Three Dozen GA Announcements from Microsoft Ignite

Editor's Note: This article is updated to correct the general availability date of Azure Communication Services. The service will be available in the next few weeks.

We like to think "general availability" still counts for something in this always-iterating development world, which is why we often take the opportunity at Microsoft events to separate the GA milestones from preview news.

At Microsoft Ignite on Tuesday, there were more than three dozen announcements of features, services and a few products at or near the GA stage, meaning the item is deemed stable and tested enough for a supported production deployment.

Here are the key general availability announcements from Microsoft this week:

Teams
Microsoft Teams is a countercyclical. In a year of widespread lockdowns, the remote worker-enabling capabilities of Teams have been critical for organizations worldwide. In his Ignite keynote, CEO Satya Nadella indicated Microsoft is investing in Teams with the expectation that it will continue to be important even as the pandemic abates.

"As the world recovers, there's no going back. Employee expectations are changing and flexibility will be key. And that's why we're building Microsoft Teams as an organizing layer for all the ways we work -- the modes of communication, collaboration and the ability to extend it with other apps and services," Nadella said.

More than a quarter of Microsoft's big GA announcements this week involved Teams:

  • PowerPoint Live in Teams makes sharing slides richer on both sides. Presenters can view notes, slides, meeting chat and participants in a single view. On the viewing side, attendees will have more control over their experience with the ability to move through the slides at their own pace, independently of the speaker, and with a high-contrast mode for accessibility.
  • Presenter mode in Teams gives presenters options for customizing how their video feed and content appear. The first Presenter mode option, becoming available this month, is Standout, showing the speaker's video in front of shared content. Coming options include Reporter, which puts content above the speaker's shoulder, apparently like a news anchor's display, and Side-by-Side, where the video feed is next to the presenter's content.
  • Dynamic view has to do with the automatic arrangement of meeting elements, informed by the user base's experience over the past year. For example, presenters can now place the participant gallery on top of the meeting, helping to approximate a more natural eye contact with audience members. GA is slated for this month.
  • Teams Rooms now also has new gallery views, which include a Together Mode and a large gallery view.
  • Invite-only meetings controls are a security feature of Teams that will be generally available this month. It's designed to prevent the Teams equivalent of Zoombombing.
  • Large-scale Teams meeting capabilities will be available later this month. The capacity of view-only broadcast meetings will increase from the current 10,000-person limit to a 20,000-person limit. That particular bump may be reduced again later. Microsoft materials note that the increase is to accommodate "this time of increased remote work" and that it is "available through the end of this year." Also rolling out this month are large-scale interactive customer webinars for up to 1,000 attendees. Those events support custom registration and other options.
  • Teams webinars are now available as part of Dynamics 365 Marketing campaigns
  • The Microsoft Viva employee experience platform was announced in February with four modules: Viva Connections, Viva Learning, Viva Insights and Viva Topics. The Teams desktop experience of Viva Connections hits GA this month. That component allows companies to provide a curated experience of news, conversations and other resources for their employees.
  • Viva Topics, which is supposed to automatically organize content and contacts across an organization, is also generally available as a Teams add-on for Microsoft 365 customers.

Microsoft 365
Microsoft highlighted a few GA features of its strategic Microsoft 365 cloud at Ignite.

  • Attack Simulation Training reached general availability on Jan. 6, but remained one of the most important GA highlights at Ignite, two months later. A critical and useful component of organizations' defense against phishing and ransomware, Attack Simulation Training  is part of Microsoft Defender for Office 365. Using neutralized versions of real attacks, the tool simulates attacks to detect risky user behavior and provides reporting on training progress.
  • A slew of updates are now generally available for the Microsoft 365 Office Apps admin center, including device servicing profiles, inventory and security update statuses, reliability and performance trend reporting, reliability advisories, diagnostic coverage, integration with the Service Health Dashboard, skip capabilities and rollback capabilities.

Azure
The bulk of the general availability news from Ignite involved various Azure services.

