End of the school year, now what?

Well, most school districts are at the end of the tunnel or seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to the end of the school year. This time of year is ALWAYS emotional; whether it be seeing students we’ve known through the years moving onto their next journey in life, looking forward to an epic summer vacation or gearing up for all the projects over the summer!

Yep, I’ve said it. This is the time of year that IT Departments hunker down, pull in all the old equipment and clean it up, order and process new equipment coming in, or taking on new projects to further their district goals and strategies. I’m working with SEVERAL districts across the US on their device management strategy.

Historically, the past few months (January – April) is the time of year where I have the conversation of re-imaging machines in order to get them ready for the next school year; this year was no different. However, one of the fundamental shifts in the conversation was to focus the conversation on provisioning rather than imaging. At this point, you may be asking yourself a couple of things: 1. What’s the difference? 2. We’ve always imaged our machines so why change a well defined process? 3. What’s in it for me?

For the shops who are familiar with imaging, the first part is creation of the “gold image”. In the “best” case scenario, they have one single image. However, most imaging shops have multiple gold images based off of machine / model or different user role applications (i.e. student image vs. teacher image). Those images are usually 2 to 4 GB in size (depending on the installed applications, they can be much larger). The next step in the process is to take that image and deploy it via media (i.e. USB, network, etc.). In the best case scenario, it can be multicasted on the network. However, that’s still gigabytes of data traversing the network. Once the image is deployed, each individual machine goes through the OOBE (Out of Box Experience) setup experience. As the graphic below depicts, the “traditional deployment method” can be a costly proposition including time, network and infrastructure to support the effort.


When Windows 10 was introduced, it was fundamentally different in many aspects. One of those aspects is the deployment method, or “modern deployment method”. Think of Windows 10 like your cell phone. You have one, right? When is the last time you re-imaged your cell phone? Unless it’s unlocked or jail broken, you just don’t do that. If things start acting up, you do a reset. You can elect to retain or wipe your personal data (i.e. contacts, pictures, etc.) but the phone OS is all local. Windows 10 is no different.

With Windows 10, you receive your device from your device re-seller (for a new device) or update it (depending on what version you’re currently on, there may be similar or different paths), answer a couple of questions such as language, keyboard layout and network and the device is provisioned. It may not even have the IT staff’s involvement. That’s it, seriously.


Allow me to open that provisioning “black box” to explain some terms mentioned in the image above; specifically “transform”. With Microsoft Set Up School PCs app, this allows a school IT Admin to create a Provisioning Package to answer questions such as:

  • Which Azure Active Directory tenant do you want the device to join
  • Which wireless network you’d like the device to use
  • Is there an automated naming convention to use
  • Which timezone
  • Product Key
  • Which applications to install during the OOBE / Provisioning process
  • Is there a specific wallpaper or lock screen background to use

This app will give you the ability to create one or more USB drives to copy the provisioning package to. A basic provisioning package is approximately 93MB (without any applications included). When provisioning a device, as depicted in the graphic above, all the traffic is localized to the device (disk and USB I/O). This greatly reduces the time that an IT Department can get a device into a faculty / staff /student hand for teaching and learning. The ‘magic’ is that not only is this process provisioning the device but it also is enrolling it into Microsoft Intune. You now have a fully managed device!

Generally, the initial feedback / push-back I’ve received when speaking to customers is “…great Chris however I don’t want to walk around with a USB stick to provision every device.” Fair. Very fair statement! That’s why we switch gears and start to speak about a cloud driven process to pre-register devices called Windows AutoPilot. Devices can be completely configured with no IT intervention required.  Devices pre-registered with Windows AutoPilot are ensured the best set-up experience when the device is received by the end user.

So what does an organization need to do to use Windows AutoPilot?  There are three simple steps.  First, each new device needs to be registered with the Windows AutoPilot deployment service.  Then, a profile of settings needs to be assigned to each device, controlling how the device is configured prior to when Intune can complete the setup.  Once those steps are done, the device can be shipped to the user. For existing devices already enrolled in Intune, there is a setting enabled by default to Enable AutoPilot Reset (see image below).


To this point, there’s a a LOT written! However, did I mention that this is a one time thing? Once a device is provisioned, enrolled and Intune settings have been applied, the following school year becomes a matter of doing an AutoPilot Reset! In the example in the image below, I have a classroom cart of Windows devices which I’d like to target AutoPilot Reset on. This cart can have apps and settings which are specific to the class or grade level it’s assigned to. Thus, when the AutoPilot Reset is triggered, the device will remove all personalization (user data) and return to the login screen ready for use again!

I hope this has been insightful and will free up some of your time, network bandwidth and ultimately lower your costs of device distribution / usage.


Microsoft 365 Education – Licensing

*DISCLAIMER* I know, the title of this entry is deceiving but bear with me! I’m stating up front that I am NOT a licensing person at Microsoft but within a product group. Along with that, we (Microsoft employees) understand that our licensing is challenging to understand, at best! We’re actively attempting to find a simple way to license and consume our solutions within a classroom. (If reading NOTHING else, jump to the end paragraph for the HUGE nugget you should know!)

This post comes from a couple of districts, which came up to me after a session I did at a conference I spoke at: which most of the audience are Google Classroom customers. There were two questions which stuck out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  1. This question was VERY pointed. I’ll paraphrase but it went something like, “Why do I have 2 admins administering all of my Chromebooks and 7-8 for Windows?” If I recall correctly, there was also a sidebar conversation of how Windows devices are more expensive than a Chromebook.
  2. I want to adopt Intune for Education (that was the topic I presented) but Microsoft’s licensing is SO complex. I also don’t know what I need to make the Modern Classroom a reality. Please help!

