Category Archives: Office 365

OneDrive is Ready – It’s Seriously Time to Ditch the X: Drive

If you are in information worker of any sort, and have been at it for any more than a couple of years, you’ve experienced it – the X: drive. Or the S: drive, P, R, whatever the letter. It’s the drive that is mapped to a network based file share that contains most of the company’s documents.

My first experience with IT was in 1989, setting up and managing a Novell Netware 3 network for a University department. Logging into the network (through a DOS prompt) would automatically add a drive to your machine with all of the resources that you needed, the storage you could ever want (measured in MB). It was “magical”.

This basic model exists to this day. We’ve tried to move away from it, we’ve tried very hard. We’ve had large monolithic document management systems imposed from above like FileNet and Documentum. These solutions gained success in specific areas, as they were mandated from above. SharePoint itself came along and democratized document management to a much broader degree, but the pesky X: drive still persists. Why?

One word. Usability.

End users want to be able to open up File Explorer, navigate to their drive, browse their folder structure and work with their documents. The drive mapping metaphor has succeeded so well because it fits this scenario perfectly, and its familiarity. Ever since personal computing began, we’ve accessed file storage using drive letters.

Users use formal document management systems reluctantly. This is often due to overzealous metadata requirements (just fill out this 20 field form to store your document), burdensome procedures, or performance issues. However given the choice, they retreat to the familiarity of their file systems, and their X: drives more often than not.

Consultants and vendors preaching a new way of doing things are in the end shouting against thunder. We can’t expect users to adapt to new systems quickly – what we need, at least transitionally is for the systems to adapt to the users. This is where OneDrive comes in.

One of the most compelling features of SharePoint 2013 in my opinion was OneDrive for Business. The reason that I felt that was that for the first time, SharePoint document management was tightly integrated into File Explorer. There had been previous attempts at synchronizing (SharePoint Workspace), but that required separate client software and required a lot of manual dragging and dropping.

The implementation of OneDrive for Business was initially hobbled by restrictions and limits, and was rather confusing, limiting adoption. However, through the combination of the current OneDrive sync client, with the Files On Demand feature available in the Windows Fall Creators update, OneDrive is truly ready for widespread adoption. Over the past few years, OneDrive has become both reliable and fast, and Files on Demand combined with in-context sharing put it over the top.

Files on Demand

Screenshot taken while flying on airplane mode from a laptop containing a single 256 GB drive.

Files on Demand allows you to easily control what files are synchronized to your local device, while still being able to see all your file assets, directly from File Explorer.

In the figure above, the cloud icon indicates that that folder is not currently stored locally. That’s a good thing, because opening up the folder properties reveals that it is over 1 TB in size, and the drive on the laptop (that I’m currently writing this with) is only 256 GB. Moreover, that screen shot was taken while flying, and totally disconnected. I could still see things that were not on my local device.

If connected, cloud files can be interacted with the same way that local files can, by any application. Opening them just requires a little more time as the file is downloaded in the background. If you will be offline, bringing a file local is a simple matter of right clicking on that file, or folder, and selecting “Always keep on this device”.

Files on Demand is currently available to Windows Insiders, and will be generally available with the Windows Fall Creators Update on October 17, 2017.

In Context Sharing

The new OneDrive in context sharing experience

Up until very recently, sharing a drive from Explorer was a rather frustrating experience. You could identify your file, right click on it, click on share, and then a browser window would pop open, and if you were lucky, you would be presented with a view of the OneDrive web user interface. This experience was jarring, and required multiple steps.

Over the past summer, OneDrive rolled out updates that change this behaviour significantly. Now clicking on share brings up the dialog above and sharing is done completely from there. No context switching, and no authentication failures.

Time to move

These two new features, combined with the performance and reliability improvements over the last few years puts OneDrive over the top. Finally, all of the usability issues have been addressed. End users can live completely in File Explorer should they wish to do so, and be oblivious to the workings of OneDrive and/or SharePoint. However, at the same time, they will gain significant benefits compared to the shared file system.

