Analysts See Huge AI Opportunity for Niche ISVs

Any independent software vendor (ISV) looking for growth opportunities in the enterprise needs to take a hard look at artificial intelligence (AI) right now, industry analysts suggest. And for the next few years, at least, the more niche the solution, the better.

"One of the biggest aggregate sources for AI-enhanced products and services acquired by enterprises between 2017 and 2022 will be niche solutions that address one need very well," said John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. "Business executives will drive investment in these products, sourced from thousands of narrowly focused, specialist suppliers with specific AI-enhanced applications."

Lovelock's comments come as part of a Gartner study released in April that projected huge growth for AI over the next few years. Looking at the global business value derived from AI, Gartner projects a total of $1.2 trillion in 2018, which is an increase of 70 percent from 2017. Gartner expects that growth rate to flatten a bit over the next four years, but remain in the double digits with a projected business value of $3.9 trillion in 2022.

Far from representing a reduction in the opportunity, Gartner presents the flattening as more of a pause. Early growth will be fueled by AI in customer experience applications that drive customer growth and retention, with further AI-driven business value coming from using AI to reduce costs, Gartner expects. It's after that, starting in about 2021, that AI will truly change the playing field.

"New revenue will become the dominant source as companies uncover business value in using AI to increase sales of existing products and services, as well as to discover opportunities for new products and services," Lovelock said. "Thus, in the long run, the business value of AI will be about new revenue possibilities."

Some of those long-tail technologies include deep neural networks for data mining, pattern recognition across huge datasets, and decision automation systems that use AI to automate tasks or optimize business processes.

Nearer-term, a lot of the niche ISV opportunities exist in the rush to create virtual agents and chatbots across the enterprise for reducing costs, with agents accounting for nearly half of business value in 2018 in Gartner's model.

Analysts at IDC also see an ISV gold rush in AI. "Interest and awareness of AI is at a fever pitch," said David Schubmehl, a cognitive/AI systems research director at IDC, in a statement in March. "IDC has estimated that by 2019, 40% of digital transformation initiatives will use AI services and by 2021, 75% of enterprise applications will use AI."

While Schubmehl said every industry and every organization should be evaluating AI for business process and go-to-market efficiencies, IDC identifies several verticals where the action is the most intense.

In retail, IDC is looking for firms to spend on the order of $3.4 billion on AI solutions, including automated customer service agents, expert shopping advisers and product recommendations.

The banking industry was an early leader, but is passing the torch to retail this year, IDC's forecasts show. That financial sector spending is set to hit about $3.3 billion and has an emphasis on automated threat intelligence and prevention systems, fraud analysis and investigation, program advisers and recommendation systems.

Other high-spending verticals for 2018 include discrete manufacturing ($2 billion) and health care providers ($1.7 billion).

While there's a Wild West aspect to the opportunities, with many potentially high-impact applications still in the planning stages or even unimagined, IDC made some projections for top AI use cases through 2021. On top, by compound annual growth rate project was public safety and emergency response, which IDC assigned a 75 percent CAGR. Rounding out the top five were pharmaceutical research and discovery, expert shopping advisers and product recommendations, intelligent processing automation, and sales process recommendation.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 22, 2018 at 9:21 AM0 comments

Microsoft Raises Bar for Direct CSPs

Microsoft this month is informing partners that requirements and costs to participate in direct billing for Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs) will be increasing, starting this summer, and that revenue requirements are a likely next step in the evolution of the program.

In an e-mail sent to direct CSPs on May 10, Microsoft introduced two new direct-bill requirements that partners must meet before their next enrollment period after Aug. 31. According to the e-mail, which was confirmed as authentic by a Microsoft spokesperson, direct CSPs must now purchase a support plan from Microsoft and demonstrate a few key capabilities.

The support plan options are Microsoft Advanced Support for Partners or Microsoft Premier Support for Partners. The Advanced Support plan will cost U.S. partners $15,000 a year and provides break/fix problem resolution, promised response times of less than an hour for critical issues, and the ability to manage support incidents on a customer's behalf. Premier Support is a more expensive and higher-end offering that is customizable and can cover multiple geographies.

There are also two key capability requirements. One is that partners provide at least one managed service, intellectual property service or customer solution application. The other is that the partner must demonstrate a billing and provisioning infrastructure.

The e-mail also suggested partners should expect CSP-related revenue requirements later. "While there are no specific performance targets associated with these updates, your performance will be considered as a key success component in the future," the e-mail stated. Given that the effective start of the program is Sept. 1, which is partway into Microsoft Fiscal Year 2019, it seems likely that any revenue requirements wouldn't take effect until FY 2020, which begins July 1, 2019.

Microsoft declined to make a partner executive available for an interview. The company did provide an e-mailed statement in which it presented the changes as aligning the CSP direct-bill enrollment requirements with the needs and priorities of customers.

"Cloud enablement services are a critical element of Advanced Support for Partners, making this offering essential to help grow cloud businesses and achieve more active, satisfied customers," the statement said, highlighting a partner-focused element of the lower-tier support package.

Microsoft also presented the rollout of the program as plenty of time for partners to get ready, with partners whose re-enrollment date falls prior to Aug. 31 having 15 months to prepare. "As always, Microsoft provides a long runway to meet any significant changes to requirements which may impact partner status," the statement said.

