Archive for October, 2013

Backing Up to Azure…it’s not that bad

I’m continuing on my Windows Server 2012 Essentials kick this week. I know R2 was released last week, but the procedure is basically the same. I’ll update this post with the R2 instructions in the coming weeks.

We all know we should be doing off-site backups as part of our backup routine; see 3-2-1 Now Backup for more details about a backup strategy for your small business. And as I write this, I’m thinking, when was the last time I performed an offsite backup? Yep, it’s been awhile, because it’s a manual process and I will “get around to it”. Unfortunately, I see this too often at my clients as well, and for the same reason. It’s a manual process and it get puts on the back burner. Luckily, Microsoft made this an automated process in Windows Server 2012 Essentials, so we don’t have to think about it and if the unthinkable did happen, the data is safe on the Azure servers. Azure is Microsoft’s hosting platform. For more details about the features of Azure, see

Now on to the how-to. Please note this is long, and contains screen shots to help you step through this process.

I started by creating an account on Azure. Go to and sign up for an account. Once your account has been created you will need to enter the Portal and create a recovery vault in the Recovery Services module.

Launch the Dashboard from your server.


Click Add Ins and then Integrate with Windows Azure Online.

Add Ins

You will be taken to the Azure website.

Azure SignUp

Follow the instructions to create an account.

Azure Log On





Once your account has been created, click on the Portal link then create a Backup Vault in Recovery Services.


Once the vault has been created, your account will look similar to this:

Backup Vault

Double clicking the name of your vault (you assigned this name when you created the vault) will display the details about your vault, including the server it’s connected to.

Vault Info

At this point you can now start connecting your Windows 2012 Server Essentials to Azure.

Click on Step 2 Download agent. This will install the connector. Add the Online Backup tab on your server Dashboard. Follow the prompts to install the add in.

Add Ins

You will also have to copy your server certificate to Azure backup. To do this, access the Azure Online backup from the new Online Backup tab on the Dashboard. Click the copy button beside the certificate path.


Switch back to your Online vault and select Manage at the bottom of the window.

Certificate Management

Click the Browse for file link and then “paste” the data from the previous copy. The certificate will be added to the vault. Your server is now registered with the Azure online backup.

If you have made it this far, hang in there a few more steps and we can setup the backup.

You can now register the server with the online backup from the Online Backup tab.


Fill in the dialog boxes if necessary.


You are now required to come up a long passphrase. It took me 3 tries to come up with one long enough. You can reset your passphrase if you forget it, like I have.

After a few more dialog boxes your server will be registered.


We can now finally start backing up our server to Azure! Yes, it’s been a long procedure to this point. I promise it gets easier now.

To configure our Online Backup either click the icon in the completed registration window (above) or select the Online Backup tab from the server Dashboard.

Select the appropriate files/folders for your backup.


Then, how often you want the server to be backed up.

date and time

Next, pick your retention policy.


You now have the option to configure how much bandwidth the backup can use.


Your server will now prepare your backup.

azure 36

Finally…we have successfully configured the online backup!

azure 37

Before we finally say it’s complete, I would suggest you start a backup and verify the server is backing up to Azure.

I have to admit this process took some time, but I think that was more my inexperience with Azure than with either product. The first time I setup Office 365 it took longer than I thought, now I can do it with my eyes closed.

Trust me, this will be worth the time and effort. If the unthinkable does happen, the company data, the heart and soul of the organization, is kept safely off-site and can be easily retrievable.

Categories: backups Tags:

Is the cloud really that scary?

As I sit here putting together a presentation for this week on Office 365 (another great product), I know I’m going to get some questions about cloud technologies and subscription-based services. I love cloud-based technologies, but I do understand the hesitation. Here’s a list of the most common concerns I hear and my responses:

1. What is cloud? Ok…now I think my industry has done the general public a huge disservice. We (not me in particular) have made the cloud into this magical fairy dust and rainbow place, that is just out there. NO! In basic terms, the cloud is just servers sitting at a datacenter. Nothing magical there. IT, as an industry, has stop turning technology into a magical thing. Yes, what we do with technology can seem like it’s magic, but it takes skill and hardware, not fairy dust.

