I recently wrote about the fact that the new OneDrive sync client now supports the synchronization of SharePoint libraries, and the benefits that it brings. Since the release however, I have heard from several people that even though they have the new client, their libraries continue to sync with the older OneDrive for Business client. Microsoft has documented all of the procedures for getting it to work in this article, but I wanted to call out a few common issues here. If you’ve been using the old OneDrive for Business Sync client, and you want to move to the Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC), you’ll want to check the items below.
Make sure you have the correct version
The Next Generation Sync Client has been available for over a year, but the ability to synchronize SharePoint libraries was only added in January 2017. If you use Windows 10, the client is updated automatically, but you may not have it yet. To check your version, right click on one of the OneDrive clouds in the system tray (not any OneDrive for Business icons) and select “Settings”
Next, click on the “About” tab and check the version.
If you have version 17.3.6743.1212 or above, you’re good to go. If not, or you’re not running Windows 10, you can download the latest version here.
Ensure That Your Tenant is Configured for the New Client
Administrators can configure their tenant to use either the new OneDrive Sync client or the old OneDrive for Business Sync Client. This configuration setting is in the SharePoint administration of Office 365. To change this setting, log into the Office 365 Admin portal (or have your tenant admin do this if you don’t have rights). The URL for the portal is https://portal.office.com/adminportal/. Once there, launch the SharePoint admin center by clicking SharePoint in the Admin Centers section.
The setting that we’re after is in the “settings” section of the SharePoint admin center. Select it, then scroll to the “Sync Client for SharePoint” section. The options are straightforward – Start the new client, or start the old one. Once selected, click on Save (scroll down for the button). This setting controls what happens when the “Sync” button is selected in a SharePoint library.
Initiate the Takeover Process
Even with this setting turned on, the old OneDrive for Business sync client may be active. You’ll need to take action to have the new client take over. This can be done one of several ways. Firstly, running the setup process for the new sync client will do it (download is above). You can also run “OneDrive.exe /takeover” to accomplish this, but the easiest approach is to simply sync a new library by clicking on its Sync button. Doing so will not only sync the new library, but will take over syncing anything that the older client is doing.
Once the takeover process is complete, the old client will be removed on the next system restart. That’s the last you’ll see of GROOVE.EXE.
A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled “OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive” in which I took a slightly cheeky look of what has become known as the “Next Generation Sync Client” (NGSC) for OneDrive, and its many idiosyncrasies. I then turned that post into a speaking session (Changing the title slightly to OneDrive, TwoDrive, White Drive, BlueDrive), and that session has been presented at many events over the past year. In that post and session, it is pointed out that the NGSC still had some work to do, and that it would get done.
True to their word, it seemed that every time I presented that session, I had to modify the slides in one way or another, as another feature was added, bug was squished, or idiosyncrasy clarified. In September, at Microsoft’s Ignite event in Atlanta, Reuben Krippner announced the public preview of a new sync client (as I like to call it, the Next Next Generation Sync Client”. This version of the client addresses the principal shortcoming of its predecessor – namely that it didn’t synchronize SharePoint libraries. I’ve been running the preview ever since. With SharePoint libraries forming the backbone of all document storage in Office 365, including Office 365 Groups, this shortcoming was particularly glaring.
Obviously, the biggest disappointment with the original NGSC was the fact that while it added OneDrive for Business repositories in addition to OneDrive personal stores, it was unable to sync SharePoint libraries. Any library contained in an Office 365 Group or a SharePoint site was therefore excluded and resulted in users needing to run a mix of old and new client. We had this odd situation in where you would sync OneDrive for Business with the OneDrive Sync client, and all your SharePoint libraries with the OneDrive for Business sync client. Now add to it the fact that Group libraries were referred to as the Group OneDrive, and it was quite confusing for end users. Apart from the technical limitations of the old sync client (no more than 5,000 items per library, no more than 20,000 items across all libraries), adding SharePoint libraries to the new sync client greatly reduces confusion for end users and complexity for administrators.
