Windows Server 2003 on the March to Retirement

When we look back on 2014 in IT, there are going to be a couple of things that dominate our thinking and my guess is it won’t be BYOD or Big Data. In reality, a much more mundane yet critical event will be at the forefront. That is the end of extended support status for key workhorse applications Windows XP, Exchange 2003 and Windows Server 2003. I’ve written before about the level of effort needed to migrate from Windows XP and the bottom line is, if you haven’t started that migration, you aren’t going to make it. On the other hand, for Windows Server 2003 you have until July 14, 2015 giving you just enough time to put your strategic plan in place for dealing with your server footprint. If you don’t know where to begin or have already started, consider these suggestions on designing a plan so you can “beat the clock” and avoid the pain.

Parallels to Desktop Upgrade Efforts

Upgrading your server portfolio is similar to performing a desktop upgrade. There are fundamental tasks that must be completed as part of the planning process. Not completing those tasks will put your project at risk and time is not your friend in these efforts.

The diagram illustrates one of my guiding principles. You are more likely to run a successful upgrade if you frontload as much of the risk as you can during the first initial phases. More specifically, when you find the risk during discovery, address the risk in your remediation/migration plan design so it doesn’t bite you when you build out your target environment and begin the migration itself.

The alternative is to forgo planning and attempt to find and deal with the risk as you are migrating production. I’m not sure I know anyone who would be willing to sign up for that. Why do that to yourself or your team. Take the time and effort up front. Right now, organizations have almost 18 months left before the day comes. Take advantage of it.

Addressing the Risk – It begins with understanding your footprint

Now that we have agreed that addressing the risk up front makes the most sense, how do we address that risk? In my experience, we start by understanding the problem. You need to migrate off of Windows Server 2003 before July 14, 2015. Therefore, you are going to need a complete inventory of all servers running Windows Server 2003 and ultimately all applications that are running on those servers. This includes any “commercial off the shelf” (COTS) applications you may have (such as antivirus, firewall, management software, printer drivers, etc) as well as any custom applications or more importantly, any BUSINESS CRITICAL applications that are running on that server.

Hopefully, your organization has a management process in place that uses tools and agents to be able to track the servers that are active in your environment. Even if it doesn’t give application inventory information, knowing which servers in your environment are running Windows Server 2003 is better than having nothing to start with. The servers themselves aren’t where the risk is. Being able to understand what applications run on those servers and their relationship to the business is what is important. Another consideration is the compatibility of your applications with Windows Server 2012. There are tools to help with this issue but I don’t have space to address it here. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.

Next, you need to identify the owners of those applications. This could become challenging since if you are running custom applications on Windows Server 2003. What if the developers are not in your organization any longer or the company you bought the app from no longer exists. In any case, someone needs to be responsible for the app or you should consider retiring it. J

Other technical considerations that might be of interest are the architecture of the servers and version of Windows Server installed. Windows Server 2003 is a 32-bit flavor (remember those?) and Windows Server 2012 comes only in 64-bit. Windows Server 2008 was the last 32-bit OS Microsoft produced. Be sure to note the OS flavor and whether it’s a physical server or a virtual server. The more info you can capture, the better your design considerations and ultimately, the smoother the transition.

Now what?

Now that you have your server and application inventory, you will be in a better position to begin determining what you will do with these servers and applications. Will you take them to a public cloud (AWS, Azure), put them in a private cloud or perhaps try to do a like for like migration to other physical hardware. Regardless of which path you choose, there is a lot to consider and whether you have a strategy or not, there are ways for you to do the planning to determine what the best course of action will be for those applications.

Remember, one size may not always fit all your applications so consider your options. If you already have a strategy worked out, perhaps you are taking your entire physical inventory and moving it to a converged infrastructure, then you are ahead of the game. It is worth noting though that since you have applications running on Windows Server 2003, those applications may not be suitable for virtualization on your converged environment.

Remember, when reviewing your application portfolio, it is important to understand what kind of downtime can be accepted as part of the migration effort. If you have production critical business apps, you may have to put a strategy in place to migrate carefully to minimize or eliminate downtime. Working with the applications owners to understand these hot points needs to be a part of your risk mitigation process.

Performing this due-diligence is the Design Phase of our curve and by going through this process, you have put yourself on the green path above to frontloading your risk. As you can see from the curve, if you get the risk taken care of first the rest of the process is downhill.

Getting the rest of the way

Once you are able to the Construction Phase, you are getting to the more mechanical processes of the project. The way you migrate the applications and the servers becomes a more mechanical process that you can leverage tools to complete. Tools such as Flexera’s Admin Studio, AppZero and RiverMeadow are available for assisting in testing compatibility and assisting in the migration of your workloads to the target environment. It would be worth investing in experts in the tool so you aren’t learning as you go, but you may decide that your team can perform the migration of the less critical applications in house and leverage assistance for the more critical applications. Understanding your limitations and ensuring that you have budget for possible assistance, not just for tools, will be important to your planning.

Conclusion

Windows Server 2003 represents a significant install base of servers out in enterprises today. IT shops need to turn their attentions to this looming giant of a task so they can limit risk and ensure success. Take my advice. Following the green path is the secret to sleeping better at night through this process.


