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Bill Gates: State of World Health Is Improving

Bill Gates is supposed to be spending 30 percent of his time on Microsoft these days, meaning that his top priority remains the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This week, Gates provided an update on how things are progressing on the things that matter most to him.

In a post called "Good News You May Have Missed in 2014," Gates called out five positive trends in global health. For me, reading the list was a powerful corrective to the impression that wall-to-wall coverage of Ebola gave me about the state of the world's health.

Gates acknowledges problems, including Ebola, but writes of his list, "These are some of the most fundamental ways to measure the world's progress -- and by that measure, 2014 was definitely another good year." (Gates compiled a similar list at the end of 2013.)

The 2014 highlights, according to Gates:

  1. The number of deaths of under-5-year-olds is falling faster than projected.

  2. The number of annual new HIV infections fell below the annual increase in patients starting anti-retroviral therapies -- constituting a tipping point for AIDS.

  3. There have been big strides in the availability of vaccine for rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills hundreds of thousands of children a year.

  4. After efforts to improve tuberculosis treatments stalled for decades, scientists appear to be making progress with a new treatment regimen.

  5. Nigeria is on the brink of eliminating polio, and the infrastructure developed for the effort helped the country contain Ebola this year.

Check out the blog here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM0 comments


StorageCraft Releases Tools To Monitor Virtual Backups

In its ongoing push to make backup of virtual systems smoother and more straightforward, StorageCraft on Tuesday released plug-ins for both Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager and VMware vCenter.

Officially called the StorageCraft Plug-in for Microsoft System Center and the StorageCraft Plug-in for VMware, the new tools are free downloads but require StorageCraft ShadowControl v2.5.1.

Primarily, the plug-ins allow IT administrators and MSPs to monitor and manage StorageCraft ShadowProtect backups from within the System Center or vCenter consoles. Main features of the plug-ins, according to StorageCraft, are:

  • Virtual machine backup status monitoring.
  • The ability to detect virtual machines that aren't protected by the ShadowProtect agent.
  • One-click transition from vCenter of System Center to the ShadowControl Web console.
  • Push installation of ShadowProtect agents to unprotected virtual machines.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2014 at 11:32 AM0 comments


4 Customers Account for 20 Percent of Servers Shipped

A handful of the biggest cloud service providers are making an outsized impact on the global server market.

In releasing third-quarter data for the worldwide server market last week, analysts at IDC said that investments in hyperscale datacenter capacity expansion are aggressively reshaping the core server market.

"Over the past year, the top four customers in the server market, all of them cloud service providers, have accounted for more than 20 percent of all servers shipped worldwide, and over 10 percent of worldwide server revenue," said Kuba Stolarski, research manager for enterprise servers at IDC, in a statement.

Those four customers are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Alibaba, Stolarski said in an e-mail interview.

Hyperscale cloud service providers are using rack-optimized servers about 75 percent of the time and density-optimized servers about a quarter of the time, Stolarski said.

It's a trend that IDC doesn't expect will let up. "Public cloud demand for new servers will continue to outpace the general market over the next several years, as established enterprises and start-ups alike continue to ramp their usage of cloud services for infrastructure and application hosting," Stolarski said in the statement.

See here, here and here for previous coverage of the way trends toward cloud computing are concentrating and reshaping the server market.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 08, 2014 at 3:47 PM0 comments


Microsoft's Lost Year on Windows Phone

A year ago at this time, Microsoft's prospects in the smartphone market seemed, if not sunny, at least somewhat bright.

Windows Phone had overtaken BlackBerry for a solid but very distant third place in the market. What's more, Windows Phone was on a tear, having shipped 91 percent more units in 2013 than 2012.

Fast forward to today, and Microsoft has retained that third-place position. But that's the end of the good news for Redmond. Rather than continuing to punch above its weight at Google's Android platform and Apple, Windows Phone actually lost share through 2014.

