Category Archives: Strategy

Hybrid Identity Management with Azure Active Directory

With all the things organizations need to manage identity for – on-premises environments, mobile devices, laptops and other managed devices, plus our internal active directory systems – it’s becoming increasingly harder to manage. We are in a new world of mobile first, cloud first reality.

Here are a few stats to think about:

  • 63% of confirmed data breaches involve weak, default or stolen passwords
  • More than 80% of employees admit to using non-approved SaaS applications in their jobs
  • As we are trying to manage all this, IT budgets are barely growing – we’re seeing less than 1% growth year over year

In reality, those Software as a Service (SaaS) apps integrate nicely and enable users to be more efficient, but we must be able to manage all those identities. When a user comes into your environment, using all kinds of web applications with user accounts for each, and possibly access to a corporate credit card, then that person leaves the company or gets let go, it’s difficult to track all those if they are individually managed.

With Azure Active Directory, you can manage 1000s of apps with one identity, enable business without borders, as well as manage access to scale, plus you’re offering cloud-powered protection. With Azure AD at the core of your business, you are enabling identity as a control plane.

So, how does this look?

    • With Azure AD on your current on premises environment, you’ll want to link up with all those cloud applications (Azure, SaaS, Office 365, any public cloud).
    • In between, you’ve got Azure Active Directory, where you can easily sync that back with your on premises and then tie that into all those SaaS applications.
    • This allows you to offer self-service, single sign on to your users for all of those apps, plus any internal on premises areas you use with user names and passwords.
    • Everything will be synchronized across the landscapes and you can extend that out to your customers and partners as well.
    • This is a powerful way to enable your workforce, as well as sync with your customers and partners when you want them to have access to certain areas.

Simply put: 1000s of apps with one identity, using single sign on to any app using Microsoft Azure Active Directory. And to take it one step further, if you want to move any of your VMs up into Azure or any of your services up into a PaaS solution, you already have that integration and using your Azure AD domain services, you can set up your lift and shift that much easier.

 

An Overview of Azure File Sync

I have a question… Who is still using a file server? No need to answer, I know that most of us still are and need to use them for various reasons. We love them—well, we also hate them, as they are a pain to manage.

The pains with Windows File Server:

  • They never seem to have enough storage.
  • They never seem to be properly cleaned up; users don’t delete the files they’re supposed to.
  • The data never seems accessible when and where you need it.

In this blog, I’d like to walk you through Azure File Sync, so you can see for yourself how much better it is.

    • Let’s say I’m setting up a file server in my Seattle headquarters and that file server begins having problems, maybe I’m running out of space for example.
    • I decide to hook this up in a file share in Azure space.
    • I can set up cloud tiering and set up a threshold (say 50%), so that everything beyond that threshold, those files will start moving up into Azure.
    • When I set this threshold, it will start taking the oldest files and graying them out as far as users are concerned. The files are still there and visible as there, but they’ve been pushed off to the cloud, so that space has now been freed up on the file server.
    • If users ever need those files, they can click on them and redownload.
    • Now, let’s say I want to bring on another server at a branch office. I can simply bring up that server, synchronize it with the branch office based on those files in Azure.
    • From here, I can hook up my SMBs and NFS shares for my users and applications, as well as my work folders using multi-site technology. I have all my files synchronized and it’s going to give me direct cloud access to these files.
    • I can hook up my IaaS and PaaS solutions with my REST API or my SMB shares to be able to access these files.
    • With everything synchronized, I’m able to have a rapid file server disaster/data recovery. If my server in Seattle goes down, I simply remove it; my files are already up in Azure.
    • I bring on a new server, sync it back to Azure. My folders start to populate, and as they get used, people will download the files back and the rules that were set up will maintain.
    • The great thing is it can be used with SQL Server 2012 R2, as well as SQL Server 2016.
    • Now I have an all-encompassing solution (with integrated cloud back up within Azure) with better availability, better DR capability and essentially bottomless storage. Azure Backup Vault gets backed up automatically and storage is super cheap.

With Azure File Sync I get:

1. A centralize file service in Azure storage.

2. Cache in multiple locations for fast, local performance.

3.  I can utilize cloud based backup and fast data/disaster recovery.

3 Power BI Offerings to Consider…

I’m often asked by clients about which Power BI offering is best for their business and where they should store their data. The 3 main offerings around Power BI all have their strong points where they excel. It comes down to understanding what each offers to decide the best fit for your organization’s data and needs.

