Step 2: Directory and Network Readiness
Ensure your directory and the network are configured and ready to support to your shift to Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. This will require Azure Active Directory Services to be in place for users, and your network must have the capacity to handle both its regular traffic and the movement of potentially vast amounts of data as PCs are upgraded, and users’ files, settings and applications are restored.
Directory and Network Readiness is the second step in our recommended deployment process wheel focusing on Azure Active Directory and optizming the network. To see the full desktop deployment process, visit the Modern Desktop Deployment Center.
Directory and Network readiness is fundamental to ensuring a smooth OS and desktop deployment. As with any automated deployment, it is important to ensure your file shares can be reached, and your network will need to be able to support the transfer of very large files, possibly to hundreds or even thousands of PCs at a time.
With your shift to Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus you also now need to make sure that cloud-based identity is set up with Azure Active Directory. This is key not only to activating Office 365 ProPlus, it also allows you to take advantage of modern provisioning solutions like Windows Autopilot.
In this article we’ll explore the tools and options to prepare your directory services, and user and device permissions, ready for deployment to Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus.
Adding Azure Active Directory
If your organization already uses Office 365, Exchange Online, Microsoft Intune, or other Microsoft Online services, the good news is you are already using Azure Active Directory. If you are, you just need to ensure that the users you are targeting for desktop deployment are in your Azure Active Directory and that licenses have been assigned.
If you are not currently using Azure Active Directory, there are numerous resources to help you set it up. You may well qualify for personalized assistance via Microsoft FastTrack, as part of your Office 365 license. You can check out more about Microsoft Fastrack here.
Once you have Azure Active Directory in place, your users can sign in to and activate their Office 365 ProPlus apps, and you can use Microsoft Intune or Windows Autopilot deployment for automated deployment of apps and policy.
You must consider bandwidth requirements when planning your deployments. There are three main components in a deployment that will have an impact on your network – PC imaging, software updates, and user personalization. Between them, this can mean in excess of 20 GB per PC for the initial migration, and often 1 GB or more per month per PC to stay up-to-date.
Let’s start by exploring the requirements of each of these three main components:
For Windows Images with no customization you should plan typically for 3GB per PC, while for customized images with apps you may need to allow 6GB, or more. You may also need to consider Driver packages; these can be a few hundred megabytes per PC, sometimes up to 1GB.
You’ll need to plan network bandwidth for software updates. Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus use a new servicing model delivering monthly and semi-annual updates. If you are new to this model, you can learn more about how this works here.
The new servicing model includes Feature Updates for Windows twice a year, Office Semi-Annual Channel Updates, and monthly Quality Updates. Feature Updates are typically 2 – 4GB in size, and Office Semi-Annual Channel updates are 300 – 400 MB per update. Then there are the monthly Quality Updates. These may range from a few hundred megabytes to over a gigabyte. This is because monthly updates are cumulative, so these increase in size over the servicing lifetime for each Windows 10 version. That said, there are tools that can help reduce the amount of data that must pass over the network to implement updates. We will cover this in more detail below.
The third component to consider is user personalization. Here you need to plan network bandwidth to accommodate the restoring of user files, their settings, and their applications as part of the PC refresh or replacement process. Together, these items often exceed 20 GB per PC; for some users these may exceed 100 GB.
One way to limit the impact of deployment-related traffic on the network is to throttle it using the BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer Service) setting on clients. BITS uses an Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) to adjust bandwidth available for deployment purposes; it can be configured on clients using Group Policy.
If you use System Center Configuration Manager, you can also configure BITS-enabled Distribution Points or enable multicast with WDS.
Throttling specific traffic means that normal network traffic is less impacted by PCs downloading updates and applications. But carving out a certain percentage of bandwidth for these tasks helps ensure productivity isn’t impacted by Windows or Office deployment and processes continue to run as needed, it can worsen deployment-related downtime, with users locked out of their PCs while a deployment runs.
Fortunately, there are new tools to make it easier for you to manage the network impact of a large-scale desktop deployment, including LEDBAT to optimize use of available bandwidth, and peer-to-peer (P2P) options to move deployment traffic away from the center of the network and out to the perimeter
Low Extra Delay Background Transport (LEDBAT), supported in Windows Server 2019 and System Center Configuration Manager version 1806, is designed to optimize network traffic to Windows clients.
