Microsoft’s 365 Outage Explained

Last week if you recall I wrote about Microsoft’s 365 outage and how it impacted our organization. Today Microsoft issued a public statement regarding what occurred. This statement, to me is another example of Microsoft’s change to a more open business model with their customers which is greatly appreciated and welcomed. Outages like the one that occurred last week will occur occasionally if rarely but the cloud providers we rely on must have an open line of commutation with their customers if they want to maintain their business and confidence.

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Microsoft’s Office 365 service experienced a rather lengthy outage earlier this week. On Monday and Tuesday, users in North America were faced with Lync and Exchange outages that lasted for several hours.

Microsoft said that the Lync and Exchange outages were unrelated, but another breakdown in the Service Health Dashboard meant that those who were affected were not being notified of the outage. It was a double hit for Microsoft: not only were core features offline, but the mechanism to alert users of the outage was failing as well.

Lync Online’s drop off was caused by a brief loss of connectivity. When connectivity was restored, the backlog of traffic caused a significant spike in traffic and overloaded the remaining servers, which disrupted the service for some customers.

The Exchange issue was the result of a failure in a directory that caused a directory partition to stop responding to authentication requests. Microsoft said that this was a unique failure and that was the reason for the extended downtime with that platform.

As you would expect, Microsoft said that the issues have been fixed and that they have learned from this experience on how to avoid such scenarios again. While Office 365 has been stable (for the most part), the platform has historically had no issues with downtime of this length in the past.

One final comment regarding this particular situation and where Microsoft needs to improve. If you recall from my previous post about this incident when I called Microsoft Support during the outage I was greeted with a message that basically said, “the engineers are aware of the outage and have no further information and they are working on it”. Other then offering to send a text message with updates (which they did) there was no other contact with their customers that I am aware of during the outage. This is not good enough. Customers need to hear from customer support, especially during times like this.

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Mobile Phone Privacy Gets Protected

The Supreme Court of the United States said last Wednesday that police officers must have a warrant before searching the cell phone contents of an individual under arrest.

Supreme Court The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision to give cell phones of all kinds special privacy protections. [Image Source: Art Lien]

Supreme Court The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision to give cell phones of all kinds special privacy protections. [Image Source: Art Lien]

In a unanimous ruling announced Wednesday, June 25, 2014 the high court settled two cases surrounding instances in which law enforcement officials scoured the mobile phones of suspects in custody and then used information contained therein to pursue further charges.

Here is a sample of some important language from the ruling:

“The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested,” the Supreme Court ruled.

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” the court continued. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”

This is a big win and a long one coming for protecting our digital privacy and moving our laws into the 21st century and working to get them on pace with technology trends.

The high court’s decision last week stems from two cases in which individuals received extended prison sentences due to convictions that may not have been possible had police not accessed their cell phones to gather evidence. In both instances, a warrant was not requested nor issued to search the contents of the arrestee’s phones.

This is yet another example of the laws governing our land being outdated where technology is involved. Cell phones and now smart phones have been around for a couple of decades and just now some of the same protection that has been applied and demanded in other areas (like land line phones) are just not being adopted to address the actual technology we all use today.

You can read the Riley v. California ruling here.

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Facebook’s Secret study Exposed?

Here is a little news story that should make all of us think about how we use, and trust social media. I suspect that, if this sort of “study” has indeed occurred before studies like this one will probably continue unless users make it clear this is not something they want, unless they opt in. What do you think? If this is an accurate report how do you feel about it?

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A report from a team at Facebook that was first published in a scientific journal earlier this month reveals that the social network ran secret psychological experiments on 600,000 users without their awareness.

The report, published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, stated that back in January 2012, Facebook changed those users’ news feeds to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends. The paper stated:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

Facebook’s Data Use Policy does give the company broad access to conduct these kinds of experiments, stating that users agree to “data analysis, testing, research and service improvement” when they sign up to use the social network. The paper does state that a machine was used to handle this experiment and no personal data from those 600,000 users was accessed.

Source: The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences via AV Club

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NASA’s Asteroid Mission

NASA has a very “Star Trek” like mission on the horizon.

