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IBM, Lenovo Reach Terms on x86 Server Business

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

Microsoft's Head Fake on Windows XP Support

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 Opens Up About Microsoft CEO Succession

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.

Bill Gates (left) and Charlie Rose. (Image source: @charlierose Twitter feed.)

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

Reports: Lenovo in Talks To Buy IBM's x86 Server Business

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

Best Buy Sells MSP mindSHIFT to Ricoh

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

HP Pushes Windows 7 for Home PCs, Microsoft's Buttons

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

What the Windows Phone Subsidies Flap Tells Us

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

StorageCraft Releases New Exchange Backup Tools

Draper, Utah-based StorageCraft Technology Corp. this week released a pair of recovery tools for managed service providers (MSPs) who have responsibility for Microsoft Exchange Servers.

One of the tools, StorageCraft Granular Recovery for Exchange, is a new product for StorageCraft. The tool allows for quick recovery, search and migration of Exchange Server files, including mailboxes, e-mails, appointments, contacts, tasks and notes. While that function set isn't new for StorageCraft, the tool's differentiator in the product line is that it works with non-StorageCraft backup and recovery software. 

The other new tool is an upgrade of StorageCraft ShadowProtect Granular Recovery for Exchange to version 8. That tool does require other ShadowProtect-based backup and recovery products to allow for file recovery.

Both of the new products include support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2013.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2014 at 12:47 PM0 comments

Gartner: Android Shipments To Hit 1 Billion in 2014; Still Room for Windows?

In the year 2014, according to analysts at Gartner, the tech world can look forward to Android devices passing 1 billion units shipped in a year -- the first time any platform has reached that kind of volume.

Yet despite Android bounding by 74 percent in unit shipments from 2012 to 2013 and Apple climbing 25 percent in that same period as Windows fell by 5 percent, Gartner seems to see reasons for optimism about Microsoft's future. 

Gartner released its overall shipment projections for different device types and operating system platforms on Tuesday. The release marked a change in the way Gartner has reported the figures, or at least in the way it reveals them broadly. In the past, Gartner discussed PC shipments, smartphone shipments and tablet shipments separately. This year, the market research firm tallied total shipments for an OS brand as one value. For example, Windows PC, Windows tablet and Windows Phone shipments all count together in one lump sum for Windows shipments.*

Android shipped an estimated 878 million units in 2013, and Gartner expects the platform to hit 1.1 billion units in 2014.

Windows was second in total shipments for 2013 at 328 million units, with a 10 percent increase forecast for 2014 to 360 million units. The numbers for Apple's iOS and Mac OS platforms are 267 million units in 2013 and 344 million units in 2014.

By Gartner's calculations, most of the headroom in the mobile phone market, where Android has been wildly successful, appears to be occupied. Gartner projects growth of only 5 percent and 4 percent for that market overall in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

While traditional desktop PCs and notebook PCs fell by 12 percent in 2013 and will keep falling in 2014 and 2015, although somewhat more slowly, Gartner expects the fastest growth of any category over the next two years to come from tablets, hybrids and clamshells.

The Gartner estimates seem to be building on an assumption that the hybrid and clamshell category, with their productivity focus, will be an area of special strength for Microsoft.

* Unlike for Windows and iOS/Mac OS, Gartner reported figures for Google Chrome separately from Google's Android environment. That's a good thing since the progress of the Chrome platform is a hot topic and the new numbers show a fast-growing category, although from a long way back that would have disappeared as less than a rounding error in Android's overall volume. Chrome devices exploded by 895 percent from 185,000 units in 2012 to 1.8 million units in 2013. Gartner anticipates 160 percent growth in 2014 to nearly 4.8 million units and 67 percent growth in 2015 to 8 million units.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 08, 2014 at 4:44 PM0 comments

MSP Vendor Continuum 'Leans Forward' with Datacenter Investment

Continuum this week unveiled a multimillion-dollar investment in upgrading its datacenter capacity to position the company for unspecified future offerings for its managed service provider (MSP) partners, according to the company's CEO.

"This was a pretty substantial investment that has to do with the underlying infrastructure of our fundamental platform," said Michael George, CEO of Continuum, in a telephone interview. Continuum's core products for its 3,300 MSPs are the Continuum RMM and Continuum Vault, which are backup and disaster recovery services built around an appliance manufactured by Datto.

The Software as a Service (SaaS) nature of Continuum's offerings is a key product differentiator, making its datacenter infrastructure mission-critical. 

George stressed that the move from a West Coast service provider to new facilities at the Markley Group datacenter near Continuum's headquarters in downtown Boston was driven by aggressive growth plans, not by dissatisfaction with previous facilities.