Unlike traditional throttling, LEDBAT can use all available network bandwidth as a background task, instantly yielding bandwidth when other traffic requests it. Unlike BITS there is no delay; everything is automated – no manual tuning or scheduling required, and everything is setup server side. This affords potentially massive performance gains.
Peer-to-Peer options are increasingly being used in Windows 10 migrations, for PC imaging, software updates and user personalization. They are also valuable in facilitating build-to-build upgrades after your initial Windows 10 deployment. Here we will cover several examples to help move Windows 10 and Office-related traffic away from the center of the network, reducing the need for classic throttling approaches, and allowing PCs to find the update files they need on peers in their local network rather than downloading them from a distribution point or the internet.
BranchCache can help you download content in distributed environments without saturating the network. It comes in two options: Hosted Cache Mode, which lets you use local servers to cache content, and Distributed Cache Mode (a mode supported in System Center Configuration Manager), which lets clients share already downloaded content with each other.
Peer Cache Clients supported by System Center Configuration Manager can also make use of Peer Cache. This allows PCs that are reliably available on the network to host source for content distribution. You won’t want to enable this all of your PCs – only target devices with reliable network connections as hosts (e.g. desktop, mini-tower, or tower PCs). Peer Cache can even work for deployment tasks running in Windows PE phases during setup.
Note: BranchCache and Peer Cache are complementary and can work together in the same environment.
Delivery Optimization Delivery Optimization is another peer-to-peer caching technology, providing network-based controls for deployments. Windows 10 Delivery Optimization to update built-in UWP apps, also to install applications from the Microsoft Store, and for software updates using Express Updates. It has been available since early versions of Windows 10, though it has only recently integrated with System Center Configuration Manager. Since Windows 10 version 1803 new configuration options mean you can now independently set bandwidth limits for background updates and foreground jobs such as an app install from the Store. Windows Delivery Optimization now also supports Office 365 ProPlus during client updates, available in all supported Office 365 client update channels. Support for Windows Delivery Optimization during Office 365 client initial installation will be coming soon.
Additional Considerations for Office 365 ProPlus
In addition to leveraging Delivery Optimization, here are three items that will help reduce your network load due to Office 365 ProPlus deployments.
Binary Delta Compression Office 365 ProPlus uses Binary Delta Compression to reduce bandwidth consumed by software updates when updating from the most recent release of Office 365 ProPlus to the next release. By only pulling the binary level changes from the previous release, the impact from month-over-month growth of cumulative updates is minimized. This has the potential of saving several hundred megabytes of data, per PC, each month. In order to use this capability though, you cannot skip releases. If you do, then the full cumulative update must be downloaded.
Outlook Data Files Outlook is often configured to cache users’ entire mailbox locally for use offline. In any Windows deployment, except an in-place upgrade, that requires the users’ Outlook Data Files to rebuild themselves after the upgrade. This is an automated process, but with Outlook mailbox limits typically set to up to 100GB, re-caching the entire mailbox locally for all users means a lot of data transfer. To reduce the network load you may want to consider using Group Policy to reduce the “Mail to keep offline” setting. In Office 365 ProPlus or Office 2016 the default value for Outlook is set to 12 months. In order to reduce network impact consider setting the offline cache to last between 1 to 6 months. Changing this setting does not affect the size of the online mailbox, and the entire mailbox can still be searched via Outlook when online.
OneDrive Files on Demand and Known Folder Move OneDrive is a great way to synchronize and protect user files from PCs and other devices in the cloud. With Known Folder Move, you can enforce file sync from a user’s Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders to OneDrive making those files available when signing into a new device a or reimaged PC. Remember though, due to the sheer size and number of files kept in Desktop, Documents, and Pictures locations, you’ll want to be planful with the rollout of policies enabling and enforcing OneDrive on your PCs. One option is to use Group Policy Network controls to throttle bandwidth used by the OneDrive sync service.
If you haven’t already rolled out OneDrive, the shift from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is a perfect opportunity to enable OneDrive and it integrates seamlessly Office 365 ProPlus. Consider starting this roll-out while working through your app and device readiness. This will give file sync a head start before you start moving Windows images and deploying apps over your network.
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