However, OneDrive provides much more than simply an alternate storage location for your files. Once content is stored in OneDrive, a whole host of options are opened. The organization benefits because all this content is immediately made discoverable through technologies like Delve and Search. File access can be tracked, helping users understand what content others find valuable. There are, however, many immediate benefits that occur directly to the users themselves. I wanted to call out three of them, but there are many more.

File Viewing

OneDrive comes with a long list of file viewers. These viewers allow the contents of a file to be viewed without opening the underlying application, which tends to be significantly faster than opening the host application. In fact, the application itself does not need to be installed. This is valuable in itself, but when combined with Files On Demand a file can be viewed whether or not it is even stored locally. A large Adobe Illustrator file can be viewed locally without it even being present on disk. Files On Demand is also available on Mac, and in the OneDrive client, and therefore, this very same file can be viewed on iPhone, Android, iPad, anywhere the OneDrive application is available. This, to my mind, is a game changer.

Sharing

Sharing with OneDrive is not new, but sharing directly from the explorer window is. That sharing experience is also now being consolidated across devices, and embedded into Microsoft Office applications. In addition, OneDrive files can be shared externally with an anonymous link, or securely with others that have a Microsoft account (personal or organizational), but what will be shortly available is the ability to securely share files externally with people that have any type of account.

Files Restore

Announced at Ignite 2017, FilesRestore provides end users with the ability to easily track all versions of their files for the past 30 days, and to instantly restore them to a point of time anywhere in that window. Administrators have long had this capability through a set of operations, but FilesRestore puts this capability into the hands of the end user with a simple to use user interface. Users can rest assured that their files are safe not only from disaster, but from their own mistakes, malware, ransomware or anything. Files stored in OneDrive are safe.

These are but three compelling benefits that users can enjoy by moving content to OneDrive. There are many more. Foe a good overview, and to hear all of the OneDrive announcements from Ignite 2017, be sure to check out “OneDrive – Past, Present and Future“.

It’s time to ditch the shared X: drive once and for all.

Understanding the Power BI Capacity Based SKUs

This week at Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft introduced a new capacity based SKU for Power BI Embedded, intended for ISVs and developers: The A SKU. This brings the number of capacity based SKUs to 3, with each category having numerous sub categories. This means that there are a number of ways to embed content by using Power BI Pro, Power BI Embedded, or Power BI Premium. The trick is to know what will be needed for what circumstances. This post will attempt to help with the distinctions.

The SKUs are additive in nature, with A (Power BI Embedded) providing a set of APIs for developers, EM (Power BI Premium) additional ad-hoc embedding features for organizations, and P (Power BI Premium)providing a SaaS application that contains everything that the Power BI service offers. For some background, the EM SKU was initially introduced to serve the needs of both Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and of organizations that needed to do some simple sharing within the organization, and give them access to the latest Power BI features. However, ISVs have a different business model than enterprises, which is why the A series was introduced.

Power BI Embedded A SKUs

The A SKU (A is for Azure) is a Platform-as-a-Service and set of APIs for those ISVs who are developing an application to take to market. These ISVs choose to use Power BI as the data visualization layer of that application to add value to their own application. As such, Power BI assets contained in Power BI Embedded capacities cannot be accessed by a licensed Power BI user, but are only accessed by customers of the ISV’s application.

Power BI Embedded capacity is billed hourly, can be purchased hourly, and can be paused – meaning no long-term commitments to a specific capacity. This pausing capability is critical for small ISVs that don’t yet have the revenue stream to support monthly commitments, and it addressed one of my largest concerns over moving Power BI Embedded over to the Premium model. Power BI Embedded is purchased through Microsoft Azure. Additionally, Power BI Embedded can scale up and down as needed to accommodate the requirements of the ISV business model as the vendor’s application grows.

Running the entry level A1 capacity for a full month equates to approximately $750/month, so while the capacity of the Power BI Embedded A1 SKU is equivalent to the Power BI Premium EM SKU, ISVs pay a slightly higher effective monthly price for the flexibility mentioned above.

