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Office 365 – Getting Closer To “True” Single Sign-On For Outlook

One of the Office 365 concepts that gets glossed over a bit is “single sign-on”, in particular when it comes to Outlook. Many will provide the statement that if you implement AD FS, then you have single sign-on.

While it is true that AD FS provides single sign-on for some workloads, I’ve often argued that Outlook, possibly the most popular application used with Office 365, is not single sign-on under any scenario.

Last week Microsoft somewhat quietly updated documentation around “Modern Authentication” which gets us closer to “true” single sign-on.

Below is a link-filled overview of Modern Authentication and how it gets us closer to “true” single sign-on…
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Office 365 – Azure AD Connect: Did You Know?

brain_gears_shutterstock_wordpressAzure AD Connect is the synchronization tool formerly known as “Azure AD Sync” which was formerly known as “DirSync”. Regardless of what you call it, Azure AD Connect is the tool you’ll use to synchronize your on-premises Active Directory with Azure AD.

With each name change, new features have been added to the product.

Below are 10 quick little tidbits you might not have known about Azure AD Connect.
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Azure: Did You Know? Azure Storage Explorer

This week at the Microsoft Connect() 2015 conference there were many new features and updates Microsoft Azure and rest of the Microsoft developer stack. Among these updates was the announcement of the all new Azure Storage Explorer being added to the set of Azure SDK tools. The Azure Storage Explorer is a stand-alone application that allows for Azure Blob Storage to be worked with in a similar fashion as using Windows File Explorer to browse and manage a file system. This enables you to create and delete Blob containers; upload, download and delete Blobs; as well as enables searching across all containers and blobs within your Azure Subscription. Additionally, the new Azure Storage Explorer runs on both Windows and Mac OSX.

Azure Storage Explorer screenshot

Previously, since the beginning of the Microsoft Azure platform, it was a bit cumbersome to work with Azure Blob Storage, as you pretty much needed to use the .NET SDK to write an application to manage your Blobs and Containers. This works well for making an application upload, download and delete the Blobs it needs behind the scenes. But what about the instances where an Admin or Developer needs to just look at what’s out there in Blob Storage? Well, now thanks to the new Azure Storage Explorer, you can just browse and manage Blob Storage with ease.

Azure Storage Explorer can be downloaded here:

Innovation with Azure Machine Learning and Dynamics AX

On a call with Microsoft this morning, they referenced this public case study. I thought it was a really nice example of using a multitude of Azure services to innovate their business – Machine Learning, Mobile Services, IoT Hubs, and Dynamics AX. Check out the video below and the full description here –

Azure DevOps: Scale Out Your Build System

Azure_LogoEvery developer knows that builds are an integral piece to the Application Lifecycle. Using an automated build and testing process will help speed the time to market for your application. Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server offers a number of features to help with this process.

To use Team Foundation Build for automated building and testing of your app, you must first set up a build server, add a build controller and a few build agents, and finally designate a drop folder. If you have a small start-up team working on a new project, you can probably deploy all these build system components on a single computer in a few minutes. As your team and your code base grow, you can expand your build system incrementally, with relative ease.

If you work on a small team with an on-premises Team Foundation Server, consider this topology: Read the rest of this post »

Azure Site Recovery Integration with SQL Server AlwaysOn

Azure_LogoAzure Site Recovery now provides native support for SQL Server AlwaysOn. SQL Server Availability Groups can be added to a recovery plan along with VMs. All the capabilities of your recovery plan—including sequencing, scripting, and manual actions—can be leveraged to orchestrate the failover of a multitier application using an SQL database configured with AlwaysOn replication. Site Recovery is now available through Microsoft Operations Management Suite, the all-in-one IT management solution for Windows or Linux, across on-premises or cloud environments.

For more information, please visit the Site Recovery webpage.

Azure Backup Support for Application Workloads Now Available

Azure_LogoAzure Backup can now back up your on-premises application workloads, including Microsoft SQL Server, Hyper-V VMs, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Exchange. You can back up your applications to a local disk or to Azure, allowing you to eliminate local tape libraries and leverage the unlimited storage capability of Azure. You can also manage all your on-premises backups from a single user interface.

