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Career Development, Containers and Azure: What To Watch for at Live! 360

Live! 360, one of the biggest Microsoft technology-focused events of the year that is not put on by Microsoft itself, kicks off next week in Orlando, Fla.

While the prime audiences for the show are IT professionals and developers, there's a lot of deep content for Microsoft partners. The conference, which is organized by RCP's parent company 1105 Media, combines the long-running Visual Studio Live! and TechMentor conferences with SQL Server Live!, Office and SharePoint Live!, ModernApps Live! and AppDev Trends.

Here are some sessions across that six-in-one conference that we're tracking at RCP.

Careers Keynote
DevOps, cloud and artificial intelligence are just a few of the trends that are shaking up the IT landscape.

New to the conference this year is a general session by David Foote, co-founder, chief analyst and chief research officer at Foote Partners, an analyst firm focused on IT skills, certification and salary benchmarking. In the Monday evening session kicking off the main conference "Businesses Look to Become More Agile?" Foote plans to reveal important trends and pay data around IT skills.

Containers, Containers, Containers
Containers are already a big deal in the open source world. Microsoft nodded toward containers by making Docker technology and Linux containers available in Azure recently, but that served largely to draw existing container users to the Azure platform. Microsoft's biggest bet yet on containers arrived with Windows Server 2016, when the technology was integrated directly into Windows, making containers available to the general Windows Server user base.

Several sessions at Live! 360 drill down into containers' potential -- and given where the audience is in their container journey, the sessions are aimed at introducing the concepts and taking attendees through the basics. Adam Tuliper is running a session called "The Ultimate Intro to Docker for Developers." For IT professionals, Neil Peterson's two related sessions are "Container Technology and its Impact on Datacenter and Cloud Management" and "In-Depth Introduction to Docker."

A Deep Dive into Windows Server 2016
Windows author and speaker Mark Minasi will give the main keynote for the TechMentor conference on Tuesday morning covering Windows Server 2016. Minasi promises lots of insider tips about key storage features, critical details around containers and the potentially costly licensing traps of the eagerly anticipated Nano Server option. Later in the day, Minasi will also take a crack at explaining how the client-side Windows as a Service licensing works along with key advice for managing the constant updates.

SQL Server 2016 Encryption
Another member of Microsoft's 2016 release class, SQL Server 2016, includes new encryption capabilities, a timely feature set given ongoing concerns about data security, privacy and compliance. Thomas Larock is digging into the new encryption options affecting row-level security, data masking and Always Encrypted.

Getting Up to Speed on Azure
Building Azure expertise is a big theme of the conference. One session with implications for Microsoft partners is the "Migrating Customers to Azure: Lessons Learned from the Field" session by Ido Flatow, a Microsoft MVP and trainer with Sela Group. Flatow is covering common questions customers ask when migrating workloads to Azure, as well as how to overcome frequent obstacles and challenges that arise during the projects.

Among the other Azure-focused sessions are "Linux on Azure for the Microsoft Specialist," "Implementing Azure AD for Hybrid Identity" and "Fully Integrated Azure Resource Manager Deployments."

Next Big Things
Aside from dozens of sessions on traditional Microsoft technologies, many Live! 360 sessions are focused on next-generation technologies. Although some partners are building businesses on them, many are still evaluating where they will fit with Microsoft's and the industry's direction. One of those emerging technologies is the Microsoft Graph, featured in the "Introduction to Microsoft Office Graph" and "How It Works: Office 365 and the Microsoft Graph."

Another emerging technology is PowerApps, which just became more significant this month with the release of Dynamics 365 and is covered in "Get Started with Microsoft PowerApps."

The show also features sessions on the Internet of Things, virtual reality and mixed reality and chat bots.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 28, 2016 at 1:13 PM0 comments

Microsoft FastTrack Footprint Gets Bigger

Microsoft offered a rare glimpse into the scale of its FastTrack operations this week.

FastTrack is Microsoft's initiative for accelerating uptake of its cloud products. The program started with Office 365 mail migration projects in 2014 and has expanded to encompass other cloud products over time. At a high level, the FastTrack brand can include three things. The main one is a customer offer, sometimes referred to as a benefit, to bring Microsoft cloud customers up to what Microsoft executives have called a "run state." The idea being that if you buy a Microsoft subscription to the cloud, where operations are supposed to be simpler, the least Microsoft can do is get you up and running in that product at no cost beyond the service subscription.