In its statement, Microsoft also referenced the increased investment and emphasis in the last two years on its network of indirect providers in the CSP program, those partners who sit between Microsoft and about 90 percent of the company's CSP partners, known as indirect resellers. In the United States, there are more than a dozen indirect providers in the CSP program, including Ingram Micro, Tech Data, Synnex, SherWeb, AppRiver and others. Direct CSP partners only make up about 10 percent of CSP partners, company executives have said. "Microsoft's network of indirect CSP partners are also investing in solutions and support to bring additional value to partners worldwide," the Microsoft statement said.

One partner who takes issue with Microsoft's claim that it's providing a long runway is Joel Pippin, president and CEO of Secure Network Administration Inc. in Durham, N.C. A longtime Intermedia and Rackspace partner, Secure Network Administration made the cutover to being a Microsoft CSP enrolled in direct billing about a year ago when Pippin felt the partner program and the Microsoft products had reached sufficient maturity.

Now Pippin fears his renewal will fall right in the earliest wave of the Sept. 1 program, meaning the new requirements will hit his company within about three months.

"As a business owner, I feel cheated. If they were saying, 'We're going to bill you $3,000 or $4,000 a year,' OK. But $15,000? Now Microsoft says pay to play. If they had said pay to play upfront, we would have said we'll stay with Rackspace," Pippin said.

Pippin speculates that Microsoft has calculated the requirement partially in an effort to reduce the number of direct CSPs and herd smaller companies like his into becoming indirect CSPs.

"They're going, 'Ah, we've got too many of these, we've got to weed them out.' They're smart, they probably know exactly where the weed line is in the next couple of years," he said.

For Ric Opal, a vice president at SWC Technology Partners, a large Microsoft partner with a direct billing CSP relationship, the raised requirements and support expenses won't be much more than a blip.

"Unquestionably, customers have to get value from the partner channel. Those two [support agreement] vehicles afford excellent support mechanisms for partners to use if they understand how to amortize that cost over the install base," Opal said. "The intent of the CSP program is to allow partners to be creative with their solutions. I see what they're doing, and it kind of lines up with the intent of the program."

Another group of partners who are unfazed about the immediate set of changes are those who have come to the CSP program from the Dynamics and business applications side, where buying support agreements from Microsoft is a longstanding programmatic requirement.

Julie Lathrop, director of operations at Edgewater Fullscope in Alpharetta, Ga., says that company has maintained support agreements with Microsoft since their partnership started in 2001, and throughout the two years it has acted as a direct CSP. "The changes will not impact us as we already have and use both support offerings with our customers very successfully," Lathrop said in an e-mail interview.

Lathrop says an upside is that any partner involved in the program will have access to Microsoft support beyond the baseline Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) benefit support if an issue arises that the partner can't solve. Indeed, the requirement to spin up a first-line support operation had already been an obstacle to many partners considering enrolling as direct CSPs.

To Lathrop, Premier Support is also an opportunity for direct CSP partners. "Premier was always offered to the larger customers or to customers that could afford it. Many small customers could not take advantage of it and had to take a lower level of support. Now with the partners being able to offer Premier to their customers, the smaller ones can also benefit from the same high quality of support," she said.

She added that Fullscope has built an internal support center and leverages Microsoft to backfill the complex issues: "Our customers expect us to have an outstanding working relationship with Microsoft and, in fact, it is part of our offerings during our sales process. We let our customers know that we can provide them with Tier 1 support and, if necessary, we can escalate it to Microsoft. Great selling point."

Another Microsoft business applications-side partner enrolled as a direct CSP is BroadPoint Technologies in Bethesda, Md.

Andy Gordon, vice president of business development and partnerships at BroadPoint, says the company already maintains an Advanced Support agreement with Microsoft, and is seeing strong gains as a direct CSP partner.

"Through the CSP program, Microsoft has allowed us to be the front line and be the invoicing partner," said Gordon, adding that the company has more than doubled its percentage of recurring revenues by leveraging CSP. "We're slowly but surely turning a corner, and the CSP program has really helped with that."

Given those gains, Gordon says BroadPoint is ready to handle administrative, cost and other back-end changes to the program: "Whatever we have to do, we're on board."

Here's the full text of Microsoft's e-mail to partners:

New CSP direct bill requirements begin August 31, 2018

Digital transformation is evolving the way you and your customers do business. To keep pace and help you make the best decisions for your business, we've updated enrollment requirements for direct bill partners in the Cloud Solution Provider program.

Our goal is to ensure you enjoy steady business growth. While there are no specific performance targets associated with these updates, your performance will be considered as a key success component in the future.

As a valued Microsoft partner, please review and prepare to meet the following direct bill requirements that will go into effect by your next enrollment period after August 31, 2018:

Purchase a Microsoft support plan

To help you meet your customers' specific support needs, we offer two plans:
• Microsoft Advanced Support for Partners provides break/fix problem resolution, response times of less than one hour for critical issues, and the ability to manage support incidents on your customers' behalf.
• Microsoft Premier Support for Partners provides comprehensive support services including prioritized response times, a designated account manager, training programs, and more.

Demonstrate key capabilities
• Provide at least one managed service, IP service, or customer solution application.
• Enable billing and provisioning infrastructure.

If you are unable to meet these new requirements for any reason, you can continue to transact and sell to your customers through an indirect provider in your area.