System Tray Inconsistencies
After the rollout of the original NGSC, after connecting my personal OneDrive, my OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint libraries, I would wind up with three OneDrive icons in my system tray.
The white cloud represented the sync process for my personal OneDrive, the blue cloud with the bright white border represented my OneDrive for Business, and the blue cloud with the slightly dimmer white outline (really – look at the picture) represented all the SharePoint libraries that I was synchronizing, including Group OneDrives. If I were interacting with two different Office 365 tenants as I do today, I would have five icons for everything, and while I can certainly cope with it, the inconsistencies made it rather confusing for the end user.
Adding SharePoint libraries to the modern client reduces this complexity. Now the same scenario will show two icons – one white, one blue. The white icon represents the personal account, and the blue icon includes the OneDrive for business as well as all SharePoint libraries being synced. If two tenants are being used, as in the image below, there will be two blue icons, one for each tenant. Hovering over the icon will identify the tenant in question.
The icon styles are also now more consistent, and as an added bonus, they always line up at the top of the system tray, which is a nice touch. While we still have more than “One” drive, it’s much more understandable and usable.
File Explorer Inconsistencies
The user interface insistencies extended to the File explorer integration as well. In the same scenario as above, syncing a personal OneDrive, and a OneDrive for Business with SharePoint libraries from a single Office 365 tenant, I previously wound up with three root nodes in the Windows File Explorer.
“OneDrive – Personal” was my consumer, or personal OneDrive, “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” was my OneDrive for Business storage connected to my UnlimitedViz tenant, and “SharePoint” contained all my SharePoint synced libraries. One inconsistency is the fact that the personal icon is white in the system tray but blue in the File Explorer. In an organization, people also tend to distinguish their content stored in their OneDrive from organization content by referring to it as “personal” so the use of the word “Personal” here can cause confusion here as well. Finally, the OneDrive branding is completely thrown out the door here when it comes to SharePoint libraries. Keep in mind that at the time, the only way to synchronize SharePoint libraries was with the “OneDrive for Business Sync Client”. However, the resulting node is called “SharePoint”
The latest client makes some significant improvement in this area as well.
“OneDrive – Personal” remains my personal (consumer) OneDrive. The two nodes here names “OneDrive – Serendipity” and “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” are my two OneDrive for Business locations on the two tenants named “UnlimitedViz” and Serendipity”. Finally, the two nodes “Serendipity” and “UnlimitedViz” contain all the synchronized SharePoint libraries in those two tenants. While the personal icon remains stubbornly blue, the nodes here make significantly more sense and in my opinion in least are much more intuitive.
Selective Sync for SharePoint Libraries
It almost goes without saying, but the all-or-nothing approach to the OneDrive for Business sync client (previously Groove), rendered a lot of large libraries un-syncable. By bringing SharePoint libraries into the NGSC, they too get to participate in the selective folder sync that the consumer client has had for quite some time.
The previous OneDrive for Business sync client wasn’t all bad, and the NGSC wasn’t all good when compared to each other. One very useful feature that the older client had that NGSC didn’t was the ability to pause a sync. Pausing is a relatively frequent need for various reasons, but the only way that the NGSC could be paused originally was by shutting it down. Given the time it required to start back up sometimes, this was a problem. Luckily, at some point over the past year, the NGSC picked up pausing capability, and you can now pause a sync for 2, 8 or 24 hours.
Stability and Performance
Apart from features, stability and performance is probably the most obvious area where the new client outshines its predecessor. There are countless tales of users having their work “eaten” by the older client. While this hasn’t happened to me, I can point to many times that a sync got corrupted, and the only way to fix it would be to resync the entire library. This would necessarily mean a new repository as the older client couldn’t work with pre-existing content. Having used it for several months now, I have yet to experience any issue that required the total resync of a library.
The sync performance of the new client is acceptable as well. To be sure, it could still be better. Startup times are quite long for me (keep in mind that I’m syncing quite a lot of content), and occasionally the sync process gets bogged down and needs to be restarted. However, it was good enough for me to decide to move my almost 1 TB of content back into OneDrive for Business. That very same content made the move in the other direction 2 years ago, due to performance issues.