The term also covers the FastTrack Center, a Microsoft-run operation with employees who reach out to Microsoft cloud customers and then use various tools to perform migrations, which are heavily automated and require relatively simple source environments. The FastTrack term also sometimes refers to the partner incentives programs related to FastTrack, although those are usually referred to as Adoption Offers.

In a blog post this week, Cyril Belikoff, senior director of Office Marketing at Microsoft, revealed how quickly Microsoft is onboarding customers through FastTrack right now.

"To date, Microsoft FastTrack has enabled more than 22,000 customers, migrated 2.45 PB of data and is currently taking on more than 4,000 new customers every month," Belikoff wrote. He also provided some guidance on the rate of growth of FastTrack migrations. "As the FastTrack team works with customers, we learn from those experiences and use all of that learning to continually improve the service. With more customers discovering the benefits of Office 365 and FastTrack, migrations are now increasing at an average rate of 10 percent per month."

Based on Belikoff's numbers and the growth rate he shared, Microsoft should double the total number of customers it has moved to the cloud through FastTrack in less than five months. While that growth rate is substantial, it's also still tiny compared to Microsoft's overall Office 365 business. When the company released its first quarter earnings last month, it claimed 85 million commercial active users of Office 365 and 24 million consumer subscriptions.

Belikoff's blog also marks the first time Microsoft has shared the number of employees working within the FastTrack Center operation, previously known as the Onboarding Center. "We have over 800 FastTrack engineers worldwide, available to assist you and your partner in 12 languages, providing best practices, insight and guidance," he said.

That figure is at the high end of earlier estimates for how much staffing Microsoft would be providing through FastTrack to help customers move to the cloud. There was no indication in the post whether Microsoft would need to add FastTrack employees to handle the increasing volume.

In the same post, Microsoft unveiled another way that FastTrack is expanding on the product side. Migration services covered through the FastTrack benefit have steadily increased since the launch of the program in September 2014. From first covering only e-mail migrations to Office 365 for organizations with more than 150 seats, FastTrack's free migrations have expanded to include e-mail data, enterprise voice, as well as Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) and its components Azure Active Directory Premium, Microsoft Intune and Azure Rights Management. Microsoft also shifted the program from being a one-time benefit to an ongoing benefit that customers could continue to use as they add more users and services, as well as reducing the minimum seat requirement to 50 seats. Additionally, Microsoft bundled in "envisioning" services prior to onboarding and "driving business value" services afterward, both available without minimum seat requirements.

The newest addition to the program's free migrations involves a limited-time offer of migration services from on-premises SharePoint 2013 to Office 365. FastTrack employees will work with customers to move from SharePoint 2013 on-premises to SharePoint Online and from MySites to OneDrive for Business.

Two elements of the new program suggest that adding SharePoint services to FastTrack is a trial balloon -- the offer only extends until March 31, 2017, and unlike other FastTrack migration services, it uses the old limit of requiring at least 150 licenses.

It's probably safe to expect that any changes in the future will be in the form of expanding the offer in terms of types of SharePoint migrations covered, making it permanent and possibly reducing the seat requirement.

Without saying so outright, Belikoff's post all but guaranteed that FastTrack capabilities will continue to expand aggressively. "Over the past 12 months, we've continuously evolved FastTrack to help meet your needs by enhancing the FastTrack digital experience at fasttrack.microsoft.com and expanding the scope of services delivered by our engineering team," Belikoff wrote in a section of the customer-focused blog with the sub-headline, "FastTrack is continuously evolving."

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 17, 2016 at 11:29 AM0 comments

Infrascale Doubles Down on Ransomware Focus

Infrascale, a cloud backup and disaster recovery solution provider that recently relaunched its partner program with a strong emphasis on ransomware, on Thursday unveiled a new ransomware program intended to help partners educate and protect their clients.

"Partners need to be equipped with the knowledge to educate their clients about the pervasiveness of the threat and the characteristics that make one company more vulnerable than the next. Just as important, they must also be equipped with the right technology to detect, combat and mitigate against ransomware to quickly restore encrypted data and systems," said Infrascale's new channel chief Chris Sterbenc in a statement.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Infrascale calls its new effort the Ransomware Antidote Program. Educational tools include an online quiz, e-books, presentations and guidance documentation. Technological tools include a feature called Anomaly Detection, which notifies partners and their clients when the count of new or changed files passes a user-defined benchmark -- such as happens when encrypting ransomware infects a system and starts resaving all the files as encrypted documents that the user would have to pay a cryptocurrency ransom to decrypt.

