Tag Archives: manage

Hyper-converged infrastructures get a new benchmark

Hyper-converged infrastructures can be extremely difficult to manage, because everything is interconnected. Measuring performance in this type of infrastructure is just as challenging. And in the past, the available benchmarks only focused on one part of the system. Now, administrators have the ability to look at the infrastructure as a whole.

In November, the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) announced the availability of TPCx-HCI, an application system-level benchmark for measuring the performance of hyper-converged infrastructures. With this benchmark kit, administrators can get a complete view of their virtualized hardware and converged storage, networking and compute platforms running a database application.

We spoke with Reza Taheri, chairman of the TPCx-HCI committee and principal engineer at VMware, who explained the new benchmark for hyper-converged infrastructures and how the council created it.

What was the process for developing the TPCx-HCI benchmark?

Reza Taheri: Originally, we developed a functional specifications document to leave people’s hands open to do any implementation [of the benchmark]. But over time, we realized that it actually made it very hard for people to implement. Not anybody could just go out and start learning the benchmark based on Transaction Processing Performance Council standards. So, we put out a benchmark kit that anybody can download, and it implements the benchmark, measurement, collection of data and all of that in the application kit itself.

The TPCx-V benchmark [for virtualization] was released a couple of years ago. The idea was to look at the performance of a virtualized server — so the hardware, hypervisor, storage and networking using the database workload. We wanted to compare different virtualization stacks using a very heavy business-critical database workload.

We looked at the TPCx-V benchmark kit and specifications and realized that we could very quickly repurpose that for hyper-converged infrastructures.
Reza Taherichairman of the TPCx-HCI committee and principal engineer at VMware

Earlier this year, we had a couple new members join the TPC, and they were HCI vendors — DataCore and Nutanix. They, along with other vendors, [started] asking about a benchmark for HCI systems. We looked at the TPCx-V benchmark kit and specifications and realized that we could very quickly repurpose that for hyper-converged infrastructures. We realized that the HCI market is hot and that there was a demand for a good benchmark.

Will this benchmark account for quality of service, in addition to price and performance?

Taheri: In a couple of ways, yes. One is that you need to have very strict response time performance. 

The other one is something that’s new in this benchmark: Combine performance with some notion of availability. Say you’re running on a four-node cluster. For the test, you limit the VMs on three of the nodes, but all four nodes supply data. At some point during the test, you kill the fourth node and run for a while, and then you turn it back on. You’re required to report the impact on performance during this run and also to report how long it took you to recover resilience and redundancy after the host came back on.

What types of applications do you use for benchmark testing?

Taheri: It’s an online transaction processing application — a database application — that runs on top of Postgres [an open source relational database management system] in a Linux VM. We use that to generate a realistic, very heavy workload that then runs on top of the hypervisor and virtualized storage, virtualized networking, the hardware and so on. The beauty of an application like that is that it really leaves nowhere to hide. Sometimes, for example, if it’s a very simple test of just IOPS, you can make up for low storage by using a lot of CPU or a lot of memory.

But you can’t do that with a high-level system benchmark like this, because if you make up for storage by using too much CPU in the HCI software itself or do caching and use memory, then the application suffers and your performance drops. So, to have good performance, you have to have good storage, memory, CPU and networking all at the same time.

Are all the tested systems running the same hypervisor? Can you accurately compare benchmark performance results for HCI systems that are running different hypervisors?

Taheri: Any hypervisor can be used for this benchmark. Different hyper-converged infrastructures might be running different software stacks besides different hypervisors. It might not be possible to state how much of a performance difference is solely due to the hypervisor. The TPCx-V benchmark is very similar to TPCx-HCI, but runs on one node and can use any type of storage. TPCx-V is a better tool for studying the performance of hypervisors.

Is there any way to compare this benchmark to something running in the cloud?