  • Azure Sentinel, Microsoft's security information event management (SIEM) service, is newly enhanced with more than 30 new, built-in connectors covering Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce Service Cloud, VMware and Cisco Umbrella; new security orchestration automated response (SOAR) playbooks; data ingestion improvements; and improvements in analytics.
  • Role-based access control is now available for Azure Machine Learning.
  • Azure Stream Analytics is now generally available with support for single-tenant dedicated clusters.
  • Azure Cache for Redis, the open source, in-memory data store, now has two additional tiers -- Enterprise and Enterprise Flash.
  • Azure Resource Mover, which Microsoft bills as unique to the Azure platform, is a new capability that allows organizations to migrate their applications from one Azure region to another once a new region is launched or to take advantage of region with availability zones.
  • Azure Communication Services, a new "fully managed communication platform" for integrating voice, video, text and data communication, will be generally available in a few weeks after a preview period that started in September. Rounding out the many business-to-consumer use cases are new preview integrations with Teams intended to allow customers to connect directly with employees.
  • The Private Azure Marketplace service, which allows an organization to limit which third-party solutions their users can find and install from the broader Azure Marketplace, is generally available.
  • Connecting, managing and governing Kubernetes clusters on-premises and across multiple clouds is now available through the Azure Arc management service.
  • The Backup Center is generally available with support for centralized backup management of Azure Virtual Machines, SQL in Azure Virtual Machines, HANA in Azure VMs and Azure Files.
  • A mixed reality-related service, Azure Remote Rendering, is generally available for performing the compute-intensive rendering of complex models in the cloud and then streaming them in real-time to devices, such as HoloLens 2.
  • In the next few weeks, Microsoft will make Azure Monitor for Windows Virtual Desktop generally available, allowing organizations to view summary data of a host pool, find and troubleshoot problems in a deployment, view utilization data and gather relevant information for decisions on scaling and cost management.

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD)

  • Passwordless authentication is now supported in Azure AD. Under the functionality, employees can sign in with Windows Hello for Business, the Microsoft Authenticator app or compatible FIDO2 security keys.
  • Header-based authentication apps can now natively connect to Azure AD with general availability of support for header-based authentication in Azure AD Application Proxy.
  • Azure AD External Identities, allowing Azure AD access for an organization's customers and partners, will be generally available later this month after a public preview that launched in May 2020. The first 50,000 monthly active users of External Identities are free at any tier.
  • Two enterprise app management updates for Azure AD will hit general availability later in March. The Application Template API for Azure AD within Microsoft Graph gives organizations a way to programmatically manage applications in the Azure AD app gallery. The Admin Consent Workflow for Azure AD is a slick feature that adds a request to the administrator to the sign-in flow when a user tries to access an application that requires admin approval.

Azure Networking

  • A deep set of load balancing options are being added to general availability for Azure Networking this month. Those include a guided experience for selecting the right load-balancing approach, load balancing across IP addresses and other features.
  • An Azure Public IP SKU upgrade is a back-end change that allows a customer to upgrade from the Basic SKU to the Standard SKU of Azure Public IP without having to change the public IP address.
  • Customers can take control of the way their traffic is routed between Azure and Internet with Azure Networking routing preference, optimizing for performance or cost. The options are referred to colorfully as "cold potato routing" and "hot potato routing."
  • A related GA capability involves an Azure hybrid networking feature. Microsoft now offers an ExpressRoute Portal within the Azure Portal with more complete peering and Global Reach configuration settings.

Azure Spring Cloud
Azure Spring Cloud is a service for developers of Spring Boot-based Java applications that is intended to take away various infrastructure maintenance concerns. Microsoft launched Spring Cloud as a preview in 2019 with Pivotal Software, and made it generally available in September with Pivotal's now corporate parent, VMware. One of the newly GA features this week is a Managed Virtual Network for deploying Azure Spring Cloud for customers needing extra security. The other GA feature is Autoscale for Spring Cloud.

Microsoft also announced this week that Azure Spring Cloud is now available in seven more Azure regions, for a total of 18.

Azure Cosmos DB
Azure Cosmos DB got two significant feature additions at Ignite. One is an Azure Synapse Link. Microsoft bills the ability to run cloud-native and near-real-time analytics over the NoSQL data in Azure Cosmos DB as breaking down a barrier between OLTP and OLAP systems.