According to a forecast released this week by IDC, Windows Phone will wind up 2014 with 35 million units shipped for a market share of 2.7 percent. If that forecast comes true (and IDC has steadily downgraded its Windows Phone shipment forecasts throughout the year), that will only be a 6 percent increase in shipments over 2013.

That's not good enough when Microsoft needs to have several years of near-triple-digit growth to be in the conversation with Apple, let alone Android. For comparison, IDC's Android forecast now calls for 33 percent shipment growth in 2014 to more than 1 billion units. That's billion, with a "b." Apple iPhone shipments are projected to reach 178 million, a growth rate of 16 percent. So the big two are growing at double-digit rates, and the little No. 3 is growing in the single digits. For consolation, Microsoft can look to BlackBerry, which went double-digit negative.

What happened to Microsoft in 2014? If we were talking sports, we could charitably call this a rebuilding year for Team Redmond.

The first part of the rebuilding was literally rebuilding Microsoft by integrating the Nokia devices and services unit that Microsoft agreed in September 2013 to acquire for $7.2 billion. The acquisition process dragged on for longer than Microsoft anticipated -- past the projected first quarter 2014 close and well into April. Next followed a massive wave of layoffs, heavily concentrated in the incoming Nokia unit. Credit that disruption for the lack of any really high-profile handsets out of Microsoft/Nokia this year, even as new Android devices and the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus made major splashes.

With Microsoft assuming ownership of the partner that had accounted for over 90 percent of Windows Phone sales, another rebuilding aspect of 2014 was the move to rebuild the channel. Microsoft, surprisingly, made headway with a number of device manufacturers, especially for low-priced devices in emerging markets. Some of those deals have fallen through, and others have seemed slow to develop.

A third major rebuild was the retooling of the platform. Although Microsoft only gave its latest release a dot-one numbering, Windows Phone 8.1 was a major release, with the notable additions of the Cortana digital assistant, the innovative swipe-typing feature, a calendar overhaul and a significant evolution of the start screen interface. That upgrade has rolled slowly out through carriers over the course of the year.

The other rebuild is in the executive suite, with Satya Nadella taking over as CEO from Steve Ballmer in the midst of the acquisition. Whether Nadella shares Ballmer's commitment to creating a third platform in smartphones is an open question.

I asked Ramon Llamas, one of the IDC analysts responsible for putting together the forecast, which factors played the biggest role in Microsoft's stagnant year. Llamas pointed to the acquisition and the slow partnerships.

"It's the Microsoft acquisition and the rationalization of that. I think behind the scenes there's a lot more going on than you and I are privy to. There have been fits and starts, like Nokia coming out with the Android-based smartphone. I'm not sure if these were managed in the way that both Microsoft and Nokia wanted," he said in a telephone interview.

Even with that acquisitional churn, Llamas said Microsoft has succeeded in going after the entry-level market and has seen its volumes increase in that segment every quarter. On the higher end, though, "there are some gaps over there that Microsoft left open," he said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is still in a difficult balancing act with Android-heavy partner HTC and the new group of partners has been slow to develop actual devices. "We still haven't seen much of the fruit of those relationships. A lot of us had expected it's going to come, it's going to come," Llamas said.

From IDC's perch, there's not a question about Nadella's commitment to Windows Phone. "When CEO Nadella says, 'We are cloud-first, mobile-first company,' that's probably one first too many, but they're serious about being mobile," Llamas said. As evidence, he pointed to the way the Microsoft Band is optimized for use with a Windows Phone.

Officially, IDC expects Microsoft to up its game in smartphones over the next few years. "We're going to see better rationalization between Microsoft, Windows Phone and the smartphone business," Llamas said. For now, IDC is calling for Microsoft to jump to 5.6 percent market share in 2018.

Based on Microsoft's statements to investors at the time the Nokia acquisition was announced, however, there's no way to look at 2014 as anything other than a failure. Microsoft officials said the break-even point was 50 million phones a year, which looks further away this year than it did last year. They also expected to achieve a 15 percent share of the market by 2018, which now is almost triple what IDC expects them to reach.