Other parts of Infrascale's suggested ransomware approach, similar to that taken by many other cloud backup and disaster recovery vendors, involve having solid cloud backup tools available. In Infrascale's case, its products include Infrascale Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) and Infrascale Cloud Backup. The DRaaS offering allows partners to boot virtual machines from a local appliance or a public/private cloud to recover ransomware encrypted files right away. Infrascale positions the cloud backup offering as helping protect endpoints like laptops, desktops and mobile devices that are likely to be the first systems affected in a ransomware attack.

The ransomware program comes a little over a month after Infrascale rebooted its partner program around a three-legged market focus of protecting organizations from downtime, ransomware and data loss.

Infrascale has a substantial base of about 900 partners, but it had a flat partner program, which was strained by the company's acquisition in 2014 of Eversync Solutions Inc., which focused on customers with higher-volume data requirements than the SMB customers served by most of Infrascale's partners.

The October partner program relaunch created a three-tier structure with Registered, Preferred and Elite partners.

"With the introduction of the disaster recovery product and the growth that the ransomware is driving, it made some sense to stratify it out," Sterbenc said in an interview.

The ransomware program is also emblematic of Infrascale's current inclination to spend money on channel partners through market development funds (MDF), spiffs, referral rewards, deal support and other means. "We've got a really simple process for these guys. It's not one of those super-convoluted programs with point accruals. Unless it's something really stupid, we'll approve it," Sterbenc said. "Our ROI on MDF is crazy good. We literally can't spend enough of it."

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 17, 2016 at 1:20 PM0 comments

Study: Office 365 Expands Lead Over Google G Suite

A new study of cloud productivity application usage suggests Microsoft's Office 365 suite is pulling away from Google's G Suite, even as the overall market expands.

The data comes from proprietary research done by Bitglass Inc., a cloud access security broker based in Campbell, Calif. Bitglass used internally developed technologies to scan more than 120,000 companies to determine what products each organization is using.

It's the third annual release of the Bitglass "Cloud Adoption Report." In 2014, Google had nearly a two-to-one advantage of a much smaller pie, with 16 percent of organizations running the then-Google Apps for Work while just under 8 percent of organizations were running Office 365.

A year ago, Microsoft edged past Google at 25 percent to 23 percent in the study. According to the latest results, Office 365 is in use at 35 percent of organizations, while the G Suite by Google Cloud is in use at 24 percent.

Salim Hafid, product marketing manager at Bitglass, said Microsoft's incumbency advantage appears to be kicking in. "We're seeing large organizations of over 1,000 employees going for Microsoft in droves -- two to one -- over G Suite," he said in an interview. "Microsoft has created a migration path for those customers to move over to Office 365."

Hafid said Bitglass considers usage of the two leading productivity application a good indicator for cloud adoption overall. By that measure, cloud adoption has grown from use by about 24 percent of companies in 2014 to 59 percent in 2016.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the large organization skew of Office 365's gains in the study, Bitglass also found that companies running Office 365 are far more likely to be using single sign-on (SSO) -- 26 percent of Office 365 companies have SSO compared to 5.5 percent of G Suite companies. "Organizations deploying Office 365 are much more aware of the risks of deploying a cloud app and are actively taking steps to mitigate those risks," Hafid said.

Meanwhile, Bitglass' findings around Slack usage help explain Microsoft's move to match the collaboration app with its own recent release of Microsoft Teams. Bitglass reported that Slack is in use at 33 percent of organizations, although many of those implementations are in the free tier, suggesting they are not necessarily sanctioned by IT yet.

The 9-page, graphics-heavy report is available here (registration required).

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 16, 2016 at 9:53 AM0 comments

SkyKick and ConnectWise Working on Integration

ConnectWise and SkyKick are working together to integrate SkyKick's cloud partner enablement capabilities into the ConnectWise managed services provider (MSP) tool suite.

Craig Fulton, vice president of product for ConnectWise, demonstrated the integration from the ConnectWise IT Nation stage last week in Orlando, Fla. The demo involved using SkyKick Cloud Backup from within the ConnectWise CloudConsole.

Chris Rayner, vice president of product management for SkyKick, said the two companies' engineers are leveraging one another's APIs for a seamless integration that will involve using SkyKick Cloud Backup and SkyKick Cloud Migration Suite as part of the ConnectWise CloudConsole. "It's not like a click and punch-out integration," he said in an interview.