Other

  • Visual Studio 2019 version 16.9 is out the door. Highlights include Git tooling, C++ development enhancements, .NET productivity enhancements, Web tooling and XAML productivity enhancements. A version 16.10, meanwhile, reached the preview stage.
  • The cloud-based print technology, Universal Print, is designed for printing without print servers or printer drivers and to work in zero-trust environments. It allows printing from Windows devices to Azure AD-registered printers and from a browser using OneDrive for Business. Print manufacturers supporting Universal Print include Brother, Canon, HP, Konica Minolta, Lexmark, Toshiba, Ricoh and Xerox.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 02, 2021 at 4:24 PM0 comments


BitTitan Expands Microsoft Teams Capabilities in MigrationWiz

BitTitan is expanding its tools and capabilities around tenant-to-tenant migrations of Microsoft Teams.

The move comes as the managed services automation specialist, like the rest of the industry, is seeing booming interest and usage around the Teams component of Microsoft 365.

"Microsoft Teams has become an increasingly essential tool for companies across the globe," BitTitan Founder and CEO Geeman Yip said in a statement about the new migration capabilities on Thursday.

As employees have worked remotely over the last year, BitTitan reports that it has seen a 400 percent increase in Teams migration revenue, a 9,000 percent increase in the amount of data being migrated between tenant-to-tenant instances of Teams and a 770 percent increase in the number of Teams projects being migrated.

New Teams migration capabilities unveiled on Thursday include conversation history, channel structure, files and user permissions for individual teams and channels. BitTitan is also adding support for transitioning private chats and OneNote between Teams instances. For planning purposes, BitTitan has created a Teams Migration Assessment to help MSPs and IT managers define the scope, estimate costs and identify potential challenges of a project.

More features are on the way. "We are enhancing Teams migration capabilities in MigrationWiz on a weekly basis, allowing us to meet evolving customer needs for managing Teams migrations and to ensure a best-in-class Teams migration experience," Yip said. Items on the roadmap include capabilities for Planner, Teams settings, private chat hydration and support for additional sources into Teams, the company said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 11, 2021 at 2:17 PM0 comments


Microsoft Postpones More Deadlines To Ease Bureaucratic Burdens on Partners

As the global pandemic drags on, partners facing Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) renewal deadlines for competencies and advanced specializations in the first half of this year are getting a one-year extension.

During a Microsoft "State of the Partner Ecosystem" session on Wednesday for channel media, Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president for Microsoft One Commercial Partner, detailed the ongoing adjustments that have been made to MPN deadlines since last March.

"To make sure our partners were getting what they need, we adjusted the deadlines and requirements related to MPN partner programs, the competency extensions, training and exam deadlines, and in fact, we just announced more extensions," Schuster said.

One new extension covers partners with competencies that have anniversary dates between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. Those partners are eligible for a one-year competency extension that will last through the next anniversary date in 2022. According to Microsoft, partners will be able to find information specific to their organizations in the Partner Center starting this month. Because of a similar extension last year, that means some partners will be able to maintain their competency for two consecutive years by paying their competency fees but not having to deal with other competency requirements.

A major exception is the Cloud Business Applications competency, which has a distinct Partner Contribution Indicators (PCI) scoring system. While some concessions are being made for those partners, many will still need to meet some adjusted requirements for the new scoring system.

Partners with advanced specializations will also be eligible for a one-year extension into 2022 if their anniversary date falls between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2021. Those partners must retain the underlying gold competency, in most cases by paying the competency fee to renew but without having to meet other normal renewal requirements.

Schuster also touted the success of other programs that Microsoft launched last year to help partners directly or to spur business among their customers during the pandemic and its associated business downturn.

Highlights from those efforts included:

  • Virtual training opportunities delivered by Microsoft and its partners. "Since July, our partners have delivered more than 6,500 workshops worldwide across Azure, business applications and the modern work and security solution areas," Schuster said.
  • Trials for remote work-related products. "We extended new offers and trials they could take to their customers for Microsoft 365, Windows Virtual Desktop and Teams," she said. "In fact, with Teams, CSP partners enabled tens of thousands of new organizations to get started with Teams through COVID-response trials, and we've seen significant conversion of those trials as the period ends."
  • Digital-on-demand marketing content for partners. "Without sellers in the field, our partners struggled. They needed to get creative with how they were reaching their customers. So our co-branded marketing content has really helped our partners step up their digital marketing."

