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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Synchronizing Custom AD Attributes to Office 365 - Part 3

This blog is the second in a 3 part series on synchronizing and working with custom AD attributes in Office 365. 

In this post we continue with our final step, Step 3 on how to customize AD Connect synchronization rules.

Synchronizing Custom AD Attributes to Office 365 - Part 2

This blog is the second in a 3 part series on synchronizing and working with custom AD attributes in Office 365.

In this post we continue with Step 2 on how to retrieve attributes in Office 365 using PowerShell.

Synchronizing Custom AD Attributes to Office 365 - Part 1

Synchronization of identities has come a long way since the early days of DirSync.  We've now seen 2 major releases of the latest generation sync tool, Azure AD Connect, and it has introduced a long list of new features.  End of support for DirSync and Azure AD Sync are scheduled for April 13, 2017 (announcement).

If you're looking for a list of the benefits of upgrading to the latest version of AD Connect, please see my blog on that topic here: Why upgrade DirSync to Azure AD Connect.  One of those great new features is the ability to synchronize directory extension attributes or even custom attributes from an on premise Active Directory environment to Azure AD within Office 365.  This post is about some of the limitations still in place around custom attributes, and some suggestions on how to deal with them once they've been synchronized.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How Secure Is My Data in Office 365?

A few weeks ago, on September 21, I gave a session at the DFW user group meeting called How Secure is My Data in Office 365?  Thank you to all those that attended and my apologies for the delay in posting my presentation.  Life has been busy.

I actually get asked this question quite often from clients that are concerned about migrating their data and workloads to Office 365.  Organizations tend to have an easier time when it comes to moving Exchange to Office 365.  However, the question tends to come more from clients considering moving SharePoint team sites or OneDrive for Business to the cloud.

Its important to consider the question from various angles.  Here is a summary of the points I make during my session to help answer the question...

How secure is my data in Office 365?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Office 365 Nightly PowerShell Scripts: Encrypting Admin Credentials

When using remote PowerShell to perform tasks in Office 365 we typically need to provide our administrator credentials to create the initial connection.  These are typically a Global Administrator's username & password, or at least an Exchange or SharePoint administrator's username & password.  These are highly privileged accounts and we need to ensure that the username and password associated with these accounts do not get compromised or stolen.  So, when we need to run remote PowerShell scripts on a nightly automated basis, without administrator intervention, how do we secure those highly privileged credentials?  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Microsoft Ignite 2016 - Must See Sessions for Office 365 & SharePoint Security

Welcome to Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Atlanta Georgia!  
This year's conference will once again be full of great content and great speakers about the Microsoft solutions that we all work with.  Myself, I tend to be interested in more technical content about SharePoint Server, SharePoint Online and the Office 365 service.  It looks like the session line up won't disappoint!

As my work tends to focus on security, information protection, information governance and identity management, my conference session schedule tends to focus on technical sessions related to these topics.  Here are my MUST SEE session picks for this week.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

New Office 365 Data Centers in the UK (and elsewhere) Helping to Meet Data Residency Needs

When it comes to the security of your information, "where" it is stored matters... too many.

"Where" in this case, refers to the country in which the data actually sits.  Concerns about storage location or country is often referred to as Data Sovereignty or Data Residency (  To some, data sovereignty is a very important privacy concept when they consider the security of their data - people will talk about retaining ownership of data, not allowing foreign governments to have access to data through legal or judicial processes and keeping data secure from prying eyes by service providers, police services or governments agencies (ex. NSA).  Often, these concerns refer to the U.S. Patriot Act as a source of the issue with many believing that the U.S. Patriot Act gives US government agencies wide sweeping abilities to access anyone's data stored on US soil, or managed by any US firm.

