A Healthy Directory Is a Good Directory

A new product called Hyperfish, currently in beta, can help companies identify and fix missing Active Directory information

Tony Redmond

by Tony Redmond on 8/18/2016

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Applies to:
Active Directory, Azure AD, Hyperfish, maintenance, Office 365

Everyone thinks their organizational directory is packed full of useful information about user accounts. The sad fact of operational life is that this is seldom true. Active Directory doesn’t maintain itself and the information held about users will degrade over time due to job changes, reorganizations, and other upheavals. A start-up named Hyperfish aims to help Office 365 tenants and on-premises organizations do a better job of directory maintenance. Can some hyper-energetic aquatic life help?

It’s often been said that a well-structured and managed Active Directory is a key factor in the deployment of applications that depend on the information held in the directory, like Exchange and SharePoint. Office 365 makes heavy use of Azure Active Directory to hold information about user accounts, reporting relationships, user job data, and even user photos. That information is synchronized to workload-specific directories such as EXODS (for Exchange Online) and SPODS (for SharePoint Online) and surfaces in all sorts of interesting ways, like Delve’s “People Navigator” (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Delve connects you with other people in your Office 365 tenant

Unfortunately, making sure that the directory is maintained is a task that is often overlooked. Administrators start off with every good intention to populate the directory as best they can, only to discover that changes in user roles, departments, or locations, corporate upheaval and organizational restructuring, and the need to take care of more pressing tasks invariably means that directory data degrades over time. Essential work such as adding new users gets done, but anything else might fall to the bottom of the job list.

Sometimes, the solution is to tie the directory to HR systems so that information updated in those systems flows through to Active Directory, but even when this happens, things can quickly degrade unless administrators pay attention to what’s actually contained in the organizational directory.

Which is where a start-up named Hyperfish hopes to help. Hyperfish is led by Brian Cook, a founder of Nintex (a SharePoint workflow automation company), and CTO Chris Johnson, who used to be the Group product manager for developer relations for Office 365 at Microsoft. Chris is now finding out what life is like on the other side of the Office 365 fence.

The aim of Hyperfish is stated as follows:

“Hyperfish enables organizations to automatically identify and populate missing information in directories, quickly and easily. Utilizing next-generation technologies, Hyperfish automates the process of keeping directory content fresh and up-to-date.”

The promise is then made that “machine learning, advanced analytics, and Hyperbot™ technology” (whatever that is) will be applied to make your directory sound and fit for purpose again. Sounds like this is a kind of colonic irrigation for your directory.

The product is due to be launched at the Ignite conference in September 2016. I signed up for the beta of their free directory analysis product and ran it against my Office 365 tenant to see what Hyperbot technology could do for me. You can run the analysis against on-premises Active Directory, a hybrid organization, or Azure Active Directory if you use a pure-cloud Office 365 tenant.

Sign-up was quick and simple. You need to provide the credentials of an account in the tenant to be able to access Azure Active Directory. The analyzer only reads information – nothing is updated. After a few minutes, I was told that the analysis was under way (Figure 2).

Hyperfish will analyze your Active Directory whether it is in Office 365, hybrid or on premise.
Figure 2: Hyperfish analyzes an Office 365 tenant directory

After a short time, an email notification arrived to tell me that an analysis was ready and provided a link to the Hyperfish app site on Azure. Some interesting information was revealed in the audit (Figure 3), not least the rather startling claim that Hyperfish could save me 140 hours per year (based on some sort of industry data that wasn’t given). I assume that this implies that it would take me 140 hours over the next year to fix up the 35 accounts that Hyperfish located in my tenant’s instance of Azure Active Directory. That seems a tad high, even at the slow pace at which I work, but this is only beta software and Hyperfish can be forgiven the use of some pre-launch hyperbole.

More importantly, the report pointed to missing organizational information like reporting relationships and work addresses. These are not critical items when looked at individually, but the usefulness of applications like Delve is reduced when incomplete information exists in the directory. No one, for instance, would ever know that I report to my wife if that fact wasn’t noted in the directory for my Office 365 tenant.

When I asked Chris Johnson about the plans for the launch version of Hyperfish, he said that they are working on automated collection of missing information from users together with the means to insert that information into the directory. Hyperfish will provide a set of rules that organizations can configure to make sure that what goes into the directory is formatted properly and consistent across all users. For instance, to make sure that phone numbers can be used with Skype click-to-call dialing or that user photos include a face instead of something ruder.

Another example is that users will be able to select from a pre-approved set of job titles, which might lead to the welcome suppression of some of the grandiose titles I see proclaiming the bearer of a business card to be a “Global Principal Supremo Program Manager for Nana Nana. I over-emphasize to make the point, but I bet anyone’s collection of business cards will contain some examples of outlandish job titles.

The paid-for version of Hyperfish will be available on a subscription basis. Full details of the pricing will be available when the product launches at Ignite.

Hyperfish reports the health of your Active Directory on many dashboards
Figure 3: The analysis is complete

Running a test to get a free analysis of your directory seems like a good thing to do. It won’t cost you more than five minutes and you might get some information that you haven’t got now. If your directory, like mine, turns up with a low rating for completeness, you can consider what should be in the directory and the best course of action to achieve the desired level of completeness. And maybe the full version of Hyperfish can help you meet that goal.

Hyperfish is just one example of the kind of interesting ecosystem that’s evolving around Office 365. I expect many more product launches at Ignite. Given the size of the conference, including a massive trade show, keeping up with all the news will be some challenge!

Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.

Want to know more about how to manage Office 365? Find what you need to know in “Office 365 for IT Pros”, the most comprehensive eBook covering all aspects of Office 365. Available in PDF and EPUB formats (suitable for iBooks) or for Amazon Kindle.

Topic: Administration and Infrastructure

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