As far as what else may be necessary, Schuster struck a positive note: "Hopefully the world will return to normal soon."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 11, 2021 at 8:07 AM0 comments


Microsoft Adds Advanced Specializations in Low-Code and SMB Management

Microsoft's advanced specialization catalog for partners is getting more extensive by the quarter. The company now boasts two new advanced specializations, bringing the total list to 16.

A relatively new addition to Microsoft's list of badges for partner organizations, the advanced specializations, are layered over a gold competency and demonstrate extra expertise in a particular area.

"In January, we launched our first two advanced specializations for Business Applications, the Small and Midsize Business Management advanced specialization and the Low Code Application Development advanced specialization," said Nick Parker, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Global Partner Solutions, in a blog post Wednesday.

"This means we now have advanced specializations across all five commercial solution areas -- modern workplace, business applications, Azure (apps and infrastructure, and data and AI), security," Parker said. "Advanced specializations provide an opportunity for partners to demonstrate their experience in specific technical scenarios and enable customers to identify the partners that best fit their needs."

Unlike most of the advanced specializations, which are attached to only one or two specific competencies, the Low Code advanced specialization is achievable from five different competencies. A partner can vault to the Low Code specialization from a gold badge in either Cloud Business Applications, Cloud Platform, Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions, Cloud Productivity or Application Integration.

Requirements include that the partner must have at least five Power Apps customers, must meet a growth metric in customer usage, must have a certain number of individuals who have passed exams or earned certifications and the partner's apps must clear various technical hurdles.

The Small and Midsize Business Management Advanced Specialization is an option for partners with a gold competency in either Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions or Cloud Business Applications.

The advanced specialization requires five individuals certified as Dynamics 365 Business Central Functional Consultant Associates, 10 customer deployments with five or more monthly active users, a 35 percent increase in monthly active users across the entire customer base over the last year, and at least one consulting service featuring Dynamics 365 Business Central published on AppSource.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 11, 2021 at 8:29 AM0 comments


Co-Sell Revenues Climb as Microsoft Eyes SMB for Next Opportunities

Microsoft and partners continue to rack up co-selling revenues, and the company is now looking to the small and medium business segment for further growth.

Because Microsoft reports the figure oddly, as a total of all co-selling since the beginning of the program around four years ago, it's difficult to tell exactly how much revenue partners are generating under the program annually.

Nevertheless, the numbers are on a Microsoft (very large) scale.

"Since we started the co-sell program in 2017, we've been able to jointly sell more than $18 billion in partner services," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president for Microsoft One Commercial Partner, during a Microsoft "State of the Partner Ecosystem" session on Wednesday for channel media. A slide put the figure at more than $18.5 billion in annual contract value.

Whatever the annual figure may be, the new total represents $10 billion more than the number that CEO Satya Nadella provided two years ago during an earnings call. During that January 2019 call, Nadella said Microsoft had generated $8 billion in contracted partner revenue.

As in the past, Schuster emphasized that the revenue is not Microsoft revenue. It is solely partners' services revenue that partners get directly from the Microsoft field taking partner solutions and services to customers.

In a metric related to that field activity, Microsoft also said there have been 166,000 co-sell opportunities and closed engagements so far in the current fiscal year, which started in July. Schuster also noted a few other indicators of the scale of the funnel that Microsoft is pointing toward its partners currently. The company's direct Web stores have 4 million monthly active users and its commercial marketplace has generated more than 3 million leads so far this fiscal year.

Over the last few years, Microsoft has expanded co-sell from a program for Azure ISVs to a program that encompasses Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. Additionally, Microsoft extended aspects of co-sell program from its own internal field sales force to its roughly 90,000 Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners. In other words, Microsoft was offering ISVs a "channel as a service," removing some of the friction of partner-to-partner engagement and allowing CSPs to more easily sell ISV solutions built on the Microsoft cloud stack.

Now Microsoft is indicating its next frontier in the co-sell program is small and medium business.