Overall, I must say that my overall impression of the new OneDrive sync client is that it is finally ready for prime time. Shortly after the preview was announced in September, I was sufficiently impressed to move my relatively large Dropbox file system (where I had a 1 TB limit) over to OneDrive for Business (with its unlimited storage). I then heaped quite a bit more storage on top of it, and it seems to be performing well now. My main OD4B storage account is currently at 3.3 TB, and my personal OneDrive is at 600 GB. I even have several Groups set up in my Office 365 MVP tenant for managing my household and those libraries are synced by myself and my wife.
Stability is fine, and performance is good enough, apart from the occasional “looking for changes” hang-up. Its value and integration have tipped the scales in its favour, certainly with respect to Dropbox in my opinion. The Office team said they were going to fix it, and they did. Good for them.
I was recently asked by Christian Buckley what my top 2016 blog posts were. No problem I thought, I just went back to my output for the past year, and pulled out the posts that I knew have had a lot of discussion or impact, and forwarded them on. At that point he asked how many views that each of those pages have had. Being a data guy, I suddenly felt like the shoemaker noticing that his children had been going barefoot.
I monitor my blog traffic with the built-in WordPress JetPack tools, StatCounter, and Google Analytics. They all work slightly differently, with StatCounter and JetPack being the most alike. I tend to rely on StatCounter for immediate stats (how many hits today, what’s popular today) and the Google stats for a longer time frame. StatCounter doesn’t persist my stats beyond a day, as I don’t have the pro version, and the JetPack stats don’t seem very extensible. Google Analytics seemed like the best place to begin, particularly because there is a pre-existing content pack for Power BI.
The Google Analytics Content Pack
I have used the Google Analytics (GA) content pack casually and for demonstration purposes since it was introduced with the Power BI launch in July 2015. It hasn’t changed much. Actually, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t changed at all. To use the content pack, you simply log into the Power BI service, select “Get Data”, select the “Services” tile, and select Google Analytics.
After you enter in your credentials by selecting oAuth2, Power BI will import your GA data into a data model, and populate a pre-configured report. The report consists of several pages, mostly focused on visitors to the site.
There are some interesting visuals out of the box, and there are more metrics available in the data model if you want to customize the out of the box reports. At the moment, any customizations that are made in this way are not portable, and with the content pack, data is only retained for 180 days, which means that year over year comparisons are not possible. The visuals don’t appear to have been updated since initial release, which means that many of the new Power BI UI enhancements are not there, but they too can be added through customization.
Generally, if you’re going to do a lot of customization, the best tool to use is Power BI Desktop. Reports can then be reused easily and are highly portable. Luckily, in addition to the content pack, Google Analytics also exists as a data source for Power BI Desktop.
Using the Google Analytics Data Source in Power BI Desktop
When Power BI Desktop imports data from GA, it imports all the data that GA has. There seems to be no agreement on how long Google will retain this data, but in practice, GA seems to retain all data since it was originally configured. In my case, that’s a little over two years now, which is fine for my analysis. The first step is to connect to and import the correct data. Start Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data”, choose the Online Services tab and choose “Google Analytics”.
Once you authenticate, you’ll be presented with all of the sites that are monitored by Google Analytics. You’ll want to drill down and open “All Web Site Data”. GA captures an awful lot of information, and the trick is to know what to grab. Grabbing everything won’t work as it only allows for 8 dimensions and measures in a single import. In my case, I am interested in PageViews and Unique PageViews measures, and the Page, Page Title and Landing Page dimensions (under the “Page Tracking” section) measures. In addition, I want the Date, Hour, and Minute dimensions from the Time section.
Once selected, w select OK, and edit the query, giving it a good name like “GA Data”. Finally, we can select “Close and Apply” and the data will be added. This procedure can take a little while depending on the quantity of data.
