Office 365 Group Management and Auto-Expiration Public Preview

If you’ve been working with Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies, you probably remember a utility that was made available as a part of SharePoint Server 2003 to automatically delete old site collections that hadn’t been worked with in a while. This was an incredibly helpful utility for system administrators that were watching their SharePoint systems grow virally with the use of Self Service Site Collection creation.

If you’re not familiar with Self Service Site Collection Creation, it’s probably because it was removed from the SharePoint Products and Technologies and then brought back. Self Service Site Collection creation was incredibly beneficial to when users needed to get something up and running as quickly as possible but typically meant that users were creating site collections that may or may not have necessarily fit within the taxonomy of sites that were being implemented by their organization. What does that mean? Well, in some instances duplicative sites and site collections that were owned by different individuals that perhaps weren’t knowledgeable of one another were created, nor did they always find out that the other site / site collection existed since SharePoint Search follows the permissions model and trims out things that you don’t have access to see.

With Office 365’s SharePoint Online, site collection followed a similar life cycle where only certain individuals (SharePoint Service Administraotrs) had the ability to create them. This helped to limit the sprawl of site collections and knowledge but in some instances caused end users to use other Rogue IT services as they found the process for creating a new site to be cumbersome.

Enter in Office 365 Groups and the ability for end users to quickly stand up a collaboration group without the need of an approval from an IT Manager or someone concerned with site taxonomy.  This effectively allows end users to provision a document library, a OneNote notebook, a calendar and a running history of messages that have been sent to the group. Sure it’s possible for the overarching administrator to turn this capability off (Groups) but the question then becomes, “Do you want to limit what your users can do with this Software as a Service platform and limit their ability to collaborate?” That’s a question that I know I comes up regularly – primarily when it comes to governance.

Back with SharePoint Server 2003 the added ability to have a script run and determine when a site collection was last modified which gave them the ability to then send an email to the site collection owner asking them if they were still using the site. Alternatively it was possible to just have the script watch and if it didn’t see a change over a certain period the site collection would be deleted.  Pretty handy – this actually was introduced with Office 365 in OneDrive for Business service for when a user’s license was removed for Office 365 (14 days later their OneDrive for Business went away). Fortunately Microsoft has worked on the tooling for the OneDrive for Business capability to allow a little more flexibility as to how this now works.

In similar fashion the Microsoft Office 365 Groups has a capability announced recently to allow for a similar function of a “soft delete” with a 30 day window to get an Office 365 Group back. The messages that this will send seem to be a bit friendlier based on the blog post from the Enterprise Mobility and Security Blog‘s article “Azure AD Automated Expiration for Office 365 Groups in Public Preview“.

Personally I see this as a great capability but also realize that there will be some gotchas. Specifically in that when a Group is created, an Exchange Distribution list is created. This is helpful since you’re able to have message traffic sent to this address. However if you think about the use case where a Group is deleted and the users fail to realize that the e-mail address that they received notifications on now no longer exists, there may be problems for end users.

Additionally it should be noted per the configuration documentation that an Azure AD Premium license is required to implement Office 365 Group Expiration – if you don’t have these they’re available at a per user cost and have several benefits in addition to this.

All in all, definitely an exciting feature and functionality but wondering how things will work for organizations where end users are truly business users that don’t quite understand all the components of an Office 365 Group or what the information lifecycle truly is…

Microsoft Teams and Internet Explorer

Recently I loaded up the Microsoft Teams app on my Windows 10 laptop and dealt with a minor issue where I was able to get to https://teams.microsoft.com quite easily when using Chrome or Firefox, but when trying to use Microsoft Internet Explorer 11 or Edge browser I was greeted with an endless loop of page refreshes until the page would just break.

What was going on?

Well, I was using a domain joined machine that was making use of automatic authentication through my domain credentials and a Trusted Identity Provider. Unfortunately I had forgotten to put https://teams.microsoft.com into my local intranet sites.

Once I did that I was off and running in IE and Edge.

So why am I writing this? Mostly to remind myself the next time that I run into this problem that I’ve dealt with it before.

Office 365 Groups and Outlook 2016 for Mac

Recently announced, hot off the press, Office 365 Groups are coming to Outlook 2016 for Mac!  More about this and what the scope of this release is yonder on the Outlook for Mac Insights blog on 2 March 2017 titled “Support for Groups in Outlook for Mac.”