"We are increasing our focus on co-selling within the small- and mid-sized business segment (SMB). This includes making targeted marketing investments in top SMB customers, supporting and growing our ecosystem of ISV partners who serve SMBs and streamlining the way we help partners develop their practices," said Nick Parker, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Global Partner Solutions, in a blog post Wednesday.

Describing the effort as "being more intentional with the medium enterprise and small business segment," Schuster called it a huge growth opportunity for Microsoft partners. In addition to the efforts Parker outlined, Schuster said, "We're supporting our ISV partners to help them serve that customer segment with digital sales and marketing."

Even as new attention turns toward SMB, Casey McGee, vice president for Global ISV Sales at Microsoft, indicated that co-sell remains a strategic pillar of Microsoft's overall efforts around ISVs.

"We succeed collectively because we offer our partners both the technology platform and a business platform that consists of go-to-market, co-sell, top-line revenue growth and scaled growth through our partner ecosystem," McGee said during the channel media session.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 11, 2021 at 8:38 AM0 comments


Acronis Updates Partner Program, Overhauls Licensing

Acronis will unify its products into a single line on March 31 and roll out significant changes to its partner program throughout 2021, the company told partners Tuesday.

Founder Serguei Beloussov described the design goal of the licensing changes as "one policy, one user interface, one license from one vendor." Acronis is aiming to roll up security, e-mail security, file sync and share, management, notarization, backup and disaster recovery under the Acronis Cyber Protect license.

During a virtual 2021 Acronis #CyberFit Partner Kickoff event Tuesday, Beloussov made several commitments for the year ahead, including roadmap transparency and increased investment in support, partner management and joint events/marketing funding.

He also promised to extend the Acronis Cyber Cloud platform beyond its original MSP focus. "Sometime in 2021, we will make sure that all of our partners can use it," he said.

Under the new licensing plan, all baseline capabilities will be provided under the Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud license. Some elements of the license, such as backup, file sync and share, disaster recovery and notary will be delivered in a pay-as-you-go format under the license. Other components of the baseline product are free cyber protection packs -- security, management, data loss prevention and e-mail security, which will launch in the second half of the year. Additional functionality will be delivered through upgrade add-ons known as Advanced Protection Packs. All of the Advanced Packs can be licensed on a per-GB or per-workload licensing model.

"You basically will be able to use Advanced Packs as Lego blocks...for every particular customer," said Yury Averkiev, vice president of product management for apps and services at Acronis.

The initial set of five Advanced Protection Packs that will be available on March 31 will include Advanced Security, Advanced Management, Advanced Backup, Advanced Disaster Recovery and Advanced Files. Packs on the roadmap for later in the year, Averkiev said, include Advanced Email Security, Advanced Data Loss Prevention and Advanced Security.

As examples of the types of features included in the base license versus the Advanced Packs:

  • Security features in the base license include a #CyberFit Score, weak password check, vulnerability assessment, active protection, exploit prevention, anti-virus and anti-malware protection, and device control. The Advanced Security Pack includes local signature-based detection to the AV and anti-malware protection, URL filtering, forensic backup, backup scanning for malware-safe recovery, a corporate allowlist and smart protection plans.
  • Baseline backup features are file backup, image backup, application backup, network shares backup, backup to cloud storage and backup to local storage. The Advanced Backup Pack adds support for Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange clusters, Oracle DB, SAP HANA, Acronis' data protection map feature and continuous data protection.

Channel Chief Alex Ruslyakov walked partners through the specific changes to the partner program and demonstrated a new partner portal, which he said the company is planning to launch next month.

One major introduction is an Acronis #CyberFit Score that helps determine a partner's level in the Acronis platform. The score operates on a scale of 0 to 33 with up to three points available in each of 11 categories. Registered partners need no points, Authorized Partners need eight points, Gold Partners need 15 points and Platinum partners need 22 points. Meanwhile, a recurring revenue bar for service providers has been newly eliminated at the Gold level, although all Platinum partners must still clear a revenue hurdle.

Other immediate changes to the program for resellers and service providers include an updated referral program, new quarterly performance rebates, increased market development funds, marketing account managers for Platinum partners and enhanced technical support.