More often than not though, what executives and data owners in organizations outside the US are concerned about is a perception problem: the perception of storing data in another country some how being less secure, or the perception that a foreign government agency can access your organization's data.  Sometimes the concern is about an organization storing data in a foreign country getting into the media... and the media story thus creating a perception problem for the organization.  In reality, the U.S. Patriot Act expired on June 1, 2015.  It was replaced by the U.S. Freedom Act on June 2, 2015, which has similar provisions to the U.S. Patriot Act, but imposes new limits on data collection activities by U.S government agencies.  As well, there are already international legal procedures in place, which predate the U.S. Patriot act, which allow one country to request data from another country about an organization when legal wrong doing is suspected... and the country being requested will usually comply.  All that said, there are some countries (Ex. Germany with the German Data Protection Act), or states/provinces within countries (Ex. Nova Scotia and British Columbia in Canada), which do have such laws in place and they typically refer very specifically to the storage and privacy of the personal data for individuals (PII or personally identifiable information).  Some companies also have policies in place which mandate that the organization's data must be stored and housed within the organization's country boundaries.

As a result, whether its a concern of perception or a legitimate law or policy, Microsoft continues to make it easier for organizations to meet their data residency needs.

Today, Microsoft announced that new Office 365 data centers are now available the United Kingdom - you can visit the official announcement here.  Multiple data centers are now available in the UK to help organizations meet in-region data residency, fail over and disaster recovery requirements. This will to help address the legal, regulatory and compliance needs of Microsoft clients in the banking, government, public sector and healthcare industries.

In June 2016, we saw new data centers launch in Canada for Office 365 and Azure (in Toronto and Quebec City).  As well, June brought us new data centers in Germany hosting Microsoft Azure, with Office 365 coming later this month (in Frankfurt and Magdeburg).  Although, as a standard security policy, Microsoft does not disclose the exact location of their data centers, we can see which countries and cities the data centers are located within:

  • You can view the Microsoft Office 365 data centers that are currently available here: Office 365 Data Center Map.
  • You can view the Microsoft Azure data center regions that are currently available here: Azure Regions Map.
These new data centers are a huge investment and continue to reaffirm Microsoft's commitment to provide the most secure cloud services in the industry.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why Upgrade DirSync To Azure AD Connect

I've worked with several clients recently that are still using older versions of the Microsoft Active Directory synchronization tool, affectionately named DirSync, and have not yet upgraded to the latest version which is now called Azure AD Connect.  Integrating your on-premises directory with Azure AD makes your users more productive by providing a common identity for accessing multiple resources.  Managing the synchronization process in a well planned, robust and automated way helps to ensure that users can reliably access both on premise and cloud environments in Office 365.

Short Product History

DirSync was a free tool from Microsoft originally released in 2012/2013 which synchronizes Active Directory objects like user accounts and groups from an on premise Active Directory forest to an instance of Azure Active Directory. That Azure Active Directory instance can reside in Office 365. 

DirSync allowed organizations that wanted to move internally hosted services to Office 365 to still manage their user accounts within an on premise AD forest if they wished. This simplified the migration process to Office 365. It was also a required base technology component if you wanted to deploy services in a hybrid configuration with Office 365 - for example, if you wanted to use a SharePoint farm on premise and SharePoint Online in Office 365, and have those environments work together.

 DirSync received a major update in Oct 2014, which most notably removed the need for the FIM infrastructure, and was renamed to Azure AD Sync (AAD Sync). At that time, both DirSync and Azure AD Sync continued to be supported because AAD Sync did not include all capabilities of DirSync.

In Jun 2015, another major update was publicly released and the product was once again renamed to its current form: Azure AD Connect 1.0.  AD Connect combines all capabilities of both DirSync and AAD Sync into one product.  At this time, DirSync and AD Sync are deprecated and all future fixes/enhancements are being implemented in AD Connect.  In February 2016, AD Connect version 1.1 was released with more major new enhancements.  When installing version 1.1, ensure that you install Azure AD Connect version from February 26, 2016 or later, which can be downloaded here: Azure AD Connect Download.