Caveat, this is by way of the Insider builds fast ring at the moment, so if you’re a corporate user and you’re wondering where this is, give it sometime and keep on accessing groups through either a Windows VM in your favorite hypervisor on Mac (whether that be Parallels, VirtualBox or VMWare Fusion) or through Safari / Chrome / Firefox.

What does this look like you ask?Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.18.17.png

Pretty standard. If you’re used to the web view then you’re probably familiar with something that looks a little more like this:

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.24.37.png

The interactions with the UI are pretty decent. The caveat is that within the Outlook for Mac 2016 UI, you don’t have the ability to “easily” create a new thread in that discussion unless you go and create a new message and then lookup the discussion list name whereas in the Web UI you merely click on “New”. Of course the other thing to make note of is that since Groups make use of distribution lists, if within the Outlook for Mac client you click on “Reply” you’ll notice that you’re sending a note directly back to the original poster rather than a note to the entire group, thereby segmenting your conversation.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.30.30.png

However, if you click Reply All, you’ll notice that you’re pushing to the Distribution list…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.31.14.png

And as mentioned, to create a new message within the context of the Group, you’ll need to know the distribution list name of the group when you click on “New Message” within Outlook 2016 for Mac…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.32.43.png

After you work through your message you’ll notice that when you press send it will post back into the thread as one might expect it to…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.33.47.png

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.34.37.png

If you’re curious about other capabilities like Calendars and such… they’re coming soon (hopefully) but as the blog article mentions there are supported scenarios at the moment as follows:

Scenarios to try out:
  • View your top 10 list of groups in the left navigation pane.
  • Select a group in the left navigation pane to view conversations and attachments in the group shared space
  • Compose/Reply/Forward messages and send attachments.
Know issues:
  • Groups calendar view is out of scope for V1 release.
  • Scenarios that not enabled yet but are slated for V1 release:
    • Add groups events to your personal calendar
    • View group details, and manage my subscription settings from the group card
    • View entry points to other group workloads and navigate to them from the group card

To make suggestions, UserVoice is your best friend in this case or through the “Contact Support” button located in the upper right hand corner in the Outlook 2016 for Mac client as shown here.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.40.35.png

which then takes you to the feedback dialog that looks something like this…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.40.59.pngProps to Microsoft for continuing to integrate these capabilities into the desktop client software!

Wondering why to shift to Office 365…

So you’re a consultant that’s getting familiar with Office 365, having come from something like SharePoint or Exchange or perhaps Skype for Business on-premises and you think to yourself, “This platform probably has some limitations…. I can tune my back end storage to be performant… and my users are generally happy though we keep running out of space. I wonder what Microsoft can provide that’s better…”

All good thoughts and questions that I might find myself reflecting upon. I won’t deny that as a SharePoint IT Pro that occassionally dabbled in Exchange administration when I needed to, system tuning and upkeep can sometimes take a lot of time. When requirements are passed along from business owners around what end users need, I sometimes cringe, primarily when it comes to storage space – it’s difficult to keep up with the content that end users are creating (regardless of whether it’s duplicative or if it’s useful content), the needs are real. Sure, I could host my environment on the latest and greatest storage system and continually grow my storage spaces that my databases resided within (carving out storage from primordial storage is always fun, right?). And sure, I could go and order more disk for my system as I needed, but that also meant that I had to stay on top of things and learn the storage backend system and how to properly tune it as well as picking up other components of the surrounding infrastructure.

Of course, thinking through the other components that are required to keep an on-premises system operating such as needing to patch for system, application and configuration updates in addition to code deployments from developers also lends itself to keeping documentation up to date, all of which can be quite daunting.

Documentation? why would we need documentation? Sure, it’s good to have your own system properly documented in runbook of sorts, but also the documentation for business users and quasi-developers to understand the services and limitations surrounding the system. And if we become forgetful that our business users are the individuals that pay the bills then we probably need to take a reality check.

This seems to be a bit more than what a single individual can perform as a part of their job without becoming overwhelmed.

Perhaps we’ve become forgetful about what it’s like to leave the office at 430p because deployments of software to the server by our developers is a never ending troubleshooting battle. Or maybe we’re overwhelmed by the inabiity to keep up with end user storage requirements. Or maybe, we’ve determined that no matter how much we do in talking to end users about what they can and cannot do with SharePoint Designer or with JavaScript that it’s too late to enforce governance because the system has grown in a viral fashion.