Here's the full text of Microsoft's e-mailed statement to RCP:

We are updating our Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) direct bill enrollment requirements to ensure our partners are positioned to address the growing customer demand for cloud solutions. Aligning our CSP program to meet the needs and priorities of customers, particularly around cloud usage, enablement, and support, creates more targeted opportunities for partners, and further enables partners to unlock the digital transformation opportunity for customers. Cloud enablement services are a critical element of Advanced Support for Partners, making this offering essential to help grow cloud businesses and achieve more active, satisfied customers. As always, Microsoft provides a long runway to meet any significant changes to requirements which may impact partner status. Microsoft's network of indirect CSP partners are also investing in solutions and support to bring additional value to partners worldwide.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 17, 2018 at 9:58 AM0 comments

Aparavi Aims To Reduce Wasted Cloud Storage, Ease Moves Between Clouds

Aparavi, a startup in the crowded cloud backup space, this week released a solution that the Southern California company's executives believe will appeal to the second-generation of cloud storage users, who have experienced some of the pain points in the cloud and have more sophisticated requirements.

Called Active Archive, the SaaS-based platform's design goals include archiving unstructured data, minimizing storage requirements and promoting independence for customers among cloud platforms with several features designed to smooth migration from one storage cloud to another.

A central motivation behind the Aparavi approach is that backup of unstructured data is growing at rapid rates but that much of that data doesn't actually need to be retained in the public cloud.

"You don't need more backup. You need a niche tool built for the long haul," said Jon Calmes, vice president of business development for the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company.

The platform combines a SaaS-based console and a local appliance built with Aparavi software that organizations use to control backups from their local data source to a cloud target, set back-up and retention policies, and search for backed-up files across clouds. Supported public clouds include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Wasabi and IBM Cloud. The platform also backs up to Caringo, Cloudian and Scality on-premises private cloud platforms.

The company allows for optional local snapshots at the source, called checkpoints, but depends on file-based snapshots on the appliance, which are then backed up to the cloud of the customer's choice. By taking a file-based -- rather than an image-based -- approach, Aparavi can provide tools for users to control their cloud storage environment, Calmes said.

Users are able to classify data and set retention policies to allow certain data to be deleted after a specified amount of time or to tag files as "legal" or "confidential." Tagging data as "personal identity" using that capability can help an organization protect that data to meet the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements.

Organizations can search for data based on metadata, such as creation date or file name, or using full-text content search. A capability Aparavi calls "data pruning" automatically removes data and file increments based on retention policies to help organizations keep cloud backup sizes under control.

Founded in 2016, Aparavi came out of stealth mode in October 2017. One of the features added since a test version released last fall is support for multiple clouds. "Multi-cloud is often a misnomer," Calmes said. "Having the ability to switch at any time without getting pummelled with egress fees is a challenge."

Calmes said customers, or managed service providers (MSPs) working on their behalf, will be able to use Aparavi's capabilities in combination to help with a migration from one public cloud to another. "If you're an MSP using Amazon S3 in Glacier and you want to move to Azure and the archive tier, for example, what Aparavi allows you to do is immediately stop the flow of data into that cloud," Calmes said.

Aparavi expects to work with multiple types of partners, from MSPs to service providers to OEMs to systems integrators, to reach the midmarket and enterprise customers that it expects will find its capabilities most appealing. Calmes said the company will roll out a more detailed partner program later this year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 16, 2018 at 1:47 PM0 comments

Veeam Urges Partners To Go 'All In'

Veeam Software executives urged partners to go "all in" with the backup and availability specialist as the company focuses on a dramatically expanded portfolio of solutions from on-premises agents to public cloud this week at its VeeamOn 2018 conference in Chicago.

"Customers are making the decision to move on from their legacy backup products," said Kevin Rooney, vice president of Americas Partner Sales, in a keynote for the partner general session on Monday. Rooney said the key opportunity is from now through the next 12 to 18 months for Veeam's 55,000 partners, who account for 100 percent of Veeam sales.

Rooney said it's important to understand where those customers are in terms of their legacy providers. "They're looking for the top end of the technology," Rooney said.

Kevin Rooney, Veeam's vice president of Americas Partner Sales, during his Monday keynote. (Source: Veeam)

At VeeamOn, the company is rolling out a new branding to reach a larger total addressable market. The company is moving from its recent tagline of "availability for the always-on enterprise" to "intelligent data management for the hyper-available enterprise."

Co-CEO and President Peter McKay walked partners through a simplified Veeam history in his keynote, saying the company was about virtual machine backup from its founding in 2006, recovery in 2010, availability last year, and hyper-availability now. He defined hyper-availability as the need to protect and make available data that is critical to the business, growing exponentially and sprawling across locations that include physical datacenters, virtual datacenters, public clouds and SaaS applications.

Ratmir Timashev, Veeam's co-founder and senior vice president for marketing and corporate development, said the current battle in the industry is to dominate the multi-cloud, that portion of the sprawling infrastructure that includes providing availability for services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and IBM Cloud. Timashev said the company's acquisition earlier this year of N2WS, an AWS backup and recovery specialist, was a key component of that strategy, and McKay said the company would rely on a mix of of internal development and acquisitions to add coverage of additional cloud platforms and SaaS applications.