Once loaded, we need to do a little bit of work in the data model. We imported the dates from GA, but we’ll want to do year/month/day drilldowns, as well as use textual values for month names, day names etc. For that, the tried an true method has been to build a Date table. Power BI itself will actually do some of this automatically for you behind the scenes, but a custom table gives us the ultimate in flexibility. DAX (the Power BI modelling language) makes this very easy. We create a new table by first selecting the “Modeling” tab, and then the New Table button. This allows us to create a calculated table in the formula bar. First change the name from “Table” to something meaningful like “View Dates”, and then add the following formula:
CALENDAR (DATE(2010,1,1), DATE(2025,12,31)),
"Date As Integer", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYYMMDD" ),
"Year", YEAR ( [Date] ),
"Month Number", FORMAT ( [Date], "MM" ),
"Year Month Number", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY/MM" ),
"Year Month Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY/mmm" ),
"Month Name Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "mmm" ),
"Month Name Long", FORMAT ( [Date], "mmmm" ),
"Day Of Week Number", WEEKDAY ( [Date] ),
"Day Of Week", FORMAT ( [Date], "dddd" ),
"Day Of Week Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "ddd" ),
"Quarter", "Q" & FORMAT ( [Date], "Q" ),
"Year Quarter", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY" ) & "/Q" & FORMAT ( [Date], "Q" )
Adjust the beginning and end dates to suit the data in question, click the check mark, and voila, instant date table. There will be a record for every date between the beginning and end dates. It’s a good idea to adjust the properties of some of the resultant columns for display, we want to sort the Month Name Long and Month Name Short columns by Month Number, and the Day of Week column by the Day of Week Number column. Any additional customizations can be made as necessary.
The next step is to establish the relationship between the Date column in the GA table, and the Date field in the new calculated date table. Simply click on the relationship builder icon, the drag and drop the Date column from one table to the corresponding column on the other.
At this point, we can create a visual that shows traffic over time. We create a column chart, and add Pageviews as the Value, then we add Year Month Short (which should be sorted by Year Month Number) to the axis, and we should see site all site traffic over time. Adding Date to the axis and stripping out all the dimensions except Day allows us to drill down on days for a selected month.
Although we can see our site traffic by month, we still can’t answer Christian’s original question, which was “what were the most frequently viewed posts written in 2016“. Google Analytics has no clue when the pages were created. It’s possible to try to imply it from the earliest viewed date for a given page, but the created date is available directly in WordPress. We just need to get the WordPress data into the data model. Thankfully, that is possible through the WordPress REST Add on.
Using the WordPress REST Add-On
REST support is available for WordPress as an add-on. The “WP REST API” is available in the add-on catalog, and on Github here. Once installed, all WordPress content (including posts) is available through a simple http GET request. This is something that’s fully supported by Power BI, and therefore all the relevant post data can be loaded into Power BI through this add-on.
From the Power BI Home tab, select Get Data, then “web” and then use the URL required to retrieve posts. For the blog that you’re reading, it’s http://whitepages.bifocal.show/wp-json/wp/v2/posts. The query will return a list of records. However, there will only be as many records as WordPress shows by default. We need all of them. The add on-allows you to specify the number of posts per page, by adding the “per_page” parameter. Therefore, in our case, it’s http://whitepages.bifocal.show/wp-json/wp/v2/posts?per_page=50 where 50 is the desired number of items per page.
The per_page parameter is all that you need if the number of posts to analyze is fewer than 100, but the limit of this parameter is 100. There is another parameter that can be added to the query, page= that will specify the page number. With this, and the posts per page parameter, it’s possible to get all the posts. There are a couple of ways to implement this in Power BI.
The ideal way is to an “M” function. With a function, you build up a query normally, and then you wrap it in another parameterized query using the advanced editor, passing in the page number as a parameter, and that parameter being used in the subsequent query. The function can then be called from each record of another table, thereby returning all the posts, which is exactly what we need. This approach works perfectly well in Power BI Desktop. Unfortunately, once the model and report are deployed to the Power BI service, it stops working. The Power BI service currently cannot refresh any query that uses replaceable parameters as part of the query.