Taheri: Not directly, but the benchmark has many attributes of cloud-based applications, such as elasticity of load, virtualization and so on. Also, a sponsor might choose to run the benchmark on a cloud platform, which is allowed by the Transaction Processing Performance Council specifications.

As HCI is still evolving, are there plans to review and make changes to the benchmark at any point?

Taheri: We would need to. It was a quantum leap from the Iometer type of benchmarks — micro-benchmarks — to a system application benchmark like this. Going forward, these specs will evolve. Benchmarks … evolve in minor ways, and every few years we have to do a major change, which makes it incomparable to previous versions of the same benchmark.

Will PowerShell Core 6 fill in missing features?

Administrators who have embraced PowerShell to automate tasks and manage systems will need to prepare themselves…

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as Microsoft plans to focus its energies in the open source version called PowerShell Core.

All signs from Microsoft indicate it is heading away from the Windows-only version of PowerShell, which the company said it will continue to support with critical fixes — but no further upgrades. The company plans to release PowerShell Core 6 shortly. Here’s what admins need to know about the transition.

What’s different with PowerShell Core?

PowerShell Core 6 is an open source configuration management and automation tool from Microsoft. As of this article’s publication, Microsoft made a release candidate available in November. PowerShell Core 6 represents a significant change for administrators because it shifts from a Windows-only platform to accommodate heterogeneous IT shops and hybrid cloud networks. Microsoft’s intention is to give administrative teams a single tool to manage Linux, macOS and Windows systems.

What features are not in PowerShell Core?

PowerShell Core runs on .NET Core and uses .NET Standard 2.0, the latter is a common library that helps make some current Windows PowerShell modules work in PowerShell Core.

As a subset of the .NET Framework, PowerShell Core misses out on some useful features in Windows PowerShell. For example, workflow enables admins to execute tasks or retrieve data through a sequence of automated steps. This feature is not in PowerShell Core 6. Similarly, tasks such as sequencing, checkpointing, resumability and persistence are not available in PowerShell Core.

A few other features missing from PowerShell Core 6 are:

  • Windows Presentation Foundation: This is the group of .NET libraries that enable coders to build UIs for scripts. It offers a common platform for developers and designers to work together with standard tools to create Windows and web interfaces.
  • Windows Forms: In PowerShell 5.0 for Windows, the Windows Forms feature provides a robust platform to build rich client apps with the GUI class library on the .NET Framework. To create a form, the admin loads the System.Windows.Forms assembly, creates a new object of type system.windows.forms and calls the ShowDialog method. With PowerShell Core 6, administrators lose this capability.
  • Cmdlets: As of publication, most cmdlets in Windows PowerShell have not been ported to PowerShell Core 6. However, the compatibility with .NET assemblies enables admins to use the existing modules. Users on Linux are limited to modules mostly related to security, management and utility. Admins on that platform can use the PowerShellGet in-box module to install, update and discover PowerShell modules. PowerShell Web Access is not available for non-Windows systems because it requires Internet Information Services, the Windows-based web server functionality.
  • PowerShell remoting: Microsoft ports Secure Socket Shell to Windows, and SSH is already popular in other environments. That means SSH-based remoting for PowerShell is likely the best option for remoting tasks. Modules such as Hyper-V, Storage, NetTCPIP and DnsClient have not been ported to PowerShell Core 6, but Microsoft plans to add them.

Is there a new scripting environment?

For Windows administrators, the PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) is a handy editor that admins use to write, test and debug commands to manage networks. But PowerShell ISE is not included in PowerShell Core 6, so administrators must move to a different integrated development environment.

Microsoft recommends admins use Visual Studio Code (VS Code). VS Code is a cross-platform tool and uses web technologies to provide a rich editing experience across many languages. However, VS Code lacks some of PowerShell ISE’s features, such as PSEdit and remote tabs. PSEdit enables admins to edit files on remote systems without leaving the development environment. Despite VS Code’s limitations, Windows admins should plan to migrate from PowerShell ISE and familiarize themselves with VS Code.