Rooney encouraged partners to take advantage of the new cloud and physical workload opportunities within Veeam's platform. "One of the knocks against the Veeam for a while [from competitors] was, 'Hey, they're virtual-only.' That's off the table. The agents we should be selling across the board," Rooney said in reference to new agents for IBM AIX and Oracle Solaris operating systems that Veeam unveiled last November.

Rooney also pointed partners to Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365. "A lot of customers don't realize that Office 365 is not inherently backed up," Rooney said.

During a media breakfast on Tuesday morning, Vice President of Product Strategy Danny Allan detailed Veeam's momentum around the Office 365 product.

"There are 29,000 organizations using backup for Office 365 today. That represents 2.7 million mailboxes," he said. The 1.0 version released last year protected mailboxes. A version 1.5 added multi-tenant capabilities aimed at Veeam Cloud & Service Providers (VCSPs). The company released a beta last week for a 2.0 version with support for OneDrive and SharePoint. That version is targeted for general availability in the second quarter, Allan said.

Those sales are part of a broader growth story for Veeam. Last month, Veeam announced that the first quarter of 2018 was its 39th straight quarter of record bookings growth. The company claimed 21 percent growth year-over-year and said it was on track to become a $1 billion company (by revenues) in 2018. In a graphic shown to partners earlier in the day, Veeam told partners it was a $200 million company in 2012, was on track to hit $1.1 billion in 2018, and was aiming for $1.5 billion in 2020.

Senior executives assured partners that Veeam was in it for the long haul with a 10-year planning horizon and wasn't looking to sell the company or go public.

"What are the reasons for us to sell? We are fast-growing, we have a great market. There is not a single reason. And we don't have venture capitalists. They don't need the exits, they are not pushing us for the exits," Timashev said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 15, 2018 at 10:18 AM0 comments

Top 12 Channel Takeaways from Microsoft Build

Microsoft Build 2018, the company's flagship developer conference, packed a lot of news into a few days. With dozens of announcements, including 70 new capabilities in Azure and more than 100 new features for the Bot Framework, it's impossible to capture even all of the important ones from the Seattle event.

What follows are 12 key takeaways from the three main keynotes last week that highlight important trends and opportunities for Microsoft partners.

1. Microsoft 365 Gets Promoted
It's been clear for a long time that Azure is the key strategic umbrella platform for Microsoft. The question is, how does Microsoft prioritize and organize the rest of its products? At least for Build, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made that clear.

"We're focused on two massive platform opportunities -- one, Microsoft Azure, the other Microsoft 365," Nadella said in his kickoff keynote.

The designation of Microsoft 365 up alongside Azure is a significant elevation or promotion for Microsoft 365, which previously seemed more like a licensing construct rather than an organizing principle for Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility and Security (EMS) Services.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows at Microsoft, expanded on the architectural vision around Microsoft 365 in his Day 2 keynote. "We want Microsoft 365 to embrace multiple devices. We want it to be smart about letting users move from a PC to a phone. We want Microsoft 365 to embrace multi-sense use. We want it to be able to fluidly go from mouse and keyboard to touch to ink. We want to be embracing vision, new ways of working like wearing a VR display, and so a lot of these ideas are not only work that we're doing in the products that we build, but we're also trying to platformize so the code that all of you build will make your organizations more effective in the same kind of way," Belfiore said.

Short version, pay attention to Microsoft 365 as a platform.

Joe Belfiore detailed Microsoft's vision for Microsoft 365 during his Day 2 Build keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

2. Azure is Accelerating
Microsoft's big ambitions for Azure itself are expanding. Nadella laid out Microsoft's grandiose plans rather bluntly.

"Azure is being built as the world's computer," Nadella said.

He marshalled a fair amount of evidence for the assertions around Azure's scale:

  • There are more than 50 regions.
  • The Azure cloud counts 70-plus certifications worldwide.
  • About 70 new Azure capabilities were launched during Build.

Nadella also enumerated all the ways the platform is expanding beyond the core public cloud service: "As computing spreads, as there is need for computing at the edge, we are building out Azure, Azure Stack, Azure IoT Edge and Azure Sphere as this one computing fabric that supports this new application model."

That intelligent edge emerged as an important theme at Build, and Microsoft also spent some time clarifying use cases for Azure Stack, the private cloud version of Azure that a company can run in its own datacenter disconnected from the public cloud. Azure Stack is not just, or even primarily, about organizations that distrust public cloud networks. Instead, Microsoft is positioning Azure Stack as a prime example of the intelligent edge.

"Azure Stack, which is just a year old, is supporting multiple scenarios. For example, Chevron is using it so that they can essentially have Azure in a disconnected way at their oil rigs. A bank in South Africa, ABSA, is using it for their regulatory workloads, as well as using the public cloud, Azure. And then Schlumberger is actually doing distributed computing. So they use the public cloud, as well as Azure Stack, as one fabric to be able to distribute compute so that it's close to where the data is," Nadella said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella enumerated all the ways the Azure platform is expanding beyond the core public cloud service. (Source: Microsoft)

3. Commoditizing AI
Closely linked to Azure is artificial intelligence, and AI was a huge theme at Build.

Nadella reeled off a number of milestones Microsoft had achieved comparing machine performance versus human performance on various tasks, but then put them in a perspective that demonstrated Microsoft's AI philosophy.

"Who cares about breakthroughs we achieve? What matters is can we translate these into frameworks, tools and services, and put them in your hands as developers so that you can take AI and have impact in every industry in every application. That's what's important. We truly are committed to, in some sense, commoditizing AI," Nadella said.