According to industry analysts, 2014 may have been one of the last big growth years as the smartphone market approaches saturation. For Microsoft, 2014 was a lost year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 03, 2014 at 9:59 AM0 comments


GFI Software Working Toward Split into LogicNow, GFI

GFI Software, the surprisingly fast-growing player in the managed services provider (MSP) market with a large community of channel partners for its more traditional software products, is in the process of splitting into two organizations.

When the split, first announced in September, is complete, GFI Software will become two different entities with different boards and different employees -- LogicNow and GFI. LogicNow will focus on cloud technologies under a subscription model and will include the MSP platform, which was previously known as GFI MAX but is being renamed MAXfocus. The GFI side will become an entity focused on private cloud solutions marketed to end user IT administrators. The two companies will have 350 to 400 employees each.

RCP caught up with Dr. Alistair Forbes, general manager of LogicNow, for an update on the corporate restructuring.

RCP: Why split?

Alistair Forbes
Forbes: The reason for making that change is really reflected in the nature of the way those types of products are built and supported. With on-premise, [you have] one, maybe two major releases a year. Customers have to download and install these updates. With a cloud-based product, because we're applying those updates and all the customers are getting the benefits right away, it allows us to iterate on the product much more quickly. The two products have quite different support requirements.

Speaking from a LogicNow perspective, a large part of doing this is to reduce our cycle times and bring new versions of our cloud-based technology for MSPs to the market faster. [The LogicNow MSP products include MAXRemoteManagement, MAXMail, MAXServiceDesk and MAXBackup.]

Will the entities share a board of directors?
Up to now, there was one board for GFI Software, the whole entity. Going forward, there will be two completely separate corporate structures. Ownership will remain the same. Our majority investor is Insight Venture Partners. There will be some commonality in terms of the board. But the management team and all the people working on the products, they will be completely separate. Walter Scott is the CEO of both companies for now. We haven't completed the full legal separation as of yet. We've announced new brands. The legal separation process is moving forward. Walter will be CEO of LogicNow. Likely, there will be a new CEO for GFI.

What will change for current GFI Software partners?
In the short term, as far as partners are concerned, the changes will be largely cosmetic. There will be a substantial number of [LogicNow] partners who currently resell GFI products and will continue to do so. We've seen a migration into the managed services approach for running their organizations using our MAX products. Internally, we had separate field and support organizations for both sides, so that will not be different.

How many MSP partners are using LogicNow MAXfocus (formerly GFI MAX)?
We've currently got just over 11,000 MSPs who are using the MAX management platform. We're adding typically 200 net new customers every month. We're continuing to recruit partners through our hosted e-mail product and backup products, as well. In the aggregate, the number is getting close to 15,000. That, to our knowledge, is the biggest community of MSPs using a platform in the world.

We're seeing a continued move of resellers or consultant-type companies into the managed services space. Overall, I think the market growth is robust and still strong. There certainly was concern and consternation about the impact that the move toward cloud might have. Notwithstanding the fact that more companies are starting to use cloud-based services, they still do want to have an advisor or someone who manages those services on their behalf. They're used to dealing with a single contact. As for the concern that there was maybe 18 months, two years ago, about the threat to the managed services market, the market remains very strong and robust. We're seeing new partners and growth for existing ones.

Is there overlap of GFI and LogicNow partners?
The reseller base for GFI is somewhere in the region of 20,000 partners. It's still a very strong partner community that works with GFI. There's certainly an overlap. It's by no means the majority of either partner base that would also be using the other.

Within the MAX platform, we have some elements of technology that come from the GFI organization. We will have OEM agreements to use things like the patch management [GFI LanGuard]. In a commercial sense, the organizations will be pretty much completely separate. There will be technology that we license backwards and forwards.