Rayner wouldn't give a release timeframe for the integrations other than "really soon." He did say to expect both the backup and migration integrations to be available simultaneously.

Being included in ConnectWise's product could be a boost for the younger company, which will get access to ConnectWise's large user base built over many years in the professional services automation (PSA) market.

The integration should also help ConnectWise position its partner customers to accelerate their own Office 365 practices, something ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini has been urging them to do for several years. As Bellini told RCP for a feature story in April, "Microsoft is making it compelling for all small businesses, as well as enterprise businesses, to migrate from on-premises to in the cloud Office 365. They're doing it with their pricing strategy. If you look at the pricing strategy, it's very difficult for any company to justify not going to Office 365."

CloudConsole is separate from ConnectWise's flagship PSA product. Designed to help MSPs manage customers in the cloud and become cloud service providers (CSPs), CloudConsole previously included the ability to monitor and manage Office 365 and Azure accounts, as well as bill customers and manage help-desk activities, among other tasks. The SkyKick integrations will extend the capabilities of CloudConsole to customer migration automation and cloud backup.

Also last week at IT Nation, ConnectWise announced the completion of its promised user interface integration for its other top products, as well as new names for four of them. The flagship ConnectWise product is now ConnectWise Manage, Quosal is now ConnectWise Sell, LabTech is now ConnectWise Automate, and ScreenConnect is now ConnectWise Control.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 16, 2016 at 8:57 AM0 comments

Benioff Joins in Ringing the Microsoft Alarm

Is the Satya Nadella honeymoon showing signs of coming to an end? Since not long after taking the CEO job at Microsoft in early 2014, Nadella has enjoyed praise from the media, many longtime critics and old Microsoft competitors.

Two events in the last week recall old battles, patterns and rhetoric.

Kaspersky Lab chairman and CEO Eugene Kaspersky.

As we noted earlier this week, Eugene Kaspersky recently launched a broadside against Microsoft with new allegations of anti-competitive behavior. The company of which he is chairman and CEO, Kaspersky Lab, filed an application with the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) of Russia and is preparing a similar application for the European Commission. The company alleges that Microsoft is misusing its dominant position with Windows to give its Windows Defender an advantage over third-party anti-virus (AV) products from Kaspersky and others.

In a blog post explaining his company's position, Kaspersky said other AV vendors have said privately that they're unhappy with Microsoft's behavior, although no one else has taken action. He also sought to broaden his complaints beyond the security field.

"The trend is clear: Microsoft is gradually squeezing independent developers out of the Windows ecosystem if it has its own application for this or that purpose," Kaspersky wrote. "In doing so, Microsoft is acting against the interests of users since a lot of its products are of inferior quality. Browsers, gaming hubs, image viewing, processing of multimedia files and PDF documents, cybersecurity and many others are already suffering from this and, as a consequence, so are users. And it looks like this is only the beginning. What'll be next in the firing line? Virtual machines? Cloud services?"

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff shared an anecdote at the Code Conference on Monday intended to show why his attitude toward Microsoft lately has changed toward distrust by default. Benioff and Nadella had announced a joint partnership and had reportedly gotten friendly, but that soured when Microsoft outbid Salesforce.com for LinkedIn. Salesforce.com has since raised concerns about the LinkedIn deal with European regulators.

Benioff's anecdote, reported by Business Insider, involved Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group: "The message was, 'Why don't you meet with Scott Guthrie? He runs Azure and would really like to walk you through the details of your business because maybe we could get Salesforce to run on Azure' ... and I'm like OK, and it was clear also that he was someone not in our business, he was running Azure."

But Benioff said he learned through media reports a few weeks later that Guthrie had been promoted to run Microsoft's CRM business, making him directly responsible for competing with Salesforce.com.

"I just came to the conclusion at that point that the new Microsoft is actually the old Microsoft ... And little things like this started stacking up and we put it all together, I don't feel like this is exactly the new Microsoft that we were looking for," BI reported Benioff as saying.

Two incidents don't make a trend. It'll be interesting to see if more vendors start speaking out against Microsoft or if these complaints fade away.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 16, 2016 at 11:46 AM0 comments

Kaspersky: With Windows 10, Microsoft Gives Defender an Unfair Advantage

Kaspersky Lab is accusing  Microsoft of abusing its control over Windows 10 to put third-party security products at a disadvantage versus Microsoft's own Windows Defender.

