My 5 years as a Microsoft MVP

This week I was delighted to be re-awarded as a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for the 5th year running, but what does it mean and why am so thrilled to be rewarded?

What are MVPs?

Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are “technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community”. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. MVPs have deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs make up a global community of over 4,000 technical experts and community leaders across 90 countries/regions and are driven by their passion, community spirit, and quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to this, part of the “role” of the MVPs is our passion and desire to help others. For Microsoft, this is what sets MVPs apart, through formal product feedback, community events, forums, blogs, reviews etc and of course through social channels our mission is to drive awareness, adoption, constructive feedback, ideas and suggestions to help continually improve Microsoft products and services.

What is the MVP Award?

For more than two decades, the Microsoft MVP Award has been Microsofts’ way of saying thank you to community leaders within in their MVP catagory. The contributions MVPs make to the community, ranging from speaking engagements, to social media posts, to writing books, to helping others in online communities, have incredible impact.

As MVPs, we receive a number of technical benefits from Microsoft to help be the best at supporting our passion for technology and innovation. Key benefits to MVPs include early access to Microsoft products, direct communication channels with our product teams and an invitation to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive annual event hosted in our global HQ in Redmond. They also have a very close relationship with the local Microsoft teams in their area, who are there to support and empower MVPs to address needs and opportunities in the local ecosystem. Other benefits include an executive recognition letter, a Visual Studio technical subscription, and an Office 365 subscription.

The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional

The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award recognises people who are passionate about Windows and are positive Windows advocates within their communities. Like other MVPs, we can be found across the globe and are driven by a passion for flighting Insider Preview builds and filing feedback to help improve the current and future generations of Windows, contributing to the technical community through forums, chats with the Windows product team and creating how-to content with the goal of helping others achieve more and making Windows the OS of choice for every person and every organisation.

I have been a Windows Insider for 11 years and seen the development and evolution of Windows 10 and Windows 11 and Windows Insiders are now looking at what comes next after the current release (Windows 11 22H2) release. As new devices and new form factors are being tested, I’m excited by what 2023 and beyond will bring to Windows.

Can I nominate someone to be an MVP?

You can!

If you know someone who is outstanding and passionate around Microsoft technology and think they should be recognised as an MVP, you can nominate them (or yourself) here: https://mvp.microsoft.com/en-us/Nomination/nominate-an-mvp

What I plan to do more of in 2023

As I look forward to 2023, the main topics of interest, content and testing for me that I will explore, showcase and blog will include:

  • Continuing to test, drive and promote some of the awesome accessibly features that span across the Windows 11 OS
  • Tracking and reporting on Windows Insider and production releases, updates, issues and fixes for Windows 11 and Windows vNext
  • Evalusations and reviews of the latest Microsoft hardware such as the Surface devices, accessiblity devices and peripherals building for Windows 11 and Windows 365
  • Dive deeper into Security features across Windows consumer, professional and enterprise editions and into the realms of Windows 365 (Cloud PC) and Microsoft 365
  • Report on my other observations and ruminations on Windows technology, changes and developments and do my best to respond to comments or asks from the community,
  • Increase my contributions to the windows communities and in-person events.

Find out more about the Windows Insider Program

To find out more about the Windows Insider Program and to get involved, visit the following pages.

Microsoft increase Cloud Services pricing inline with Global Pricing and FX

April 23 Price Increase

In what Microsoft call “price harmonisation”, it has been confirmed that Microsoft will be aligning the pricing of their Cloud products and services (for example Microsoft 365) by introducing consistent global pricing for its services across the globe. For many regions, such as the UK and EU, this means price rises as the dollar has continued to fall in recent years again the Euro and Pound.

What and why are prices changing?

Microsoft are aligning costs (like they do today with Azure) to US dollar FX rates which means that customers will have consistent pricing reflected by the exchange rate of the local currency to the US dollar (USD), which is reviewed twice a year.

While a price increase is never well received, it is worth noting that this latest increase relates to their commercial cloud products such as Microsoft 365. Azure is already priced by on regional FX rates and is not affected by this announcement. Microsoft are simply aligning their commercial pricing in line with their competition and their other cloud services.

Countries that use the Great British Pound (GBP), the Danish Krone (DKK), the Euro (EUR), the Norwegian Krone (NOK), and the Swedish Krona (SEK) will all see a price increase from April 1, 2023.

“In the future, Microsoft will assess pricing in local currency as part of a regular twice-a-year cadence, taking into consideration currency fluctuations relative to the USD.

This will provide increased transparency and predictability for customers globally and move to a pricing model that is most common in our industry.

The Microsoft Cloud continues to be priced competitively, and Microsoft remains deeply committed to the success of its customers and partners.”

Microsoft

How much are prices increasing by?

Microsoft has confirmed that the price increase for the following currencies will be:

  • GBP: +9%
  • DKK, EUR and NOK: +11%
  • SEK: +15%

Microsoft have said they are committed to continuing to invest in their cloud services to “enable customers to innovate, consolidate and eliminate operating costs”.

Thoughts and Actions

While a price increase is never well received, it is worth noting that this latest increase relates to their commercial cloud products such as Microsoft 365. Azure is already priced by on regional FX rates and is not affected by this announcement. Microsoft are simply aligning their commercial pricing in line with their competition and their other cloud services.

This therefore represents a good time for organisations to do some “house keeping” to keep licenses and costs in check. For example:

  • Check 3rd party duplicate products you can displace (and use the services included in your Microsoft 365 subscription)
  • Check if you need the tier of license you are using. Would Microsoft 365 E3 deliver what you need? Do you need the same licenses for everyone?
  • Ensure you leverage Fast Track services or your partner to help you adopt and get best value of your investment in Microsoft Cloud
  • Speak to your licensing provider or Cloud Solution Provider to ensure you get the best commercial costs

Windows 365 now supports Azure AD SSO

Windows 365 now supports (Dec 2022) the creating of Azure AD Cloud PCs that use single sign-on. Previously this required a dual-sign in step.

This is a big improvement, and now means users only have to logon once to the Windows 365 Cloud PC app – from here on in, their CloudPC desktops will seamlessly sign-in (subject to any specific conditional access polices you may have applied of course.) It even works with passwordless sign-on . You can see the user experience below.

Windows 365 Cloud PC SSO Demo

Enabling the SSO setting

To enable SSO, administrators can update their existing Cloud PC provisioning profiles or create new Cloud PC policy with the “single sign on” setting enabled.

Enabling SSO for Windows 365 Cloud PC

Note: Existing Cloud PCs will not automatically support SSO – these will need to be re-provisioned, which can be done from the device pane in endpoint manager as show below.

Reprovision a Windows 365 Cloud PC

Read more from Microsoft

What’s new in Windows 365 Enterprise | Microsoft Learn

Why Cisco’s new Solution Specialisations are great for Cisco, their partners, and their customers

As tech vendors continue to modernise and revamp their partner programmes to better align with the pace of technology, changing needs of their customers, demands around hybrid work and the continual digital transformation acceleration, Cisco have recently added six new solution specialisations which aim to further build and support their partner competitiveness as well as recognise and reward partners with specific expertise and capability.

Image (c) Cisco

The six new specialisations are tied to Cisco customer priorities and represent fast-growing market opportunities for Cisco and its partners in areas where Cisco has been investing and innovating. These are heavily focussed around Hybrid Cloud and Hybrid Work and the solutions that enable these.

Cisco’s Solution Specialisations

The new solution specialisations are one of the four categories of partner specialisations available to qualified Cisco partners, like Cisilion to demonstrate their expertise to customers, including:

  • Architecture specialisations: demonstrate product expertise in specific technology areas.
  • Solution specialisations: demonstrate that a partner excels at delivering value with Cisco solutions, including cross-architectural offers prioritized by customers.
  • Cisco Powered Service specialisations: convey partner proficiency in delivering managed services and as-a-service offers.
  • Business specialisations: focused on horizontal business practices that are essential to supporting customers’ business goals.

Partners that achieve solution specialisations are recognised and rewarded based on the value delivered to customers. The requirements for each specialisation are tied to knowledge and experience, allowing partners to capitalize on their existing investments with Cisco.

The relevance of the new Solution Specialisations

Cisco say their solution specialisations are designed to “showcase partner value to customers and represent the type of solutions partners are selling today“. These specialisations (which are not simple to earn and retain), reflect how Cisco partners, like Cisilion, are using cross-architectural solutions to solve their customers’ biggest challenges (such as how to address the challenges or hybrid work) rather than just simply selling and deploying technology products. Cisco say that “the specialisations are awarded to partners that can demonstrate how they are working collaboratively with Cisco to help solve customer challenges such as balancing an organisation’s security needs with the flexibility employees want, providing the best digital experience or consistently delivering a secure user experience from anywhere.

Specialisation is ranked number one as the initial critical partner selection criterion for 74 percent of customers. By tying solution specialisations to customer buying criteria, Cisco makes it easier for customers to identify which partners to work with.