2. Is cloud safe? Yes! As long as you choose a reputable provider. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase cloud services from a company I didn’t know. Stick to the big names and you should be fine.

3. Are they reading my data? I don’t know the answer to that. I like to think my data is more secure at Microsoft or Google then on a USB stick that I left in a clients system. This would be up to you to determine what you want to store at these sites.

4. Do I need an Internet connection? For the most part, yes, you do. But depending on your solutions provider, you may have offline access.

5. Why is it subscription-based? Overall, IT is moving to a subscription-based model. For a small business, this planned expenditure eases the burden of unforeseen expenses. Remember, you are not only getting the service, but also the infrastructure behind it. Your small business no longer has to worry about purchasing the hardware, hiring technical staff, updating the server, or dealing with hardware issues. This is all part of your subscription fee.

6. Does the cloud service cost less than the on-premise solution? Sometimes, but again it depends on the solution provider. In the example of Office 365, with the level of functionality that is available, the small business used to be only available to the business that could afford to have everything in house, including IT professionals. With the subscription-based model the “big business” tools are available to the small business at a fraction of the price.

7. Is cloud just a phase? Personally, I don’t think so. If we look at how much we do online compared to even 3 years ago, it’s staggering. Take a moment to think about how much you do online every day both at work and at home. Could you work if you didn’t have Internet?

Cloud solutions are great, but they may not be the right solution for your company. Talk to your IT professional and they will be able to help you determine if it’s time to move the cloud.

Categories: Cloud, Customer Satisfaction Tags:

Anywhere Access – The Jammie Part

In a previous post (Windows 2012 Server Essentials Anywhere Access – Part 1) I outlined how to setup Anywhere Access to allow your users to securely access their files, and even desktops, from outside the office. In this post, I will step you through how to connect using the Anywhere Access feature included in Windows 2012 Server Essentials. The images in this post are from a clients system; Windows 2012 Server Essentials.

To use Remote Web Access, open Internet Explorer (using other browsers is not recommended).

Enter: into the address bar. This address was set up when Anywhere Access was configured on the server. See previous post for details how to do this.

After a few moments you will be presented with the following window:

Remote Web Access

Enter your office network username and password.

You will now be connected to Windows Server 2012 Essentials server in the office.

Remote Web Access

Users can easily see items they have access too, including their desktops if the functionality is provided.

Shared Folders

Users have the same access to the same files and folders as they would in the office. They can download, modify and upload the files. (Watch for an upcoming post that takes this functionality to a new level in the new product release.)

When the user clicks on Shared Folders, a list of all folders is presented.

 Shared Folders

Expand the folders on the left to drill down into the file structure.


Here, users can easily upload and download files and create new folders.


The greatest advantage to Remote Web Access is the ability for your users to access their desktops as if they were sitting in front of it. The quality and response time is much faster than other remote control programs.

To access the systems in the office the users pick the system from the list on the right. Click the Connect button. Clicking the Computers link will present a list of all the computers the user can access.


Doing so will also give you access to all the systems you can remote into based on your credentials.


Once you have clicked the Connect button you will be presented with the following dialog box:

Remote App

Click Connect again.

You will be required to enter your credentials again.

Click on the Use another account link if the incorrect username is already provided.

Windows Security

You will now be connected to your desktop.

To exit click the X on the menu bar at the top of the screen.


This will close the Remote Desktop Session and take you back to the Remote Web Access Screen.

Exiting Remote Web Access

Please be sure to exit out of Remote Web Access by clicking the Sign Out link to the top left of the window.



That’s it! You can now securely access your files and desktop from anywhere. Who needs an office?

