The Azure Change – Part II

Let’s recap Part I from last week. We are at a moment in time when there is a palpable shift in technology. We’ve seen several of these during our 35 years in business, and we’re in one right now.

We’re moving from a central server for all company data and programs to an on-demand, file storage access from anywhere with hosted cloud servers for server-specific programs, and Microsoft 365 to share documents. These products have been around for a while, but with all the R&D by Microsoft and the fallout from the pandemic, this change has accelerated and crystalized, along with our expectations of what technology should deliver and provide.

Last week I recapped some of the ways the business community has met the need to share and have access to documents, all accelerated by the pandemic, and not all in the long-term best interest of the company. I also shared the first two steps businesses need to take right now to move forward. Your data is critical to running your business. It’s also critical that you take control of the tools in use, the security, and that you safeguard these assets.

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. The rest of the details are in our December 2021 newsletter.

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. There are some ‘gotchas’ so be sure to include us when you’re doing this planning. We have some great tools and checklists. Now let’s continue.

One of the most common questions I get when we talk about Step 2 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 the ‘Shares’ on your server; a way to organize the folders and to limit who has access to which folders.

Step 3—Now we look at what’s left on the server, in many cases, it’s accounting software or estimating software. This software runs on a server operating system (OS) so these are not a candidate for the M365 offering. This software and the data is moved to Azure hosting. In the Azure environment, you can choose a Syscon Tenant (just a few users), or a Private Tenant that allows you to use one log in and password to access your Microsoft account and the Azure server—seamless! I often describe these as the difference between renting in a building with common areas, and renting a stand-alone house that includes maintenance.

We also know that many of you have server operating systems that will need to be upgraded this year such as Microsoft 2012 R2. Others have a 2016 OS but that is not optimized for SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams, causing frustration for your staff. The great news is that the Azure hosting platform is fully optimized to take advantage of the M365 product line. There are other security technology changes that make the Azure platform the right choice right now including Session Hosts and Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD, now named as AVD). To top it off, it’s extremely hard to get replacement servers, and the capital investment of hardware and software can be cost-prohibitive, making the Azure environment even more ideal.

Is this a lot of changes? Yes. Will it take some time to get used to? Yes. Like the milestones I mentioned at the start of this article, this is a technology shift and it’s not going away. We were headed this direction anyway; add the work changes and supply chain interruptions due to the pandemic, and all of this was accelerated. Many of our clients were already benefiting from our hosted services and had minimal technology interruptions when everyone had to head home to work. Those hosted servers now need new operating systems and security, and Microsoft is ready with their Azure platform. All new clients are in our Azure hosting environment, and our long-time hosting clients will make this move in the coming months. Let’s talk!  – CMW