TechEd Wrap-up

TechEd came to a close in Berlin on Friday, over the past week it’s been a mixture of lab exercises, sessions on many varied infrastructure topics and networking events. A few personal points of interest from the week are included below:
  • The cloud is coming – check out Microsoft’s position here – http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/cloud/
  • Office Communicator 14 demo – HD video conferencing isn’t too far away.
  • P2V Migration for Software Assurance Customers has been released – enabling an existing XP machine to be virtualised and included on a Windows 7 desktop. Targeted at special case users in an organisation that are difficult to upgrade.
  • Windows Intune – this is essentially SCCM/AV managed by the cloud, will be released next year and looks some way off being enterprise ready. Suitable for businesses that don’t have any prior infrastructure and have predominantly mobile workers that run their own hardware.
  • Configuration Manager 2012 – Release date will be 2011. The focus is on user centric rather than device centric management. See one of my earlier blog posts for a list of features.
  • Configuration Manager 2007 R3 – increased power management, simplification of tasks and reduction of time to deploy apps to the desktop.
  • Office 2010 for App-V – When sequencing, double check every setting, as the sequencer can behave erratically. Also, don’t run two mailboxes on your machine (one app-v mailbox, one local mailbox); it’s going to cause problems.
  My personal highlight was the presentation by Eduardo Kassner on defining Desktop strategy, who argued that the primary focus should be on developing a well-managed desktop environment, regardless of what architecture is used. When backed up by statistics that show only 2% of TCO can be saved moving from a well-managed desktop environment to a VDI solution, it’s quite a strong argument. If you have the opportunity to attend TechEd, I highly recommend it. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable week. Now it’s back to London, full of new ideas and suffering slightly from PowerPoint overload and a night out in East Berlin.

TechEd Europe 2010 – All about Cloud

TechEd Europe is a five day conference that provides an opportunity for IT professionals to learn about the latest offerings from both Microsoft and their associated partners. This year it is being held in Berlin, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend on behalf of Camwood. After a red eye flight and navigating the public transport to the conference centre, Monday afternoon was spent visiting vendor booths to talk to partners and competitors alike, bumping into a few old colleagues and entering as many competitions as possible to win a Windows Phone 7. The keynote speech is the main focus of Monday, and is usually a time for a public launch for a new technology or service from Microsoft. This came in the form of the Hyper-V Cloud program, where Microsoft teams up with HP, IBM, NEC, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Dell to provide ‘private’ clouds to customers. This provides customers with a cloud based on the hardware of their choice, using Hyper-V and Azure cloud fabric. This program is designed to reduce the risk and increase the speed of private cloud deployments, and will be something I’ll follow up in a blog post in more detail later. The technical sessions have started in earnest this morning (Tuesday), and I’m looking to attend sessions on Deployment, Server 2008 R2 SP1, Virtualisation and Security. This will be followed by a MS Networking Event near Alexanderplatz, providing an opportunity to meet other ISV’s and spread the Camwood message. It’s not all work here though, late last night I was able to take a tour of the Reichstag for a panoramic view of Berlin and spend some time around Potsdamer Platz, wonderfully described in my travel guide as a ‘hotbed’ of urban renewal. I also continue my ever elusive mission to find the perfect German wheat beer. I fear it could take some time, but plan to remain strong and not lose hope. Now it’s off to grab another free pastry/coffee and find my next session.