 

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XtremIO changes the game and EMC Global Services is there to show our customers how to win with it!!!

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We just completed a major milestone for us at EMC. The launch of XtremIO is a game changer in the IT industry. Realistically, I think that many people haven’t really grasped how significant a change it is and what the impact of XtremIO will be on a number of workloads. I’m going to talk a little about XtremIO and what it is in the scheme of the marketplace. Then I’m specifically going to talk about End User Computing (EUC), how XtremIO changes the game and how EMC Global Services is ready RIGHT NOW to show our customers how to take advantage of this game changer. At the end of this post, I will provide links to relevant reports/downloads and education so you can learn more about XtremIO and what is being brought to market.

All Flash Arrays? So what?

All flash arrays (AFAs) have been around for a few years as the increase of availability of solid state drives and the decrease in price has made the storage option more popular. IDC predicts that by 2015, the all-solid state storage (SSS) market will be $1.2B (see IDC Technology Assessment, All Flash Array Performance Testing Framework, http://idcdocserv.com/241856). As increases in virtualization (specifically virtualization of workloads that require high disk I/O activity), big data and analytics workloads continue to press enterprises, technology organizations struggle to provide solutions that can address the performance requirements and make the solution a quality experience for the user community. The reality is that despite the increase in traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) speeds, traditional HDD infrastructure simply cannot provide the I/O without massive scale. Enter in flash arrays. Flash has promised the level of performance that these workloads require, however, the price point has been very heavy and the capacity of these arrays hasn’t yet matched that of the traditional HDD infrastructure. The result is that Enterprise IT is taking a more analytical approach to storage. Those applications that are most accessed are being moved to flash storage and less accessed data is staying on the less expensive, but also less performing traditional infrastructure. This leads technology groups to now look beyond the $/GB metric and look at the cost per IOP ($/IOP)or in the case of VDI, the cost per desktop ($/Desktop).

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Enter in the X-Brick!

With XtremIO, the foundation is built on the X-Brick. The X-Brick is a cluster scaling unit and is built in such a way that it can scale linearly on its RDMA fabric and thus allow for linear growth of IOPS, linear growth of capacity (in 10 or 20 TB blocks) while latency remains sub-millisecond. Think about that, taking workloads that require massive IOPS (such as VDI, how convenient), being able to scale out a VDI deployment on a single cluster, while maintaining the latency sub-millisecond, so the end user experience remains the same. That would be nirvana, and that is what XtremIO brings to the table.

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So What?

You might ask, “ok, this is great, I’ve heard all of this stuff, but let’s get beyond the marketing and get down to brass tacks. How does this really help?” Well, consider the challenges associated with large VDI deployments today. You can do the research yourself, or you can take some of the research I’ve done for you J. Doesn’t matter whether you read guidance from Pure Storage, EMC, Whiptail, Citrix, VMware, its all the same. VDI has a set of workloads, specifically around I/O, that are agreed upon by all vendors. Specifically these workloads include:

· Boot Storms

· Login Storms

· Steady state

· Virus scan

With each of these workloads, come different I/O requirements and the storage backend you select for your VDI implementation must take those I/O requirements into consideration. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the same place as many other VDI implementation, failing. User experience goes in the tank when proper sizing and consideration of I/O requirements are not met. So what kind of I/O are we talking about here? It depends on the specific workload we are talking about, but some of these are your proverbial worst case scenario. In the case of a boot storm (where all of your Virtual Desktops boot up at the same time) you could be talking about a requirement of 100,000s of IOPS (based on a 1000 VDI deployment) to provide reasonable boot time of your desktops. Sure, you could get away with 70 IOPS per VDI, but would your users be ok with their desktop taking ~8min to boot? Where does XtremIO help? Through use of its de-duplication technology not only increases logical capacity, but it reduces the impact of a boot storm. As in, reduces it to a non-issue. Additionally, because the X-Brick scales linearly, you have the flexibility to host more VDI desktops. So consider that a single X-Brick can host 2500 virtual desktops today. As your requirements go up, you simply add X-Bricks in place.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the demonstration video provided by XtremIO for yourself here or listen to one of our customers (E*Trade) talk about their experience with XtremIO here.

But its not just performance

So ok, the performance is amazing. That’s clear, so what else can help make this happen. IT organizations are working harder and harder to find ways to get better performance, take up less floor space and save money. That is what XtremIO delivers as well. A single X-Brick takes up only 6U of server rack space for 10TB of raw capacity. It sips power at only 750W. Putting that in perspective, the power supply in my PC is 750W, for $32.99 you can buy a 400W power inverter for your car from Staples. So 750 Watts, not bad for 10TB of capacity that can provide 250,000 IOPS of random reads. Put together an 8 X-Brick cluster and you get linear scale so we are talking 2,000,000 IOPS for random reads or 1.2M IOPS of 100% random write (assuming a 2:1 deduplication). The performance is staggering.

