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Connecting Technology and Business.

Microsoft Azure and the small / medium business

With the fast pace of innovation constantly accelerating, it’s becoming increasingly expensive for SMBs to keep investing in the latest and greatest IT solutions. At the same time, relying on older solutions while competitors invest in new ones gives a leg up on them to anticipate, manage, and respond more quickly to change.

By turning to Microsoft Azure and the cloud, SMBs can keep their competitive edge without expanding their budget. Azure helps SMBs bring products and services to market quickly. They can instantly scale globally, with everything needed to support worldwide business growth. They can run their operations more cost-effectively, paying only for what they use as opposed to for what they don’t. They can also free up their budget to spend on other business needs by eliminating the cost of new hardware. And they can gain enterprise-level security with the same data protection and datacenter security that many of the world’s largest organizations receive today.

Business focus

SMBs want to focus on running their business and increasing their bottom line,  not on their infrastructure. With Azure, they can build, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud without worrying about the cost of purchasing new server hardware. They can easily scale up or down as needed and gain peace of mind knowing they have the added protection of multiple data backups in Microsoft-managed datacenters.

Business Continuity

Many businesses lose critical data because they don’t have a data backup solution. Azure offers simple, reliable backup for company's data and applications that is affordable because they pay only for the storage they use. There are no typical infrastructure costs or per-server or data transfer fees. Plus their applications receive the same level of protection that Microsoft enterprise customers, including many of the world’s largest financial institutions, receive.

Business Boost

Any business can host its own website, but is the risk of poor performance, security breaches, and skyrocketing costs worth the price? With Azure, SMBs can quickly and easily host scalable websites in the cloud. Microsoft uses multiple datacenters around the world, helping provide business and their customers with a reliable, satisfying, and secure experience that enables them to deploy their applications close to their customers.

Microsoft uniquely offers a flexible platform that lets SMBs choose the path that is best for their business, whether that’s on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid combination. Working seamlessly with other Microsoft software and services such as Windows Server, SQL Server, and SharePoint, Azure helps make the cloud a seamless part of a business' IT in a way that is best for a company’s specific needs.

Optimizing SharePoint performance during migration to O365

A Microsoft IT Case study


Microsoft IT focused its performance optimization efforts for SharePoint Online on two major areas: a gradual, staged migration plan that mitigated most impacts of migration on performance, and a SharePoint portal performance analysis that led to important configuration optimizations in caching, content rendering, and navigation. Because of these efforts, Microsoft IT enjoyed an especially smooth migration of SharePoint content and portals to Office 365.

Optimizing migration through categorization and gradual onboarding

When Microsoft IT began migrating to SharePoint Online, there were approximately 70,000 site collections and over 100,000 My Site personal sites. Through a combination of cleanup efforts and a “Start Fresh” approach, (see below for a full description) to encourage net-new adoption, Microsoft IT was able to reduce the actual number of site collections that had to be fully migrated to 22,063 Team Sites. These sites consisted of 36 terabytes of data, and were approximately a 50 percent reduction in sites to be migrated (this did not including self-migrations of Team Sites or My Sites, which were primarily content-only moves). After the Start Fresh adoption and cleanup efforts were completed, the team successfully migrated more than 97 percent of its relevant SharePoint sites to the cloud in less than one year. Part of this success is attributable to the development of new SharePoint Online migration APIs (currently in preview; see Resources) coupled with a third-party tool developed by Metavis, which greatly improved throughput for migration throughout the year. Microsoft IT also treated the migration as a large-scale project, complete with project management assignments, a detailed communication plan, a rollback plan, and buy-in from all stakeholders. Most importantly, Microsoft IT planned and performed migrations in a staged manner that greatly minimized impact on performance.

