Thursday, 19 March 2020

Keep Calm and Get SaaS.

The recent announcement of school closures in the UK and across Europe has thrown up a raft of new challenges, one of which is  - “how can we teach without a school”.

For those establishments who have made the move to Software as a Service (SaaS) and reduced the role of local servers and infrastructure this may not be too much of a problem. If implemented correctly and protected by a cloud user directory such as Azure AD or Google it’s quite possible that learning could continue remotely so long as students and teachers have access to the internet and some form of mobile device.

But what can be done for those schools whose data and systems are locked behind the school firewall for the next few months.

First, it’s never too late to stand up an educational account in either Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite for Education and start moving services to the cloud. In response to the crisis Google are fast tracking school requests and it’s possible to be up and running with a tenancy within a few days. Both platforms have the ability to quickly import accounts, set up shared storage accounts and move data across. It may not be perfect but your school now has a fully functional collaborative workspace that can operate from any location.

If you are going Google, Classroom is going to be the answer to remote teaching for the next few months. This is now a fully featured, mature service and since it’s entirely web based and free from any licensing you can have a remote learning platform up and running in days.

Both Office 365 and G Suite have integrated video conferencing and messaging platforms that can be used for teaching. Google has made the premium features of Google Meet free to all G Suite for Education customers until July 1, 2020. This includes the ability to record meetings, livestream up to 100k people and add 250 people to a Hangout.

Consider getting hold of some Chromebooks for remote working. These devices are dead easy to set up and manage and work just as well with the Office 365 web apps as with G Suite. If you already have a remote access solution based on Citrix, VMware or MS Terminal services, Chromebooks are the dream client platform. If you can’t afford any hardware and only have a stock of underpowered laptops that aren't up to the mobile challenge, you can easily re-purpose them with Neverware and plug them back into your new cloud services.

Last of all,  if this all seems a bit overwhelming, you can make the transition as easy as possible by contacting a partner or supplier who can help you with the setup process and training.

Keep calm - contact a platform partner or just roll up your sleeves and get started with SaaS.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Provisioning OneDrive for new users.

Although you can create a student account in Office 365 and allocate OneDrive as a resource, behind the scenes the storage location is not actually assigned to the user account.

This normally occurs the first time the users tries to access or browse to their OneDrive which sometimes causes a noticeable delay before the site opens. For one off accounts this not too much of an issue but for a class groups in the first day of term it's not something you want to be dealing with.

In this situation it's a good idea to pre-provisioned OneDrive to improve the user experience and reduce the number of hands in the air.

First create a list of student accounts and save it as a file. For example a text file named users.txt that contains:

Next run the PowerShell command Request-SPOPersonalSite  referencing the file you created.

$users = Get-Content -path "C:\users.txt" Request-SPOPersonalSite -UserEmails $users

That will kick off a background task to create the site for all accounts. If you are pre-provisioning OneDrive for a whole year group it might take up to 24 hours for the OneDrive locations to be created, so be patient or plan ahead,

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Getting the Hardware ID for AutoPilot Enrolment.

If you have a new device its very easy to get the hardware information you need to enrol with Autopilot without going through the whole OOBE setup.

Start the device and wait a few second until the region selection page appears.

Press the following key combination SHIFT + F10

A CMD prompt will appear, type in PowerShell and hit Enter

The next step involves creating a local directory to store the information.

md scripts
cd scripts

You then need to set the execution level.

Set-ExecutionPolicy -ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

At the command prompt run the following commands.

Save-Script -Name Get-WindowsAutoPilotInfo -Path c:\scripts

The NuGet provider is required for this action. Press Y and Enter. NuGet will be downloaded and installed.

If you run a listing on the directory again you'll see the script downloaded to the scripts folder.

Run the following command;

Get-WindowsAutoPilotInfo.ps1 -outputfile c:\scripts\intunehwid.csv

This writes the required data into the intunehwid.csv file. This file needs to be uploaded to InTune either using either the Windows Store or the Device Management portal.

If you are enrolling a number of devices it's probably a good idea to script the whole process and run it directly from the USB key, appending the output data to a file on the drive rather then saving locally.

After that run; shutdown /p

.. to turn off the device.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Windows Delivery Optimisation for the G Suite admin.

Chromebook admins who manage large estates soon become familiar with the OS refresh cycle which pushes out a full update every six weeks and the minor update cycle which arrives every two to three weeks.

On average a full Chrome OS update normally checks in at about 400 MB with minor updates around 50 MB. This amount of data is manageable for a class set of Chromebooks but adds up to a sizable chunk of bandwidth up if you are running a network with 2000 active devices.

For this reason Google allows some degree of  control over how these actions occur including the option to defer upgrades and stagger the update period. However one of the most useful features is a peering model which allows Chromebooks to pull updates from nearby devices of the same type.  This dramatically reduces the load on the internet connection and removes the download bottleneck for any school considering going 1:1 with Chromebooks.

For schools looking to go serverless with Windows10 clients it should come as no surprise that Microsoft have adopted a similar model for devices using Windows Update for Business rather than a local WSUS server - after all a good idea is a good idea.

Windows 10 introduces a new feature called Delivery Optimisation which can be controlled using InTune or standard GPO policies, for those who have yet to make the move to the cloud.

The GPO settings for Delivery Optimisation can be found at 
Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Delivery Optimisation.

A simple switch in the config sets the download mode. There are six options, including one to turn it off altogether but the one that comes closest to the Chromebook model is:

       HTTP blended with peering behind the same NAT

In simple terms Windows 10 devices will attempt to get updates from other computers on the same network but will fall back to the internet if there is no response.

The process can be fine tuned using both GPO and Intune policy settings including the option to define minimum settings for RAM and disk size before a device can take part in peer caching. A threshold can also be set on the minimum file size to be cached since, for smaller files it’s actually more efficient to simply download them from the web.

Windows 10 also has a feature similar to the Chrome software channels (Stable, Beta and Dev).

Devices can be allocated to various deployment rings  which includes an Insider program that allows organisation to test and provide feedback on future feature update release. Like Chrome OS upgrades arrive on a set schedule with Feature Updates released twice a year, normally in March and September. Quality updates contain security and critical fixes and normally occur at least once a month. Also like Chrome, updates can be deferred for a fixed period but not indefinitely.

For the Chrome admin this should all sound very familiar.

One problem facing Windows 10 that’s not such a high profile issue with Chromebooks is the maintenance of locally installed applications.

An Android application installed on a Chromebook will provide a notification when a new version is available with updates transferred via the Google Play Store. Universal applications on a Windows 10 device update in a similar same way but through the Windows Store for Business. Like Feature Updates you have the option to defer any changes if you are concerned about application stability.

For most organisations the largest application likely to be installed onto Windows 10 is Microsoft Office and the same Delivery Optimisation process can now be used for background updates of this package so long as you are running version Windows 10 1808 and are using a licensing and deployment model that employs Office 365 Pro Plus.

For once the setup is pretty simple as Delivery Optimization is enabled by default on devices running Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 10 Education editions. Therefore, there isn’t anything additional you need to do to start taking advantage of Delivery Optimization for Office background updates.

Any G Suite administrator trying to get to grips with Windows10 update management will find a lot in common between the new Microsoft model and that of Chrome.

In many respects the transition will be harder for the local Windows admin who must now be starting to realise that in the future Microsoft will be running the management plane for Windows clients as well as the user directory and as a consequence reign of the local server is slowly drawing to a close.