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Posts Tagged ‘azure’

Webinar: How the Microsoft Cloud Helps @PIH Improve Global Health

Many nonprofits (and cerpihtainly other organizations as well) would likely share the same sentiment as Partners In Health (PIH) – due to the mission at hand, resource allocation, more often than not, prioritizes the needs of people over systems. It’s not all that surprising that this can lead to disbanded communication systems. Systems that, over time, become expensive to maintain and increasingly deficient.

This was the situation Partners In Health faced, and they are solving it by migrating to Office 365. PIH is a Boston-based nonprofit that delivers high-quality health care and serves impoverished communities around the world. Through the move to Office 365, they now have a single, reliable platform for colleague interactions and can more effectively focus on the mission, improving the quality of health and meeting the needs of underserved populations.

More from a recent news release:

Deployment of Office 365 across sites in Africa, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Russia and the U.S. will further Partners In Health’s mission to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. It will also enhance cross-site communication and collaboration as the organization responds to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Cloud-based storage allows documents to be accessed at any time from any device in any setting, including those where bandwidth is limited. With a common email platform, information may be shared seamlessly among colleagues, partners and all others involved in the fight against illness and poverty.

This migration included including a transition to Exchange Online for company-wide communication, Azure-hosted ADFS for identity management, and SharePoint Online for document storage and collaboration.

We’re fortunate to have assisted PIH with this deployment, and are excited to host a webinar next week, on Wednesday, March 4 at 1 p.m. CT, How Partners In Health Is Using the Microsoft Cloud to Improve Global Health.

During the session, PIH’s CIO Dave Mayo, as well as Kent Larson and David Chapman from Perficient, will share details around the challenges the organization faced prior to moving to Office 365 and how the Microsoft Cloud has impacted their ability to share information and collaborate across the globe, even in the most remote locations. They’ll also discuss how change management played an important role in a successful deployment.

For more about PIH or to make a contribution to help the organization transform global health, visit www.pih.org. Read the rest of this post »

Microsoft Azure Search Preview

Search as a Serviceazuresearch_configure1_5_searchtile

From FAST ESP to SharePoint Search and Bing/Google, search has become an integral point for users to reference their data. Microsoft has developed Azure Search to provide an integration point for a complete search experience. Developers can use the Azure portal and front-end APIs to tune their search index as well as increase and decrease their index capacity, query count, and number of documents. These features allow for individualized, cost effective solutions for all of your search scenarios.

There are already some established solutions such as Apache Solr and Elasticsearch (which is the platform that Azure Search is based on), however ensuring cost-effective scalability and steady hosting can be a whole other task completely. Azure Search’s pricing can be scaled by your query traffic as well as you document count, which allows you to pay for what you use. In the end, all are viable search solutions for your business’ needs.

Azure Search Under the Hood

Document – A document is simply a single entity in the search index. Documents can be a webpage, a physical document like a PDF or Word document, or any custom fed content that the user can format.

Search Index – The purpose of the index is to store a collection of documents, and optimize speed and performance for retrieving documents (documents = an item in the database). The index schema is defined by the user. You can have multiple indexes in your Azure Search environment.

Query Processing – The Query processor for each search engine is tuned uniquely. It is responsible for translating the query syntax before sending it to the index for document retrieval.

Indexing Component – The indexing component is responsible for processing the data before sending the data to the search index. This is commonly known as a pipeline or enrichment step which is responsible for massaging or normalizing data.

Azure Search (vs. SharePoint Search)

The core of Azure Search is built off of Elasticsearch, but don’t be fooled, this is not just Elasticsearch hosted on Azure. Microsoft has provided their own API on top of it, which makes interfacing with the engine more familiar to Microsoft developers and front-end developers.

If you were a PowerShell heavy SharePoint developer who used PowerShell scripting for configuration, then Azure Search’s APIs should feel familiar. However, Azure Search does not include a crawler, which SharePoint users have become accustomed to. Developers are responsible for formatting and feeding the data to the document processor/indexer. While this might seem like a huge oversight, content feeders or crawlers are generally not included in stand-alone search engines like Apache Solr.

Why Azure Search?

Search infrastructure has always been both taxing to maintain and often not cost efficient to scale. Azure search infrastructure is fully managed in the cloud by Microsoft, leaving you bandwidth to build you application. As your search application grows and requires more bandwidth, you can comfortably move up the pricing tier, or move down tiers during the off-season.

The management of the data has all been moved to the front end, exposed through a JSON schema API. There are no predefined index schemas or a crawler to fetch data. This is a “push-based” indexing system, which is common for engines built off Lucene. This allows you to easily separate your data pulling and pushing onto other servers and place less stress on your actual search servers. This also gives you full control on when content is pushed and what content is pushed.

So What’s Next?

