Some patience required when changing a display name for an Exchange Online mailbox

Mrs W and I have been married for a long time but, until last week, she was still using her maiden name for work. Now, for a variety of reasons, is a good time for her to switch and, as we use Office 365 for her business email, I said “Yeah, it’s really simple; just let me know when you’ve told your contacts about the name change and I’ll switch it over.”

So, when the time came, I changed the display name in the Exchange Online Exchange Admin Center (no changes to her SMTP addresses were needed) and thought that would be it. Nope. Test emails sent came from the original display name. The same happened with another account that I changed the name on. Wondering if this was an Outlook issue, I tried from Outlook Web App: no difference. Test emails were sent back and forth to email addresses outside our Office 365 tenant (like my work account) and the original name stubbornly stuck – I even looked in the message headers and, there it was.

I’m not sure, but I think the issue was related to the offline address book as, the GAL reflected the change immediately but the offline GAL was still showing the old display name.

Unlike in an on-premises Exchange installation, I couldn’t update the address book: connecting to Exchange Online via PowerShell and asking for Get-Command *Offline* told me that the Update-OfflineAddressBook cmdlet is not available in Exchange Online (confirmed in the TechNet reference, which only refers to Exchange Server 2013).

Like so many things in Exchange (and I remember this from my original Exchange 4.0 training course in 1996), it proved to be one issue that’s best left for a few hours to fix itself. The offline GAL updated overnight and emails were then sent with the new display name (not sure why this affected OWA though…).

One month with the Surface Pro 3

When I started my current job and tweeted about my new “laptop” (a Microsoft Surface Pro 3), I was a little surprised at the reaction from some people, including one of my friends whose words were along the line of “give it a month and then then tell me if you still like it…”

Well, it’s been a month, so here we go…

<tl; dr> I really, really, like it.

That’s not really much of a review though… so here’s some of the things that are good, and some that are less so…

Starting out with the positives:

  • It’s a fully-featured PC. Every time I see someone comparing the Surface with an iPad I cringe. I tried using an iPad as my primary device and it didn’t work for me. I can see why it would for some people but I need to work with multiple applications and task switch, copy and paste text all of the time. The Surface Pro runs Windows 8.1 and does everything I expect of a Windows PC, plus the benefits of having a touch screen display and a tablet form factor.
  • The display is fantastic. Crisp, clear, 2160×1440 (as Ed Bott highlights, that would be called a retina display on an Apple device).
  • The type cover keyboard is really good. Backlit keys, easy to type on, a good size. Combined with the kickstand on the tablet itself, it becomes a fully-featured 12″ laptop and it’s far more stable than many tablet/cover/keyboard combinations.
  • I live in OneNote. I can draw with the Surface Pen now – and that is incredibly useful.
  • It’s light. I haven’t checked how light, but light enough to carry with ease.
  • The power supply is not too big – and it has a USB charging socket too. Having said that, I can usually manage on the battery to catch the train in/out of London and get through a customer meeting.

On the downside though:

  • There aren’t enough USB ports and the use of a Mini DisplayPort means I need to carry adaptors. To be fair, I carry quite a few for my other devices too.
  • The price of accessories is way over the top: type cover is a penny under £110; Surface Pen is £45; Docking station is £165. Really? Add that to the cost of the device itself and you could buy a pretty good laptop. (The Surface Pro 3 range starts at £639 but the Intel i5 model with 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage that I use is £849 and the top of the range Intel i7 with 8GB RAM and 512GB storage will set you back £1549).
  • The type cover trackpad is awful. I use a mouse. That’s how bad it is.
  • The pen takes some getting used to (this post from Microsoft helps) – and I ran through the first set of batteries in no time (this support page came in useful too).
  • I’ve had some worrying issues with resuming from standby, sometimes not resuming at all, sometimes having to go through a full reboot. I suspect that’s the Windows build it’s running though – I can’t blame the Surface for that…

I’m more than happy with the Surface Pro 3 (at least, I am until the Surface Pro 4 comes out!). I was given the choice between this and a Dell ultrabook and I’m pretty sure I made the right choice. Maybe if I was a developer and I needed a laptop which was effectively a portable server then that would be a different story – but for my work as a Consultant/Architect – it’s exactly what I need.

