Posts made in November, 2015

Microsoft Azure’s Current Uptime and Support Struggle

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in From the Cloud, From the Mind | 3 comments

Author’s note: Following this post, I had a productive call with a Microsoft Azure Team. Valuable Insights of that call are here. Over the last couple of years, we at EfficiencyNext have become more bullish about how Microsoft Azure can help our clients. New features have been rolling out regularly, and extremely useful services like SQLAzure make the cloud platform unique. And Microsoft has been very bullish with their Service Level Agreements, guaranteeing with the promise of partial refunds up-times as high as 99.95%. Unfortunately, at least for our Azure Subscriptions and those of our clients, up-time over the last couple of months has been less than terrific. IaaS Servers that lose their disks, SQLAzure databases that go offline for several hours, Web Apps that suddenly operate at 3% of their usual power, the Azure Cache service being suddenly unreliable for over 24 hours, effectively bring sites down. All this has happened to Azure-based systems we manage for our clients over the last couple of months, the vast majority of them on services backed by SLAs. And in most cases, the issues with these services were never reflected on the Azure Dashboard. We are on the 26th hour of a serious issue now, and yet, the Azure Dashboard is green. What is just as alarming is Microsoft’s moves to shut off the valves on how users can report issues and receive help when it is the Microsoft infrastructure at fault. In theory, “Web Incident Submission” is included with all Azure Subscriptions (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/support/plans/). At the very least, a way to submit technical issues to Microsoft as they happen is implied, if not promised. Unfortunately, this capacity doesn’t really exist, at least not in the way one would expect. In my experience, bringing up an issue to the Twitter handle @AzureSupport usually results in them recommending submitting a Billing Ticket to the Azure Portal. And then when you do that, the Billing Reps now regularly tell those seeking help that they need to pay extra for a paid Azure Support Plan; the standard one runs $300 a month. The situation has become so ridiculous that when this is protested, the folks at @AzureSupport are now telling customers to submit Billing Tickets and to lie by saying the issue to be resolved is the subscription portal not working. Evidently, that gets a tech on an issue, and then once they are engaged, one can bring up the actual problem. In other instances I know of, technical support plans have been setup with tickets then submitted. After that, the plan is cancelled with a refund by Billing Support after an issue has been fixed. Limiting Customer Input is a Direct Threat to Up-time The idea of restricting incoming information about outages and guaranteeing high up-time seems contradictory. Given that Azure’s Dashboard and health mechanisms clearly can’t catch every serious issue that occurs on the service, letting customers tell techs what is wrong seems very smart. An issue that affects one customer often likely affects hundreds more. With that option now limited to only those who pay for support, it’s my theory up-time has really suffered as a result. Whenever I bring up to Azure reps that SLAs are supposed to be backed by good faith efforts, they usually tell me its only about a promised partial refund, which as we all know often doesn’t cover the business cost for multiple hours and in some cases days of downtime. Call me old fashioned; I’ve worked with other hosting companies for over a decade and know from experience that good companies put real effort into actually making the up-time...

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Windows 10 Mobile’s Heart is Largely For Business

Posted by on Nov 6, 2015 in From the Mind | Comments Off on Windows 10 Mobile’s Heart is Largely For Business

EfficiencyNext is largely a Microsoft-oriented development company, and as such, we keep tabs on a variety of Microsoft efforts, including their foray into mobile phones. I personally use a Lumia 820 running Windows Phone 8.1 as my daily driver, and have a Lumia 635 as a backup. With Windows 10 Mobile getting very close to RTM, I decided to install the Preview Build 10581 on the Lumia 635. Compared to the Lumia 820 running Windows Phone 8.1, I immediately noticed more of a business focus, with some classic Windows Phone visual cues and social features removed and new business capabilities added. This shouldn’t be too surprising, given Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s declaration that Microsoft is a productivity company, with business users being one of the three target audiences Windows 10 Mobile shoots for. Here are the winners and losers of this upgrade from Windows Phone 8.1, at least based on what I am seeing in this build: Winner: Office Users Windows 10 Mobile finally ships with mobile versions of Microsoft’s Office applications, which are quite decent. And they tie very well into OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. Ironically, Windows Phone 8.1 had the worst mobile Office capabilities among the mobile platforms as of late; Windows 10 Mobile completely corrects this, and I’m thrilled for it. Winner: IT Organizations and Businesses Like Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile ships with built-in support for Student and Organizational Accounts. This is huge for organizations deploying phones to their employees, and makes the phone a natural extension of a well planned IT setup. In addition, the Universal App model makes it very cost efficient for organizations to build applications that run on the Windows 10 (desktop/laptop/tablet) and Windows 10 Mobile, using C# and the highly productive Visual Studio tools. For organizations where building custom applications is more important than having the most commercial apps available, Windows 10 Mobile is a compelling choice. Did I mention the handsets themselves are reasonably priced? Winner: Windows 10 Users If you feel your Windows 10 computer is still your primary computing device as opposed to your phone, then Windows 10 Mobile can be a compelling mobile choice. Missed call notifications from the phone appearing on the PC, the ability to send text messages from the PC through the phone, and shared Cortana reminders are some of the ways a Windows 10 Mobile device is a valuable compliment for a Windows 10 PC. Loser: Horizontal Navigation Fans Windows Phone 7 and 8 made significant use of Panoramas to create a smooth multi-page horizontal navigation experience in several of the phone’s apps and admin screens. It could look quite stunning and beautiful. And its pretty much gone in Windows 10 Mobile. Likely it was too much style at the expense of productivity. Individual app makers can still use panoramas, but its pretty clear Microsoft itself has backed away from them. Loser: Social Integration Fans This trend started with the Windows Phone 8.1 update, where-as integrated social network features started getting pulled from the Operating System. That’s true in Windows 10 Mobile even more so. The “Me” tile for quickly posting social updates is gone. Contact Groups in the People app do not have their own social feeds, a feature I personally loved (Microsoft, please bring it back!). LinkedIn is gone as an integrated social network. Windows Phone 7 was marketed as a People-First smartphone; that mantra is pretty much kaput in Windows 10 Mobile. I picked up my older LG Quantum Windows Phone 7.5 device a couple days ago, and was struck by how much I missed the original social features it came wih Winner: Windows 7/8/8.1 App Developers...