How Does EMC Global Services fit in

Now that I have given you the background on XtremIO, how long will it take to be able to get rubber to the road and take advantage of the performance that I talk reference. EMC wanted to make sure that customer could take advantage of this technology immediately. So work was done ahead of time with our partners, like Citrix and VMware to provide reference architectures for XenDesktop and for Horizon View, the 2 leading solutions for VDI today. It can’t be taken for granted that customers are up to speed and prepared to deliver these VDI solutions today. That’s where EMC Global Services comes in.

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We at EMC know that VDI is at the forefront of our customer’s minds today. IT is being asked to deliver more with less today. Budgets are getting tighter and the ability to support all of the different hardware solutions out there makes it difficult for IT shops to scale. Add in the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the complications are taken to the next level. VDI provides some solutions to that management headache today and many of our customers have been deploying and almost all have been considering leveraging VDI to take control of that management nightmare. All of our customers should be taking advantage of this technology to improve the VDI environment and the end user experience. As such, we have put together packaged services that are available TODAY to jumpstart your ability to take advantage of this technology.

Proof of Concept or NEW VDI Install

Customers who want to just try out VDI and see if it’s for them, there is NO better way to try out VDI then with the power of XtremIO. If you have already decided on VDI and are open to alternative solutions for your hardware, you can see how XtremIO can deliver virtual desktops with the best user experience available. EMC has put together a service that provides customers with that ability.

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The result is a tested and fully capable VDI environment. Working with EMC to ensure that pre-requisites are in place, the engagement will take as little as 4 weeks to complete.

Upgrade Existing VDI Environment with XtremIO

We have a similar offering for customer who already have deployed VDI and:

· Want to expand its footprint

· Improve performance

· BOTH!!!!!

This service offering is about taking that existing environment and upgrading (migrating) to XtremIO infrastructure. This effort will release the storage you previously used and allow you to repurpose for a “less intensive” workload :D. The EMC team will come in after spending some time reviewing your existing environment, will dig in and work to migrate your current offering to XtremIO. Your users will see the difference and the opportunity to expand your VDI footprint will begin!!

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What makes this so attractive is that assuming all pre-requisites have been met, this packaged service can be delivered in 3 weeks, start to finish. This is not a multi month migration project.

Additional details on each of these packaged services are available from your EMC Account Team and Client Solutions Director. I encourage you to contact them TODAY and get our guys on the ground working with you to kick your VDI experience into overdrive!!!

Why EMC Services

You may be reading this and saying, “I didn’t even know EMC delivered these types of solutions”. The reality is that EMC has been delivering these solutions (and more) for >10 years now. We have a staff of experts in End User Computing technology, a Center or Excellence to packaging and testing applications for Windows 7 compatibility, and work hand in hand with the entire EMC account team to make it possible to ensure the success of our customers from the start of these transformations, to the finish.

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Wrap up

I hope this has given some insight into the tremendous opportunity VDI and XtremIO can bring to your organization. EMC Services is ready today to help you take advantage of the new capabilities of both XtremIO and the expertise of EMC Services to deliver these services. Stay tuned for more postings on the capabilities of EMC Services. See below for downloadable content related to these topics.

If you have any questions and you don’t know how to get answers, send them my way at Samuel.Cavaliere@emc.com and I will do my best to help you.

Happy Hunting

Sam

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of EMC.

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Lync 2013 client for Windows 8

Its about time!!!!!!

In the Windows Phone community, the Lync application stands out as an app that generates a lot of excitement and attention.  In this case, the community has been waiting since WP8 for an app that would take advantage of the new capabilities of both Windows Phone as well as Office 2013.  While perusing my Nokia Lumia and specifically the WPCentral app which is critical to my daily management of my windows phone, I came across the article that the Lync 2013 client for WP8 was available.  Being the geek I am, I immediately jumped on it and installed and configured the app and made sure I could log in before unceremoniously uninstalling the Lync 2010 app.  Make no mistake, I could not live without the Lync 2010 client.  I regularly use it to join conference calls and I receive incredulous looks when I have folks at the AT&T store look at my cellphone bill.  They always want to understand how it could be that I only use 200 minutes a month and carry a Lumia 920 smartphone.  The answer is always the same, the Lync client.  Understandably, I have pretty high expectations of the app.  This article is my experience since yesterday morning with the application.  I have used it for customer conference calls and schedule calls as well as video calls.  Others such as Justin Morris have already done a first look as well.  He does a nice job so check his write up out as well.

The Lync team delivers

The app sets up easy enough whether you are using Lync on-premises or Lync Online.  I am using Lync online right now and have not been migrated to the new Office 365 Wave 15 experience.  Since I am using Lync 2013 on my PC against Lync Online now, I had no reason to believe that the Windows Phone app would work any less.  I was not disappointed. 

Setup

Initially you are greeted with the Lync app welcome screen. Upon agreeing that you are part of an organization that has Lync for mobile devices set up, you will get the sign in screen.  As I mentioned before, this app will work against Lync 2010 on premises or Lync online.  My organization uses Lync online, so I put in my credentials

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Now, under more details, you get into some of the additional nuances that your individual configuration of Lync may require.