Changes planned for later in the year include marketing automation tools, training program enhancements, an on-demand demo lab, leads-sharing for service providers, a partner community forum and the ability to vote to influence the product roadmap.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 02, 2021 at 11:37 AM0 comments


4 Tricks MSPs Can Use to Check the Security of Their Vendors

When a managed service provider installs agents or sets up other tools at a customer site, the customer is trusting them at a deep -- let's call it what it is, an administrative -- level.

That makes it incumbent upon the MSP to ensure the vendor tools they're using are highly secure. How can an MSP, often challenged with a small staff and many other priorities, be confident that their much larger vendor partners are operating in a secure fashion?

During an Acronis virtual partner event Tuesday, Amy Luby, who leads community efforts for Acronis' channel, put that question to Bobby Kuzma, practice director of assessment and testing at the Herjavec Group, a Toronto-based MSP that specializes in security services and training.

Kuzma provided four shortcuts that MSPs can use to assess how serious their vendors are about security.

1. A Leader at the Company Whose Sole Job Is Security
"The CISO role has been around since the late '90s. And there are still organizations that don't believe that security is someone's job. If a vendor doesn't share that belief that that's a responsibility that's worthy of having a dedicated professional for," Kuzma says, it should be a red flag.

That person doesn't have to be listed on the Web site, or in the C-suite or even at the VP level, although any of those attributes would be a good indicator of seriousness. "If you don't see a CISO, ask," Kuzma says. "LinkedIn is your friend. Flat-out ask them, 'Who owns security in your org, and can I get an introduction?'"

2. A Clear Process for Reporting Bugs in Their Code
"If they are a vendor that produces a tool or has a service that is offered, do they have some non-trivial way for people to report vulnerabilities? This isn't necessarily a bug bounty program, although those are nice," Kuzma says. "Is there a way to let them know without blasting it out on the Internet? If a vendor doesn't have a way of doing that, that's a thing that would concern me greatly."

It's OK if vendors outsource triage of bugs to a third-party specialist, and bug tracking can be done through routine service tickets if bug reports are a clearly-defined procedure in the ticketing process, he says.

3. A Way To Get Your Customers' Risk Questionnaires Handled
"In this day and age, you probably have customers that want you as a vendor to them to fill out their risk questionnaires. Let's face it, they're silly [and] repetitive. No one likes doing them. You want to make sure that there's a sane process in doing that that doesn't involve a week in ticketing hell," Kuzma says.

Good enough much of the time, in Kuzma's view, is an NDA-protected FAQ available about the vendor's security operations center.

4. Evidence of a Recent Pentest
"You may want to ask the vendor when was the last time they had their organization itself pentested and the product itself pentested?" Kuzma suggests.

He'll go so far as to ask for a copy, but he views an executive summary as good enough in many cases. "I wouldn't downcheck them if they're unwilling to share the full report," he says. "If they're willing to open the doors and let you peek your head in, that shows a level of maturity."

Kuzma had one final piece of advice for MSPs who may struggle to get answers to their security questions: Leverage your relationship with the salesperson who is trying to get you to sign up for the service. If their commission depends on your satisfaction, you're more likely to get answers.

"Your sales point of contact that you may be in touch with is probably your greatest ally in trying to get information," he says. "They'll start asking questions to make you happy."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 02, 2021 at 11:36 AM0 comments


Strong Microsoft Earnings Call Marred by Technical Glitch

Microsoft experienced a lengthy technical glitch during CEO Satya Nadella's comments to financial analysts in the quarterly investor call on Tuesday.

A seven-minute, 40-second stretch of dead air started for at least some users watching the session on Microsoft Teams a little over three minutes into the call. Partway into the outage, Microsoft posted a message from its production studios reading, "We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please standby."

[Click on image for larger view.] A message posted during a nearly eight-minute audio outage during the Microsoft second quarter earnings call.

Ironically, as audio came back on around the 11:17 mark, Nadella was highlighting the Teams platform: "...Team's calling globally to 42,000 employees in just four weeks." According to a transcript that Microsoft rushed out faster than usual due to the downtime, Nadella had been talking about Lumen, formerly CenturyLink, undertaking a global rollout of Teams.

The outage came during more widespread Internet problems. Outages across the East Coast on Tuesday morning affected Verizon, Google, Zoom, YouTube, Slack and Amazon Web Services, according to media reports. It was not immediately clear what caused the problem for Microsoft Tuesday evening.