There are 6 sizes of Power BI Embedded available, each capacity mapping to an existing Power BI Premium capacity so ISVs can grow their business as needed. Pricing starts at about $1/hour:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hour Cost/hour
A1 1 3 300 ~$1
A2 2 5 600 ~$2
A3 4 10 1,200 ~$4
A4 8 25 2,400 ~$8
A5 16 50 4,800 ~$16
A6 32 100 9,600 ~$32

Power BI Premium EM SKUs

The EM SKU (EM is for embedding – NOT Embedded) covers off everything contained in the Power BI Embedded A SKU, but also offers the ability to share Power BI reports within an organization through content embedding. Currently, this can be accomplished through the use of the SharePoint Power BI web part for modern pages, or the through tabs using Microsoft Teams.

There are three EM SKUs, and while the largest, EM3, can be purchased through Office 365 monthly, the smaller 2 (EM1 and EM2) must be purchased through Volume Licensing. Volume licensing represents an annual commitment, and may be an incentive for ISVs to remain on the A SKU even if they are not pausing their service. EM SKUs cannot be paused – a month is the smallest available billing unit. Additionally, scaling on EM SKUs requires that you retain your monthly or annual commitment to the initial SKU purchased until the end of the contract term.

Details on the EM SKUs are below:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hr Cost
EM1 1 3 1-300 $625/mo
EM2 2 5 301-600 $1,245/mo
EM3 4 10 601-1,200 $2,495/mo

Power BI Premium P SKUs

The P SKU (P is for Premium, but it helps to think of it as “Power BI Service”) is the “all in” version of Power BI licensed through capacity. It offers everything that is available with Power BI, which includes everything available in the A and EM SKUs. It also offers the ability to share Power BI assets in the Power BI service through apps, or if personal workspaces are in a Premium capacity, through dashboard sharing.

The entry point of the P SKU is significantly higher than EM as well, but you’re getting a business application vs a set of APIs. It also comes with significantly more resources attached to it. For example, P1 comes with 8 virtual cores and 25 GB of RAM, whereas the largest EM offering is EM3, with 4 cores and 10 GB RAM.

All the P SKUs can be purchased through the Office 365 administration center, and can be billed monthly. Details are below:

Name Virtual cores Memory (GB) Peak renders/hr Cost
P1 8 25 1-300 $4,995/mo
P2 16 50 301-600 $9,995/mo
P3 32 100 601-1,200 $19,995/mo

What to use when

Sharing capabilities:

PBI Embedded A PBI Premium EM PBI Premium P
Embed PBI Reports in your own application Embed PBI Reports in your own application Embed PBI Reports in your own application
  Embed PBI Reports in SaaS applications (SharePoint, Teams) Embed PBI Reports in SaaS applications (SharePoint, Teams)
  Share Power Reports, dashboards and datasets through Power BI Apps (workspaces)
 Ad hoc dashboard sharing from personal workspaces

With the addition of the Power BI Embedded capacity based SKUs, many of the concerns around Premium pricing have been addressed. I would still like to see all EM SKUs available monthly, and to see a “P0” premium SKU, but it’s fairly clear as to which scenarios call out for which licenses.

An ISV that is embarking on the use of Power BI embedded will at the very least need a Power BI Pro license. When development gets to the point where sharing with a team is necessary, a Power BI Embedded A SKU can be purchased from Azure. Once 24/7 availability is required, the ISV may wish to switch to an Premium EM capacity. An ISV should never require a P SKU unless capacity demands it, or they have additional requirements.

An organization that has a few data analysts or Power Users that need to share reports with a broader audience would likely be well served with one of the EM SKUs. This scenario assumes that the organization is also using SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams, or both. This approach will allow the power users (who will require a Pro license as well) to embed Power BI content within a SharePoint page or a Microsoft Teams tab where it can be accessed by users without a Pro license. This organization would need to include more than 63 users accessing the reports to be financially viable.

Finally, larger organizations with a significant investment in Power BI, or organizations that don’t currently utilize SharePoint Online or Microsoft Teams would benefit from a Premium P capacity. With this, the Power BI interface could be utilized by end users to access shared content without a Pro license. Given it’s monthly cost, compared to the monthly cost of Pro, the organization would need to have at least 500 active report consumers for this approach to practically considered.