DirSync & Azure AD Sync Deprecated & Support Ends April 2017 

We already know that all new investment has been placed in Azure AD Connect, and no new updates are being released for DirSync or AAD Sync.  However, on April 13, 2016 Microsoft announced that both DirSync and Azure AD Sync are now deprecated.  As well, Microsoft will officially end support on April 13, 2017 - here is the Official Announcement.

This alone is one major reason to upgrade to Azure AD Connect.

Reasons to Upgrade to Azure AD Connect

If you're looking for more specific reasons to upgrade to Azure AD Connect from the original DirSync, here are those which I feel are most notable:
  • Replacement of FIM - The underlying FIM (ForeFront Identity Manager) infrastructure has been completely removed and replaced with its own dedicated infrastructure, allowing for much more customization and control over the synchronization process.  In the past, we had ways to manipulate the sync process, but they would not have necessarily been supported by Microsoft.  The control and flexibility we now have is fully supported by Microsoft.
  • Automatic Upgrades - The upgrade process to AD Connect from previous versions, including DirSync and AAD Sync, is very simple,  You simply run the installation wizard for AD Connect on the server in which you are already running any previous version (DirSync, AAD Sync or even a old versions of AD Connect) and the wizard seamlessly upgrades to the latest version of AD Connect.
  • More Frequent Synchronization - The default scheduling frequency has been modified from occurring every 3 hours to every 30 minutes.  This is a huge change which allows changes in user accounts in your on premise AD to get to Azure AD and Office 365 much faster.
  • Built-In Scheduler - AD Connect now has its own built in Scheduler for controlling the timing of the synchronization process.  Previous versions used a scheduled task in Windows Task Scheduler, and having its own built in scheduler means that you have greater and supported control over the timing and frequency of the synchronization process.
  • Manual Synchronization via PowerShell - You can manually start a full synchronization process using the PowerShell cmdlet: Start-ADSyncSyncCycle -PolicyType Initial.  If you wish to only synchronize changes, you can modify that slightly and use Start-ADSyncSyncCycle -PolicyType Delta.  This is useful when you have a multi-forest environment which can take a very long time to sync, depending on the number of objects.
  • Robust PowerShell Support - The product now has robust PowerShell support for a whole suite of commands including starting sync, stopping sync and even configuring the scheduler.  You can even check the status of the current sync which is in progress by using the cmdlet: Get-ADSyncConnectorRunStatus.  You can see a full list of commands supported here: Azure AD Connect Documentation and Azure AD Connect Scheduler.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication for the Global Admin Account - You can now use Azure multi-factor authentication (MFA) when first configuring the AD Connect installation and when doing its first synchronization with Azure AD.  This is new in version 1.1.
  • Domain and OU Filtering - You may now select specific domains or organization units (OUs) to synchronize in the AD Connect configuration wizard. Although it was previously possible to do this in Azure AD Connect by manipulating the sync services console, this is now much easier to configure and manage.  This feature allows you to more easily focus the synchronization process on only specific domains or specific OUs in your organization, thereby simplifying the overall and ongoing management of the process.
  • AD Attribute Filtering - We are able to filter users for the synchronization process based on AD attributes. 
  • Change the User's Sign In Method (even after first sync) - In previous versions, if a user's sign in method changed you needed to delete the synchronization configuration and reinstall it.  It is now possible to change a user's sign in method after first configuration and first sync, simply by running Azure AD Connect configuration wizard again.
  • Staging Mode - You can deploy a 2nd AD Connect server in the AD Forest in "Staging Mode".  This allows the server to be on standby, should the main synchronization server become unavailable.  Switching the Standby Mode AD Connect server to full active mode is still a manual process.
  • Azure AD Connect Health for Sync - This new component is installed with AD Connect and allows you to automatically monitor the health of your AD synchronization process.  It will automatically send alerts email notifications related to the health of the environment, when critical events occur.  It will also provide insights into the latency of the sync process, or trends related to user adds, updates and deletes.  More information is available on this component here and here.

Some of these features came with the upgrade to AAD Sync, but many were only recently provided in AD Connect 1.1.  The release history of Azure AD Connect can be found here: Azure AD Connect Release History.

