Explaining Office 365, with particular reference to the crossover between OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams

For most of my career, I’ve worked primarily with Microsoft products. And for the last three years, I’ve worked in a consulting, services and education organisation that’s entirely focused on extracting value for our customers from their investments in Microsoft technology (often via an Enterprise Agreement, or similar). So, living in my Microsoft-focused bubble, it’s easy to forget that there are organisations out there for who deploying Microsoft products is not the first choice. And I’ve found myself in a few online conversations where people are perplexed about Office 365 and which tool to use when.

I used to use the Office 365 Wheel from OnPoint solutions until I discovered Matt Wade’s “Periodic Table of Office 365”, which attempts to describe Office 365’s “ecosystem of applications in the cloud” in infographic format:

The web version even lets you select by licence – so, for most of my customers, Enterprise E3 or E5.

But, as I said, I’ve also been in a few discussions recently where I’ve tried to help others (often those who are familiar with Google’s tools) to understand where SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and Microsoft Teams fit in – i.e. which is used in what scenario?

A few weeks ago, I found myself trying to do that on the WB-40 Podcast WhatsApp group, where one member had asked for help with the various “file” constructs and another had replied that “not even Microsoft” knew that. Challenge accepted.

So, in short form for social media, I replied to the effect that:

  1. Teams is unfinished (IMHO) but built on top of Office 365 Groups (and very closely linked to SharePoint).
  2. SharePoint can be used for many things including a repository for team-based information – regardless of what those teams are (projects, hierarchy, function).
  3. OneDrive is a personal document store.

In effect OneDrive can be used to replace “home drives” and SharePoint to provide wider collaboration features/capabilities when a document moves from being “something I’m working on” to “something I’m ready to collaborate on”. Teams layers over that to provide chat-based workspace and more.

And then I added a caveat to say that all of the above is the way we work and many others do but there is not one single approach that fits all. And don’t even get me started with Yammer…

The key point for me is that organisations really should have an information management strategy and associated architecture, regardless of the technology choices made.

And, just in case it helps, this is how one UK Government department approaches things (I would credit my source, but don’t want to get anyone into trouble):

They split up documents into a lifecycle:

  1. Documents start life with a user, so can go in OneDrive.
    • As the user collaborates with colleagues those colleagues can gain shared access to the document in OneDrive.
    • They proposed the use of 2-year deletion policies on all OneDrive for Business files [I would question why… storage is not an issue with Enterprise versions of Office 365, and arbitrary time-based deletion is problematic when you go back to a document for a reference and find it’s gone…].
  2. If the original document leads to a scoped piece of work then the Documents are moved to an Office 365 Group, as that neatly fits in with a number of resources that are common to collaboration: Planner, Calendar, File Storage (SharePoint), etc. And O365 Groups underpin Teams.
    • However, this type of data is time limited.
    • They proposed the use of 2-year deletion policies on all O365 Groups [again, why?].
  3. If a document became part of organisational policy/guidance, etc. then the proposal was to create permanent SharePoint sites for document management or potentially to move such documents to the organisation’s Intranet service [which could be running on SharePoint Online], or other relevant location.

So, you can see the lifecycle properties:

  1. User (limited need to know).
  2. Group (wider need to know).
  3. Organisation (everyone can know).

This plan has the potential to allow the organisation to manage data in a better way and minimise the costs of the additional storage required for SharePoint. But, core to that is turning the idea that OneDrive for Business is personal use on its head. It’s a valid place to store business data, but users should manage the lifecycle of data better. And this needs to be plain for the user to understand so they can spend the minimum amount of time managing the data.

[i.e. they don’t like the idea that OneDrive for Business is a personal data store – it’s a data store provided to users as part of their job and they don’t like “personal” being part of that definition. My 4pth is that the limits of “personal” and “work” are increasingly eroded, but I can see that organisations have legal and regulatory concerns about the data held in systems that they manage.]

