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Microsoft Veterans Among New Execs at SkyKick

Fresh off a recent round of investment, channel-focused Office 365 migration project automation specialist SkyKick is expanding its management team to accelerate North American growth and drive into new markets internationally.

The Seattle-based startup and a 2013 Microsoft Partner of the Year winner is adding three senior executives -- Steve Bonilla as COO, Peter Labes as vice president of business development and Eric Jewett as vice president of international operations. The executive additions, being announced Monday, follow a $3 million round of private equity and angel investor funding announced in late July.

"We have a strong bench around product development," said Todd Schwartz, co-CEO of SkyKick, in an interview. "By adding some industry veterans, this will help us in some areas that up until this point we haven't invested in."

Bonilla most recently was COO at Spiraledge and also held senior positions at Accenture and Digital Impact. "What we thought was very important as we build this company for the long term is we wanted to hire a COO with hardcore operational experience and experience in building companies from small to big," Schwartz said.

SkyKick picked up Labes and Jewett from Microsoft, where SkyKick co-founders Schwartz and co-CEO Evan Richman came from.

Labes was most recently senior cloud strategy lead for the Microsoft U.S. SMB Channel Group. Richman said Labes' experience with building the Office 365 business through the U.S. channel and previous channel-based business development experience with Sage Software make him a strong fit for SkyKick's ongoing channel-centric ambitions.

"There's a lot of change happening in the channel as the cloud is coming. [He's going to help] us work with those different partners and continue to support the channel in the best way possible," Richman said.

Eric Jewett, one of three new senior executives at SkyKick, is tasked with driving a new international expansion initiative for the Office 365 migration project automation specialist.

Jewett had several international roles at Microsoft, including worldwide director for Microsoft Azure Enterprise Sales Strategy, senior director of Microsoft Azure for Western Europe and worldwide director of Windows Server and Virtualization Marketing.

SkyKick's international strategy is to build the business first in other English speaking countries, like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and branch out from there, Schwartz and Richman said.

The executive expansion reflects overall employee growth at SkyKick. When announcing the $3 million in new funding over the summer, SkyKick unveiled plans to double the company's headcount from 40 people to 80 employees over the next year.

Schwartz says SkyKick's buildout is only beginning. "Only 7 percent of SMBs have moved to the cloud over the last three years. We're still very much in the early days. This is only year three of probably a 10-to-15-year journey."


Posted by Scott Bekker on October 20, 2014 at 5:29 AM0 comments

How Wireless 802.11ac Could Be a Win for Microsoft Lync

Wireless standard upgrades often meet with a collective yawn by customers. If the wireless network is getting the job done, a speed increase often won't do enough to improve performance to justify the cost.

But Jamie Stark, senior product manager with Microsoft Lync, is evangelizing a recent wireless standard as a big opportunity to dramatically improve unified communications performance on mobile networks.

The opportunity, which for partners extends beyond those who specialize in Lync, is related to the new 802.11ac wireless standard. The standard was approved in January, and it turbocharges wireless bandwidth to single-link throughput of at least 500MBps.

"The promise of mobility with Lync is really strong. Customers think, 'Not only can I save a lot of money, not having this really extensive wired plant would be great,'" Stark told me. He says expense savings could go as far as removing a standard requirement to have air conditioning on every floor's equipment closet to keep existing switches for old telephone handsets cool.

"If I have a cell phone, tablet and a workstation with a headset, I don't need to be tethered down by a wire," Stark said.

An obstacle has been wireless bandwidth. "If a dozen people are in the conference room looking at a Lync meeting, it's easy to saturate an access point," Stark said.

The 802.11ac equipment removes the bandwidth barrier affecting current traffic levels. "It's absolutely an opportunity now. 802.11ac is now to the point in the market where folks are going to be buying that," Stark said. "The single biggest thing that I bring up to every one of the customers that I talk to is around Wi-Fi."

For more on emerging opportunities around Lync, see the recent RCP Partner Guide to Microsoft Lync here (registration required).