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Our new EfficiencySpring site!

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in From the Mind | Comments Off on Our new EfficiencySpring site!

We’re hard at work on the new EfficiencySpring site (http://www.efficiencyspring.com). For those of you who don’t work with us, EfficiencySpring is our home grown system development platform that allows us to spin up web-based databases, file sharing, workflow, and content management for our customers. It’s how we aim to deliver systems for our customers at a rapid pace and a controlled cost. In the coming weeks, we hope to post demo videos on the site showcasing how impressive capabilities can be configured, as well as extended through...

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How We Would Have Written the OneDrive Reduction of Service Announcement

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in From the Mind | Comments Off on How We Would Have Written the OneDrive Reduction of Service Announcement

As a Microsoft Partner, we were shocked at Microsoft’s OneDrive service reduction announcement (https://blog.onedrive.com/onedrive_changes/). Perhaps most troubling is the given rationale for the new storage limitations, and Microsoft blaming their customers for using a service that was freely offered. It’s not surprising to us at EfficiencyNext that the Unlimited Storage promise would go away; it was an unsustainable promise. But as an exercise in PR writing, here is how I would have written their blog post, with frankness, honesty, and humility. Please note, these are my words, not Microsoft’s, although I invite them to reuse anything below they find helpful:   New OneDrive Storage Limits Loyal OneDrive users, today the OneDrive Team has come to a difficult decision. Roughly a year ago, we pledged every Office 365 Personal and Home user would receive unlimited OneDrive storage, up from the established 1 TB limit. Some of our customers, being the most innovative in the industry, took us up on the offer for unlimited storage in ways we simply didn’t expect; massive amounts of PC backups, massive online video collection, etc… Let’s make one thing clear; these customers used what was freely offered to them by us. That said, we cannot technically sustain our unlimited OneDrive offering; we need to revise it back down to a capacity that provides equitable sharing of resources among all our paid customers. Starting early 2016, we will be reducing the amount of OneDrive storage for Office 365 Personal and Home users from unlimited storage to 1  TB. For our customers needing more storage, we recommend they check out our professional grade Office 365 Enterprise offerings, which include SharePoint Online with unlimited storage expansion, and professional collaboration capabilities. Finally, we must regretfully downgrade our free OneDrive storage offering to 5 GB from 15 GB, with an inexpensive expansion option made available of 50 GB for $1.99 monthly. As part of this, we will also be expiring our 15 GB free photo sync bonus. Through a new generation of cross platform apps, and the free arrival of Windows 10, more consumers are using OneDrive than ever before. It’s a level of use we now find ourselves needing to fund properly, similar to how Xbox Live Subscriptions fund the best online gaming network on the planet. Office 365 Home and Personal customers who are using more than 1 TB of storage will have a year to bring their use of OneDrive down to 1 TB. And if you are a free user of OneDrive and store more than 5 GB of files, we invite you to enjoy a free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which includes 1 TB of storage. We feel after a year you will agree it is worth its monthly price of $6.99. In any case, you will have access to all your files for a year after these changes go into effect. For those who are disappointed with these decisions, we’re sorry. We aim to delight our customers in ways we can properly scale, such as the free upgrade to Windows 10, and the newly announced Xbox Games with Gold options for Xbox One, which provides backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games. We deeply regret that our promise of unlimited online storage was one we couldn’t keep. Respectfully, The OneDrive Team. As a reminder, this is my take on what the OneDrive team should have said.    ...

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