We have seen major updates to DirSync over the last several years which provide a lot of value to our environments by making it much easier to manage the synchronization process for on premise user identities to Azure AD and Office 365.  Due to these great new capabilities and the fact that support officially ends April 13 2017 for both DirSync and Azure AD Sync, the upgrade to Azure AD Connect is highly recommended and necessary.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

SPTechCon Boston: Real World SharePoint Information Governance Case Studies

Thanks to everyone that attended my session today at SPTechCon in Boston on Real World SharePoint Information Governance Case Studies!  We had a great crowd with lots of really good questions. I hope everyone got something useful or helpful out of the presentation.

You can find my slides from the session here:

Please reach out if you have any questions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Data Loss Prevention in SharePoint 2016 & Office 365
How to Protect your Sensitive Information

Thanks to everyone that attended my session on SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 Data Loss Prevention yesterday.  It was great to meet everyone and share my thoughts and experience related to Microsoft's DLP technology within these two products.

The Microsoft Data Loss Prevention (DLP) capability that's now integrated into Office 365 and SharePoint 2016 is a great advancement in information security within these products.  It allows you to easily find sensitive data within your SharePoint or OneDrive for Business environment and automatically enforce policies on that content.  Those policies can identify sensitive information for end users, providing them with policy tips on how to handle it.  They can also block sensitive information from being accessed, and issue automated incident reports when policies are violated.

There are some prerequisites and dependencies that are important to understand when configuring DLP policies.  There are also some key differences between the DLP solutions within an on premise deployment of SharePoint 2016 and Office 365.


In SharePoint 2016, the prerequisites for setting up DLP are the following:

  1. Create your search service application, define a crawl schedule and perform a full crawl.
  2. Configuring out going mail is highly recommended, so that policy notifications can be sent via email.
  3. Turning on Usage Reports is highly recommended, so that incident reports and overrides can be logged appropriately.
  4. Create an eDiscovery Center or Compliance Policy Center site collection, or both.  
    • You must create a different Compliance Policy Center per web application - you cannot have one that applies to all site collections across all web applications.  
    • However, you can create one eDiscovery Center site collection which can run DLP queries across all site collections in all web applications.
  5. Assign permissions to your compliance team, risk team and/or information security team so that they may access and manage DLP policies.  Its recommended that permissions are granted by making these users members of the Site Collection "members" group.

In Office 365, these prerequisites are taken care of for you.  You can simply access the Security and Compliance Admin Console within your tenant's Office 365 Admin Center, and start creating policies.

Dependence on Search

As we talked about in the presentation, the core data source behind both the SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 DLP is the SharePoint search index.  If content is not in the search index, the DLP engine won't find it.  This makes it all the more critical to have a healthy search and crawl configuration.

If you have explicitly excluded certain sites or content from SharePoint search, DLP policies cannot be applied to those areas.

When new content is added to SharePoint 2016, a crawl must occur and the search index updated with that content.  In addition, there are 4 timer jobs that must run to enforce DLP policies.  All this must occur before DLP polices can be enforced on sensitive information.

Options for Creating DLP Policies

In Office 365 a DLP policy is created by:

  • Specifying the locations where it may be applied: 
    • SharePoint Online (all sites or specific sites)
    • OneDrive for Business (all sites or specific sites)
  • Configuring one or more DLP Rules - rules are made up of:
    • Conditions
      • Select any number of 80 sensitive data types.  You may not create custom sensitive data types.
      • With each sensitive data type select the min and max # of instances
      • Who content is shared with (people inside or outside the organization)
      • Metadata properties
    • Actions
      • Send an email notification (default message or custom message)
      • Show a policy tip (default tip or custom tip)
      • Allow override (with or without business justification)
      • Block content (to all users except site owners, document owners or last modified)
    • Incident Reports
      • If a report is logged
      • Severity level
      • Send an email with the report
    • Configure some general settings for the rule like a name and description.
  • Configure some general settings like a name and description for the policy, as well as if it is configured.

