefits of mixed and augmented reality have been proven since the upturn in remote working. Increasingly, augmented reality technologies will supplement or even replace in-person training, especially in the IT sector. Microsoft’s Remote Assist app provides a first-person view to instructors who will be able to walk new hires through step-by-step training with visual aids.

The addition of Windows Autopilot can provide further support. IT professionals can easily pre-configure HoloLens 2 headsets via zero-touch tools and ensure the end-user doesn’t need to perform a complex setup process. Mixed reality headsets can help workers far beyond just training – users can preview products, plan architectural builds, and create virtual experiences for consumers.

While predictions aren’t always reality where technology is concerned, the technologies mentioned have been growing in prominence since before the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, all of these predictions will build on lessons learnt throughout 2020 – that flexibility is advantageous, effective communication is key, and data needs protecting now more than ever.

Developing technological trends can be difficult for businesses to decipher and respond to, so we are here to support you in understanding which technologies and processes could be key to your business development this year.

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Small business IT priorities 2021

Small businesses are poised to enter a new year that, for the first time, is focusing on creating fewer in-person connections with customers, rather than more. The rapid digitalisation of the past year has created an environment where SMBs must adapt to remain competitive.

The priorities of small businesses are shifting as a result, towards the creation of secure remote work environments and the necessary adoption of cloud technology. As part of this digital transformation, small businesses must consider several more priorities as they move into a new year.

1. Low-cost artificial intelligence (AI) technology

After the sudden technology adjustments forced upon companies in 2020, many small businesses will need to make up for lost productivity. With additional resources unlikely to materialise, low-cost AI will become even more of a requirement.

A solution like Microsoft Azure offers affordable computer vision, face recognition, and conversational AI services – many of which are built-in to the business offerings. As the digital era progresses, SMBs should start to take greater advantage of these AI opportunities in order to remain resilient; subsidising customer support departments with chatbots, for example.

Another business area AI can have the biggest impact on is logistics. Small retailers could utilise the technology to gain AI-driven insights from their data. Warehouses could predict stock shortages and delivery drivers could benefit from AI-driven knowledge regarding delivery routes.

2. Increased use of data virtualisation technology

Businesses will also look to regain efficiency via data-driven insights. Tools like Microsoft Power BI can make data more useful and actionable. Simple dashboards of customer and sales data enable analyses which ultimately help SMBs focus on the aspects that will have the most impact.

3. Mainstream adoption of cloud collaboration and calling solutions

Microsoft Teams usage increased by 70% to 75 million active users in April, mainly due to the mass shift to home working. Even as workers return to the office, however, that usage has remained steady. As of October 2020, its daily active users had reached 115 million.

Much of this continued growth may be attributed to a shift in mindset, predominantly by smaller businesses. As IT managers realise the efficiency of cloud-based communication and collaboration tools, they become open to investing in those solutions long-term. In addition to efficiency, cloud solutions like Microsoft Teams and Teams Calling solutions, offer flexibility in both in costs and global calling requirements – perfect for SMBs who want to start small and scale.

4. Streamlining the remote onboarding process

Even with the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines underway, SMBs will continue to work remotely until government guidance suggests otherwise. Though organisations have been onboarding remotely for many years, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the volume of workers than need to be brought online in a short period.

As a result, it’s now time for SMBs to prioritise the creation of a remote onboarding strategy that’s efficient, engaging and focused around the benefits that cloud technology can offer.

5. Support remote workers with the right cloud IT support

Cloud productivity apps like Office 365 and Teams come with excellent Level 0 IT support. Knowledge banks and chatbots provide self-service cloud IT support so that users can troubleshoot common problems and access ‘how to’ style content.

However, remote workers also need human IT support in the form of a 1st and 2nd line service desk to keep productivity levels high. Responsive cloud IT support can also boost user adoption of new technologies and new ways of working, ensuring you get good ROI from digital transformation.

Remote workers often feel isolated so it’s really important to have open lines of communication between them and your service desk. As well as ensuring they can contact IT support using their preferred channels (email, phone, support portal etc.), consider introducing engagement feedback tools too. Personalised surveys can help you better understand what support users need to improve the remote working experience.