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 07, 2014 at 11:31 AM0 comments

Channel Takeaways from the HP Split

The rumors over the weekend were correct, and Hewlett-Packard revealed Monday morning that it will split into two roughly equal-sized entities -- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and HP Inc.

The move creates two massive new, if familiar, players in the tech industry -- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise's annual revenues for a recently concluded period would have been $58 billion, HP Inc.'s $57 billion. The new arrangement has implications across the IT industry, including for the many Microsoft partners who are also HP partners. Here are a few of the main takeaways that are visible at first blush.

A New Poster Child for Spinoffs
The IT industry commonly veers between two business poles -- mergers and acquisitions or spinoffs and sell-offs. Big events give us a shorthand to understand trends and HP's new decision is one of the biggest. As a symbol of old Silicon Valley, the PC industry, the printer industry or the new cloud+services world, HP's decision will become a major data point in all kinds of discussions about whether spinning off business divisions makes sense.

HP Chairman, CEO and President Meg Whitman was touting a strategy of "One HP" -- in other words, not splitting up -- recently enough that she needed to do some tap dancing about it on Monday morning in a call for investment analysts.

"Let me be clear, One HP was the right approach. During the fix-and-rebuild phase of our turnaround plan, we used the strength found in being together to become stronger throughout. But of course, the marketplace never stands still, and in our industry today more than ever, you have to compete harder and faster every single day. Being nimble is the only path to winning," Whitman said.

Already, HP's move is resparking conversations about EMC and VMware, as well as renewing calls for Microsoft to look into breaking up. Whether HP's spinoff is a success or a failure, it is high-profile enough that it will become shorthand for the one or the other.

A Star Is Born
Dion Weisler earned a level of industry renown with his elevation to the position of HP's executive vice president of Printing and Personal Systems Group in the summer of 2013. But the Australian-born tech industry veteran, who joined HP in January 2012, goes from being well-known by tech industry insiders to the type of business superstar who appears on CNBC with his elevation to CEO of the newly formed independent company, HP Inc.

Dion Weisler

According to Weisler's bio from the HP site, prior to his EVP role, he was senior vice president and managing director of Printing and Personal Systems for the Asia Pacific and Japan regions. He came to HP from Lenovo, where his top role was vice president and COO of Lenovo's Product and Mobile Internet Digital Home groups. He also worked at Telstra Corp., an Australian telecommunications company, and spent 11 years at Acer.

In a statement, Whitman gave this assessment of Weisler's performance as EVP, a job that precisely parallels what he'll be working on as CEO of HP Inc.: "Since assuming responsibility for the Printing and Personal Systems Group, Dion and his leadership team have done an excellent job of building our relationships with customers and channel partners, segmenting the market and driving product innovation."

Whitman Bets on Hewlett-Packard Enterprise?
Is Meg Whitman tipping her hand as to which of the two businesses has more potential?

Meg Whitman

"The board and the management are convinced that by separating HP into two new, independent companies, we will be able to accelerate the performance of both more rapidly than we could as currently configured," Whitman explained on the investor call.

Whitman will serve as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, while serving as non-executive chairman for HP Inc.

She's chosen to focus her day-to-day attention on the business that moves forward with HP's lines of servers, storage, networking, services, software, cloud and converged systems. That's as opposed to the business built on notebooks, desktops, mobility, printing, managed print services and graphics.

Whitman will be the executive on the side of the business with larger expected profit margins and the side that includes the booming cloud market. That said, both businesses currently carry similar operating margins, according to a slide deck for investment analysts (10.2 percent for Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and 9.4 percent for HP Inc.).

More Layoffs Coming
HP has always done things in a big way because of its scale. While Microsoft makes headlines for layoffs in the 18,000-employee range, HP was already committed to laying off between 45,000 and 50,000 people.

During the call about the spinoff, an HP slide revealed that "incremental opportunities for reductions have been identified...independent of the separation transaction." The latest figure is that the entity once known as HP has need of 55,000 fewer employees. The elimination of 5,000 or 10,000 people from the payroll beyond the company's previous guidance means additional money for R&D and sales, according to an HP slide.