NASA is planning to capture an asteroid for experimental purposes.  According to NASA, the prime candidate for this capture is an asteroid called 2011 MD. There plan is to first, capture the asteroid, then shift it to a stable orbit around the moon, and finally to send astronauts to explore it.

NASA hopes to launch its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic spacecraft to rendezvous with 2011 MS in the year 2019, and send astronauts to it some time during the following decade while it orbits the moon.

With the asteroid secure, astronauts will have the freedom (and time) to carry out extensive studies during extravehicular activity (EVA). NASA LaRC/JSC

With the asteroid secure, astronauts will have the freedom (and time) to carry out extensive studies during extravehicular activity (EVA). NASA LaRC/JSC

The NASA report indicated that 2011 MD is about the size of a delivery truck, weighs 100 tons, and is the main focus right now due to its activity above Earth three years ago (2011). The Spitzer Space Telescope first caught a glimmer of 2011 MD 7,600 miles above our home planet at that time.

If this particular asteroid does not work out as planned NASA has their eyes on another one just in case.

Asteroid 2011 MD  AP Photo/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, FileAsteroid 243 Ida, taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft, is shown in this Aug.

Asteroid 2011 MD
AP Photo/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, FileAsteroid 243 Ida, taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, is shown in this Aug.

 

Why Capture an Explore an Asteroid?

NASA explained their reasoning so I will let them tell you.

“Observing these elusive remnants that may date from the formation of our solar system as they come close to Earth, is expanding our understanding of our world and the space it resides in,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Closer study of these objects challenge our capabilities for future exploration and will help us test ways to protect our planet from impact. The Spitzer observatory is one of our tools to identify and characterize potential candidate targets for the asteroid mission.”

This mission is 5 years distant, at least the human element of it, but it is exciting to see new human exploration missions being explored by NASA.

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OneDrive on iOS Just Got Upgraded

Microsoft keeps working to improve their cloud storage service, OneDrive. If you have not checked OneDrive out the time may be right, even if you are an iPhone user.

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In a very short time Microsoft’s OneDrive has turned into an excellent option for cloud storage.

 

This is because yesterday Microsoft updated their OneDrive iOS app to support a more seamless method of integration with their Office iPad apps. The app will now instantly open WordExcel or PowerPoint from within OneDrive (which was not happening) if you tap on an Office document provided of course if you have the Office iPad apps installed. Previously OneDrive would simply display the document (.doc, .xls, .ppt, etc) using the iOS’ preview, which unfortunately struggles to properly format the more complex Office documents. The feature can be turned off by going to the OneDrive settings and toggling the ‘Use Office Apps’ switch.

The OneDrive app’s Camera Roll upload feature was also improved to support background uploads, allowing the app to contine upload images when you switch to another app. The app update also included various bug fixes, most notably making uploads more reliable.

In other news that I did cover earlier this week, Microsoft also announced that they would soon boost the storage space for Office365 users to 1TB per person on a family plan and 1TB per subscription for those on personal or university plans. For those without a Office365 subscription, the free storage available also got a boost to 15 GB (up from 7 GB) and standalone OneDrive storage plans were also reduced.

Cloud storage cost is falling like a rock and Microsoft like Google is beginning to offer excellent cloud storage plans in order to bring consumers into the ecosystems.

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Outlook Shortcuts & Notifications

QUICKTOPOne of the software applications that is the most used in the office every single day is Microsoft Outlook. So of course the better you know Outlook the more time you will have to do other things during your workday. So here we find ourselves with some quick tips to help you master Outlook and find more time to impress your boss.

Useful Shortcut Key Combinations

Once you master these you will move around Outlook just a little bit faster then before.

  • Ctrl+R: reply to email
  • Alt+R: reply to all in email or switch to the work week calendar view
  • Alt+W: forward email or switch to the weekly calendar view
  • Ctrl+M: F9 to Send/Receive all
  • Alt+S: Send email
  • Ctrl+G: open the “Go to date” dialog to jump to any date in the calendar

Reduce Outlook Notifications

It can be distracting to constantly being alerted with “pings” and “beeps” each and every time you receive a new email. The days of jumping for joy when we hear those immortal words, “You’ve Got Mail!” are long gone.

