Presentation: Security and Governance in the Cloud

Here is a presentation that I did recently for NHS CIO’s and CCIO’s.

It is all about how NHS England has followed a journey to cloud services and the IT Security & Information Governance issues we had to deal with along the way. It tries to also show other NHS organisations how they might work towards similar aims.

DSC vs. GPO vs. SCCM vs. MDM

Microsoft Windows administrators now have a number of ways for managing their estates.

  • Group Policy (GPO)
    Allows very fine-grained control over every aspect of Windows. Primarily aimed at Windows desktops. Requires Active Directory (AD) and very careful configuration. Requires well trained specialist staff to get it right.
  • System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)
    Allows central control over software delivery. Also requires AD. Configuration of delivery packages can be complex and very careful change control is required. Software delivery via SCCM can also be intrusive to users. Requires well trained specialist staff to get it right.
  • Desired State Configuration (DSC)
    Though extended by Microsoft this is actually part of a wider open standard “Open Management Infrastructure” and so applies to other platforms as well including Linux. Mainly aimed at server configurations. Falls into the DevOps camp as it defines server configurations in purely text format and so can be put under source control easily. DSC is typically dynamic and enforces the correct configuration (normally every 15 minutes) which greatly helps ensure secure configurations.
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM)
    Primarily aimed at mobile devices, this style of configuration is increasingly applicable to Windows Desktops with the advent of Windows 10. Microsoft InTune is leading the way with other MDM vendors following on. Not everything on the desktop can yet be controlled this way, even with W10 but many key settings and controls are already available. A much simpler method for enforcing desktop settings than the other methods, it allows fewer administrators and much less specialist knowledge.

The article from FoxDeploy covers the first three of those and lays out the purpose of each. Well worth a read.

What is missing is the 4th method which uses Mobile Device Management tooling. The leading contender for this is Microsoft InTune. However, InTune is really only focussed on Windows 10 (desktop and mobile), it has limited control in other Operating Systems.

Servers only ever exist in a given state. If they deviate or we make changes, we refactor and redeploy. DSC drives it all and the machine will be up and running on a new OS, with data migrated in a matter of minutes.

For all practical purposes, the first true large scale management tool we had for Windows systems in the modern era was Group Policy, or GPO as it is commonly truncated.

Comparatively, SCCM and MDT allow us to we import an image from a Windows install disk and then run dozens of individual steps which are customized based on the target machines platform, model, office location and other factors. The sky is the limit.

Curated from DSC vs. GPO vs. SCCM, the case for each. – FoxDeploy.com

No Code Business Solutions in Microsoft SharePoint

Resources to show you how to create code-free business solutions in Microsoft SharePoint

It used to be that you had to be an expert Microsoft developer to create business solutions in Microsoft SharePoint but that is no longer true.

There are many ways for users and power users to create incredible solutions with no coding at all.

Here are two resources that show you how:

New Laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga

I have the pleasure of trying a new laptop right now as we consider them for work.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga.

We have this configured with an Intel i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD with 16GB SDD speed boost, the touch & pen screen.

It is a nice laptop with a screen that folds right over so you can use it as a slightly chunky tablet, the keyboard locks in this mode so you don’t accidentally press keys.

It is great to finally be able to afford a laptop with a proper, pressure sensitive pen interface, it is a joy to use with tools such as Microsoft OneNote.

The touch pad is also the best I’ve ever used. The pad itself is a proper mechanical button and once used, you will never want to go back to a trackpad that doesn’t provide such positive feedback and natural feel.

We have Windows 8.1 Pro on it and the usual ups and downs of that operating system apply. Personally, I find W8.1 less reliable than Windows 7 but I suspect that it comes down to the software you use. I can say categorically that the “Modern UI” apps are a disaster. In particular they do not fully close when you think you’ve closed them (check in the Task Manager) and I’ve often noticed a significant slow-down after having started and “closed” several Modern UI apps.

