Microsoft partners managing the Office 365 service on behalf of customers now have a tool that will help them keep on top of Microsoft service outages, potentially before angry calls from customers start flooding in.
Microsoft unveiled the Office 365 Partner admin center this week and plans to roll it out worldwide over the next few weeks.
The product is not only a service-outage notification service for partners. According to a blog entry by Adam Jung, a senior product manager on the Office 365 team, the tool has four main functions. In addition to being able to view customers' Office 365 service health status and details, the partner admin center allows partners to get a single view of all the customers they have delegated admin privileges for; create, edit and view service requests on behalf of customers; and perform administrative tasks on behalf of customers.
For partners, the tool supersedes an Office 365 admin center that didn't consolidate all of a partner's customers and was more focused on selling new or additional services. "Previously, with Partner tools in the Office 365 admin center, you could perform delegated administration tasks on behalf of customers and create trial invitations, purchase offers and offers for delegated administration," Jung wrote.
Assuming the new admin center works as advertised, with accurate and timely service outage updates from Microsoft, the tool could greatly help partners provide the kind of visible value to customers that will help them retain their Partner of Record status with those customers and keep their Microsoft maintenance fees rolling in year after year.
According to screenshots of the interface, a "client management" tab will show all of a partner's customers along with any alerts next to each customer's name about their service health. Drilling into the "service health" tab for each customer shows a granular list of the services a customer uses.
Each service has a green check mark for the day if all is well, or one of a number of symbols if all is not well. Trouble signals include service interruption, service degradation, restoring service, extended recovery, investigating, service restored or additional information.
"This gives you better visibility into events or issues that may be impacting a customer's environment, including existing incidents and upcoming planned maintenance events," Jung said.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 29, 2014 at 11:26 AM0 comments
One of the best ways to get attention from customers and from the key contacts within Microsoft who can really move the needle on your business is by winning a Microsoft Partner Award.
These are the big ones that Microsoft announces in July at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, bringing the partners across the stage in a long, multinational parade. Behind the scenes, Microsoft organizes press meet-and-greets with the winners and markets those winners to potential customers.
Yes, big, well-connected partners win repeatedly -- but many smaller partners, especially those with tightly focused practices, make the list each year, too.
Eric Ligman posted a lengthy blog entry this week going through this year's categories and rules. Check it out here.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 27, 2014 at 10:50 AM0 comments
Reviewing Microsoft's quarterly results, one analyst is noting that Microsoft's entrenched position with customers and partners gives Microsoft the leeway to change its strategy to Devices and Services while comfortably raking in revenues.
But the analyst, Matthew Casey of Technology Business Research, wonders in a commentary if Microsoft's planned reduction in Office 365 referral payments, scheduled to take effect Jan. 25, marks the start of a new relationship with the channel overall:
"Microsoft's model for engaging with channel partners to distribute software solutions will continually evolve as Microsoft's applications become increasingly cloud based. This evolution was demonstrated in 4Q13 [Microsoft's 2Q14] as Microsoft announced 15-50% cuts to cloud sales commissions for its partner ecosystem, opting to begin rewarding channel partners for value-add innovation and services around solutions such as Office 365 as opposed to a referral based model. While partners will have less monetary incentive to simply resell Microsoft's products, the continued demand for Microsoft solutions as standard core business applications will help sustain the base of channel partners by demonstrating the viability of Microsoft's cloud solutions as sustainable business drivers for partners."
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM0 comments
Over the last few quarters, Microsoft seemed to be solidifying its position as the third platform in the smartphone world.
All the action is at the top -- between Google's Android platform, with Samsung as the major handset maker, and Apple with its integrated iOS/iPhone combination. But Microsoft had slowly climbed its way past a badly stumbling BlackBerry to grasp the No. 3 platform mantle in terms of new device shipments per quarter -- although it was a distant third.
Now BlackBerry, largely given up for dead, is showing surprising signs of life, and Windows Phone sales mysteriously stalled in the fourth quarter.
