Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group – November 2019

Last night I went to the Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group. It was co-organised by Urfaan Azhar and Lee Thatcher from Pure Technology Group, and Adrian Newton from my company.

This event was focused on Microsoft Teams, which is the MS version of Slack. If you don’t know what Slack is, you probably need to come out from under that rock…

First up was Matt Fooks speaking about “Microsoft Teams, the death of email!” We use Teams at work, but I’m a bit of a noob at it and I don’t get involved in any of the administration side of things. The session started with an overview of what Teams does and how it is organised. We spent some time speaking about culture related stuff, which may well be a bigger factor than the tech side of things with regards to transitioning from email to Teams (or Slack) as the primary communication channel. In addition to security and organisational stuff, there was a discussion of integration and applications available from Teams. The first session ended with Urfaan Azhar discussing some of the recent innovations in Teams, covered here.

After food and drinks it was Kevin McDonnell with “Using Bots in Azure/Teams for Automation”. Following the theme of the event, this was a remote presentation over Teams. 🙂 An interesting point raised at the start was how social functionality can help drive adoption and engagement in the company. As an example he showed a daily challenge bot, which allowed people to guess the location of today’s Bing image. It’s not “work”, but it got people engaged in the product and communicating. Amongst other things, there was a quick demo of Power Automate, the new name for Flow, which now has RPA functionality in preview. There was also a demo of Bot Framework Composer, which looks like a pretty easy way to generate the basics of a bot from a simple designer. There was also a mention of Virtual Agents for creating conversational bots (chat bots), which looked pretty cool.

As I’ve said before, I’m not involved in the administration of M365, Azure and Teams, but this is all about context and possibilities for me. My company has some of these products, so it’s good to know what they can do, and maybe take advantage of some of them from some of the stuff I do have a hand in.

Thanks to everyone who turned up to support the event, the speakers, and the sponsor Pure Technology Group. See you at the next event.



Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group – October 2019

On Tuesday evening I went to the second event of the Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group. It was co-organised by Urfaan Azhar and Lee Thatcher from Pure Technology Group, and Adrian Newton from my company.

First up was Matt Fooks speaking about security in M365 and Azure. He did an overview and demos of a number of security features, giving an idea of their scope, how easy/hard they were to configure and importantly what licenses they were covered by. Some of this was a bit over my head, but for me it’s about understanding possibilities and what’s available, even if I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it. Other people in the company do that stuff. At one point I leaned over to one of my colleagues and said, “Could we use that for…”, and he came back with, “Yeah. We’ve done a POC with that. Look!”, then showing me an example of it working with one of our services. 🙂

After food and drinks it was Urfaan Azhar speaking about Azure pricing, and working through an example with the Azure Pricing Calculator. I’ve been using AWS for a few years, so when I have questions I tend to use AWS terminology, which I’m sure can be annoying, but I’ve not learned the new language yet. As I expected, it’s “the same but different”. 🙂

Both guys were keen to point out that just doing a lift & shift from on-prem to cloud using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) isn’t what you should be aiming for. The real value comes from using platforms. My feelings exactly! If I just put what I have now into the cloud, it’s just other people’s servers. I’m more interested in what I can offload to give me more time to do other things, and to stop me screwing up on the daily because I’m to busy to do “the basics”…

Thanks to everyone who turned up to support the event, the speakers, and the sponsor Pure Technology Group. See you at next month’s event.



Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group – Launch

Last night I went to the launch of a new meetup called Midlands Microsoft 365 and Azure User Group. It was co-organised by Urfaan Azhar and Lee Thatcher from Pure Technology Group, and Adrian Newton and Mark Smith from my company.

Some of you may have noticed this isn’t about Oracle. Yes we have a big Oracle Cloud Apps thing and a bunch of Oracle on-prem stuff, but we also have a lot of Microsoft stuff here, including loads of mailboxes on Office 365 etc. As a result, Azure is also becoming a big thing for us.

I’ve used Azure a bit for some Oracle trials, with the articles on the site, and I did a WebLogic on Azure talk some years back, but this is pretty far out of my lane, so I was really there to show some support to our folks and trying to learn some stuff. 🙂

The turnout was really good. I think there were about 40 people in total, with about 6 coming from our company. For the first event I was kind-of expecting more of “us”, and less of “not us”, so the fact so many “not us” turned up was awesome! Getting a couple of Microsoft Most Valuable Professisonal (MVP) speakers for the launch event was cool.

After some introductions from Urfan and Lee, the first speaker was Ed Baker with an “Introduction to Microsoft 365”. The purpose of this session was for Ed to give an overview of the M365 stack and try to gauge what we were interested in, to see how the meetup should move forward in future. Ed is an Enterprise Mobility MVP and is clearly comfortable in front of an audience.

After food (Pizza and Indian) and drinks it was time for Gareth Jones with “An Introduction to Microsoft Azure”. Gareth talked about the way Microsoft deliver the Azure services, including the setup of their data centres. Once again, this was about gauging the interest for the different aspects of Azure. Gareth is an Azure MVP, and just like Ed was very happy in front of a crowd.