In SharePoint 2016, a DLP policy is similarly created, but there are some differences:

  • Specify a name.
  • Select from one of 10 policy templates.  Each policy template relates to a combination of 10 sensitive data types.  
  • Select the number of instances of the sensitive data type which trigger the policy.
  • Specify an email address to which an incident report will be emailed
  • Select whether or not to display a policy tip (you cannot customize the text of the policy tip)
  • Select whether to block access to the content to all users except site owners, the document owner or the user that last modified the document.
  • Then you must assign the policy to a site collection where you wish it to be enforced.  You must specify each site collection one at a time.  You cannot easily apply it to all site collections.  As well, you cannot specify the application of a policy down to the subsite level.

In SharePoint 2016, it can take up to 24 hours for a DLP policy to be enforced on new documents.  Once again, you must wait for the search crawl to run, and then the 4 timer jobs related to this feature to run.  Even if you try to execute the timer jobs manually, I have found through testing that it can take up to 14 hours in a small SharePoint 2016 farm.

Areas for Improvement

As eluded to above, in Office 365 you can search for up to 80 sensitive data types.  In SharePoint 2016 on premise, you can only search for 10 - those 10 only relate to US and UK sensitive data types.

In SharePoint 2016, you cannot:
  • Specify more than one policy template per policy.  There is no concept of multiple rules making up a policy as there is in Office 365.
  • Customize which sensitive data types are searched for within the policy template, as you can in Office 365.
  • Customize either the email notification sent or the policy tip shown to the user, as you can in Office 365.
  • Specify any sort of HIPAA related sensitive data types, or sensitive data types from countries other than the US and UK.  Office 365 has access to a greater range of sensitive data types including those from many countries and those related to the HIPAA regulatory compliance standard.

Finally, either in Office 365 or SharePoint 2016, the following limitations currently exist:

  • DLP policies are not enforced on list items.  They are only enforced on documents.
  • DLP policies are not enforced when documents are uploaded to SharePoint.  They are only enforced on content already residing in SharePoint, which has been found by the Search crawler.


My slides from yesterday's presentation can be found here:

Some Great Questions

There were some great questions raised that I would like to come back to readers with answers to in the coming weeks:

  • In SharePoint 2016, if you deploy additional language packs would you get additional sensitive data types related to countries or geographies with those languages?  My suspicion is no, but I think this is worth confirming.
  • If you have a hybrid configuration of SharePoint 2016 on premise with Office 365, your search index is combined and stored within Office 365.  In this case, how are DLP policies configured and managed?  What is the user experience like?
  • If you have metadata associated with documents and that metadata contains sensitive data, will the DLP policy be enforced on that document?  In this case, I suspect that if the metadata field is a managed property that is used by Search that it will find and enforce policies on this metadata, however once again this is worth testing to prove out.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

How to Disable Directory Synchronization in Office 365

I was working with a test Tenant in Office 365 recently where I had previously configured Directory Synchronization from an on premise Active Directory domain (which actually lived in an Azure VM).  I had recently turned off the Azure VM that hosted the AD domain, and I was now getting Directory Sync errors in Office 365 - which made sense since the domain had not synchronized in a few days.  At the same time, I was getting more and more familiar with the new Office 365 Admin Console which is quite nice actually, but I'm still trying to figure out where everything is found.

I decided to deactivate Directory Sync in my tenant to get rid of the errors.  I know I had seen it before because I've activated and deactivated it many times as I've tested the feature for clients.  But I couldn't find where you do that in the new Admin Console.  Let's take a look.

New Office 365 Admin Console

Here I've logged into my tenant and you can see my Directory Sync errors in the top left of the dashboard.  A sync hadn't happened in 68 hours, which made sense because I had turned the Azure VM off.

