Tag Archives: Azure

Ignite 2018 – The conference starts

I’ve been at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando from Sunday September 23 until Friday September 28. It’s been some time since I’ve visited a Microsoft conference, I think the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Austin, TX in early 2013. Also I did some TechEd events, both as speaker as well as attendee but that’s also a long time ago. And what’s the best way to get up-to-speed with Microsoft vision, strategy and new products? Yes, Ignite…. So off to Orlando 😊

Ignite is an annual event held in the US, and it’s big. This year approx. 30,000 attendees from 5,000 organizations worldwide. That’s a reasonable sized city walking around in a conference center, and it’s pretty impressive to see all this.

Ignite2018-1

Ignite starts with keynote sessions. The opening keynote is also a vision keynote, delivered by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. It should not be a surprise, but it’s all about the cloud at such a keynote, “intelligent cloud”  and “intelligent edge”, how the various applications and services can use this, for the benefit of the user. Data in the cloud, software in the cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), all services, organization and users benefit from this.

AI and ML sound scary, especially if you are a fan of science fiction movies where computers take over, but there are better solution. For example, in Exchange Online Protection Microsoft is receiving billion and billion of messages. Al these servers send out all kinds of monitoring information, and this is analyzed using AI and ML. Based on this, it is possible to predict certain actions, and take pro-active measures. The same happens in Azure Active Directory. It is now possible to check where logins are coming from, what kind of attacks are happening or if an attack is going to happen. You can use this yourself, and by doing so create a safer environment for you Azure and Office usage.

That’s what you see in a lot of sessions here at Ignite, security, security and security. Oh, did I already mention security? And be honest, Microsoft has to, don’t they? If Office 365 or Azure is massively compromised, it will take out customers’ trust and potentially lose business….

Another area where you can see the influence of the cloud is in desktop application. Microsoft Search is completely rewritten, and will now deliver a consistent search and search result throughout all application, where you are working in Outlook on the Web, PowerPoint, Windows 10 or Outlook, it will all give consistent results. Related to this in Microsoft Office is ‘ideas’. When working in PowerPoint on a presentation, you can use ‘ideas’ to enhance your presentation. A demo was given in PowerPoint with a list of bullets with several countries. Using ‘ideas’ it is possible to add information regarding these countries, and this information is retrieved from Microsoft Search. Also information regarding people in Outlook, where additional information can be retrieved from LinkedIn. Very useful usage of cloud technology in day to day applications.

Technical keynotes are more like what the various applications and services are doing and how these can take advantage of the cloud. I’m more in the Workplace and Microsoft 365 arena, so two keynotes about transforming your workplace to Microsoft 365 and transforming collaboration and communications with Microsoft 365. Amazing to see how Microsoft Teams is taking a big role these days. In the Microsoft cloud, Microsoft Teams will take over from Skype for Business Online. Starting October 1st, new smaller tenants will not get Skype for Business Online, but only Microsoft Teams. Skype for Business Online will continue to be available for existing tenants, but customers are encouraged to move from Skype for Business Online to Microsoft Teams.

You might have seen the following PowerPoint slide before, it’s about the Microsoft teamwork vision, the Inner Loop with people you work with often and the Outer Look with people you with cross organizations.

teamwork

For the Outlook Loop Yammer is still being used, and I’m a bit surprised with that. Personally I expected Yammer to go away now that Microsoft Teams is around. And there’s still development going on, there’s a Yammer tab in Teams, and also integration of various Office 365 services like Planner or Streams or getting into Yammer.

Also the new Virtual Desktop was showed, where a Windows 10 desktop is hosted in Microsoft Azure, available anytime and for any device, and deployed in a couple of minutes. Oh, and autopilot, where a desktop is automatically installed with Windows 10 from Microsoft 365, Office Click-2-Run and your (personal) data in OneDrive for Business. Very impressive and you’ll see more of this popping up in (larger) organizations the upcoming years.

More information regarding the technical sessions are to follow soon. After all, I’m a technical consultant and hope to get a lot of technical information here at Ignite. Stay tuned….

Exchange 2016 Database Availability Group and Cloud Witness

When implementing a Database Availability Group (in Exchange 2010 and higher) you need a File Share Witness (FSW). This FSW is located on a Witness Server which can be any domain joined server in your internal network, as long as it is running a supported Operating System. It can be another Exchange server, as long as the Witness Server is not a member of the DAG you are deploying.

A long time ago (I don’t recall exactly, but it could well be around Exchange 2013 SP1) Microsoft started to support using Azure for hosting the Witness server. In this scenario you would host a Virtual Machine in Azure. This VM is a domain joined VM, for which you most likely also host a Domain Controller in Azure, and for connectivity you would need a site-2-site VPN connection to Azure. Not only from your primary datacenter, but also from your secondary datacenter, i.e. a multi-site VPN Connection, as shown in the following picture:

image

While this is possible and fully supported, it is costly adventure, and personally I haven’t seen any of my customers deploy it yet (although my customers are still interested).

Windows 2016 Cloud Witness

In Windows 2016 the concept of ‘Cloud Witness’ was introduced. The Cloud Witness concept is the same as the Witness server, but instead of using a file share it is using Azure Blob Storage for read/write purposes, which is used as an arbitration point in case of a split-brain situation.