BlackBerry enjoyed a stock surge this week after the U.S. Department of Defense said that its new secure network would primarily support BlackBerry devices, with about 80,000 of the Ontario, Canada-based firm's devices eventually expected to be hooked up to that network. New BlackBerry CEO John Chen is recommitting to the original physical keyboards and historical markets like business and government.
As big as an 80,000-seat contract is, that's 1 percent of the number of Windows Phones Nokia sold in the fourth quarter, the Finnish company revealed today in its earnings release (.PDF).
Unfortunately, the 8.2 million new Lumia phones Nokia sold in the fourth quarter of 2013 is a sequential drop from the 8.8 million Lumias sold in the third quarter. That's a big fumble coming in the critical, and usually bountiful, holiday season by the partner whose phone business Microsoft is acquiring.
For four consecutive quarters, Microsoft made big sequential gains, and staying on that trajectory would have put the Microsoft/Nokia combo well over 10 million devices for the fourth quarter of 2013. Microsoft and Nokia, which accounts for around 90 percent of the Windows Phone market worldwide, need to continue at that growth rate to become contenders in the global smartphone market.
One BlackBerry deal doesn't make a turnaround, and one bad quarter for Microsoft/Nokia isn't a disaster. Looked at another way, Nokia sold more than twice as many Lumias in Q4 2013 as it sold in Q4 2012. But suddenly the narrative shifts to whether Microsoft can hang onto the No. 3 spot rather than whether it can consolidate its position and start moving toward No. 2.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 23, 2014 at 3:59 PM0 comments
Intermedia is uncoupling cloud e-mail archiving from its own version of Hosted Exchange, allowing partners to offer archiving to customers running Microsoft Office 365, Google Mail, on-premises Exchange, IBM Notes, GroupWise and other mail platforms.
"With standalone Email Archiving, our partners have another path to capitalize on a multi-billion-dollar, high-growth market, while helping their customers reduce business, legal and compliance costs," said Michael Gold, CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based Intermedia, in a statement announcing the offering this week.
Intermedia launched the Email Archiving service about a year ago for its Hosted Exchange solution. Hosted Exchange anchors Intermedia's Office in the Cloud, which also features Hosted PBX, SecuriSync file sync and share, security and mobility services.
In an interview with RCP late last year, Gold was most excited about the SecuriSync technology, a business-grade competitor to Dropbox that Intermedia launched in October. However, he said at the time that archiving was exceeding the company's expectations.
"The compliant-archiving is something we launched earlier this year. We had anticipated that a tiny percentage of our customer base would want that -- law firms, e-discovery. It's turned out that's been attractive across a broader set of our customers," Gold said of the original version, which was tied to Intermedia's own Hosted Exchange offering.
Intermedia has about 90,000 customers and 750,000 users with data spread across 10 datacenters in three countries. Those customers are served by 600 employees and some 13,500 channel partners. Intermedia claims to be the largest provider of hosted Exchange outside of Microsoft.
Partners manage the new standalone Email Archiving service from the same Partner Portal they would use for other Intermedia products.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 23, 2014 at 4:40 PM0 comments
Looking to exit a commodity hardware business, IBM turned again to Lenovo.
The computer giants on Thursday said they'd reached a $2.3 billion deal for IBM's x86 server business, confirming reports from earlier this week that IBM and Lenovo were close to an agreement. Lenovo will pay about $2 billion in cash, with the balance consisting of Lenovo stock. The deal will face regulatory reviews before closing.
The arrangement echoes IBM's sale in 2005 of its PC manufacturing business to Lenovo, which has turned the acquisition into the world's largest PC business by shipments. That PC deal involved $1.25 billion in cash and an 18.9 percent equity stake in Lenovo for IBM, which Big Blue gradually sold down.
IBM, which just reported a double-digit year-over-year decline in x86 server sales in its most recent quarter, has been thought to want to get out of low-end server sales and was also rumored to be in talks with Dell about selling that part of the business.