Key takeaway

  • The most important step to prepare for migrating to SharePoint Online is to perform a detailed audit and to clearly understand your environment. Determine which sites have not been edited for some time and reach out to the site owners to find out if they are still needed. Remove those that are not needed any longer. This cleanup is essential to make sure you are only migrating the most relevant data.
Categorizing migration

Before beginning site migrations, Microsoft IT created four migration categories defined by site complexity (the level and breadth of existing customizations) and the degree of business value associated with the content. The categories were:

  • Start Fresh. Individuals and teams were encouraged to create new sites in the cloud and manually migrate their own content as needed, only moving the most important files and discarding the rest.
  • Forklift. Microsoft IT performed a bulk migration of nearly 30,000 high-value SharePoint sites, using third-party migration tools.
  • Partial Move. Select content was moved to the cloud, and more complex content (such as content for highly customized portal components) remained on-premises until it could be redesigned.
  • Redesign. Some portals with highly customized applications and solutions were slated for complete redesign, with custom workload migration and completely rebuilt solutions to take advantage of newly available technology, such as Azure media services, and to leverage the new app model.

Key takeaway

  • Performing migrations according to site categories is essential to efficient SharePoint migration.

Although all four approaches were instrumental in the successful Microsoft IT SharePoint migration and can serve as a model for any IT department planning a migration to SharePoint Online, the Start Fresh approach was perhaps the most significant for mitigating potential migration-related performance issues. This approach involved regular communication and a generous timeline, allowing users to self-migrate at their convenience.

To simplify the transition and encourage users to move, Microsoft IT created a process by which users could create a new SkyDrive Pro (now OneDrive for Business) site on first visit by simply clicking a link. Additionally end-users were informed that their on-premises My Sites would eventually be eliminated. Within a specified time (approximately one year), users could migrate critical content on their own and discard anything no longer needed. Microsoft IT did not migrate any content from My Sites on-premises to SkyDrive Pro. For more complex sites requiring third-party migration tools, users could request migration assistance from Microsoft IT in the form of forklift moves, partial moves, and redesigns.

Key takeaway

  • Establishing a project plan and using a third-party tool (Metavis) that takes advantage of the migration APIs developed by the SharePoint product group can reduce the overall impact of migration on performance.
Gradual onboarding and organic adoption

As users moved to their new sites and experienced the benefits of cloud document storage and accessibility firsthand, SkyDrive Pro experienced viral adoption. Growth in use of SharePoint Online in Microsoft IT was organic and gradual, but also highly efficient and effective. A year after the start of the SharePoint migration in Microsoft IT, more than half of its SharePoint footprint was in the cloud.

This gradual onboarding and adoption approach is ideal for organizations that can increase network bandwidth as needed over time. Although a large migration to Office 365 ultimately requires some increase in network capacity, very little upfront network load planning is necessary in a long-term migration model. This approach minimizes the effect of migration and any associated performance issues because it greatly reduces the possibility of sudden changes in throughput or network capacity.

Key takeaway

  • A gradual approach to SharePoint site migration that provides a generous timeline for more user control can minimize the effect of migration on network performance.

Optimizing Skype for Business performance in O365

A Microsoft IT case study


When Microsoft IT began its transition to Office 365, the team responsible for Lync and Skype for Business services was already involved with a major performance improvement effort as part of the transition from Lync to Skype for Business. This work included categorizing service challenges and large-scale, long-term planning for improved performance and availability both on-premises and in the cloud. This improvement project expanded to include an intense evaluation of the cloud management service and strategic work to prepare the network environment and optimize for the cloud, as well as a cloud migration plan that took advantage of flexible hybrid opportunities.

Preparing the network environment

Knowing that a Skype for Business cloud migration would require changes to the network environment for optimal performance, Microsoft IT took advantage of the Microsoft Click-to-Run technology to reduce complexity and IT overhead, allowing Office 365 to manage Office and Skype for Business client updates. By moving to the cloud, Microsoft IT was able to manage updates and ensure the most current versions of the client at all times, guaranteeing availability of the newest features and the greatest reliability.