Continue reading 3 Power BI Offerings to Consider…

What is Azure Cosmos DB?

Are you familiar with Azure Cosmos DB? Cosmos DB is Microsoft’s globally distributed, multi-model database. With the click of a button, it allows you to elastically and independently scale throughput and storage across any number of Azure’s geographic regions, so you can put the data where your customers are.

Cosmos DB has custom built APIs that allow you a multitude of data sources, like SQL Server, Mongo DB and Azure tables, as well as offering 5 consistency models. It offers comprehensive Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with money back guarantees for availability (99.99% to be exact), latency, consistency and throughput; a big deal when you need to serve your customers at optimum performance.

Cosmos DB is a great option for many different use cases:

  • Companies that are doing IOT and telematics. Cosmos DB can ingest huge bursts of data, and process and analyze that data in near real-time. Then it will automatically archive all the data it ingests.
  • Retail and Marketing. Take an auto parts product catalog, for example, with tons of parts within the catalog, each with its own properties (some unique and some shared across parts). The next year, new vehicles or new parts model come out, with some similar and different properties. All that data adds up very quickly. Cosmos DB offers a very flexible schema in a hierarchical structure that can easily change the data around as things change.
  • Gaming Industry. Games like Halo 5 by Microsoft are built on a Cosmos DB platform, because they need performance that is quickly and dynamically scalable. You’ve got things like millisecond read-times, which avoids any lags in game play. You can index player related data and it has a social graph database that’s easily implemented with flexible schema for all social aspects of gaming.

Azure Cosmos DB ensures that your data gets there and gets there fast, with a wealth of features and benefits to make your life easier. And it’s easy to set up and manage.

 

3 Reasons Why You Should Move Your Business to the Cloud

Cyber security is on everyone’s mind these days and it can be a challenge for many organizations. If this sounds like you and you haven’t moved to the cloud, it’s something you should think about. I’d like to tell you why you should move your business to the cloud and why it could be more secure there.

1.  When you’re in the cloud business, having a secure cloud drives more business. That’s why cloud companies are willing to invest more to hire the best and brightest. So, the top security people in the world are going to the top cloud companies in the world.

2.  When moving to the cloud, typically, the customer only has to focus on one aspect of security because the rest is already taken care of, so by default, secure. You’d have to intentionally unlock something to make yourself less secure.

3.  Regulatory and certification requirements are more easily satisfied. With a foundation in place that’s already secure and certified, it allows you to focus on your app or infrastructure or whatever requirements you need to satisfy those regulatory compliance issues.

So, make this your year to move to the cloud and take some of the cyber security challenges off your mind.

Why Your Infrastructure Belongs in the Cloud

You haven’t moved to the cloud yet? In this Azure Every Day installment, I’d like to tell you the top 5 reasons why you may want to move your infrastructure to the cloud.

1. Cost – Many people can take advantage of operational cost savings by not having to invest in a bunch of hardware that sits unused. In the cloud, you only pay for what you use.

2.  Business Continuity – With the cloud, you have better, more guaranteed up-time without having to worry about in-house appliances or certain infrastructures or servers. You also get easier administration. The cloud locations in Azure are set up so you can easily maintain and migrate your systems. And there’s no need for a second data center, giving you high availability, as well as more cost savings.

3.  Agility – You don’t have to spend money having something running all the time. It’s easy to spin up and spin down as you need it. You also have the ability to scale at an exponential rate. You can start small, but quickly build in traffic or performance capabilities or whatever you need.

4.  Management and Maintenance – You can drastically reduce the time needed to maintain and manage your environment, as well as have one central area for monitoring and maintaining your systems. You’ll save time wasted on running back ups and maintaining servers.

5.  Improved Security – Cloud providers have it in their best interest to be secure. There are over 300,000 open security jobs in the US alone. Where do you think those people want to work when there’s top quality companies paying top dollar? You guessed it – cloud companies.