The other way that this can be handles is to generate multiple queries that explicitly use the page= parameter. The number of queries necessary will be equal to the number of posts divided by 100, then rounded up to the next whole number. In my case, I have 230 posts, and therefor need 3 queries. Once created, all 3 queries can be merged into a single table. This approach is messy, and will require occasional maintenance, but it’s the only one that works for now. Let’s walk through the process.
We’ll start with the first query. As above, we use Get Data, select the Web source and enter the URL for page 1 and 100 posts per page. For this blog the URL is http://whitepages.bifocal.show/wp-json/wp/v2/posts?page=1&per_page=100. The query should show a list of 100 records. Next, we need to turn the list into a table so that it can be expanded. Click the “To Table” button in the ribbon.
Click OK to accept the defaults, and then click the small expand button in the column header (Column1). Be sure to deselect the “Use original column name as prefix” before clicking OK.
At this point, all the post metadata from WordPress should be available. You can choose to keep all or only some of the columns, but the ones that we want to be sure to keep are date, slug, and title. Title needs to be expanded, so we should go ahead and do that – the procedure is the same as the step above, but only the title field is returned as “rendered”. It’s a good idea to rename it to Title. Also, it’s a good idea to set the data type of the Date field to Date/Time here.
Once the query is the way we want it, we’ll want to name it something like “Posts1-100”, and then we need to set its data load properties to not load into the report. We don’t want the data to load into this query because it will only be one merge source of three, and we don’t want to store the data redundantly. To do that, we right click on the query, select properties, and deselect “Enable load to report”. Then click OK.
We now need to duplicate this query for page 2. The easiest way to do this is by copying all the M script generated by the query builder into a new blank query, and then editing it. From the Home tab, we click on “Advanced Editor”, then select and copy all the text in the dialog box. We then close the dialog box, then select New Source – Blank Query. Once opened, we again select “Advanced Editor”, remove the default content and paste the copied text into the box. Finally, “page=1” in the URL is replaced with “page=2”.
We then save the query, name it and set the properties not to load as with the first query. We then repeat all these steps for page 3. At this point we are ready to merge the queries into our “master” query.
To merge the three queries into one, we select the “Append Queries” dropdown from the ribbon, and select “Append Queries as New”. We then select “Three or more tables” and add the three tables and select OK. Finally, we give this new query a name “Posts” but we do not prevent the data from loading. This is our master table. At this point, we are ready to Close and Apply, and return to the main design surface.
This Posts table has a Date column, but it’s actually a Date/Time column. To use a date table, we need to create a new calculated column with just the date portion. With the Posts table selector selected, we select the Modeling tab, and then “New Column”. We then give the column a name (PostDate) and the following formula based on the Date column:
We also want a calculated measure to indicate the number of posts. The process is like that for a new column. We select “New Measure”, and add the following formula to the formula bar:
Posts = CountA(Posts[id])
We will be relating records in the Posts table to records in the GA table, so we need another date table to keep the relationships clean. We could calculate another table as we did above, but it’s even easier to calculate the new one based on the one already created. We simply select “New Table” and use the following formula:
PostDates = ViewDates
Next, we create the relationship between the Posts table and the PostDates table the same way that we did it for the GA table above. Now that both tables are date sliceable, we need to relate them together. In the Posts table, the Link column uniquely identifies the page but the GA table uses the relative address of the page in the Landing Page column. In our case the solution is simple, we need to prepend the main part of the site address in question (in our case http://whitepages.bifocal.show) to the Landing Page. We do that by creating a new column, URL, with the following formula:
Finally, we relate the URL column in the GA table to the Link column in the Posts table.
At this point the model is ready for use in reports.
Building a Report
How to build a report is not the focus of this article, so I’ll just explain the steps taken here. To prepare our data model, we first need to flag the Link column in the Posts table as a URL field. To do that, select it in the UI, then select the model tab. Use the Data Category Drop down control and select “Web URL”.
Next, add a new table to the reports, and in in the Format section, select Values, and set the “URL icon” setting to “On”.