Techaisle Take: Cisco Partner Program

The six new solution specialisations

  • Full-stack Observability (FSO): Which highlights partners expertise in centralising and correlating application performance analytics across the full IT stack. This includes integrations across Cisco’s AppDynamics, Thousand Eyes, Intersight, and Secure Application. Partners with this specialisation can demonstrates expertise in prioritising actions to deliver superior customer experiences, drive revenue streams, and accelerate digital transformation for their customers.
  • Hybrid Work from Office: Which recognises partners for their skills and experience helping customers evolve traditional on-site and off-site work models, with solutions that power hybrid work, enabling people to work safely and securely from home, the office, and anywhere in between on any given day or time.
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE): Which highlights partners’ ability to help their customers to securely enable the growing universe of roaming users, devices, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps without adding complexity or reducing end-user performance.
  • Hybrid Cloud Computing: Showcases partners that provide customers with simple, secure hybrid cloud computing experiences at home, in the office, or anywhere.
  • Hybrid Cloud Networking: Recognises partners that securely and efficiently connect and manage customers’ data, workloads, and applications across data centres, edge, and multiple clouds.
  • Hybrid Cloud Software: Demonstrates expertise in managing operational complexity by helping customers streamline and unify IT operations with secure, hybrid cloud management software.

Benefits for Customers and Partners

The main benefit is that this approach takes away from an old-skool technology/product sell that was all about speeds, feeds, features, and cost, and instead encourages partners to have more meaningful “outcome-based conversation“. Cisco say this should help partners do what they do best – having a more “unified solution strategy” conversation with customers where technologies integrate and work together to provide solutions that are better than the sum of the parts.

Examples of this include the alignment between Cisco’s Webex video, calling and meeting services, the network infrastructure layer, the edge, and the Internet with integrated full stack visibility across these layers to ensure the best user experience whilst simplifying IT operations through management and support.

Cisco Desk Camera 4K – hands-on review.

Cisco’s Desk Camera 4K camera is small, powerful and full of AI features (if you use Cisco Webex) and is also now officially certified for Microsoft Teams.

Cisco is no stranger to making high quality audio and video devices for video conferencing on their Webex platform – but with their partnership with Microsoft around building devices “made” or “certified” for Microsoft Teams a bunch of premium devices now have another route to market.

I’m lucky to have both the new Cisco Desk Camera 4K and Cisco WS-720 series headset which has recently been certified for Teams and even has the Microsoft Teams “button” on the earcup. The Cisco Webex variant has a Webex button.

This is a review of the Cisco Desk Camera 4K.

Cisco Desk Camera 4K

Cisco Webex Desk Camera 4K

The Cisco Desk Camera 4K, is a premium USB web camera for video conferencing, video streaming, and video recording. The camera provides up to 4K Ultra HD at 60 FFS video and features high-definition audio along with dual microphone for great audio pick-up on all your video meetings or streaming and is certified for Cisco Webex and also Microsoft Teams.

The HD camera comes with a range of features to make meetings from anywhere feel more professional and well-managed, including autofocus, low light management, and a custom field of view to suit your office demands. The system also works seamlessly with the Cisco Webex collaboration environment as well as now Microsoft Teams though there isn’t really anything it does in Teams that any high-quality webcam can’t do.

This is a high quality, premium device – features include:

  • 4K Ultra HD camera quality (Windows Hello®️ Certified)
  • Two built-in microphones 
  • Support for 30FFS and 60 FPS  
  • 13MP image sensor 
  • Automatic focus adjustment 
  • Adjustable field of view 
  • Multiple pre-sets (controlled via Cisco Desk Camera App)
  • Built-in background noise reduction 
  • Physical Privacy shutter 
  • Digital zoom and correction controls  
  • USB plug-and-play functionality 
  • Clip mounting for easy setup 
  • Cisco Webex Certified
  • Microsoft Teams Certified

Whilst certified for Webex and Microsoft Teams, the Desk Camera can of course be used with any video conferencing aps or streaming services and works nicely as on Xbox! The fast autofocus, face detection (where supported by the apps) and 10x digital zoom really help to enhance the video experience for your remote attendees.

Getting set up

To get started on Windows devices, set-up is as simple as plugging it via USB-C or USB-A with the supplied cables (Cisco provide both in the box for good measure).

The camera itself has an adjustable clip with a tripod screw thread offers mounting flexibility on a laptop, an external display, a tripod, or a desk stand in various open office spaces, huddle rooms, and home offices.

It is a shame there is no carry pouch for the camera though to stop it getting dirty or scratch when travelling. 

To customise and configure the device beyond the factory standards, you need to install the Cisco Desk Camera app.

Install the Webex Desk Camera App

The Cisco Webex Desk Camera App provides a host of controls to change all aspects of the device as well as manage firmware updates, which mine was eager to update once connecting to the software. You don’t need to install it to use the camera, but it if you want to change the settings and manage the hardware then you need to!

Within the app it is possible to camera, image and microphone settings such as camera zoom levels (and pre-sets), field of view, auto focus settings and even framerate and resolution.

The Cisco Desk Camera app works with the camera and allows you to record videos, take snapshots, customise the camera settings, and upgrade the firmware.

Using Desk Camera 4K within Teams meetings

As expected, the quality and sharpness of both audio and video within Teams was good. to evaluate this of course I had to seek feedback from remote colleagues which was positive. By that, my video image was clear and sharp – even when sat across the other side of the room with the camera zoomed in. Even 3m away from the camera (which I wouldn’t do when working at home), video and audio pick up was good. It is nice to have such high-quality mics in a webcam – great if you have a more “budget” laptop without premium mics.

Despite the camera supporting 4K, most video meetings services (including Microsoft Teams) only support 1080p. To test the video quality, I move to the back of my office and zoomed the camera in (around 3m). The image quality was pretty good (seeing as this isn’t a room camera. Unfortunately, Microsoft Teams itself doesn’t currently have people tracking or auto-zoom so I had to manually zoom the camera using the Desk Camera app.

You can see the video quality at both close and zoomed in the images below from a Microsoft Teams call.

Using Desk Camera 4K within Webex

The Desk Camera 4K really comes to life in Cisco Webex. Webex provides full access to device controls and settings directly via the app (as well of course within the Camera app). Within Webex, you get access to various settings from within the app.

Webex Video Controls (in app).

Device Management

Cisco have ensured that managing an army of Cisco desk cameras is simple, with integrations with the Webex Control Hub which allows for easier remote management. Today, no such controls exist within the Microsoft Teams Admin console for managing Teams webcams – though I have not tried adding the camera to a Teams MTR to see what I can do here.

The Microsoft Teams client offers limited controls over camera features and settings other than the ability to change basic controls – for everything else, you need to use the Webex Desk Pro camera app.

Webex on the other hand, provides more controls for their intelligent hardware. It will be interesting to see if some of this makes its way into Microsoft Teams since a large part of the partnership between Cisco and Microsoft is also around sharing best practice across the leading eco systems. Cisco also allow you to access advanced camera controls directly from the Webex app meetings app – which is really useful.

Verdict: Why buy the Cisco Webex Desk Camera? 

With the many different options available out there for professional webcams then the Cisco Desk Camera 4K is definitely one to consider. This is no is a state-of-the-art webcam solution created for business users (or serious vloggers) who want to ensure they have the best possible video quality in meetings or when streaming video. The Desk Camera 4K is really small and compact too so easy to mount on your home monitor or perch over your laptop lid if you need to. It also supports up to 60 frames per second.

As a USB powered device, this camera is ideal for hybrid work (if you have a cheaper laptop with poor webcam). Whilst certified for Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, it can of course be used with video conferencing or streaming tool (as long as it’s supported by the OS).

The camera also supports Windows Hello®️ for business for passwordless and secure sign-on for Windows 10 and Windows 11.

When used with Cisco Webex, you also get access to smart AI enhancements such as facial recognition, tracking, auto adjustment, and more – so if you are a serious Webex user, this is definitely a webcam you want to test out.   

This isn’t your everyday webcam.  

Microsoft may have a solution to solve the Hybrid Hangover

The cost of real estate for business is the second largest recurring cost item (first is people) and can often be more than 20% of annual costs. Since even before the pandemic, though fueled hugely because of hybrid work practices, organisations are looking for ways to be smarter with this space and better understand, plan, and manage these expensive costs.

As we talk about ways to optimise cost within an organisation, we often think about cost optimisation with regards to cloud spend, consolidating vendors, smarter hiring and moving more power hungry, space consuming data centres to cloud.

Announced at this year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference, Microsoft Places could be the redeeming feature large organisations need to help optimise their office real estate both now and for years to come.

What is Microsoft Places?

Hybrid work promises us the best of all worlds. The ease and comfort of working from home, the connection and energy of engaging with our coworkers in the office, and the flexibility and opportunity of working where we want. But today, there are still challenges preventing this promise from becoming a reality.

Microsoft Places is a new (coming in 2023) connected workplace platform that promises to deliver on the promise of blending the best of hybrid and in-person work. Microsoft places is a new platform (yes, platform not product), that will deliver solutions that help organisations coordinate where work happens, modernise the office with intelligent technology, and optimise the workplace for the continuing ever-changing needs.

Microsoft Places – Video: Microsoft

I said before, Microsoft Places is not a product – it’s a suite of products and services which will slowly embed themselves across the wider Microsoft 365 services like Team and Outlook which is where people spend their time. In short this is all about making the office space are more responsive to everyone’s needs.