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With my lync online configuration, I only needed to put in my user name and I selected my sign in status to be Online (of course).  You may need the additional information if you are going to put your discovery information in place.  Autodiscover should work, however, for a good majority of folks and everyone using Lync Online. 

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Once signed in, you are prompted for some final configurations that need to be made if you happen to have an account that is enabled for VoIP.  In our case, we are using JaJah with Lync Online and so my Lync account is voice enabled and I am prompted to select the necessary configuration that I would prefer.  These settings control whether you are going to allow VoIP over your data connection and/or Wi-Fi.  I for one prefer Wi-Fi only for this, if I don’t have Wi-Fi, Lync can go ahead and call me back.  I don’t incur any additional charges (all incoming calls are free) and we are on an unlimited VoIP plan so its all good AND it keeps my minutes down Smile.  I also recommend continuing to have video over Wi-fi.  I know some folks try to do facetime and things like that over 4G and while my data connection would support it, I would rather change the setting for a one time exception.

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The last screen shot here is to put in the country code and phone number for your mobile device so, if necessary, Lync can call you from a conference bridge.  This is the feature that I can’t live without.  It is what has kept my cell phone costs down for the last several years and really shows the cost savings of Lync. 

Once your number is in place, the final setting is to set up the push notifications (if you want to use them).

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Now lets get into how it plays….

Application Usage

The Lync 2013 application interface is consistent with the Lync 2010 version.  That is to say, the look and feel is very similar.  That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some significant enhancements. 

Initially, we are looking at the contacts list, that is not particularly remarkable.  Again, its true to the previous implementation in the Lync 2010 App.

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Where things get interesting is when you look at the ‘My Info’ screen.  You get the note at the top and your presence info.  A nice enhancement is that you see your current call forwarding setting right on this screen.  Making a change to that call forwarding setting is as simple as tapping the call forwarding setting and it brings you the call forwarding screen.

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From here, I can make the change to go from no call forwarding to Simultaneous Ring (which is my particular favorite).  You can select what number to simultaneously ring and change the application of those rules (as in, do you want it ALL the time or only during working hours).  I for one ALWAYS set mine to Only During Working Hours.

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The other critical enhancement to the main screen is the addition of the meetings view.  This view shows you all of the upcoming Lync meetings that you have and gives you the ability to launch the meeting from the Lync client.  It’s a nice addition that I would personally like to see added to the Lync 2013 client as well.

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Another nice addition here is that if you don’t see a meeting you know was recently added to your calendar, you can manually refresh by tapping the  ‘…’ and bringing up the actions menu.

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What’s the call experience like?

Now that we’ve gone through the niceties of the interface, lets get to the meat of it.  How is audio and video quality?  Well, I can tell you that in my limited experience, VoIP quality is outstanding over Wi-Fi.  When you click ‘Join a Meeting’ you get the familiar screen of joining a meeting and then are brought into the meeting.

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You get a lot of options once you are in the call.  In the upper left, you see the ubiquitous notification of how good your network connection is displayed.  You also see the number of participants that are participating in the conference call.  If the person speaking has a picture in the system, then you will see that picture, otherwise, you will at least see their name.  As you can see, my microphone is currently muted, you can control the mute functions right here, although, I typically have a Plantronics Voyager Legend in my ear and I prefer the handy mute button on the Legend.  You have the ability to put the call on hold and change the audio device you are connected to.

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You can change to the phone’s speaker or you can switch to Bluetooth on the fly.  Its nice and easy although that wouldn’t be the case if you were trying to drive, so make sure you get this setup before you start driving.  At the bottom are the controls for sending IMs or turning on Video.  If you are in an IM conference, you can click the Phone icon to start an audio call.

Call a spade, a spade.  The 2 items that Microsoft took the most heat for with OCS and Lync were not having VoIP for mobile devices and Video for mobile devices.  Video is available on the Lync client for Surface and it works quite well.  Now, I just want to be able to unlock the potential of my Lumia 920.  Well, the Lync 2013 app brings it and does so very well.  Video quality is good.  Its as good as I would expect on a mobile phone.  I’ve used Facetime and Skype.  I’ve used Skype on a PC, Surface, iPad, iPhone and my Lumia and the Lync video quality was definitely comparable.

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In the bottom right is your thumbnail video.  If you want to switch to the back camera, you tap on the image (just like every other video calling app).

Notifications

The Lync 2013 app has made major improvements on the notifications front.  In the past, you would get a push type notification that would just show up at the top of the phone screen and then time out and go away.  If you were able to catch the message, then that’s fine.  However, if you were driving or busy and didn’t see the message, you were out of luck.  With the new app, Microsoft has made some changes to the way they display error messages.

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As seen here, error messages are displayed in a highlighted yellow.  They sit and have you swipe when you want to dismiss them.  I like that feature a lot because I’m a big ‘fire and forget’ when it comes to setting up applications or joining meetings.  I hit the button and just expect magic to happen and when it doesn’t, I’m left standing there going, ‘whaaaat??’.  This is a nice addition to the app.  Finally, the Live Tile provides the display of any missed contact that you might have from the Lync app.