If you need a Windows PC, your work is mobile (and not too taxing in terms of hardware requirements), and your employer has the facilities for effective remote working, the Surface Pro 3 is worth a look. I’d even go as far as to say I would spend my own money on this device. That’s more than I can say about any company-supplied PC I’ve had to date.

The tools of a mobile worker… including a plethora of cables and adapters

One of the great things about working for my current employer is that they provide me with the devices I need for mobile working and we use all of the software that we are helping our customers to adopt. My tools are a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet and a Nokia Lumia 830 smartphone, together with the latest released versions of Windows and Office and I consume services from the Microsoft Cloud including all of the Office 365 workloads as well as some on-premises apps like Skype for Business. Using the full Microsoft stack does mean I’ve had to go back to using Internet Exploder though… and I am at last getting used to Bing and weening myself of the habit of using the big G for search – at least on my work PC!

I’m not saying that the use of a Surface Pro 3 was the reason I took the job – but it may have been a factor and not lugging around a heavy laptop has some major advantages (even the small form factor laptop I used for my last job was pretty weighty).

Unfortunately, with such a svelte device comes a down-side… namely that I now carry a plethora of cables and adapters, as illustrated by my former colleague Dom Allen (who now works for a rival Microsoft Partner):

https://instagram.com/p/0sxOw9jjTK/

So, what’s in my bag these days alongside the Surface Pro and its charger?

Maybe not quite the portable computing panacea I might have hoped for… but at least they all fit inside a pencil case!

(Unrelated to work, I also carry a 10cm Apple Certified Lightning to USB cable and an Anker Astro E1 5200mAh external battery power bank to keep my iPhone alive all day…)

Milton Keynes Geek Night – three years on and going from strength to strength (#MKGN)

I don’t remember how I first became aware of Milton Keynes Geek Night but, three years ago, I turned up in a room above a converted bus station to see what this new event would be like. 13 Geek Nights later (plus a special Geek Mental Health event too) and I haven’t missed a single night*, being described as a “groupie” by one of the founders. I even brought my wife along once…

In the early days, I used to blog about the topics of discussion. More recently I’ve struggled to find the time but the audio from the talks is on SoundCloud (well, all of the talks from Geek Night 3 onwards, that is).

Last night’s MK Geek Night lived up to expectations. Not being a designer or a developer, I tend to find that some of the talks are a little beyond my knowledge but still good for an IT architect to understand at a conceptual level.

I thought that, as MK Geek Night celebrates its third birthday, now would be a good time to look back on some of my favourite talks:

…and then there are Ben Foxall (@BenjaminBenBen)’s talks which are in a category of their own – they need to be on YouTube not SoundCloud! I just cant do them justice in words but how he gets 200 people to join in on their devices and illustrate some amazing functionality inside a browser I do not know. Similarly, Sii Cockerill (@siicockerill)’s dynamic art based on maths/environmental considerations was incredibly visual but you can at least see the results on the web.

I’ll sign off with massive congratulations and a huge thank you to Richard Wiggins (@RichardWiggins) and David Hughes (@DavidHughes) who organise and MC these events – and to all of the sponsors (without whom they wouldn’t be able to take place) – and of course to the speakers too! Here’s to many more years of #MKGN.

 

*There was also an MKGN All-Dayer which I was unable to join but hey, that’s not a “geek night” is it?!

Office 365 and the hybrid cloud

Cloud, cloud, cloud. The buzzword of a few years ago is becoming reality for many organisations today but there are still some industries and use cases that have significant obstacles to overcome. Recent research from one hosting company suggests that this is changing though – with public cloud usage set to double from 7% to 14% and hybrid cloud growth to almost triple from 10% to 28% over the next three years.

Hybrid cloud is a term used to describe an architecture with elements of the solution provided from the public cloud (e.g. Microsoft Azure or Office 365) in conjunction with elements delivered on-premises (i.e. in a customer or managed service provider’s datacentre).

Whilst some cloud providers consider hybrid as little more than a tactical bridge to help with transition to their infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) solutions, those using software as a service (SaaS) are really embracing a hybrid cloud as part of their architecture.

For users of Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity services, hybrid cloud offers some real opportunities, partly because the online services have grown from an established on-premises suite of software applications so the user experience with Exchange, Skype for Business or SharePoint is similar regardless of where the service is running.

