Office 365 Outages: A Clash of Expectations (and the importance of the portal service overview)

wrong-man

Everyone who works in the information technology field is familiar with what are generally called service outages.

It could be a file server, or an application exception or a misbehaving database or any one of at least a million different things people depend upon to accomplish their work and communicate; if the magic black box behind the curtain is slow, or,  worse yet, offline, a quiet day can become hectic as frustrations mount.

When outages occur with cloud services such as Office 365, the IT professional is placed in an interesting situation.

Consider the Office 365 Service Overview page:

Office 365 Portal Service Overview

As you can see, Exchange Online’s status is “service degraded“.

When we click on the link to get more detail we see this:

Exchange Online Error-2

We can see that Exchange Online is experiencing problems and can read a bit more about the cause.

A few hours after this was posted, we received an update:

Exchange Online Error-3

And so we can see that Microsoft’s engineers have addressed the issue and provided a fairly detailed explanation of its origin.

All good stuff and Microsoft’s transparency (or near enough) when it comes to service issues inspires confidence.

But what about your internal organizational dynamics?  This can be more difficult to manage.  Traditionally, service slowdowns or interruptions are reason to gather responsible teams together to pool knowledge and resources so the problem will (it’s hoped) be more quickly resolved.

If the misbehaving system is on premise, this makes sense; but the rules change when the software /service is provided from the cloud.

In these cases, you – as the technical point of contact or subject matter expert – will be called upon to provide answers and perhaps even a fix.  But of course,  if the service isn’t hosted on your computers or provided via your infrastructure (at least, not entirely) your level of interaction is limited.

This is when your interpersonal skills take precedence over your technical abilities; the key is managing expectations by:

1.) Explaining the problem as it’s currently understood

2.) Emphasizing what can and cannot be done by internal IT staff

3.) Providing regular updates to impacted groups

4.) Verifying and backing up your statements with information and bulletins from the vendor

Which brings me to the Office 365 Service Overview (or dashboard).

Here is where you keep track of the health of your tenant (and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s even a handy mobile version).

This is a very important tool which I recommend consulting often.  Viewing it should become part of your daily routine to stay abreast of developments and the system’s state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OneDrive for Business: Au Revoir Logic

chaplin-modern-times-behind-the-scenes

The last time we gathered here, I discussed – at least conceptually – some of the challenges I’ve faced deploying OneDrive for Business to a large enterprise.

This time I’ll describe the most commonly seen issues and, where possible, their resolution (or if not resolution, at least an explanation of why things are the way they are).  We’ll also indulge in a bit of techno-philosophy.

Let’s start with deployment.

Installation Problems

As I mentioned in my previous post, users whose machines have MS Office or any of its apps installed via MSI will most likely encounter the following error while trying to setup the OneDrive for Business client:

click to run error

As the error states, there is a conflict, or incompatibility between Click to Run and classic Windows Installer based programs running on the same computer.

And although you may Google-find references to a stand alone OneDrive for Business installer, these are only stubs to Click to Run setup routines.

The only real solution is creating a redistributable installation package (which is compatible with Windows Installer); a process described in detail at the excellent Kloud blog.

Permissions Problems

If you’ve leapt the installation hurdle, another possible obstacle is trouble syncing.

Consider this error, for example:

one-drive-fo-business-sync-error

Typically, this is  a very complicated problem to solve since it involves many moving parts including (obviously) the client on a user’s computer, the configuration of their OneDrive for Business SharePoint site and the interaction between the two.

Here’s Microsoft’s guide to solving sync-related issues.

That’s certainly helpful but doesn’t cover all the possible scenarios.

A review of the troubles others have had, gleaned from the Office 365 Community forums reveals that in some cases, an as-yet undocumented issue – resolved only by Microsoft engineers behind the scenes – is responsible.

Ideally, Microsoft would openly describe the PowerShell script logic used to solve this problem. Their reluctance thus far to do this suggests there’s an architectural bug that pops up from time to time, requiring structural adjustment at the tenant level.

Missing Guest Links

According to this guide, it’s possible to share documents or folders from your OneDrive for Business share using links you can send to external recipients.