Go try it out! http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/search/

If you have feedback for Microsoft or would like to see what others are saying, please visit: http://feedback.azure.com/forums/263029-azure-search

 

Supercomputer in the cloud: Azure G-series VMs

microsoft-windows-azure-datacentreIn January, Microsoft announced the general availability of a new, top-tier of Azure virtual machines: the G-series. These are some really powerful machines. The top configuration, G5, has Intel Xeon E5 CPU with 32 cores, 448 GB RAM and 6,144 GB SSD disk and it costs $9.65/hr to use. Considering how powerful the computer is, the price is very reasonable. The best thing about Microsoft Azure is that you pay only for what you use. If VM is not in use then it could be shut down and customer is only charged for the storage of VMs image (which is really minuscule).

None of the usual Azure competitors (AWS and Rackspace Cloud) offer servers as powerful as G5.

Traditionally, cloud is positioned as cheap, simple hardware which can be scaled out easily and on demand. However, there are cases when you may need a plenty of raw power in a single server. For example, when you running an application which doesn’t scale out very well… and this is the case for the majority of legacy applications.

The complete G-series lineup:

VM Size

Cores

RAM

Local SSD storage

Persistent Data Disks Max

Standard_G1

2

28 GiB

412 GB

4

Standard_G2

4

56 GiB

824 GB

8

Standard_G3

8

112 GiB

1,649 GB

16

Standard_G4

16

224 GiB

3298 GB

32

Standard_G5

32

448 GiB

6596 GB

64

At the moment, G-series VMs are only available at West US and East US 2 regions.

Microsoft Azure Cloud Service Updates – 2014 and Beyond

I think that we call now all agree that Azure, Microsoft’s Cloud Offering, is a major force in the cloud computing space for an ever expanding suite of services, capabilities and features. However, in this present age of cloud services, it is easy to not realize the sheer volume of new capabilities, service updates/improvements and production releases that the Microsoft Azure team has released over the past year. Let’s run some quick numbers, shall we:

 

Jan 2014 Feb 2014 Mar 2014 Apr 2014 May 2014 Jun 2014 Jul 2014 Aug 2014 Sep 2014 Oct 2014 Nov 2014 Dec 2014 Jan 2015
10 13 5 30 26 11 16 22 14 30 18 19 16

 

For those of you that are more visually inclined here is a graphical representation of the stats above:

Microsoft Azure Cloud Service Updates

 

In summary, that is total of 214 updates last year, with a monthly average of about 18 updates per month. To put this in perspective, think about how many significant updates you made to your on-premises or managed datacenter last year, in terms of bringing more services, capabilities and features online. If you had even up to 100 updates, 2014 must have been a very busy year!

And it looks like Microsoft is not slowing down this year. Last month, 16 service updates were published, a 50%+ increase compared to the same month in 2014. 3 updates were published in a single day in the first week of February 2015, so there is every indication that Microsoft will continue to innovate at a rapid pace and add more value to Azure this year as well.

Let’s dig into these updates to get a better understanding of the frequency of updates that each Azure service experienced in from Nov. 2013 to early Feb. 2015:

Read the rest of this post »

Upcoming Webinar: Navigating Digital Transformation in 2015

If you’re a frequent reader of our Microsoft blog, you may have read Rich Woods’ blog post last week, Four Microsoft Platforms and Products for Digital Transformation. And if you didn’t read his post, you might be wondering what we’re doing talking about digital transformation on a blog that focuses on all things Microsoft. Rich explained:

Digital Transformation taken as a whole is about more than just outreach and interaction. It’s about embracing new ways of working—working social, working mobile, powered by the cloud and not inhibited by archaic notions of a firewall—that’s how you enable your own users to move faster, work smarter, and just be more effective versions of themselves. And Microsoft is all about that. 

While the Alimeter Group defines digital transformation as “The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touch-point in the customer experience lifecycle,” most companies’ goals go beyond improving engagement with customers, to include more effective collaboration internally and improving efficiency overall.Digital-Transformation-Webinar

And this is where the Microsoft stack shines – Azure, Office 365 and Yammer, and Dynamics CRM. Rich also reminds us not to forget Sitecore, Microsoft ISV Partner of the Year for 2014. Sure, it’s not a Microsoft product, but Sitecore’s CMS, DMS and Customer Experience Platform are built on the .NET Framework and run on Microsoft infrastructure.

In the Alimeter report, 88 percent of those surveyed answered “yes” when asked if their company was embarking on a digital transformation initiative in 2014.

If you too are planning your next steps, Perficient is kicking off a webinar series next week, on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 1 p.m. CT, focused on creating a solid foundation for your digital transformation strategy. Throughout 2015, the series will touch on many aspects of your business including cloud, customer experience, eCommerce, integration, CRM, digital marketing, mobile, collaboration, analytics and Big Data solutions.

Sign up today for Digital Transformation in 2015: Laying the Groundwork for Success. Read the rest of this post »

Microsoft Releases Cloud Roadmap

roadmapMicrosoft just launched their Cloud Platform roadmap site. For one it addresses the frequent frustration customers have around the visibility, and second it actually provides a way to be able to understand and plan for what’s coming next. The link to the site is here

This roadmap gives comprehensive insights into features in various buckets: preview, development stage, in the pipeline and the ones which were cancelled. This spans cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Intune, Power BI, and Visual Studio Online; server offerings such as Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server and Visual Studio; and converged system appliance offerings such as Cloud Platform System, Analytics Platform System and StorSimple.

