Friendly URLs with Office 365

 

One of the small challenges faced by organisations adopting Office 365 and other Microsoft Online Services offerings is the loss of custom URLs and naming conventions that their staff have become familiar with.

For example where previously an organisations URL for SharePoint may have been http://intranet internally and http://intranet.contoso.com externally – this was only possible through the use of Alternate Access Mappings (AAM) in SharePoint.

In the world of Office 365 and SharePoint Online this URL becomes https://contoso.sharepoint.com which is somewhat easy to remember if you were successful in securing a tenant domain that resembles your organisation name. Unfortunately not every organisation is lucky enough, and tenant domains on Office 365 are consumed on a first-come-first-serve basis. That may mean that while Contoso in the US registered for Office 365 first and now has https://contoso.sharepoint.com, Contoso Australia would have to choose a different URL – possibly https://contosoau.sharepoint.com or https://contosooz.sharepoint.com. Either way it’s not idea.

Where this gets a bit confusing is adding in URLs for Outlook Web Access – http://mail.office365.com or http://www.outlook.com/contoso.com. Then add Dynamics CRM Online with https://contoso.crm5.dynamics.com.

All of these URLs can be a bit much to deal with for the average user who just wants to get on with doing their job and not have to remember all these URLs.

If your website is hosted externally (ie. not on Office 365) and happens to be on cPanel then you’re in luck as you can use a combination of subdomains and 301 redirects. What is a redirect? Redirects allow you to make a specific web page or URL redirect to another page or URL and display the contents of that page. In a nutshell if we create a subdomain of intranet.contoso.com and create a redirect to point it to https://contoso.sharepoint.com this will allow the user to type in one URL and have it end up at another.

For Paradyne I have created a series of redirects to make it easy for our staff:

 

Why can you not simply use a CNAME in DNS to achieve this? Because when a CNAME hits the Microsoft web server that is providing the relevant service the URL it will ask for is the original friendly URL. Because Microsoft doesn’t know about http://intranet.paradyne.com.au it won’t know what to do with the request.

When all the redirects have been put in place within your cPanel environment, you must then create A records in DNS to point all of those friendly URLs to the IP address of your web server – as it is doing all the redirecting.

The downside of this means that a bit of traffic goes through your web host, but these days data is all but free so it shouldn’t make an impact.

The upside means that users don’t have to remember different URLs and domains for each of the services they want to access – just the word in front of your domain name.

(An alternative method would be to use a friendly URL of http://www.contoso.com/intranet/ and re-direct that instead, which means no DNS entries required. The choice is up to you.)

Get out of the office more!

Recently Microsoft Australia undertook what it called “freaky Friday” with Managing Director Pip Marlow telling her staff not to come in on Friday – and instead to work anywhere but the office.

This was publicised in the Australian media as something innovate and a way to showcase the Microsoft technologies which enabled staff all over the country to work from the cloud.

The key technologies that featured in this were Office 365 and Surface, however this couldn’t have been achieved without key communication technologies such as Lync Server and Windows Phone.

While I applaud Pip for taking a stand and mobilising her workforce to show customers and partners that work is something we do not somewhere we go, I challenge her to make this be a more regular occurrence.

You see I was reading about this “freaky Friday” while working in Seattle (I had just flown in from my hometown of Melbourne, Australia). While I was reading about it, I was also working on my Surface RT and Windows Phone, bringing in my Lenovo X201 Tablet when needing to do some real work (soon to be replaced with a Surface Pro).

Why is this notable? Because my office is in the cloud thanks to Office 365, Windows Intune, CRM Online and Skype. And I can access all of those services from all 3 of my mobile devices. This isn’t because I’m a road warrior – it’s because my primary business (Paradyne) is completely cloud-based.

Paradyne was formed in February 2010 and initially we worked from our homes. In April 2011 we hired our first full time staff and upgraded to an office so we all had a place to sit. The problem was that one of the staff was out of the office 2 days a week with a client while myself and one of the other staff were in and out on a regular basis.

Exactly a year later we shut down the office and moved back to being home-based workers, and business has flourished since.

There were many reasons for doing this, and many logistical things that needed to be addressed – but I won’t go into detail about these.

What I can say is that our staff have a better time working as they are more flexible with their hours and time throughout the day, and productivity is higher.

While the Paradyne team is spread across 3 Australian states (plus 2 staff in other countries) we find the ability to do work rather than go to work quite liberating. We regularly keep in contact throughout the day thanks to Lync, have access to all our information and systems on any number of devices (several of our team have MacBooks, iPhones and iPads), and have the ability to work from any office – be it a serviced office in the CBD, a customers office, or Microsoft offices around the country.

Microsoft staff around the world are encouraged to work from home and enjoy a more flexible work/life balance as a result, however efforts like Microsoft Australia’s “freaky Friday” show that it can be done on a larger scale.

To really show leadership to its partners and customers – Microsoft should either close its physical offices more often or encourage its managers to do more offsite meetings and workshops. Customers need to see that this was more than a publicity stunt or proof of concept – this is the new way to work and it had nothing to do with a physical location.