Windows 2012 Server Essentials Anywhere Access – Part 1

This and the following post are going to be focused on the Anywhere Access feature included in Windows 2012 Server Essentials.

As most you know, I love this product. It’s my go-to solution for my clients who require a server that is easy to manage and is user-friendly. 2012 Essentials fits the bill perfectly. It’s designed for small businesses with up to 25 users. This post will focus on Anywhere Access, aka: working in your jammies. (I’m all about the jammies).

Anywhere Access allows users to connect to the server, and even to their desktop, from outside the office using a web-friendly interface. This how-to will step you through configuring Anywhere Access and how it looks to the users.

After Windows 2012 Server Essentials is installed, launch the Dashboard, if it isn’t already launched.

Click on Setup Anywhere Access then Click to configure Anywhere Access

Anywhere Access

You now have the option to have the program setup your router, or you can do it manually. Personally, I prefer the manual method, maybe I’m just old school.

Router Skip

You will now be presented with a Getting Started window. Click Next.

If you have a domain name, you can use it or you can create a new one. This name becomes the url for the users to access the server via a webpage.

Domain Name

For the purpose of this how to, I will create a new domain name.

Since I don’t want to pay for a name, I’ll get a personalized domain name from Microsoft.

MS Name

Enter your credentials or create a new Microsoft account.

In my case I have already registered a name, but I want to create a new domain name for this post.


Enter in the domain name you wish and then check availability. Luckily, is available (what are the oods?). Then click setup. Your domain name is now setup on your server. Please note, it could take a few minutes before you can access Anywhere Access.


We can now choose how we want our users to connect. We can enable VPN or Remote Web Access. We are going to select Remote Web Access. The next option allows us to turn on Anywhere Access for our current users and any newly created users.

Access Type

The program will then setup the users, configure the firewall and any other settings that are required for Remote Web Access.

The next screen will come up green if Anywhere Access is able to connect to the Internet. In our case it cannot, since we chose to setup the router manually. I’ll skip the listed issues and configure my router manually, then test again.


To verify Anywhere Access has been configured, I view a user account and verify the account has Anywhere Access enabled.

User Access

You will also notice that I can uncheck the options I do not want the user to have access to.

And there you have it. In my experience, the biggest hiccup is setting up the router. Remember, your router is your first line of defence against intruders and it’s important that it is setup correctly. Please consult with your local IT pro if you are having any issues. Anywhere Access The Jammies Part 2 (Anywhere Access – The Jammie Part) outlines how to connect from outside the office.

From Jammies to Suits

I apologize for my lack of material lately. I’ve been very busy, but I admit that that should not be an excuse. There is a good reason for my busy-ness, there has been a change in my career focus. As of last week, I started working for Microsoft Canada in the role of SMB Server Champ. This was not an easy decision to make; I love the clients I serve and I am honoured that they have allowed me to be a part of their businesses.

I am excited about the change and I’m looking forward to helping promote Windows Server 2012 to SMBs. I love this product, and the updates and additional features in R2 are impressive.

This transition does not mean the focus of this blog will change. If anything, I’ll be able to bring new technologies aimed at SMBs to the readership faster.

A huge thanks to my clients for allowing me to be a part of their businesses and using their stories for this blog. Thanks to Microsoft Canada for inviting me to join their team. A special thank you to a special friend who helped this process along. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family and friends.

Stay tuned for a flurry of posts about Windows 2012 Server and my transition from jammies to suits.

Categories: Thanks Tags: ,

XP: Tell 2 Friends, and So On, and So On

ripI am surprised at how many people still don’t realize Windows XP is going to die….and soon. It had a good run but now it’s time to let it pass quietly into the night. In 6 months, or 26 weeks, or 183 days from now, XP will no longer be supported. That isn’t a lot of time. Spring will be here before we know it, and XP will be gone.

