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Azure Backup and Resource Manager Virtual Machines

 

Ask anybody in the Azure team at Microsoft and they will probably tell you that Resource Manager is the future of Microsoft’s Azure strategy. It’s much more versatile, robust and finally gives you the ability to multitask rather than waiting for one task to complete before starting another. For all its benefits though, it must be said that it is still a fairly immature system. For example, one issue we have seen during our deployments is to do with changing Availability Sets once a virtual machine (VM) is created, but that’s not what we’re focusing on today.

Microsoft recommends that all new services in Azure should be created using the Azure Resource Manager model. This is all well and good, unless you want to back these servers up using Azure Backup. In which case you will potentially have a problem.

We recently attempted to do this, running through the guide provided by Microsoft entitled: Deploy and manage backup to Azure for Windows Server/Windows Client using PowerShell. This article includes the following warning:

picture As we didn’t have a backup provider configured yet, we tried to run the command shown above, only to be told that:

register-AzureProvider : The term ‘register-AzureProvider’ is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet, function, script file, or operable program. Check the spelling of the name, or if a path was included, verify that the path is correct and try again. At line:1 char:1 + register-AzureProvider -ProviderNamespace Microsoft.DevTestLab + ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ + CategoryInfo : ObjectNotFound: (register-AzureProvider:String) [], CommandNotFoundException + FullyQualifiedErrorId : CommandNotFoundException

When researching further, we found that this cmdlet has been deprecated in Azure PowerShell v1.0. Additionally, when looking into this error, we found the following titbit of information on Microsoft’s Preparing your environment to back up Azure virtual machines page:

Backing up Azure Resource Manager-based (aka IaaS V2) virtual machines is not supported.

This small piece of text is potentially a bit of a showstopper! Luckily for us, we simply wanted to schedule a backup of the ADFS database, so to work around this we added a secondary data disk to Azure and used Windows Server Backup to take a System State backup of the Primary ADFS server. For those planning a more extensive Azure Backup Strategy, you may need to rethink your use of v2 (Resource Manager) virtual machines in the short term.

As with all things Azure, feature availability is an ever changing landscape, and we’re sure Microsoft will add support for this feature very soon.

DD, Infrastructure Team, EACS

Human error poses biggest digital threat to business according to new email security survey by EACS and Mimecast

Accidental data leaks via outgoing emails pose a higher security risk to businesses than inbound malicious attacks, announced EACS, the IT solutions and managed services provider. This is the surprising findings of a survey conducted in conjunction with Mimecast, and is now available to download in its White Paper, Email Security Trends 2015/16.

In the survey, which was conducted among a mix of large businesses and SMEs, 28% of respondents cited human error, such as sending confidential data, as being the biggest threat to corporate email security. External threats such as spear phishing and gateway attacks were considered a much lower threat, along with the risk of respondent’s partners or extended supply chains exposing corporate email vulnerabilities.

While human activity is the greatest concern, one in five of businesses surveyed were also worried about the increased use of portable devices such as smart phones and tablets on the corporate network, particularly given the increase in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) usage. Other key concerns included the use of external hardware such as USB sticks, with 17% of respondents acknowledging this as an issue and 16% concerned about spear phishing.

Orlando Scott-Cowley, Cyber Security Strategist, Mimecast, said: “People are the biggest risk factor when it comes to corporate email security and all employees have a valuable role to play in keeping an organisation’s IT system safe. Clear and effective policies and processes need to be in place to minimise this risk and it is crucial that employees understand how their actions can affect the business.

“If company guidelines are too complex, many employees will simply find their own solution, potentially opening up the organisation to attack.”

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Not surprisingly, upgrading or improving email security protection was the key priority for respondents when thinking about updating their email solutions. This was followed by the desire to reduce or control their IT costs. Other priorities included being able to provide better support for mobility and BYOD schemes as well as the ability to quickly identify and minimise the number of external attacks faster.

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Mike Dearlove, Managing Director, EACS said: “Email systems are the lifeblood of many businesses. Having effective email security in place is a critical defense barrier against hackers seeking to capture and exploit valuable corporate information and disrupt business operations. It is impossible to prevent attacks on our networks from being attempted but there are a number of systems that we can put in place which integrate seamlessly with existing packages and minimise the impact of such activity.”