Let’s start with the device question first. In my opinion, it’s a race to the bottom (lowest price) as it concerns hardware. Both platforms have entry level hardware (Chromebook and Windows PCs). So, I want to push pricing aside for a moment; not that it’s unimportant but I believe there to be additional context around that device. When this question was posed to me at the conference, I stepped back to ask a few questions. I asked what goals, curriculum and educational uses they needed technology to support? I received a typical IT response (which is what the audience was) which was to surf the web and do productivity. My answer was very concise and clear; Microsoft has an answer for that which is a $200-$300 device, with touchscreen, along with Office 365 A1 (our first confusion on solution names! I’ll cover that below) which is free to educational intuitions (faculty/staff/students).

The conversation pivoted, at that point, that the Windows PC’s needed to run the Office desktop apps. My counter to that was that the criteria just changed. A Chromebook cannot do that, so why is the bar changing for a PC? We went around a few times and then the lightbulb went on! There IS a direct comparison of a Chromebook to a Windows PC. However, with that same Windows PC, you CAN do more things with it! You can install additional software (desktop AND store apps) as well as educational hardware (think USB microscopes and such). Would I suggest running Office desktop applications and USB microscopes on minimal hardware? Heck no! However, the Windows ecosystem allows an institution to meet their curricular and educational goals. It’s not about the “specs” of the hardware.

Now onto “Question 2” of licensing. I’ve been working with a district who wants to adopt Intune for Education. The conversation started in that same circle of questions from above. To make matters ‘worse’, Microsoft has almost every permeation of licensing spanning our 44 years in the software business. It’s like a mindmap; if you have this and then want that, you’ll need to go down this path. We try and help and bridge our customers from where there at and where our current software is. However, it makes it VERY complex and confusing. Along with that, we have ‘challenging’ names and worse yet.. TONS of acronyms! Allow me to throw two of them into the mix: O365 and M365. Did you know those are a ‘thing’? They’re actually two different things which you should know about!

Office 365 (O365) is Microsoft’s subscription of productivity tools and services. There are 3 different educational variants to choose from; A1, which is a FREE subscription, A3 and A5 which are paid subsciptions. All the details can be found here of price and features for O365.

Microsoft 365 (M365) is a new device license including Windows, Intune for Education, and Office 365 Education. (There’s QUITE a bit more but that will give you the basics!) Just like it’s O365 counterpart, there are A1, A3 and A5 tiers. I’m going to focus on the paid versions (A3 and A5) because the thought behind the pricing was to make it SIMPLE! Yes, that’s right! Everything you need for your devices in the classroom from identity, productivity and management (see graphic below).


Now, if you’ve made it this far (I sure hope you have!), the biggest thing to know when purchasing A3/A5 is that you count up your Faculty / Staff and pick one. All your students are included in that price! That includes student home use rights for Office on their home machines (iOS, PC, Mac or Android). Seriously, it’s that simple! Reference that image below or click the link here to go to the Microsoft site! Enjoy!


Cloud Deployment Video Series – Trial Tenant

As part of the I4ESnacks (Intune 4 Education Video Snacks) series at http://aka.ms/I4ESnacks, I’m starting at square one (highlighted in yellow below)! This means setting up a demo Office 365 for Education tenant and getting it populated with Fac/Staff and Students. First video is posted at https://youtu.be/22crDXOIdDE . School Data Sync is coming up next!


Internalizing Feedback

As you’ve seen in some previous posts, I’ve been traveling around the world to listen and interact with our customers or potential customers. One thing (possibly two) became VERY clear to me!

  1. How do I use “your stuff”?
  2. How do we continue the dialog throughout the year (in addition to conferences and meet ups)

I’ve been a little bit quiet doing some research and sharing this feedback with our team. To that end, I’ve been looking at documentation, PowerPoint decks, YouTube content and anything else I can get my hands on! (Leave a comment if you’ve got a secret “go to” place) The next step is to do a classic gap analysis of core assets and what are customers asking for; is there a gap? In the end, I’ve come up with the consultative answer! It depends! 🙂

In all seriousness, it depends where you’re at on the spectrum of adoption and deployment. Our mission on the Microsoft Intune for Education CxE Customer Pursuit Team, is to accelerate adoption / deployment as well as improve our product. So, think of our team as prior to adoption or right at the point of making that decision. That’s the lens we’re looking through.

As I look through our collateral, I’ve found some good stuff out of the gate! I’d love to get feedback on who’s seen or used this site on Microsoft Education Documentation and Resources. For me, it captured the essence of the first point above. As seen below, there’s the “Why Microsoft 365 Education” as well as the Deployment Overview. Then we have the following steps:

  1. Cloud Deployment
  2. Device Management
  3. Tools for Teachers


However, in our typical fashion, I found these to be lengthy articles or “how to’s”. Granted, we’ve broken it down into five or so steps in each section. However, I’d like to take it one step further and create “workshop” based materials with corresponding videos breaking the steps down further. (Based off of the “tasked-based video” concept of I4ESnacks / http://aka.ms/I4ESnacks.) I believe this will further visualize and bring to life the docs which are out there.

Please leave feedback, thoughts or questions! There will be more regarding the second reflection point later!