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It’s a little more pronounced then the previous version of the app.  I like the larger notification, although I will admit that I generally don’t pay too much attention to it myself because if I’m driving, I don’t care who is IM’ing me so much.  I will check when I stop though, so I do like seeing the number of missed contacts.  I also like that I can check my voicemails from O365 on here and the Lync App will display notifications on the lock screen.

Conclusion

The reality is that this is a LONG awaited application with very long awaited features.  Specifically, the meetings display, the VoIP and video functions have been long overdue, but Microsoft wanted to make sure they delivered this functionality well.  With more 4G phones and better access to wi-fi, now is a good time and Lync 2013 does a good job of surfacing those features.  I encourage Windows Phone users out there, take advantage and leverage the platform.  You can help save on your monthly phone charges and get a nice experience as well.

The Lync 2013 App for windows phone can be found here.

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Windows Phone–Lumia 920

I have been waiting to write this entry now for a couple of weeks now.  As with many Windows Phone fans, I waited patiently (or not so patiently) for the successor to my Samsung Focus and Windows Phone 7.5.  I will go ahead and just say it, I’m a fan of Windows Phone.  I’ve used Droid, I’ve used iOS and for me, the Windows Phone interface just works for me.  I have my own character and as such, I find the iOS and Droid interfaces to be just well, OLD.  If I’m going to have that many icons on my screen, then they should give me some information aside from the app they represent.  Nevertheless, I digress; I ordered the Red Lumia from my local AT&T store on 11/7.  I can’t tell you how excited I was.  As a 2 year Samsung Focus user, I’ve watched iPhones come and go and my friends running Droid like to wave those around as well.  Especially those running the Galaxy models of the droid.  In my house, iOS reigns supreme, we have iPhones, iPads, iPods, whatever.   I waited patiently like a kid waiting for Santa Claus for the postman to bring my box with my new Lumia in it.  It was just perfect:

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Exactly what I hoped for.  I immediately went to get it activated and was ready to go.

Apps, Apps, Apps

A lot has been made about apps for the iOS and Android platforms and the lack of applications that are available for Windows Phone.  I have to say that while I know that there are fewer apps available for the Windows Phone than other devices, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t quality apps.  On the contrary, I would make the case the there are more quality apps.  When I played with my iPad, there were all kinds of apps that I never knew that I ever needed.  Those succeeded in clogging up my iPad and ultimately requiring me to reset it over and over.  In the case of Windows Phone 8, I have found more than enough useful applications:

  • Start Screen – The start screen has provided some significant changes that have been widely written about.  Aside from the increase in applications that utilize Live Tiles, users have some additional controls over the start screen.  The ability to resize the tiles into 3 different sizes: full size, thumbnail and full width tile.

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  • Office – Lets start with the easiest.  Being able to review and edit documents and spreadsheets while on the road. Access to documents on SkyDrive and SharePoint makes the office applications that much more valuable.
  • People – the People tile has been enhanced to now include the ability to set up rooms for sharing calendar and picture data with other Windows Phones, iPhones and Android phones.
  • Calendar – the calendar application has been enhanced (when used with the Lync application) to allow a 1-click to join audio conferencing.

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  • Facebook – The Facebook application got some terrific upgrades with Windows Phone 8.  The upgrade that I enjoy the most is the new integration with the lock screen.  The lock screen can now utilize pictures that you have uploaded into facebook albums on the lock screen.  You can select the albums that are used for photos.  You still get the benefit of the notifications screens

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  • Photos and Camera – The Photos and Camera app have both been upgraded with some nice additional features.  First, in the Camera App, you now have the additional ability to add the filters and effects as you are taking photos.  Note the Translator Application.  The Bing Translator application makes it possible for you to photograph text and have it translated, nice touch.

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  • The Photos application has also gotten some upgrades.    The sharing ability allows you to now share via different applications such as Instacam or WordPress, social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter or Linked in, or now via the new rooms that are available as part of the upgraded People Tile.

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  • While the Maps app continues to be effective, owners of the Lumia devices have the opportunity to take advantage of new applications that are available as part of the Nokia collection.  Apps such as the Nokia Maps application and Nokia Drive+ Beta.  Previously, I had been a big fan of the Maps application and the ability to provide turn by turn directions for WP7.  The Drive+ application is a terrific alternative.  The intent was for it to replace the Maps app, however some clever developers have provided an app to restore the Maps application (as I have)
  • Wallet and NFC – The Nokia phones provide Near Field Communications for sharing pictures or to be leveraged for providing payments or other applications.  Right now, I haven’t found any where to attempt to try using the NFC payment system, I don’t have anyone to swap pictures with right now, so ultimately, I don’t have much use for NFC and it’s a heavy drain on the battery, so I’ve disabled it for now.
  • Kids Central – There has been much made about the new kids central access to the phone.  The idea is that you can provide a way for your kids to be able to access their apps, games and music without needing to log into the main section of the phone and risk applications.  You access Kids Central by swiping left from the lock screen.  On my phone, I have given my kids the ability to play their music and play some of their games.

