Category Archives: Technology

Technology

Adding a pause when dialling a number from a softphone or mobile phone

Back in the days when Nokia phones had monochrome screens and batteries lasted for days, a colleague explained to me how to include a p in a number to make the phone pause before dialling the next few digits – for example when entering a PIN for voicemail (I think w also worked for a wait). More recently, another colleague was asking me how to do this with our CUCILync softphones when dialling into a conference call (as described for Microsoft Lync).

Well, it seems the modern equivalent of a p for a soft pause is inserting a comma (at least it is on a Lumiaon an iPhone and on Android) and a semi-colon is a hard pause/wait (on an iPhone). Unfortunately the CUCILync client we use strips out , and ; (and, even worse, it replaces p with 7). I guess it could be an error in the dial-plan but it’s inconvenient…

Technology

Amazon AWS Summit highlights (#AWSSummit)

I spent a chunk of time at Amazon’s AWS Summit in London earlier this week. It was interesting to be back at the ExCeL exhibition and convention centre as the last time I was there was another big vendor event – Microsoft Future Decoded – and on the topic of organisation, let’s just say that whilst Amazon had the registration sorted (Microsoft had some issues with that last year), Amazon’s schedule meant we couldn’t get to the technical tracks because of the queues for the escalator (there were no stairs that I could find!).  It seems that ExCeL’s ICC has some logistical challenges when dealing with a few thousand people moving from one level to another!

I was interested to see which partners were exhibiting in the Expo though:

There seem to be plenty of opportunities around cloud services but one set of partners who noticeably absent were the big systems integrators. As we moved to the keynote, I couldn’t tweet the highlights as connectivity became an issue (standard conference issues around WiFi and mobile phone access – plenty of signal but too many sharing it) but I settled into Dr Werner Vogels’ (@Werner) presentation and found it interesting on a number of levels:

  • Whilst there were announcements about Amazon releases, many of the points made were equally applicable to other clouds (e.g. I could apply the same issues and learning to Microsoft Azure):
    • Start-ups have no legacy/dependencies, a low cost structure and can move quickly to disrupt log-standing industries.
    • Not that long ago millions of dollars were required to start an Internet business. It was “indirect funding of the American server industry” – but not any more: cloud infrastructure and platform services have a low barrier to entry and no up-front costs or vendor tie-in.
    • The cloud’s not just for start-ups: enterprises can benefit too (although I’d argue that variable costs are a challenge for some finance departments and new features arriving daily are not always a good thing for end users).
    • Automation is key [in IaaS/PaaS]: whether it’s for testing, building, deployment or infrastructure creation.
    • Real-world workloads come in all shapes and sizes – there’s no need to standardise on the lowest common denominator when you can change the services you use to fit. With cloud you can make mistakes (fail fast and move on) that would be expensive using physical servers or even a virtual infrastructure platform.
    • AWS is a platform and an ecosystem – some organisations are creating their own platforms on top of AWS (e.g. Omnifone’s B2B media platform).
    • Invention is continuous, with new services, and a movement towards micro-services based on smaller blocks (Dr Vogels used a Tetris analogy), containerisation, event-driven computing, etc.
    • Security is a shared responsibility – Amazon provide the tools (and a workbook for compliance with local laws) and customers need to use them correctly.
    • There may be compliance benefits from the cloud, for example: if you store customer data then you become a data controller – and if you process it on AWS, Amazon becomes a data processor; by signing the AWS data processing agreement organisations comply with EU data processing requirements known as article 29, providing assurances that are not available with on-premises services.
  • The stats involved (and Amazon’s growth) are enormous:
    • 102% year on year increase in data in/out of S3.
    • 93% year on year increase in usage of EC2.
    • Over 1 million active customers (every month – excluding amazon.com) – from start-ups to enterprise, in many vertical markets.
    • Five times the compute capacity of the other 14 providers in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for cloud infrastructure as a service combined. 
    • AWS’ pace of innovation is such that 516 major new features and services were launched in 2014 – almost double the previous year (and that’s a pattern with: 24 in 2008; 48 in 2009; 61 in 2010; 82 in 2011; 159 in 2012; 280 in 2013; 516 in 2014) – it’s actually really hard to keep up (and I’d say the same for Azure too!).
  • Whilst Amazon is leading this sector, they did not come across as arrogant – indeed Dr Vogels highlighted that the Amazon motto of being “the earth’s most customer-centric company” applies to AWS too. Customers are in charge, not providers and, if Amazon’s not providing what they need, customers will walk away – perhaps not literally (there’s no lock-in but moving workloads is non-trivial) but they will use another cloud for their next project/programme.