What are LogicNow's plans geographically?
North America still remains a very strong growth market for us. The market is growing, and we're also seeing our market share continuing to grow. In certain European markets, they've been later to the party in terms of this move to managed services, particularly southern Europe -- France, Spain and Italy. There, percentage growth is quite high but from smaller numbers. In percentage terms, growth in South America is also high. Asia [is another opportunity] we might look at over the next year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 20, 2014 at 2:11 PM0 comments


SkyKick Offers Partner Tool for Office 365 Data-Only Migrations

SkyKick, the partner-focused Office 365 migration tools vendor, launched an individual component of its suite this week for times when customers only need their data migrated, as opposed to the usual start-to-finish migration project SkyKick's original tool was designed around.

The Seattle-area company's core product is SkyKick Application Suite, which started as a way for partners to automate and shorten what SkyKick positions as a 40-hour-process for partners to complete an SMB customer migration to an Office 365 environment from legacy platforms like Exchange, Windows Small Business Server, Google, IMAP or POP3. SkyKick also offers an Enterprise Migration Suite for more complex migrations.

The new release is called the SkyKick Data-Only application, and Co-Founder and Co-CEO Todd Schwartz described it as something existing partners asked for to help with a subset of their customers.

"Maybe 10 percent of customer migration scenarios are data-only," Schwartz estimated. Asked for examples, he provided three: "One is the deskless worker or kiosk worker, somebody who doesn't actually have Outlook and all that desktop setup. Another scenario is where sometimes customers have an IT staff and they want to do the project work themselves, but it's hard to move the data and they call the partner and ask them for help. Then there are always fringe scenarios -- maybe a customer has a lot of Macintoshes and project automation doesn't make sense."

Those data migration processes take up about 20 percent -- or eight hours -- of SkyKick's idealized 40-hour project. To rip out that component and package it as a separate offering, SkyKick had to make a few changes. For example, the standard migration suite uses a list of the old mailboxes to create new Office 365 user accounts. But the new data-only tool has to go back and match the customer-created Office 365 accounts with the old mailboxes, so SkyKick created a new engine for that purpose.

[Click on image for larger view.] The SkyKick Data-Only application automatically matches old mailboxes to new Office 365 accounts, helping partners avoid the time-consuming process of mapping relationships between systems.

Other features of the Web-based e-mail migration product include Server Synch for full-fidelity replication, automated management of the migration and a Migration Manager for real-time reporting and management of the process.

One practical application of the automation is the ability to see that both sides of the migration are up and responsive before you start, explained Co-Founder and Co-CEO Evan Richman. "You don't want to start moving the data on a Friday night and realize on Monday morning that mailboxes were not synching. This makes it very, very easy for the partner to make sure it's connected on both sides," Richman said.

The tool also prompts the partner in advance for necessary passwords, such as those needed to migrate public folders, and allows for provisioning new users on the fly if the data migration process turns up users that the customer accidentally missed in the pre-data stage of the migration.

The pricing for the data-only tool is $12 per mailbox retail with discounts available from distributors. It's not clear how that compares to the main suite's cost because SkyKick keeps that price under wraps. Schwartz did say that billing for the data-only package, like the main suite, only occurs upon completion of the project.

Also this month, SkyKick and Ingram Micro U.K. Ltd. announced the addition of SkyKick to the U.K. Ingram Micro Cloud Portfolio. The move into the United Kingdom follows SkyKick's recent hiring of Eric Jewett from Microsoft to head up an international expansion.

Ed's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that SkyKick doesn't publicly disclose the price of the SkyKick Application Suite. 

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 19, 2014 at 12:44 PM0 comments


Laplink Overhauls Its Partner Program

As Windows 8/8.1 starts building some momentum and Microsoft prepares Windows 10 for release, small-business PC migration specialist Laplink Software is overhauling its partner program.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Laplink relaunched the program this month with more benefits and automation.

Laplink's core offering is PCmover Professional, which is PC migration software for automatic transfer of files, applications and settings from an old PC or operating system, including Windows XP, to a new one. Other products in the 30-year-old company's portfolio include PCmover Windows Upgrade Assistant; PCmover Image & Drive Assistant; Laplink Sync, which synchronizes folders and files between a Windows PC and an Android or iOS device; DiskImage; SafeErase, for wiping old PCs before selling or recycling them; Defrag; and the remote access programs Laplink Gold and Laplink Everywhere.

