Hi there! My name is Huw Michael – I’m an infrastructure technical architect for Royal Holloway, University of London. The cloud services guys at Microsoft asked me to write a blog post describing our motivation and experiences in migrating to Outlook Live, and specifically providing some hints on branding the end user interface.
Our institution made a strategic decision to outsource the student email service to Outlook Live in order to enhance the student email offering, provide a lifelong email facility to students, and drive out cost. Although there are other fish in the free service marketplace we were drawn to Microsoft for their enterprise messaging pedigree and also the strong partner & community support that’s available for implementation and migration.
Achieving a timely and successful delivery of the new service was vital to our strategic and financial goals and also our reputation as an IT Department. With the Microsoft solution we were able to deliver our project on time and on budget. We were helped by the following:
· Strong tool support for provisioning and password synchronisation
· Generous information sharing within the Higher Education community
· 1st rate consultancy and support on provisioning and identity management from Microsoft partner Oxford Computer Group
· Open source software for Single Sign On integration
· Microsoft’s free technical support for the Outlook Live platform
Having initiated our project in early June, we were able to deliver an Outlook Live email service to 3,000 newly enrolled students in early August with the following features:
· Automated provisioning of mailbox accounts to Outlook Live using Identity Lifecycle Manager (ILM) and GALSync 2010, triggered by account creation in Active Directory, using control attributes in AD to manage scope and status
· Two way GAL synchronisation (on site Exchange 2003 to Outlook Live and back) using the same mechanism as above
· One way password synchronisation (AD to Outlook Live) using Password Change Notification Services (PCNS) and ILM
· Custom branding of the premium web interface
· Single Sign On to the web client from our Open Access PC labs using the SSO toolkit
· Single Sign on to the web client from our Sungard Luminus web portal using the St John’s University Luminis SSO kit
All of the above came together to give us a nicely joined up service – most of our staff don’t even know that 1st year students are using Outlook Live and so far we have had a very positive experience. Calls to our helpdesk from 1st year students regarding email issues have hit an all time low and feedback on the Outlook Live service has been encouraging. The next step in our project is to migrate all other students to Outlook Live. Before commencing this we are investigating methods for migrating Exchange mailbox content into the cloud.
The other thing I promised to talk about was branding the premium web client. You can see a screenshot of our efforts below:
The branding was a bit fiddly as the recommended sizes didn’t quite work without encroaching on the rest of the page; so after a lot of experimenting we decided that we needed to make two graphics.
The first is the branding bar main image and this needs to be 83px high and around 900px wide. The length is less important and should be decided based on your expected end-user resolution. In the Co-Branding UI this is called the “Branding Bar Background Image”. Our own image is shown below:
The second is the background image that repeats across the top of the page, and on which the main image sits. As it is repeated it only needs to be 1px wide but must be 83px high. In the Co-Branding UI this is called the “Branding Bar”.
The main branding bar image actually floats centrally depending on browser resolution and so the main worry is in getting it to look seamless wherever it ends up on the background image. This was achieved by first creating the main image and then creating a background image of approximately the same width; both were 83px high.
We then copied and pasted a small section of this background image over either end of the main image. These layers were then carefully blended by deleting the inner facing sides with a soft brush, being careful not to delete close to the outer edges.
Once complete the main image was saved and uploaded. The original background image was then cropped to be only 1px wide and also uploaded.
The diagram below illustrates this approach:
The following screenshot shows the relevant section of our co-branding screen in the Admin Center / Service Management Portal.
As a final touch we also added our corporate logo to replace the standard Outlook Live logo and amended the text on the LHS of the branding bar. The screenshot below shows the configuration and the results of all these settings can be seen in the Outlook Live premium web client screenshot above.
Have you any interesting ideas of how your staff and students have used the services? I am an adviser for elearning and have been asked to look at this with one of my client colleges.