Power BI Embedded is not for Embedding Power BI Reports

NOTICE Sept 17 2017 – The central thrust of this post is incorrect. I am leaving it here, because it still contains valid information, but for an update, please go to this article –  Which Premium SKU is Needed to embed Power BI Reports in SharePoint and Microsoft Teams

I have run into this point of confusion several times since the GA of the Power BI Premium SKU. As I mentioned in my post about licensing, the Power BI web part for SharePoint requires the user viewing the report to have a Pro license. Alternatively, if the organization has purchase Power BI premium capacity, and the report has been deployed to that capacity, then all organizational users will be able to view the report in the web part.

The initial announcement about Premium licensing laid out 5 different SKUs for premium, P1, P2 and P3. These SKUs are the “normal” SKUs that are intended to be used by Power BI customers. The “P” stands for Premium. Subsequently, 3 additional SKUs were announced at the Data Insights summit to be used by ISVs. These SKUs are EM1, EM2, and EM3. The “EM” stands for embedded. The embedded in this case means Power BI embedded. That’s where the confusion sets in.

Power BI Embedded is the ISV offering for Power BI. With Power BI embedded, software vendors can use Power BI as the reporting engine in their application. A number of vendors have taken advantage of this capability in the recent past including Nintex with their Hawkeye product, and ourselves with tyGraph for Yammer Reporting. With Power BI embedded, all of the processing for the application is done in the vendor’s Power BI tenant. Customers don’t require a Power BI license of any sort to use the applications. Recently, Power BI embedded has moved to a premium model as well, which is why the EM SKUs exist. They are for purchase by software vendors to power their own applications.

If we have a look at the pricing for each of these SKUs (in $US/month), we can see that the EM SKUs are significantly cheaper, but they also come with the important restriction that they can ONLY be used by ISVs.

Capacity Node Cores Back end cores Front end cores

Cost

P1 8 4 cores, 25 GB RAM 4 cores

$4,995

P2 16 8 cores, 50 GB RAM 8 cores

$9,995

P3 32 16 cores, 100 GB RAM 16 cores

$19,995

EM1 1 0.5 cores, 3 GB RAM 0.5 cores

$625

EM2 2 1 core, 5 GB RAM 1 core

$1,245

EM3 4 2 cores, 10 GB RAM 2 cores

$2,495

It may be natural to think that because your goal is to “embed” a Power BI report in SharePoint, that you will be able to use one of the cheaper, “embedded” SKUs. Microsoft loves to overload terms when they name things, and this is one of those times that this tendency leads to confusion. Make no mistake, in order to embed a Power BI report in a SharePoint page, and to have other users be able to view it, you will need to have a Pro license, and your users will either need Pro licenses as well, OR your organization will need to have purchased a Power BI Premium “P” SKU, not an “EM” SKU.

Enabling the new OneDrive Sync Client for SharePoint

I recently wrote about the fact that the new OneDrive sync client now supports the synchronization of SharePoint libraries, and the benefits that it brings. Since the release however, I have heard from several people that even though they have the new client, their libraries continue to sync with the older OneDrive for Business client. Microsoft has documented all of the procedures for getting it to work in this article, but I wanted to call out a few common issues here. If you’ve been using the old OneDrive for Business Sync client, and you want to move to the Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC), you’ll want to check the items below.

Make sure you have the correct version

The Next Generation Sync Client has been available for over a year, but the ability to synchronize SharePoint libraries was only added in January 2017. If you use Windows 10, the client is updated automatically, but you may not have it yet. To check your version, right click on one of the OneDrive clouds in the system tray (not any OneDrive for Business icons) and select “Settings”

Next, click on the “About” tab and check the version.

If you have version 17.3.6743.1212 or above, you’re good to go. If not, or you’re not running Windows 10, you can download the latest version here.