Making The Most Of SharePoint 2010

Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010 is the hidden turbo injection behind Microsoft’s applications. It’s the secret weapon that’s sitting in the IT arsenal of most companies yet some don’t even know much about it. Whatever your information management or collaboration challenges, the chances are SharePoint can help address them. And even better – if you have an enterprise agreement with Microsoft you are entitled to free consultancy to help you begin to put it to best use. However, Microsoft’s collaboration software has such a wide range of uses and functions that deriving the best business value out of it requires a structured approach with experienced SharePoint consultants helping to determine business requirement and put together a business case. Many organisations also have multiple instances of SharePoint at work already – or other pieces of software doing the job SharePoint could at a fraction of the cost. Bringing these disparate efforts together to make the most of economies of scale requires a degree of co-ordination, which is best facilitated by a third party. SharePoint isn’t entirely all things to all people, but it can deliver many different benefits to enterprise businesses. One of the main pieces of functionality people associate SharePoint with is the ability to manage documents and handle their storage and retrieval. It has a sophisticated search capability allowing you to search for metatags and information contained within files. Another piece is the ability to use the SharePoint environment to underpin an enterprise’s global intranet. Because it’s linked to the global address book of Outlook, it’s easy to set up team structures and microsites that reflect what people do and how they do it. Colleagues that are located around the country can belong to a common SharePoint group and use it as a means to collaborate, using workflow to share documentation, and creating bulletin boards to keep in touch. That works well where there’s a strong feeling about collaboration and the need for disparate work groups to join a common communications platform. But for a legal firm, their use of SharePoint could be more around process and document management, ensuring document sign-off is done in the right order with the right people within the right timescales. For other businesses, such as an online e-tailer, SharePoint is seen more as a piece of middleware to glue order-taking systems to back-end billing systems. Even then, this top line of functionality is only scratching the surface of what SharePoint is capable of. Microsoft itself divides its capabilities into six areas – site, composites, insights, communities, content and search. SharePoint 2010 contains significant enhancements around access, connectivity and performance management, as well as new developer functions that allow SharePoint consultants to more easily extend the product for customers. Where’s the harm? SharePoint’s blessing is in some cases also its curse – it’s always been so easy to use that different departments and business units will have gone off and created their own implementations. One major defence company we’ve worked with, for example, is a federated business with eight different independent business groups, which are again divided into sub business groups. Each of those has a level of autonomy to develop their own systems – and they may have gathered business requirements from own organisation and brought in a SharePoint consultants to map out how they could put together a SharePoint environment to meet those requirements. In that case, we spent a long time gathering the business requirements from each of those business units and distilling those into a business case that was submitted as a formal paper into the central function to then be supported by the business units. You might ask where the harm is in everyone doing their own thing. Quite apart from the missed opportunity for those who have not yet discovered all the functionality of SharePoint, the main problem is that each of these different environments may not be adhering to corporate standards. Most corporate organisations will tell you they have a policy about how they store information, where they store it and who has access to it. A defence contractor has highly confidential information, secret networks and different levels of document management processes. So that creates extra responsibilities around the information and how they share that internally. To a lesser extent any business has similar best practices and sensitive information around for example its financials, that are not for public consumption at any given moment in time. By taking an approach that spans all of the businesses and gathers the requirements into the centre, they also deliver economies of scale in terms of writing interfaces and supporting the common functions that are genuinely required across each of the business groups. A structured approach Because the product is so diverse, SharePoint lends itself well to a requirements analysis process. If you were to start off with the product, start entering data and then say ‘what do we want to do with it?’ you would have to tag 30-40 possibilities in terms of knowledge sharing, document storage, workflow, collaboration or so on. Whereas, if you start by gathering business requirements at a higher level then you can drill into the known features at a later stage. The process of discovering what’s required is actually quite generic. So whether you are a road builder or an e-tailer, we want to consult with the business and understand what you are trying to do. While the ultimate requirements could be very different you could capture them all in that first phase, then go through a number of subsequent stages, including a business analysis phase, scoping and shaping and understanding the core features of SharePoint, understanding which parts you might need to develop and which third party plug ins and tools you might want to bring in. That’s all about leveraging your knowledge and skills to build up a picture that ultimately delivers the final outcome. What might that business case then end up looking like? In the case of the defence contractor, the business case realisation was around optimising people and their extended effort in areas such as retrieval and storage of documentation. By implementing a process in SharePoint that would save minutes, seconds, or hours per person on a weekly basis, we could then multiply that by the number of people in the organisation and the amount of times they store and receive information. This company generated a fiscal business case that was approved by a committee that sanctions those kind of business cases internally. We took a long time to fine tune it and rewrote it several times as more information became readily available but it was a significant saving in the end which mainly came from improving productivity. In other examples, it’s more about making information readily available and information retrieval. With SharePoint’s powerful search engines that also leads to productivity gains. In the case of a global intranet with different workspaces and personalised areas, the real benefit comes from the fact that it integrates with the rest of the Microsoft platform. It understands which colleagues belong to which particular groups, and at that point you can start to set up subgroups. You can also develop portals where you can aggregate information in different ways.There’s nothing particularly new in that but because it integrates with the platform and delivery technologies, you can do cool stuff – we get customers looking at self-serve portal as a means to stream new applications down to their desktop for example. It’s such a compelling platform that it’s really about how innovative your thinking can be to use it to meet your challenges – the chances are whatever they are you can probably use SharePoint as a piece of middleware to help you get there.   *To find out more about consultancy you may be entitled to under an enterprise agreement, see our dedicated SharePoint website at http://sharepoint.camwood.com/

App-V without App-V

Recently I have had the opportunity to help design an App-V solution that does not use the App-V infrastructure. For those of you that have used this infrastructure you will know, although it’s easy to use, it doesn’t scale to the enterprise. So we had to find another way of getting apps out there to the users; FYI SCCM was also discounted for different reasons. This left us leveraging just what we could find within the App-V client, fortunately that was sufficient. The App-V client uses a program called SFTTray to run sequenced applications, but uses a program called SFTMIME to manage them. Through the use of SFTMIME and the switches provided therein we were able to develop a solution that added sequenced apps to machines, without a backend infrastructure. All that was left to do then was to enable the client for standalone operation and Hey Presto! App-V applications, delivered to end point devices without an App-V infrastructure. There are a few elements that warrant further review; Application Usage Logging should be established, Application Removal of course & the redirection of the SFT file location through the OVERRIDEURL switch may facilitate Streaming given the right environment. Notwithstanding these “for further review” topics, this IS a workable solution that delivers on-demand, virtualised applications to Windows platforms with effectively no infrastructure.