This has the effect of displaying any column that has been flagged with the Web URL attribute as a link icon with a live hyperlink, instead of the entire, often long URL itself.
Next, we add the Title and Link fields from the Pages table, and the Pageviews field from the GA table, and then sort the table by Pageviews. Next, we add two slicer controls to the report – one bound to the Year column of the PostDates table, and the other bound to the Year column of the ViewDates table. Now by selecting 2016 from the ViewDate slicer, and 2016 from the PostDate slicer, we can see, in order with precise numbers, which posts authored in 2016 were most frequently viewed in 2016. With this, I was now able to give Christian an answer.
An answer today is one thing, but an answer next year is another altogether. This report was worth sharing, so it was worth sprucing up a bit. By taking advantage of some of the new table formatting capabilities in Power BI, and importing the chiclet slicer custom control, we are able to make a more visually appealing report. I will also occasionally use a column chart in a report and use it like a slicer when appropriate. With a little bit of formatting work, we wind up with a report that looks something like the following:
Publishing and Sharing
We’re now ready to publish this report. The easiest approach is to simply select the “Publish” button from Power BI desktop. Select the destination, most likely your personal workspace. When publishing is complete, we can select “View in Power BI” to see the report in the service.
Having the report is one thing, but we want this report to be kept up to date. To do this, we go to the datasets section and select our dataset. In the data source credentials, section, we need to set the credentials for both Google analytics, and our WordPress connection (which will display as “Web”). Even though the Web source is anonymous, we have to configure it that way in the Power BI service. Once the connections are configured they should appear in the Data source credentials section with no notices.
When we configured the WordPress data import above, we used 3 queries. That’s good for 300 posts, and my blog is currently at 238, which should be fine for a while. However, once I hit 300, I’m going to need another query. What I’m really hoping for is that by that time the Power BI service will support parameterized data sources for refresh, but either way I’ll need to modify the data source. I’m likely to forget this need about a week after I publish this post, so a reminder is a good idea. Luckily, Power BI supports data driven alerts, which is exactly what we need here.
Alerts are set on dashboard tiles for card date. Our report has a data card showing the number of total posts. Once that card has been pinned to the dashboard, an alert can be set on it for when it reaches a specific threshold. Simply hover over the dashboard card and click on the ellipsis, then the small bell icon.
In our case, we want to be notified when the number of posts are approaching 300, so we set the condition to be above 297. Once blog post 298 is published, I will receive an email and can then act on it.
Finally, I want to share this report with Christian so that the next time he has questions about my blog, he can just look it up for himself. When I tell him this, I’ll say that it’s so he can keep me honest, but really, I just want him to stop bugging me…
We don’t work at the same company and we use different Azure AD tenant. I could share the dashboard externally with him, but it’s even easier to share it anonymously, and anonymous sharing of this data is fine with me. Anonymous sharing of data is relatively straightforward. From the report interface, select File – Publish to web. A dialog will open asking for confirmation, and once opened will provide a URL that can be shared publicly. In the case of this blog’s report, you can simply click here to get the full report in a dedicated window. I can just email that report to Christian, and he’ll have the answers that he’s looking for. The beauty of anonymous sharing is that you are also given an embed code that can be added to any web page. As an example, the fully interactive report for this blog can be seen below.
After my recent post “You Can’t Disable Office 365 Groups”, I received feedback from a few people, specifically Elaine Van Bergen, Martina Grom and Joe Stocker that some editing controls have been added in through the tenant that allows Group creation to be disabled in the Office 365 tenant, and that these controls affect all of the user interfaces that can create groups. The procedure is outlined here, and Martina offers her insight on it here . I was a little disappointed that I had missed these newer controls earlier, but quite happy about the discussion that the original article started. It brought to light some of the confusion around this feature. In addition, it also highlights the fact that Office 365 Groups are about far more than just conversations, they are the bedrock of all Office 365 services moving forward.
Having said that, and having tested these new controls, I have a few observations to make about disabling Groups.