The laptop is certainly nice to use overall, it isn’t too heavy and can be used on one arm for 5-15 minutes without discomfort, longer than that becomes noticeable though. So not a complete tablet replacement. Great when sat however with it perched on a knee or supported with a table. No more scrappy paper notes for me! It is OneNote all the way.

The Good

  • Pen and touch with Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office, a great combination.
  • Fairly thin considering the features available.
  • The fold-over screen is easy and natural to use.

The Indifferent

  • The Windows architecture doesn’t handle very high resolution screens well. I blame this on the development tools and Windows graphical UI libraries mainly. Too many applications do not correctly scale.
  • Only 2 USB ports. About average for a thin laptop but very limiting when there as so many devices needing USB.
  • After many years, Lenovo have finally changed their power connectors. Annoying though necessary, all those spare power supplies scattered around aren’t so useful now. Fortunately, you can buy a converter cable if you want to.
  • Some windows behave oddly, changing font sizes drastically for no apparent reason. Not sure if this is Windows or something to do with the laptop.

The Bad

  • The power button is in the wrong place, it gets clicked by mistake too often. It is on the right hand side of the base at the front. Right next to the volume buttons.
  • No drive LED indicator – really?! When using a PC this is essential if you want to know whether a pause in response is due to disk activity or something more serious.
  • Mini-HDMI interface. This is not good for a business laptop, we already have full and mini Display Link adaptors and now we need to have HDMI as well.
  • No native LAN interface. You have to give up one of the 2 USB ports and to get a USB-to-LAN cable if you want a wired connection. Again poor for a business laptop.
  • The usual pointless spamware is pre-installed. However, Lenovo are better than most, not installing too much and their own wares do seem to actually serve a purpose mainly (I probably kept 1/2 of their own tools and removed everything else). Driver and software updates seem regular.
  • Windows 8.1 Modern UI apps continue to be a very uncertain proposition with poor quality being rife and even the better quality apps seeming to regularly result in ongoing reduced performance on the PC. (Not Lenovo’s fault of course).

Conclusion

A worthy, flexible tool if you need or want both touch and pen interfaces. If not, save some money and go for a Lenovo X240. Possibly the most affordable convertible with pen and touch, at last such devices are in reach of mortals!

 

Microsoft 64-bit Application Support (lack-of)

Microsoft’s 64-bit support is still sorely fragmented as we find out with a brand new laptop trying to access Microsoft SharePoint.

The joys of working with Microsoft products!

So I have a brand-new, shiny 17″ HP laptop. 64-bit throughout. 6GB of RAM and comes pre-installed with 64-bit Windows.

You would think, then, that you would want to use 64-bit applications right? Wrong!!

I automatically use the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer to access some Microsoft specific sites (Outlook Web Access and SharePoint 2007). I install and use the 64-bit version of Microsoft Office. Does this work well with SharePoint (from Microsoft)? No!

For starters, you cannot upload an Excel spreadsheet to a SharePoint list like you should be able to. You get an error:

This feature requires Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or later, and Windows 95 or later.

Next you try to switch a list into a “Datasheet” view – which looks a bit like a spreadsheet. Inevitably, you get another error:

The list is displayed in Standard view. It cannot be displayed in Datasheet view for one or more of the following reasons: A datasheet component compatible with Windows SharePoint Services is not installed, your browser does not support ActiveX controls, or support for ActiveX controls is disabled.

To fix these errors, you then have to download and install “2007 Office System Driver: Data Connectivity Components“.

And you have to use the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9).

Enterprise System Design and Accessibility

Most web designers are well aware of the need to design with accessibility in mind and that this is a legal requirement in many countries.

Not so many IT architects and designers who deal with internal, enterprise systems are aware, though, that these laws and requirements also apply to internal systems.

Recently I’ve yet again seen a number of dreadfully designed user interfaces (UI) for enterprise systems that most certainly don’t meet usability standards let alone accessibility standards! Continue reading “Enterprise System Design and Accessibility”