The Moscow-based company with U.S. headquarters in Woburn, Mass., has filed an application with the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) of Russia and is preparing a similar application for the European Commission, a spokesperson said in an e-mail on Monday. Asked if the company had any plans to file complaints in the United States, the spokesperson said, "Any additional actions will be communicated when appropriate."

The antitrust spotlight shined brightly on Microsoft through the late 1990s and early 2000s, but Microsoft's consecutive misses on the search, smartphone and tablet markets, alongside the general declines in PC sales overall, have diminished its once fearsome reputation. Kaspersky Lab's high-profile chairman and CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, unveiled his company's campaign to bring Microsoft back to the attention of antitrust regulators in a lengthy blog post on Thursday.

"We think that Microsoft has been using its dominating position in the market of operating systems to create competitive advantages for its own product. The company is foisting its Defender on the user, which isn't beneficial from the point of view of protection of a computer against cyberattacks," Kaspersky wrote. "The company is also creating obstacles for companies to access the market, and infringes upon the interests of independent developers of security products."

Windows Defender is the built-in anti-virus (AV) protection that comes as part of Windows 10. In a statement on its application to the Russian FAS, Kaspersky Lab described two main problems with Windows 10.

"When a user migrates to Windows 10, and the current version of their antivirus software is not compatible with this operating system, the user is not informed in advance of the need to install a compatible version. Instead, without the explicit consent of the user, the antivirus software is removed and Windows Defender is switched on by default," the statement said. The statement continued, "Microsoft provides security vendors with new RTM Windows 10 builds several days before their official release, compared with the 2 months they gave for Windows 8 and Windows 7. Several days are not enough for developers to modify security solutions properly, to make them compatible and effective against all types of cyberthreats from the day of release, leaving users without the level of protection they have chosen and paid for."

In his blog, Kaspersky cataloged other complaints about the way Windows 10 handles third-party AV -- including warning pages showing that Windows Defender is turned off without sufficient notification that another AV solution is running, as well as policies that automatically turn on Defender if Windows finds two different AV solutions running at once.

The company is asking antitrust officials to force Microsoft to provide new versions and updates of Windows to security vendors in time to allow them to ensure compatibility with Windows 10, to inform users of the presence of incompatible software before the Windows upgrade, and to require that users always be asked for explicit approval before Windows Defender is enabled.

Microsoft declined to comment on Kaspersky's blog post or the Kaspersky Lab complaints.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 14, 2016 at 12:43 PM0 comments

After IoT Hack, Microsoft Unveils New Partner Security Program

In the wake of a massive botnet attack from infected Internet of Things (IoT) devices last week, Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a limited release of a new Security Program for Azure IoT that involves working with and recommending certain partners to audit customers' IoT implementations.

"This new program brings together a curated set of best-in-class security auditors customers can choose from to perform a security audit on their IoT solutions, find issues and provide recommendations. The Security Program for Azure IoT will work from the ground up, examining everything from a businesses' devices and assets to gateways and even communication to the cloud," wrote Sam George, partner director of program management for Microsoft's Azure IoT, in a blog post announcing the program.

George's post doesn't specifically reference the massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Friday against Dyn DNS. For users in the northeastern United States, and elsewhere as the day wore on, the domain name service outage took down major Internet services, such as Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, PayPal, Reddit, GitHub and Spotify.

Security researchers tied the outage to the Mirai malware, which scans for IoT devices like routers and cameras still using factory-default passwords and then infects them with malware. The ability to build botnets out of so many of the inexpensive IoT devices is leading to DDoS attacks of unprecedented scale.

The timing of Microsoft's announcement and the fact that the program is a limited release for "select Azure IoT" customers suggests Microsoft may have moved up the unveiling of the program in response to the notoriety the attack has caused for the emerging IoT market.

Initial security auditing partners in the program are Casaba Security LLC, CyberX, Praetorian and Tech Mahindra.

"In the coming months, we'll continue to provide updates on the Security Program for Azure IoT, our global auditing partners, and auditing standards," George said. "This is part of our commitment to establish a vibrant and safe IoT ecosystem."

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 26, 2016 at 10:48 AM0 comments

First Impressions: Microsoft's Windows 10 Event

Microsoft had its big Windows 10 Event in New York City on Wednesday, with several major product launches and unveilings. From watching the livestream and tracking coverage from RCP Editor at Large Jeff Schwartz who was on site, here are the big takeaways, especially for Microsoft partners.