 

Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute is free through June 30, 2015

The most common way for enterprises to connect their datacenters or home offices to resources in Microsoft Azure is over VPN. Although Microsoft has made connecting to Azure quick and easy, VPNs, in general, do have their drawbacks. Because they traverse the public internet, availability and performance are difficult to control. Latency can also be an issue for those applications and connections which depend on low latency communications.expressroute

Fortunately, Microsoft realizes many companies require better connections to their Azure resources, and they offer ExpressRoute as a solution. ExpressRoute provides private connections between Azure datacenters and a company’s on-premises datacenter. These connections don’t traverse the public internet so the result is higher security, lower latency, better reliability and faster speeds.

If you are thinking of extending your existing datacenter to Azure, or if you want to take advantage of the storage, backup, and recovery benefits of the Azure cloud, now is a great time to give it a try. Up until June 30, 2015, the Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute 10 Mbps Network Service Provider (NSP) offering is free of charge. Just to sweeten the pot, some Microsoft NSP partners are offering related promotions during this period.

Read the rest of this post »

10 Best Microsoft Azure Features For 2015

microsoft-azure-logo_11368901Welcome to 2015, I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season! As we gear up for Q1, I wanted to share some great new features (services) available today in Microsoft Azure. I had a hard time narrowing my list to only 10, there are a ton of new and great features for Azure. If you’re not using Azure today, keep reading, I can almost guarantee your business would benefit from at least one of the below.

1. Azure Search

We all know how important search is to any web based application. Users are used to Web search engines, sophisticated ecommerce websites and social apps that offer great relevance, search suggestions as you type, faceted navigation, highlighting and more, all with near-instantaneous response times. So, this feature is something we have been waiting on for quite some time in Azure, and now its finally in public preview! Microsoft Azure Search is a new service that allows you to embed search functionality into custom applications. It provides the search engine and storage for your data, which you access and manage using a REST API. Here are some of the key features – Read the rest of this post »

Perficient Assists Global Health Efforts with Office 365 Solution

pihLast week, Michael Novinson from the Channel Company published an article on its IT Best of Breed website around Perficient’s work with Partners In Health to deliver cloud communication capabilities to workers in remote locations. The full article is available here.

From the post:

The St. Louis-based company, No. 66 on the CRN SP 500, migrated the infrastructure and 3,000 employees of Partners In Health to a Microsoft Office 365 suite at the purchasing price without any markup.

Boston-based Partners In Health trains healthcare providers and delivers clinical and social support for impoverished communities in areas such as Haiti, Rwanda and Siberia. The organization has also been involved with responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“It’s a great cause,” Perficient CEO Jeff Davis told Itbestofbreed.com.

Davis said Perficient – which was named Microsoft’s partner of the year in 2013 – was the only solution provider willing to do the work without any profit margin.

Novinson went on to discuss how the Gates Foundation donated the cloud services while Microsoft donated the software. The solution includes Exchange Online for email communication, Azure AD for identity management and SharePoint Online for collaboration.

Prior to Office 365, Davis said many employees were in remote locations with such little bandwidth that they had to go to internet cafes and use Gmail. Some Partners In Health employees were not on a single email system, he said messages would sometimes get lost due to time zone changes.

Since Office 365 operates out of the cloud, Davis said it does not require much data to be moved across the system, which is vital given the remote location of Partners In Health clinics, particularly in Haiti.

The SharePoint piece, though, will be much more data intensive, meaning Perficient might not be able to roll it out at every site.

Perficient also addressed Partners In Health’s server crashes and shored up issues with legacy systems since even a cloud-based application such as Office 365 requires some on-site computing power.

You can read the full piece here, or read a recently published case study describing the client’s challenges and how Perficient is addressing them.

Perficient’s Top 5 Microsoft Azure Blog Posts of 2014

Yesterday, we shared the top five SharePoint related blog posts of 2014. Gold TOP five.As several of those SharePoint posts alluded to, when it comes to the cloud, 2014 could be called the year Microsoft went “all in” and truly made cloud king. And Azure is a significant piece of that. 80% of Fortune 500 companies are on the Microsoft Cloud, with 50% using Azure. Our team shared their knowledge around Azure throughout the year, and here are the top five posts, in no particular order:

Multi-Forest Identity Solution – Azure AD Sync
In this post, Vaibhav Mathur discusses the much awaited multi-forest identity solution, Azure Active Directory Sync Tool. He gives background on why customers with complex multi-forest environments needed this. AADSync has its underpinnings from components of Microsoft’s Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) metadirectory service, so its architecture is similar to both DirSync and FIM.

Watch Out Amazon-Microsoft Azure is Here to Rule
After an impromptu airport encounter with Amazon and Google advocates, Vaibhav recognizes just how little some folks know about Azure and its capabilities. Most know Azure as only IaaS, but it has a wide variety of features in its PaaS offering and SaaS. In fact, Microsoft was one of two vendors described as leaders in Gartner’s application PaaS (which it calls aPaaS) Magic Quadrant. He goes on to talk about storage, business continuity, predictive analysis and security. Read the rest of this post »