Much of the feedback that I received of my original article was “Good, they shouldn’t be disabled anyway, they’re too important”. To be sure the other side of that argument was heard from as well, but I tend to side with the former. For me at least, the group construct represents real value. It is a trade-off between ease of use and control to be sure, but as a container, it’s easy to understand, and relatively easy to work with for end users. The concerns around Groups are focused on governance, and those concerns are valid. If anyone can create a group anytime, and there is not process for organizing or classifying them in place, they can quickly get out of hand, producing islands of information all over.
The new management controls allow for a single security group (not an Office 365 group) to define those that can create Groups. Groups created by these members are available to all, but only these members can create new Groups. Only one security group can be flagged for group creation, so it’s an all or nothing proposition for these group members.
The article above walks through the process of creating these controls through PowerShell with the Microsoft Azure Active Directory Module for Windows. There are a couple of quirks when walking through this process. I found that the article itself contains a typo, the PowerShell command “Get-MsolCompanyInfo” should actually be “Get-MsolCompanyInformation”. In addition, when downloading the module itself, the 126.96.36.199 Preview version is required.
One would think that the GA version (188.8.131.52) would include everything necessary, but one would be wrong. I made the mistake of trying to use that version and I hit a wall. You need the preview version.
The Azure Active Directory management area in the new Azure portal also allows for the management of group creation rights. I was unable to use the interface to initially set these controls, but once set, the controls were reflected in the user interface, and it’s possible to manage them. Azure Active Directory management is still in preview in the new portal, so presumably this will improve at GA. The controls can be found in the Azure Active Directory blade under Users and Groups – Group Settings.
Like their predecessor, these controls don’t remove the option to create a group from the client interfaces. Once the “Create” option is selected, the user is usually notified that this will not be possible. In one case, it simply fails. The following are the different messages that users will receive when they try to create a new Group but are prevented from doing so.
Outlook Web Access
Ideally, the create option would simply be removed from the user interface, but at least these interfaces prevent the user from filling out details before failing with one notable exception. When a new Group Workspace is created in Power BI, the operation simply fails, and the user isn’t notified as to why. It almost seems as if the Power BI team wasn’t notified that these new controls exist.
The remaining workload that is (ok – will be) integrated with Groups is Yammer. With Yammer, when a Yammer Group is created, a corresponding Office 365 group will be created, and kept in sync with the Yammer group construct. This will ultimately be where Yammer notes and files are stored (via OneNote and OneDrive – basically SharePoint) as well as the group calendar (in Exchange). However, according to this Microsoft support article, if Office 365 Group creation is disabled, then the Yammer groups will not be Office 365 connected.
It therefore is now possible to prevent users from creating Office 365 Groups. This will be important to large organizations while they formulate an adoption strategy for Groups, but formulate it they should. Just because Groups can be disabled, it doesn’t mean that they should. Groups are by their very nature a compromise between usability and manageability, and centralizing creation tips the scales on the side of manageability. We’ve had this for a long time with classic SharePoint, and the usability of Groups is what’s so exciting from an adoption standpoint. Almost all innovations in the Office 365 space are now centered on Groups – they are the new foundational unit, and by ignoring them, you miss out on much of the future enhancements.
Caution is certainly advised, but it’s a good idea to move forward with a Groups strategy. Now.
Note – Since originally publishing this post, I have been made aware of some new management tools that will allow the ability to disable group creation by default. As opposed to modifying this post, which contains other observations, I have published a new one dealing with these new tools here.
As I’ve discussed before, Office 365 Groups are a very important feature in Office 365, and one that all organizations using Office 365 should fully understand as soon as possible. Groups are either required or they provide important capabilities for every product in the Office 365 stack. However, every organization has a different tolerance for change, and some have no tolerance for it at all. In addition, there are many aspects of Groups that are still a work in progress (navigation for example). A frequently asked question is “how do we turn off Groups?”. There’s nothing in the Office 365 Administration interface in either the Groups, or the Services & Add-ins sections.