Among the more specific AI announcements during Build week, one significant enhancement was a preview of Project Brainwave, a distributed, real-time AI fabric that currently works with FPGAs from Intel.

4. 200 Million Corporate Users of Windows 10
Belfiore shared Windows 10 deployment momentum numbers that show Microsoft's flagship client OS gaining traction among business users.

"We see Windows 10 deployment really ramping up significantly in commercial accounts. Right now there are over 200 million people in corporate accounts using Windows 10 and we've seen that adoption rate increase now at 79 percent year-over-year growth," Belfiore said.

5. Sweetening the Pot at the Microsoft Store
The Microsoft Store will offer a better deal to development partners creating consumer apps.

Belfiore announced a change in the revenue model within the store for consumer apps.

"If you're somebody who writes consumer apps -- not games, not commercial apps -- you care about the fact that going forward later this year, we will increase the revenue share to 85 percent of the revenue going to you if someone comes to the Microsoft Stores, finds your app and installs it," Belfiore said.

The deal will be even better for partners running their own campaigns or promoting the apps on their own Web sites. "If you send a customer to the Microsoft Store and they find your app, we'll return 95 percent of the revenue to you, making this the most developer-friendly store from an economic point of view of all the large ecosystems," he said.

6. Bring Out the Drones
A big theme at Build was enabling developers to create solutions combining Internet of Things, Azure cloud, AI, cameras and drones.

Sam George, director of Azure IoT engineering and program management at Microsoft, oversaw a keynote demo of a drone visually inspecting pipes for damage.

"For the first time ever, we're able to stream video back from that drone to this laptop running IoT Edge and our AI model, which was developed in the cloud," George said.

Major related news at the show included camera partnerships with Qualcomm, a drone-related partnership with DJI and the revival of Kinect, Microsoft's groundbreaking motion sensor for gaming as an IoT device.

[Click on image for larger view.] Executives from Microsoft and DJI gave a demo of new technology being used in drones. (Source: Microsoft)

7. New Tricks for Cortana
The Microsoft digital assistant Cortana was a star of the show, most visibly in an on-stage demo with Amazon Alexa. The two assistants called upon one another to handle tasks in their specialty areas, with Alexa focusing on home and consumer jobs and Cortana handling work schedules and e-mails.

Tom Taylor, a senior vice president for Amazon Alexa, had one of the best applause lines of the show when he asked Alexa: "What do you think about Cortana?" Alexa replied: "I like Cortana. We both have experience with light rings, although hers is more of a halo."

A significant theme around Cortana was the emergence of the personification of AI as Cortana-based assistance versus being an assistant.

In that vein and around the broader enablement of chats and bots, Nadella said, "At this conference, we're launching 100-plus new features for the Bot Framework so that you can continue to build these conversational interfaces and give them more of the customization. So, for example, you can have a custom wake word, you can give it custom speech, you can even give it custom personality, take some of the FAQs and turn them into Q&A. And then take the corpus of data you have in terms of conversations and use that as label data to have a full dialogue system."

Megan Saunders of Microsoft and Tom Taylor of Amazon demo the limited beta version of Cortana-Alexa integration. (Source: Microsoft)

8. Open Source Love Continues
Microsoft can't get developers together anymore without professing its undying commitment to open source in some way.

This time it took the form of a testimonial from Jason Warner, the senior vice president of technology at GitHub, who took the keynote stage to talk about the scale of Microsoft's efforts on GitHub.

"I think it's amazing to see what Microsoft has done in the past few years," Warner said. "The industry has shifted, and they realize the power of open source. And, in fact, I don't think it's too bold to say that open source now powers modern software development. And Microsoft might be the best example of a corporation embracing open source. We know from statistics that we have in GitHub that Microsoft is the single largest corporate contributor to open source on GitHub, and there by extension, in the history of open source. In fact, Microsoft has the largest open source community in the entire world with Visual Studio Code."

In a slide at the show, Microsoft boasted that in 2016, it was the top open source project contributor on GitHub with 16,419 contributors.

Microsoft also currently says that 40 percent of Azure Virtual Machines run Linux.

9. Expanding the Container Story
Microsoft used Build to disclose a further push into the world of containers, with the announcement of the Azure Kubernetes Service.

"Our new AKS, or Azure Kubernetes Service, provides a fully managed Kubernetes-based orchestration service. It provides built-in auto-patching, auto-scaling and update support, which enables you to take the full-breadth of the Kubernetes ecosystem when you're doing your development," Guthrie said.

10. Partner Azure Co-Sell Program Driving Revenue
An Azure co-sell program that gives Microsoft field sellers special incentives to promote partner solutions with customers is getting traction.

"This program continues to grow beyond expectation, delivering over $2.3 billion in partner revenue to date," said Charlotte Yarkoni, Microsoft's corporate vice president of growth and ecosystem.

The co-sell programs connects startups and other partners to enterprise customers through Microsoft's worldwide salesforce and channel. The program was launched at the Microsoft Inspire partner conference in July. It includes funding from Microsoft to pay its own sales reps up to 10 percent of the partner's annual contract value when they co-sell qualified Azure-based partner solutions.

