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Dream Team 2014: Connecting Salesforce and SharePoint

By now, it’s old news that Salesforce is connecting to files stored in Microsoft’s SharePoint Online service, the portals-and-collaboration piece of Office 365.  The official announcement may have been made this morning, but it hit the channel months ago and was unveiled with much fanfare when  it was previewed at Dreamforce 2014 this fall.  Since then, our Perficient team has been doing a lot of thinking about this integration, how and when to use it, and what it means.

Configuring Files Connect to Use Documents From SharePoint

One of the values of having award-winning national practices for both the Salesforce and Microsoft platforms is the chance to work with talented colleagues across technology stacks.  The result was this case study by Bob Graham, which gives a great overview of how we used Files Connect from Salesforce to access documents stored in SharePoint Online.  After collaborating with peers in our Salesforce team, Bob took the time to write this helpful piece up.  In it, he walks you through the steps he took to plan, connect, and ultimately leverage files stored in SharePoint within the Salesforce user experience.  It really is as easy as it looks.

The Greater Implications

“Okay, Perficient,” you might say now, “that’s how you make it work– but what does it mean?”  The obvious answer is the surprising amount of collaboration being shown between the direct actors engaged here– Microsoft and Salesforce– and that’s covered well over at TechCrunch.  It’s fascinating that of all the cloud-based file systems Salesforce could have partnered with for this, the first one in the line was actually Microsoft.

In a macro sense, it’s perfectly rational– the world is growing smaller and more connected, and the days of the one-vendor ecosystem are long dead.  Sure, Microsoft has a competing CRM platform (Dynamics) and Salesforce has its own portal solution (Communities), but as much as anything, this announcement is an acknowledgement that neither company is the market leader in those secondary spaces.  This is two giants connecting like to like– the dominant platforms for CRM and file-sharing, respectively– and making it easier for customers to choose best-of-breed cloud solutions over monolithic enterprise architectures focused on vendor rationalization.

That’s kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you say?

Office 365 – 300 Days of Mainstream Support Left for Outlook 2010

Let’s pause for a minute and mark October 13, 2015 on our calendars; this is the final day of mainstream support for Outlook 2010.

This is especially relevant to Exchange Online users as the system requirements for Office 365 state that it is designed to work with “any version of Microsoft Office in mainstream support”. While Microsoft does not actively block you from connecting to Office 365 with legacy versions or client applications, the text around older versions includes phrases like “does not recommend”, “limited support” and “quality of user experience will diminish over time”.

The “evergreen” nature of Office 365 means that the “server-side” of the service architecture is always being updated and improved; in some cases, these new features are only available to users running the most current client applications.

Knowing that we have 300 days to plan and execute the upgrade of our Outlook 2010 installations, below are some options that are available to us.
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Getting Started with Power BI, pt. 3

Last week, I posted part two of our Power BI Primer series discussing administration of Power BI Sites and user permissions.  Today, we’re bringing you Part Three.

If you are an Office365 customer, then you have almost certainly heard about (if not seen) Power BI.

The cloud-based analytics and collaboration platform from Microsoft has some pretty amazing features, and really extends the Microsoft BI platform not only into the cloud but into a more self-service oriented mode.   However, one of the challenges to getting up and running on Power BI has been, well, knowing how to get up and running!

And that’s where we come in.

Perficient has created a 4-part video series that provides step-by-step instructions for getting your Power BI instance working for you.  From getting your Power BI Site set up, to administering it, and connecting your Power BI workbooks to on-premises data sources — this series has got you covered!

So let’s take a look at Part 3:  Power BI Data Exploration and Visualization

This video jumps into the fun part: exploring and working with data, and building visualizations.  We will dive into pulling data from a primary source into Power Pivot, and also into making reports with Power View

Next time we’ll wrap up this series by talking about bringing things full circle and connecting to an on-premises data source from your O365 Power BI Site.  Cheers!

Azure ML on the forefront of Advanced Analytics

My colleague Sean Roy just put up a great post about Gartner’s predictions for Advanced Analytics in 2015:
http://blogs.perficient.com/enterpriseinformation/2014/12/16/the-industrialization-of-advanced-analytics/

This is of obvious interest to us in the Microsoft universe, as we perennially end up being in the  “happy” part of Gartner’s magic quadrant, and since Microsoft’s ongoing data and analytics story is called out here.  I will assume you can click through and read the post, so I’m not going to repost content.   But I do want to spin off of that mention and make a note of exactly what Azure Machine Learning is, and where it fits into the overall landscape of the Microsoft Data Platform.