If you would like to discuss any of the subjects or technology covered in this post, please get in touch. Our Digital Productivity team and Microsoft experts are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Likewise, our Operations team are available to share best practice for supporting your remote workers and providing effective cloud IT support.

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microsoft cloud assessment

Why book a Microsoft Cloud Assessment?

Discovery workshops are an important part of any cloud migration or digital transformation project at Cloud Business. Workshops like our Microsoft Cloud Assessment are designed to lay the foundations of a migration project and set organisations up for success. Investing time at this stage of a project is rewarded time and time again throughout the process, and continues to deliver value as your users get the benefits of the Microsoft modern workplace. 

What is a Microsoft Cloud Assessment? 

We’ve developed a 2 day service that gives you and your team access to our Office 365 experts*. They will tailor the service to your needs and what you want to achieve from digital transformation, deliver the workshop and then provide a migration roadmap for getting there. 

To start with, our approach is to take a step back from the technology. You may have decided that Office 365 is for you but our first question won’t be “when do you want it?” Instead we’re interested in what’s driving this decision, so we can really understand what you want to achieve. We’ll also encourage you and your colleagues to look at your requirement with fresh eyes – inviting you to Reimagine everyday. By taking a holistic view we can ensure the technology is aligned with your business strategy, infrastructure, users and culture. 

The Microsoft Cloud Assessment explores your cloud readiness, where you are today, critical business considerations, what products you have and what you don’t, and what’s required for a painless implementation. We identify challenges and determine next steps.  

The output from the assessment is a report fully illustrating how your Office 365 tenant will be produced for you. This report includes recommendations for increasing security, optimising licensing, user adoption, governance, cost management, and detailed costs for implementation. 

Whether or not you decide to go ahead and engage our team, the report effectively provides you with a roadmap for a successful Office 365 migration.  

What is the structure of a Cloud Assessment workshop? 

We’ve refined our service over the years to deliver maximum value to our customers, whatever their challenges and business objectives. Cloud Assessments are tailored to your specific needs, but normally look like this: 

Briefing call: a 60 minute Microsoft Teams call with introductions, background to the organisation and understanding priorities and knowledge across the service. We can then ensure the workshop day is aligned with your requirements. 

Day 1 – Onsite or Virtual Workshop: a deep dive into Office 365, your technology environment and what you want to achieve. A typical agenda includes: 

  • An introduction to Digital Productivity in Office 365 
  • A ‘Day in the life’ demonstration illustrating modern ways of working based on some common scenarios. 
  • An overview of popular productivity apps in Office 365 and use cases 
  • Infrastructure review and current challenges 
  • Demonstration of the capabilities of Azure 
  • Licensing 
  • Security and governance 
  • User Experience and Adoption strategies 
  • Discuss options and priorities 
  • What is needed to get started 
  • High Level Plan and example Architecture 
  • Summary and next steps 

Day 2 – Decision Support: we document notes and research from Day 1. You will receive a detailed overview of the session including: 

  • Analysis of existing infrastructure 
  • Recommendations and steps for moving your business to Office 365 and Azure* 
  • Current challenges affecting your business and how these may be offset by cloud migration 
  • A roadmap for a successful Microsoft cloud migration 
  • Our experts are also available to provide support on key decisions 

For a more detailed overview of the Microsoft Cloud Assessment structure and output, please download the information sheet here > 

Are you ready for the Microsoft Cloud? 

It is not uncommon for an organisation to embark on a cloud migration and discover that they’re not actually ready. As a result they might struggle to get the ROI from the technology deployed, the user benefits, or achieve their digital transformation goals.  

A successful cloud migration involves detailed discovery and planning, and cloud readiness is a vital factor in this. A Microsoft Cloud Assessment can help you decide if you’re ready, and if you’re not it will provide you with the next steps to get there.  

To see whether the time is right, our Cloud Readiness Worksheet will give you an idea. Download it here to see > 

If you would like to discuss booking a Microsoft Cloud Assessment workshop please get in touch. You can email hello@cloudbusiness.com or  book an initial online meeting here > 

*we can also deliver an Azure Cloud Assessment workshop with a similar structure to the one above. 