New benefits of the free partner program include internal use rights, standardized partner discounts of 20 percent off single license purchases and 30 percent off multi-license packs. Monthly discounts available exclusively to partners can cut up to 60 percent off regular prices, according to Laplink.

The overhaul includes a new partner portal, which can be used for the 24/7 direct purchase of physical or downloadable software. "We know our partners are busy -- they have a lot to get done," said Laplink CEO Thomas Koll in a statement. "We're trying to make this as easy as possible for them with all licenses, purchase history and other resources in one easily accessible location."

Other elements of the program include updated marketing materials and a white-label version of PCmover Enterprise for service provider partners.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 17, 2014 at 9:33 AM0 comments


The Stock Market Likes Microsoft Lately

Microsoft reclaimed the silver medal Thursday in terms of market capitalization. Thanks largely to the massive slide in oil prices over the last few months, Microsoft's market cap surpassed that of Exxon Mobil Corp. when markets closed Thursday afternoon.

By the numbers, Microsoft is now at about $408.9 billion, while Exxon sits at $400.8 billion, according to Reuters. Microsoft still trails technology sector rival and overall most-valuable company Apple Inc. by a lot. Apple sits at $663 billion, and its share prices have increased faster than Microsoft's through 2014.

Google also briefly wrested the No. 2 spot from Exxon twice this year, for four days in February and two days in March. Google stock prices have declined slightly this year and its current value is $373 billion.

Nonetheless, Microsoft's stock performance under new CEO Satya Nadella has been none too shabby. Since Nadella took over on Feb. 4 of this year, Microsoft shares are up 36 percent to 49.61.

Lest you give all the credit to the new guy, Microsoft's stock has been on a pretty steady upward trajectory for a while now. Stretching back to a low in December 2012 before former CEO Steve Ballmer was even hinting at leaving, the stock is up nearly 90 percent.

With a price of 50 in range, is it crazy to wonder if MSFT could reclaim its 1999 (split-adjusted) peak of 58.72?

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 13, 2014 at 5:27 PM0 comments


Does Your 'Patch Tuesday' Policy Have a Zero-Day Gear?

Many organizations need to find another gear when it comes to zero-day vulnerabilities, according to a patching expert.

This week saw a huge Microsoft Patch Tuesday, with Microsoft releasing 14 patches, including four that fixed critical vulnerabilities. Sometimes those critical vulnerabilities can involve zero-days, which are vulnerabilities that are already being used in attacks before the vendor releases patches. The more usual order is that attackers develop exploits after a vendor issues a patch.

"With Microsoft Patch Tuesday, we see most people strive for 90 percent of their security patches applied within a week and a half. For zero days, it's a totally different story," says Rob Juncker, vice president of engineering at LANDesk Software. Juncker came to LANDesk via that company's acquisition of VMware's Shavlik unit.

According to Juncker, organizations need a separate, accelerated process to update systems threatened by zero-day vulnerabilities than they use for regular vulnerability patches.

"As soon as we release [a zero-day] patch, someone will pick up that patch, test it the next day and do some basic surface testing. After that's done they start pushing it out to critical systems, with awareness of how you would handle breakage.  They take a little more risk on the upgrade with that testing," says Juncker. But he says that risk is balanced by the fact that attackers are already exploiting the vulnerability.

In the October Patch Tuesday, Microsoft patched three zero-day vulnerabilities. This month's patch collection was less severe, with just one zero-day, and even that one was somewhat loaded with caveats.

"The most important bulletin MS14-064 addresses a current zero-day vulnerability -- CVE-2014-6352 in the Windows OLE packager for Vista and newer OS versions," wrote Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek in a commentary about the November Patch Tuesday. "Attackers have been abusing the vulnerability to gain code execution by sending Powerpoint files to their targets. Microsoft had previously acknowledged the vulnerability in security advisory KB3010060 and offered a work-around using EMET and a temporary patch in the form of a FixIt. This is the final fix for OLE Packager (Microsoft had patched the same software in October already with MS14-060) that should address all known exploit vectors."