In this blog post, I’m going to examine some of the scenarios where a hybrid cloud solution might be used with the common Office 365 workloads.

Exchange Hybrid

Whilst Office 365 is highly configurable, it’s not customisable. The Office 365 service descriptions are fixed – that is to say that the service described is standard to all customers (unless they have a dedicated tenant) – and, whilst an administrator can change the configuration, certain levels of control require an on-premises infrastructure.

For example, hosting mailboxes in the UK, installing tightly-coupled applications that need access to Exchange Servers, or anything that goes outside the boundary of the standard Exchange Online service would need on-premises Exchange servers to meet the requirements. However, if the restrictions that prevented all users from moving to the cloud only affected a portion of the organisation, there could still be advantages in moving other groups of users.

A hybrid deployment provides a seamless look and feel of a single Exchange organization when there’s actually two: an on-premises Exchange Server 2013 organization and Exchange Online in Office 365. Hybrid Exchange enables:

  • Secure mail routing between on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online with a shared namespace, together with centralised control of the inbound and outbound mail flow
  • A unified global address list (GAL), free/busy and calendar sharing, a single Outlook WebApp URL, message tracking, MailTips and multi-mailbox search for both organizations.
  • The ability to move mailboxes back and forth between the on-premises and cloud organizations.
  • Centralised mailbox management using the on-premises Exchange Admin Center (EAC).
  • Cloud-based messaging archiving for on-premises Exchange mailboxes.

Exchange Server 2013 now includes a Hybrid Configuration Wizard (HCW) which does the heavy lifting to set up a hybrid Exchange environment (previously it required manual configuration). There are some limitations to consider around inherited and delegated permissions and multi-forest Exchange organizations with legacy versions of Exchange. More details are available on TechNet.

Lync Skype for Business Hybrid

Skype for Business Online doesn’t currently include any enterprise voice capabilities. Users can host meetings, send/receive instant messages, publish presence, conduct direct peer-to-peer conversations through the Lync or Skype for Business clients and even dial-in to conferences (when integrated with a qualified audio conferencing provider) but there is no integration with PBX telephony systems.

One way around this is to run on-premises Lync or Skype for Business servers for enterprise voice, sharing a SIP namespace with the cloud tenant. This is also known as a “split domain” scenario.

Skype for Business Hybrid should not be confused with the Lync Online “hybrid voice” option that was withdrawn in 2013. Whereas hybrid voice allowed cloud users to break-out to on-premises solutions for voice, in a split domain scenario:

  • Voice-enabled users are hosted on-premises for all of their Lync/Skype for Business services.
  • Users who don’t need enterprise voice capabilities can be hosted in Skype for Business Online.
  • Both sets of users can collaborate as though they were in the same Skype for Business organisation.

More details are available on TechNet and it’s also worth noting that, in order to facilitate Skype for Business hybrid scenarios, Office 365 E4 subscriptions include licenses for running on-premises Lync/Skype for Business infrastructure.

SharePoint Hybrid

A SharePoint Hybrid solution allows some data to exist in the cloud with some data retained on premises, perhaps for compliance reasons, during a staged migration, or for connectivity with business applications. There are various topologies available around search and business connectivity services (BCS).

  • One-way outbound search allows SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises to query the SharePoint Online search index and return federated results.
  • One-way inbound search is the equivalent but with on-premises results returned to the SharePoint Online search.
  • Two-way search allows both environments to query each other’s indices and return federated results.
  • One-way inbound or two-way BCS solutions allow SharePoint Online to connect to on-premises SharePoint Server 2013 and onwards to OData service endpoints.

More details are available on TechNet.

In conclusion

Adopting Office 365 doesn’t have to be a cloud-only solution – customers can choose to run some workloads on-premises alongside other workloads in the public cloud (e.g. SharePoint on-premises with Exchange Online), or the hybrid scenarios described above may offer additional flexibility.

For some workloads, e.g. Yammer, there is no on-premises equivalent and it seems certain that in some point in the future we’ll only be considering public cloud solutions. That day is still some way off though and with Microsoft releasing Skype for Business Server 2015 and prepping Exchange Server 2016 and SharePoint Server 2016, the use of on-premises infrastructure in a hybrid configuration looks to offer the best of both worlds for the time being.

This post originally appeared on the Microsoft TechNet UK blog.