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cloud vs. on-premise

Cloud vs. on-premise: cost differences

Is cost a key driver in your IT decision making process?

As with most business decisions, cost is inevitably a key consideration when choosing between different solutions. When it comes to your IT infrastructure, understanding the cost difference between cloud vs. on-premise IT solutions is an important factor.

Here we look at the different costs involved in storing data, and compare cloud storage with on-premise servers.

Are you ready for the cloud? Download our Cloud Readiness worksheet to find out >

Cost differences between cloud vs. on-premise servers

Start up costs

It is clearly cheaper to opt for cloud storage over on-premise servers when considering start up costs. The cost of hardware, server room and power needed to implement on-premise storage is far greater than signing up to a cloud solution. Labour costs should also be factored in, setting up a new server and integrating it with your existing IT needs resources.

Cloud storage is a clear winner if you’re starting from scratch.

Maintenance costs

Cloud providers are responsible for all upgrades, patching and other maintenance. You’re responsible for your on-premise servers. While your monthly cloud subscription fee pays for maintenance, as cloud providers use a shared service business model long term it’s a fraction of the cost of maintaining on-premise IT hardware. Day-to-day running costs for on-premise servers are mostly confined to power usage, however regular upgrades are needed to ensure optimal performance and therefore you need to factor in labour costs. Whether this is done by someone in-house, or an external IT technician, these costs add up considerably.

Over time cloud storage is cheaper than on-premise.

Security costs

As with general maintenance, cloud providers are also responsible for implementing and maintaining appropriate security tools. Although it is your organisation’s responsibility for ensuring that data is protected, stored and managed in a compliant way. As well as the cloud provider’s your business may also need to implement security solutions which might range from basic security best practices to additional tools. On-premise servers are your responsibility to protect and ensure that security tools are fit for purpose.

Cloud storage providers include IT security tools which may reduce overall costs.

Cost of storage

Here’s how cloud providers make their money. They charge for storage. While they’ll probably give away some free storage, many will offer between 5GB to 15GB free, many organisations need a lot more than that.

On-premise servers are effectively free.

Scalability costs

Is your organisation growing and may need to increase its data storage? Here’s another cost where cloud storage wins hands down. The cost of increase data storage on-premise, if you’re operating at capacity involves those initial start up costs again. Buying hardware, installing it, having the physical space, an increase in power usage and additional maintenance costs. One of the cloud’s USPs is it’s scalability, you can upgrade your service at a click of a button for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new server.

Cloud storage beats on-premise for scalability and respective costs.

Legacy costs

A major challenge for many organisations is their legacy IT infrastructure. When systems and hardware have been superseded with new technology, maintaining legacy IT infrastructure can be expensive and can limit IT’s ability to develop solutions that support the business proactively. Cloud providers are responsible for their technology and need to be innovative to be competitive. Many businesses choose to use a cloud provider to get access to technology they can’t afford to continually upgrade on-premise.

Cloud wins with no legacy costs.

Downtime and loss of productivity costs

A cost that can be difficult to quantify but an important one. Any disruption to critical systems that causes downtime or a loss of productivity, costs organisations. Cloud providers are not immune from outages and other service disruptions, but on average on-premise solutions experience more downtime than the cloud. In fact, migrating to cloud solutions to reduce the risk of downtime is another common reason that businesses move their storage. Cloud providers use failover solutions to ensure business continuity, and any remedial costs are incurred by them.

Cloud providers stipulate their commitment to service uptime and connectivity in Service Level Agreements, which are legally binding. They also set out how they will compensate customers if they fall short. However, it’s important to conduct a risk analysis when considering cloud storage which  includes the cost of downtime on your organisation.

Cloud storage may not be risk free but remediation won’t cost your organisation.

Total cost of ownership

Try out Microsoft Azure’s Total Cost of Ownership Calculator here to get an estimate of the cost savings your organisation could make by moving from on-premise to the cloud.