What about Desired State Configuration?

Microsoft offers two versions of Desired State Configuration: Windows PowerShell DSC and DSC for Linux. DSC helps administrators maintain control over software deployments and servers to avoid configuration drift.

Microsoft plans to combine these two options into a single cross-platform version called DSC Core, which will require PowerShell Core and .NET Core. DSC Core is not dependent on Windows Management Framework (WMF) and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and is compatible with Windows PowerShell DSC. It supports resources written in Python, C and C++.

Debugging in DSC has always been troublesome, and ISE eased that process. But with Microsoft phasing out ISE, what should admins do now? A Microsoft blog says the company uses VS Code internally for DSC resource development and plans to release instructional videos that explain how to use the PowerShell extension for DSC resource development.

PowerShell Core 6 is still in its infancy, but Microsoft’s moves show the company will forge ahead with its plan to replace Windows PowerShell. This change brings a significant overhaul to the PowerShell landscape, and IT admins who depend on this automation tool should pay close attention to news related to its development.

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Windows Scripting Language

Druva Cloud Platform expands with Apollo

Druva moved to help manage data protection in the cloud with its latest Apollo software as a service, which helps protect workloads in Amazon Web Services through the Druva Cloud Platform.

The company’s new service provides a single control plane to manage infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service cloud workloads.

Druva, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., sells two cloud backup products, Druva InSync and Druva Phoenix, for its Druva Cloud Platform. The enterprise-level Druva InSync backs up endpoint data across physical and public cloud storage. The Druva Phoenix agent backs up and restores data sets in the cloud for distributed physical and virtual servers. Phoenix applies global deduplication at the source and points archived server backups to the cloud target.

There is a big change going on throughout the industry in how data is being managed. The growth is shifting toward secondary data.
Steven Hillsenior storage analyst, 451 Research

Apollo enables data management of Druva Cloud Platform workloads under a single control plane so administrators can do snapshot management for backup, recovery and replication of Amazon Web Services instances. It automates service-level agreements with global orchestration that includes file-level recovery. It also protects Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud instances.

Druva Apollo is part of an industrywide trend among data protection vendors to bring all secondary data under global management across on-premises and cloud storage.

“There is a big change going on throughout the industry in how data is being managed,” said Steven Hill, senior storage analyst for 451 Research. “The growth is shifting toward secondary data. Now, secondary data is growing faster than structured data, and that is where companies are running into a challenge.”

“Apollo will apply snapshot policies,” said Dave Packer, Druva’s vice president of product and alliance marketing. “It will automate many of the lifecycles of the snapshots. That is the first feature of Apollo.”

Automation for discovery, analysis and information governance is on the Druva cloud roadmap, Packer said.

Druva last August pulled in $80 million in funding, bringing total investments into the range of $200 million for the fast-growing vendor. Druva claims to have more than 4,000 worldwide customers that include NASA, Pfizer, NBCUniversal, Marriott Hotels, Stanford University and Lockheed Martin.

Druva has positioned its data management software to go up against traditional backup vendors Commvault and Veritas Technologies, which also are transitioning into broad-based data management players. It’s also competing with startups Rubrik, which has raised a total of $292 million in funding since 2015 for cloud data management, and Cohesity, which has raised $160 million.

Hyper-V PowerShell commands for every occasion

You can certainly manage Hyper-V hosts and VMs with Hyper-V Manager or System Center Virtual Machine Manager, but…

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in some cases, it’s easier to use PowerShell. With this scripting language and interactive command line, you can perform a number of actions, from simply importing a VM and performing a health check to more complex tasks, like enabling replication and creating checkpoints. Follow these five expert tips, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Hyper-V PowerShell pro.