This Was a 'Consumer' Day
Most, though not all, of Microsoft's announcements on Wednesday were aimed at consumers, in the sense of home users and gamers. Much of it also applied to students and educators, but the main overlap for business customers is in any department that employs creative professionals, who did have plenty to chew on. If some of the new products take off, they could give Microsoft a way to claw its way into the creative professional space that Apple has used as its beachhead into the business market. But for those looking for deployment advancements, system management, security improvements, et cetera, this wasn't your day.

Next on the Windows Roadmap: Windows 10 Creators Update
The word of the day was "creators," and it featured most prominently in the next version of Windows, which will ship in spring 2017 and be called Windows 10 Creators Update. In accordance with the Windows 10 business model, the update will be free for current users of Windows 10. Among the new features will be widespread support of 3-D technology within a new version of Paint (Paint 3D) and the Microsoft Edge browser. Demos included people quickly making holograms, and videos showed users sending creations off to 3-D printers.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, declared a wildly ambitious goal for the new version. He said that with the Creators Update, Microsoft wants to have the effect of the Gutenberg Press on the computing industry.

Microsoft Executive Vice President Terry Myerson announces the Windows 10 Creators Update.

Big Hardware Reveal: Surface Studio
The major product launch Wednesday was the Surface Studio, which Microsoft Surface chief Panos Panay declared is the next category-creating device out of his team. Similar to an all-in-one PC (especially similar to Apple's all-in-one iMac), the Studio distinguishes itself with a huge 28-inch, yet very thin, touchscreen and two chrome arms that allow it to be folded down to a low angle for drawing. High-powered with 192 DPI resolution, the Studio will start at $2,999. According to the Microsoft Store, the Studio will start shipping in mid-December. Panay said it would be available in limited quantities for the holidays.

Surface Studio

Little Hardware Reveal: Surface Dial
A new device that goes with the Surface Studio but can also be used in a limited way with the Surface Book and the Surface Pro is the Surface Dial. The $100 device is shaped like a short cylinder, similar in size to an Amazon Echo Dot. The Dial represents a new method of user input in addition to the mouse, pen, touch, keyboard and voice. For the Studio, the Dial can be placed directly on the screen to light up new interface options (see the image below). For other Surface hardware, the Dial stays on the desk for scrolling, zooming and navigating.

Surface Dial

MIA #1: Surface Phone
There has been a lot of speculation that Microsoft might be on the cusp of releasing a Surface Phone that was somewhere on the phablet spectrum between a little tablet and a big phone. The new Windows 10 Mobile phone from HP, the HP Elite x3, made an appearance, but there were no signs or hints of a Surface Phone on Wednesday.

MIA #2: Surface Pro
A likely candidate for an update was the successful Surface Pro, but Microsoft chose not to refresh it ahead of the holiday season. Surface Pro 4 remains the top of the line.

Surface Book Gets Some Attention
Surface Book did get an update in New York, although not a fully numbered release (as in becoming the Surface Book 2). Microsoft's laptop with the removable and reversible screen got a new base and new processors. The three new models are branded Surface Book with Performance Base, and major feature improvements include i7 processors, a doubling of graphical processing power and a claimed 16-hour battery life. The Performance Base models start at $2,399 and will begin shipping Nov. 10.

Surface Book with Performance Base

Showing Off with PowerPoint
Microsoft plans to integrate 3-D technologies into many of its apps over the next year. To show what's coming, Microsoft did a demo on Wednesday with PowerPoint. The process of dragging in 3-D objects and building in animated motion of the objects appeared to be simple and quick. In automated slideshow mode, the presentation looked more like a graphical short film than a traditional slide deck.

Microsoft's Heather Alekson demonstrates Windows 10's 3-D capabilities using a PowerPoint presentation as an example.

From Smartphone Camera to 3-D Model
Microsoft General Manager Megan Sanders gave one of the best demos of the day when she used the camera of an HP Elite x3 smartphone running Windows 10 Mobile to create a 3-D model of a real-world object. Walking slowly around a sand castle, Sanders captured a 3-D image that she was then able to manipulate and combine with other elements from within Paint 3D. While the demo involved a phone using Windows 10 Mobile, Sanders said of the Windows Capture 3D Experience: "We envision this experience on any device."

Microsoft's Megan Sanders demos Paint 3D.