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  • Screencaptures – A nice addition for Windows Phone that was missing was the ability to get screen captures.  Sorely missed with Windows Phone 7, it was added in Windows Phone 8.  A combination of the Power button and the Windows button will take a screen capture and put it in the Screenshots album.

Battery Life

There have been some talk and blog posts about battery life on the Lumia 920.  Let me just go ahead and say that with all of these smartphones, there is a learning curve associated with learning what needs to be turned off and what needs to be kept on to maximize battery life while maintaining maximum functionality.  Inside the settings applet, there are a number of items that can be adjusted to impact the battery life of the phone.  By swiping to the left, you can make adjustments to applications and which applications can continue to work in the background.

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In addition, there are settings that can be adjusted to minimize the drain on the battery power. 

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As I mentioned earlier, turning off NFC is known to have a drain on the battery and since I haven’t found a more practical/everyday use for NFC, I figured it was worth turning off.  I enabled the battery saver option to ensure that I get maximum conservation when my battery gets low.  Finally, I have adjusted my brightness to the minimum.  All of this has allowed me to get through a day with my phone charged.  There have been some additional reports of being able to disconnect the Drive+ application from online updates.  Otherwise, it is constantly updating in the background for the updates, and will quickly drain the battery as well.

Charging the battery

The last thing I wanted to highlight with the Lumia 920 is how to charge it.  In the box is a charger and Micro USB adapter.  The Lumia has a micro USB charging port and that makes it versatile because existing chargers and cables are readily available.  The terrific edition is the wireless shell that was included with the Lumia 920.  AT&T was offering a wireless charger with the purchase of the Lumia 920 and I received my charger.  I am not overly familiar with the different wireless charging standards, but I do understand that the Nokia phones are utilizing the Qi inductive charging standards.  I love the fact that when I go to sleep, I just set the phone down on my nightstand and it begins charging.  It is very forgiving (the phone doesn’t need to be in “that exact spot”) and so far I have been very happy with it.

Wrap Up

I would love to say that my experience has been all wine and roses.  Alas, I’ve had my share of some issues.  The Lumia 920 that I purchased first, was plagued with issues locking up, at one point I even had my music skipping.   I went ahead and returned it to AT&T.  I would like to say that the experience was a pleasant one, but alas, AT&T made me jump through some significant hoops to return a phone that I had for 14 days.  It was very disturbing that AT&T would require me to go to the lengths that I did to exchange a defective phone.  That said, I have since obtained a black 920 and I haven’t had any issue since.  I truly am a fan of this device and I look forward to what’s next from the application developers and the updates from Microsoft.

 

Sam Cavaliere

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Plantronics Blackwire 710-M: Outstanding Quality and Comfort

Continuing my practice of evaluating the best in Unified Communications hardware, I have been provided a terrific opportunity to take a look at one of the newest headsets from Plantronics (thank you Debbie Bukosky).  Plantronics is in the process of launching several new UC Devices including the Voyager Legend (to be reviewed soon) and others.

The Blackwire series of headsets has continued to evolve into more comfort and easier control than past headsets.  While the trend has continued to move towards wireless technology, the reality is that despite everyone’s best efforts, there is still a big market for corded headsets and so it is important for corded headsets to evolve for a large user base.  What the 700 Series of headsets provides is the reliability of a corded headset, with the flexibility of a cordless headset AND the ability to pair multiple devices and offer different form factors based on the user preferences.

Smart Sensor Technology

Smart Sensor technology is exclusive to Plantronics. I’ve started playing with it and so my thoughts on it are still coming together, but thus far I have been impressed. The smart sensor technology in the headset automatically will answers softphone calls when the headset is put on. It is really convenient when you are rushing into your office to answer the phone and can’t put the headset on and click to answer the phone. The headset detects that it was put on and answer’s the call for you. If you are on your mobile phone and you have paired it with the headset, when you pick up the headset it will transfer the call to the headset from the mobile device. If you are listening to music, when you put down the headset it pauses the music. Pretty great stuff there.

What is included in the 700 Series

The Blackwire 700 series of headsets is the premium headset from Plantronics that allows for the ability to participate and manage calls on both your PC Softphone as well as mobile devices.  Bluetooth connectivity makes it possible to provide call control for your mobile device.  A2DP support makes it possible for the headset to serve as the audio endpoint for music streamed from your mobile device or tablet as well.  There are technically 4 models of the headset: the 710, 720, 710-M and 720-M.  The M series are optimized for Microsoft Lync and OCS.  The 710 headsets are monaural and the 720 headsets are stereo.  I was provided the 710-M for this evaluation

What’s inside?

The 710-M shipped easily enough with the headset.  The key is that it shipped with a hard case for storing the headset.

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The case provides ample room for the headset and the charging cord and zips up into a nice clamshell.  It might not seem like much, but the case is a pretty nice detail.  If you are desk bound and will have this connected to a traditional desktop, then it might not seem like a big deal, but how many times have you thrown your headset into a drawer and then tried to pull it out later only to have it tangled in a bunch of other cords.  Additionally, I have recently gotten feedback from colleagues that the headsets that they have today have nice carrying bags, but since the bags are soft, the headset gets smashed around their bag and ultimately breaks.  That nice hard clamshell case will prevent that for road warriors who want to take this on the road and want comfort in knowing they won’t pull out 2 pieces of a broken headset when they stop.