Import and export Hyper-V VMs

If you need to import and export VMs and you don’t have the Hyper-V role installed, you can install Hyper-V PowerShell modules on a management server. To export a single VM, use the Export-VM command. This command creates a folder on the path specified with three subfolders — snapshots, virtual hard disks and VMs — which contain all of your VM files. You also have the option to export all of the VMs running on a Hyper-V host or to specify a handful of VMs to export by creating a text file with the VM names and executing a short script using that file. To import a single VM, use the Import-VM command. The import process will register the VM with Hyper-V and check for compatibility with the target host. If the VM is already registered, the existing VM with the same globally unique identifier will be deleted, and the VM will be registered again.

Check Hyper-V host and VM health

You can perform a complete health check for Hyper-V hosts and VMs by using PowerShell commands. When it comes to checking the health of your Hyper-V hosts, there are a lot of elements to consider, including the Hyper-V OS and its service pack, memory and CPU usages, Hyper-V uptime and total, used and available memory. If you want to perform a health check for a standalone host, you can use individual Hyper-V PowerShell commands. To perform a health check for a cluster, use Get-ClusterNode to generate a report. When performing a VM health check, consider the following factors: VM state, integration services version, uptime, whether the VM is clustered, virtual processors, memory configuration and dynamic memory status. You can use Get-VM to obtain this information and a script using the command to check the health status of VMs in a cluster.

Enable Hyper-V replication

Hyper-V replication helps keep VM workloads running in the event of an issue at the production site by replicating those workloads to the disaster recovery site and bringing them online there when need be. To configure Hyper-V replication, you need at least two Hyper-V hosts running Windows Server 2012 or later. There are a few steps involved, but it’s a pretty straightforward process. First, you need to run a script on the replica server to configure the Hyper-V replica and enable required firewall rules. Then, execute a script on the primary server to enable replication for a specific VM — we’ll name it SQLVM, in this case. Finally, initiate the replication with Start-VMInitialReplication –VMName SQLVM. After you’ve completed this process, the VM on the replica server will be turned off, while the one on the primary server will continue to provide services.

Create Hyper-V checkpoints

If you’d like to test applications or just play it safe in case a problem arises, enable Hyper-V checkpoints on your VMs so you can roll back changes to a specific point in time.

If you’d like to test applications or just play it safe in case a problem arises, enable Hyper-V checkpoints on your VMs so you can roll back changes to a specific point in time. The option to take point-in-time images is disabled by default, but you can enable it for a single VM with the following Hyper-V PowerShell command: Set-VM. In order to use production checkpoints, you’ll have to also configure the VM to do so. One you enable and configure the VM to use checkpoints, you can use CheckPoint-VM to create a checkpoint, and the entry will include the date and time it was taken. Unfortunately, the above command won’t work on its own to create checkpoints for VMs on remote Hyper-V hosts, but you can use a short script to create a checkpoint in this instance. To restore a checkpoint, simply stop the VM, and then use the Restore-VMSnapshot command.

Use Port ACL rules in Hyper-V

Port Access Control Lists (ACLs) are an easy way to isolate VM traffic from other VMs. To use this feature, you’ll need Windows Server 2012 or later, and your VMs must be connected to a Hyper-V switch. You can create and manage Port ACL rules using just a few Hyper-V PowerShell commands, but you need to gather some information first. Figure out the source of the traffic, the direction of the traffic — inbound, outbound or both — and whether you want to block or allow traffic. Then, you can execute the Add-VMNetworkAdapterACL command with those specific parameters. You can also list all of the Port ACL rules for a VM with the Get-VMNetworkAdapterACL command. To remove a Port ACL rule associated with a VM, use Remove-VMNetworkAdapterACL. As a time-saver, combine the two previous PowerShell cmdlets to remove all of the VM’s Port ACL rules.