The layoffs and other job eliminations are proceeding, with about 36,000 jobs already eliminated. Expect uncertainty and trepidation from HP contacts until they're certain what the other 19,000 eliminated jobs will be.

Spotlight on Future Products
HP executives provided hints on Monday about what product lines they're most excited about for future growth.

On the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise side, it's Apollo, Gen 9 and Moonshot servers, the 3PAR storage platform, the HP OneView management platform and the HP Helion Cloud. For HP Inc., mobility is an area where the company is looking to gain traction, while the spinoff is also looking to build a business in 3-D printing.

HP Financial Services
There wasn't a lot of detail about partners on Monday, but one area where channel partners did get mentioned involved financing. Going forward, both companies appear to view HP Financial Services as a strategic capability for partners and customers.

"By leveraging its HP Financial Services capability, the company will be well positioned to create unique technology deployment models for customers and partner partners based on their specific business needs," the company said in a statement about the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise side. "Additionally, the company intends for HP Financial Services to continue to provide financing and business model innovation for customers and partners of HP Inc."

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 06, 2014 at 12:56 PM0 comments

Interop: 5 Up-and-Coming Hacking Tools

The security professional's toolbox is fairly mature, with ethical hackers commonly using familiar and powerful tools such as Metasploit, Nmap, Wireshark and dozens of others, many of them conveniently wrapped up for free in the security-focused Kali Linux distribution.

Still, in the fast-moving field of IT security, new threats and tools are constantly emerging. In a standing-room-only session at Interop New York this week, David Rhoades of Maven Security Consulting recommended five up-and-coming tools that can help penetration testers do their jobs better.

1. XSScrapy
Rhoades' presentation followed one on vulnerability management by John P. Pironti, president of IP Architects LLC, in which Pironti noted that two of the most significant classes of vulnerabilities remain cross-site scripting and SQL injection. Addressing the cross-site scripting problem is a relatively new tool called XSScrapy by security researcher Dan McInerney, Rhoades noted. The description of XSScrapy on GitHub Inc. is a "Fast, thorough, XSS spider. Give it a URL and it'll test every link it finds for cross-site scripting vulnerabilities."

2. Gauntlt
Designed for devops, the team behind Gauntlt aimed to help make development of new code more secure by creating a tool that makes checking for vulnerabilities repeatable, reliable, reviewable, rapid and resilient with a reduced attack surface. The tool launches other attack tools at a target and reports the results.

One of the Gauntlt developers, Mani Tadayon, described it as the opposite of static code analysis in a presentation announcing the tool in 2012. "We're looking at the system as, kind of, not a black box but a grey box. We're looking at the running instance. The difficulty with code analysis is like, what is it? Is it Java, is it Ruby? Is it this framework? That framework?" Tadayon said. "[With Gauntlt] it's like, we don't [need to] know what's going on inside your app."

3. Minion
Another relatively recently released platform for performing security tests on Web applications is Minion from the Mozilla Project (the team behind the Firefox browser).

4. BadUSB
A USB hack presented by SR Labs at BlackHat 2014 in August and called BadUSB introduced a new form of malware that reprograms the controller chips inside USB devices. "USB sticks, as an example, can be reprogrammed to spoof various other device types in order to take control of a computer, exfiltrate data, or spy on the user," SR Labs explained in a description of the session.

5. NetHunter
Finally, Rhoades pointed his audience to Kali Linux Nexus NetHunter. Developed by Offensive Security, the company behind Kali Linux, and Kali community member "BinkyBear," NetHunter takes the idea of a penetration platform and essentially puts that particular hell on wheels.