Charlotte Yarkoni, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Growth and Ecosystem, said at Microsoft Build 2018 that the Azure co-sell program delivered $2.3 billion in partner revenues. (Source: Microsoft)

11. Get To Know the Graph
Alongside the rise of Microsoft 365 comes the rise of an underlying technology called the Microsoft Graph.

Belfiore called the Graph one of the most important things that Build attendees should understand for his Microsoft 365-focused Day 2 keynote.

"I just want you to come into the keynote with one key idea, which is that the Graph is a cloud-backed data store where both you and us can put organizational data in a way that's private an secure to the organization, but in a way that also lets our solutions take advantage of both so that AI can reason against that data, that organizational data, and so that the experiences that both we build and you build can light up and make those end users lives better," Belfiore said.

Many of the announcements and demos during the keynote related to the Graph. Notable ones included Timeline, a technology that lets users scroll back through their history of activities with the ability to click on entries to pick up where they left off. A related concept was Sets, which could also be accessed through the Timeline, but which allow users to bring up  the entire context of a project, such as a Word document with the associated browser tabs that were being used in researching the document.

12. Laying Down a Responsibility Marker
In an era when Facebook executives are testifying before Congress and cable news shows feature constant discussion about technology's role in democratic elections, Nadella laid down a marker on responsibility.

"We...have a responsibility as a tech industry to build trust in technology," Nadella said right at the start of his Build keynote. Echoing recent comments from Microsoft President Brad Smith, Nadella said Microsoft is focused on three core pillars: privacy, cybersecurity and ethical AI.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 14, 2018 at 10:44 AM0 comments

Microsoft Bolsters CSP with Azure Reserved Instances

Microsoft released a new offering through its Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program on Thursday that could help partners create more cost-effective Microsoft Azure solutions for customers willing to pay upfront.

Azure was already available through CSP, which is Microsoft's program allowing partners to resell cloud services and other Microsoft products to customers on a subscription basis. The bulk of Microsoft and partner business in CSP is in Office 365, but Microsoft has been steadily adding other products and services to the mix.

Because pricing of Azure can be high for customers paying on an as-you-go, monthly basis, Microsoft in March unveiled an Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances (RI) option for companies purchasing predictable workloads. Azure RI is a one- or three-year pre-purchase of cloud compute resources, which can be scaled up with an additional payment or scaled down or cancelled with a refund as requirements evolve.

According to Microsoft, the total savings for virtual machines purchased through Azure RI can be as high as 72 percent. In many cases, the single upfront payment yields a lower, but still substantial, discount. In a simple example, according to Microsoft's Azure calculator, a single Ubuntu Linux virtual machine D1 instance would cost $56.21 per month on a pay-as-you-go basis. Paid upfront for a year, the savings would amount to 31 percent, and paid upfront for three years, the savings would come to 56 percent, according to the calculator.

In combination with a Software Assurance benefit called Azure Hybrid Benefits, the savings with Azure RI can top 82 percent in the most optimized scenarios.

Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster on Thursday announced immediate availability of Azure RI through CSP. Schuster also said Windows Server and SQL Server would be coming to CSP later. That will allow cloud partners to provide Azure Hybrid Benefits through CSP, creating a more straightforward licensing scenario or avoiding the need to get another licensing partner involved in the transaction.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 10, 2018 at 12:30 PM0 comments

Azure Co-Sell Program Hits $2.3 Billion in Partner Revenues

An Azure co-sell program launched last July to incentivize Microsoft field sellers to promote partner solutions with customers has generated $2.3 billion in partner revenues so far, a Microsoft executive said.

"This program continues to grow beyond expectation, delivering over $2.3 billion in partner revenue to date," said Charlotte Yarkoni, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Growth and Ecosystem, on Monday during the main keynote for Microsoft Build 2018 in Seattle.

Yarkoni described the co-sell program as connecting both startups and other partners to enterprise customers through Microsoft's worldwide salesforce and channel.

Charlotte Yarkoni, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Growth and Ecosystem, said at Microsoft Build 2018 that the Azure co-sell program delivered $2.3 billion in partner revenues. (Source: Microsoft)

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that Yarkoni was referring to the same program that former Microsoft One Commercial Partner Corporate Vice President Ron Huddleston unveiled in July at the Microsoft Inspire 2017 partner conference. Under that program, Microsoft provides funding to pay its own sales reps up to 10 percent of the partner's annual contract value when they co-sell qualified Azure-based partner solutions.

At the time, Huddleston positioned the program as part of a broader effort to reduce friction between Microsoft sales reps and Microsoft partners in Azure deals.

"We actually piloted this incentive at the end of last year and it created 6 billion, with a "b," dollars of shared pipeline. And we paid our own sales reps on a billion dollars of partner-close co-sold revenue," Huddleston said during his Inspire 2017 keynote. "This year we're taking it big, and that's just one example of what's possible when we tear down barriers and walls and work together."

While Huddleston said the pilot program generated $1 billion during Microsoft's previous fiscal year, the spokesperson said Yarkoni's figure of $2.3 billion came entirely in the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, from July 2017 to March. The new partner revenue figure does not include the fourth quarter, which runs from April through June and is historically Microsoft's biggest period for sales.

Yarkoni on Monday discussed the co-sell program in the context of Microsoft for Startups, a related program announced in February. Under that program, Microsoft is investing $500 million over two years to work with developing companies and help them reach enterprise customers through initiatives such as the Azure co-sell program.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 08, 2018 at 3:09 PM0 comments

What Microsoft Means When It Calls Something a 'Graph'

There's the current Microsoft Graph, the older Office Graph, the LinkedIn Graph and other graphs.