The call controls are pretty straight forward.

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A button (left) is for controls for the PC softphone.  On the right is the button for controls on the mobile device.  The middle device is the volume control and the mute button is on the bottom.  If you have the mute button activated, you get notification and frequent reminders via audio in the earpiece.

Headset comfort is provided via the earpieces that are very well padded

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The padding has made it easy for me to wear this headset for hours at a time (which I have done every day since I unboxed it Smile).  The audio range coming out of the headset is terrific.  I have used it to listen to music from my Nokia Lumia 920 while I’m sitting and working on documents between calls.

Microphone is a standard swivel boom microphone which has provided good audio quality.  I have continued to check with both softphone as well as mobile calls to ensure quality.

Speaking with people I am on the phone with, the feedback has been that audio quality is very good whether bluetooth to my mobile device or via the softphone.

Pairing your mobile device

When the 710 comes out of the box and you plug it in, the headset immediate goes into pairing mode on the bluetooth side.  If you aren’t ready to pair your device until later, the process is easy enough, put the headset on (so you can hear the audio prompts) but simply press on the mobile device button and hold it.  Eventually it will flash red and blue and you will get an audio prompt that it is in pairing mode.  With my WP8 lumia, pairing it was a snap.

WAIT, It’s Cordless TOO????!?!?!

When I plugged it into my PC for the first time, I noticed that the indicated for battery life came up in my system tray

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I didn’t understand what that was about.  What does a corded headset need a charge for?  Well, this is the real surprise that the Blackwire 700 series provides.  How about those calls when you need to get up to get a drink of water or answer the door, or get an answer from your colleague in a cube down the way?  Well, the 700 series has an answer to that. 

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At the top of the call controls, you can DISCONNECT the USB cable.  Got that, you can disconnect it and walk away. Do your thing and walk back.  You can reconnect when you are ready and the battery will charge while connected.  That goes for phone calls, music, whatever.  VERY NICE addition.

It should also be noted that I have used this headset with my Surface RT tablet.  no difference in usage except that I do not have the plantronics software on my tablet to provide me with the indication as to the current battery life.

Conclusion

The Blackwire 700 series headsets are a comfortable and extremely versatile solution for users that are deskbound as well as road warriors.  It might not be your everyday bluetooth mobile solution, but the reality is that by providing the cord to allow for direct USB power, but being able to go cordless as well is extremely useful and helpful to users.  The comfort is exceptional, so I absolutely recommend this headset to users out there.  I have been a fan of the Jabra premium corded headsets because of the BT support.  THIS headset trumps it with the ability to go cordless and now has a place in my bag moving forward.  

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Lync for Surface – First Look

What is Surface and why do I care?

I try to provide info based on what I have learned and experienced using a variety of products in the Microsoft UC platform space. Mostly, that info is around devices (and I do have a device to review, but in this case I will be looking at the Lync experience on the Surface tablet. If you haven’t seen the surface yet (because you have been in outer space or perhaps just woke from a coma) it is Microsoft’s direct foray into the tablet space. It combines the familiarity of Windows and the ease of use that the Windows Phone brought to the PC/Tablet world:

Properly using this device requires that applications be capable of delivering the experience in the “Windows 8 UI experience”.
Lync in this case delivers that in spades.

I received my Surface and the first 3 task I completed were:

  1. Update Office to RTM
  2. Install Skype
  3. Install Lync.

One of the things I was most pleased about was the fact that I could actually do work on this device. I’m writing this blog entry from Word 2013 installed on my Surface RT. Lync was extremely important for me to truly consider this a companion device.

User Interface’

The UI for the Lync Surface client is slick. Its sexy, it’s good for touch screens and it is exactly what Microsoft needs to release if Surface and Lync are going to be taken seriously.

As you can see, the interface is very touch friendly. Your presence and personal note are located in the upper right corner. Clicking on that opens your card where you can update your note, change your presence, change your call forwarding settings and log out,

The layout is optimized for Touch. Lync meetings are automatically available in the left hand corner along with tiles for voicemail, your contacts and your conversation history. You favorites are available via the center tile and your contact groups are available on the right.

Inside the contact groups, you can see that you get the photos as you expect.

As you select a contact you have the option of starting communications through modalities including IM/Voice and Video. The contact card is also available if you wish.

It’s a very familiar interface with comfort for a touch screen

How does it perform

I was a little skeptical at first about how it would perform, but when Joe and I did a video call from surface to surface, it was pretty impressive. The performance didn’t lag at all and the video quality was excellent. Having the ability to switch between the front and rear cameras was a nice touch as well.

Verdict

Overall, I found the client to be a terrific addition to the Lync family. My only disappointment is that I haven’t seen a way to share or participate in sharing session yet. I will have to update this further when I have been able to try that. I am going to hope that considering the iPad supports content sharing, that the Surface would support that as well.

 

Stay tuned.