NetHunter is designed as an open source penetration testing platform for an Android OS tablet (Nexus 10), mini-tablet (Nexus 7) or smartphone (Nexus 5). Some of the tools include wireless 802.11 frame injection, one-click MANA Evil Access Point setups, HID keyboard and even BadUSB-based "man-in-the-middle" attacks.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 02, 2014 at 9:44 AM0 comments

Security the Focus of Kaseya 8

Kaseya this week issued another core platform release and this month will open a beta program for some additional functionality.

"With 8, we have shifted the focus to security," said Yogesh Gupta, CEO of Kaseya, in a telephone interview.

Release 8, which became generally available on Tuesday, is the latest of Kaseya's regularly scheduled releases. Since joining the MSP remote monitoring and management (RMM) and IT systems management tool vendor in the summer of 2013, Gupta has kept Kaseya to a development cycle built around releases every January, May and September.

The Kaseya 8 release comes on the heels of the company's acquisition of Scorpion Software, a security company focused on two-factor authentication, password management and single sign-on.

For now MSPs and other customers looking to use the Scorpion technology alongside the core Release 8 must license AuthAnvil separately. Integration is scheduled for a future release. Nonetheless, Kaseya is simultaneously shipping  new releases of all three AuthAnvil products -- Single Sign On, Two-Factor Authentication and Password Server.

A major new security feature in Kaseya's core management platform comes in an enhancement to Kaseya Remote Control. The component now allows administrators to work privately on remote servers and workstations so that people near the target machine can't see what is being done.

Other new features include the ability for administrators to isolate and view individual Terminal Server sessions, improvements to Office 365 management and tighter integration between the main dashboard and Kaseya Traverse Service Level Management.

The beta launching this month is for integrated enterprise mobile management (EMM). The design goal for Kaseya's EMM is combined mobile device management and bring your own device features within Kaseya's core management platform.

According to Kaseya's roadmap, the company intends to be able to roll the EMM functionality into Release 9 of the platform in January 2015.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 30, 2014 at 11:18 AM0 comments

Microsoft Adjusts SMB Cloud Competency Requirements, Relaunches Pinpoint

Hitting a delivery date promised in July, Microsoft on Monday launched three new cloud competencies for partners.

At the same time, Microsoft drastically reduced the number of customers a partner is required to have to achieve the SMB competency's silver tier, and announced improvements to Pinpoint, the partner directory for customers.

The new Pinpoint homepage. (Source: Microsoft)

The three new competencies that went live on Monday were Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions, Cloud Productivity and Cloud Platform. They are the first cloud-specific competencies Microsoft has launched in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

Gavriella Schuster, general manager of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, announced a change to the SMB competency in a blog post.

"Based on insight and input from the partner community, we have determined that the appropriate threshold for the Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions competency is 10 new customers over the last 12 months, down from the 15 customer limit we announced in July. The other eligibility components remain the same at 150 net new seats and three customer references," Schuster wrote.

Schuster also said an updated Pinpoint directory was going live on Monday and that Microsoft had released new materials to help partners optimize their Pinpoint listings. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, changes include better access and more tailored search.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 29, 2014 at 1:13 PM0 comments

Details Emerging About Microsoft Cloud Reseller Program

Details are starting to emerge about Cloud Solution Provider (CSP), a promising partner program that Microsoft previewed at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in July.

The CSP program is designed to accommodate the requests by partners to be able to bundle Microsoft services and own the customer billing, a requirement that was partly but not fully addressed with the Office 365 Open program.

"Partners in this [Cloud Solution Provider] program will be able to directly provision customer subscriptions and provide one monthly bill for both Partner and Microsoft services. They will also directly manage their customer subscriptions with in-product tools in the Partner Admin Center and own the technical support relationship," wrote John Case, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, in a blog entry announcing the program on July 14.

Calling CSP "a true cloud reseller program" during a WPC keynote that same day, Case also said the program would create opportunities for distributors, MSPs, ISVs and hosting providers. Those are very different types of partners, however, and as Microsoft begins to sign up partners and get feedback, the CSP is evolving.

In a blog post Wednesday, Gavriella Schuster, general manager of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, revealed that CSP will now have two levels, and she provided a loose rollout schedule.