So, which Office 365 tool to use? There is no “one size fits all” but some of the above may help when you’re defining a strategy/architecture for managing that information…

markwilson.it, GDPR and no more ads

You probably noticed that a new European regulation came into effect last month: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). I’d been inclined to follow the advice of Matt Ballantine (@Ballantine70), who expressed a view (I think on the WB-40 podcast) that, if you were compliant with existing data protection regulation, you were probably compliant with GDPR (the problem being that many organisations may not have been compliant with existing regulations but the GDPR penalties are more severe so they’re now taking them seriously). After all, I already had a privacy policy and data protection notice; I have a banner warning about cookies. I thought I was pretty well covered.

And then I read Mark Vale’s post on Does GDPR apply to you as a Blogger? It seems it might. Perhaps.

So, with help from the funny, sweary people at Writers’ HQ, I updated the site’s Privacy Policy. Then I bottled it and left in the serious bits from the old Privacy Policy and Data Protection Notice at the bottom. I still have the other Legal Notice too. But I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even run a company. I’m just a bloke who publishes stuff on the Internet, when he has the time.

I’ve also stopped running ads on this site. Not really anything to do with GDPR but Akismet wanted to charge me $5 a month for spam protection on a “commercial site”. Since Google Panda (an algorithmic change a few years ago), I only make about that much each month on the ads (and hosting costs me another £8 or so)… so I binned them off. So this site is now exclusively funded from my own pocket. Except that I may need to put them back on for a couple of weeks to get the £1.86 that will tip me over the trigger point for payment of the £58.14 I currently have stored up with Google Adsense…

Quantum Computing 101

There’s been a lot of buzz around quantum computing over the last year or so and there seems little doubt that it will provide the next major step forward in computing power but it’s still largely theoretical – you can’t buy a quantum computer today. So, what does it really mean… and why should we care?

Today’s computers are binary. The transistors (tiny switches) that are contained in microchips are either off (0) or on (1) – just like a light switch. Quantum computing is based on entirely new principles. And quantum mechanics is difficult to understand – it’s counterintuitive – it’s weird. So let’s look at some of the basic concepts:

Superposition Superposition is a concept whereby, instead of a state being on or off, it’s on and off. At the same time. And it’s everything in the middle as well. Think of it as a scale from 0 to 1 and all the numbers in-between.
Qubit A quantum bit (qubit) uses superposition so that, instead of trying problems sequentially, we can compute in parallel with superposition.

More qubits are not necessarily better (although there is a qubit race taking place in the media)… the challenge is not about creating more qubits but better qubits, with better error correction.

Error correction Particles like an electron have a charge and a spin so they point in a certain direction. Noise from other electrons makes them wiggle so the information in one is leaking to others, which makes long calculations difficult. This is one of the reasons that quantum computers run at low temperatures.

Greek dancers hold their neighbour so that they move as one. One approach in quantum computing is to do the same with electrons so that only those at the end have freedom of motion – a concept called electron fractionalisation. This creates a robust building block for a qubit, one that is more like Lego (locking together) than a house of cards (loosely stacked).

Different teams of researchers are using different approaches to solve error correction problems, so not everyone’s Qubits are equal! One approach is to use topological qubits for reliable computation, storage and scaling. Just like Inca quipus (a system of knots and braids used to encode information so it couldn’t be washed away, unlike chalk marks), topological qubits can braid information and create patterns in code.

Exponential scaling Once the error correction issue is solved, then scaling is where the massive power of quantum computing can be unleashed.

A 4 bit classical computer has 16 configurations of 0s and 1s but can only exist in one of these states at any time. A quantum register of 4 qubits can be in all 16 states at the same time and compute on all of them at the same time!

Every n interacting qubits can handle 2n bits of information in parallel so:

  • 10 qubits = 1024 classical bits (1KiB)
  • 20 qubits = 1MB
  • 30 qubits = 1GB
  • 40 qubits = 1TB
  • etc.

This means that the computational power of a quantum computer is potentially huge.

What sort of problems need quantum computing?

We won’t be using quantum computers for general personal computing any time soon – Moore’s Law is doing just fine there – but there are a number of areas where quantum computing is better suited than classical computing approaches.