Azure ML is a cloud-based Predictive Analytics offering, currently in preview.  It is fully managed from the get-go (meaning no downloads or installs), integrates simply with a basic drag-and-drop interface, and contains algorithms developed by Microsoft for Bing and Xbox  — although it also supports coding with R (the statistics programming language).   Essentially, Azure Machine Learning allows you to create advanced predictive models directly from a browser, and to make them operational with a few clicks.

Once you have established your model, you can collect basically unlimited data in Azure Storage, and easily connect to that data using Azure’s data services such as HDInsight (cloud-based Hadoop), Azure SQL Database (a PaaS model version of SQL Server) , and Azure Virtual Machines running SQL Server 2012/2014.

And then, from the user perspective, any of this data is available for consumption via Power BI both on the desktop and as part of Office 365.  Users can connect to any of those sources directly from Excel, allowing them to use a friendly interface that has been enhanced with some powerful data tools.

This is where we see the vision of the Microsoft Data Platform coming together on the cloud side, with a combination of PaaS and IaaS offerings linking up to provide infrastructure-free Advanced Analytics (including elements of Big Data and Predictive Analytics).   So, while it has been difficult to see it develop in-process, the Microsoft Data Platform becomes more compelling by the day.

 

Windows Server 2003 End of Support Looms – A Webinar Recap

It’s no secret – Microsoft support for Windows Server 2003 ends on July 14, 2015. Clock

Last week, Perficient, AppZero and Cisco teamed up for a webinar, Planning & Preparing for Windows Server 2003 End of Life. During the session, the speakers discussed the options and paths available when moving off Windows Server 2003, including the transition to a cloud model, benefits of Windows Server 2012, virtualization on Cisco UCS, and what exactly AppZero can do for your migrations.

First, Steve Andrews, a senior solutions architect at Perficient, explained exactly what end of support/end of life means: no updates, no compliance, no protection. But, the good news is, for those still on Windows Server 2003, there is the opportunity to transform your datacenter by transitioning to a hybrid cloud model, which Steve reviewed. He then showed attendees how to get started:

  1. Discover & Assess: Catalog and categorize apps and workloads
  2. Target: Identify destinations
  3. Migrate: Make the move

You have a variety of target options, from replacing the server hardware or virtualizing with Hyper-V to a new server, to relocating to a cloud service such as Azure IaaS or decommissioning if no longer in use. Read the rest of this post »

Azure Media Services: Live Streaming Video Experience

Did you watch the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics online? Maybe you caught a bit of the 2014 FIFA World Cup from the office on your laptop? Perhaps you watch an occasional Sunday Night Football game from the in-laws on your tablet. If so, you’ve consumed Azure Media Services Live Channels Media Streaming. ams

This service powers all sorts of public live media streaming services from NBC, the NHL, NFL, FIFA and many other partners. It has been available to us for a while now, in preview mode, and we at Perficient have been unable to discuss it – until now. On Thursday, Microsoft announced the general availability of Live Channels! Here’s a link to Scott Gutherie’s blog.

Live streaming is a very very cool, and rather difficult to harness technology. There are limitless application possibilities in today’s ever mobile, and connected world for live streaming. And up until now, actually using that technology – at a reasonable price point – was difficult. Read the rest of this post »

Webinar: Hybrid Cloud Storage Solutions – Lower Cost & Complexity

Storage StorSimple_MScomGraphic_590x590_Ais on the mind of many this holiday season. At home, if you are a parent, it’s a question of “Where are we going to store all these overwhelmingly large toys?” At work – it’s more likely to be a data issue.

If local storage is your issue, you probably know one of your options is a hybrid cloud storage appliance (on a side note, wouldn’t it be nice if we could store those toys in the cloud?).

Doing more with less has become the “new normal,” so it only makes sense that the demand for scalable, reliable, and secure cloud solutions is increasing.  One of the biggest challenges facing many of our customers is the tremendous data growth and the amount of storage management work required that data growth requires.