Ensure That Your Tenant is Configured for the New Client

Administrators can configure their tenant to use either the new OneDrive Sync client or the old OneDrive for Business Sync Client. This configuration setting is in the SharePoint administration of Office 365. To change this setting, log into the Office 365 Admin portal (or have your tenant admin do this if you don’t have rights). The URL for the portal is https://portal.office.com/adminportal/. Once there, launch the SharePoint admin center by clicking SharePoint in the Admin Centers section.

The setting that we’re after is in the “settings” section of the SharePoint admin center. Select it, then scroll to the “Sync Client for SharePoint” section. The options are straightforward – Start the new client, or start the old one. Once selected, click on Save (scroll down for the button). This setting controls what happens when the “Sync” button is selected in a SharePoint library.

Initiate the Takeover Process

Even with this setting turned on, the old OneDrive for Business sync client may be active. You’ll need to take action to have the new client take over. This can be done one of several ways. Firstly, running the setup process for the new sync client will do it (download is above). You can also run “OneDrive.exe /takeover” to accomplish this, but the easiest approach is to simply sync a new library by clicking on its Sync button. Doing so will not only sync the new library, but will take over syncing anything that the older client is doing.

Once the takeover process is complete, the old client will be removed on the next system restart. That’s the last you’ll see of GROOVE.EXE.

OneDrive and SharePoint – Together Again

A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled “OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive” in which I took a slightly cheeky look of what has become known as the “Next Generation Sync Client” (NGSC) for OneDrive, and its many idiosyncrasies. I then turned that post into a speaking session (Changing the title slightly to OneDrive, TwoDrive, White Drive, BlueDrive), and that session has been presented at many events over the past year. In that post and session, it is pointed out that the NGSC still had some work to do, and that it would get done.

True to their word, it seemed that every time I presented that session, I had to modify the slides in one way or another, as another feature was added, bug was squished, or idiosyncrasy clarified. In September, at Microsoft’s Ignite event in Atlanta, Reuben Krippner announced the public preview of a new sync client (as I like to call it, the Next Next Generation Sync Client”. This version of the client addresses the principal shortcoming of its predecessor – namely that it didn’t synchronize SharePoint libraries. I’ve been running the preview ever since. With SharePoint libraries forming the backbone of all document storage in Office 365, including Office 365 Groups, this shortcoming was particularly glaring.

The good news is that this new version of the NGSC is now generally available. You can download it from the OneDrive site, or, if you use Windows 10 and are frequently updating, you’ll get it automatically. With the general availability of the new client today, it seemed like a good time to circle back and see how many of my original criticisms have been addressed.

SharePoint Library Sync

Obviously, the biggest disappointment with the original NGSC was the fact that while it added OneDrive for Business repositories in addition to OneDrive personal stores, it was unable to sync SharePoint libraries. Any library contained in an Office 365 Group or a SharePoint site was therefore excluded and resulted in users needing to run a mix of old and new client. We had this odd situation in where you would sync OneDrive for Business with the OneDrive Sync client, and all your SharePoint libraries with the OneDrive for Business sync client. Now add to it the fact that Group libraries were referred to as the Group OneDrive, and it was quite confusing for end users. Apart from the technical limitations of the old sync client (no more than 5,000 items per library, no more than 20,000 items across all libraries), adding SharePoint libraries to the new sync client greatly reduces confusion for end users and complexity for administrators.

System Tray Inconsistencies

After the rollout of the original NGSC, after connecting my personal OneDrive, my OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint libraries, I would wind up with three OneDrive icons in my system tray.

The white cloud represented the sync process for my personal OneDrive, the blue cloud with the bright white border represented my OneDrive for Business, and the blue cloud with the slightly dimmer white outline (really – look at the picture) represented all the SharePoint libraries that I was synchronizing, including Group OneDrives. If I were interacting with two different Office 365 tenants as I do today, I would have five icons for everything, and while I can certainly cope with it, the inconsistencies made it rather confusing for the end user.

Adding SharePoint libraries to the modern client reduces this complexity. Now the same scenario will show two icons – one white, one blue. The white icon represents the personal account, and the blue icon includes the OneDrive for business as well as all SharePoint libraries being synced. If two tenants are being used, as in the image below, there will be two blue icons, one for each tenant. Hovering over the icon will identify the tenant in question.