The latest stats show that 50 million PCs still run XP. We need to do a better job of educating users about this issue. During one of my classes last week, 2 of the 9 students had no idea XP was retiring and they’re running small businesses. Why do so few people not realize they need to move off of XP, and worse, how many may not realize it until it’s too late?

So what do we do?

1. Tell everyone! Anytime I have a class or seminar I mention the impending fate of XP.

2. Ask everyone you know to share this. Right after I mention XP (see step 1), I then ask this group to spread the word to anyone they know. You remember the Faberge Shampoo commercial, they tell 2 friends, and so on, and so on, and so on! We need that type of viral promotion for XP’s upcoming demise.

3. Blog, write, tweet, post, etc. Use whatever social network you can to get this information out there.

4. Share whatever blog, tweet, post, etc. from those who have done step 3 to spread the message even further.

5. Much like Faberge Shampoo, lather, rinse, and repeat!

As IT professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure the systems our clients are using are current and up-to-date. If you are still running XP, check out my XP Upgrade Checklist to help you and/or your IT support move your systems forward sooner than later.

Office 365 to Server Essentials How-To

I was at the Microsoft Partner Summit in Mississauga last week and ended up in a discussion with a gentleman about Windows 2012 Server Essentials and Office 365. Windows Server 2012 Essentials replaces the SBS and does not include SharePoint or Exchange, but you can connect to an existing Exchange server, hosted Exchange service, or Office 365, as I outline below.

SBS 2011 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 Essentials are my go-to server installations for small companies (less than 25 accounts). They’re great operating systems for smaller companies that needs a server for LOB applications, file shares, and backups. Plus, you can easily access your server files and desktop using the Anywhere Access feature. In this post I’ll outline how to integrate Office 365 with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. I used an existing Office 365 account that I currently have access to, and it could not have been easier.

First from the Dashboard, select the Email option.


In my case I wanted to integrate with Microsoft Office 365 and not an Exchange Server, but if you have an Exchange server, either hosted or on premise, you could integrate with it.

You will be presented with the Getting Started window. Again, because I already have an existing subscription, I selected this option. If you do not have a subscription, uncheck the box that indicates you do, and the wizard will help you set one up.


I then provided my Office 365 account information.


Next, agree to the password policy. We should all be using strong passwords anyway!


Then wait until the configuration is complete. I didn’t even have time to get a coffee.


And we’re done! How painless was that?


The next time you open the Dashboard, you will notice the check mark beside the Office 365 integration and a new tab labelled Office 365.


Selecting the Office 365 tab will display your account information.


Now that the two products are connected we can easily manage both accounts.


We can either Add or Assign Office 365 accounts from the Users tab in the Dashboard.

To add or connect existing Office 365 accounts, select the Add Office 365 Accounts link.

If the account names are the same, the application will automatically match the accounts for you. Brilliant! 10

Click Next.

A report stating success and/or failure is now presented. If the installation was a success, you now have the associated server accounts.


If you already have the Office 365 accounts created, you can easily add them to the Windows 2012 Essentials server.

Select Import Accounts from Office 365 from the Users tab in the Dashboard. Again, the application will create server accounts based on the Office 365 account name.


A status report is once again presented after the accounts are created.


You can also add users using the Office 365 web portal. Create the account as you normally would in Office 365.



Once the account has been created, access the Add a User Account from the Windows 2012 Essentials Dashboard. 16

In the above example I assigned the previously created Office 365 account to the user account (option 2). You can also create an Office 365 account and assign it to a user account (option 1). You can also leave the account alone and not assign it to a matching user account (option 3). The account will then be added to the server users.


This is a great solution for the small business (less than 25 users). Users can easily be managed by the company, saving them time and money. The one thing I would love to see added is easy integration from SharePoint component to Office 365 to internal folders on the server. I thought this was possible but I haven’t been able to determine how to connect the two. If you know how to do this, please add the solution to the comments. Thanks!

P.S. I’m hoping to turn this into a series of Essential How-To’s.

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