Next Steps

Deep dive into Windows PowerShell

Manage cached credentials with PowerShell

Use PowerShell to enable automated software deployment

Use Azure Storage Explorer to manage Azure storage accounts

You might have used third-party tools to manage Azure storage accounts — including managing storage blobs, queues…

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and table storages — and VM files in the past, but there’s another option. Microsoft developed an Azure storage management tool that can manage multiple Azure storage accounts, which helps increase productivity. Meet certain requirements before installing the tool, and you can realize other benefits of using Azure Storage Explorer, such as performing complete Azure storage operational tasks from your desktop in a few simple steps.

Azure Storage Explorer was released in June 2016. Although Azure Storage Explorer is in preview, many organizations use it to efficiently manage Azure storage accounts. There are several previous versions of Azure Storage Explorer, but the latest version that is reliable and is in production use is 0.8.16.

Benefits of using Azure Storage Explorer

One of the main benefits of using Azure Storage Explorer is that you can perform Azure storage operations-related tasks — copy, delete, download, manage snapshots. You can also perform other storage-related tasks, such as copying blob containers, managing access policies configured for blob containers and setting public access levels, from a single GUI installed on your desktop machine.

Another benefit of using this tool is that if you have Azure storage accounts created in both Azure Classic and Azure Resource Manager modes, the tool allows you to manage Azure storage accounts for both modes.

You can also use Azure Storage Explorer to manage storage accounts from multiple Azure subscriptions. This helps you track storage sizes and accounts from a single UI rather than logging into the Azure portal to check the status of Azure storage for a different Azure subscription.

Azure Storage Emulator, which must be downloaded separately,  allows you to test code and storage without an Azure storage account. Apart from managing storage accounts created on Azure, Azure Storage Explorer can connect to other storage accounts hosted on sovereign clouds and Azure Stack.

Requirements and installing Azure Storage Explorer

Azure Storage Explorer requires minimum resources on the desktop and can be installed on Windows Client, Windows Server, Mac and Linux platforms. All you need to do is download the tool and then install it. The installation process is quite simple. Just proceed with the onscreen steps to install the tool. When you launch the tool for the first time, it will ask you to connect to an Azure subscription, but you can cancel and add an Azure subscription at a later stage if you want to explore the options available with the tool. For example, you might want to modify the proxy settings before a connection to Azure subscriptions can be established.

Configuring proxy settings

It’s important to note that, because Azure Storage Explorer requires a working internet connection and because many of the production environments have a proxy server deployed before someone can access the internet, you’ll be required to modify the proxy settings in Azure Storage Explorer by navigating to the Edit menu and then clicking Configure Proxy as shown in Figure A below:

Azure Storage Explorer proxy server settings
Figure A. Launching the proxy server settings page

When you click on Configure Proxy, the tool will show you the Proxy Settings page as shown in Figure B below. From there, you can enter the proxy settings and then click on OK to save the settings.

Proxy setting configuration
Figure B. Configuring proxy settings in Azure Storage Explorer

When you configure proxy settings in Azure Storage Explorer, the tool doesn’t check whether the settings are correct. It just saves the settings. If you run into any connection issues, please make sure that the proxy settings are correct and that you have a reliable internet connection.

How to use Azure Storage Explorer

If you’ve worked with third-party Azure storage management tools, you’re already familiar with storage operational tasks, such as uploading VHDX files and working with blob containers, tables and queues. Azure Storage Explorer provides the same functionality, but the interface might be different than the third-party storage management tools you’ve worked with thus far. The first step is to connect to an Azure account by clicking on the Manage Accounts icon and then clicking Add an Account. Once it is connected, Azure Storage Explorer will retrieve all the subscriptions associated with the Azure account. If you need to work with storage accounts in an Azure subscription, first select the subscription, and then click Apply. When you click Apply, Azure Storage Explorer will retrieve all of the storage accounts hosted on the Azure subscription. Once storage accounts have been retrieved, you can work with blob containers, file shares, queues and tables from the left navigation pane as shown in Figure C below:

Storage accounts in Azure Storage Explorer
Figure C. Working with storage accounts in Azure Storage Explorer

If you have several Azure storage accounts, you can search for a particular storage account by typing in the search box located on top of the left pane as it is shown in Figure C above. Azure Storage Explorer provides easy management of blob containers. You can perform most blob container-related tasks, including creating a blob, setting up public access for a blob and managing access policies for blobs. As you know, by default, a blob container has public access disabled. If you want to enable public access for a blob container, click on a blob container in the left navigation pane, right-click on the blob container and then click on Set Public Access Level… to display the Set Container Public Access Level page shown in Figure D below.