Juncker cautions that organizations need to be aware of how many more zero-day vulnerabilities are being discovered these days than in the recent past. He also warns against the outdated idea that Microsoft's systems are the most vulnerable, and therefor that keeping up with Microsoft patches equates with being generally up to date.

"I think a lot of us focus on Microsoft products," Juncker says. "That's where a lot of the exploits used to be. Now they lead out with Java, they lead out with Adobe. The operating system isn't enough anymore. Make sure that you have a patch process that emphasizes not just servers, but make sure you get the endpoints."

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 12, 2014 at 4:36 PM0 comments


Longtime Microsoft Channel Exec Joins Nintex

Longtime Microsoft channel executive Josh Waldo has joined Nintex as vice president of channel strategy and channel programs.

Nintex is a Bellevue, Wash.-based workflow automation platform provider. "With his passion for partners and extensive management and technology industry expertise, Josh is well-qualified to drive our channel marketing strategy and programs and help our channel partners experience success within the new cloud environment," Nintex CEO John Burton said in a statement.

Waldo was most recently senior director of cloud partner strategy in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, where he was responsible for developing programs to help partners sell Microsoft's public cloud services.

According to Nintex's statement, Waldo's charter includes drawing new partners into its current stable of more than 1,000 partners and service providers worldwide.

 

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 12, 2014 at 4:36 PM0 comments


US-CERT Issues Windows Server 2003 End-of-Life Alert

The drumbeat over the end of support for Windows Server 2003 is getting louder and more insistent.

On Monday, US-CERT issued an alert titled "Microsoft Ending Support for Windows Server 2003 Operating System" to warn subscribers about the risk that the deadline next summer represents for organizations' security postures.

US-CERT is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and CERT stands for Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

Much as it ended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015. At that time, Microsoft will no longer provide free security patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities, assisted technical support for the product or software updates.

"Using unsupported software may increase the risks of viruses and other security threats," CERT warns in the alert. "Negative consequences could include loss of confidentiality, integrity and or availability of data, system resources and business assets."

US-CERT's recommendations include looking for software vendors and service providers who offer assistance in migrating from Windows Server 2003 to a supported operating system or a cloud-based service.

The advisory follows recent announcements by several major partners, including Insight Enterprises, that they are rolling out major Windows Server 2003 migration initiatives.

Related:

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 10, 2014 at 11:47 AM0 comments


October Saw Dramatic Slide in Windows XP Usage

Six months after the end of support for Windows XP, the user base is finally responding.

Operating system market share figures released over the weekend by Net Applications show the kind of dramatic month-over-month drop in Windows XP's share that seemed like it should have come right around the end of support on April 8, 2014.

Windows XP fell from 23.87 percent of worldwide operating system usage in September to 17.18 percent in October. That 6.7 percentage point drop is a bigger decline in one month than the operating system's usage had fallen previously in the entire year. Windows XP was at 29.3 percent in January and had only fallen 5.43 percentage points through September. That period covered the April support deadline, and Microsoft had loudly and regularly been warning organizations, partners and users that the OS would be completely unpatched against newly discovered vulnerabilities and was therefore a serious security risk.

[Click on image for larger view.] Desktop OS market shares. (Source: Net Applications)

Windows 8 appears to be the prime beneficiary of users abandoning Windows XP. While Windows 7 gained about a third of a percentage point of share from September to October to top 53 percent share, and Mac OS platforms picked up about three-quarters of point to edge over 7 percent, the real gainer was the combination of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

Windows 8/8.1 jumped 4.54 percentage points to reach 16.8 percentage usage, good for second-most-used operating system version after Windows 7.

Net Applications puts together its rankings based on data collected from the browsers of site visitors to a network of clients that includes more than 40,000 websites worldwide.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 03, 2014 at 10:54 AM0 comments