That being understood you may still want to get notified for specific important messages. In Outlook you can do just this by setting up desktop notifications only for those VIP messages. You will first want to turn off all desktop alerts under the Mail Options, then create an Outlook rule to display alerts for messages from specific people sent only to you.

Steps to Create a Special notification for a Specific User

  • In your inbox, right click the email message that you would like to create a special notification for.
  • Select Rules and Create Rule
  • rules1Simply check the “From sender name” box and
  • Check the “Play a selected sound”. The default windows notify sound file will be used but you can change the sound as well if you have another one by browsing and finding it.

As you can see by the image above you can also make notifications for specific issues using key words from the subject line. This can be useful of you are working on a project.

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Kill Switch 101

You may have heard some talk on the news regarding the “kill switch” for smartphones. Apple already has one and Microsoft and Google are reportedly working on one as well. What is important to know is that it is obvious that soon all smartphones will have a “kill switch” so it it probably a good idea to understand what this is.

Will the proposed kill switch reduce the amount of smart phone thefts. Law Enforcement believes it will, and so do I.

Will the proposed kill switch reduce the amount of smart phone thefts. Law Enforcement believes it will, and so do I.

 

What is a Kill Switch?  

For over a year, law enforcement officials in the U.S. have been putting pressure on the telecommunications industry to do more to combat smartphone theft. The kill switch has been proposed as the best, easiest answer.

The kill switch is simply a piece of software installed in every new phone that can disable a stolen handset.

Why Do We Need a Kill Switch?

During the past several years there have been countless violent thefts of smartphones and the problem is getting worse. There are estimates that suggest that one in three thefts in the U.S. involve a smartphone. These crimes are often robberies because thieves actually snatch smart phones directly from the hands of victims as they walk down a street. In addition many of these robbery victims are threatened with knives or guns, or victims are assaulted.

Law Enforcement believes, probably correctly that if phones can be disabled (turned into a brick), they will become much less valuable on the secondhand market and the incentive for theft will drop considerably.

How Will a kill Switch Work?

If your phone is stolen, you or someone you have authorized will be able to call your carrier or use a website to send a “kill” signal to your phone. That signal will lock the device and delete personal data. And here is a very important part.

The kill switch will also “render the device inoperable on the network of any provider of commercial mobile service or commercial mobile data service globally, even if the device is turned off or has the data storage medium removed,” according to the federal proposal.

The only way to revive a locked phone will be with a password supplied by the phone’s owner.

What Do the Phone Companies Think of This?

For a long time, the telecommunications industry was against the idea of a kill switch. Speaking through its lobbying organization, the CTIA, the industry said a kill switch would make phones vulnerable to hacking. But earlier this year, as legislation looked more and more likely, that stance changed and the CTIA now supports a kill switch.

This change in attitude in the industry is probably more about avoiding legislation with the federal government. Both Minnesota and California have already enacted “kill switch” legislation for phones manufactured after July 1, 2015.

So with the successful lawmaking in these two states and the CTIA recent admisison it appears we are set for a basic “kill switch” function being installed on all smart phones by 2016.

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Office 365 Has a Hiccup

Apparently Microsoft’s Office 365 was not working for thousands of businesses across the United States and Outlook was down for many people and organizations today. Confirmation even arrived in the form of a tweet on the official Office 365 Twitter account.

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Email service is so embedded into our every lives now that it impacts things we first do not relate to “email”. For me it was “scanning to email” not working at our office today. We have 6 individual devices that can provide this service and one by one each was reported “down” to me in the morning. As I checked services like, the network, Websense, firewalls and the devices themselves it was only after eliminating each one did I turn to email. After all I was receiving email but when I looked into it a little closer email was sluggish and some messages were not arriving to their destination.

I called Microsoft and was greeted with a message that basically said, “we know email service has been degraded and our engineers have no further information, please stand-by and if you want a text message update please provide your phone number”. I of course provided my phone number and let everyone now that it was “not our problem”.