"This divestiture allows IBM to focus on system and software innovations that bring new kinds of value to strategic areas of our business, such as cognitive computing, Big Data and cloud," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software and Systems, in a statement. In explaining the deal, IBM pointed to its own recent investments of $1 billion in the new IBM Watson Group for cloud cognitive computing and a $1.2 billion expansion of its global cloud computing infrastructure.
Lenovo, meanwhile, is looking for ways to expand beyond the global PC business, a shrinking category over the last few years as tablets and smartphones have out-competed PCs for much consumer and substantial corporate spending. Lenovo also has a division for manufacturing tablets and handsets.
"This acquisition demonstrates our willingness to invest in businesses that can help fuel profitable growth and extend our PC Plus strategy," said Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo chairman and CEO, in a statement.
Lenovo will acquire IBM's System x, BladeCenter and Flex System blade servers and switches, x86-based Flex integrated systems, NeXtScale and iDataPlex servers. IBM will keep its System z mainframes, Power Systems, Storage Systems, Power-based Flex servers and appliances under the PureApplication and PureData brands.
Lenovo will assume customer service duties upon closing of the transaction and will gradually take over maintenance in a handover process from IBM. According to the companies, approximately 7,500 IBM employees around the world are expected to be offered jobs at Lenovo.
The companies also plan to enter a storage and software partnership. Lenovo is supposed to become a global OEM and reseller for IBM entry-level and midrange disk storage systems, tape storage systems, General Parallel File System software, the SmartCloud Entry offering and some system software.
As fits its now-sharper focus on software and services, IBM said it plans to continue to develop its Windows and Linux software portfolio for the x86 platform.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 23, 2014 at 2:24 PM0 comments
Did Microsoft just blink on security support for Windows XP?
Windows XP's extended support phase officially ends on April 8. The company has used a lot of tough talk over the last few years to make sure that all customers know that deadline is coming and that it means that from April 9 onward, keeping Windows XP PCs online is an invitation to cyberattacks because there will be no more security updates from Redmond.
Beyond that, Microsoft has been running customer and partner campaigns with the messaging that no amount of patching would make the dozen-year-old Windows XP as secure as more modern OSes like Windows 7 and Windows 8, anyway.
Then comes the odd decision unveiled last week that Microsoft will continue to provide signatures for malware on Windows XP through July 14, 2015. Those signatures will be delivered through Microsoft security and management products like Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection, System Center Endpoint Protection, Windows Intune and the free Microsoft Security Essentials.
I'm concerned that Microsoft's least sophisticated customers will misinterpret this move as an extension of Windows XP support. It's not.
Security experts order the priority of security steps very clearly. It's operating system and application patches first, virus/malware protection software installation with regularly updated signatures second.
What Microsoft has not done is change its decision on whether to keep patching Windows XP after April 8. So far, all indications are that it won't -- and it will be open season for the creation of zero-day attacks for Windows XP. All that signature support through July 2015 won't help much with that. (See Kurt Mackie's in-depth report here for more.)
Microsoft's announcement of the decision acknowledged as much. "Our research shows that the effectiveness of antimalware solutions on out-of-support operating systems is limited," the Microsoft Malware Protection Center blog post stated. In explaining the strange decision, the blog post said the move was intended "to help organizations complete their migrations."
The bottom line is that Microsoft hasn't blinked on the most important part of Windows XP support. But it has done a head fake that's probably going to fool some of the reported 29 percent of remaining Windows XP users into thinking that it's OK to procrastinate a little bit longer.
The longer all those laggard organizations wait, the more dangerous the Internet is for them and, because of their infected zombie computers, for the rest of us.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 22, 2014 at 9:40 AM0 comments
Bill Gates is open to spending more time on the Microsoft campus to help the person who becomes the new CEO, but he will not devote 100 percent of his time to being chairman, he said in a wide-ranging interview late Tuesday night.
Gates appeared for the full hour on the "Charlie Rose Show" to discuss his new 25-page report and planned speech at the Davos conference predicting there will be almost no poor countries by 2035.
Toward the end of the interview, Rose spent several minutes asking Gates about the search for the next Microsoft CEO to follow Steve Ballmer, who will step down by next August.