Enter the Office 365 Service Description

So I’m not suggesting throwing in the towel of operating an on-premises system, though there’s definitely a lot of work. But continually having to review the work of others and then help to clean things up can be fairly difficult. That’s where something like Office 365 actually comes in to be incredibly helpful – especially when you start thinking about scaling to meet end user needs around storage. SharePoint site collections hosted on-premises can scale, but there’s a bit of work that is required when it comes to tuning the storage to be performant for users. Additionally if you’re thinking about using OneDrive for Business on-premises, it’ll require a bit of work to tune your servers to properly respond to requests in a way that doesn’t degrade the end user’s experience using the web interface.
To start with, look at what is provided for in terms of storage for an Office 365 Tenant.

Storage per user (contributes to total storage base of tenant) - 500 MB.
Storage base per tenant - 1 TB + user storage.

Source – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/SharePoint-Online-software-boundaries-and-limits-8f34ff47-b749-408b-abc0-b605e1f6d498?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US&fromAR=1

So if you start thinking about this, that’s a lot of storage space. If you’ve got 1000 users, you’ve got 1.5 TB of total storage (1000 users x 500 MB + 1 TB). If you add in the storage that each licensed user receives for their OneDrive for Business you have approximately 1000 TB of storage that users can make use of before they start storing documents in SharePoint collaboration sites or Office 365 Groups.

Consider the backups that are required for this – does your backup solution provide for the ability to pull files back or host 1k users and all the storage needs that they may have? Further, are you able to quickly react when someone deletes a document (realizing that their first thing to do is check the recycle bin before opening a ticket).

Lots of reasons just around storage to start considering the Office 365 services that are out there for the Enterprise (or education or small business customers). Seems like there’s probably a lot to chew on if we’ve only scratched the surface here in a thought experiment as a consultant.

Consider taking a few minutes and a pot of your favorite coffee and head on over to the Office 365 Service Description documentation to start learning what the capabilities and limits are of the Microsoft cloud productivity and collaboration platform – https://www.office365sd.com

Office 365 URLs and IP Addresses

Are you “the IT person” for your organization? Do you find your users complaining from time to time that the user experience for Office 365 doesn’t work the way that they anticipate that it should? Do they talk about timeouts or error messages popping up stating a component can be loaded?

Have you checked your firewalls to see if you’re actually allowing users to access the SharePoint system? Consider an update sometime soon… follow Microsoft’s guidance and set up your environment appropriately.

https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Office-365-URLs-and-IP-address-ranges-8548a211-3fe7-47cb-abb1-355ea5aa88a2

Microsoft keeps this document up to date on a regular basis so perhaps setup a reminder using Wunderlist to ensure that you’ve got the latest and greatest information loaded into your firewall.

Setting up an Office 365 E3 Tenant…

If you’re like me and you find yourself needing to spin up an Office 365 E3 tenant on a regular basis for demonstration purposes, head on over to Office.com and eventually after poking around you’ll eventually come to the a page that describes all of the plans.

From there, select the Enterprise plans and you’ll notice that you’re able to create a 30 day trial of Office 365 E3. This experience has changed significantly, going from what used to look like an InfoPath form to something that’s responsive and actually engaging.

One thing to be mindful of is that you will need to be able to receive a phone call or a text message to confirm that you’re not a robot. I realize it may sound funny, but it’s one way to ensure that individuals aren’t just spinning these instances up for malicious purposes.

So keep it real and head on over to Office.com or click here to skip to the chase…

http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkID=403802

SharePoint Users Group of DC

This past week I had the pleasure of presenting at the SharePoint Users Group of DC. They’re a terrific group that meets in the McLean / Tyson’s Corner area of Northern Virginia. The focus of the group meeting was to discuss the benefits and gotchas of utilizing Office 365, primarily around SharePoint Online capabilities but expanding to areas such as Exchange integration with Office 365 Groups as well as security and compliance topics. All in all a terrific time to get together and engage with the vibrant DC community. Thanks to Nikkia and crew for having me!

Slides for the presentation are posted and available to snag here:

SUG DC – Getting Started with Office 365