Image: (c) Microsoft

Microsoft Places, aims to intelligently leverage signals, data and building systems to provide a truly connected workspace experience, bringing the best employee experience, through a single, unified platform which builds upon the building and technology infrastructure to create an environment which can adapt to serve the unique and changing needs of hybrid work and allows leaders and facilities management to better plan and manage their real estate.

The key services will include:

  • Hybrid scheduling – which will leverage common data signals from Outlook and Teams to allow employees to view their week(s) ahead and see when co-workers and others you need to work or collaborate with are planning to be in the office.
  • Intelligent booking for meetings – will help employees discover available spaces with the right technology to match your meeting purpose and mix of in-person or remote participants. This will also feature recommendations for the shortest commute times, along with prompts that provide guidance on when to leave the office for next meeting and ensuring you don’t get booked back-to-back when you have in person meetings to travel to.
  • Wayfinding – will help employees quickly find the right meeting room, which is key for larger organisations with many locations, buildings, and rooms. Employees will be able to see live interactive maps from their mobile device that guides them to the to the right location.
  • Hot desk booking – will mean that employees can see choose where to sit and reserve desks or rooms accordingly. Updates to Microsoft Teams Rooms will bring more inclusive features for hybrid meetings such as auto-framing, content capture and more.
  • Meet-ups – will allow employees to easily create impromptu meetups and share with others in the office.
Mock-up of Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

Insights and Data for Leaders

Since all this will leverage the wider Microsoft 365 suite and power of the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Places will provide a plethora of data driven insights such as utilisation data, energy-saving opportunities, and occupancy trends to better manage the physical space.

This data will help leaders and facilities management make any necessary dynamic space adjustments on a particular day or week such as changing excess huddle rooms to overbooked collaboration rooms or converting meeting rooms into more hot desking areas.

Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

This data will provide not only trends and usage data but will also allow organisations to better prepare, plan and optimise the real estate they have available and how it’s used to maximum potential. This may include reducing available floors on lighter foot fall days – saving energy expenditures and improving the workplace experience for everyone as well as working with managers and team leaders to better understand office trends around people, and spaces and places across their entire portfolio, creating more flexible, dynamic, and sustainable places that support new ways of working.

Working with Connected Spaces Partners

Since the building fabric, sensors and existing management platforms are critical to the success of a modern intelligent building, Microsoft have partnered with many industry and technology partners. This ecosystem of partners will build on top of the Microsoft Places platform with new and existing solutions, leveraging, and enhancing the rich data of the Microsoft Graph.

The list of partners (which will grow closer to release) include.

  • Accenture
  • Appspace
  • CBRE
  • Cisco (coming soon with DNA Spaces)
  • Conseco
  • EY
  • Honeywell
  • Johnson Controls
  • Swift Connect and
  • Many more

Availability

Microsoft say that Places will enter preview in early 2023 with general availability later next year. Microsoft will release more information on this over the next couple of months.

The latest partnership between Cisco and Microsoft is the most significant breakthrough in video conferencing interoperability we seen yet.

Overview

Don’t underestimate this announcement. This news is huge in the world of collaboration. Cisco and Microsoft have always been competitors in this space.

For years, customers have been asking for a simpler way to achieve interoperability between Cisco and Microsoft Teams Rooms. At Microsoft’s global tech conference, Ignite last week, their asks may have been answered, giving customers the option to run Microsoft Teams by default on Cisco Room and Desk devices.

Cisco Rooms Powered by Microsoft Teams

Cisco acquired Webex back in 2007 for around $3.2 billion and used their leadership in unified comms to build out a world leading collaboration and conferencing platform. Webex competes with other collab giants including Zoom and of course, Microsoft Teams. This is not simply a “if you can’t beat em join em” thing though – there are some huge benefits to Cisco’s existing customers as well as to Microsoft and Cisco and their partners.

Cisco has been an innovative leader in the collaboration devices category for over two decades and their collaboration products have always been in high demand due to their design, reliability, and security. Cisco Devices for Microsoft Teams will help any organisation considering implementing Microsoft Teams Rooms or those looking to move from Cisco Webex Meetings and Meeting Rooms to Microsoft Teams as their default collaboration and meeting platform, since they will now be able to leverage much of their existing Cisco Devices in the process.

The Teams experience you know, on Cisco collaboration devices you’ll love.

Cisco .

In short, Microsoft Teams certified devices from Cisco promise to unlock greater flexibility and improved experiences for business, IT and employees.

Why this is good for Customers

We see these three key advantages of this newly released partnership for existing and new Cisco customers:

1. Cost Efficiency and Choice

By retaining and re using the investment in Cisco Video Conferencing technology which powers their Webex Meeting experiences today, organisations moving to Microsoft Teams can achieve significant cost savings, not to mention time and effort, from not having to purchase, implement, fit out and deploy new devices.

Organisations that have already got an investment in Cisco Room Devices that will support Microsoft Teams Rooms, will receive a firmware update as part of the update schedule. Once deployed, IT will be able to factory reset the device and choose between the full Cisco RoomOS experience or tailor the software for Microsoft Teams Rooms.

Cisco Devices certified for Microsoft Teams | image (c) Cisco

This provides greater choice both now and in the future as organisations will be able to choose the primary meeting platform that meets the needs of their business without having to rip-and-replace the hardware.

Initially, six of Cisco’s most popular meeting room devices and peripherals will be certified for Microsoft Teams, with more are expected to come later in 2023. The initial wave of devices to be supported are:

(c) Cisco – Schedule teams Room Support for Cisco Devices

2. Simplified and familiar management

One of the biggest headaches when moving to a different eco system and vendor is around how IT provisions, configures and manages meeting room devices.

Managing Teams Room devices is critical to scale. With the Cisco MTR solution, organisations will get all the benefits of Teams Admin Centre (subject to whether they are leveraging Teams Rooms Basic or Teams Rooms Pro) along with access to Cisco Control Hub. Control Hub is Cisco’s unified cloud device management platform with an analytics dashboard to elevate your workspace with environmental analytics and API integrations leveraging the wider Cisco ecosystem including DNA Spaces, your building management. systems and ITSM platform.

This provides consistency for organisations already invested in Cisco Devices who are familiar with Control Hub and a powerful, intuitive management interface for customers who are new to Cisco MTRs.

3. Streamlined, yet, familiar user experience

Since Cisco is baking interoperability into their room systems, it means that not only will users will benefit from a native Microsoft Teams Room experience on their Cisco Room Devices, including full access to the full range of collaborative tools such as PowerPoint Live, Teams Apps and Polls etc, but they will also be able to still natively join Webex meetings on Cisco devices that are enrolled into Control Hub.

“By enabling the Microsoft Teams Rooms experience on Cisco devices, customers have the flexibility to choose the experience they want on the devices they love”.

Cisco

With Cisco RoomOS powering Microsoft Teams Rooms, users will get access to all the  intelligence features they have ben familiar with in Webex such as the Frames Camera Mode, which uses individual framing for participants to ensure everyone is seen equally in any meeting. They will also be able to take advantage of Cisco’s audio intelligence [aka noise cancelling] which blocks out unwanted audio distractions. The camera and audio
intelligence features will be available through device settings via Room Navigator in case of non-touch devices and the right-side swipe menu on touch screen devices in and out of call.

Being able to continue to leverage these great features, will reduce platform learning curves as well as ensure organisations are leveraging the value and uniqueness of the Cisco Devices. 


Why this is good news for Partners

For Partners, like Cisilion who specialise in both Cisco and Microsoft collaboration solutions and services, we have also been longing for this to happen for years.

We see many organisations unable to justify the expense of meeting room technology refresh and re-investment who “simply want to move their meeting and collaboration platform of chois to Microsoft Teams”.

This new partnership means that partners are now able to better serve the needs of their customers collaboration strategy, budget, deployment schedule and hardware preference. There is no doubt that Cisco has some of the best video conferencing devices and technology in the market today, coupled with their phenomenal global support and maintenance that Cisco partners have leveraged to provide the stability and uptime guarantees that their global customers expect and demand. 

Why this is great news for Microsoft

Partnership is two way of course.

Cisco is a world leader in video conferencing and meeting room technology. The majority of their Webex room kit includes a wealth of clever AI powered tech such as speaker tracking, noise cancelling, occupancy sensors, environmental monitoring and integrated digitial signage technology as well being the only vendor that creates truly immersive panoramic meeting experiences such as the Cisco Panorama.

In the past, Cisco, Microsoft and Zoom have all collaborated jointly on developing a native video interop technology which uses Web RTC technology, called Direct Guest Join. This, while useful, is really around bringing better inter company collaboration than actually allowing organisations to run Teams as their preferred meeting technology and is limited in functionality.

Customers seem to be wanted to work with their choice of a communications platform of their choice. With the small (and arguably shrinking market share), Cisco are loosing out on revenue and market share in the hardware space by only supporting their native platform. Partnering with Microsoft seems therefore a sensible move and allows them to retain their quality brand and footprint I the enterprise that has been “forced” to invest in other AV vendors in order to deliver against their collaboration strategy with a Microsoft Teams.

Cisco and Microsoft’s new partnership will enable Microsoft to work. Collaboratively with Cisco (rather than compete) and bring a new class of innovation into Teams Rooms by borrowing some of Cisco’s smarts.