OEMs Getting into Microsoft's Mixed Reality Game
When it comes to the augmented-reality/mixed-reality experiences that Microsoft wants developers to create and users to enjoy, the Microsoft HoloLens won't be the only option for viewing them. Microsoft on Wednesday announced that HP, Lenovo, ASUS, Dell and Acer will ship mixed-reality-capable headsets for use with the Creators Update in 2017. Myerson said the accessories would start at $299.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 26, 2016 at 2:17 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Q1 Earnings in 7 Quotes

A strong earnings report from Microsoft on Thursday shot MSFT shares to record levels, largely on cloud growth and revenues. The investor call after the release had some interesting nuggets for Microsoft partners. Some of the key quotes from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and CFO Amy Hood:

1. "Surface continues to drive category growth and more commercial customers are choosing to deploy Surface, with deals of five hundred devices or more increasing 70 percent year-over-year. And we are reaching more commercial customers of all sizes with the support of our channel partners." --Nadella

For the first quarter, Microsoft Surface revenues increased 38 percent to a reported $926 million. Those are great numbers for the category-creating devices, and Microsoft is pointing to the channel and to substantial enterprise deals for the strength. There are a lot of comparisons out there to Apple iPad sales, but it's a complicated comparison. Surface Pro 4 competes with iPad Pro, which is a fraction of all iPad sales. On the other hand, the Surface Book, which is included in the Surface revenues, competes more with other PCs and with Macs.

Even with the expected launch of more Surface devices soon, don't look for similar good news in Q2. Hood warned that Microsoft expects Surface revenues to decline in the current quarter.

2. "Our commercial cloud annualized revenue run rate now exceeds $13 billion, and we remain on track to achieve our goal of $20 billion in fiscal year '18." --Nadella

The $20 billion cloud run rate was a big promise, and it's a strong sign for the channel that Microsoft is still discussing that goal as a realistic number that it is still aiming to hit. For the record, Microsoft says it calculates that run rate by multiplying revenue for the last month of the quarter by 12 for Office 365 commercial, Azure, Dynamics online and "other cloud properties."

Boosting the run rate were a 116 percent improvement in Azure revenues, a 20-point year-over-year gain in the percentage of Fortune 500 companies running at least three of Microsoft's cloud offerings (now 60 percent). Not to mention the Office 365 commercial cloud...

3. "Monthly active users of Office 365 commercial are now over 85 million, up more than 40 percent year-over-year. Office 365 commercial seats were also up 40 percent year-over-year, and revenue up 54 percent in constant currency." --Nadella

For partners wondering where the baseline is -- that's it. Microsoft is growing seats by 40 percent and growing revenues by 54 percent. The revenue growth has to do with revenue-per-seat improvements by moving customers to multiple workloads and into higher SKUs like E3 or E5.

4. "Dynamics CRM Online paid seats more than doubled year-over-year. And customers increasingly prefer our cloud solutions, with more than 70 percent of new Dynamics CRM and ERP enterprise customers choosing Dynamics online." --Nadella

The new customer addition number is interesting and helps explain Microsoft's huge launch of Dynamics 365 next month. Don't be surprised to see a tail-off in these numbers in Q2, due to widespread confusion in the channel about the pricing cutover to Dynamics 365 on Nov. 1 and some gaps in product availability in the early rollout phase.

5. "More than half of the Fortune 500 have our Enterprise Mobility services, up more than 20 points year-over-year. ... And we crossed three-quarters-of-a-billion unique user identities in Azure Active Directory." --Nadella

In short, enterprise mobility, still a focus.

6. "We continue to see strong interest in the preview for SQL Server on Linux with 19,000 customers registered, including more than half of the Fortune 500. It's opening conversations with customers spanning their entire data estate both on-premises and in the cloud." --Nadella

SQL Server on Linux is only one of the Linux and open source projects Nadella mentioned. He also talked about open sourcing Windows PowerShell and Azure Service Fabric on Linux. Especially for enterprise partners, being part of the open source conversation is becoming key.

7. "As expected, Enterprise Services revenue growth slowed this quarter to 1 percent and 2 percent in constant currency, largely due to a decreasing volume of support agreements associated with Windows Server 2003 end-of-support." --Hood

The ebb and flow of Microsoft's services efforts are always of interest to partners concerned about conflict with Microsoft's internal services arm. From an earnings perspective, it's looking like an ebb period.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 21, 2016 at 11:00 AM0 comments

Microsoft Inks Partnership for Omnichannel Engagement in Dynamics 365

New York-based CafeX Communications will be Microsoft's preferred solution provider for omnichannel engagement within the soon-to-be-released Dynamics 365 for Customer Service application, the companies announced Wednesday.