EACS designs and implements solutions to deal with email management challenges for companies of all shapes and sizes whether they have local email servers, cloud- based services or hybrid systems for their email.

Survey and report methodology
The underlying data is based on the results of an online survey sent to selected EACS contacts including CIOs, IT directors and IT managers. The online survey was conducted during June-July 2015 and resulted in 65 completed surveys.

Managed Services & Service Desk Update

The last twelve months have seen the start of one of the largest internal projects undertaken by EACS’ Managed Services division. This involved the replacement of our Service Management Tool (a previous version of Microsoft CRM) with System Center Service Manager and Cireson.

The journey started when we identified that our current tool  would not be able to provide the features and functionality we needed to further develop our Service Desk and Service Management offerings.

Despite our strong skills and track record in the implementation of System Center solutions, we needed to ensure the tool we invested in truly matched our requirements.

We were clear in what we wanted our new Service Management application to do. We created a list of features and functionality needed, ranking these from essential to nice to have. The final list, which was constructed by all main stakeholders within the business, had over fifty headings to assess the suitability of prospective solutions.

The selection process was mainly conducted by our Technical Director, Service Desk Manager and Service Delivery Manager. Products that were evaluated included ConnectWise, ServiceNow and Autotask (which are all recognised and widely used tools in the industry), before we came to the decision that System Center Service Manager with Cireson (to provide a web interface) was our solution of choice.

It was agreed that the implementation must be handled with the same quality of approach as that used for our external clients, so a Project Board was commissioned and a Project Manager and System Center Technical Lead assigned.

As with all successful projects, planning was crucial. A phased approach to the deployment was adopted to ensure that following the incident and problem installation, enhanced management reporting, client portals and change management would be added.

Testing was another key ingredient before the system went live. Over three months of time was allocated to put both Service Manager and Cireson through its paces. Testing was conducted by representatives from the Service Desk including Analysts, the Service Desk Manager and Service Management. Any problems, or added development needed, were quickly fed back to the EACS’ System Center Technical Lead to address immediately, so as not to delay the go live date.

Go live was planned for 1st May and one week prior all Service Desk staff received hands on training to ensure all elements of the new tool were covered, service management processes were re-enforced and technical questions addressed.

On 1st May at 08:00 Service Manager/ Cireson was successfully launched. EACS operates a Continual Service Improvement Plan which means all stakeholders for the new tool were encouraged to make suggestions for enhancements that could either improve the efficiency of the tool or, even better, heighten the overall customer experience for Service Desk users. The plan still remains in place today and is regularly reviewed and actioned.

The initial benefit for our customers as a result of this project is the ability to view open or closed incidents and service requests online with their respective case notes and history.

System Center Service Manager with Cireson has provided EACS with a firm foundation to further enhance services and improve overall customer experience. Over the coming months the following will be implemented: the ability to log calls via a web portal, the introduction of self-help guides and the ability to report in detail on the amount of incidents logged. Now customers looking to adopt Cireson themselves  can draw upon the knowledge and experience  EACS has gained from our journey into the implementation and development of a service management tool. This is both from a technical perspective, as well as input from the operational teams involved in the deployment.

Watch the video case study

Increasing IT Efficiency and Reducing Costs at one of the UK’s Largest Housing Associations

house-webThe company: The housing association provides and manages more than 70,000 high quality, affordable properties, including sheltered housing and delivers a range of services to around 200,000 people across England.

The challenge: increasing efficiency and reducing infrastructure management costs against a framework of welfare reform and tighter budgets

IT is key to the way the association provides services to its many residents. The IT department runs around 500 Windows servers at major sites throughout the UK, supporting 3,000 end-user Windows 7 laptops. The in-house infrastructure team had both technical and business reasons for reviewing how it managed physical and virtual technology environments across multiple locations. It had been using a proprietary management and monitoring solution but “felt vulnerable”, according to the Infrastructure Team Leader.

He explains: “The software we used had changed ownership and was maintained by an external contractor, as we had no in-house skills to support it – making it an expensive resource. Although it had served us well, it couldn’t provide the flexibility or levels of granularity we now needed to meet our long term strategic technology roadmap. We also wanted to extend the solution beyond monitoring and automate basic remediation tasks so that we could reduce our support costs even further.”