It was a really good start for the new meetup. Big thanks to Urfaan, Lee, Adrian and Mark for getting this going. Thanks to Ed and Gareth for taking the time to come and speak to us. Thanks to everyone who turned up to support the event, as well as the sponsor Pure Technology Group. I look forward to the next event, to see how this moves forward!



Video: SQL Server Databases on Microsoft Azure

I mentioned in a previous post, the whole look and feel of Microsoft Azure has been rejigged. As a result, I had to do a run through of the SQL Server DBaaS stuff to update the screen shots in and old article on the subject.

Azure : SQL Server Databases on Azure

Since I was doing that, I figured I might as well do a video for my YouTube channel.



Why do people show Azure so much love?

cloudThe title of this post is taken from tweet I saw a few weeks ago and it keeps coming back to haunt me, so I thought I would comment on it.

Let me start by saying I don’t have any context as to why the tweeter thought people were showing Azure so much love. From my perspective, I kind-of like Azure and I think it is what my employer will end up using, but I’m not a crazed fan-boy about it. 🙂

Also, I fully understand a move to the cloud is not the right thing for everyone, so this post is focused on those people who do want/need to move to the cloud. Just because it is not right for you, it doesn’t mean it’s not right for everyone. So when I’m talking about running services on the cloud, it is not a recommendation. I’m not telling you you’ve got to. I’m speaking about cloud services to try to explain why someone might say something like the title of this post. I’m hoping this paragraph will stem the hate-comments that invariably come when you mention the cloud. 🙂


The Azure interface it pretty neat. It’s clean and reasonably intuitive. I’m a casual user, so I can’t say how I would feel about it if I were managing hundreds or thousands of resources, but from my brief time with it, I like it.

I don’t dislike the AWS interface, but it does feel a bit more cluttered and ugly than the Azure interface. I guess that could be enough to put off some people maybe.


Coming from the Oracle world, we tend to think of UNIX/Linux as being the centre of the universe, but if I think back to the companies I’ve worked for over the years, the majority of their kit has been Windows-based, with the exception of the bits I work on. 🙂 Since most corporate desktops are still Windows-based, Outlook, Office and Active Directory tend to rule the roost. If you are thinking of moving those services on to the cloud, Azure seems the “obvious choice”. Am I saying they are the best products and Azure is the best place to run them? No. What I’m saying is it will be seen as the “obvious choice” for many people wanting to move to the cloud.

The same goes with SQL Server. I happen to like the AWS RDS for SQL Server implementation, but I’m guessing a lot of SQL Server folks will get a warmer and fuzzier feeling about running SQL Server on Azure. Lots of decisions in IT are based on gut instinct or personal bias of the buyers, not necessarily fact. I can see how someone will “feel happier” there.

Once the Oracle Cloud becomes generally available, we may see a similar issue there. People may feel happier about running Oracle products on the Oracle Cloud than on AWS or Azure. Time will tell.

What’s under the hood?

This is where cloud really turns stuff on its head. If I want to run a Linux VM, I can do that on AWS, Azure, Oracle Cloud, VMware vCloud Air etc. From my perspective, if the VM stays up and gives me the performance I paid for, do I really care about what’s under the hood? You can be snobbish about hypervisors, but do I care if Oracle are using less hardware to service the same number of VMs as Azure? No. Where infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is concerned, it is all about the price:performance ratio. As I’ve heard many times, it’s a race for the bottom.

Call me naive, but I really don’t care what is happening under the hood of a cloud service, provided I get what I pay for. I think this is an important factor in how someone like Microsoft can go from zero to hero of the cloud world. If they provide the right services at the right price, people will come.


Q: Why do people show Azure so much love?

A: Because it does what it is meant to do. It provides the services certain companies want at a price they are willing to pay. What’s not to love?

Q: So it’s the best cloud provider right?

A: That depends on your judging criteria. No one cloud provider is “the best”. For some people Azure will be the best option. For others it might be the worst.



Databases Running in the Cloud

cloudI’ve been playing around with running databases in the cloud recently. It’s quite simplistic stuff, just to get a feel for it and investigate the possibilities of using it for some projects at work. Here’s what I’ve got so far.




SQL Server:

It’s hard to differentiate between the cloud providers if you are just using them to provide a VM and self managing a system on it. It’s just another box provider.

In contrast the DBaaS offerings are much more interesting. I really like what Amazon are doing with RDS for Oracle/MySQL/SQL Server. I think these would work very well for *our* MySQL and SQL Server installations, which tend to be quite simple. I’m not sure I can live with some of the restrictions for RDS for Oracle, but that’s probably because I’m a snobby DBA type, who thinks he knows best. 🙂 The DBaaS for SQL Server on Azure is also really nice. You get less control than the RDS version, but maybe that’s a good thing.

You might have noticed I’ve not written much about Oracle Cloud yet. I should be getting a trial of the platform this month, so I will be able to fill in those gaps then.