Ultimately, while the cloud offers many benefits and cost savings, it will depend on your organisation, internal capacity, the amount of storage required and your risk analysis whether it’s a better and cheaper solution for you.

If you want to discuss any of the subjects raised in this blog post, please get in touch.

cloud readiness

What is Microsoft Azure and is it safe?

More businesses than ever are migrating to the cloud. Companies need more security, flexibility and scalability than ever before, whilst benefiting from lower costs and reducing or eliminating the need to maintain hardware.

Most of the big tech players – and many smaller firms – are providing cloud-based solutions for businesses. You can do everything from file your annual returns to run your telephony systems through cloud software. 

Microsoft, one of the largest, most well-established providers on the market, launched Azure in 2010, an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud platform. Over 90% of the US Fortune 500 uses services within the Microsoft cloud. Microsoft Azure is a cloud brand that encompasses over 100 different services where enterprises and SMEs can combine and scale as many services as they need to create the technology infrastructure that their organisations require.

What can we do with Microsoft Azure?

Anything and everything.

Whatever you’ve been running in-house can be moved to the cloud. Made bigger, more secure and more effective. Scale up and down according to operational needs. And most importantly, improve on what you’ve been doing. Save costs and become more efficient. 

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Microsoft Azure provides a secure technology environment to create and deploy cloud-based applications. Either create your own – work with an in-house team or external developers – or integrate services you’re already using.
  • Azure also includes Platform and Software (PaaS and SaaS) solutions, making it easier than ever to scale and deploy the technology your organisation needs without complications. It has never been easier, quicker or more cost-effective to create an application and roll it out for team members or customers.
  • Storage and databases. Organisations are producing more data than ever before. Cloud storage is an essential operational feature that most organisations can’t manage without. Microsoft provides a range of solutions, including Virtual Machines (Microsoft or Linux), managed databases, and storage offerings that go down in price when you don’t need to access some of your data very often. 

Azure is plugged into a marketplace of apps and complimentary services. So whether you are looking for a new CRM or design software for the marketing team, chances are you should be able to find it through Azure. Of course, what we’ve outlined here is merely the tip of the iceberg. Get in touch if you are considering migrating to the cloud.

However, before you do, we know you may have a question about security.

How secure is Azure?

As a global technology leader, Microsoft knows it represents an attractive target for cyber criminals and hackers. If they can exploit a weakness, they will. Keeping customers secure is a top priority for Microsoft, which is why they invest $1 billion every year into security, which includes protecting the Azure infrastructure.

Here are a few of the security precautions Microsoft takes to protect Azure customers:

  • Automatic encryption. Everything sent within the Azure environment is automatically encrypted. The Azure network has automatic detection to prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, similar to some of the largest services on the Internet, such as Xbox and Microsoft’s Office 365.
  • Other safeguards include automated smart traffic monitoring and profiling. It is easier to detect and deflect threats when systems know when something looks out of the ordinary, reducing the risk any threats pose that may have breached external security systems.
  • Smart access control. Management (admin) accounts are run over separate networks than most team members. Managers can also control and restrict access to a limited time period, device, or even a specific document.
  • Microsoft goes to great lengths to protect hardware and firmware, constantly reviewing and revising code, even creating hardware that can automatically detect threats before software is loaded and active. If anything malicious is detected, it can pause software activity until the threat is removed.
  • Azure is the first cloud platform to support both software and hardware-based Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs). TEEs ensure that encrypted data – whether it is stored, in transit or inactive is – safe from unauthorised access and tampering.
  • Operational security is serious business. Microsoft employs 3,500 cybersecurity experts, including 200 who continually look for weaknesses. Any that are found are input into the operational security procedures Azure uses to improve against potential external threats.
  • You don’t even need to worry if you are working off-site and need secure access. With ExpressRoute, you can access to Azure through an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN), wherever you are in the world. 

Providing you are always sensible about password use and storage, Azure is one of the most secure working environments that organisations could use for software, data storage and numerous other uses. In fact, it may be more secure than your current on-premise IT infrastructure…

If you would like to talk to us about migrating to the cloud and learn more about Microsoft Azure, please get in touch.