One message that I found difficult to swallow was that “hybrid IT is part of the journey, not the destination“. Maybe that’s true in the long term but, in my world of Microsoft cloud services, I see real use cases for hybrid clouds (I’ll be writing more on that soon).

Maybe it’s because I’m coming from a SaaS angle though, rather than IaaS and PaaS – I did attend a hybrid cloud deep dive session at the AWS Summit but missed the first 10 minutes as I was delayed by the need for micro-escalator-services or the “escalator of things” (credit to Vitor Domingos @VD for that thought).

I can see why, when running your own applications, there is little need for long term usage of on-premises infrastructure or so-called “private cloud” platforms once you’ve taken advantages of the efficiencies that cloud IaaS/PaaS provides. So, creating a hybrid cloud may be a bridge to the future state, rather than a two-way street; but maybe there are limitations about the data that you want to store in the cloud? Perhaps the cloud BC and DR is still too risky (although maybe you could consider multiple clouds)? Or connectivity challenges might exist that rule out exclusive cloud usage? Or perhaps I’m just a Luddite!

One thing’s for sure – applications shouldn’t be moved to the cloud “as is” – cloud migration is an opportunity to rethink how things work – and Amazon has an AWS Cloud Adoption Framework that might help with that.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole day – there were many more technical tracks I wanted to attend (and huge queues to get into the sessions) but I had an appointment elsewhere. The AWS Summit was certainly a worthwhile investment of my time though (even as a Microsoft consultant) – I’ll be watching out for it again next year.

In conclusion, I’ll make just the one observation: systems integrators need to find new opportunities to deliver value in an increasingly agile and commoditised world – for example as cloud integrators – and they need to move quickly. Incidentally, this is not news – but for a while now we’ve been able to say “cloud is not for everyone”. Increasingly though, those barriers to cloud adoption are being broken down.

Further reading

Technology

Lync becomes Skype for Business today – a quick round-up of what that means

There’s been a fair amount of panic in some quarters as a colleague heard that one of the “patch Tuesday” updates will update our Lync 2013 clients to Skype for Business (which became generally available today). That brings a new user experience and potentially confusion for our users (who are only just getting their heads around switching from OCS and WebEx!). Later on it seemed that the update only applied to Click-to-Run Office ProPlus subscriptions (we have perpetually-licensed MSI-based installations) and finally we got something that I could use to set my colleagues’ minds at rest in a blog post from Scott Stubberfield:

  1. “Patch Tuesday” implies security updates but the Skype for Business update is part of the April monthly update for Office 2013 (i.e. an optional update).
  2. Quoting Scott’s post, “If you are using Lync Online today with Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Business Premium or Office 2013, the updated Skype for Business client […] will be the default user experience and replace the Lync user experience.  If you are using Lync Server today, the Lync UI will be the default experience.”. That last sentence is the vital one [although I could have saved a lot of time and effort if I’d seem Martin Boam’s post earlier in the day!].
  3. It is possible to control the user experience (there’s a PowerPoint presentation linked in Scott’s post). We knew that anyway but some of the documentation suggested the registry change needed to be applied in advance of the update. Certainly on my preview client I can switch back and forth at will between the two UIs, using the [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\Lync] key, with a value name EnableSkypeUI, and the data 00 00 00 00. I haven’t got the update yet to test the final release.

Background information

There’s a whole load more information in some really useful posts that Tom Arbuthnot and Matt Landis have put out in the last few days (and an older post from Mark Vale):

More Skype for Business information

On the topic of Skype for Business, Microsoft is running some webinars in a two-part series (aimed at users, not techies). There’s also a stack of help topics available online and the following links might be useful:

Also, although it’s a bit late now for Office 365 users, Microsoft did publish some awareness and readiness planning guidance for the Skype for Business client running with Lync Online (which could be re-purposed for on premises updates).

Technology

Microsoft News Q1 2015

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared on my internal blog at Fujitsu.

Louis Lazarus’ Microsoft News Updates

Back in December, I wrote what I intended to be the first of a regular update on what’s going on in the world of Microsoft – a sort of Microsoft news round-up.  Since then, I’ve been alerted to a regular update from Louis Lazarus (an independent technology strategy consultant – @_louislaz) and I’ve been re-posting his updates via Twitter/OneDrive.  The links for recent updates are below (each one covers the previous month):

Directions on Microsoft Enterprise Software Roadmap

As featured in my previous post, Directions on Microsoft is an independent analysis service focused on Microsoft technologies, roadmaps and licensing policies and their latest quarterly roadmap calls attention to recent roadmap shifts for Microsoft enterprise technologies, including:

  • “Windows 10 and Office 2016 for PCs. Previews have appeared for the next versions of Windows and the Office desktop suite, giving organizations an early opportunity to identify potential migration blockers for software currently running on their Windows 7 PCs.
  • Windows Server. The next version of Windows Server has been postponed to 2016, which means Microsoft’s latest PC security and management infrastructure will not be ready when Windows 10 and Office 2016 ship later this year.
  • Mobile e-mail clients. An acquisition has fundamentally changed its mobile e-mail client roadmap for iOS and Android, and could trigger changes to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in organizations.
  • Windows 10 tablets and phones with Office. Windows 10 previews are available for tablets and phones, and Office mobile app previews have appeared for Windows 10. Organizations can use the previews to re-evaluate the future of their Windows mobile device applications.”