If I click on the GEAR icon in the left menu, which represents Settings, I get several options:

I select DirSync Errors in the menu... and I get nothing:

I select Services and Add-Ins and again I get several options:

Select Directory Synchronization in order to (hopefully) manage our directory synchronization options, and then we click another link to get to DirSync Management:

And we get to a nice screen which gives us several status indicators about our Directory Synchronization status (including that it has not synced in 68 hours), but no option to deactivate it:

I clicked the Troubleshooting link thinking that perhaps the option to deactivate the sync process could be found there:

I ran the scans, but again no luck.  I could not find the option to deactivate the sync process, despite how much I searched through the new Admin Console.  At this point, I returned to the old Admin Console to check if the option was still there.

Old Office 365 Admin Console

Once in the old Admin Console, in the left menu click on Users, then Active Users and then next to the Active Directory Synchronization title click Manage and there was my Deactivate option, along with similar status indicators to what I saw in the new Admin Console:



We click on Deactivate and we get a confirmation screen:

We click Deactivate Now and, finally, we've deactivated Directory Synchronization.  As usual, we're back at our Active User screen which tells us that Directory Synchronization could take up to 72 hours to take effect.  From my experience, it actually happens much quicker than this.


Alternatively, we could simply use PowerShell to get the current status of the synchronization process and disable it.  Here is the process you can follow:
  1. Launch the Windows Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell (right click the icon and select Run as Administrator).
  2. Type Connect-MsolService to connect to your tenant.  When prompted, login with your administrator credentials.
  3. Type (Get-MsolCompanyInformation).DirectorySynchronizationEnabled to get the current state of the directory synchronization process.  Don't forget the brackets.  If the sync process is enabled it will return True.
  4. To disable the sync process type Set-MsolDirSyncEnabled -EnableDirSync $false.
  5. When prompted to confirm select Y.

You may then type the same command as step 3 to confirm that it was been disabled.  You should get False returned at this point.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

UPDATES: Office 365 Groups - Name Conflicts with Site Collections and Planner

I ran into an interesting situation today when working with Office 365 Groups related to how they are named that I wanted to share.  I had heard that there could be a name conflict that occurs between an Office 365 Group and a SharePoint Online site collection, so I wanted to test this out and understand the user's experience.  Big thank you to Brittany Kwait who contributed to testing these scenarios!

UPDATE 1: In working with the new Microsoft Planner, which was recently released as a new Office 365 experience, you'll also find that it creates an Office 365 Group as part of a new plan.  See below for some additional context into how Office 365 Groups are created and named as part of a Plan. 

UPDATE 2:  Microsoft recently announced here that new administration capabilities are coming to Office 365 Groups, including the ability to configure a Naming Policy in Azure Active Directory for Office 365 Groups.  According to Microsoft, this policy will allow administrators to configure a policy for appending text to the beginning or end of a group’s name and email address no matter where the group is created.  As well, administrators will be able to configure a list of specific blocked words that can’t be used in group names and rely on the native list of thousands of blocked words to keep their directories clean.  This feature is still roadmap and there isn't a committed timeframe yet for release, but I'm hopeful that it will help to address some off the naming experience inconsistencies.

Test 1: Create a New Group

Within the Office 365 portal I accessed by mail using the Outlook Web App and I created a new Group named "testgroup".  I did not click on Files right away in the Office 365 Group interface. 

I left my shiny new Group and navigated to the SharePoint Online admin console.  Here I created a new site collection and named it "testgroup" and gave it the URL  Everything worked fine!  My site collection was created without issue or error, using the name I gave it, which is the same as the Office 365 Group name I had chosen.  Where was the conflict?

I navigated back to my Group, and this time I clicked on Files.  At this point, I immediately got the screen which tells me "We're setting up...".

After a few minutes I got access to the space that was being created within the Group to store my files.  Of course, when an Office 365 Group is created, a OneDrive for Business site collection is created in which group members will store their files.  Now I began to understand what was going on.  The site collection associated with the Group does not get created until you click on the Files tab in the Group interface.  Its important to also note that the OneDrive for Business site collection that gets created in this case is a hidden site collection.