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Lync 2013 Client–First Look

In the last couple of days, there have been a number of postings about the new preview for the 2013 release of products from Microsoft, specifically Lync 2013. Jeff Shertz has provided a very thorough discussion of Lync 2013 video interoperability here, and Chris Norman has written up a nice summary of why going Lync 2013 Standard for SMBs is going to be an improvement over Lync 2010 here. There are plenty of documentation and training links that I will write up at the end of this, but what I wanted to do here is spend some time going over some of the client changes based on my initial use over the past week.

Compatibility

So first things first, you will need to be able to use it or there is really no point is there J. Microsoft has posted a terrific set of documentation ahead of the release of Lync 2013. This alone is a terrific improvement and helps get IT Pro’s ahead of the curve. The Lync 2013 interoperability table provides a breakdown of the different clients going all the way back to Communicator and Live Meeting. The table will show compatibility with the different versions of Lync Server and OCS. Bottom line, you have to have Lync 2010 deployed at a minimum (or Lync Online) to be able to play with the Lync 2013 client preview. The Lync Web App (new to 2013) is only compatible with Lync 2013 server, so we will have to cover those capabilities in another posting.

How do you get the client?

I can’t explain exactly why, but right now, the only way to get the Lync client today is to install the Office 2013 Preview. I haven’t messed with the install for Office just yet, so I went ahead and dove in and installed all of Office 2013 Pro Plus. I found that I could install only Lync 2013 and it could co-exist with Lync 2010. The login screen and main UI look very much like the previous version of Lync with the nuances associated with the new Office 2013 UI

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As you see, there are a lot of similarities to the 2 clients. There are some nuance changes to the UI, in particular they have streamlined the UI a little bit. With Lync the development team was looking to make as much functionality available on the main screen without having to dive through menus. That theme is continued here in the 2013 client. Happily there aren’t any new menus. The real changes are in the UI during the different communications.

Tabbed IM

Folks who have been waiting for Tabbed IM will be happy to see that it is a standard feature in Lync 2013. Personally, I was never a real fan of it, so it will take some getting used to.

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In this implementation, the shortcut on the bottom left will take you direct to the unread message that you have. Of course, you also have the flashing indicator on the conversation that has unread messages as well. As I said, it will take some getting used to, but I doubt that it will be much of a learning curve. I like this implementation a lot more than the “tabbed converations” application that was available as part of the free downloads of the training and adoption kit for Lync 2010.

Some other Nice UI enhancements – Conferencing

It will require several more postings to cover all of the UI enhancements, so I am going to go through a couple of the nice things I noticed while I was participating in a conference using a federated partner’s conference center on Lync.

First, the UI is streamlined. Now I know I said that in Lync 2010 there was an effort to streamline the client experience, but the product team has done even more to make the client a more intuitive experience. I would encourage users to keep an open mind when trying the product. It WILL be different, especially if you are going from OCS R2 to Lync 2013 directly. The initial view of a conference with audio is pictured below:

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You have a view of the participants in the meeting. The IM Window is not immediately available because you are on an audio call, but you can see that IM is available for each of the participants. Audio is currently enabled with our mystery participant currently speaking, CDK User 21 muted and CDK User 22 unmuted. Video and other sharing is not currently available. The “Invite More People” button is more prominently displayed and you can see from the bottom buttons that my client is currently muted for audio. I can unmute easily by just clicking on the microphone. This view is known as the “compact view”.

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The other view is the speaker view as shown above. The speaker view is a more expanded view that includes the photos of the speakers:

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The active speaker is displayed as the large picture and your picture is displayed in the lower right.

Clicking on the phone icon (second icon in from the left) displays the phone controls for the audio portion of the conference

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The dial-pad view is initially displayed with the phone buttons and the controls to mute and hold controls. Unmuting your call can be accomplished through this screen, OR, by simply clicking on the mute icon in the compact view

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Switching from the dial-pad to the device view will offer the opportunity to change the current audio device in use

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I will need to spend more time with this. I’m not sure that this is an improvement over previous versions. I do like having access to the volume control and device selection through the one screen and that I still have the ability to mute/unmute as well as place the call on hold.

If you click the participant icon (on the right) you get the participant configuration options

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You have the option to hide the names of users, make everyone an attendee (very handy for internal meetings) preventing attendees from having video as well as muting an entire audience. A very nice set of selections that make this product much more friendly for larger meetings and webinars. My hope is that we will see an attendee support increase in Lync 2013 to support larger meetings than Lync 2010.

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll go over the presentation options and the video options. Lync 2013 offers a number of nice UI enhancements to both. In the meantime, look below for more details on Lync 2013 and visit the different blogs that I have hyperlinked in this session since the MVPs have taken the time to share information so you don’t have to figure it out yourself!!!

Client Comparison Tables http://technet.microsoft.com/library/gg425836(v=ocs.15)
Lync Web App supported platforms http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/library/gg425820(v=ocs.15)
Lync 2013 Technet preview http://technet.microsoft.com/library/gg398616(v=ocs.15)
Lync Developer Training http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/gg394196

 

Keep Communicating!!

-Sam Cavaliere

Sam.cavaliere@janalent.com

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