Take 1: My first presentation at Sql saturday

I just recently presented at my first SQL Saturday event, SQL Saturday#334 – The Boston BI Session, and wanted to share my experience for future first-timers in the hopes it might help them with their presentations.  Special thanks to Mike Hillwig (@mikehillwig or http://mikehillwig.com/) for giving me a shot for this great event.  I did a fair amount of preparation leading up to the event in order to not be a total flop, and was able to speak at a local user group a couple of months before, which helped immensely. I’m a member of the SeacoastSQL User Group (http://seacoastsql.org/) out of Portsmouth, NH, and got some great guidance and feedback from Jack Corbett (@unclebiguns) after my first demo.  The group is co-run by Mike Walsh (@mike_walsh), and is regularly attended by 10-15 members at our monthly meetings.  I’ll take readers through the process I took to try and improve my presentation skills. Also, I will share the finished product and the elements of the presentation I believe I can improve on, and hope to, for any upcoming SQL Saturday experiences.

Preparation:

Pick a technology:

In order to prepare for my session, I took some time to think about what SQL technology I had the most experience with, and wanted to give an overview about.  I have seen some phenomenally brilliant people in a specific technology completely flop when trying to explain that technology, or freeze up when getting in front of a crowd, so I really wanted to make sure it was something I was very comfortable with.  When choosing my topic, SSRS, I decided it would be good to give an overview of the technology, as well as some “best practice” items for attendees to ponder as they walked away.  Also, I wanted to choose something I was very familiar with in case something went wrong with my demo, and I needed to adjust on the fly in order to keep things from becoming awkward.

Brush up on those speaking skills:

I’ve always been relatively comfortable being in front of a crowd and have loved the opportunity for good discussion.  There seems to be a general mix of people who like speaking and those who don’t.  Being in front of a crowd of your peers should be something to get excited about, and in order to build the community and our knowledge, everyone should try it at least once.  For those who aren’t aware, talking about tech can get a bit boring and tedious at times, so a nice overview of something where it can be kept light, and throwing some “softball” questions out to the audience to keep them engaged were items I focused on when building my presentation.  For those who aren’t comfortable, start with a small group to get feedback, or even just a recorded session to be able to playback your voice and notice what you’re doing that might annoy people.

For my presentation, I was showing a slideshow and a demo all in the same hour-long session.

I’ve actually seen 3 different types of speakers:

  • • All presenting with slides and examples
  • • Some presenting and some demo
  • • All demo

It’s really up to you what you want to do, and what you think will deliver an effective session to the audience.  My topic required some demonstration, and at the same time, gave me the opportunity to instill some methods and best practices for success.

Create a Script:

Some of the best advice I read about and received while preparing for the session was to create a script with some easy to reference queries for necessary coding elements of the presentation.  Also, the other piece of advice I picked up was to always avoid typing in a demo.  Copy and paste any code possible in order to avoid errors and delays.

Build your presentation:

I started with an overview of my background as well as the topics I wanted to cover.  Some people are better at reading from cue cards, but I’m more of an “off the cuff” speaker, so I just jotted down some notes I wanted to highlight in a basic order to go along with a PowerPoint presentation. Successful PowerPoint design rules are posted all around the web about how much content, bullet points, static text, and ways to keep people interested, so do some reading on how to make the presentation flow cleanly.

Practice the presentation:

The old saying is: Practice makes perfect, and not much can be further from the truth. I did a dry run about 6 times to get a sense of how long the whole presentation would take as well as putting the order of topics to memory.  From there, I recorded a session using the Camtasia Studio and sent it to a few friends to critique.  I knew I would be presenting for about an hour, including questions, so I made sure to leave time for interruptions, system stalls, and anything that might slow me down a bit.  My dry runs were taking about 45 minutes and when it came to the actual demonstration, it took 1 hour and 1 minute, so I was pleased with the timing.

Feedback:

When I reviewed the comments from the session evaluations, there was a mix of people who came to get introduced to the technology, and people who were refreshing their skills from some time ago.  Most people felt that they walked away having learned something, which means I succeeded in my mission. On a 1-5 scoring system, 5 being the best, I received many 4’s and 5’s, and a few 3’s, so it would seem people were pretty pleased with the topic and presentation.

Next time:

Among the items I learned in this presentation was that you can expect a wide range of questions from people, both on topic and off. I found myself spending time on questions that weren’t necessarily relevant to the conversation, so be aware of the audience and do your best to filter without being rude to the questioner if the question is off topic.

SQL Saturday events are for learning and networking, so if you find someone is showing interest in your topic, and/or somewhat jumping in and answering questions directed at you, I would suggest engaging that person after your session is over. This is a good opportunity for you to possibly learn more about the topic, or have a resource to rely on when you might be running into issues with a project.