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The Challenges of Reporting and Monitoring Exchange in the Cloud


By: ENow Software - 03/04/2015

This is a story about one company’s trials and tribulations of migrating to and maintaining a hybrid cloud environment; specifically Microsoft Exchange. Once upon a time Acme Industries decided to move to the cloud. The decision was based on a sales pitch from a cloud vendor that described the pretty blue skies of the cloudy world. “You'll have fewer servers on premise so it’ll be less complex and overall you'll be very happy.” The company agreed that reducing on-premise services, simplifying infrastructure and gaining the ability to reprioritize their IT staff to higher value tasks made a great deal of sense. And while they all agreed this was a wise decision, they knew it was important that they recognized that like any deployment, there were going to be new processes to learn and expectations that need to be managed. However, not everything would be moving to the cloud, there would be some accounts that would remain on-premises. Therefore, theirs would be a hybrid deployment.

The company then moved their mailboxes and some data into Office 365. They started using Lync and SharePoint too. Slowly, the IT team noticed that the move to the cloud wasn’t always what they thought it would be. They uncovered a variety of challenges. A cloud solution, by itself, might be a very straightforward thing and Outlook is fairly simple. However, in a hybrid deployment, there’s a great deal going on behind the scenes.  Acme quickly realized that their hybrid environment was no longer about Exchange, SharePoint or Lync individually. Rather, it is combining or federating these pieces that create a series of “unknowns”.  For instance, DirSync now needed consideration. The team now required an entirely new set of factors (messaging, AD, networking, security, etc…) to review and plan for.

Setting Up Your First PowerShell DSC Pull Server

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By Adam Bertram - Senior Systems Consultant - 03/04/15
Windows PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC) is a technology introduced in Windows PowerShell v4.0.  DSC sets out to save the IT professional time by essentially building scripts ahead of time. These scripts build configurations on machines and enable us to simply “make it so”—rather than worrying about banging out tons of code on our own.  DSC is a technology that enables us to not only save time—by leveraging pre-built functionality—but it also includes the capability to keep configurations the way we want them.

DSC is a big topic, and I highly encourage you check out this TechNet article on the Windows PowerShell DSC Overview.  This will give you a good start on DSC, but there is also tons of great information out there on this topic as well.  If you’re new to DSC, I highly recommend understanding the basics before you set up your own pull server.  You’ll find that you understand the content better that way, rather than just blindly following instructions.

Azure in 5 Minutes

Windows Azure
Have you explored all of Azure yet? These Azure in 5 Minutes videos will walk you through the amazing capabalities of Azure from Identity Management, to Hybrid Cloud, Backup/DR and more!

Check out the full list:

Add Custom Branding to Your Office 365 Sign-in Page


By: Chris Goosen - MVP, MCM - 02/19/2015 
In today’s cloud services world, organizations are always looking for ways to improve user experience while still retaining their corporate brand and image. Microsoft Office 365 has always offered some degree of banding for those who chose to implement Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) for identity federation in their on-premises environment and as one would expect, it has matured over time to become easier and much more feature rich.

Fortunately, organizations who have chosen not to use identity federation also have the ability to apply custom branding to the Office 365 sign-in page where users are redirected when they are signing in to Office 365 services. It often becomes a little confusing because this functionality is actually configured in Microsoft Azure, not in Office 365 and is provided as part of the Basic or Premium edition of Azure Active Directory. As you probably know by now, Azure Active Directory is the identity and access management service used by Office 365 and when you sign up for an Office 365 tenant an Azure Active Directory free edition instance is automatically created for you.

Business Rules for ADFS


By: Jim Katoe - CISSP, CISA, CISM - 01/27/2015 
Many companies have business relationships with SaaS partners that use SAML for authentication.  ADFS works very well for many as a SAML & WS-* federation infrastructure, although we have had some hiccups and incompatibilities along the way.  One thing that comes up every now and then is applying business rules to the federation trust with a partner.  Microsoft has done a very good job of explaining how to implement certain business rules for Office365 in some of their official blog posts by PFE’s.  But what I have not seen is some of that practical help applied to non microsoft services that we rely on.  The rest of this article will address how we implemented a couple of these. 2 simple rules we are asked about are:

  1. We want our users to be able to only use this SaaS service when they are on our internal network or VPN.  This may provide the business/security/compliance stakeholder a bit of extra confidence that the SaaS service is being used properly.
  2. We want only the users in this Active Directory group to be able to access this SaaS service.  This could be a licensing requirement or a data security issue.

These business rules are typically requested for a specific SaaS application, so they are implemented as claims rules on the specific relying party trust for that SaaS application.  It could also be applied in a service provider relationship but you would have to re-examine the logic. So just open the ADFS management tool, in a dev environment please!. Then go to Relying party trusts and select the trust you want to test with.  Then click Edit Claims Rules.

Tracking Down Overactive Mailboxes With Get-StoreUsageStatistics

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By: Andrew Higginbotham - 01/28/2015  Overview
Often times I’ll find myself writing a blog post because the topic recently became relevant due to  customer need. Other times I spend hours banging my head against the keyboard trying to resolve an issue & would like to keep others from going through the same ordeal.

In this particular case, I found myself thinking of this fall’s release of Apple iOS 8 & some of the traditional unexpected consequences that arose when used to connect to Exchange via ActiveSync. In past cases, an update could lead to excessive CPU usage & transaction log growth; of course it’s not just Apple with a long rap sheet of poor implementations of ActiveSync. With it being the holiday season, we can expect a wave of new gifted devices being brought into work by users and administrators everywhere will face the challenge of ensuring they don’t have an adverse impact to the stability of Exchange.

3rd-party federation solutions for Office 365 (part 1): Celestix ADFS Bridge


By: Michael Van Horenbeeck - 01/26/2015  As mentioned before, the purpose of this article series is to explore 3rd-party federation solutions that work with Office 365 and which can be an alternative to a Windows’ built-in ADFS server role. In this first article however, I will be discussing a solution which is somewhat different from the others that I will be looking into.

Improve Your Exchange Deployment by Learning from a Massive Scale


By: Tony Redmond - 01/21/2015  Exchange Online running on Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud platform operates more than 100,000 servers to support some 60 million mailboxes. At least, that’s the best-guess estimate based on information provided by Microsoft at the Exchange Conference 2014, data in their most recent financial reports, and consultant analysis. Even if the figures are a little skewed, there’s no doubt that Exchange Online is a massive distributed environment that supports thousands of companies worldwide. Office 365 continues growing strongly and some estimates predict that more mailboxes will be hosted in the cloud than are on-premises servers by the end of 2017.

Skype & Lync Part II: Video Calling

Skye Lync video

By: Johan Delimon - 01/07/2015 

Skype & Lync Part I: Announcements

Skype for Business 1

By: Johan Delimon - 01/07/2015 
During the last 3 quarters Microsoft has made many announcements surrounding Skype.  While Skype is already used by many people, additional features and capabilities are being made available for FREE to everyone.  Skype continues to be a world leader in voice and video calls between consumers and even some organizations, more and more Skype premium features are delivered for FREE which should boost Skype’s popularity even more.

Year after year Lync continues to be the Enterprise communications suite of preference voted by fortune 100/500 companies even including ones that are already deploying Lync.

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