"After speaking with partners of all types and sizes, we've made the decision to rollout the CSP with two business model options for partners to participate. In the first business model, partners will sell Microsoft Cloud Services directly to customers (1-Tier). These are partners that typically have existing broad market reach, a 24/7 technical support relationship with their customers as well as direct ownership of the billing -- a feature that was the most requested from partners,"  Schuster wrote. "The second business model consists of resellers who sell Microsoft Cloud Services through distribution partners (2-Tier)."

Over the summer, Case said the program would be rolled out to select partners in 48 countries. Schuster said onboarding for the 1-Tier is happening now, but implied that the main rollout would happen after the full documentation of partner requirements is posted to the Partner Portal in mid-October.

Partners interested in the 2-Tier will need to wait a little longer. "We expect most partners to participate through the 2-Tier model, and we'll have more information to share about that program later this calendar year," Schuster said.

By product, Microsoft has said CSP would start with Office 365 and Windows Intune, and Microsoft Azure, Dynamics CRM Online and other products will follow.

The CSP is in addition to three new cloud competencies that Microsoft planned to take live next week.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 24, 2014 at 12:15 PM0 comments

Q&A: Getting Customers Ready for the Windows Server 2003 Deadline

Although it's gotten far less attention than the recent Windows XP deadline, the retirement of support for Windows Server 2003 will be one of the most important of the predictable security issues of 2015.

Microsoft officially ends support for Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015. The deadline has some of the same ramifications that the Windows XP deadline had: Microsoft will no longer patch Windows Server 2003 for new security vulnerabilities. Presumably, Microsoft will offer expensive Custom Support Agreements for enterprises to continue getting patch support after that date, but there's been no official announcement yet. In the meantime, new security vulnerabilities keep cropping up for the aging OS. During the last full year, 2013, Microsoft released 37 critical updates for Windows Server 2003.

The total installed base of Windows Server 2003 remains massive, making migrations an important security issue for the entire industry. As of July, Microsoft reported that globally there are 24 million instances -- half physical, half virtual -- of Windows Server 2003 running on 12 million physical servers. There are 9.4 million Windows Server 2003 instances in North America. Worldwide, Windows Server 2003 accounted for 39 percent of the Windows Server installed base, according to Microsoft data.

Among the many Microsoft partners focused on initiating conversations with customers about preparing for the deadline and migrating servers off Windows Server 2003 is Insight Enterprises, a $5.1 billion technology sales company that is also a Microsoft Licensing Solutions Provider with a large Microsoft systems integration practice.

On Wednesday, Insight publicly announced a Windows Server 2003 migration practice that's been up and running since June. RCP caught up with David Mayer, practice director of Microsoft Solutions for Insight Enterprises, in a phone interview. (Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and flow.)

RCP: How prepared are your customers for Windows Server 2003 end of support compared with the end of support for Windows XP?

Mayer: They are aware of the situation. They understand the deadline that's approaching. They have a good sense of what they're up against in terms of how many servers they have and the major workloads that they're running on it. What they don't have is a sense of is how complicated this is, and they're underestimating what they're up against. Of a couple dozen customers we're working with, none have a migration timeline that will get every single server migrated by July 14.

What are some of the problems that have hit customers who used Windows XP past the end of support that might also be an issue for Windows Server 2003 users?
The biggest piece of the puzzle that organizations don't account for is the increase in support costs. A PC is one thing. You can harden a PC by just unplugging it from the network. That's a little bit harder to do in the server world. The big lesson learned is all the additional steps, such as adding intrusion detection systems, more advanced firewalls and network segmentation. They're going to have to take extra steps if they're planning to keep that server after support goes away. Gartner put out a brief a few months back and they said that organizations that plan to continue to run [Windows Server] 2003 past the deadline should budget $1,500 per year per server. That would be kind of a catch-all budgetary number.