Continuum had kept the previous facility up to date with equipment refreshes and always maintained capacity at 15 percent to 20 percent beyond current demand, George said. The previous facility, he added, "was substantial and significant enough to run our business today, but it wasn't where we're leaning for the future. This is really about the next level."

When Rob Autor joined Continuum a year ago as senior vice president of Global Services Delivery, a major part of his charter was to arrange the company's next-generation datacenter, George said.

Markley Group describes its 920,000 square-foot facility at 1 Summer Street as the largest datacenter and mission-critical telecommunications facility in New England, and calls itself the only "carrier hotel" in the region with connectivity to more than 75 domestic and international network providers and a robust power grid. Among its tenants, Markley counts AT&T, NTT, British Telecom, Tata Communications, the Boston Red Sox, Harvard, MIT, the Boston Internet Peering Exchange (BOSIX) and The New York Times.

"This is one of maybe eight or 10, at most, facilities of its kind in the country," George said. Continuum's move to such high-quality facilities was made possible by its backing from Summit Partners, the investment partnership that funded the company's creation in September 2011 as an RMM spinoff from Zenith Infotech.

"This is by great magnitude considerably more significant than anything any of our competitors have," George said. "They just don't have the wherewithal to lean ahead three years and make an investment on behalf of their customers."

In 2011, Continuum's backing by a growth equity firm that now has raised more than $15 billion in assets gave it an unusual position in the MSP market. As the company prepares to expand its services for MSPs with the new datacenter capacity and a previously announced revamped network operations center in Mumbai, India, the company is facing a competitive field with more formidable financial resources than the founder-led competitors of the time. N-Able Technologies, Level Platforms Inc. and Kaseya all sport new owners or financial backing in 2013. With funding from Insight Venture Partners, Kaseya has expanded into three new business areas through rapid-fire acquisitions. N-Able was bought for $120 million by Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds in May and Level Platforms went to Czech Republic-based AVG Technologies in June.

George suggested that the "propwash" that every company, his included, goes through with a change in ownership, and Continuum's ongoing investments make his company a strong bet for MSPs in 2014.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 19, 2013 at 11:10 AM0 comments

Kaseya Launches BYOD Solution

Five months after acquiring Rover Apps, Kaseya has released a rebranded version of Rover's bring-your-own-device (BYOD) management technology for Kaseya's managed service provider and enterprise IT customers.

Kaseya bought Rover Apps in a burst of acquisition activity this summer. Insight Venture Partners announced a significant investment in Kaseya on June 24, bringing in new CEO Yogesh Gupta. A few weeks later on July 9, Kaseya acquired cloud and network monitoring solution vendor Zyrion Inc., with the Rover Apps acquisition coming July 16. 

In an interview, Kaseya Chief Marketing Officer Loren Jarrett said those acquisitions, along with the Oct. 24 purchase of Office 365 Command, all fit with Gupta's vision for Kaseya. "What Kaseya does is we manage across everything that an IT department may be grappling with," Jarrett said.

The conversion of the Rover Apps BYOD solution addresses a relatively recent major requirement -- handling personal devices that employees need to use with corporate data.

"It's a challenge because employees don't want heavy-handed corporate management over their device. They don't want the corporation to be able to see what they're doing, read their data or control their device at all," she said. "At the same time, IT needs very strict controls over corporate data. They need to have the highest levels of security around corporate data and assets."

Kaseya rebranded and integrated the licensing of the Rover Apps technology as the Kaseya BYOD Suite. Unlike many mobile device management solutions, which require corporate control of an entire smartphone or tablet, the Kaseya BYOD solution relies on what are called "containerized" apps.

End users download three apps -- Browser, Docs and Mail -- on their iOS or Android devices and connect to a Kaseya BYOD Gateway. Users only need to follow corporate authentication requirements when accessing those apps, not when accessing the device.

"We're essentially moving the locus of endpoint control," said Jonathan Foulkes, vice president of Mobile Product Management for Kaseya and the former CEO and co-founder of Rover Apps. "We're moving the endpoint to be the secure containers for those applications."

[Click on image for larger view.] Users of Kaseya BYOD Suite see three apps on their devices -- Mail, Docs and Browser. Signing in with corporate credentials is only required when launching the apps, not when using the device itself.

According to Kaseya, security for the containerized apps includes AES 256 encryption atop SSL encryption and complies with privacy standards including FINRA and FIPS 140-2.

To access either corporate mail or documents or to browse corporate Web sites securely, users authenticate against the Active Directory with a username and password. Foulkes said the frequency of that password authentication is set by policy -- for example, once every 24 hours. After briefer periods of inactivity, users can re-enter the app with a PIN.