We understand that Cisco are already be working with Microsoft to integrate their DNA spaces services into the newly announced Microsoft Places bringing intelligence and analytics on how meeting spaces are used. This forms a major part of Cisco’s Smart Buildings initiative.

Cisco is giving additional flexibility and choice whilst bringing new innovation to Microsoft Teams.

Cisco

Wait – I have loads of Questions…

That’s ok – the news is still hot of the press. Cisco are running a number of partner and customer webinars and sessions over the next month or so.

We have collated the most common and obvious questions and attempted to answer them here:

1. What does this for the future of Webex?

Webex is a great product and trusted by many FTSE 100 organisations, but the market has shifted and is still shifting rapidly which Cisco clearly recognises.

Whilst we don’t have firm figures for market share from Cisco directly,  a 2021 report estimated that Zoom had a 46 percent share (though was very consumer skewed), Microsoft a 54 percent share and Webex market share of meetings was around 7 percent.

That said, Cisco does has a strong install base of Cisco Webex, which they will continue to support and develop.  Their devices will now be designed to support both Cisco and Mcirosoft Teams meeting platforms. They are committed to continuing to deliver the best user experience with Webex and will continue to invest in developments that optimise the Webex experience when running on Cisco devices.

Cisco have also said that they will provide Webex Meetings free as a ‘backup to Teams’ for customers using their devices as Mcirosoft MTRs.

2. What Cisco devices will not be supported?

Cisco Room Kit and Room Kit Plus will not be supported on Microsoft Teams since these run on hardware platforms that are currently unable to support Microsoft Teams Rooms. Cisco Desk and Cisco Desk Mini are also currently unable to run as Mcirosoft Teams devices due to hardware platforms that are unable to support native Microsoft Teams Display mode.

As such organisations can of choose from the range of non-Cisco Teams Room Certified devices from other vendors such as Yealink, Poly, Logitech or Neat.

Cisco recommend that their customers with medium sized room look to upgrade / invest in the Cisco Board Pro, which in addition to being an interactive collaboration device works, can also serve as an all-in-one meeting room system when paired with a Cisco Room Navigator.

3. How will this effect Zoom, and Microsoft Video Interop?

This will not change the either the in which third party (incuding Cisco, Pexip or Poly) Cloud Video Interop (CVI) work or the way in which the Web RTC based Direct Guest Join services work between the three VC platforms.

Cisco have said that they will continue to work with Zoom, Google, and Microsoft to enhance these meeting experiences. Both Microsoft and Cisco are also committed to
continue to enhance our respective WebRTC based guest join experiences. This  announcement means that in addition to the above, their devices can now be configured as Microsoft Teams Rooms devices – meaning they can deliver a native Teams user experience.

4. How do we license the Cisco Devices for Teams Rooms

Microsoft Teams Rooms licenses must be purchased directly from your Microsoft CSP Partner or from Microsoft as part of your Enterprise Agreement . For more information, see the core Teams Room Basic and Teams Room Pro pricing information.

Teams Rooms Plans and Pricing | Microsoft 365

5. Do we still need a Cisco Webex license for the device?

No – but Cisco strongly recommend that organisations buy the Webex Suite to ensure they can leverage the full value of running MTR on a Cisco Device. This is because customers who do not purchase a Webex Suite, will only be able to access Webex meetings via direct guest join, and will not be able to take advantage of the advanced management and workspace analytic capabilities of Control Hub.

6. How will Cisco differentiate their MTRS against the other MTRs?

Cisco’s approach here is that their existing (and new) customers will get to experience the best of breed audio and video intelligence features that have previously only been available to customers using RoomOS and Webex Meetings.

Cisco customers that have bought any part of the Webex Suite will get access to
Cisco Control Hub device management and fully featured Webex meetings within
Microsoft Teams Rooms.

“Cisco will continue to develop our hardware and software as award-winning, purpose built design, supreme hardware quality and broad device portfolio which makes Cisco Devices the best solution in market for Microsoft Teams.”

Cisco.

Want to know more?

With the digital ink still drying on the announcement, Cisilion are here to help our customers think (or re-think) and plan about how this may impact their meetings space, remote work and collaboration roadmaps.

Speak with Cisilion today to find out more about your interoperability journey from Cisco Webex to Microsoft Teams or how to achieve seemless interoperability between the two platforms.

Cisco are also hosting a customer webinar on November 8th – which can be registered for at https://cs.co/MTR

Microsoft Sentinel |2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant leader | Security Information & Event Management

Microsoft has been named a Leader in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Security Information and Event Management (SEIM) and was positioned highest on the measure of Ability to Execute axis.

Gartner Magic Quadrant for SEIM 2022

What is Sentinel?

Microsoft’s end to end security takes the best of SIEM and combines that with the best of extended detection and response (XDR) to deliver a unified security operations platform.

Microsoft Sentinel is a scalable, cloud-native solution that provides:

  • Security information and event management (SIEM) and
  • Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR).

Sentinel delivers intelligent security analytics and threat intelligence across the enterprise with integration into almost any application, network and service. Sentinel provides a single comprehensive, intelligent, AI driven solution for attack detection, threat visibility, proactive hunting, and threat response.

It’s unique bird’s-eye view across the enterprise, helps alleviate the stress of increasingly sophisticated attacks, increasing volumes of alerts, and long resolution time frames which often cripples IT and SecOps teams.


Leaders because….?

Microsoft’s vision for protecting organisations from threats is unique compared to competitor vendors/products that only offer a SIEM platform. Just look at how far they have moved in 12 months… Incredible for a fairly new product.

In the annoucement from Microsoft on the recognition they say that “the breadth of coverage only a SIEM can provide and the depth of insight that XDR provides. That means that organisations that leverage Microsoft security solutions have more context to work from to resolve attacks faster. Customers using our XDR capabilities, such as Microsoft 365 Defender, also receive a discount on their data ingestion into Microsoft Sentinel.


You can access and read the full Gartner report here

You can also get a free trial (or free workshop) for Sentinel by following the link here or by speaking to you Microsoft Security Partner.

Microsoft celebrates 10 years of Surface with new devices

TL;DR

Microsoft Surface celebrated 10 years of Surface yesterday, with the 2022 line up, which saw Surface Pro 9 with 5G, Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2 + being  launched.

With what was a modest event, compared to previous years, Microsoft unveiled a handful of new and updated Surface devices including:

  • Surface Pro 9
  • Surface Pro 9 with 5G
  • Surface Laptop 5
  • Surface Studio 2+
  • Audio Dock and Microsoft Presenter +

The keynoted by Panos Panay, EVP and Chief Product Officer at Microsoft, kicked off the event taking viewers through the history of Microsoft’s journey with Surface.

Surface Pro 9

Always my favour form factor that makes Surface a Surface is the Pro range. Microsoft Surface Pro 9 tablet was annouced with a new Liberty floral print design in blue colour, which has been created in collaboration with design house Liberty London.

Surface Pro 9 – Image (c) Microsoft

Like the Laptop 5, The Surface Pro 9 comes equipped with Thunderbolt connectors and has a 120Hz, 13-inch PixelSense display which makes it perfect for use both as a hand-held tablet and as a laptop when attached to a type cover keyboard.

Microsoft displayed how the Windows 11 adapts with larger spacing between apps when the keyboard is detached from the tablet. Microsoft showcased just how quickly Windows 11 adapts to the change in use, with larger spacing between apps when the keyboard is detached from the device.

Surface Pro 9 is the first in the series with 5G capabilities. This variant is built on the ARM-based Microsoft SQ3 processor powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon and has a battery life of up to 19 hours.

Other variants of the tablet are powered by Intel’s 12th-generation EVO processor.

The front facing camera is centred and field of view has been widened. The (optional) Surface Slim Pen 2 The tablet has a microactuator inside, which, according to Microsoft means “its ink-focussed view makes writing on the screen feel like writing on paper with digital ink that appears to flow”.

Exlusive also to the Surface Pro 9 5G model, is a new NPU (neural processing unit)  which Microsoft said is the most powerful ever in a laptop. The NPU gives the Pro 9 the ability to dynamically focus on the subject at all times, even if the subject is moving. It can automatically creates blur effects and smooth auto framing.

Also provided by the NPU, is a new Voice Focus, which drastically cuts out all kinds of background noise. This was showcased with a leaf blower and hair dryer and seemed extremely impressive (almost magical).

Surface Laptop 5

Laptop 5 was first new product revealed at the event and follows last years Surface Laptop 4, released in 2021.

Surface Laptop 5 – image (c) Microsoft

Following the same popular design size,  Laptop 5 was shown being opened with just one hand revealing a new, quieter keyboard which has been further optimised for responsiveness.  As you’d expect, the design is sleek and light and available in four colours, including the newest colour, sage green.

Surface Laption 5 is built on the latest Intel EVO platform and now has Thunderbolt 4 ports.

Microsoft says that the laptop is up to 50 percent more powerful than its predecessor. It has up to 18 hours of battery life and features a fast charge feature, which powers up the laptop in 30 minutes to provide 9 hours of battery life.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 has the usual 3:2 PixelSense display for both their 13.5-inch and 15-inch models and feature Dolby Vision IQ to deliver richer details and sharper contrast that are tuned to automatically adjust colour accuracy. The screen is also 120hz.

