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Case Studies

Using Windows Azure to host Office 365 Courses

Training Design and Development

LeX (Microsoft Learning Experience) is a major arm of the Microsoft Corporation that helps drive adoption of the company’s software products by providing high-quality training worldwide both directly and through a network of training partners. LeX also manages the organization’s globally recognized examination and certification programme.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s class-leading suite of productivity applications made available as a subscription-licenced cloud service. Office 365 includes Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Office 365 ProPlus and can be enhanced with other services and software such as Microsoft Project, Microsoft Visio, and Yammer. Office 365 enables organizations to migrate entirely away from on-premises servers and simplify their provision of IT services to users.

The need

Because of the popularity of this service, LeX has created two new certification exams that qualify students for the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification in Office 365. These exams are 70-346: Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements and 70-347: Enabling Office 365 Services.

Content Master was engaged to design and develop course 20346A: Managing Office 365 Identities and Services, a five-day instructor-led training course that addressed the objective domains from both exams. LeX required Content Master to apply the lab-forward principle of course design with the resulting course design consisting of a 50-50 mix of lecture content and labs.

Although labs that cover administration of Office 365 on its own are relatively straightforward to create, the directory integration and Exchange Server migration topics covered in this course required each student to have access to an on-premises environment consisting of a domain controller, Exchange Server, and computers running Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS). Typically, a LeX course would host these on-premises servers in Windows Hyper-V virtual machines, which run on each student’s classroom computer. Where required, Internet access from these virtual machines to the Internet is provided through the training partner’s shared Internet connection.

The challenge with Course 20346A was that to create practical training that met with the requirements of the exam objective domains, each student would need a fixed external IP address for their on-premises virtual machines. They would also need a Domain Name System (DNS) zone that they could configure and had to be able to request third-party security certificates that tied into the DNS naming and therefore to each student’s external IP address. Finally, each student’s Office 365 account would need to be able to connect to each student’s on-premises Exchange Server from outside the learning partner’s network. Hence, it became obvious that the shared Internet connection that most learning partners use would not be practicable. The alternate approach of simplifying the labs so that they could run in the learning partners’ networks was rejected as it would lead to an unacceptable learning experience, would not address the exam objective domains of Exam 70-346 and would result in poor student satisfaction and low evaluation scores.

The solution

The solution that Content Master proposed was to host the students’ on-premises virtual machines in Microsoft Azure instead of on Windows Hyper-V running on student computers. With this arrangement, each student receives a unique public IP address through the Microsoft Azure service and these cloud-based virtual machines can then communicate with Office 365 through that address. Importantly, each student has a real, Internet-accessible on-premises environment, which makes the training more engaging.

This setup is presented to the students by explaining that the “on-premises” virtual machines are being hosted in a private cloud datacenter run by Lucerne Publishing, a fictitious company based in Geneva, Switzerland. Hence, the concept of having the virtual machines hosted in Microsoft Azure is seamlessly integrated into the practical tasks through provision of a compelling and believable scenario.

During the development process, CM Group technologists overcame a number of technical and organizational challenges with the scripts that create the virtual machines in Windows Azure. The team also proposed numerous additional solutions to address issues such as requesting third-party encryption certificates, configuration of DNS zones and records, and continuity of students’ external IP addresses.

The result of Content Master’s work on this project was a course that addressed all the practical elements of the objective domains from both exams and met all the expectations of students who attended the pilot delivery.

The benefits

This approach produced the following significant benefits for LeX:

• Provision of a learning experience that reflects the realities of configuring Office 365
• Configuration of a real-world, Internet-accessible environment for each student
• Global scalability of the course to a worldwide audience
• Instant conversion of the course labs from instructor-led to virtual or eLearning formats
Using Windows Azure to host Office 365 Courses No requirement to create a dedicated hosting environment to deliver the course
• No additional costs result from hosting the course in Microsoft Azure
• Inclusion into the course of a number of advanced hands-on labs that cover:
o DNS zone and record configuration
o Certificate requesting and issuance
o Provision of Outlook Anywhere connectivity to the on-premises environment
o Exchange Server to Exchange Online cutover migration
o Full configuration of Directory Synchronization with password synchronization
o Full configuration of AD FS server farms and ADFS proxies
• Higher levels of student satisfaction

In addition, this approach generates the following benefits for training partners:

• Significant reduction in the hardware requirements to set up the course
• Simplification of the setup process
• Greater training flexibility by enabling labs to be assigned as self-study

As a result of Content Master’s innovative approach to designing Course 20346, LeX now plans to use Microsoft Azure as its hosting platform for all future courses that need fixed Internet IP addresses, cloud connectivity or on-premises servers connected directly to the Internet. LeX also has a mechanism to convert its instructor-led labs instantly into virtual ILT and self-study content.

If you want to know more about how Content Master’s depth and breadth of vision, strategic thinking, effective implementation skills, and attention to detail can help your organization be more effective, contact