There were also compelling business reasons for IT change. Welfare reform has put enormous new pressures on providers of social housing. Instead of receiving a single monthly payment from local authorities, they now have to collect rent directly from each household. As a result they have had to develop new business processes and deploy new systems, leading to escalating support costs. Meanwhile, revenue has taken a major hit, as housing associations now have to bear the brunt of any rent evasion.

The new business processes have significantly increased the workload of IT staff, and so the association needed a modern, integrated and automated infrastructure management solution to reduce the workload and help to offset these new costs.

The solution: Microsoft System Center implemented by EACS to provide integrated monitoring and management

As the housing association was very much a Microsoft house, Microsoft System Center was an obvious contender. However, the team needed to be sure that this would provide a truly integrated monitoring solution, offering both the basic remediation procedures it needed and the flexibility to support any sudden growth through possible acquisitions in the future, which would require the rapid deployment of additional equipment.

“It was vitally important that the technology we chose should not hinder our plans for business growth,” explains the team leader. “We wanted external confirmation that System Center would accommodate all our requirements, right through to our future use of the cloud, whatever route that might take.

“Microsoft recommended partnering with EACS as they were specialists in delivering their private cloud solutions. A number of my colleagues had already worked with EACS on other projects, so our expectations were high. I’m delighted to say that these expectations were fully met.”

EACS began with a series of high level overviews to ensure that, in essence, System Center ticked all the housing association’s boxes. Next came more detailed workshops, looking at how the association could utilise each component with its bespoke elements.

Once the association had confirmed that System Center was the product it wanted, EACS engaged a project manager to create the Project Initiation Document, which provided details of and a timeline for each phase of the implementation. An EACS consultant worked on-site during each phase, carrying out the configuration and providing documentation and training. They repeated the process in a very controlled, structured, organised way for each phase of the project.

“This worked remarkably well, and everything was delivered within the agreed timescales,” the team leader explains. “The team at EACS understood the special demands of the social housing environment, as well as our technical environment. We were so impressed with their delivery methodology that we have subsequently engaged them on other high profile projects.”

The outcome: improved management and time freed up for more productive tasks. Both end users and staff are happier

The housing association now uses the full suite of Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 components – Configuration Manager, Operations Manager,  Service Manager, Orchestrator and Virtual Machine Manager – with the exception of Server Manager, which  will follow later.

The team leader sums up: “System Center provides a more closely controlled infrastructure with tighter security, meaningful alerts, a considerable degree of automated remediation and fewer outages – all from a very user-friendly management console.

“We had anticipated that automation would free up valuable staff to spend time on more productive tasks. This has proved to be the case and, as a bonus, the tasks that have been eliminated were amongst the most frustrating. This has meant happier end-users and happier IT support staff.”

The solution is flexible and will support the housing association’s future growth. It also puts in place the foundation for Microsoft’s private cloud in the future and acts as a stepping stone towards the association’s longer term cloud computing goals.

Managed Services: Microsoft System Center

Today’s IT landscape is changing. Cloud adoption is accelerating across all use cases. The IT management team therefore requires Unified Management across hybrid cloud, on premise and mobile environments. Microsoft System Center allows customers to realise the benefits of Microsoft Cloud Platforms whilst allowing the monitoring, configuration and protection of traditional on premise IT.

This broad suite of tools covering many technologies brings additional resource challenges to most organisations. Whilst end user support personnel are usually multi skilled, 3rd line engineers and consultants tend to specialise in certain technologies. Few have in-depth skills in areas such as desktops, storage, networking, backup, service desk processes, automation, cloud migration and cloud performance monitoring.

By allowing EACS to provide support services, System Center can be used for its intended purpose, monitoring, automating and protection, without the requirement to recruit either high value individuals or multiple specialists for occasional support incidents. Your IT resources can focus on their core strengths and delivering a reliable and well managed IT service without the worry or distraction associated with a poor performing unified management platform.

Support options

EACS has developed a portfolio of Managed Services for System Center.  Services range from a remote telephone support service to a fully managed service. We will ensure that your Microsoft System Center implementation is performing optimally whether on premise, remotely hosted, or utilising private or public cloud.