We can potentially use the massive quantum computing power to solve problems like:

  • Cryptography (making it more secure – a quantum computer could break the RSA 2048 algorithm that underpins much of today’s online commerce in around 100 seconds – so we need new models).
  • Quantum chemistry and materials science (nitrogen fixation, carbon capture, etc.).
  • Machine learning (faster training of models – quantum computing as a “co-processor” for AI).
  • and other intractable problems that are supercompute-constrained (improved medicines, etc.).

A universal programmable quantum computer

Microsoft is trying to create a universal programmable quantum computer – the whole stack – and they’re pretty advanced already. The developments include:

Quantum computing may sound like the technology of tomorrow but the tools are available to develop and test algorithms today and some sources are reporting that a quantum computing capability in Azure could be just 5 years away.

Mark and Matt’s big bike ride for Kandersteg

Many readers of this blog will be aware that my family is a big part of my life – I have two sons who are growing up far too quickly! Cycling is another big part of my life – it’s one of the ways that I keep fit and it’s also one of my eldest son (Matthew)’s passions, which means I spend quite a bit of time supporting him in various cycling-related endeavours.

Another big part of our family’s activities relates to Scouting. I was a Cub Scout, a Scout, a Venture Scout (for a short while) and a Cub Scout Instructor in my youth – and I got a tremendous amount out of that experience. My sons are both Scouts too… which leads to this blog post…

Back in November, Matthew was lucky enough to be one of just 16 Scouts and Explorer Scouts across Milton Keynes District to be selected for one of two international trips in 2019 – to the International Scout Centre in Kandersteg, Switzerland and the World Scout Jamboree in the United States. Matthew was selected to go to Kandersteg and needs to raise quite a chunk of money to fund this amazing international trip.

As well as various group-related activities, Matthew was looking for an individual challenge that he could carry out in the hope that friends, family and other people who would like to support the cause could sponsor him.

Cycle route from Milton Keynes to Paddington Basin via the Grand Union CanalMatthew and I decided that a sponsored bike ride would be a good idea. But it had to be demanding. Not a few laps of the country park but something that would be a significant challenge for a 13 year-old – so we settled on a bike ride from Milton Keynes to London (in a day).

Because of the risks involved with road riding, we decided to use the Grand Union Canal, which actually makes it longer and a bit harder because not all of the surface is tarmac.

You can see our route on the image in this post – starting at Milton Keynes Central station, and ending at Paddington Basin (just along from the Microsoft offices at Paddington Central…).

I may have done a few 100 mile rides on the road for “fun” but ~70 miles (111km) on canal towpaths will be a stretch even for me… let alone for Matthew, whose furthest ride before we started training was 26 miles (40km). We’ve been training (up to around 75km) and this Saturday we’re hoping to do the ride for real.

Matthew on his bike, in Scout uniformSo, that’s what we’re doing – my ask of you is this:

If you’ve ever found my blog useful, or you have other reasons to support my son in his fundraising (it’s amazing how many people have themselves been on similar trips that have made a huge difference to their lives), please consider donating at Matthew’s crowd-funding page.

I’m sure I’ll be tweeting progress on Saturday… in the meantime – thank you in anticipation of your support.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, there’s info on Matthew’s crowdfunding page and you can find details about the Kandersteg International Scout Centre on their website.

Kandersteg International Scout Centre logo

Thank you for your support.

[Update 11/6/18: Matthew and I completed the ride on Saturday and he was awesome. I’m incredibly proud of him. He got a bit tired around the 50-mile point but kept on powering through and nailed it. And then an over-zealous security guard at Paddington Basin’s Pocket Park (Merchant Square) told us we had to move our bikes…

Thanks to everyone who supported us on this endeavour – we smashed Matt’s fundraising target for the ride (raising nearly all the money we need for the trip from just this one effort!).

Huge credit is due to the family and friends who joined us at key points on the route as well to my wife Nikki and my youngest son Ben, who followed us along the route and provided food, drink and support.]