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Virtualization for the SMB (Yes we are Doing it Now!)

I had the privilege to attend and present at a Lenovo build event last week. (I love my job). The group was mostly SMB IT consultants. I decided to talk to the group of them about Hyper-V and Server 2012 R2. Some of the group had used and implemented Server 2012, some had not, and a few had never seen Server 2012 and were still deploying Server 2008 R2. As it often happens when you get a bunch of IT folks in the room, we had a lively discussion about the current state of technology and what the attendees were currently implementing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the participants that were deploying 2012 and 2012 R2 were, for the most part, doing so in a virtualized environment. As we continued to chat, we started discussing how far SMB-specific IT has come. Only 18 months, or even a year ago, we wouldn’t have even considered implementing a virtualized environment in an SMB due to cost, implementation, and lack of understanding.

For those of you who don’t know, we IT folk have been virtualizing in the Enterprise for years now. Typically Enterprise would use VMware as their virtualization platform. But since the release of Server 2012, not only has Enterprise looked at Hyper-V differently, SMBs have also started looking at virtualization. So what is virtualization? Virtualization is the ablitity to use one server to host several other operating systems on that same server. Typically, the cost to do this was prohibitive at the SMB level, and most IT consultants felt the practise was not necessary in the SMB space. Along with this, the SMB had a difficult time understanding the benefits of running multiple operating systems on a single server. Personally, I won contracts based on the fact that I was not going to virtualize the environment. That was 3-4 years ago. The last project I completed prior to leaving my company was to replace an aging 2003 server and replace it with a newer model; and guess what I put in: Server 2012 (R2 was not available at the time). I did this because I knew that as the company grew, they could take advantage of the virtualization if they chose to do so. This was one of those contracts I won because I was not going to virtualize.

So why do we want to virtualize in the SMB space? There are several benefits, and here are just a few:

1. Cost savings – you can reduce the number of physical servers on-site, which reduces your equipment, operating, and maintance costs.

2. Easy out-of-the-box disaster recovery – because the servers are virtual and essentially just a file; it’s much easier to backup, move, migrate, and recover.

3. Testing and development – you can easily spin up a virtual machine for testing and troubleshooting issues without the cost associated with a physical machine. And when you’re done, you can just delete it!

As we march to the End of Support for Windows Server 2003, consider implementing Server 2012 R2 and taking of virtualiation that is included out of the box. If you would like to learn more about virtualization, I’ll be “Exploring Hyper-V” in the next Samurai Series webcast March 25, register here.

If you have questions, talk to your trusted IT professional about how your small business can benefit in the virtual environment.

Samurai Series

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: https://yourdomainname.remotewebaccess.com 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.

Folders

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

Computers

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.

Computers

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

RD

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.

Exit

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.

Exit

 

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.

SB

Enter in the domain name you wish and then check availability. Luckily, sharonbennett@remotewebaccess.com 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.

Setup

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.

Hiccups

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.

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.

1

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.

2

I then provided my Office 365 account information.

3

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

4

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

5

And we’re done! How painless was that?

6

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.

7

Selecting the Office 365 tab will display your account information.

8

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

9

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.

11

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.

12

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

13

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

14

15

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.

17

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.

Keeping Your SMBs Happy

My last article (Bending the Sharepoint Rules) highlights some of the unique challenges SMB IT providers face. My solution may not have been the proper one, but it was the best solution for the client, and it’s working beautifully, by the way. Disclaimer: I would never compromise on the security of a client’s data and I would recommend the proper and best practices in those situations. In this case, data loss/integrity were irrelevant.

This client has about 20 internal staff and 100 employees on the floor operating over 2 shifts. They do not have an IT person on-site, nor a champion user to handle IT challenges. It is critical that their systems run automatically and without intervention. They also need simple solutions to their workflow needs that can be easily handled by the users, and a detailed “how-to”. This type of scenario is very common in the SMB world. Working with SMB’s is very different from working in enterprise: it’s never the same. Here are some of my tricks to keep my SMBs running smoothly, and allowing me to work in my jammies all day.

1. Understand their needs

Many SMBs do not know what technologies are available to help them.  Once you understand what they are trying to accomplish you can then suggest a solution that best meets their needs. Focus on what you can do to solve their pain-points and do it simply and within budget.

2. Work within their budget

Times are tight, and even tighter for small businesses. They are trying to build a business,  while paying their employees and bills. It’s tough. Once you understand their needs, make sure your solution stays within their budget. Yes, you may not always be able to install the top of the line hardware, but ensure that what you do install works well and solves their needs, and will meet their needs for an agreed-upon time.

3. Understand best practices may not always be on option

As already mentioned, budgets can be tight in the SMB space, and as IT professionals we understand best practices, but they may not always be an option. Again, come up with a solution that works, but ensure that the client understands the consequences of the decision after you have fully explained all the options and outcomes.

