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Microsoft announces features and performance improvements for many Azure services

Mary Branscombe | Dec. 15, 2014
Microsoft announced updates to many Azure services this week, previewing new services and moving others from preview to general availability as full working versions.

Azure AD Sync can be used not just to keep usernames and passwords in sync between AD and cloud services like Office 365, but also for self-service password resets without needing to set up a password management service. By turning on the new Password Write-Back option, users can change their passwords in the online portal and have it sync back to their AD automatically so they can use it everywhere.

A new option is in preview to add security questions for password reset, instead of using email, text or phone calls.

Also in preview are Administrative Units, that use PowerShell to set up groups to control who has administrative privileges for specific features and users. Microsoft says this is a feature many large customers have asked for.

Smaller customers have been asking to buy Azure AD Premium online, rather than as part of an Enterprise Agreement and users can now buy it as a service through Office 365. It will be offered as a service to purchase on the Azure portal in the coming months.

Other Azure features are also becoming more useful for smaller businesses. Previously, the Azure Site Recovery service needed to use System Center Virtual Machine Manager for automating failover and recovery to Azure instead of a user's disaster recovery site, making it only suitable for enterprises. Hyper-V replication from Windows Server 2012 R2 direct to Azure, without running System Center, is now possible. Users can also test failing over to Azure without taking local servers down.

Microsoft announced minor improvements (to several other Azure services. Changes to the Azure Search portal make it easier to create and tweak search indexes for Web and mobile applications, plus there's support for searching in 27 languages. Users can now bulk upload JSON documents to the Azure DocumentDB NoSQL document database. And the Live Media Streaming service used by many broadcasters to stream the 2014 Winter Olympics and World Cup is now generally available for streaming any event live, using Flash and HTML5 video, including iOS and Android support.


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