The Azure Change – Part I

The Azure Change – Part I

I’ve mentioned in some previous articles and videos that there is a significant shift happening in business computer services. Our industry evolves at a hectic pace, but there are moments in time when there are significant shifts that impact our clients at a foundational level. We put together a technology timeline as part of our 35th Anniversary celebration, and it was eye-opening!

Looking back—the shift from having a few computers in the office to having a network of connected computers; adding internet access for each computer on the network; moving from tape to image-based backups; virtualization of servers rather than a physical computer for each server; agents on each computer that monitor its health and can provide anti-virus and patch management automation; remote access through Citrix, then Terminal Services; Wi-Fi everywhere; the power of cell phones, way beyond a ‘phone’; hosting a server somewhere other than your office.

And now, the move from a central server for all company data and programs to an on-demand, file storage access from anywhere with hosted cloud servers for programs that require a server Operating System. SharePoint and OneDrive have been available for a while, but the culmination of Microsoft’s R&D efforts in this product and the pandemic have accelerated the product as well as its adoption. Add to this an expectation that everything is available at all times, and you can just feel the ground shifting.

To many of us who are familiar with and happy with most aspects of the traditional server/network model, this can feel overwhelming. At a minimum, it brings up concerns about protecting your business, its unique processes, and when it comes right down to it, worries about losing control. I’d like to address some of these.

Whether you feel ready for this or not, your staff is already using personal devices to stay connected during and after work; they’re already downloading and using tools to have access to what they need. If you don’t provide the roadmap and put the structure in place, they will look for ad hoc tools to meet their needs and you will definitely have lost control of your data.

Over and over again I hear the need for the field to have access to documents. This is followed by the many non-business apps and programs that are in use to work around the inconvenience and expense of providing access to the shared data on the server(s). If you have everything on your server right now, hosted or physical, and you need to solve the ‘access’ dilemma, here are the steps you’ll take in the coming months.

Step 1—If you’re not already on Microsoft 365, take the plunge. This platform incorporates email, Teams for on-demand communication and meetings, SharePoint and OneDrive for document access from anywhere, while addressing some chronic licensing issues. We continue to see clients pay Google for some services, then purchase other services for meetings and shared files, all of which are part of the M365 packages. Add the licensing of up to five (5) devices per user, and you can’t afford to skip this product. Don’t forget to add cloud-to-cloud backups and roll out Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).

Step 2—Time to do some planning. Take a look at the types of files on your server and the folder structure. For the folders, think in terms of groups, who has access, and categories. Many of you have excellent folder structure that can be translated to SharePoint. There are some ‘gotchas’ so be sure to include us in the planning. We have some great tools and a checklist of things to stay on top of when migrating to SharePoint.

One of the most common questions I get is, ‘The word ‘Share’ scares me; we have to limit who can see what.’ At this point, I often show my SharePoint folder structure and explain that these folders have security limits; many of the folders I see are not visible to others on our staff just due to the nature of my responsibilities. In SharePoint, the files are similar to ’Shares’ on your server; a way to organize the folders and to limit who has access to which folders.

I’m out of space but have one more step and several thoughts. Look for the rest coming soon! – CMW