tag line

moving IT to the cloud with service not servers

Saturday, 1 December 2018

InTune for Chromebook Admins (p1).

One of the advantages of deploying Chromebooks into schools is the ease of management. With no dependency on local infrastructure and a simple to use web management console, installing and configuring Chromebooks couldn’t be more straightforward.

Wouldn’t it be great if your Windows devices worked in the same way? Well with Microsoft’s new SaaS based framework maybe they can.

In this series of posts I take a look at Windows Modern Management from the point of view of the Chromebook administrator and just to make it interesting lets jumble things up a bit and assume Chromebooks are the established technology.

In this alternative reality Microsoft Windows is the new kid on the block and you have the job of incorporating this feisty newcomer into your serverless SaaS based school?  So let's take the red pill and wander around this particular wonderland just to see how far we can go.

Windows Version.
Fortunately our imaginary school has invested in a batch of Windows 10 laptops all running the 1809 feature update. You can try this trick on your IT suite running Windows 8 but I suspect you won’t get very far. After all you wouldn’t expect a set of Chromebooks running version 55 to support all the functions of admin console and Windows is no different.  So the first step is to make sure you have the latest Windows 10 release.

User Accounts.
Currently Windows devices only authenticate through a Microsoft user directory. So as much as the Chromebook admin would like to see a Google dialog logon on boot that’s not going to happen soon. For this reason all your users will need a Windows Azure account to control the access rights and licensing. This really shouldn’t be a surprise because all SaaS services work by referencing some form of local account even it authentication is managed by another party. Although you can force Chromebooks to use Azure AD as an authentication source you still have to maintain a separate Google user account to apply policy.

Web Management.
Google provides a web based management console that controls all aspects of the User and Device policy for Chromebooks. Microsoft's counterpart is the InTune for Education portal.  The first thing any G Suite administrator will notice moving into Microsoft’s wonderland is the fact that many of the  management functions are split between various web portals, all having different navigation styles and UI layouts.

The InTune for Education portal is itself a simplified ‘skin’ that rest on top of the InTune blade in the Azure console.  In this walkthrough we’ll stick with InTune for Education unless we’re forced out for some function. Right on cue the first one of these is user and licence assignment which is not managed by InTune for Education but the Office365 portal.

For the records the Windows Administrator will be spending most of the time moving between the following portals.

Office 365 - User management and Licencing
InTune for Education - General Device Management
Azure Portal - Advanced Device Management
Microsoft Store for Education - Application selection and authorization.

Licencing Chromebooks is easy. It’s a one-off device licence that’s valid for the life of the Chromebook. This simple relationship has not been lost on Microsoft and they have a direct equivalent, an InTune device licence that lasts for five years. The cost  is roughly equivalent and it gives you the ability to apply policy to the device and any organisational user account logging onto the same PC/laptop. It’s a very good deal and highly recommended.

Unfortunately that’s the end of the good news because although the device licence exists and can be purchased there’s no way of applying it to a device. It’s almost like the licence has been released to meet a marketing need before the software exists to support it. No doubt this will be fixed in time but currently the failback is to apply inTune license to individual user accounts and that’s done though the Office365 portal.

Enrolment and DEM accounts..
We now have user accounts set up in Azure and InTune licences applied to those accounts so lets start enrolling some devices. Google admins will be familiar with the fact that enrolling Chromebook out of the box is pretty easy and an small cottage industry has grown up to support the mass deployment of Chromebooks. In comparison the InTune enrolment experience takes a bit longer but on the whole is pretty slick and surprisingly straightforward.

Microsoft have a new facility called AutoPilot which we don’t cover here. It’s the equivalent of a Chromebook white-glove service working through the partner channels.

The first thing you will need is a device enrolment manager (DEM) account. Unlike G Suite where any user account can enroll a Chromebook, you need a user account with a special deployment flag set to enroll devices in bulk. Once created and with an InTune user licence applied you can enroll up to one thousand mobile devices using a single DEM account. The InTune for Education portal provides simple dialog to create and manage Azure enrolment accounts.

Once we have our DEM account created we are ready to enroll.

Power on your new Windows 10 device and move through the OOBE inputs. Set any dialogs regarding language and network access and select Set up for an organisation which is the the Windows equivalent of Ctrl -Alt-E.

Signing in using the DEM account adds the device to the Azure directory and places it under InTune management. Once rebooted you can logon using any organisational account with both device and user policies applied. Pretty simple.

Opening the InTune for Education portal you’ll see the appliance listed in the All Devices section along with some basic system information. The managed by field should read MDM.

The check in time records the last time the device took policy from Azure. A sync can be forced at any time and is a useful way of getting changes out to the devices on a short schedule. The time taken to apply a policy update can vary from seconds to a long coffee break so the ability to force a sync is a useful tool.