"Graph" is one of those terms that Microsoft has been throwing around for a few years now, but telling one graph from another has never been straightforward.

So what exactly does Microsoft mean by it? Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows at Microsoft, made an effort to break it down Tuesday morning in his Microsoft Build 2018 keynote.

Calling the graph a "key idea," Belfiore stepped back and described it like this for the developer audience at the Seattle show:

"The graph is a cloud-backed data store where both you and us can put organizational data in a way that's private and secure to the organization, but in a way that also lets our solutions take advantage of both. So that AI can reason against that data, that organizational data, and so that the experiences that both we build and you build can light up and make those end users' lives better."

That's not a bad starting point.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 08, 2018 at 3:09 PM0 comments

Microsoft Kinect Gets New Life Beyond Gaming

Microsoft's defunct foray into motion-based gaming technology is back for the "intelligent edge" era.

At his Build 2018 keynote on Monday, CEO Satya Nadella unveiled a fourth-generation version of Microsoft's discontinued Kinect motion-sensing device, which the company is repurposing with more advanced technologies for artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Azure and edge computing.

Project Kinect for Azure is a package of sensors anchored by a next-generation depth camera that also includes on-board processors. An availability timeframe for the sensor package was unclear, with Microsoft saying more details would be coming over the next few months.

"This Project Kinect for Azure is going to have some of the best spatial understanding, skeletal tracking, object recognition, and package some of the most powerful sensors together with the least amount of...noise and also have ultra-wide field of view," Nadella said in his keynote.

Kinect was originally launched with Xbox 360 in 2010 with the idea of creating a new category of games that would be controlled strictly by players' motions. The technology did inspire a few titles, but didn't take off as a runaway category. Microsoft released a PC version later that could be used both for gaming and for potential business applications. The company released updated versions of Kinect for Xbox One and for PC before discontinuing all versions of the product last year.

Nadella said Microsoft was inspired by partners' business applications with the PC versions in medical, industrial, robotics and education applications, and he suggested that subsequent technological progress make it the right time for another run at the technology.

"Since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to the foundational technologies, in HoloLens," Nadella said in reference to Microsoft's augmented reality headset, which the company describes as a holographic computer. "We're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure. This set of sensors we expect to be fully integrated into many different applications both on the consumer side, as well as the industrial side."

Alex Kipman, technical fellow for AI Perception and Mixed Reality, and the public face of Microsoft's HoloLens efforts, called the forthcoming version of Kinect "a key advance in the evolution of the intelligent edge; the ability for devices to perceive the people, places and things around them."

In a LinkedIn post Monday, Kipman provided details about the depth sensor that will be part of Project Kinect for Azure and that also will be included in the next generation of HoloLens. Features include 1024x1024 pixel resolution, low power consumption, the ability to cleanly capture near and far objects, and a shutter that improves performance in sunlight.

Kipman also called Project Kinect for Azure a fourth generation of the technology because, in addition to the first-generation Xbox 360 and second-generation PC versions, Kipman said the third generation of the underlying technology helped power the first HoloLens product.

"With Project Kinect for Azure, the fourth generation of Kinect now integrates with our intelligent cloud and intelligent edge platform, extending that same innovation opportunity to our developer community," Kipman said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 07, 2018 at 3:10 PM0 comments

Microsoft Gives Overdue Demo of Cortana-Alexa Integration

Cortana and Alexa shared the stage on Monday during the Build 2018 keynote, five months after their respective proprietors announced a joint plan to integrate the two.

Alexa (Amazon's assistant whose main platform is Echo devices) and Cortana (Microsoft's intelligent assistant that operates primarily from Windows 10) were featured calling upon one another's services during the keynote.

It was an integration that Microsoft and Amazon had originally promised to deliver by the end of 2017. That deadline came and went with no timeline updates from either company.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced the demo on Monday during his keynote by stressing how important it is for personal digital assistants to communicate.

"We want to make it possible for our customers to be able to get the most of that personal digital assistant, not be bound to some single walled garden, and for developers to have access to the maximum number of users," Nadella said. "We've been working with our friends across the lake at Amazon to really bring Alexa and Cortana together to benefit every user and every developer out there."

Megan Saunders of Microsoft and Tom Taylor of Amazon demo the limited beta version of Cortana-Alexa integration. (Source: Microsoft)

For the demo, Megan Saunders, a general manager on the Microsoft Cortana team, and Tom Taylor, a senior vice president for Amazon Alexa, went to opposite ends of the stage to interact with each other's environments.

Saunders pretending to be in her kitchen with an Amazon Echo, first asked Alexa to add milk to her shopping list, then made the key request of the tube-shaped speaker appliance: "Alexa, open Cortana." After a pause, Cortana's voice asserted: "Cortana here, how can I help?" From there, Saunders got her appointments for the day, including a dinner with Amazon's Taylor to celebrate the demo, and used voice commands to send Taylor an e-mail that she'd see him tonight.

Taylor, pretending to be in his office working on a Windows 10 laptop, read the e-mail from Saunders, and first asked Cortana to show him the location of the restaurant where he was meeting Saunders. Then, he said the key phrase from the other side: "Hey, Cortana, open Alexa." Soon, the PC was saying, "Hi there, this is Alexa, how can I help?" He then asked Alexa to get him an Uber to the restaurant, and got Alexa to turn off a lamp on his desk.