Because real-time communication is extremely sensitive to network conditions, Microsoft IT also prioritized a deep understanding of three key elements of capacity and traffic planning before they began cloud migrations. To understand capacity and traffic planning:

  • They analyzed federated traffic with external organizations in a hybrid environment to prevent potential bottlenecks at the network edge.
  • They developed a deep understanding of the traffic flows within the network to optimize routes for voice traffic.
  • They ensured that their private connectivity, which reduced complexity in the network integration for Skype for Business in Office 365, had the appropriate markings for quality of service and guaranteed prioritization to the Office 365 network.

Historically, major IT investments have included tools, systems, and personnel for managing infrastructure and applications; moving to the cloud shifted some of those burdens to Office 365 and enabled Microsoft IT to focus more resources on adoption and improving control over the Skype for Business user experience. Microsoft IT has seen fewer incidents caused by network changes, because dedicated network links now connect users directly to server farms in the cloud. In Office 365, the risk of user or service impact caused by internal network changes or configuration drift is greatly reduced.

Key takeaway

  • Migrating Skype for Business Server to Skype for Business Online in Office 365 may allow IT departments to shift resources from internal IT infrastructure and applications to adoption efforts and a more managed user experience.
Optimization for transition to the cloud

Because of the real-time nature of the Skype for Business service, optimizing performance is even more critical than with other Office 365 services; even a few seconds of lost voice, video, or data affect user productivity. Therefore, before Microsoft IT could migrate Skype for Business to the cloud, it was crucial to evaluate change and develop new strategies for availability, reliability, and performance.

When Microsoft IT began to transition Skype for Business to the cloud, the existing wireless networks were optimized for data, but not for real-time communications such as voice. With the increase in the number and variety of mobile devices in the workplace, use of wireless connections more than doubled during meetings in less than a year. Additionally, transitioning to open floor plans to reduce physical footprints and accommodate new working models resulted in increased user density and additional meeting spaces. To accommodate channel overlap and improve signal optimization in this changing wireless environment, Microsoft IT re-tuned their wireless access point placements and deployment configurations based on analysis of changing user behaviors, varied user density, and new floor plan trends.

At the same time, Microsoft IT was seeing widespread increase in Windows 8 machines that were optimized for Wireless N network hardware rather than wired connections. Microsoft IT standardized the environment for wireless N, ensuring clear communications by proactively making sure that its wireless network drivers were as current as possible and continuing to actively push driver updates.

Key takeaway

  • The increasing popularity of mobile devices and open floorplans in the workplace requires analysis and potential redesign of network configurations, as well as increased focus on driver updates.
Using hybrid deployments for flexibility

The Microsoft IT Skype for Business migration to the cloud is occurring in phases. Even more complex than the SharePoint migration, the Skype for Business migration to Office 365 is part of a much larger deployment that also includes the launch of Skype for Business Server 2015 and the new Skype for Business client software. The Microsoft IT ecosystem for Skype for Business involves 218,000 users in both on-premises and Office 365 environments; of these, 30,000 are currently in the cloud, producing 3.5 million streams per month. This hybrid environment allows Microsoft IT to provide global public switched telephone network (PSTN) connectivity for both Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online while optimizing performance and the user experience. Processes and applications are moved into the public cloud environment as quickly as possible.

Microsoft IT currently provides global enterprise voice in the cloud and will remain in a hybrid configuration until global services are available online. There is high user satisfaction with the current hybrid environment; a cloud user and an on-premises user can have a seamless conference in a shared environment without any awareness of its hybrid nature.

Office 365 implementations will vary greatly by organization, with some small organizations moving easily to a total cloud environment and larger organizations using longer-term hybrid scenarios. Like Microsoft IT, other large IT departments may experience challenges that will influence performance planning for Skype for Business migration, such as application requirements, telecommunications investments, carrier limitations, partner dependencies, and number of users. Fortunately, the flexibility of gradual hybrid deployments can mitigate many of these challenges.