Once my Group space for storing files was created, I got the OneDrive for Business interface as I expected and checked the URL of the site.  It was:

Notice the URL doesn't say "testgroup"?  It says "testgroup53".  I found that interesting but nothing conclusive yet.

Test 2: Create another New Group

This time I went back to my Outlook Web App and created another group named "testgroup2".  The Group was created fine as expected and I immediately clicked the Files tab to create the hidden site collection that would be associated with my Group. That also completed fine, and I checked my URL for that site collection and it was:

Notice this time, the URL contains the actual Group name without any additional numbers tacked onto the end.  Interesting... Now I returned to the SharePoint Online admin console and created another site collection, this time named "testgroup2" and I ensured my URL was  Now I got the error I expected...

The site collection already exists.  Please enter a different address.


As I continued through the process, it was fine for the site collection name to be the same as that of an Office 365 Group.  However, the site collection cannot have the same URL as the OneDrive for Business site collection that is associated with a Group.  This makes sense - whenever an Office 365 Group is created and its OneDrive for Business site collection initialized, a OneDrive for Business site collection is created within SharePoint Online and of course you cannot have the same URL pointing to 2 different site collections.

Its interesting to note that if a site collection already exists with a particular URL and I then click Files in a Group to initiate my Group's OneDrive for Business site collection, Office 365 Groups will alter the URL so that it is unique and doesn't conflict with any site collections. However, this doesn't happen the other way around - if I create a site collection with the same name and URL of an existing Office 365 Group, I get an error and no automatic modifications to the site collection's URLs are made.  This also makes sense - we often want our SharePoint site collection to have a specific URL.


What could be improved is the fact that the OneDrive for Business site collection associated with a Group is hidden.  To a SharePoint Online admin who is simply trying to create a new site collection, they may get this error and look at the list of site collections to see which other site collection has the same URL and not see any in their list which conflicts.  Yes the SharePoint admin can simply alter the URL, but they may want the URL to be something specific.  This may also cause them to spend significant time investigating the issue and open a support ticket with Microsoft.  This situation could be made even worse by the fact that, once Groups are enabled in your organization and by default everyone in the organization can create one or multiple Groups, you'll end up with many hidden site collections with no control over how they are named.  So the possibility of a conflict between an existing Group URL and a new site collection could be high.  This is especially true if you get a significant adoption of Office 365 Groups and also use SharePoint Online site collections.

I am encouraged by the fact that, as announced on May 4, later this year Microsoft will be launching the ability to associate a real SharePoint team site with an Office 365 Group.  With that, I'm hopeful that SharePoint Online admins will get real visibility into which sites are associated with which Office 365 Groups, and avoid this naming/URL conflict.

UPDATE: Office 365 Planner - A Connection to Groups

[Thanks again to Brittany Kwait for this update!]

Microsoft recently released a new service within Office 365 called Planner.  Planner allows teams to quickly organize, plan and track work projects and tasks using a highly visual experience: a task board that you might be familiar with from Agile/Scrum methodologies or solutions like Trello.  In using Planner, when you create a new "Plan"  Planner will automatically create a new Office 365 Group that will be associated with the Plan.  The Group will be named the same as the Plan.

If you then try to create an Office Group with the same name, in this case you'll get an error:

Here we get another interesting inconsistency - if you remember, when we tried to create a Group that was the same name as a site collection, the URL was simply automatically adjusted to be unique as part of the Group creation process.  No error appeared.  When we try to create a Group now that's the same name as a Plan, we get an error.  The same will probably happen if we try to create a Group that's the same name as another Group.  These aren't major issues - I just find it nice to know about and expect the inconsistency.

Once again, my point here is that I hope in the future, the new features we are told are coming for Office 365 Groups (Naming Policy, Team Sites associated with Groups) will help us control naming, and have Groups, Plans and site collections all work well together for administrators and end users. 

Enjoy your Groups! ...and Plans!