Blob container public access level
Figure D. Setting public access level for a blob container

Next Steps

Learn more about different Azure storage types

Navigate expanded Microsoft Azure features

Enhance cloud security with Azure Security Center

The Best To-Do List Apps of 2017



Manage Your Tasks With an App

If you haven’t gone paperless with your to-do list yet, you’re missing out. These apps let you edit and rearrange your to-dos based on changing priorities, share lists with family members or other collaborators, and get reminders for your upcoming deadlines, no matter which device you have on you at the moment. Managing tasks in an app is more efficient, more powerful, and simply a better way to be more productive than doing it on paper.

Recently, Microsoft acquired one of the best to-do apps on the market, Wunderlist, and has decided to stop supporting it as of April 2017. The app is still available, but it will no longer receive updates or bug fixes. That’s why it’s not in the table above. Anyone still using Wunderlist should start thinking about migrating to another app sooner rather than later. The company’s own offering, the free Microsoft To-Do, has basic to-do functionality, but it lacks so much that the best apps offer that it’s not really a competitor yet. It’s still in beta, so there’s hope for yet; in the meanwhile, however, Wunderlist users and those new to to-do list apps should thoroughly explore all their options and find the task-management app that best meets their needs. Fortunately, there are some excellent choices for a variety of work styles.

For example, if your idea of digital task management ideally starts in your email, you should check out ActiveInbox, which turns your Gmail inbox into a fully functioning to-do list. I think that your inbox should not be your to-do list, but everyone has different ideas. If you need an app that you can use with a number of people for shared responsibilities, you’ll want an app like Asana or Todoist that has strong collaboration features.

To-Do List Apps vs. Project Management Apps

A great to-do app for personal use, households, and even small teams doesn’t need to be super complicated, the way project management software is, even though they both essentially serve the same function. They both keep track of what needs to get done, when, and by whom. They help us manage time more efficiently and regulate how many tasks are on our plate at once. But personal to-do apps are simpler and cheaper than project management software. They’re a better choice for many use cases.

The difference between to-do list apps, sometimes also called task-management apps, and project management apps is that to-do apps track any kind of tasks whereas project management apps track tasks that are related to projects. Project management apps typically track a lot of metadata related to the project, too.

To-do apps keep track of tasks, assignees, deadlines, and even discussion points related to the tasks. Project management apps do all of that, but they also add a lot more functionality, such as tracking how many tasks various people have on their plate, how much time it takes them to complete tasks, billable hours that are associated with certain tasks or projects, and so forth. Project management apps help guide projects, which generally have a final due date and deliverable. With to-do apps, people are generally just keeping track of tasks that need to get done but that aren’t necessarily part of something that will one day end, the way a project ends.

You don’t need to keep track of billable hours when picking up milk on the way home from work, and you don’t need Gantt charts to get your kids to do their chores. At least, I hope you don’t.

What To Look for in a To-Do App

There are a few qualities I look for in a good to-do list. For starters, you have to like the way it looks. I’m serious. How are you going to get stuff done if you can’t even stand to look at the list itself because it’s ugly? A looked-at list is a useful list.

Second, I like to-do apps that give me a range of tools for organizing my tasks. For example, I want to be able to quickly sort my work tasks from my personal tasks, or view them all according to deadline, or which ones are overdue. I also want to be able to rearrange the order of my tasks quickly and easily. I should be able to schedule reminders so that I get a notification about what I need to do when it’s time, or when I’m in the location where the task should get done.