Key takeaway

  • A gradual hybrid transition to Office 365 allows companies to migrate to the cloud while continuing to maximize their investment in their existing on-premises telephony equipment.

The VPN style connectivity using Microsoft ExpressRoute for O365

A Microsoft IT Case study

Until now, Microsoft IT had been using Internet-based connectivity to Office 365 public services, working with network transport providers and carefully selecting the regional locations of the tenancy to improve the network experience. The current phase in Office 365 connectivity involves shifting connectivity from a standard public Internet connection to private peering using Microsoft ExpressRoute for Office 365, the same technology used for Microsoft Azure. ExpressRoute provides Microsoft IT with private network connectivity that offers performance that is more predictable and guaranteed service availability.

A standard public Internet connection is an uncertain and unpredictable network path in which service quality depends on carriers, traffic, intermediaries, and proximity to cloud datacenters. With ExpressRoute, organizations contract with a Microsoft partner who is a network service provider or an Exchange provider. (Tata Communications in India is now providing ExpressRoute from Amsterdam, Chennai+, Hong Kong, London, Mumbai+ and Singapore). These companies provide connectivity into the Microsoft network, which connects all Microsoft datacenters, offering predictable performance, data privacy, and guaranteed service availability.

The figure below illustrates using ExpressRoute with Office 365 and the corporate intranet.

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Key takeaway

Using private network connections with Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365 is a practical solution that may help enterprises address any performance uncertainties of an Internet-connected network path.

Advanced analytics functionality in Excel 2016

Excel 2016 provides capabilities that allow users to further enhance your data analysis experiences and share their data and analysis more effectively across their company. These features, usually suitable for professional business analysts, come with all premium plans of Office 2016, including Office 365 ProPlus, Office Professional Plus, Excel 2016 Standalone, and now also in Office 2016 Professional.

Here is the list of the advanced analytics features:

Advanced analytics and modelling capabilities with Power Pivot

With the full Power Pivot management UX, users can benefit from advanced modelling capabilities like Diagram View, KPIs, Hierarchies and DAX Calculated Columns.

New ways to get the Excel business analytics features  1

Advanced connectivity options with Power Query

For corporate users who require advanced connectivity and importing features, Microsoft has added the option to connect to corporate, big data and cloud data sources, such as Oracle, DB2 or MySQL database, a variety of Azure data sources, such as Azure SQL Database, Salesforce, Hadoop files and many more.

New ways to get the Excel business analytics features  2

Advanced collaboration

With an addition of Power BI license, users will also benefit from a corporate data search and will be able to share their import and transformation queries with other analysts within their organization through the means of a Corporate Data Catalog.

New ways to get the Excel business analytics features  3

-Microsoft Excel Team

Enhance visualization using new charts in Excel 2016

Waterfall—visualizing financial statements with ease

Most business owners seek to better understand their finances in order to ensure their success. Profit and loss statements can help explain the bottom line of your business. However, quickly understanding and communicating your gains, losses and balances by viewing financial statements can be challenging. With a Waterfall chart, you can quickly illustrate the line items in your financial data and get a clear picture of how each item is impacting your bottom line. The example below shows the income statement for a bookstore. It’s clear to see that the cost of inventory nearly cut net revenue in half while operating costs accounted for an additional third of net revenue.

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 2

A Waterfall chart provides a simple visual of the running total of your financial data, identifies the contributions and provides clear subtotals, giving you a ready-to-present financial report in a few clicks.

Histogram—exploring and analyzing a distribution

For a bookstore owner, it is important to continuously find new ways to attract customers. Stocking books with both high-end and low-end prices can help appeal to a wider range of readers. The new Histogram chart can display the distribution of the book prices in inventory so the bookstore owner can ensure inventory can meet the customer’s needs.

Commonly used in statistics, a histogram automatically displays the frequencies within a distribution. In this example, the horizontal axis represents the book price. Each column, called a “bin,” shows the number of books within a given price range. Here we see that this bookstore has a good distribution of books, both high-end and low-end.