For a laugh line, Taylor closed by asking Alexa, "What do you think about Cortana?" The response: "I like Cortana. We both have experience with light rings. Although hers is more of a halo."

The integration is currently in a limited beta. Microsoft created a Web site for users who want to be notified when the integration is live here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 07, 2018 at 3:10 PM0 comments

Kaseya Merges with Unitrends

Kaseya, a vendor of managed service provider (MSP) and midmarket enterprise tools, merged with backup specialist Unitrends on Thursday.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but both companies are part of the Insight Venture Partners portfolio. Insight made what it described as a "significant investment" in Kaseya in June 2013 and a "major growth equity investment" in Unitrends in October 2013.

Kaseya's MSP products include VSA, a remote monitoring and management platform; BMS for professional services automation; AuthAnvil, an identity and access management tool; Traverse, which provides performance monitoring; 365 Command for administering Microsoft online services; and Unigma for cloud management and optimization.

Unitrends' product lineup includes backup appliances, backup software, cloud backup, business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) and disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS).

The deal comes on the heels of an OEM relationship between Kaseya and Unitrends MSP for an offering called Kaseya Unified Backup.

"Over a year ago, we embarked on a journey to provide our customers with the best BCDR solution for their needs," said Fred Voccola, CEO of Kaseya, in a statement. "After working with Unitrends to launch the Kaseya Unified Backup offering to our MSP customers, as well as introducing the core Unitrends product to our enterprise customer base, we witnessed the explosive adoption of these solutions and decided that it just made sense to further our relationship and to bring our two companies together."

Unitrends and Kaseya will continue to operate under their respective brands.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 03, 2018 at 2:03 PM0 comments

Nadella Touts Rapid Rise of Microsoft's Cosmos DB

Just a year after launching Cosmos DB as an Azure service at the 2017 Build developer conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says it's the fastest-scaling database he's ever seen.

"In less than a year, Azure Cosmos DB, the first globally distributed [and] multi-model database, exceeded $100 million in annualized revenue," said the Microsoft CEO during the company's Q3 earnings call last week.

While annualized revenue doesn't mean Microsoft has pulled down $100 million on Cosmos DB yet, it does mean that it's recently ramped up to a pace of more than $8.3 million a month.

"I've been around databases for a long time. I've never seen a product that's gotten to this kind of scale this quickly," Nadella said, according to the Seeking Alpha transcript of the call.

Replacing Microsoft's previous NoSQL offering DocumentDB, and competitive against Amazon Web Services (AWS) DynamoDB and Google Spanner, Cosmos DB boasts several key selling points.

As a base service of every Azure datacenter and region, Cosmos DB is globally available and allows developers to click on a map to add or delete geographic regions even while their Cosmos DB-based applications are running. That worldwide distribution allows for both massive scale and minimal latency for users anywhere.

Cosmos DB includes support for multiple data models, including document, graph, key-value, table and column-family, and has APIs for SQL, MongoDB, Cassandra, Gremlin and Table.

Microsoft also stands behind Cosmos DB with guarantees, including a four-nines uptime service-level agreement, end-to-end latency times in the low millisecond range and zero-data loss in the case of regional failures.

During the investor call, Nadella positioned Cosmos DB as a potential cornerstone of future data projects on Azure, especially as artificial intelligence efforts drive demand for more and more data. "This AI era is mostly first a data era. And that's where I think the opportunity lies," Nadella said. "Cosmos DB happens to be one of the best database products to be able to capture the signals that you want around your customers from a variety of different sources."

How many customers would be required to drive more than $100 million in annualized revenue is not clear. From the earliest discussions at Build last year, it was evident that even a few customers can drive massive data volumes. At that show, Microsoft Executive Vice President of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie said early adopters, including, were already using Cosmos DB to the tune of 100 trillion transactions per day.

Andrew Brust, founder and CEO of Blue Badge Insights and a co-chair of the 1105 Media Visual Studio Live! conference series, is seeing broad interest in Cosmos DB in the database community.

"My own observation of Microsoft tech influencers who have years -- or decades -- of experience with conventional database technology like SQL Server (and therefore Azure SQL Database), is that they are kicking the tires on Cosmos DB and still working to understand how its pricing will work for them in production," Brust said in an e-mail interview.

"The use case for massive, global-scale Web properties employing a database like Cosmos DB is pretty clear. For the long tail of enterprise applications with smaller, less concurrent and less geographically dispersed user bases, the adoption of Cosmos DB is more disruptive and less straightforward," Brust said. "This will likely get better with time, and the pricing models for Cosmos DB will likely become more compelling and more easily understood, too. Amazon's DynamoDB has been out for many years and is explicitly integrated with a number of other AWS services so, clearly, Cosmos DB isn't on a level playing field with it yet. This, too, will change over time."

Brust says a key point to remember about Cosmos DB is that it's based on the same technology Microsoft has used for its own cloud services for years.

"The company's skin is in the proverbial game, with very high stakes. If it's worked for them, it's going to work really well for their customers. What's left is more fit and finish on pricing, marketing and rationalizing the service with other components in the Azure data and analytics stack," Brust said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 30, 2018 at 10:39 AM0 comments