[the bullets above are a direct quote from the email I received from Directions on Microsoft]

Access to the report requires a subscription (which I don’t have) but even the snippets above provide a useful overview.

Technology

Tuning iOS 8 location services to improve battery life

I’m not convinced my second hand iPhone 5S is as “grade A” condition as it might have appeared when I bought it recently from SmartfoneStore as, as well as having a dull patch on the top of the screen (that I was ignoring), last night, with 26% battery remaining it suddenly decided to turn off and insisted it needed charging. A few minutes later it could be started again, before once again deciding that 26% battery was not enough! Hey ho, I’ll be contacting them after this holiday weekend for a replacement (and they do offer a 60 day warranty) so it shouldn’t be a problem but it did get me looking at why my iOS 8 battery life is so poor.

The first clue was the GPS icon at the top of the screen. Even with all applications closed, it persisted – so what was using my GPS?  I found the problem app, following a LifeHacker article to see which app had a purple arrow in Location Services but a bit more googling turned up a great article on iGeeksBlog looking at how to fix always-on location services in iOS 8.

You can read the post yourself but, in summary, it goes through switching off system services that might use the GPS like location-based iAds, Spotlight Suggestions, Diagnostics & Usage, and Popular Near Me; as well as controlling which apps can use Location Services (my problem app was Dropbox – I’m not sure why it needs to know where I am but it’s not allowed to any more).

Hopefully now my iOS 8 battery life will improve – although I really must get my phone swapped too…

Technology

Reasons I no longer need to jailbreak my iPhone; and phantom App Store notifications from a shared Apple ID

My home office is a tip. There’s certainly no clear desk policy around here… although I really do like the idea of working in a clear space and I am trying to take advantage of a rare dip in my workload to clear it up.  Consequently there are a few posts that might appear over the coming days/months based on scraps of paper with half-written notes that I’m now trying to decipher and get onto the blog…

This post will concentrate on some of the various iOS-related snippets.

I recently bought myself a second-hand iPhone 5S (about half the price of an iPhone 6) to replace my 4S that took a bath in the washing up a year or so back. After some time in a bag of rice in the airing cupboard, the 4S soldiered on but it’s been showing some signs of damage (the speakers might or might not work, ditto the headphone socket) and was constantly full (it’s only a 16GB model) so in need of an upgrade.

Moving to the 5S means I’ve also upgraded to iOS 8, after a long time with the 4S on 7.0.4 because that was the version I applied a jailbreak to (and therefore where I was stuck).  Looking back, the reasons I jailbroke that phone seem to have gone away but basically it was to:

  • Change the operator logo with Fake Carrier. I use giffgaff but unfortunately the carrier list is set within iOS and my iPhone would only show the network name as O2 (giffgaff is an O2 MVNO). With Fake Carrier I could set the carrier name to show as giffgaff – although since iOS 7.1.1 that is enabled natively.
  • Enable tethering with TetherMe. Although iOS 7 includes a Personal Hotspot, it wouldn’t work on giffgaff… until I tethered.  Again, that issue has since been fixed (from iOS 7.1.1).

So, I no longer need to jailbreak my phone – that’s a result – but there is still one particularly annoying issue with iOS: despite all of my apps being up-to-date, the App Store icon insists that I have 50-odd updates to apply.  It appears that this is because there are different versions of apps in the App Store for different iOS versions.  My iPad, which is forever stuck on iOS 6 because of Apple’s built-in obsolescence (they decreed there would be no more updates for the first generation iPad when it was just 2 years old) and my wife’s iPhone are effectively creating this problem because all of my devices are using the same Apple ID.  In future, I hope to be able to use Family Sharing but that needs iOS 8 or later.  Updating all the apps on my iOS 8 device seems to have fixed things for now…

One last tweak: if you suffer from a poor signal, try field test mode (on iOS or Android) to see just how strong it is in dB.  Unfortunately I haven’t found a Windows Phone equivalent to see just how bad the EE network (or “nothing nowhere” as I tend to refer to it) is that we use at work…

Technology

Self service password reset is not available for users on a trial Office 365 tenant

One of my customers is currently running an Office 365 pilot using a trial E3 tenant.  When Microsoft announced that self-service password reset is to be made available to cloud-based Office 365 users without the need for a separate Azure AD basic or premium subscription it sounded great to us as the requirement for users to reset their own passwords was one of the challenges we faced.  Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple – or at least not if you are not using a paid product (for example if you’re on an Office 365 trial).