With Windows XP, a lot of the organizations still using the out-of-support OS were smaller or less technically sophisticated customers. Is that the case with Windows Server 2003?
It's an inverse correlation. You actually see more Server 2003 as a percentage within very large, higher-end customers than we do at the lower end. The people who are actually in a better position to remediate the problem are the ones who have it. There are a lot of valid reasons -- application dependency, where an industry-specific application hasn't been updated, or an ISV went out of business, or some of it is that the thing works well and has been cheap to maintain and manage.

Your process for customers includes discovery and analysis followed by migrations -- software, hardware and cloud. What's the comparative size of each of those opportunities for Insight?
The majority are doing either a virtual-to virtual or a physical-to-virtual scenario, which we really think is the best first step. Once we've got them virtualized, then we can get them deployed in the cloud. Some customers are going straight to the cloud -- with one, we took the entire infrastructure over to the Azure IaaS environment. Some of them are doing a component of physical-to-physical because the application migration is not going to happen. They can still upgrade to Windows Server 2008, which will support a 32-bit application.

Ideally, we'll get the application up to either Server 2008 R2 or 2012. In doing so, we'll take that stack and we'll virtualize that. Instead of one physical server for one 2003 OS, we'll move to four or eight. You could look at it as a server consolidation project along with a server migration project -- those are happening in tandem.

Where are most customers in their migration process?
Right now, it's a lot of initial planning and initial discovery. I think the peak in terms of when the work is really going to start to hit is in the Q1 timeframe. A lot of the preliminary work is happening right now. There's still a lot of pipeline-building happening right now.

How long are the migrations expected to take?
For a customer with 100 or more servers, we're looking at a project that will go anywhere from a minimum of three months to some that will be in the 18-month timeframe. For those that aren't going to make the deadline, we start to segregate their server environment -- these are the high-risk servers, then medium and below.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM0 comments

Gartner Raising a Scare About Mobile Apps

How secure are those mobile apps that users bring into company networks via their own devices? Not very, according to researchers at Gartner. Nor is the situation likely to improve soon.

As part of the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit this week in Dubai, Gartner principal research analyst Dionisio Zumerle flagged mobile apps as an emerging route for attackers to get into enterprise networks and steal corporate data.

"Enterprises that embrace mobile computing and bring your own device (BYOD) strategies are vulnerable to security breaches unless they adopt methods and technologies for mobile application security testing and risk assurance," Zumerle said in a statement. "Most enterprises are inexperienced in mobile application security. Even when application security testing is undertaken, it is often done casually by developers who are mostly concerned with the functionality of applications, not their security."

Gartner contends that through 2015, more than three out of four mobile applications will fail basic security tests, and encourages enterprises to get aggressive about testing apps that access corporate data and about exploring technologies that help contain the activity of apps on mobile devices, such as wrapping and hardening.

"Today, more than 90 percent of enterprises use third-party commercial applications for their mobile BYOD strategies, and this is where current major application security testing efforts should be applied," Zumerle said. "App stores are filled with applications that mostly prove their advertised usefulness. Nevertheless, enterprises and individuals should not use them without paying attention to their security. They should download and use only those applications that have successfully passed security tests conducted by specialized application security testing vendors."

Gartner called out static application security testing and dynamic application security testing as two categories of vendors working to improve the capabilities of their toolsets for mobile app testing. Another promising area, according to Gartner, is behavioral analysis, which monitors running apps to detect risky behavior, such as accessing users' contact lists or locations. It's equally important, the research firm warns, to test or certify security on the servers the apps access, whether internal to an enterprise or those that provide back ends for third-party apps.

The attacks on mobile endpoints are still relatively immature and Gartner anticipates that three-quarters of mobile security breaches through 2017 will result from misconfigurations rather than deeply technical attacks.

Nonetheless, the attackers are rushing at tablets and smartphones. "Already there are three attacks to mobile devices for every attack to a desktop," according to Gartner.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 17, 2014 at 11:20 AM0 comments

Mojang Ranks Among Microsoft's Biggest Acquisitions

Microsoft just spent $2.5 billion on Mojang, the little Swedish company that created the wildly popular, blocky-graphic video game Minecraft.