From an audio perspective, we get Dolby Atmos 3D spatial processing speakers, placed right behind the corners of the keys on the keyboard.

Surface Studio 2+

A superb device that many thought had been forgotten was also brought back to life. Oddly called Studio 2+, rather than 3, this could suggest a design change might come in the future, but for now it keeps the futuristic design of Studio 2 and is beautiful.

Surface Studio 2+ — Image (c) Microsoft

Surface Studio 2+ is powered by Intel i7 quad-core processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060, which Microsoft say is “five times more powerful than the original Surface Studio.”

It comes with three Thunderbolt ports in keeping with rest of the line up and has a 4K display with a colour depth of DCI P3. This also naturally features both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos audio.

The gorgeous 28inch screen can be adjusted with just a one-finger push which allows it to intelligently glide and stay in what ever position works for the mode of work. Leveraging Windows 11’s snap layout feature, the screen is large enough to have four separate 14-inch display windows open at the same time, something designers love.

Audio Dock and Microsoft Presenter+

Two other hardware products were revealed at the event. These were Microsoft Presenter+, which is a Teams remote with a mute button, and Audio Dock with multiple ports and spacial speaker and mic

Windows and Surface Together

Whilst the focus was of course about the new Surface line up, most of which were inline with the predictions, the importance and development of Windows was also front of stage. As such, Microsoft used this event to showcase new features for Windows 11, many designed specifically around Surface and other multi form factor devices like Surface Studio Laptop, a Surface Pro and Studio 2+.

Following up from the Windows 11 22H2 update that is now rolling out, Microsoft highlighted so of the new accessibility features that are built in to Windows 11. This incudes a system-wide live captions from audio content, which automatically appears on the screen when any audio from any source is playing.

Among other accessibility features showcased was system wide voice access for voice control and navigation which include new natural voices.

Pricing and Availability

No official announcement of the price of any new Microsoft Surface product was made during the event.

Ignite 2022: Microsoft Teams will be natively available on Cisco Meeting Devices

In what could be good news for Business and VC/Collab partners alike, organisations will soon be able to choose between running Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams natively on their Cisco Meeting devices and cameras starting in 2023.

This was annouced by Cisco and Microsoft at Ignite today (Microsoft’s annual tech conference).

Both Cisco Cisco Room and Cisco Desk Devices, will be certified for Microsoft Teams, a move annouced a few years ago and then back tracked by Cisco but now clearly front and centre.

“Interoperability has always been at the forefront of our hybrid work strategy, understanding that customers want collaboration to happen on their terms — regardless of device or meeting platform. Our partnership with Microsoft brings together two collaboration leaders to completely reimagine the hybrid work experience.”

Jeetu Patel |EVP and GM |Collaboration |Cisco

What might Cisco bring to the Teams Eco System

Cisco becoming a partner in the Certified for Microsoft Teams program for the first time is a big move for Cisco. The Teams Room eco system is already quite crowded with vendors including Yealink, Poly, Logitech, Neat to name a few.

The quality of Cisco kit often dwafs that of the other vendors out there, ever since their aquisition of Tanburg back in 2010.

Under the terms of the partnership, Microsoft Teams will run natively on Cisco Room and Desk devices starting from the first half of 2023, giving users the option of staying within the Teams experience while taking advantage of Cisco’s video and camera technology, complete with noise removal and built-in intelligence.

“Our vision to make Teams the best collaboration experience for physical spaces is brought to life by our incredible ecosystem of hardware partners. By welcoming Cisco as our newest partner building devices Certified for Microsoft Teams, we are excited to bring leading collaboration hardware and software to market together for our joint customers.”

Jeff Teper |President |Collaborative apps and platforms | Microsoft

What devices will be supported?

In the blog, Microsoft and Cisco say that “Initially, six of Cisco’s most popular meeting devices and three peripherals will be certified for Teams, with more to come.

The first wave of devices, expected to be certified by early 2023, will include the Cisco Room Bar, the Cisco Board Pro 55-inch and 75-inch, and the Cisco Room Kit Pro for small, medium and large meeting room spaces, respectively. Cisco Desk Pro and Cisco Room Navigator will follow.

This is great for customers who want to shift eco systems without having to replace their vast array of meeting room technology where this meets the requirements of course to become Teams Native.

Is the end of Webex?

According to Cisco, Absolutely not..

This is all about choice and recognition of the growth and impact of Teams. Cisco customers will have the option to make Microsoft Teams Rooms the default experiences, and the devices will continue to support joining Webex meetings with all the features and functionality customers enjoy today via interop capabilites.

This move also helps customers and partners better meet their sustainability goals and budgets meaning that they can retain the value, quality and brand of Cisco they like in a Teams Native experience without compromise.


What do you think of this news? Share you comments in below.

Microsoft bringing Immersive VR into Teams, Office, Windows, and Xbox in new Meta partnership

At the Meta Connect virtual conference yesterday (11th October), Microsoft announced they will make Windows, Office, Teams, and others such as Dynamics available for the new Meta Quest Pro and existing Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headsets under an expanded partnership they announced with Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

Satya Nadella & Mark Zuckerburg at Meta Virtual Connect Conference

“You will be able to play 2D games with your Xbox controller projected on a massive screen on Quest. It’s early days, but we’re excited for what’s to come. Who knows, the next time we talk, maybe we’ll be playing flight simulator together in VR.”

Satya Nadella | CEO | Microsoft

Partnership – not competition

Rather than compete head-to-head within the metaverse space, Microsoft and Meta announced they are partnering to work together on improving the way in which people collaborate, work and game together in virtual reality. The first part of this partnership will see Microsoft bringing its biggest services — Teams, Office, Windows, and Xbox Cloud Gaming to Meta’s Quest VR headsets.

Microsoft Teams on Meta’s Quest VR headsets. Image (C) Meta

The official blog post on the announcement can be found on Microsoft’s website here:

  • Microsoft Teams will be available on Meta Quest devices, which will allow people to use Meta’s VR headsets for virtual Teams meetings, as an alternative to Meta’s Horizon Workrooms virtual meeting technology.
  • People will also be able to join Microsoft Teams meetings from Meta Workrooms.
  • In the future, people will be able to use Meta avatars in Teams for whiteboarding, brainstorming, and meetups.
  • Users will be able to interact with features across Microsoft 365 apps including SharePoint, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook from both Quest Pro and Quest 2.
  • It will be possible to stream Windows 365, the cloud-version of Windows 11 to Quest Pro and Quest 2 devices.
  • Microsoft Intune and Azure Active Directory will be available on Quest devices to provide enterprise security, authentication, and device management.

“We are bringing a Microsoft Teams immersive meeting experience to Meta Quest in order to give people new ways to connect…you can connect, share, and collaborate as though you were together in person.”

Satya Nadella | CEO | Microsoft.
Microsoft 365 in VR. Image (c) Microsoft

Is this the end for HoloLens?

Microsoft isn’t giving up on HoloLens for enterprise application, such as remote assist for Oil and Gas, Health, and Military use, but the Meta partnership will allow Microsoft to branch more easily into consumer and commercial applications whilst achieving a much lower entry point using consumer grade technology and services/platform which exist today.

Meta complements our commitment to HoloLens,” Microsoft’s Teper says in his post.

Release Dates?

Meta will release the Quest Pro on October 25th for $1,499.99.
with regards other Meta services in and across Office 365, we will no doubt here more at the various Tech conferences this week. UC Expo, South Coast Summit and of course Microsoft Ignite

Microsoft 365 Security vs Point Solutions

TL;DR

Microsoft now claims that they handle, process and act upon more than forty-three trillion daily threat signals.

This blog, however, does not go into the specific features and security across Microsoft 365 and Azure, but instead explores the fact that despite the extensive array of security services, tools, and products that Microsoft offer, Microsoft report that only about a quarter of their customers are actively using the core security products they’ve invested in.

Only about a quarter of our customers are actively using the core Microsoft security products that they have invested in.

Microsoft (& Forrester)

This of course can mean that organisation might:

  • Have unnecessary security gaps, protection weaknesses and risk exposure
  • Be wasting money (through Microsoft protection services bought but not enabled)
  • Be buying twice (or more) through duplicate tools and services.
  • Have a more complex protection strategy than is necessary
  • Not be aware of Microsoft’s comprehensive multi-cloud security offerings

This blog shares some of the collective thoughts, and discussions I had with my customer advisory panel in our September fireside chat which focussed on the pros, cons, questions, and concerns around embracing the end-to-end protection across Microsoft 365 and beyond vs using point products and third-party security add-ons.

I’ve also included some (hopefully) useful links and content at the end of this blog.


if you’d rather watch / listen to the show, you can find the recording below:
Fireside Chat: Microsoft 365 vs muti point security

Here’s the summary of the discussion points from my recent fireside chat.

1. Microsoft Security – What is in the SKU?

Speaking to the panel on my recent Fireside Chat, I believe that most organisations don’t know enough about the breadth and depth of the Microsoft 365 Security Stack they have bought and invested in.

We use a variety of Microsoft 365 licenses but need a better understanding of what is included in, and what are we might be missing by not investing and adopting the wider Microsoft 365 E5.

Rowland Hills | COO | Leathwaite Human Capital Limited.