Dynamics 365 for Customer Service is one of the five initial applications coming in the Enterprise edition of Dynamics 365, which is set for availability on Nov. 1. Dynamics 365 is Microsoft's new flagship business application platform that serves both ERP and CRM functionality from the Azure cloud.

The add-on will be called LiveAssist for Dynamics 365 powered by CafeX and will be available slightly later than the underlying Microsoft application. A trial version is set for release in November, with general availability set for Jan. 31, 2017. That initial release will feature live chat and co-browsing, which allows an agent to see and assist with pages and forms that a customer is viewing.

CafeX will follow that release with click-to-call, audio call and video call capabilities, to be delivered later in 2017, CafeX Chief Marketing Officer Sajeel Hussain said in a telephone interview Wednesday. The list price for the LiveAssist capabilities in Dynamics 365 will be $49 per agent per month for chat and co-browsing, and $65 per agent per month for all the communications channels, Hussain said.

Microsoft and CafeX have been working together on bringing CafeX's LiveAssist technology to the Dynamics 365 platform for about nine months, he said.

"We have tightly integrated our solution with Dynamics 365 in such a way that all of those experiences are seamless across the stack. If an agent is in our console, they don't have to leave our console. If an authenticated chat comes in, the case record pops up -- the agent doesn't have to go back and forth between the different consoles. Intelligence is shared between the chat console and Dynamics."

Hussain described three key elements of the partnership: hosting of the CafeX solution in the Azure cloud, the immersive integration, and a joint CafeX-Microsoft roadmap for engineering and go-to-market efforts.

In a statement, Jujhar Singh, corporate vice president of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, said omnichannel was at the heart of successful customer engagement solutions and confirmed CafeX's position as a preferred solution provider for the technology.

"Enterprises can now extend real-time assistance within the context of business processes to create more unified and intelligent customer journeys," Singh said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 19, 2016 at 2:40 PM0 comments

Belichick 'Done' with Surface Tablets

Bill Belichick is known for his terse responses at news conferences. Which is why it was surprising when the New England Patriots head coach went on for more than five minutes about his frustrations with stadium technology during games, including the Microsoft Surface.

"As you probably noticed, I'm done with the tablets," Belichick said, according to a conference call transcript posted on Twitter Tuesday by NESN's Patriots beat reporter Zack Cox. "They're just too undependable for me. I'm going to stick with pictures, which several of our other coaches do, as well, because there just isn't enough consistency in the performance of the tablets. I just can't take it anymore."

Belichick's ire is clearly not the kind of publicity Microsoft was seeking by entering a multi-million-dollar partnership with the NFL for teams to use the Surface on the sidelines. The comments come about two weeks after Belichick was shown on camera throwing a Surface tablet against a box on the sidelines in the Patriots' 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

While Belichick's answer started and finished with the tablets, most of his complaint and much of his frustration actually seemed directed at the communications equipment, which he pointed out belongs to the league and is only supplied to the teams a few hours before the game -- limiting teams' ability to troubleshoot.

"There's headsets in the helmets. There's the belt pack, that communication. There's a hookup or a connection to an Internet service, or that process and so forth with the coaches in the press box. There's a number of pieces of equipment. There's a number of connections. They're on different frequencies. Again, not that I'd know anything about this, but as it's been explained to me, there's a lot of things involved and, inevitably, something goes wrong somewhere at some point in time. I would say weekly, we have to deal with something," he said.

While he gave a shout-out to the Patriots' IT person for doing the best he could with what the NFL provides and when the league provides it, Belichick seems to think the lower-tech approach of static pictures over tablet images is the better way for now.

Update 10/21/16:
Shortly after Belichick's complaints came to light, Business Insider obtained a statement from Microsoft: "We respect Coach Belichick's decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface. We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players and team personnel across the league. In the instances where sideline issues are reported in NFL games, we work closely with the NFL to quickly address and resolve."

On Friday, Microsoft came out with a longer response via a blog post by Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft. Mehdi starts by acknowledging the flap without naming Belichick or the Patriots.

"This week Surface has been at the center of the debate on the role of technology in the NFL, with different opinions shared from coaches and players. We thought it might be valuable to share some additional context from our perspective," Mehdi writes.

The post goes on to include testimonials from New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson, L.A. Rams Defensive Backs Coach Brandon Fisher and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the usefulness of the Surface on the sidelines.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 18, 2016 at 10:23 AM0 comments