Gates deflected a question aimed at eliciting the profile of a leader who would fit the current demands of Microsoft. "That's not a fruitful speculation," Gates said, then joked both about the board having a "mysterious process" and likened that process to Papal succession by talking about waiting until "the smoke comes out."
Gates expressed his willingness to help and his unwillingness to become a full-time chairman:
ROSE: Are you spending more time at Microsoft now because of the changeovers that are taking place?
GATES: Well, we're in a CEO search, so the board is more active right now, making sure that goes well. Once there's a new CEO, then it'll be up to that CEO if they want me to up my time there a bit for a while.
ROSE: If the new CEO says, 'I need you on campus,' would you be willing to be there and spend full time?
GATES: Not full time. My biggest job is going to be the foundation work, but I would make tradeoffs and spend more time if that was...
ROSE: Now, is it productive for you to spend more time? Because some would say you don't want the guy who founded the firm around. Others would say, yes, you do, because you want a CEO who is strong enough to be his own person to be able to have that.
GATES: It's up to them.
Later in the interview, Rose challenged Gates about Microsoft's lack of succession planning, and that back-and-forth ended with both laughing about the CEO succession problems at Hewlett-Packard:
ROSE: You and I know that often executives are admired if they plan well for succession. It doesn't seem like there's been smart planning for succession at Microsoft.
GATES: Well, I think tech companies are very challenging to run. The rules of what works in one era, that will change. I can't think of a tech company that had some textbook case of succession going on, so I apologize.
ROSE: I was trying to think about Hewlett-Packard, whether that worked?
GATES: Oh my God. (both laughing)
Later in the conversation, Gates answered a question about whether Microsoft needed a young Bill Gates to run it now.
"Microsoft's success was always a team of people. To sort of mythically say I alone did something and now that's missing, that oversimplifies the past and so I think it's a dangerous model for the future. It needs a mix of people. It has wonderful people there. The new leader's going to pick the new direction. That can either be somebody who draws on the technical strength of the people in there or themselves, they might be technical. There are multiple models that you could go down," Gates said.
He also started with the pronoun "she" in describing the next leader, which was probably an artifact of the "he or she" way that Rose phrased the question, but was interesting because few women have been named in public speculation so far about the next leader of Microsoft.
"She has to love, or he has to love, technology and either be good at orchestrating deep technical thinkers or bring some of that themselves," Gates said.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM0 comments
IBM appears to be shopping its x86 server business again and could be within weeks of a deal with Lenovo, according to several reports.
Lenovo, which bought IBM's PC unit in 2005 and has since turned itself into the world's highest-volume PC manufacturer, is in talks with IBM about buying the x86 server unit, according to anonymously sourced reports by Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. A few days earlier, the WSJ also reported that Dell was in talks with IBM about the server business.
Lenovo and IBM discussed a potential deal last year, as well, according to both media outlets, but ultimately were unable to agree on a value for IBM's low-end server unit.
According to analysts, IBM is looking to focus on its more profitable service and software businesses, while Lenovo is seeking to diversify into servers for growth as the PC market struggles.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 22, 2014 at 9:00 AM0 comments
One of the largest managed services providers in the United States, mindSHIFT Technologies Inc., has passed hands again.
Ricoh, the Tokyo-based office equipment, printer and document management giant, on Tuesday announced an agreement to purchase mindSHIFT from Best Buy Co Inc. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed; Best Buy paid $167 million to buy mindSHIFT exactly two years ago.
For Ricoh, the move marks an expansion of the company's services efforts. MindSHIFT brings 650 employees and 6,900 SMB clients to Ricoh.
"With the addition of these highly skilled engineering and customer-facing resources to our existing services organization, Ricoh can now offer a greatly enhanced range of services for its customers," said Martin Brodigan, chairman and CEO of Ricoh Americas Corporation, in a statement.
For Best Buy, the move represents a divestiture of efforts to provide services in addition to equipment to small businesses. The company retains Geek Squad, which it acquired in 2002, but has scaled back on a Best Buy for Business effort from the mid-2000s that was originally an aggressive move into the SMB market.