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difference Office 365 and Microsoft Azure

What’s the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365?

For many businesses, Microsoft products and services are integral to the smooth running of IT systems. Microsoft has been a reliable provider of software and solutions for decades, with many sectors still picking them over Apple or new competitors.

Microsoft, along with the rest of the technology sector over the last couple of decades has been moving core services into the cloud. Office, for example, used to come on a disk, with businesses able to purchase as many licenses as a company needed, depending on staffing levels. Now you can access those same suite of services – such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel – through Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), a cloud platform for business.

Is your organisation ready for the Microsoft Cloud? Download our cloud readiness worksheet to find out. Microsoft Azure is another enterprise cloud platform, with a much wider range of capabilities. Unlike Office 365, which is a software as a service (SaaS) product, Azure has IaaS and PaaS components. To understand the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365 we need to understand what each of these cloud platform terms mean.

Cloud Platforms: SaaS, IaaS and PaaS explained

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Even if your company doesn’t use Office 365, you will almost certainly have several SaaS subscriptions. From finance software to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, SaaS solutions are everywhere.

Instead of downloading software (applications), or uploading it from a disk, you can pay a monthly subscription – often depending on the number of users that need access – to use a piece of software. The majority of SaaS products are cloud-based, which means users can login anywhere in the world, on any device.

Office 365 is designed to be as convenient and powerful as possible, with the full suite of services that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. Businesses can either pay monthly or annually, and part of the convenience of SaaS products is they’re not tied to a particular device. You can use Office365 on Apple Macs or other devices; you don’t need to have PCs to run the software.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) 

IaaS is a little more complex. With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), companies can scale-up and down computing powers without needing to invest in hardware and servers. IaaS gives companies an almost instant computing infrastructure, such as data centres, security applications and servers, managed over the Internet.

Instead of managing all of this themselves, companies can pay Microsoft a monthly subscription for Azure, creating and deploying as much or as little cloud computing power as needed. From web hosting to solving big data challenges to providing storage, backup and security solutions, IaaS is an integral part of many companies IT infrastructure.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service (PaaS) environments makes it possible to run SaaS solutions, such as Office 365. Developers can manage the infrastructure, with the advantage that this secure environment gives companies more control over operating systems, software and the way you can configure software for the unique needs of your business. Everything is managed in the cloud, giving you the flexibility to scale solutions up and down as required. 

Depending on what your business needs, Microsoft Azure is PaaS and IaaS. Azure includes Compute, Data Services, App Services, Networking and Store services. Companies can create and configure everything they would need in a secure cloud environment, which is something a dedicated IT partner can help with. Designing flexible, scalable, cloud solutions within a cloud platform gives businesses a great deal more control and computing power than many could access when these systems and platforms were on-site. 

As you can see it’s not a question of either using Azure or 365, they both do very different things. But combined these cloud platforms can provide most businesses with the IT infrastructure, development framework and software they need for business operations. 

Migrating your IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud makes good business sense. Instead of being tied to legacy hardware and systems that are often inflexible and costly to maintain, cloud platforms give businesses scalable solutions that flex with their business’ requirements.

If you are thinking about migrating to Microsoft 365, our Microsoft Cloud Assessment service will help. This 2 day service explores your cloud readiness, aligns digital transformation with business outcomes, and provides you with a roadmap for transitioning to Microsoft (Office) 365. Sessions are tailored to your organisation, IT infrastructure and objectives. We also run this service for organisations interested in Microsoft Azure. Further details can be found here >

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Azure Active Directory error

AAD Sync Error: Deletion Threshold Reached

I ran into a problem recently with a customer running AAD Connect. When we were trying to Export to the Azure Active Directory, the status of the Connector Operations showed “stopped-server-down”.

stopped-server-down

At the same time, I was called by the technical contact who said he had received a strange email from MSOnlineServicesTeam with the following message:

At Thursday, 19 November 2015 13:58:10 GMT the Identity synchronization service detected that the number of deletions exceeded the configured deletion threshold for Company Name [tanantname.onmicrosoft.com]. A total of 789 objects were sent for deletion in this Identity synchronization run. This met or exceeded the configured deletion threshold value of 500 objects.