This is due, in part, to the constant change, enhancements and investment [$4b a year in R&D] with regards the changing threat landscape and the death and breadth of tools of available within Microsoft 365 E5. Add to this the renaming of Microsoft products (they do far too much IMO).

There’s a plethora of tools within the Microsoft 365 E5 licence. Understanding what those tools do, what is included, what they can replace and how they fit together is the biggest challenge for us. The stack is constantly changing, and new products are added or renamed so it is hard to keep up.

Jas Bassi | Head of Solutions Delivery | Gately Legal

2. Does having too many different security vendors lead to unnecessary complexity?

The Cyber Security market is huge. In a recent KPMG survey of 500 CEOs, 18% said that cyber security When I was first an IT consultant in the early noughties, security was always about having strong passwords and the best “black box device” to protect on-premises stuff! Be it, firewalls, mail security, web filters, VPN, IPS etc that protect aspects of an organisation’s internal network or Data Centre environment.

The average organisation has over seventy security products from thirty-five different vendors.

Gartner | 2021

As the world has, and continues to shift to a perimeter less, multi-cloud and distributed workforce (with home working creating thousands of “offices of one”), many organisations now struggle with not only the ever-expanding threat landscape and increasing talent shortage, but the growing number of vendor solutions, their associated mounting costs, cross over of product, and features.

In a world of highly distributed data and disappearing perimeters, today’s enterprises are struggling not only with the expanding threat landscape, but the growing solutions landscape and their associated complexity and mounting costs.

Forrester

Complexity is the new enemy, meaning that silos and multi-vendor point products are the bane of Security Operations. Not only are they costly, but their features also overlap, they don’t necessarily integrate and in most cases, there is no single pane of glass or “intelligence” across the platforms.

This not only causes complexity and cost, but above all does not provide a holistic view of security and threats across their organisation without the use of yet more expensive tools and connectors into a SEIM platform.

We see this quite often with our customers too – particular in the case where Microsoft 365 has been organically deployed. We often see that customers, whilst heavily invested in Microsoft 365 continuing to invest and use a plethora of third-party tools and thus are not realising the true value and protection of the extensive and integrated Microsoft 365 Security Suite.

This is not just about cost either. Having too many tools addressing point solutions, combined with no holistic view of security can cause too much “noise” and alerts meaning real potential threats are ignored or get lost. This is the primary reason Microsoft cite for why “only one quarter of their customers are actively using the core security products they’ve purchased“.

As well as the advantages of a joined up and integrated security portfolio, any organisation that has, or is embracing the Microsoft Cloud, can recognise cost savings of over 52% and see ROI of 92% (according to Microsoft & Gartner) by adopting the vast array of security services within their Microsoft 365 subscription and/or by displacing legacy point products.

Organisations can typically save 52% on their security by using Microsoft 365 E5 Security compared to point products and solutions.

2021 Microsoft Zero Trust Solutions – Total Economic Value Report

3. “In my opinion” Microsoft Security is world class

It doesn’t have to be this way though, and once there is joint awareness, understanding and trust in the Microsoft security portfolio – this complexity and silo approach to security can be a thing of the past.

Microsoft (as any end to end security provider) would say that that Microsoft can secure and protect the entire digital footprint for every enterprise customer, however the reality is for any organisation that has, or is embracing Microsoft Cloud, significant cost advantages (>52% according to Microsoft & Gartner) can be achieved in security alone by enabling the services they have bought and displacing all or most of their legacy point security products.

Joining us on the Fireside chat this month was Jose Lazaro Pinos, a Security Architect at Microsoft. He said that:

Our solutions deliver comprehensive protection across your entire digital estate – Identity, Data, Apps, Endpoints, and Infrastructure Network. Where we differentiate is that security is built into our products rather than bolted on.

We have a building block approach to security and compliance and provide protection in over fifty security categories.

We are investing $20b in security over next 5 years.

Jose Lazaro Pinos | Security Architect | Microsoft

Many of the clients we work are onboard and committed to leveraging Microsoft Cloud and Microsoft Security across the board. This extends to beyond basic hygiene services such as Azure AD, Conditional Access, Identity Protection and Privilege Identity Management, into the more advanced compliance and protection services such as Defender for Office 365, Identity and Endpoint, DLP and Purview (formerly Microsoft Information Protection) for compliance and data protection and Sentinel for SEIM and XDR.

We use Microsoft Security for most things. We also use Microsoft Information Protection and DLP and were an early adopter for Azure Sentinel.

Paul Clark | Director Security & Services | London & Quadrant Housing

L&Q, like many organisations have a hugely diverse workforce and the tight integration of the Microsoft Security products have enabled them to have confidence that their employees, devices, and data are well protected wherever they are. Paul also said in the chat, that with the Exec board are on-top of Security and it’s very much front and centre so Paul and his team need to top of their game and trying to ensure they continue to get value from the new things coming to Microsoft Security is top of mind and again enforces what we hear about point one above.

The Microsoft ecosystem is our primary security stack, but if the business is not educated and engaged, it can be easy to be sold multiple products that overlap or do the same thing. We have a drive to consolidate where we can with Microsoft 365.

Alex Taylor | Group IT Director | AWIN

4. What are the downsides of a single vendor approach?

In short, the consensus from the panel was “probably none” – not anymore.

Go back just 5 years and I’d say most IT and security teams had a negative (or empty) view of Microsoft as a “security company”. Even as their reputation improved, it was still commonplace to see many organisations that were accepting of just how extensive Microsoft’s security offering has become still question “what if one vendor gets compromised, you need protection from the other vendor that hadn’t been compromised“.

Our security team used to preference a multi-vendor approach, but the benefits of a single vendor approach are recognised – single pane of glass, consolidated reporting and joined up protection across the digital estate

Lee Phipps | Strategic Enterprise Architect | East Riding of Yorkshire Council

More recently, this view is changing, as my customer panel confirmed. Zero Trust is all about defense in depth and having multiple layers of protection. The key principle is not necessary about a single or multi-vendor, but more important is the need for seamless join up and integration between the service layers – whether this is a mix of vendor products connected via API driven integration into a SEIM, or the integration and consistency (which is key) through using a joined-up suite of products which provides multi-layer protection.

Its critical of course that whatever you use can see and protect all your applications, services and infrastructure including services which sit outside the Microsoft Cloud.

Zero Trust Security Architecture

Previously we used to use third-party multi-vendor products for monitoring and DLP, but we took the decision to remove these and move them to Microsoft and to configure the ruleset in Azure Sentinel to give us a seamless view and dashboard.

Mudassar Ulhaq | CIO| Waverton Investment Management

The panel also agreed that managing multiple security tools creates unnecessary workload for their IT and SecOps team as they have multiple products dashboards to check and consolidate and the terminology signals don’t always align.

Rowland Hills said that the reality here is that for any smaller business, where you are struggling to have a couple of people in IT and in which case have one or sometimes no dedicated security focussed person. The impact of attack of course is no different no matter how big or small you are, but one of the things about leveraging cloud for security means that the smallest or largest organisations benefit from the power of Microsoft Cloud which has some impressive threat protection stats (which they asked me to share).

Microsoft Infographic showing extent of Microsoft Security Graph and Signals.
(c) Microsoft -43Trillion daily threat signals include data seen through Risk IQ acquisition

Microsoft Security On-Ramp – where to start

Firstly, you don’t have to spend loads of money to get some increased awareness – you can work with your Microsoft Cloud Security partner and/or leverage some of the free tools, assessments, workshops, and training available to you as a Microsoft 365 customer.

Collaborate to Sharing Best Practice

We also find more recently that organisations are starting to form security alliances where they share best practice methodologies, observations and even training and workshops with their peers in similar organisations.

We work with other housing associations in a collective intelligence forum where we share information around cyber awareness and best practice and if any of us have an issue, we have others to lean in and help each other out.

Paul Clark | London & Quadrant Housing

This can be a great way to reduce the burden on stretched IT resources as well as reduce cost when they are paying for or attending security assessments and workshops, much in the same way we do with our customer panel on our monthly Fireside Chats.

Do it yourself with Microsoft Secure Score

Microsoft Secure Score enables your IT or Security Operations team to review, score and benchmark your organisation’s secure posture. Secure Score works by representing your security metric across the entire digital estate irrespective of whether you’re using a Microsoft or third-party tools.

Secure Score does four things

  1. Provides a tool to help you assess the state of your security posture across identity, devices, information, apps, and infrastructure. You can also benchmark your organisation’s status over time and compare it to other organisations.
  2. Evaluate each recommendation using embedded guidance to determine which vectors of attack are a priority and how they can be mitigated. Can also be used to help identity and add improvement actions to your posture improvement plan.
  3. Help determine potential user impact using integrated workflow capabilities to and identify the procedures necessary to implement each recommendation in your environment.
  4. Use historical reports to track and maintain progress, identify regressions, and report to leaderships teams. Using measurable data, clearly demonstrate the progress you’re making to better secure your environment.
Microsoft Secure Score(r)

Leverage Free* Cloud Security Workshops

Cisilion are one of a handful of trusted Microsoft Cloud Security partners that can deliver free (*funded – subject to approval by Microsoft) workshops, threat assessments and awareness workshops to help organisations understand, test drive, and prove the value of Microsoft Security whether they have already invested int he product suites or not.