The glitch marred an otherwise very positive quarterly call on an earnings report that saw Microsoft's stock price get a lift in after-hours trading.

Microsoft reported revenues of $43.1 billion and earnings per share of $2.03, for the three-month period ending Dec. 31, 2020. Compared to the year-ago period, that represented a 17% increase in revenues, and both revenues and earnings beat analyst expectations.

"It was a record quarter, driven by our commercial cloud, which surpassed $16 billion in revenue, up 34 percent year over year," Nadella said. "What we are witnessing is the dawn of a second wave of digital transformation sweeping every company and every industry."

Highlights among business-oriented products included a 50% quarter-over-quarter increase in Azure revenues, a 21% increase in Office 365 commercial revenues, 39% growth in Dynamics 365 revenue and a 1% gain in Windows OEM revenues -- a figure that doesn't sound impressive except the comparison was against the frenzy a year ago to replace Windows 7 before the support deadline.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 26, 2021 at 5:03 PM0 comments


Bryson Named New Microsoft U.S. Channel Chief

Microsoft this week announced Tyler Bryson as the replacement for the departing David Willis to run the company's U.S. channel operations.

Bryson is officially corporate vice president of the U.S. One Commercial Partner organization.

"As I step into this new role, I look forward to deepening the relationships in our ecosystem and helping us all grow together," Bryson said in an introductory blog post.

In a nearly 20-year career with Microsoft, Bryson has led sales, marketing and services teams in the United States, India and Latin America. His most recent role was as vice president of the Microsoft U.S. Small, Medium & Corporate Segments. Bryson said he worked closely with Willis in that role on initiatives related to digital transformation.

According to Bryson's LinkedIn profile, he graduated from Brigham Young University in 1992 with a degree in accounting and went to the Wharton School for an MBA in finance in the late 2000s. He also spent six years at QuickStart Technologies in sales and marketing roles.

To U.S. partners, Microsoft's U.S. channel chief is arguably the second-most visible role at Microsoft after the worldwide channel chief job held by Gavriella Schuster. Due to Microsoft's organizational structure, Schuster and Bryson report into different departments and have more of a dotted-line relationship than at many other companies where country-level channel chiefs report to the global channel leader.

Bryson updated his LinkedIn profile with a description of his role and responsibilities:

My team is responsible for Microsoft's US Partner business including strategy, management, and overall partner ecosystem health. The team works with US partners to develop strong practices aligned to Microsoft's workload and industry priorities and delivers these solutions to customers to help them maximize business benefits from their investment in Microsoft technology. My organization is comprised of Partner Management, Channel Sales, Go-To-Market (GTM), and partner-facing Technical Specialists and Architects.

Willis, a fixture of the partner community for much of his 28 years at Microsoft, announced in early December that he would be leaving Microsoft after assisting with the transition to his replacement. While he didn't specifically say he was retiring, Willis said he was looking forward to family time, leisure activity, travel and volunteering.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 21, 2021 at 9:34 AM0 comments


PC Market Caught Fire in Q4. Well, in All of 2020

The PC market was on fire in the fourth quarter.

In its quarterly tracking of worldwide PC shipments, IDC reported preliminary numbers of 26.1 percent year-over-year growth to 91.6 million units.

And the fire could have been hotter.

"Every segment of the supply chain was stretched to its limits as production once again lagged behind demand during the quarter," said IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani in a statement Monday. "Not only were PC makers and ODMs dealing with component and production capacity shortages, but logistics remained an issue as vendors were forced to resort to air freight, upping costs at the expense of reducing delivery times."

Citing pandemic-related demand factors such as work-from-home, remote learning, gaming and monitors, IDC predicted the boom in PC sales has a ways to go.

For the full year, market growth was 13.1 percent. The research house said the last time PC growth was that strong was 2010, when the market grew by 13.7 percent.

Lenovo led all vendors in worldwide PC shipments for Q4, followed by HP Inc., Dell Technologies, Apple and Acer Group.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 11, 2021 at 10:04 AM0 comments


Microsoft: Partner 2021 Priorities are Remote Work, BC/DR, Security, Cloud Migrations

In the holding pattern that is early 2021, Microsoft's priority guidance to partners for the new year is for more of the same.

Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster detailed her view of partner priorities and opportunities this week in a blog post that largely echoed earlier guidance from Microsoft Inspire, the annual July partner conference that helps kick off Microsoft's fiscal year.

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic leads to renewed lockdown calls around the world, sets new daily death records in the United States and brings an uncertain vaccine rollout schedule, organizations and the partners who serve them find themselves in a similar technology circumstance to most of 2020. To wit, an uncertain business environment, ambiguity about when or if all employees can go back to the office, and limitations on IT spending driven by all that uncertainty.

Schuster, nonetheless, strikes a hopeful note about the challenges. "While some of these factors will unavoidably carry over to 2021, I am confident things are headed in the right direction, and I see a bright future on the horizon for our partner ecosystem," Schuster wrote.

In her post as head of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner organization, Schuster identified four key priority areas that Microsoft hopes its partners will focus on and succeed in during the coming year.

Remote work, unsurprisingly, leads the list. "While the initial exodus to remote work occurred early last year, organizations of all sizes are still evolving in response," Schuster wrote. Her post called for additional adoption of Microsoft Teams and other Microsoft 365 components.

Schuster also pointed to new opportunities in business continuity, noting the infrastructural changes organizations have had to make in the last year that haven't all been followed by revised and reinforced backup and recovery plans.

Like almost every year, security earns a place on the opportunity list. "The mass shift to remote work has made this even more critical for every organization worldwide," she said.

Finally, cloud migrations are another key opportunity area, Schuster said. She highlighted the way Microsoft has been simplifying the migration process for customers to turn to cloud adoption.

The post gives lip service to the term "digital transformation," the major theme of the last few years from Microsoft to its partners. However, what's called "digital transformation" now is dialed back substantially from the heady definitions of 2019 and earlier, when it referred to unlocking massive business potential by reinventing processes through innovative new applications and application modernization. The term now seems to refer more to the survival-oriented operations of supporting remote workers, reducing datacenter expenses and rejiggering business continuity/disaster recovery coverage.

That said, many of these more limited projects can be a stepping stone toward more ambitious projects in the future. When the pandemic recedes, organizations with more robust cloud infrastructures may be more ready to invest in and execute truly transformative projects than they had been before the crisis.

With luck, it's "digital transformation lite" in 2021, involving the types of priorities Microsoft is recommending, followed by "digital transformation heavy" in 2022.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 07, 2021 at 9:50 AM0 comments


U.S. Channel Chief Willis Leaving Microsoft

Microsoft U.S. Channel Chief David Willis announced Friday that he would be leaving Microsoft in January after 28 years at the company.

He didn't use the word "retire" in a blog post on the official U.S. Partner Blog, and some of his phrasing left open the possibility that he might emerge as an executive somewhere in the future. However, Willis suggested that his focus in the near future would be on family time, leisure activity, travel and volunteering.

"Personally, I've always lived life with a 'work hard, play hard' mentality, and I'll be shifting my balance from less work to more play, as I spend much more of my time on passions that include snowboarding, playing hockey, my guitars, spending more quality time with family & friends, and eventually some fun travel experiences once COVID-19 eases up. I'm also looking forward to participating in more volunteer opportunities and giving back to the community. I thank Microsoft for making it possible for me to be in this position," Willis wrote.

Willis said that it wasn't an easy decision to leave Microsoft, and that he was proud to have spent most of his career there.

Willis joined Microsoft in Canada in 1992 and held a number of marketing and sales roles in his first decade with the company, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He's been a fixture of the partner community since becoming the vice president for Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners (SMS&P) in Canada in 2003. Later he held the positions of VP of U.S. East Region for SMS&P and VP of U.S. Dynamics.

In 2013, Willis became Microsoft's U.S. Channel Chief, when the full title of the role was corporate vice president of U.S. SMS&P. In the major reorganization of 2017, when the partner organization became One Commercial Partner (OCP), Willis essentially maintained the same function as CVP of U.S. OCP.

A successor has not been named. Willis plans to stay through January to assist with the transition.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 04, 2020 at 1:47 PM0 comments