Join us on Tuesday, December 16, at 1 p.m. for a webinar, “Lower Cost & Complexity with Azure and StoreSimple Hybrid Cloud Solutions,” to learn how a hybrid storage appliance such as StorSimple can supply your organization with massive amounts of capacity and added functionality, all the while providing disaster recovery and reducing costs by up to 50%. Perficient Director Adetayo Adegoke will show you how you can seamlessly use a cloud-integrated storage (CiS) product to store commonly used data on premises and put more infrequently accessed data in Azure.

You can also take a look at the white paper, “The CIO’s Guide to Understanding Microsoft Cloud Services,” to learn more about Azure’s capabilities.

To register for the webinar, click here.
Lower Cost & Complexity with Azure and StoreSimple Hybrid Cloud Solutions
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
1:00 p.m. CT

Integrating Lync with Your Avaya Environment – Webinar Recap

lync3For CIOs looking to improve communication and collaboration while reducing costs, Unified Communications is top of mind. Fortunately, Microsoft Lync integrates with a large percentage of existing voice systems, including Avaya. Last week, we held our last Lync focused webinar of the year on Best Practices for Integrating Lync with Your Avaya Environment. Keenan Crockett and Jason Sloan, both Microsoft Certified Masters on the Lync platform, helped attendees understand how to build a strong telephony platform leveraging the power of Lync and backed by Avaya. 

The speakers tackled a number of related topics during the one-hour session, including goals and requirements when planning for this integration, a comparison of Lync 2013 and Avaya Voice components, Avaya integration best practices, and considerations and integration challenges.

Keenan kicked off the webinar by talking about the number of different ways Lync can be integrated into Avaya:

  • Direct SIP (Enteprise Voice)
  • Remote Call Control (CSTA)
  • Client Side Plug-In

He also discussed Lync Mediation Server, which is required for both the Enterprise Voice workload and for PSTN dial-in conferencing workload, and it allows for connectivity to PBX’s, PSTN Gateways, SBCs or SIP Trunk providers. When it came to Avaya integration best practices, the session covered call quality and prioritization planning, audio conferencing planning, and voicemail planning. Jason wrapped up the webinar with an in depth review of the considerations and integration challenges – simultaneous ringing between Lync and Avaya, remote call control, Avaya Agile Communication Environment (ACE), and finally, Lync Call Admission Control (CAC).

This post is merely a summary of the session, which was chock full of information for those looking to integrate the two technologies. You can watch the webinar replay here. Read the rest of this post »

Getting Started With Power BI, pt. 2

Last week, I posted part one of our Power BI Primer series discussing access and basic administration. This week we’re bringing you Part Two.

If you are an Office365 customer, then you have almost certainly heard about (if not seen) Power BI.

The cloud-based analytics and collaboration platform from Microsoft has some pretty amazing features, and really extends the Microsoft BI platform not only into the cloud but into a more self-service oriented mode.   However, one of the challenges to getting up and running on Power BI has been, well, knowing how to get up and running!

And that’s where we come in.

Perficient has created a 4-part video series that provides step-by-step instructions for getting your Power BI instance working for you. From getting your Power BI Site set up, to administering it, and connecting your Power BI workbooks to on-premises data sources — this series has got you covered!

So let’s take a look at Part 2: Power BI Administration and Permissions

This video takes a deeper look at administering Power BI Sites, including user permissions. This will cover some of the details of securing your Office 365 SharePoint Online site, and granting access to users.

Next time, we’ll get into using all aspects of Power BI data exploration and visualization. Cheers!

My Experience Taking a Microsoft Certification Exam …At Home

As an IT consultant, taking certification exams is a necessary task that most of us are quite familiar with. You can debate the value of the certifications or the ability of an exam to properly assess your knowledge on a topic but at the end of the day, it’s something you generally need to do as part of your job. While I don’t place as much importance on certifications as I did in the 1990s, I still try to keep my certifications current for my own personal benefit as well as the benefit of my employer.

This past September, I received an email from Microsoft announcing a new “Online Proctored” offering for some certification exams. Exams you can take at home? Really? The email had my interest on a couple levels. Seeing as some exams that were on my “to do list” were being offered through the Online Proctored option, I knew I had to give it a try.
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