The advantages are obvious:

  • No need for a 3rd datacenter hosting your Witness server.
  • No need for an expensive VM in Azure hosting you Witness server.
  • Using standard Azure Blob Storage (thus cheap).
  • Same Azure Storage Account can be used for multiple clusters.
  • Built-in Cloud Witness resource type (in Windows 2016 of course).

Looking at all this it seems like a good idea to use the Cloud Witness when deploying Windows 2016 failover clusters, or when deploying a Database Availability Group when running Exchange 2016 on Windows 2016.

Unfortunately, this is not a supported scenario at this point. All information you find on the Internet is most likely not officially published by the Microsoft Exchange team. If at one point the Cloud Witness becomes a supported solution for Exchange 2016, you can find it on the Exchange blog. When this happens, I’ll update this page as well.

More information

Using a Microsoft Azure VM as a DAG witness server – https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn903504(v=exchg.160).aspx

Azure AD Connect Pass-Through Authentication

At Ignite 2017 it was announced that Pass Through Authentication (PTA) has reached General Availability (GA) so it is a fully supported scenario now.

But what is PTA? If Office 365 there are Cloud Identities, Synced Identities and Federated Identities. The first two are authenticated in Azure Active Directory, the last one is authenticated against on-premises Domain Controllers. For this to happen you need an ADFS infrastructure, consisting of multiple internal ADFS servers and multiple WAP (Windows Application Proxy) servers in the DMZ acting as ADFS proxies. Oh, and all servers need to be load balanced as well to provide redundancy and scalability.

PTA on the other hand is built on top of Azure AD Connect, and as such an interesting extension of the Synced Identities. PTA installs an agent on the Azure AD Connect server (AuthN agent) which accepts authentication requests from Azure AD and sends these to on-premises Domain Controllers. The advantage of authentication against on-premises Domain Controllers is that no passwords (or password hashes to be more precise) are stored in Azure Active Directory.

My first thought was how an authentication mechanism based on an asynchronous replication tool (Azure AD Connect synchronizes accounts every 30 minutes, and passwords within 2 minutes) ever be a reliable and safe solution. The last thing you want to happen is that you cannot authenticate to any service in the Microsoft cloud, because your Azure AD Connect server is busy doing other stuff (like automatically updating its engine for example ).

My second thought was how secure this could be. There’s no inbound connection to the Azure AD Connect server, there’s only an outbound connection on ports 80 (only used for SSL certificate revocation lists) and 443. And the communication itself should be secured as well, so…. But now that PTA is generally available more information becomes available, and things become clearer.

Authentication flow

For authentication to happen PTA uses a ‘service bus’ in Azure. The service bus is a standard Azure solution where application can store system messages in the service bus and where other applications can use these system messages. Using a service bus, you can create an asynchronous but reliable communication mechanism.

When logging to an Office 365 service the credentials are requested by Azure Active Directory, nothing new here. The credentials are encrypted and stored in the service bus. The AuthN agent on the Azure AD Connect server has a persistent connection to Azure AD and to the service bus, and retrieves the encrypted credentials from the service bus, decrypts them and presents them to the on-premises Domain Controller. The Domain Controller response (success, failure, password expired or user locked out) is returned to the AuthN agent and stored it on the service bus. Azure AD picks up this response and the user can continue working (or not of course, depending on the Domain Controller response).

image

Continue reading Azure AD Connect Pass-Through Authentication

Upgrade to Azure Active Directory Premium

Recently I was working with a customer who wanted to move from Exchange 2010 on-premises to Exchange Online. This customer had a lot of Mac clients (both internally and externally). Since Mac clients are not a member of the Active Directory domain I asked how these users changed their Domain password. “Using OWA” was the answer, which makes sense.

This poses a problem in Office 365, since the change password feature is not available in Exchange Online (nor in Exchange 2013/2016 on premises BTW). I have to admit, you can change a password in the Microsoft Online Portal, but this only works when using Cloud Identities, and not when you’re synchronizing user account with their password from an on-premises Active Directory.

One nice feature in Office 365, or more specifically in Azure Active Directory is the option to implement Password writeback. This way users can change their password in Office 365, and the new password will be synchronized to your on-premises Active Directory. This is not only very interesting for customers using Mac clients, but also for customer that have (a lot of) users working remotely, without direct access to on-premises Active Directory.

Activating password writeback consists of two steps:

  • Implementing self-service password reset in Office 365.
  • Implementing password writeback.

To enable the self-service password reset functionality you need an Azure AD Basic or Azure AD Premium subscription. An overview of Azure AD options is available on the Azure Active Directory Pricing page. Continue reading Upgrade to Azure Active Directory Premium

Password never expire in Office 365

When creating user accounts and Mailboxes in Office 365 the default Microsoft password policy is applied, which means you have to change your password every 90 days.

While it is a best practice to change your password on a regular basis not every customer is too happy with this. I can think of one exception and that’s a service account, this makes sense to have the password set to never expire.

To change this option for user accounts in Office 365 you have to use the Windows Azure Active Directory PowerShell module to connect to Office 365 using the following commands:

$msolcred = get-credential

connect-msolservice -credential $msolcred

Continue reading Password never expire in Office 365