Of course, you can share folders and documents, just not in exactly the way described. The article mentions the creation of guest links but when you go to your own OneDrive for Business site and try to duplicate what’s shown, you notice the “Get a Link” option is missing.

It’s missing, because despite the documentation’s assurances, it’s not an option, as confirmed here and here.

Needless to say, you can anticipate fielding many questions from savvier users about this mysteriously missing option.

 

Give us a moment to set things up…

OneDrive for Business Give Us a Moment

Yet another issue I’ve seen is trouble with the provision process.

When a client first connects to a OneDrive for Business SharePoint site (yourdomain-my.sharepoint.com/user_name) there’s an initial provisioning process which connects the application to and syncs it with the user’s SharePoint site.

For an as-yet undocumented reason (at least, I’ve been unable to find a direct answer) sometimes, this process gets stuck for hours or even days, requiring the intervention of Microsoft engineers on the back-end of your tenant (for example, see this Office 365 Community thread).

 

A Preliminary Thought…

Although not a complete disaster by any means, it’s clear that OneDrive for Business is a not quite polished product. In just a few short weeks, it has consumed a good amount of my time and generated much confusion among users.

The design assumption seemed to be that everyone had Office 2013 and a yet to be released version of Windows (and, therefore, all the necessary components for a relatively trouble free experience).

It is, in a way, a forced march into Microsoft’s vision of their cloud based infrastructure, as these growing pains show.

And as the days and weeks move on, I’ll continue to document its idiosyncrasies.

 

 

OneDrive for Business: Prepare Yourself for Mayhem

chaplin-modern-times

In the 21st century, everyone expects to access the information that’s important to them from anywhere.

This is why services such as DropBox and OneDrive have become quite popular.

The challenge for enterprises is providing this type of service, while maintaining (or establishing) command and control over elements such as data loss prevention and auditing.

If you’re an Office 365 customer, Microsoft’s answer to this challenge is OneDrive for Business.

Unlike Dropbox, or Microsoft’s own consumer-grade OneDrive product (to name only two examples), which store your information in abstracted storage over which you have zero control except the option to add more capacity for more money, OneDrive for Business is married to SharePoint.

In fact, it is more correctly described as a SharePoint sync tool.

This mating of the OneDrive Client to a SharePoint site makes it possible for Office 365 admins to employ the data loss prevention tools Microsoft has built into the platform to OneDrive SharePoint sites.

The SharePoint site for each Office 365 OneDrive for Business user is found at:

https://your-domain-name-my.sharepoint.com/personal/user_name

Office 365 users with E4 licenses can browse to their my.sharePoint site and directly interact with it as they would any other SharePoint 2013 site collection they have rights to (with the difference being that folders for storage are the focus).

So far, so good.

But the title of this post includes the phrase, “prepare yourself for mayhem“.

What’s that about?

A few things:

1. Brand confusion

Because “OneDrive“, the consumer product, preceded OneDrive for Business, which isn’t related at all to OneDrive but is actually a SharePoint sync tool, there will be initial confusion amongst both decision makers and end users regarding what product is being deployed.

2.) Deployment headaches.

Googling “OneDrive for Business” returns many results, not all of them helpful. There are two primary client deployment methods – a.) using the Click to Run package available from here or, b.) by building a redistributable package as described here.

I’ll go into greater detail in a future post but for now, I’ll just say that OneDrive for Business’ Click to Run setup is not compatible with the .MSI infrastructure of some previously installed Office products and how they were configured on individual Windows instances.

3.) Confusion regarding usage and limitations

Here’s an excellent overview from Microsoft on the best uses for OneDrive for Business.  I suggest getting acquainted with this because as your deployment proceeds and users begin testing the limits of OneDrive for Business, many questions will be asked about sharing, synchronization, and the rules governing the program’s behavior.

I’ll devote more time to a discussion of each of these areas in my next post.

 

In the meantime, here’s a good visual overview of OneDrive for Business’  architecture:

OneDrive for Business Architecture

 

Office 365: Discovering “Lost” Mail Using PowerShell

cortez-montezuma-mexico-city

 

If you work in a field long enough, you acquire so much information, you can forget the things you know; or knew.

Consider the following as an example.