4. Keep it simple

Many SMBs don’t care about the technology; just make it work. That being said, they need the solution to be simple and understandable. For example, virtualization is a great technology, but try to explain it to a small business owner, and they probably don’t understand it, which means they won’t move forward with the project. They need to be able to understand the technology that is being used in their office. It’s important to keep them in the loop and involved in the process. This ensures that the solution is only as complex as they can handle.

5. Provide great how-to’s

Most SMB’s don’t have an IT person on-site, and in most cases, the closest person to IT support is someone who can make pivot tables in Excel. Once you have a solution in place, it’s helpful to document all the steps for the solution. This gives the users power to solve their own issues quickly.

As I have said before, working with SMBs is very rewarding and it’s never the same, but using my tips above, you keep your clients happy and solve their pain-points, while keeping the solution simple and on budget; and you will continue to grow your own SMB.

Join us to learn about the advantages of selling both Office 365 and Windows Server!

Many small and midsize businesses today are considering the use of cloud-based software applications for the ease, accessibility, and cost benefits they can offer. At the same time, many still need an on-site platform for a range of needs from hosting applications, to print sharing, to storing sensitive financial data.

As our valued partner of Office 365, we would love to tell you more about how both of these products have enabled many partners to provide valuable and cost-effective solutions to their customers. We will also have Sharon Bennett, a Microsoft small business specialist and certified trainer join to speak about deploying Windows Server 2012 with Office 365 and how you can help grow your business with these products.

Learn key resources to enable your organization to deliver these solutions and a special offer available to get you selling today!

Join our 1hr. webinar on September 16th, 2013 from 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM (EST)!

Image

The Case of the Missing Pictures

BackupYou all know I love Microsoft Small Business Server, and my mysterious case of the missing pictures last week highlights one of the reasons why I will implement this solution wherever possible with a permanent backup hard drive in place. First, a little background about this client. It’s a small company of about 10 employees; which do not include anyone with more than basic word processing skills. They had an XP system that was being used as a file server, and several other older desktop systems being used by the employees. A year ago, we installed a new Small Business Server Essentials and 6 new desktops. More importantly, we also installed a 2 TB external hard drive to host their server backups. When the new infrastructure was put in place, they wanted to keep most of the server folders open and editable for all users.

A few days ago, the company’s “champion user” called the Bennett Business Connections Hotline in a panic; one of their event picture folders on the server had mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found! The last time she recalled seeing the missing folder was a few weeks prior to her hotline call, and there was no evidence of how it was removed. As a proper Small Business detective, I assured her not to worry and that we would track down her pictures soon. To start the investigation, I logged in that evening and immediately accessed their backup. I wasn’t concerned about tracking down the data, I was worried about how far back we’d have to go to find it. To find the missing data, I launched the Restore wizard from the SBS console and started checking for the most recent backup that included the missing files. Aha! After some sleuthing, sure enough, a backup from 2 weeks prior contained the missing file. A few more clicks of the mouse and the mystery of the missing files was solved. What happened? It was elementary, my dear Watson: the files had all been accidentally deleted.

SBS is designed for the end user, and in this case (pun intended) I could have easily walked her through the restore herself while I was driving on the highway. Yes, I was using hands-free.

I do love SBS, but sometimes the design of the system allows users too much freedom to accidentally delete files. I would like to see more control and configurability for user permissions, like we have in the non-SBS servers.

Bottom line…make sure you have a good backup solution in place at all times in case a user accidentally deletes data.

PS: I did the restore while at a friends cottage overlooking the lake while tethered to my cell phone. Another great feature of SBS 2011 and Windows Server 2012 is their easy remote access.

Google & Microsoft…Bullies on the playground?

See the NOTE at the bottom.

See the NOTE at the bottom.

You all know I am a Google girl, and have been since Gmail was first launched. But lately I have been reconsidering my current relationship with Google. (See my article Email Affairs – My version of 50 Shades of Grey to read about my Google love affair.)

As I mentioned in that article, I was finding Google was becoming a little too controlling and I was becoming increasingly unhappy about our current relationship. After recent events, my patience with Google has been stretched thin. You see, Google and Microsoft used to play well together; but after the release of Office 2013, the two giants are and have been battling, and the consumer is caught in the middle of the squabble.

One of my clients ordered a new system from an independent shop with Office 2013, back in April. She then asked me to come in in May and set up her system in her home office. Honestly, I figured I would pop in, set up her Gmail Apps for Business accounts, configure the backup and Blackberry, and have a happy client within a few hours. You know what is said about best laid plans?

It turned out Google hadn’t released the Google Apps Sync for Outlook at the time I first went in during the month of May. I set up the client’s email, knowing she didn’t have the whole calendar/contact sync, but according to the Google forums at the time, it was coming soon. We just had a to be patient a little while longer. In the meantime, we ordered a laptop with Windows 7 and Office 2013 Home and Business from Dell. By that point, it was early June and Google has released the Outlook integration model (kind of). In mid-June, the Dell unit with MS Home and Business 2013 arrives and I quickly set it up, with the Google Apps Sync for Outlook, and the client is up and running very quickly, except for some tweaking.