What these approaches do is to adjust the Outlook Web Access policy that controls the creation of Office 365 Groups. At its core, an Office 365 Groups is just a type of Azure Active Directory Group, one with multiple services attached to it. When Groups were first introduced, the only way of creating them was through the Azure Active Directory interface, PowerShell and through Outlook Web Access (OWA). The first two methods require an administrative level of access, so enabling and disabling this feature in OWA effectively disabled it for end users. An end user can still see the Group creation controls, but any attempt to create a new group is met with a dialog informing them that this feature is disabled.
Since Groups were first introduced, there have been several significant changes as more Office 365 services embraced the Groups structure, and others have been introduced that rely on it.
When the “new” Power BI was introduced in mid 2015, its Sharing story relied heavily on Office 365 Groups. Each Group receives a Power BI workspace, and conversely each new Power BI workspace is a Group. Given that end users can create and to some extent manage the workspace directly in the Power BI user interface, it represents an alternate Groups management tool focused on the end user.
Creating a new Group in Power BI
Microsoft Planner, launched in mid-2016 is another product that relies on the availability of Groups. For the most part Planner stands on its own, with minimal ties to the rest of the Office 365 stack. Each Plan contains multiple tasks, but under the covers, each Plan is backed by an Office 365 Group, with all the rest of the available services. Creating a new plan in Planner creates a new Group, and everything that goes with it, even though the interface doesn’t make it very clear. You’re getting far more than just a plan.
Creating an Office 365 Groups (aka Plan) in Planner
With the release of Modern Team Sites in SharePoint, SharePoint is also very tightly bound to Office 365 Groups. Before this release, creating a new team site through the SharePoint interface or through the SharePoint administration interface created a classic SharePoint site collection. Doing so now also creates a group to go along with it (again, with everything that goes along with that) and all the access to the new Team Site (a site collection) is controlled through membership to that Group. The SharePoint interface for this makes it very clear as to what is happening – “Lets create a new team site and group”.
Creating an Office 365 Group from SharePoint
It is still possible to create a SharePoint site collection that is not bound to a group through the SharePoint administration interface. Modern team sites (the site collections created through the SharePoint user interface) don’t appear in the SharePoint administration interface at all.
The Outlook 2016 rich client also has a comprehensive set of group management features. A group can be created by right clicking on the “Groups” node in the Outlook mailbox, and once created can be fully managed by the “Home” tab in the ribbon.
Creating a new group in Outlook 2016
Managing a group in Outlook 2016
There are now 5 different way for end users to create and in some cases, manage their Office 365 groups. The original Outlook Web Access interface, and now Outlook 2016, Planner, SharePoint and Power BI. The processes outlined above for disabling group creation prevent group creation from Outlook Web Access, but what effect do they have on these new interfaces? The answer is, no effect whatsoever. Whether the “GroupCreationEnabled” OWA policy has been set to false or not, these other interfaces will still be able to create and work with Office 365 Groups. This may not be surprising as Power BI, Planner, and now even features of SharePoint are dependent on the Groups infrastructure.
I have not called out Microsoft Teams above. It is true that Teams is also dependent on the Groups infrastructure, and that creating a new team will create a new group. Where Teams differs from the other dependent services is that the creation of a new Group in one of the other interfaces does not automatically create a new Team. In addition, Teams itself must be enabled by an administrator, meaning that for this additional service, Groups creation can be controlled centrally.
In the very near future, Yammer will also become Groups dependent. Creation of a new group in Yammer will spin up a corresponding Office 365 group, which will be used to store the files and notes available in Yammer. These groups will be flagged as “Yammer managed” meaning that they will not appear in the Outlook interfaces, but they will be available to all the other services that utilize groups.
The bottom line of all this is that even if you use Office 365, and you think that you have disabled Groups in your tenant, the chances are that you could be in for a surprise. If any of these dependent services are in use, the chances are that you already have several created.
Groups are the bedrock of all new features in Office 365 moving forward – it is therefore a good idea that your organization understand them as soon as possible. Their inevitability is also another strong argument for paying close attention to them. If you are currently discussing whether or not they should be used, I would strongly encourage you to shifting that discussion to how they should best be used.