The other day, I received a frantic message: a senior executive couldn’t locate email from years ago; emails considered critical (it’s impossible to know whether or not the emails were actually all that important but, as the saying goes, perception becomes reality).

I was certain the emails were within the user’s mailbox (most likely  within the online archive) but overlooked.  How could I help him find them?

The answer: discovery mailboxes.

Interestingly, although I’d worked quite a bit with email discovery using on-premise Exchange 2010 and 2013, under a bit of pressure, that memory slipped from my mind like water through fingers; I found myself wondering how to accomplish this in Office 365.

Fortunately, the same PowerShell syntax applied.

The steps were simple.

I:

1.) Created a discovery mailbox

2.) Granted full access rights to the users who needed to search the mailbox for the “missing” emails.

3.) Un-hid the discovery mailbox from the global address list (because, by default, the mailbox is hidden).

4.) Ran a PowerShell script to search for the mysterious email (by subject) and copy the results into a target folder within the discovery mailbox.

5.) Provided directions to the user(s) explaining how to attach to the discovery mailbox via OWA and search for the emails they need

The PowerShell syntax was simple:

Create the mailbox:

New-Mailbox -Name YourMailboxName -Discovery

Grant a user full access to the mailbox:

Add-MailboxPermission Seach-MailboxName-SearchResults -User user.name@your-office365-domain.com  -AccessRights FullAccess -InheritanceType all

Un-hide from the Global Address List:

Set-Mailbox -Identity “YourMailboxName” -HiddenFromAddressListsEnabled $false

Search according to your criteria and copy the results into a folder in the discovery mailbox:

Get-Mailbox –ResultSize Unlimited -Identity source.mailbox@uour-office365domain.com  | Search-Mailbox -TargetMailbox YourMailboxName -TargetFolder “SearchResults” -SearchQuery {Subject:”Your Target Search”}

Note that searchquery is a switch option of the PowerShell cmdlet Search-Maibox.  You can see more search options here at TechNet.

Oh, and also note that the result is typically a folder structure that, at the parent level, will be very similar to \SearchResults\User-Name-date/time and that the child folders will reflect the source(s) of the mail (i.e., “Inbox”, “Archive”, etc).

So, for example, a search of my mailbox for messages containing the word “Burrito” in the subject heading (and assuming I named the -TargetFolder “Burrito-Hunt”) would be in:

\Burrito-Hunt\Monroe, Roberto\june 8, 9:00 am\

And under that parent folder you might find \Inbox, \Calendar, \Online Archive and so on. These are mirrors of the source folders from which the query extracted email meeting the search criteria.

Note that you can also search using a date range. For example:

Get-Mailbox –ResultSize Unlimited -Identity user.name@your-domain.com  | Search-Mailbox -TargetMailbox Search-MailboxName -TargetFolder “SearchResults” -SearchQuery {received:01/01/2013..12/31/2013}

 

The Office 365 Admin App

metro1

Logging into the Office 365 admin portal you might have noticed the following advertisement announcing the Office 365 admin app’s availability:

office 365 admin app1

It sounds interesting, but just what is the app and what can you do with it?

The Office 365 Admin app is a simplified management tool through which you’ll be able to view and modify a subset of the properties of your tenant – mostly involving user account management.

Once you’ve downloaded, installed and started the app on your smartphone or tablet (IOS, Android and Windows) you’ll see the familiar Office 365 Sign-in page:

office 365 admin app2

Login with your global admin credentials, just as you would via browser.

Here’s the main page:

office 365 admin app4

Very clear design and as you can see, the emphasis is on user accounts, service health, service bulletins and tracking your support requests.

Although the feature-set is limited, it’s still possible to complete some of the most common admin tasks.  For example, editing an account’s properties:

office 365 admin app6

Checking the status of your tenant:

office 365 admin app8

Or tracking upcoming changes:

 

office 365 admin app7

The app also provides a quick menu for easy navigation to its main areas:

office 365 admin app5

 

It’s a surprisingly powerful tool for accomplishing very specific tasks or, gaining fast insight into your tenant while mobile.  For example, I recently used the app to re-assign a license to a user while sitting in a parking lot.  Rather handy.

There’s more information here at the Office 365 blog.