Opening the device record displays further information and options that would be familiar  to the the Chromebook manager.  The Retire action is the equivalent of deprovisioning in Chrome with one major difference, the licence is returned to the pool.  The admin also has the option to force a restart of the device, wipe the PC of personal data and return to factory default settings - a sort of remote Esc-Refresh-Power.

Hidden under the More button are actions to force a virus scan of the device and update Windows defender, duties that the Chromebook admin doesn't have worry about but essential tasks for the Windows admin.

The device action panel records the status and result of all active tasks.

Now we have the device enrolled we’ll can take a look at policy and application management in the next post.

Also: Mapping Local Drives with InTune

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Managing G Suite & Office 365 in a MAT (p3).

Single Sign On (SSO).

In the last in a series of posts that outline a cloud based approach to managing Google G Suite and Microsoft Office365 in a multi-domain setup we take a closer look at single sign on (SSO).

Before we go into details it’s worth outlining the project objectives with respect to SSO.

The Trust uses Office365/Azure AD to deliver a unified user account database across forty schools. Each school has its own DNS domain namespace and local AD accounts are synced to Azure AD from each site using the Azure Active Directory Connect tool.
Some of the larger schools also operate Active Directory Federation Service (ADFS) onsite. This allows a user to authenticate directly with local AD and then access Office365 without being prompted for a second set of credentials.
The objective is to extend SSO from Google to Azure to support the adoption of Chromebooks and related G Suite services across all of the schools in the Trust without any reliance on local ADFS service.

Unlike user provisioning, implementing SSO in such a complex set-up can break things and make users very unhappy.

For this reason it’s important to run a small Proof-of-Concept (PoC) to test the configuration before going live on thousands of accounts.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that SSO can only be turned on or off for a single Google organisation which means that testing affects every account in that domain, not just a subset of users. This is bad for one school but seriously bad if your Google organisation holds forty schools.

Fortunately the Trust had access to a G Suite organisation that was marked for deletion so this provided an ideal environment to run a PoC.

Creating the SSO object in Azure proved fairly simple. Unlike user provisioning which requires an object for each domain, SSO is covered by a single item which takes about ten minutes to configure. Once it’s built you have an ADFS instance in the cloud that’s configured to handle Google authentication requests for all your Azure AD accounts. Fortunately there’s little risk at this stage because, until the Google domain is redirected to the new service everything works as normal.

This is where the spare domain comes in useful.  By setting up the G Suite PoC domain to point to the new Azure service you create a environment that can be used to prove the whole solution, including the Chromebooks if you have a few spare spare management licences.

Initially it’s worth testing using a standard Chrome browser session. Opening https://drive.google.com with a PoC organisation account should present an Azure logon page to complete the authentication. Similarly logging out and requesting a password change should direct to appropriate Azure web form.

Once you have this working you can update the Chrome device policy to pass-though the logon request to Azure. This is process is well documented by Google was well as the earlier post.

At this point the power of a cloud based federation service approach becomes apparent.  The endpoint will authenticate any G Suite account against Azure if there's an matching account in the tenancy.  Interestingly this even works if the school runs local ADFS.  The request is accepted by Azure and then passed through to the local ADFS with Azure acting a bit like  a request router.

During the PoC phase one unexpected problem emerged that's worth closer examination.

Chromebooks require Forms based Authentication (FBA) when they talk to a federation service, after all it’s the ‘form’ that provides the logon dialog box.

When connecting directly to Azure that’s not a problem but local ADFS instances can be configured to replace FBA with Windows Integrated Authentication (WIA).   WIA provides a much smoother experience for internal users moving between Office 365 and local resources.

A standard ADFS configuration does not list Chrome as one the the browsers that support WIA (even though it does) so it’s fairly common for ADFS administrators to add Chrome to the list of supported User Agents so that desktop Chrome users can have the same slick WIA experience. Unfortunately this action makes a Chromebook very unhappy. After failing to respond to the WIA request it throws up a default form in order to capture the user logon information which looks and behaves in a very ugly manner.

Fortunately the fix is fairly  simple. The User Agent that is added to ADFS has to be altered slightly from “Mozilla/5.0” to "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT”.

The second version only specifies Chrome running on Windows as having WIA support and therefore ADFS defaults to sending a form to the Chromebook and order is restored. The fix is documented in more detail in this excellent post

The Trust has been running with this configuration from the beginning of the new school year in September 2018.