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 3

Excel now makes it is easy for you create the Histogram chart. After creating the chart, use the intuitive options to change the bin ranges to dig deeper into the data.

Pareto—finding the largest impact

Continuing with the bookstore example, the owner now wants to focus on quality control by reducing the number of returned books. Each day, a number of books are returned and tabulated for various reasons—maybe the book is a defect or the customer bought the wrong book. The Pareto chart will help the bookstore owner to see the most common reasons customers return books.

Using the Pareto chart, you can automatically sort the frequency of the most prevalent issues (the bar graph) and then show the additive contributions of each issue as you move along the horizontal axis (the line graph).

In the example below, each column represents a reason for a book return. The line graph shows how each column, or issue, contributes to the overall total of returned books. Notice, from the bar graph, that the “defect” category caused 2,025 book returns. From the orange Pareto line in the chart, we see that this means defects contributed to 40 percent of all book returns. By improving on just the top three reasons for returns—defects, incorrect pricing and wrong products—the bookstore owner can address over 80 percent of the returns!

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 4

The Pareto chart allows you to prioritize the improvements you want to make in the bookstore to address the most critical issues.

Box & Whisker—bringing statistics to distribution

Like the Histogram chart, the Box & Whisker chart shows the distribution of information. For deeper analysis, this chart goes further by providing key insights about the distribution in one view, including range, quartiles, mean and outliers. And you get all of this information with a few clicks.

In this example, we are able to compare the price distribution of books by genre. The Box & Whisker chart automatically groups the books by their genre and displays the characteristics of the distribution of pricing in a way that can be easily analyzed. Notice that the book prices of Romance have a wider range and is especially skewed by the one $300 item.

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 5

Box & Whisker chart adds a visual angle to Excel’s statistical functionality, creating a simple snapshot view of the data’s characteristics.

Treemap—analyzing across hierarchies in one view

For the bookstore owner, it is very useful to know which book genres provide the largest source of revenue. But what if you could easily identify the largest revenue generators for each level of genre categorization … in one view? The Treemap chart is an ideal visualization for this purpose because it provides a hierarchical view of your data and an easy way to compare different levels of categorization.

In this example, we can see each sub-genre grouped to its parent genre automatically, by color and proximity. The size of each node, marking a sub-genre, represents the total revenue of all books under that category. You can easily see that most of the revenue comes from Children’s books and Romance books, but also that 1st Readers and Young Adult titles are the most lucrative.

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 6

With Treemap, large datasets with innate groupings can be effectively visualized in a simple way. Treemap draws the big picture, so you can draw comparisons between similar or competing products.

Sunburst—revealing every level of your hierarchy

While using a Treemap chart is ideal for comparing the relative sizes of groups, the Sunburst chart shows the full hierarchy of the groups to provide deeper analysis capabilities. With a Sunburst chart, it’s easy to see the largest contributing segments within a hierarchy of multiple levels.

Introducing new and modern chart types now available in Office 2016 Preview 7

The visual layout is intuitively natural for finding how each slice is broken down to the most basic contribution. The Sunburst is versatile, displaying any number of levels for any category.

These six new chart types provide a rich new set of storytelling tools in Excel, Word and PowerPoint that enable you to do more with your data. Additionally, each chart can be customized to fit your specific needs with the intuitive design tools you are already familiar with in Excel. Use these features to change style and layout of the chart, add chart elements, like legends and data labels and fine-tune the fonts, colors and effects.

-office Blogs

With Excel 2016 Data Analysis has become easier

Faster and easier ways to get data

Before analysis can begin, you must be able to bring in the data relevant to the business question you are trying to answer. Excel 2016 now comes with built-in functionality that brings ease and speed to getting and transforming your data—allowing you to find and bring all the data you need into one place. These new capabilities, previously only available as a separate add-in called Power Query, can be found natively within Excel 2016. Access them from the “Get & Transform” section on the Data tab.