During Best Buy's period of ownership, mindSHIFT increased its client base by about 28 percent and its headcount by about 30 percent.
Meanwhile, as Best Buy did, Ricoh plans to leave mindSHIFT to operate with its current name, management team and offices. Those locations include Austin; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Long Island; Minneapolis; Morrisville, N.C.; New York City; Philadelphia; San Antonio; and Washington, D.C.
The deal is expected to close in February.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 21, 2014 at 5:17 PM0 comments
One of Microsoft's biggest OEM partners has gone off the reservation when it comes to marketing Windows PCs to end users.
At least since this weekend, Hewlett-Packard has been pitching Windows 7, rather than Microsoft's officially encouraged Windows 8, to end users.
HP's main U.S. homepage features a promotion of Windows 7-based PCs with the headline, "Back by popular demand."
"Customize a new HP PC with Windows 7 and save up to $150 instantly," the HP promotion continues. Clicking the "Tell me more" button brings up an HP Home & Home Office Store site with five systems listed. The systems and their starting prices are an HP Pavilion 500-205t Desktop PC for $480, an HP ENVY 700-215xt Desktop PC for $700, an HP Pavilion 15t-n200 Notebook PC for $600, an HP ENVY 15t-j100 Quad Edition Notebook PC for $780 and an HP ENVY Phoenix 810-135qe Desktop PC for $1,000.
For corporate customers, Microsoft and PC manufacturers for years have offered the option of "downgrade rights" -- loading the previous operating system on new systems years after the current OS has come out. The move is a nod to corporate IT's need for control, consistency and extra security. (And partners RCP talks to report that a vanishingly small proportion of enterprise customers migrating desktops from Windows XP are going to Windows 8, with the vast majority moving to Windows 7.)
However, this downgrade trick is less known by consumers. Microsoft regularly creates momentum for new versions of Windows by forcing all end users who buy systems on their own to take the newest code.
Yet lately, drops in PC sales are leaving Microsoft with much less power to dictate terms to OEMs. Meanwhile, home users, especially those trying to use Windows 8 on non-touch systems, have demonstrated a lukewarm reaction to Windows 8's tile-based interface.
The phrasing of HP's promotion alone is something of an insult to Windows 8, implying that the public wants Windows 7 back. Rather than being offended, Microsoft will presumably be grateful if HP's promotion drives any new Windows-based sales.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM0 comments
Back when Microsoft bought Nokia's device business in September, Steve Ballmer suggested that he thought other device manufacturers would come out with more, rather than fewer, Windows Phones in the future.
At the time, it struck me as delusional. Nokia was already producing between 80 percent and 90 percent of Windows Phones and the figure seemed likely to run up to 100 percent now that Microsoft had brought that manufacturing in-house. After all, who would want to compete with the Microsoft/Nokia integration on a platform that's struggled to get to the No. 3 position, anyway?
A new report suggests a mechanism for bringing Ballmer's wish to fruition -- big payments to other device manufacturers.
Russian wireless industry blogger Eldar Murtazin on Wednesday reported in Twitter posts that Microsoft had several support payments going out this year to major manufacturers to produce at least one Windows Phone device each. According to Murtazin's Tweet, the payments were $1.2 billion for Samsung, $500 million to Sony, $600 million to Huawei and $300 million to others -- for a total of $2.6 billion.
Top Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw ridiculed Murtazin's unsourced report with a Tweet of his own that is a study in non-denial denial. Shaw wrote:
While Shaw is throwing cold water on the specific numbers, he sort of confirms the co-marketing and it's as possible that the numbers are off on the low side as that they are off on the high side. (It's even plausible that Shaw's Tweet is simply designed to sow doubt among the handset partners about how much Microsoft is paying each of them.)
In any event, it would have been less delusional for Ballmer to think partners would develop phones for his platform if he knew he was going to be throwing a lot of money at them after the Nokia buy.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's devices bet gets more entrenched as the CEO succession saga drags on.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2014 at 1:29 PM0 comments