These provide an overview, deep dive, and hands on exposure to help you understand key areas and aspects of key areas of threat protection including:

  • Securing corporate identities and access
  • Defending against threats with SEIM plus XDR
  • Securing Azure and multi-cloud environments
  • Mitigating compliance and privacy risks including “insider risk”
  • Protect and govern sensitive data
  • Defense and visibility in depth with Azure Sentinel
  • Securing the endpoint

We have created a quick guide/overview to the funded workshops. To register for one of these, speak to us, contact us, or get a referral to Cisilion from your friendly Microsoft Account Team.

Microsoft Fast Track Services

All paying Microsoft 365 commercial and public sector organisations will have entitlement to Microsoft Fast Track Services. This is a free consultative and guidance service delivered by Microsoft or their trusted Fast Track partners and provides free guidance and assistance for the enablement and adoption of Microsoft Cloud Technology.

Public Webinars and News

There is lots of useful content, webinars and new on the Microsoft Security Pages:

Join Our Security Community – Microsoft Tech Community


Microsoft Teams Rooms Pro and Basic

TL;DR

Microsoft has just launched Microsoft Teams Pro which is, in their words, “designed to provide an integrated experience and bridge the gap between physical and digital workspaces“. In short, the Teams Room Pro license combines the previous Microsoft Teams Standard and Microsoft Teams Rooms Premium licenses. There is also a new free license, Teams Room Basic – which provides limited Teams Room functionality.

As of Sept 1st, 2022, organisations can no longer purchase new Teams Room Standard or Teams Room Premium licenses – they need to buy Pro or use the “free” basic license.


Teams Room Pro vs Basic – What is the difference?

Teams Room Basic

Teams Room Basic license is really designed for small businesses (there’s a limit of twenty-five meeting rooms) and is £0 / FREE. It supports single screen and provides foundational Teams meeting experiences like scheduling and joining meetings as well as wireless content sharing but lacks many of the things that were included in Teams Room Standard. Teams Rooms Basic is included with the purchase of any certified Teams Rooms device at no additional cost, purchased on or after September 1, 2022. Customers can apply up to 25 Basic licenses to their tenant.

For small customers or those that just need basic book and join meetings, this provides a potential cost saving of ~£180 a year per room.

Teams Room Pro

For most organisations (and any that have over twenty-five rooms), Teams Pro is what organisations will want and need. With Microsoft Teams Rooms Pro, users will get to access all the existing Teams Rooms features they have been used to with Teams Room Standard, but they also get new innovations, and the Teams Rooms Managed Service platform. This costs $40 per room per month – about £30 and organisations can use this license (or purchase) with their Teams Room partner to provide a comprehensive Managed Meeting Room experience with the additional value-added service being provided by expert Teams Rooms Partners which includes Cisilion and several others.

Microsoft Teams Rooms Pro provides all the enhanced in-room meeting experiences such as intelligent audio and video, content capture, front row and large galleries, and multi-screen support as well as support for Teams Phone. The Teams Rooms Pro licenses also provides advanced management features like remote device management, auto-updates and patching, conditional access policies, and detailed device analytics, problem diagnosis and vendor hardware updates which is not included on Teams Room Basic. Teams Room Pro also allows IT to connect the Teams Room environment into their IT Service Management (ITSM) platforms like Service Now and Science Logic for example.

Microsoft would like to point customers to their partner pages for any organisation who is seeking additional help managing and supporting their meeting rooms, via partners like Cisilion who have strong technical expertise and deep customer success focus.

License and Feature Comparisons

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Max no. Licenses25Unlimited
CostFree$40 (~£30)
Microsoft Teams Licence✔️✔️
Audio Conferencing ✔️✔️
Whiteboard✔️✔️
Teams Phone✔️
Microsoft Intune✔️
Azure AD Premium P1✔️
AvailabilityWorldwideWorldwide
ProcurementWeb Direct or NCE via PartnerWeb Direct, NCE (via Partner), EA, EAS, CSP,

Feature Comparison – Meeting Join

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Join meetings with 1-touch, proximity, meeting ID✔️✔️
Start ad-hoc meetings from Teams Room✔️✔️
Direct Guest Join (Zoom & Webex)✔️✔️
Room check-in via Teams Panel✔️
Join meetings across Teams Cloud✔️

Feature Comparison – Engagement and Collaboration

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Share and view all Teams content types✔️✔️
Front Row✔️
Together Mode✔️
Large Gallery Support (up to 50 videos)✔️
Split Gallery (Dual Screen)✔️

Feature Comparison – Calling

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Make and receive peer to peer and group calls✔️✔️
Microsoft 365 Phone System (PSTN Calling)✔️

Feature Comparison – Intelligent audio and video

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Support for intelligent speakers with live
transcription and speaker identification
✔️
Multi-Camera Support✔️
Panoramic Room View✔️
AI noise suppression ✔️
People counting / occupancy✔️

Feature Comparison – Device Management

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Teams Admin Centre enrollment & inventory✔️✔️
Automatic software updates✔️✔️
Detailed system and configuration info✔️
Peripheral health management✔️
Remote configuration✔️
Device history and activity✔️
ITSM integration✔️
Custom health alerts✔️
Device and usage analytics✔️

Feature Comparison – Security & Compliance

Teams Room BasicTeams Room Pro
Secure Operating System✔️✔️
System Level Security✔️✔️
Azure AD conditional access policies✔️

I’ve already got licenses – what does this mean to me?

For most organisations, they will need to make the shift to Teams Room Pro at the end of their license term or reduce the license to Teams Room Basic if they feel they do not need any of the advanced features.

For customers who don’t have an enterprise agreement (usually a 3-year term), and that buy Web Direct (on a credit card) or via a CSP partner, you will no longer be able to buy new Microsoft Teams Rooms Standard or Premium licences; for all new rooms, you will have to use either Teams Room Basic or Pro licences. Once your existing licence term expires for your existing licences, you must make the shift to Teams Pro (or down grade to basic).

Whilst the cost increase will frustrate many users that buy Teams Room Standard today, the price for Teams Room Pro is still very much in line with how much, and the way in which the other providers like Zoom and Cisco also charge for their Room licenses. Microsoft have added a plethora of new features to Teams and Teams Room over the past few years and these price increases are there to support these and future enhancements.

Mix and match – it is also possible, if you wany/need to mix Pro and Basic licenses but bear in mind that the functionality will be different for the different rooms which users will find confusing especially if they use any of the advanced meeting features listed above. might be confusing. More importantly, the management and admin experience will also be different for the Rooms. Remember this is a tenant level limit of 25 Basic Rooms/devices.

Microsoft Documentation

Pricing Information: Microsoft Teams Room Basic and Pro

Support from Partners: Microsoft would like to point customers to their partner pages for any organisation who is seeking additional help managing and supporting their meeting rooms, via partners like Cisilion who have strong technical expertise and deep customer success focus.

Windows 11 22H2 Update is here. What’s new and changed.

Windows 11 version 22H2 is the next major update coming to Windows 11 was released yesterday (20th Sept 2022).

Can you believe that Windows 11 has been with us for almost a year? Since then, Microsoft has been continually working with Windows Insiders to add more polish and refinement that is now making their way into this latest update, as well as continuous enhancements and improvements based on feedback and media.

The initial release last year, was the major new release of Windows which built on the success of Windows 10, but with a major new Start menu, modern UI, enhancements to security, a brand-new, modern sounds and animations, and a bunch of new features all centred around enhancing the hybrid work and play experience.

As a Windows Insider, I’ve been using and testing the Windows 11 22H2 update for some time, and this blog aims to summarise the key changes and experience from my point of view.

TL;DR

There’s lots of polish, improvements and changes coming in this update, the key ones worthy of mention are listed below and discussed in more detail within this blog… Enjoy!

  • Start menu now has App Folders
  • Taskbar finally support Drag and Drop
  • Focus Assist integrates to Notification Center
  • Snap Assist gets snappier and smarter.
  • File Explorer gets Tabs
  • OneDrive gets more integrated with the OS
  • Touch enhancements and new gestures
  • New Task Manager app
  • New Video Editing / Authoring App
  • Enhanced Accessibility Features
  • Numerous UI improvements

Version 22H2 will be offered as a free update for all Windows 11 users and is part of the life cycle updates that we are used to with Windows.

Note: Windows 10 (which is supported and serviced until 2025), will also soon be getting its 22H2 update.

Start Menu Updates

With the first version of Windows 11, Microsoft introduced an innovative new design for the Start menu that had been rebuilt from the ground up with simplicity in mind. This was led with some criticism but has been generally well received and is a nice modern touch on what was an aging look and feel.

The biggest news with this update is that users can now create app folders. Creating app folders is simply and intuitive. By simply dragging one app icon over the other, then letting go, Windows will create the app folder, which can then be named re organised and moved around move the folder around in the pinned area of the Start menu. This helps a lot with making the Start menu feel less cluttered and is similar to what we are used too on android and iOS.

Taskbar and Action Centre

Unfortunately, no…. You still cannot move the taskbar from the bottom of the screen to the sides or the top. There has been lots of feedback around this as it’s been possible to move it in all previous versions of Windows. It looks like it’s staying at the bottom (at least for now). Remember you can move the alignment of the start button to the left though!