Kaseya's Docs app connects with back-end data sources, such as Microsoft SharePoint, and the app includes a third-party Office and PDF editor. "We wanted to make sure that we had a full built-in Office editor suite in this secure container. This allows organizations to be guaranteed that if their employee is viewing or editing a document, it's all within the context of a secure, managed application. That it's not, 'Boy, I hope they don't put it in that crazy new editor they just downloaded from the Google Play Store,'" Foulkes said.

The back-end of the Kaseya BYOD Suite consists of a cloud-based relayer and a BYOD Gateway that is installed as a service on a PC or server in the customers' network. In this first version as a Kaseya-branded product, the BYOD Suite is integrated with Kaseya licensing, but management of the technology is through the rebranded gateway software -- not through regular Kaseya dashboards.

"Our very next deliverable in 2014 will be a single pane of glass where you'll be able to see and manage all of the mobility needs of an organization," Foulkes said.

The need to administer the solution from the gateway also means MSPs will need to monitor and manage their customers individually, rather than from a multi-customer dashboard. Foulkes noted that very little subsequent management is usually required after initial setup. For an administrator, he said, "Most of the work is the initial configuration of what things am I going to publish and what's my configuration. Once you complete these, you can have 100 new users join the system and there's no activity that needs to happen with the MSP."

Stephen Lawson, principal consultant with Bulletproof InfoTech, a Calgary, Alberta-based MSP and Kaseya customer, is very interested in Kaseya's new BYOD approach, although he hasn't tried it yet.

"Right now, with a lot of our BYODs, if they are uncompliant, they're getting their phones purged by us. This would save us from those messy moments where you just nuke the corporate data," Lawson said.

Of Bulletproof InfoTech's small and medium business customers, Lawson said he expects the larger organizations to be more interested. "The small businesses, they almost don't care. If they're only a 10-seat company, they have a pretty close relationship between the owner and the person who has the phone. Bigger customers are more concerned with unique processes and what happens if they have to terminate an employee or if the phone gets lost," Lawson said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2013 at 2:59 PM0 comments

Microsoft Taps Service Providers for New Cloud OS Program

In a move to build a channel presence behind its emerging "Cloud OS" strategy, Microsoft on Thursday launched a consortium of about two dozen cloud service providers worldwide that can provide and support hybrid clouds for customers.

Cloud OS is Microsoft's attempt to build a unified platform for customers that allows them to move workloads and services among on-premise facilities, Microsoft public cloud services and service provider-hosted clouds. Microsoft formally launched what senior Microsoft executive Satya Nadella called its "cloud operating system era" in September 2012 with the availability of Windows Server 2012

The initial focus was on ensuring the ability to move virtualized servers within on-premise servers and private clouds, as well as with Microsoft's own cloud services, such as Windows Azure.

The new program, the Cloud OS Network, marks a maturity of Microsoft's Cloud OS platform to include service providers, as well, said Eugene Saburi, general manager of Cloud OS Marketing in Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Division, which is driving the new partner program.

Microsoft is working closely with about 25 service providers who will now be able to provide a "single-pane-of-glass" management experience using Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 and the Windows Azure Pack. The idea, Saburi said, is to "enable boundary-less datacenters."

Partners named to the Cloud OS Network on Thursday include Alog, Aruba S.p.A., Capgemini, Capita IT Services, CGI, CSC, Dimension Data, DorukNet, Fujitsu Finland Oy., Fujitsu Ltd., iWeb, Lenovo, NTTX, Outsourcery, OVH.com, Revera, SingTel, Sogeti, TeleComputing, Tieto, Triple C Cloud Computing, T-Systems, VTC Digilink and Wortmann AG. According to Microsoft documentation, those service providers run more than 425 datacenters, manage more than 2.4 million servers and serve more than 3 million customers worldwide.

Saburi said Microsoft will likely add more partners later.

Piers Linney, co-CEO of U.K.-based Outsourcery, said his cloud service provider company expects to benefit from participation in Microsoft's new Cloud OS Network immediately. While Outsourcery has been providing Cloud OS-based solutions to customers that included Outsourcery-hosted components, Microsoft's recent technological improvements will remove sales barriers.

"The more friction you've got in terms of moving these workloads makes it a harder sell. The friction has been reduced. The ability to drag and drop, effectively, across the three [platforms], makes it easier," Linney said.

Outsourcery executives are not expecting leads or implementation business from Microsoft through the program. Rather, they're expecting Microsoft's validation of Outsourcery's expertise will help the cloud service provider's own sales efforts.

"It's very important to us to be part of this group of Microsoft partners in the network," Linney said. "It's very important that we are seen as experts in the Cloud OS."

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 12, 2013 at 5:20 AM0 comments