Third, it’s always nice to have the option to make lists collaborative. If you run a household, a collaborative to-do list gives you the ability to assign tasks to other people. You can open your app and assign your kid the task of walking the dog. You can assign your partner the task of calling back the accountant. Whether you want those same people to have the power to assign tasks to you is another question that I will now sidestep and refuse to answer by changing the subject.

The Best Collaborative To-Do App

PCMag has two Editors’ Choice picks for best collaborative to-do app. One goes to Todoist Premium, which is ideal for a small group of people. The other is Asana, which is better for managing more in-depth teamwork.

Todoist is a powerful to-do app for shared responsibilities, and a bonus feature is that it has a tool that monitors your productivity. Todoist has apps for all major platforms so you can use it anywhere. It’s reliable. It’s efficient. New features are being added all the time. Todoist Premium costs $28.99 per year. A free limited version is also available. I recommend starting with the free account to try it out, but make sure to consider the Premium features, as they really do add a lot of functionality and efficiency.

Asana is excellent for teamwork. Some people classify Asana as a workflow management app, and it is, but it can also function as a team to-do list. Asana has a free version, good for up to 15 people. At $99 per person per year, Asana Premium costs more than Todoist Premium, but as I said, it has additional functionality for managing more the elaborate teamwork typical of businesses.

The Best Free To-Do App

Among free apps, stick with Asana if you need to collaborate, but choose a simpler app, such as Remember the Milk, if you plan to use your to-do app solo. The problem some people encounter with Asana is that it can be too flexible. You might have a hard time figuring out just what to do with an app that comes with so many possibilities but not a lot of rules. In fact, PCMag has written entire features on how to get the most out of Asana.

Remember the Milk is extremely easy to learn to use, and the free version has all the functionality a single user needs. You won’t have any questions about what to do with it or why. Write down things you need to do. Assign deadlines. Check them off when done. It’s that’s simple.

Many of the other to-do apps on this list are excellent, but their free versions are a little limiting compared with the power of their paid versions.

Get Organized With a Great To-Do List App

Having a great to-do list app can help you get organized and get more done, whether you’re managing only your own tasks or those for a family or small team. Below are the best ones worth exploring.

A to-do app is only as useful as the information you put into it, so in addition to picking the right app, you might also want to peruse these tips for creating better to-do lists.

Featured To-Do List App Reviews:

  • Asana Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Asana helps teams manage tasks and workflows, and it’s the preeminent tool for the job. Thoughtful design and highly capable features make it a compelling productivity app.

     Read Full Review

  • Todoist Review


    $29.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: With a clean and simple UI and support for plenty of platforms, Todoist is one of the most feature-rich task management apps on the market, and a clear Editors’ Choice.

     Read Full Review

  • Any.do (for iPhone) Review


    $26.88 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Any.do is a useful and well designed to-do app, though the free version is a bit limited. Its standout feature is the Any.do Moment, which encourages you to review your daily task list befor…

     Read Full Review

  • Remember the Milk Review


    $39.99 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Remember the Milk is a capable to-do-list app with some sharing options included at no cost, making it good for household use. The Pro version unlocks extra features but is on the expensive …

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  • ActiveInbox Review


    $49.92 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Do you use your Gmail inbox as your to-do list? ActiveInbox adds tools that can make this a better experience.

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  • Gneo (for iPhone) Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Beautiful and fluid, the free Gneo to-do app for iPhone is a treat for the fingers. But it may have put form over function, and serious task masters will likely want something else, and the …

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  • Google Keep (Web) Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Google Keep is a free note-taking and syncing app with a nifty OCR feature, but it lacks the features and mobile apps offered by the competition.