Backup continues to support backups of your production IaaS VMs in Azure and to help protect your Windows client data, along with your shared files and folders. Backup is now available through Microsoft Operations Management Suite, the all-in-one IT management solution for Windows or Linux, across on-premises or cloud environments.

For more information, please visit the Azure Backup webpage.

Azure: Did You Know? Mobile Engagement Now Available

Azure_LogoAzure Mobile Engagement is a SaaS-delivered, data-driven user-engagement platform that enables real-time and fine-grain user segmentation, app user analytics, and context-aware, smart push notifications across all connected devices. You can maximize your app usage, retention, and monetization with this powerful platform.

It allows developers, app owners, and line-of-business decision makers to directly contact app users in a personal, context-aware, and nonintrusive way—exactly when it makes the most sense for both parties. Comprehensive analytics go beyond typical key performance indicators (KPIs), highlighting the data to capture, track, analyze, and act on for improving engagement precisely when customers need your products or services. Read the rest of this post »

Microsoft Announces Partnership with Red Hat for Linux on Azure

Red_Hat_LinuxExciting news for Linux customers! From today’s announcement –

The partnership we are announcing today with Red Hat extends our commitment to offer unmatched choice and flexibility in an enterprise-grade cloud experience across the hybrid cloud. With more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 using Microsoft’s cloud, for us to team with the leader in enterprise Linux allows even more businesses to move to the cloud on their terms. By working with Red Hat, we will address common enterprise, ISV and developer needs for building, deploying and managing applications on Red Hat software across private and public clouds, including the following: Read the rest of this post »

Cortana Analytics and Information Management

In previous posts I’ve provided an introduction to Microsoft’s cloud-based Cortana Analytics Suite, and we’ve looked at what data and event ingest capability it provides.  This time, I want to shed some light on what happens after Ingest.  Where do you land the data so that you can work to transform it into actionable intelligence?

Traditionally, Azure has provided basic storage in both Blob and Table formats.  In the Cortana Analytics Process — the steps used to go from problem to toolset to full Cortana Analytics-based solution — Azure Blob storage, Azure VM-based SQL Server, and Azure SQL Database are all defined as common first destinations for the ingest process.  The choice here is determined largely by business needs and data characteristics.   A common scenario is:

  • First, load raw data into Azure Blob storage (using Python, javascript, or a number of other techniques)
  • Next, create a Hadoop cluster with that data using HDInsight, and then use Hive queries to manipulate the Hadoop data.
  • Finally, the results of those Hive queries can be exported, saved back to Blob storage, or even exported to Azure Machine Learning (more on that in future posts).

For org- or enterprise-level solutions, CAS provides more comprehensive offerings:  Azure Data Lake and Azure SQL Data Warehouse.   Azure SQL Data Warehouse is an elastic, massively parallel data warehouse that can grow, shrink, and pause as needed — up to a size of Petabytes.   Effectively, this offering is SQL Server PDW in the cloud rather than in the APS appliance.  Virtually all the same capabilities are there — notably including Polybase, which allows T-SQL querying across both structured and unstructured data.  Obviously, data from on-premises sources can be incorporated via ETL.

Currently in preview, Azure Data Lake provides a unified solution capable of ingestion, storage, and analysis of any kind of data at any size.  Built on Apache YARN, the Data Lake service can scale dynamically and offers fully managed Hadoop, Spark, Storm, and Hbase clusters.


A new tool that Microsoft is including in the CAS is an EIM (Enterprise Information Management) service called Azure Data Catalog.  This is a fully managed service that serves as a system of registration and discovery for enterprise data sources. Users can register and annotate those data sources to provide context and metadata, and then they can be discovered and used for reporting, analytics, etc.  Data Catalog basically crowdsources knowledge in your organization, helping unlock and uncover uses for and sources of important data.

As we’ve seen, Cortana Analytics leverages existing and new Azure services to provide comprehensive Ingest and Store capability for Big Data solutions, as well as advanced cloud-based Data Warehousing scaling up to the Petabyte range.  In addition, they are providing some innovation in terms of kind of a “crowdsourced data governance” tool.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what happens next after we have our data at rest.  We’ll review the Cortana Analytics Process for building Data Science solutions, and in the process we’ll examine some other new and existing tools bundled in the suite.