We had a great Office 365 International User Group Meeting today! I would like to thank all the attendees for joining and participating in the meeting. Also big props go out to Office 365 MVP Brett Hill (@bretthill) for giving a demonstration and talking about the Cloud WAN Optimization provided by Riverbed. The demo/presentation was very informative. Brett showed how the Riverbed Steelhead Cloud Accelerators could greatly improve SharePoint Online browsing and file transfer, Office 365 OWA and Outlook traffic. To learn more about this please check out the website here: http://www.riverbed.com/us/solutions/cloud_services/cloud_services.php and if you want further information please leave a comment with contact info and I can get you Brett’s email address or just shoot him a tweet at his twitter handle above.

After the presentation by Brett the group engaged in several discussions. The first topic that was discussed revolved around Office 365 Exams, and preparing for the exams. Several of us had taken the two exams while they were in beta at the beginning of the year, several other attendees had taken the RTM versions of the exams when fully released in April of this year. As we discussed the exams themselves and prepping for them a universal theme came to the surface, the Office 365 Exams in their current form are very difficult as Microsoft expects the test taker to be a master of all things Office 365. This includes the infrastructure/Active Directory requirements for Single Sign-On (SSO) with Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), Exchange requirements for Hybrid Deployments, and SharePoint Configuration and management. The overall discussion seemed to center around the fact that the majority of the attendees came to Office 365 from one of two backgrounds, SharePoint on-premises development or Infrastructure/AD/Exchange engineering. This presents a tough challenge for either group to be able to pass the exams when the exams expect mastery of both disciplines. Ideas around separating the exams to the services for Office 365 were discussed. Another option discussed is basically adding an Office 365 additional component to the existing Microsoft Certifications for the corresponding on-premises service. An example would be a person who holds an MCITP for Exchange 2010 could take an additional exam to add an “+Office365” notation to their MCITP to show they not only are proficient in on-premises Exchange but also Exchange Online.

Back to the primary reason for the discussion, several attendees provided training information for the exams:

E-learning from Microsoft – https://www.microsoftelearning.com/eLearning/collection.aspx?guid=3FFFB06F-95F5-4994-B714-C4412077A9A0 

 

Microsoft Virtual Academy – http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/Home.aspx

Deploying Office 365 Jump Start – http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/video/deploying-office-365-jump-start-01-infrastructure-planning.aspx 

Office 365 Virtual Labs – http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/hh699847.aspx

Microsoft Virtual Academy – http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/Home.aspx

The second major topic of our open discussion resolved around Office 365 Support. This is a topic that had some strong discussion. Loryan Strant (@thecloudmouth), another Office 365 MVP, brought up that the entire Office 365 MVP community has given feedback to Microsoft around this subject. Loryan mention that the MVP community has expressed to Microsoft that MVPs and Partners on the front line of implementations and support for customers are frustrated dealing with support and having to start at the introductory level 1 support. I fully support and understand and encourage Loryan and the other MVPs is pushing forward with this message. I gave an example of a recent support engagement that started because if, at the time, a service incident that prevented DirSync enablement for a high profile tenant that I was working with for a Google vs. Office 365 compete. Well level 1 just told me to wait, then after the 24 hours I was told it needed to be escalated and after DirSync was enabled for the tenant found that due to the service outage that the Hybrid domain, company.mail.onmicrosoft.com, was not created. This entire issue took almost 2 weeks to resolve; all the while I had to work with Level 1 & 2 techs who know less about the entire Office 365 services than I do. Loryan and the MVPs are working to try to make the Cloud Accelerate Partners have the ability to bypass the first or second level of support, and I hope they succeed! I am in no way saying the first and second level support do not have their place, but for partners and expert level users, it becomes a time drain working with them when a quick escalation to level three or engineering is needed. Partners and MVP level users who contact support already have completed the steps and suggestions that Level one and two provide.

At the end, other than having a bit of fun at Loryan’s expense about his new found status as an Office 365 Model (inside joke, he was part of a picture montage at last year’s World Partner Conference (WPC) that is starting to show up on several Microsoft websites, we ended the meeting with some ideas for next month’s meeting. One Topic we hope to be able to expand about in the July meeting is the inclusion of true PSTN/Voice integration with Lync Online.

 

Well that was not totally all; I did have to plug my company, Catapult Systems, for winning the Microsoft Systems Management Partner of the Year. http://www.catapultsystems.com/About/News/Articles/Pages/Catapult-Microsoft-Systems-Management-Partner-of-the-Year.aspx, and the Video Catapult and our sister company SlingRock created to show why Office 365 is a better choice for the enterprise than Google, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBlbnvKmf1g