The Azure tenancy and Google organisation are linked using the SSO object with all G Suite logon requests handled by Azure or routed back to the local ADFS instance. Google accounts are auto-provisioned  by Azure without running Google Cloud Directory Sync on each site.  The Trust is slowly developing the capability of the provisioning script to to add more intelligence into account management. Students now use Chromebooks to access the Office 365 webapps along with a number of other SaaS services.

If you're interested in trying this out yourself, so long as you have access to a test Google Organisation to allow you to make mistakes without affecting production users you can’t go far wrong.  Contact me for any further information.

Lastly many thanks to Sumit Tank for handling this project with the Trust IT team and having the courage to believe that might even work.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Managing G Suite & Office 365 in a MAT (p2).

User Provisioning.

An earlier post outlined an approach to managing both Google G Suite and Microsoft Office365 in the type of multi-domain setup commonly found as part of a MAT (Multi Academy Trust).

The objective was to a create a single organization/tenancy for both G Suite and Office365 in which each school existed as a sub-organization/domain beneath the parent body. In this situation Azure AD acts as the authentication authority and the primary directory for the user accounts. G Suite provides the collaborative workflow for the teaching teams (Classroom) and the device management platform for both G Suite and Office365 (Chromebooks).

In the first of two posts we’ll take a closer look at the technical challenges of this technique, starting with user provisioning and finishing with single sign on (SS0).

In a standard approach the role of user provisioning between Active Directory and Google G Suite would normally be handled by multiple local instances of Google Cloud Directory Sync (GCDS). However since the MAT already has a single unified user directory in Office365/Azure AD it makes far more sense to sync directly from that source.

Fortunately Azure provides user provisioning as a function of the Enterprise Application SaaS connector for Google G Suite, the details of which are described in the earlier post. However scaling up to a MAT deployment with over forty domains requires a few tricks. So here are a few of the lessons learnt during the process.

Sorting out DNS and installing GAM.
To provision users into G Suite each Office365 domain must be created as a sub-domain in the G Suite organisation. Although this isn’t particularly difficult task, it requires administrative rights on each DNS account to support the verification process, so now is a good time to check that you have that level of access. This task always throws up a few surprises.

The GAM toolset proved particularly useful when creating  the verification codes and running updates using a command similar to the one below.

             gam update verify greyfriarsschool.org txt                 

GAM was also employed later in the project, so installing the toolset against the target G Suite organization proved a key requirement.

Azure provisioning uses a strict mapping of the user ID in Office365  to the same user account in G Suite. There is no way of providing a transformation such that user@schoolA.com relates to user@schoolB.com.  If for any reason the accounts don’t map across both platforms this has to be fixed first.

Creating the provisioning objects.
Each G Suite sub-domain is controlled by its own provisioning object in Azure so the end solution has many provisioning objects but only a single object controlling SSO. Since creating the provisioning objects is a manual task it’s a good idea to use a naming schema so you can match each one to the target domain. The provisioning objects can be created at an early stage and then disabled.

At this point you need to decide how to identify or ‘scope’ the user objects in Azure. In our situation we used a new Azure group for each school -  “Google Users-Domain A” for example, which was referenced by the domains provisioning object.  Moving an Azure user into this group has the effect of creating a Google account, removing it suspends the account. Testing is very easy as it’s filtered through the group membership so there’s little risk of flooding your Google domain with thousands of false accounts. Simply enable the object and add a test account into the scoping group.

The Azure provisioning object requires a user with admin rights to be created in the target G Suite organization to allow it to manage the accounts. Whether you use a single account or one specific to each each sub-domain is largely a data security decision. Using one for each site requires somebody to maintain a password list as there no service account (OAuth) option for this process.

Account post-processing.
One feature that becomes immediately obvious when using Azure AD is the fact that the cloud directory doesn't have a hierarchical structure. Local AD accounts exist in a directory ‘tree’ which can be mapped to a similar OU tree in G Suite which controls policy.  Azure AD doesn’t have this facility so all G Suite accounts are created in root. While this situation might be manageable for a small school, a MAT with over forty domains has the capacity to dump thousands of accounts into the G Suite root container  - which is not a pretty sight.

The solution used a post-processing batch job to search for new accounts in the root container. Once identified the script reads the domain information from the logon account name and moves it to a “New Accounts” holding area under each sub-domain.  The process was written as a powershell script with embedded GAM commands and hosted on a local server although there’s no reason why it couldn't be moved to a Azure server instance making it location independent.

During testing it was clear that the script could be extended to support a more complex set of processing rules. The final production script checks back into Azure AD to pick up additional data which allows it to place student accounts into the correct sub-OU for the year group.

The script needs to be manually updated as new schools come online but this is far simpler process than integrating another instance of GCSD.

A generic example of the provisioning script without the Azure integration can be can be found here.

Next we’ll take a look at Single Sign On.