This is an enormous amount of money by any standard. For a little context, this ranks as the fourth-largest dollar amount for an investment in Microsoft's history. It trails only what Microsoft paid for Skype ($8.5 billion), Nokia's phone business ($7.2 billion) and aQuantive ($6.3 billion).

Even with rough estimates for inflation, the Mojang acquisition still appears to hold onto that fourth-place rank. Microsoft is putting more value on Mojang than it did on Visio Corp., Navision, Great Plains, Fast Search & Transfer or Yammer, to name a few strategic acquisitions in the company's past.

In explaining what it's getting for all that money, Microsoft called Minecraft one of the most popular video games in history and noted the 100 million downloads on PC alone since 2009, the 2 billion hours played on Xbox 360 in the past two years and the game's status as the top paid app for iOS and Android in the United States.

"Gaming is a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. "Minecraft is more than a great game franchise -- it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft."

It's interesting that Nadella's first big investment as CEO comes not in his wheelhouse of enterprise software and services but instead in the area of gaming. The move does seem to confirm that Nadella's Microsoft will remain committed to consumer gaming, despite all the calls from outside Microsoft for him to sell off the Xbox business.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 15, 2014 at 9:10 AM0 comments

Microsoft Takes Some Office 365 Deployments In-House

A new program offering free Office 365 migrations performed remotely by Microsoft employees for customers with more than 150 seats went live this week. Partner reaction so far has ranged generally from extreme concern to wary acceptance.

Microsoft formally announced two new programs to customers in a blog post on Wednesday -- the Office 365 FastTrack Onboarding Center and the Office 365 Adoption Offer. Both programs officially launched Sept. 1.

Office 365 FastTrack Onboarding Center is a free benefit to new Office 365 customers buying 150 seats or more. It supports provisioning and configuration of Office 365 workloads, including Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office 365 Pro Plus and Yammer. According to the blog, one key feature involves "direct remote assistance provided by an Office 365 onboarding expert who will assist with critical onboarding activities working with customers and partners."

The Office 365 Adoption Offer also applies to customers with at least 150 seats but has a limited run, ending March 31, 2015. The offer is primarily a partner subsidy that the customer can pay to an Office 365 Cloud Deployment Partner or a Cloud Productivity Competency Partner, a category that doesn't launch until Sept. 29. The subsidy is for adoption-related work that goes beyond the relatively simple onboarding work offered by FastTrack.

In a blog post to partners Aug. 21, Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's general manager of Worldwide Partner Programs, said the subsidy is $15 per seat up to 1,000 seats and $5 per seat above 1,000 seats to a $60,000 limit.

A key element of the adoption offer is an e-mail migration offer, billed as "delivered remotely by Microsoft." The migration of relatively straightforward e-mail configurations from supported platforms (Exchange Server 2003 or above, Lotus Domino 7.0.3 or above, Google Gmail or IMAP accessible environments) is provided by Microsoft. Reportedly, Microsoft is hiring between 400 and 800 people worldwide to staff the onboarding center. The migration offer gives customers with relatively simple environments a way to avoid partner engagement altogether.

In her post, Schuster appeared to reiterate a commitment made earlier in the summer about partner commitment, but her phrasing, although underlined in the blog post, was actually less strong. In a Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference keynote in July, John Case, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Division, said, "Our intent is for every single new customer that comes into Office 365, for example, or Dynamics or Azure, to make sure that there is a partner attached to every single one of those new customers. And we'll help provide that."

Schuster's post read, "Every customer onboarding via FastTrack interested in working with a partner will be connected to a qualified Microsoft partner as part of the process."

She also laid out three reasons why the combined FastTrack and the Office 365 Adoption Offer was a big opportunity for partners:

1. FastTrack will help get our mutual customers onboarded to Office 365 more quickly which will increase sales velocity, customer satisfaction and open the door for partners to provide more high-value services.