We need you to provide confirmation that these deletions should be processed before we will proceed.

We are currently completing the rollout of AAD Connect with the customer and helping them remove any erroneous accounts from the scope in order to keep numbers on Office 365 down. Hence the large number of deletions!

Despite the long winded and unclear errors, the solution to this problem is quite simple. You can either disable the threshold completely by running the following command, and provide credentials for a global admin account for Office 365 when prompted:

Import-Module ADSync
Disable-ADSyncExportDeletionThreshold

Alternatively you could change the threshold to allow your changes using the following command:

Import-Module ADSync
Enable-ADSyncExportDeletionThreshold -DeletionThreshold $number

If you do disable your deletion threshold completely, remember to re-enable the threshold again afterwards running:

Enable-ADSyncExportDeletionThreshold

Hopefully this will save you some time when you run in to this issue in your environments!

To have a look at my other blogs on a similar topic, you can see them here;  AAD sync and connect – passwords not syncing with attribute filtering

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Azure Active Directory error

AAD Sync / AAD Connect – Passwords not syncing with attribute filtering

After the release of AAD Sync and AAD Connect (Azure Active Directory Sync and Azure Active Directory Connect) we have noticed several customers using Attribute Filtering are experiencing an error
when bringing people into the scope of synchronisation with the appropriate attribute.Microsoft describe this here as expected behaviour.

Users are moved between filtered and unfiltered scopes

In this scenario, the user is moved to a scope that now allows the user to be synced. This could be when filtering is set up for domains, organisational units, or attributes.

To resolve this, see the ‘How to perform a full password sync’ section of the ‘More Information‘ section.

Below is steps to set up a script to automate a full password sync to work around this behaviour.

The Script

First you need to save a script that contains the code to run a full password sync. This is as follows:

$adConnector  = “addomain.com”

$aadConnector = “tenantname.onmicrosoft.com – AAD”

 

Import-Module adsync

$c = Get-ADSyncConnector -Name $adConnector

$p = New-Object Microsoft.IdentityManagement.PowerShell.ObjectModel.ConfigurationParameter “Microsoft.Synchronize.ForceFullPasswordSync”, String, ConnectorGlobal, $null, $null, $null

$p.Value = 1

$c.GlobalParameters.Remove($p.Name)

$c.GlobalParameters.Add($p)

$c = Add-ADSyncConnector -Connector $c

 

Set-ADSyncAADPasswordSyncConfiguration -SourceConnector $adConnector -TargetConnector $aadConnector -Enable $false

Set-ADSyncAADPasswordSyncConfiguration -SourceConnector $adConnector -TargetConnector $aadConnector -Enable $true

Once you have this saved on your AAD Connect server you can then set up a scheduled task to run every time there is a successful directory synchronisation (Event ID 114).

First you need to know that this isn’t a bug, and is expected behaviour! Once you know this, the solution is an easy fix.

Hopefully with the above instructions you can save your service desk time troubleshooting password issues in your organisation!

If you’have any other Active Directory problems, have a look here – Error installing Exchange – this user account isn’t a member of the schema admins or enterprise admins group 

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Two things you didn’t know about Microsoft Azure

Earlier this year Microsoft made some small but very important changes to Azure which you might have missed.This could have a big impact on your decision whether or not to move your services into the cloud. 

Two of the most exciting I have included below:

1. Increased limits for OS Disks for Azure Virtual Machines

Until recently the largest size for an OS disk in Microsoft Azure was 127GB. This has been increased to 1TB – the same as data disks, enabling even more of your on-premises servers to be moved into the cloud.

2. Azure Backup for Azure Virtual Machines

You can now use Azure Backip to perform scheduled or one time backups for your Azure VMs in exactly the same way as you would for your on-premises virtual machines, allowing you to perform point-in-time backups, set backup retention policies and decide on the frequency of your backups.

     This feature is currently in preview but will be going live soon.

There is much more that Microsoft Azure is capable of, and if you are interested in moving your infrastructure into Microsoft Azure and how azure could help you, get in touch.

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