The problem with cloud services is just that. It is a service and when things go wrong you simply need to kick back, advise the affected users and… wait. This is a very difficult for technology staffers as they want to dig in and figure the problem out.

Anyway as the late afternoon arrived I could see Microsoft was getting their act together and email started flowing more normally and even the majority of “scan to email” services had been restored. Then at about 6:15pm EST I received the following text message as promised.

The Office 365 Service issue has been resolved. Refer to the Admin Center for further service status.  Thank you for your patience.

The issue today, which has actually been quite rare at least in my experience empowers those who want to remain in control regarding maintaining their on premises servers to deflect the future of cloud computing with fear. Now do not get me wrong, I do not like loosing control but in respect to technology either  “on premises” or in “the cloud” there will always be service related issues. Once this is accepted cost control as well as quality control should guide any organization regarding where to turn for their services.

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Quick Tip – Changing the Default Font in Word

QUICKTOPNew feature here at the West Chester Technology Blog. I will be posting “quick tips” regularly that hopefully will help you with your everyday interactions with the technology we all use. If you have ideas on topics that you would like covered please contact me.


Microsoft Word arrives either out of the box or now by download with a default font. The font Microsoft decided on was Calibri (size 11). However this is not always the best choice and we often find ourselves changing the font for each individual document we work on.

Did you know that you can change the default font and size? This will save you time if you tend to change the font and size to the same choice each time, or the majority of time.

Change default font settings In Word 2013 and 2010:

Step 1: Open Word 2013/2010 program.

Step 2: Simultaneously press Ctrl + Shift + F key to open Font dialog.

Step 3: Here, select your favourite font, font style, font size, and color.

Change Word 2013 2010 default font and font size

Step 4: Finally, click Set As Default button. When you see the following dialog box, please select the second option labelled All documents based on the Normal template and then click OK button to save new settings.

Change Word 2013 2010 font and font size default settings

Note that you can change default settings of Page Layout as well. To do so, switch to the Page Layout tab and then click on the expand button to change default settings.

OK I hope that if Microsoft’s chosen default font is not your go to font you will now take a few moments to change the default font to your favorite one.

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Surface Pro 3’s $650 Credit Offer

You have to give it up for Microsoft. They are really trying to get the word out how their Surface line of tablet/laptop hybrids are the future of mobile computing. In fact I think Microsoft is indeed onto something exciting here. The Surface Pro 3 is the third generation of the Surface line and each version has improved on the one that came before. The Surface line was first launched in October of 2012 and had continued to bring improvements and enhancements with each new incarnation.

The Surface Pro 3 appears to bring huge enhancements to the previous to versions and strives to even replace pen & paper this time as well.

The Surface Pro 3 promises to bring huge enhancements to the previous two versions and strives to even replace our pen & paper this time as well. I hope to have a full review in early to mid July.

 

Microsoft is so sure of itself that they are offering a whopping $650 credit if you are MacBook Air user.

MacBook Air owners are being tempted by Microsoft to turn in their laptops for up to $650 in credit towards buying the company’s Surface Pro 3 tablet via their U.S. and Canadian retail stores.

The trade-in offer, which lasts until July 31, doesn’t offer any information on which MacBook Air models are eligble for this deal, saying only that the laptop must be capable of being powered up. The offer’s fine print adds, “Water-damaged devices and devices with cracked screens are not considered working devices for purposes of this offer.”

Microsoft will only offer the full $650 credit if a person brings the MacBook Air into a brick-and-mortar Microsoft Store location and used that credit to purchase the Surface Pro 3. There is no online option for this deal. Currently, only the Intel i5 versions are available for immediate purchase, with the 128GB model selling for $999 and the 256GB version priced at $1,299. If you are in the West Chester, PA area the closest store is in the King of Prussia Mall. You can also check out all of the Microsoft stores here.

Microsoft went to great lengths to compare the Surface Pro 3 favorably against the MacBook Air when it announced the 12-inch tablet in May. Indeed, it has promoted the product as the tablet that is supposed to replace the normal laptop.

If you are a MacBook Air cover will you consider taking advantage of this credit and checking out the Surface Pro 3.

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