The biggest criticism filed in feedback hub around Windows11 has been about the Taskbar and the inability to be able to drag and drop files between apps using the Taskbar. This has been resolved and is back in Windows 11 22H2 which makes multitasking with the Taskbar far easier and restores functionality that was previously part of the Taskbar in previous versions of Windows…. Shame it’s taken a year to put it back!

The Action Center has also received a bunch of updates too, including the “focus assist” button, which has moved from Quick Settings into the Notification panel where it makes more sense. As part of the move, it’s also been renamed to “do not disturb.” which also makes more sense. Microsoft has also added a new “focus” timer under the calendar flyout.

The focus timer is now also paired with the Windows 11 Clock app, which can also synchronise with your Microsoft To-Do lists and to Spotify. In this latest update users can now start a do not disturb session (with music) straight from the notification center, whereas previously this had to be launched from the Clock app.

Finally, the Bluetooth action in the Quick Settings panel has been updated with the ability to view and manage Bluetooth devices without having to launch the Settings app first. This brings it in line with other Quick Setting actions like the Wi-Fi and accessibility toggles.

Snap Assist Updates

One the best new features that hit Windows 11 was Snap Assist, which provides a simple and intuitive way of aligning Windows across your display(s).

This update brings and additional way of initiating snap assist. With this update, and in addition to the drop-down snapping menu that appears when you hover a window at the top of the screen, and the ability to drag app windows to the far left or right of your screen, the 22H2 update adds a new “snap bar” menu that drops down from the top middle of your display when you grab an app window to move it.

Snap Assist in Windows 11


The snap bar “peeks” out at the top of your screen when you begin to move an app window (rather than having to take it all the way to the top) and allows you to drag your app window into any of the snapping layouts available.

As before, the number of snap grid options is based on the size and resolution of your display.

File Explorer

File Explorer has received a fair amount of attention in this 22H2 update.

First up, Tabs…. Yes, Microsoft is adding tabs to the File Explorer app, something that have been requested in feedback hub for ages. Just like a Web Browser, you can now open new tabs and switch between them directly from File Explorer without having to open multiple windows.

File Explorer – with Tabs in Windows 11 22H2

Next, there is a new “Home” page that is now shown by default when you open the File Explorer. The layout is still familiar but has some subtle differences such as a new “favourites” and “recent” area that appears below your quick-access folders.

The Home page give you the ability to pin files to the favorites area, which will keep them front and center for ease of access. Additionally, the recents area works similarly to the recommended feed in the Start menu and shows. A history of the most recent opened files. This can be turned off if you don’t want to use it.

Microsoft has also moved personal folders out from the “This PC” section – this now only shows storage and network drives. This means if you want to access your user folders, you need to go to the Home page or the sidebar. Whilst this was tested with Windows Insiders, I suspect some users will find this an odd change, but I guess it does make sense.

The sidebar interface in File Explorer has also been updated slightly. Microsoft have repositioned the Home page and OneDrive folders at the top of the side bar, followed by pinned and most used folders, “This PC” and “Network drives” are at the bottom of the side bar.

OneDrive has become even more integrated into File Explorer with 22H2. It is now possible to set your OneDrive directory as the default home page for File Explorer. This is useful as more people are using OneDrive over personal local storage. File Explorer also now includes a new sync activity indicator in the top right which shows available cloud storage as well as what files are syncing or have recently been synced.

Finally, there is an updated “open with” dialog design too which is more in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design. It works in the same way as the old one, just like looks like it was built for Windows 11.

Touch Enhancements

The Touch Experience has also been improved for users with touch-first devices like Surface Pro. Windows 11 removed the dedicated “tablet mode” interface that touch users were used to on Windows 10 last year and replaced it with enhancements to the desktop interface to make it easier to use with touch. With the 22H2 updat3, there are new gestures that enable access to common system areas such as the Start menu and Control Center with the swipe of a finger as well as new gestures for things like switching, closing, and snapping apps.

  • Start menu: Swipe up from the bottom middle of the screen.
  • All Apps: Swipe right in the Start menu.
  • Control Centre: Swipe up from the bottom right of the screen.
  • Switch between open apps: Three finger swipe left or right in the middle of the screen.
  • Task View: Three finger swipe up in the middle of the screen.
  • Minimise all apps: Three finger swipe down in the middle of the screen

New Native Apps

A number of the stock apps have also been updated and a major new one added.

Task Manager has been updated for the first time since Windows 8 and brings with it a brand-new design that brings it in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design language.

New Task Manager in Windows 11 22H2

The updated Task Manager introduces a new sidebar along the left which is home to all the different tabs that Task Manager has always featured. From here you can access system processes, performance, app history, start-up apps, users, details, and services tabs right from the hamburger menu.

Common actions such as “end task” and “run new task” have been moved to the top right corner, just below the window controls and Microsoft has also updates the graphs in the performance tab match your system accent colour.

Microsoft has also added two brand new apps with the also the 22H2 update.

Clipchamp is a new video editing tool that Microsoft acquired last year that is now a Stock Windows 11 app. The app is good IMO and provides good video editing tools. It is simple and intuitive to use to create videos, tutorials etc., for corporate, home, or social media. There’s is a paid tier and free tier, with the paid option offering many more stock video, music and animated effects as well as free cloud storage.

Clipchamp App in Windows 11 22H2

Secondly, the Family Safety (also available on iOS and Android) is now available as an app on Windows 11. This is a web app, which simply points to the online Microsoft Family Safety services where you can add family members, track their location, approve purchase requests, share Office subscriptions, and monitor usage and activity across all apps and services including Xbox games.

Enhanced Accessibility Features

Microsoft is now stranger to accessibility features across their products and services.

22H2 update brings live captions, which can be enabled on any content. The live captions work across all Windows and with any app and even works without an Internet connection.

Microsoft has added a new voice access feature that enables full control your Windows PC using just your voice and is powerful, simple to use and accurate (in my testing anyway).

When voice access is enabled, a narration bar appears along the top of the screen, which then let’s you use your voice to navigate all of Windows. Key commands such as “open Start” or “scroll Edge”, “Open Word”. You can also use your voice to move the cursor to specific points on the screen, type sentences into text boxes and much more.

Summary

In all a solid bunch of updates to mark the One Year Anniversary of Windows 11. For me there is still (as there was in Windows 10) many UI inconsistencies to work on, but Microsoft are getting there and the enhancements to Start Menu and Taskbar are very much welcomed.

If you have feedback on anything in Windows 11, then I encourage you to file your feedback in the Feedback Hub. The engineers and programme managers take the feedback seriously and it is reviewed and listened to. You can get to Feedback Hub, from Windows 11 by pressing 🪟and F.


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Microsoft launches Adoption Score to help businesses get the best from their Microsoft 365 investment.

Microsoft has released another analytics dashboard for the Microsoft 365 admin centre called Adoption Score. This latest AI driven insights dashboard is designed to assist IT and Customer Success Teams to ensure their employees are making the most from the core productivity and collaboration tools across Microsoft 365. Adoption Score replaces the  Productivity Score dashboard whilst adding a bunch of new features and controls that are designed to help enhance effectiveness and efficiency.

The anonymised metrics in Adoption Score help IT admins understand and optimize Microsoft 365 usage patterns in support of their digital transformation journey. The new name reflects the new product truth and provides clearer differentiation from other solutions that offer insights for business leaders and managers.

Microsoft.

Microsoft also indicated that they plan to add more functionality over time with the long term of aim of helping  IT (and / or their support partners or MSPs) ensure they are making the most out of their Microsoft 365 investment. Also included are lots of privacy controls to ensure organisations can adhere to their user-level privacy commitments which helps ensure it isn’t used as a spying or workplace surveillance tool.

Adoption Score shows how Microsoft 365 software gets used in an organisations and then offers “recommended actions” for more efficient use of those products. It also has a scoring service across eight categories that can be compared with similar sized organisations.

Microsoft 365 Adoption Score

Data is obtained and anonamises using Microsoft 365 application use data from activity across “Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Yammer and Skype.

Privacy

Microsoft claims that Adoption Score only shows “anonymised metrics.” The announcement stated that “Adoption Score is backed by Microsoft’s continued commitment to user-level privacy — meaning no one in a customer’s organisation can use Adoption Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365”, meaning you can’t identity individuals in the reports.

New Features

One of the new features is called “Time Trends” which will also soon be part of the Adoption Score Tool, which will help organisations better  understand historical data insights across the business and departments. This new “Time Trends will be added to each people experience category across Content Collaboration, Meetings, Teamwork, Mobility and Communication. Data will now be analysed from up to 180 days of historic data (but can be customised).

The tools will enable IT to better understand how a particular behaviour or insight, such as the response rate for new email responses, @mentions and Comms via Teams for example has evolved over the last 30, 90 or 180 days which enables IT or success mangers to understand the meaning behind the tends, helping them see whether they are close to achieving set goals for the adoption of modern comms tools (over just reply to all type email chains).

Availability

The Adoption Score tool is available now (rolling out) to all commercial Microsoft 365 subscriptions and can be accessed by Global admins (and then delayed as needed). On initial access, IT are required to approve both Adoption Score analytics and the people experiences category in order to access the Time trend data.