Next I head back to her home office and to finish the setup on her desktop. Since Google has released their software, I am sure this will be a snap. Many hours later, after a discussion with Microsoft and a Google reseller, my client still does not have a proper working desktop system at home; and the worst of it: she is not happy, which upsets me.

And what has caused all of this grief, you may ask? This should be a no-brainer, right? Think again and prepare yourself and your clients for what is turning into a miserable mess.

According to the Microsoft reps I spoke to, Office 2013 is Click and Run only (unless you have volume licensing).  I don’t know about you, but none of my small business clients have volume licensing, because it’s usually unnecessary for their needs and budget. Google released it’s Google Apps Sync for Outlook, but it is not supported on Office 2013 Click to Run. Office 2010 was also Click to Run, but we had the option of downloading the msi and Outlook 2010, and Google Apps Sync would work seamlessly.

So what’s the solution? In this case, the client returned the unit she bought, and we ordered a new desktop from Dell with Microsoft Office Home And Business installed; as I have been assured by the Dell rep that the Office 2013 pre-installed on the Dell systems is not Click to Run.

Moving forward with this company, we will order all units preloaded with Office 2013 from Dell, until this mess can be straightened out.

Who am I upset with? In this case I am upset with both companies. I understand why Microsoft is releasing software in this fashion, but they should make an MSI version available, as they did with Office 2010, for those of us who want more control over our installations. But in this case, I am more upset at and with Google right now. Office 2013 has been available to the public for 6 months now, and the manufactures had it back in the fall of 2012. I am not a programmer, but if Google can make self-driving cars, how hard is it to get Google Apps Sync to work on the Click to Run version of Office?

Why can’t these tech giants all get along? These companies are forcing their clients to side with one or the other, and it feels like the bully in the schoolyard. Remember “if you play with him/her, I won’t be your friend”? Unfortunately, small business consumers are the ones who are going to be most affected by this, and I am sure we’ll hear more about this problem as time goes by, and more people move to Office 2013.

The playground is much happier when everyone can enjoy playing together, no matter where you come from. I think it’s time for both Microsoft and Google to grow up, and play nice with each other, and all the others on the playground.

Windows 8.1- Keeping my fingers crossed

Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8.1 Preview

I’ve been using Windows 8 since November of 2012, and I really want to like it, but as much as I try to enjoy it, I really find it frustrating.

I’ve been using computers since the days of DOS (Disc Operating System) , and I skipped the move to Windows 3.1 and fought Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I had accepted that we were going to move forward with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and mouse, but I continued to use command prompt and keyboard shortcut keys. When I finally embraced XP, it was awesome; and I can still whip around the interface with or without a mouse. XP was straightforward, nothing fancy, and did what it was supposed to do, which is why it’s been around as long as it has. I was even one of those few people who liked Vista (it ran beautifully on my Apple MacBook Pro). Windows 7 was – and is – solid, and again, I could navigate the system without the use of a mouse. When I replaced XP systems with Windows 7, a quick how-to lesson was all that was needed and my users were able to get back to business in no time. So when it was time to replace my last Windows 7 laptop, I decided to order it with Windows 8, since I had to learn the new operating system so I could assist my clients as they move off of XP. (See my first impression of Windows 8 here).

(Really if you are still on XP you NEED to start planning to move off before April 2014.)

My new system arrived and I planned to spend a few hours getting used to Windows 8 (it shouldn’t take more than that to get familiar with the operating system) and setting it up. Two hours in and I was beyond frustrated and I had clients needing assistance ASAP, and I couldn’t figure out the basics. By the time my husband arrived home that evening, I was fit to be tied. I complained about some of my struggles with Windows 8, and how I was under the gun to help my clients, and I couldn’t; and he said I was a “such a user”. Well guess what, I am a typical business user and I don’t have a day off to learn a new system.

After having to Google how to restart the system, then figuring it out, I couldn’t imagine how my clients were going to deal with it on their own. The very thought of  plopping a Windows 8 system on a client’s desk and walking away from it was terrifying. As I start replacing/upgrading XP systems, I am still recommending and installing Windows 7 for my clients.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really cool things with Windows 8 which I really like, but as it stands right now, I know my clients will hate the interface and will experience some of the same issues I did. The biggest complaints I have about Windows 8 are:

1. Too many clicks to get access the application/file I need. Overall, I find it takes longer to get to where I need to be.

2. Too many shortcut keys that don’t make any sense

3. That horrible “modern user interface”. This interface makes no sense for business use. I never use it, and curse loudly, with words that would make a trucker blush, every time I am popped into it.

For the sake of my clients, and many others, I hope Microsoft has taken a serious look at how corporate users use Windows 7 and make the operating more business-friendly. From what I have seen so far, it looks like 8.1 will be more business user friendly.  Looking forward to trying it. My 12 yr old son has already installed the preview and is enjoying the new features.

What are your thoughts on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1?

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