2. Any customer onboarded via FastTrack not already working with a partner will be offered the opportunity to be connected to a qualified partner to assist with onboarding and adoption of Office 365. When a partner is already present in the account, the Onboarding Assistance team will work with that partner.

3. The Office 365 Adoption Offer provides an option for customers to receive funding to be used with qualified partners to help offset the cost of onboarding, migration and adoption.

Partners responding on Schuster's blog seemed to disagree strongly with the opportunity argument.

"We have deployments we have been working on for 6 to 12 months and for larger customers. It looks like all the investments made will get flushed with this program. Why should we spend that kind of time talking with customers and watch MS pull the most profitable part away from us? Bad decision to proceed with this program, Microsoft," wrote a commenter identifying himself as JDB.

"This has been abysmally messaged and handled," said the commenter MSPartner. "There is far more to a migration than Microsoft appreciates and customers need to understand exactly what's required to have a smooth transition to the cloud, not have Microsoft both oversimplify and undervalue the process, as well as make obscure promises to perform a half-*** migration."

Ric Opal, a longtime Microsoft partner with the Chicago area company Peters & Associates, said he understands that Microsoft is eager to do something to ensure that customers who buy Office 365 licenses actually deploy them.

"I get it. I respect it. To me, the jury is out. I want to see it operationally moving," he said in a telephone interview.

Opal's concerns include what Microsoft will do when the pipeline of e-mail migrations backs up beyond what its operational funnel can handle, how effectively Microsoft will connect customers to partners and numerous other details.

Nonetheless, he's not sitting back and waiting to see what happens. "That's the gap opportunity. Everybody should get in early and exploit the opportunities in the program," Opal said.

Pete Zarras, president of Cloud Strategies, a born-in-the-cloud partner based in New Jersey, was initially concerned about the changes when he first heard the vague outlines of the programs at WPC, but has grown more comfortable, especially as details of related incentives through Microsoft's new Partner Investment Engine (PIE) have emerged.

"We struggled through some of the communication challenges, but we do see there is opportunity for our clients, and we feel in the short- to-medium term it is very good for us," he said in an interview. "We believe that we will be able to evolve as Microsoft evolves."

Another born-in-the-cloud partner, Interlink Cloud Advisors in Cincinnati, is also sprinting to help customers take advantage of the simultaneous PIE incentives. But Interlink President Matt Scherocman said the pace of change in the Microsoft Partner Network is a challenge to keep up with. For example, the first round of PIE incentives were just announced and expire at the end of the year.

"I'm very excited about the deployment offer because it helps Microsoft recognize more workloads than just e-mail, and it helps Microsoft recognize the partner's role in the sales cycle. But I think it needs to have a longer time horizon than ending at the end of the year," he said.

For more, check out the feature story in the September issue of Redmond Channel Partner, which puts the new  programs in the larger context of Microsoft's partner plans around cloud.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 04, 2014 at 11:17 AM0 comments

Windows 8 Use Overtakes XP Worldwide

Windows 8 finally overtook Windows XP in global Internet usage in August, more than four months after Microsoft stopped supporting the aging operating system, according to Web site analytics company StatCounter.

In figures released Tuesday, StatCounter Global Stats put the combined worldwide share for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 at 14 percent, compared with 12.9 percent for Windows XP (see Figure 1). Microsoft put a stop to paid support for Windows XP on April 8.

The most popular operating system by far remains Windows 7, with 50.3 percent share.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1.

Windows XP's share of Internet browsing  is getting low in western countries. According to StatCounter, XP's share in all of Europe is 10.6 percent, in the United States is 8.9 percent, and in the United Kingdom is 5.2 percent.

StatCounter also noted that Windows 8.1 has finally passed Windows 8 in global share, as well. Windows 8.1 now stands at 7.5 percent, while Windows 8 is at 6.6 percent (see Figure 2).

"Following a mixed reaction to Windows 8, perhaps because of its radical new look, Windows 8.1 appears to be winning over users," Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, said in a statement.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 2.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 02, 2014 at 9:51 AM0 comments