The icon styles are also now more consistent, and as an added bonus, they always line up at the top of the system tray, which is a nice touch. While we still have more than “One” drive, it’s much more understandable and usable.

File Explorer Inconsistencies

The user interface insistencies extended to the File explorer integration as well. In the same scenario as above, syncing a personal OneDrive, and a OneDrive for Business with SharePoint libraries from a single Office 365 tenant, I previously wound up with three root nodes in the Windows File Explorer.

“OneDrive – Personal” was my consumer, or personal OneDrive, “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” was my OneDrive for Business storage connected to my UnlimitedViz tenant, and “SharePoint” contained all my SharePoint synced libraries. One inconsistency is the fact that the personal icon is white in the system tray but blue in the File Explorer. In an organization, people also tend to distinguish their content stored in their OneDrive from organization content by referring to it as “personal” so the use of the word “Personal” here can cause confusion here as well. Finally, the OneDrive branding is completely thrown out the door here when it comes to SharePoint libraries. Keep in mind that at the time, the only way to synchronize SharePoint libraries was with the “OneDrive for Business Sync Client”. However, the resulting node is called “SharePoint”

The latest client makes some significant improvement in this area as well.

“OneDrive – Personal” remains my personal (consumer) OneDrive. The two nodes here names “OneDrive – Serendipity” and “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” are my two OneDrive for Business locations on the two tenants named “UnlimitedViz” and Serendipity”. Finally, the two nodes “Serendipity” and “UnlimitedViz” contain all the synchronized SharePoint libraries in those two tenants. While the personal icon remains stubbornly blue, the nodes here make significantly more sense and in my opinion in least are much more intuitive.

Selective Sync for SharePoint Libraries

It almost goes without saying, but the all-or-nothing approach to the OneDrive for Business sync client (previously Groove), rendered a lot of large libraries un-syncable. By bringing SharePoint libraries into the NGSC, they too get to participate in the selective folder sync that the consumer client has had for quite some time.

Pause

The previous OneDrive for Business sync client wasn’t all bad, and the NGSC wasn’t all good when compared to each other. One very useful feature that the older client had that NGSC didn’t was the ability to pause a sync. Pausing is a relatively frequent need for various reasons, but the only way that the NGSC could be paused originally was by shutting it down. Given the time it required to start back up sometimes, this was a problem. Luckily, at some point over the past year, the NGSC picked up pausing capability, and you can now pause a sync for 2, 8 or 24 hours.

Stability and Performance

Apart from features, stability and performance is probably the most obvious area where the new client outshines its predecessor. There are countless tales of users having their work “eaten” by the older client. While this hasn’t happened to me, I can point to many times that a sync got corrupted, and the only way to fix it would be to resync the entire library. This would necessarily mean a new repository as the older client couldn’t work with pre-existing content. Having used it for several months now, I have yet to experience any issue that required the total resync of a library.

The sync performance of the new client is acceptable as well. To be sure, it could still be better. Startup times are quite long for me (keep in mind that I’m syncing quite a lot of content), and occasionally the sync process gets bogged down and needs to be restarted. However, it was good enough for me to decide to move my almost 1 TB of content back into OneDrive for Business. That very same content made the move in the other direction 2 years ago, due to performance issues.

Overall, I must say that my overall impression of the new OneDrive sync client is that it is finally ready for prime time. Shortly after the preview was announced in September, I was sufficiently impressed to move my relatively large Dropbox file system (where I had a 1 TB limit) over to OneDrive for Business (with its unlimited storage). I then heaped quite a bit more storage on top of it, and it seems to be performing well now. My main OD4B storage account is currently at 3.3 TB, and my personal OneDrive is at 600 GB. I even have several Groups set up in my Office 365 MVP tenant for managing my household and those libraries are synced by myself and my wife.

Stability is fine, and performance is good enough, apart from the occasional “looking for changes” hang-up. Its value and integration have tipped the scales in its favour, certainly with respect to Dropbox in my opinion. The Office team said they were going to fix it, and they did. Good for them.