Just to be clear, self-service password reset is still available for Global Administrators in Office 365 – it has been as long as I’ve been working with the product – I’m talking here about “normal” users.  In the Office 365 Admin Center, listed under Service Settings, Passwords is a section titled “let your people reset their own passwords” – but the feature is not actually controlled from within the Office 365 Admin Center – it redirects to the Azure AD Admin Center:

In my own tenant, that led to a simple sign-up for a $0 Azure subscription following which I can see my directory (remember Office 365 uses Azure AD for authentication), complete with all the domains and settings I configured via the Office 365 Admin Center over the years.  Dig a little deeper and in the configure screen is the ability to customise branding and to set the user password reset policy:

After enabling self-service password reset there are more options to control the experience (for example the available authentication methods) and a link to allow users to set up their details.  Unfortunately, none of this is available with a trial tenant and, when I tried to configure it, setting up an Azure subscription failed at the mobile verification stage and a service request raised with Microsoft Office 365 support confirmed that this is by design.

Motoring Technology

Connecting two Bluetooth devices at once to a Volkswagen Tiguan

Tomorrow, the leased Volkswagen Tiguan (2012 model) that I’ve been driving for the last three years is being collected. Only last week, I worked out how to do what I’ve wanted to do for most of the time I’ve had the car – i.e. to have one phone connected over Bluetooth for calls (my work phone) at the same time as another is connected for playing music/podcasts (my private phone).

As long as both devices are paired to the car, it’s pretty simple and the steps are in the video below:

 

If you can’t see the video, then these are the steps:

  1. Connect the phone that you want to use as a phone to the car. In the video you can see “Mark Wilson’s Lumia” is connected.
  2. using the steering wheel controls, scroll down to Bluetooth and click OK.
  3. Scroll down to Media player and click OK.
  4. Select Paired devices and click OK.
  5. Select the second device (in the video it’s “Mark’s iPhone) and click OK.
  6. Click OK at the Connect prompt, and again at the “End current connection?” prompt.
  7. After a few seconds, the second device should connect and you can play media content from this, whilst still making/receiving calls on the first device.
Technology

Plantronics Voyager Legend not connecting with PC (but fine with phones) – re-pairing required

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of Lync accessories I use every day – including my Plantronics Voyager Legend (BT300M). Since then, I’ve successfully paired the headset with both Windows and iOS phones (so presumably Android will work too) using their native stacks, although I use the supplied Bluetooth dongle on my company-supplied Windows 7 laptop.  I’m still impressed with the headset and the battery life is great too as it automatically goes into standby when I forget to turn it off (although it’s often sitting on its charging stand).

Unfortunately, I did find one day that my headset had “fallen out with” my laptop and whilst it would happily connect to the phones I couldn’t use it for Lync (VoIP) or CUCILync (VoIP breakout to our Cisco phone system and beyond to the PSTN). After some frustration of taking out and re-inserting the dongle in various USB ports, etc. I found an article on the Plantronics Sounding Board that gave the answer:

“Try pairing the headset to the dongle. Typically you would turn your phone(s) off to make sure they don’t  interfere in the process. Then press the call button on the headset until you go into pairing mode and insert the dongle in the PC, it should pair.”

Interestingly, the article also referred to a tool I’ve not come across before called DriveCleanup which can remove orphaned registry items related to non-present USB devices (forcing the dongle to set up the stack again on insertion). I didn’t need this but it could be a useful tool (there are several others on the page too).

Incidentally, at a Lync event at Microsoft last week, I tried out the Plantronics Backbeat PRO wireless noise cancelling headphones with microphone and they will be great for listening to music in a shared office but still being contactable for calls. Having upgraded my phone this week, I need to do some saving before I can buy more gadgets, but these could be on the list…

Technology

The relationship between Microsoft Office 365 and Azure

At a recent partner event, Microsoft Partner Technical Specialist, Robert-Jan Gerrits, answered a question that many people ask: does Office 365 run on Azure?

The short answer is “no” – the Office 365 infrastructure is dedicated – i.e. it’s not a bunch of VMs running on Azure; however there is a slightly longer answer.

Office 365 uses Azure for:

  • Office 365 video (media)
  • Azure blob storage (storage)
  • Azure AD for identity (identity)
  • Power BI app (cloud services)
  • Access services (storage)

Over time, we can expect to see more and more Office 365 components using Azure services but, for now, Office 365 is (almost) a standalone environment.

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