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Office 365 administrators must brush up on cloud skills

Think you know how to manage and support that on-premises Exchange Server? Cloud will make you question your s…

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}
});

/**
* remove unnecessary class from ul
*/
$(“#inlineregform”).find( “ul” ).removeClass(“default-list”);

/**
* Replace “errorMessageInput” class with “sign-up-error-msg” class
*/
function renameErrorMsgClass() {
$(“.errorMessageInput”).each(function() {
if ($(this).hasClass(“hidden”)) {
$(this).removeClass(“errorMessageInput hidden”).addClass(“sign-up-error-msg hidden”);
} else {
$(this).removeClass(“errorMessageInput”).addClass(“sign-up-error-msg”);
}
});
}

/**
* when validation function is called, replace “errorMessageInput” with “sign-up-error-msg”
* before return
*/
function validateThis(v, form) {
var validateReturn = urValidation.validate(v, form);
renameErrorMsgClass();
return validateReturn;
}

/**
* DoC pop-up window js – included in moScripts.js which is not included in responsive page
*/
$(“#inlineRegistration”).on(“click”,”a.consentWindow”, function(e) {
window.open(this.href, “Consent”, “width=500,height=600,scrollbars=1”);
e.preventDefault();
});

kills.

As enterprises switch to the Office 365 platform, admins must change how they work and what systems they work in. And this means understanding several areas in which most admins have little to no experience. Here are several must-have skills for Office 365 administrators.

Get familiar with PowerShell

Systems administrators have used PowerShell to manage Microsoft’s applications and operating systems with console commands since its release with Windows Server 2008. Microsoft developed PowerShell to support everything from Windows Server and SharePoint to Exchange Server and Office 365. And Office 365 admins who have only dabbled with PowerShell need to get more comfortable with it, because there are many management tasks that cannot be resolved from the administrative web portal.

Understand licensing tiers

Exchange Online users have several add-ons, such as email security and collaboration features; administrators likely will need to manage different aspects of each. Understand licensing so the organization only purchases what it needs. For example, not all users need the full Microsoft Office productivity suite — assign the less expensive Office 365 Enterprise E1 license or the Exchange Online plan, instead of the more expensive E3 or E5 plans. This helps budget for licensing and avoids unnecessary purchases.

Know your security needs

Microsoft stores hosted email in multiple highly available data centers, and many IT executives think Microsoft backs up email. While Microsoft explicitly states it protects mailboxes from accidental deletion, any deleted message is gone when it is removed from the Deleted Items folder — unless admins apply litigation holds or create other retention policies. Therefore, many new Exchange Online administrators subscribe to Office 365 backup service providers for cloud-to-cloud backups.

Sharpen security skills

Thanks to the rise of cyberattacks and ransomware, Office365 administrators have increased safeguards to protect email — a popular entry point for attacks. Microsoft has many security add-ons to fend off different attacks, including Advanced Security Management, Advanced Threat Protection and Advanced Threat Analytics. Research each service to understand what it covers, how to manage it and then determine if those security components fit your organization’s needs.

Keep the lines of communication open

Many enterprise IT admins hesitated to use Cloud PBX and public switch telephone network features introduced in the Office 365 E5 plan. Few cloud-hosted VoIP vendors could provide the full collaboration stack that includes conferencing, instant messaging, desktop sharing, video and voice. However, more companies have signed on with the E5 plan for calling and conferencing features. Admins who dropped on-premises telephony systems must adapt and manage the cloud version through the Office 365 admin portal.

Take an active role with end users

Office 365 offers so many apps and services — with more arriving at a steady rate — that it’s challenging for IT admins to describe every tool to end users. To address this, be sure IT teams control the flow of new apps and improvements and become proficient with new services before introducing them to end users. This will give end users confidence in the IT team’s ability to support them.

Next Steps

Key Office 365 tasks admins should know

Use the admin portal or PowerShell in Office 365?

Log Parser Studio helps pinpoint Exchange problems

Dig Deeper on MS Office 365

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