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Microsoft Seeks To Frame Global Technology Policy Debate

Satya Nadella and Brad Smith kicked off a Microsoft campaign to shape the global debate on technology policy with a joint keynote in Dublin, Ireland, Monday morning and the release of a policy book containing 78 specific recommendations.

At a base level, Microsoft's interest in the global policy debate around the future of the cloud has to do with protecting its multibillion-dollar investment in a public cloud infrastructure and trying to maximize the opportunity for those datacenters to store and serve data and computing power to customers in as many countries as possible.

Nadella made a higher-minded case for the company's involvement in his speech. "With any new technology like the cloud, one of the profound things that happens is change, and rapid change and disruptive change. And so it is incumbent on companies like Microsoft and the broader tech community and governments to have that dialogue where we look at this new technology and ask ourselves the question: 'Is this technology truly going to benefit everyone on the planet? Is this technology that is helping to solve some of the pressing issues, whether they be in education or in health care?'" said Nadella, Microsoft's CEO since 2014, whose main slogan during his tenure has been "cloud-first, mobile-first."

On stage, Nadella held up Microsoft's contribution to that discussion in the form of a book called "A Cloud for Global Good," which Microsoft posted online Monday morning. "That is a concrete step that we are taking to propose a set of ideas, a set of policy considerations, for broader discussion so that we can come up with ways that these disruptive technologies can help global growth in a way that is more trusted, more responsible and more inclusive," he said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella holding a copy of "A Cloud for Global Good" during Monday's presentation.

The first chapter of Microsoft's book sets up the positive and negative futures the cloud could enable:

The potential is so vast that some are already calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The benefits could be enormous. It's now possible to imagine a not-too-distant future in which poverty has all but been eliminated, diseases that have plagued mankind for millennia have been eradicated, a solution for climate change has been found, and new forms of communication and collaboration have unleashed creativity and innovation on an epic scale.

But it's also possible to look at the same technological revolution and wonder if we may be headed toward a darker future in which robots and automation drive millions of people out of the workforce, income inequality becomes an unbridgeable chasm, public safety is constantly under siege, and privacy is undermined by intrusive surveillance and the uncontrolled collection of personal information.

Microsoft's recommendations fall into 15 categories: personal privacy, government access to data, cross-border data flows, secure and reliable cloud services, international cybersecurity norms, modern cybercrime prevention, balancing human rights and public safety, technology fraud and online exploitation, environmental sustainability, artificial intelligence, affordable and ubiquitous access, digital literacy, developing next-generation skills, including people with disabilities, and supporting businesses of every size.

Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, has taken the lead for Microsoft in advocating for cross-border flows of data, for individual rights to data access and for limitations on state surveillance powers.

"It's about ensuring that the kinds of traditional protections that we've all had, not just for years but for centuries, for information that was stored on paper, actually persists for information that is stored in the cloud," Smith said during his keynote.

Also on Monday, Microsoft announced that it had spent $3 billion in Europe alone on its public cloud datacenter buildout and that it would be opening datacenters in France in 2017.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 03, 2016 at 12:23 PM0 comments


Microsoft Azure Footprint Approaching 3 Dozen Regions

Microsoft this week at its Ignite show in Atlanta unveiled several new regions for the Azure public cloud, opening its first two regions in privacy-conscious Germany and pinpointing plans for four more regions around the world.

Microsoft Azure is the second-largest global public cloud by customer revenues, according to independent analyst estimates, and Microsoft now claims an Azure presence in twice as many regions as the public cloud market-leading Amazon Web Services (AWS).

"Over the last several years we've been hard at work expanding it to run literally all over the world," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, in an Ignite keynote Monday. "We now have 34 unique Azure regions around the world."

Guthrie described Azure regions as clusters of multiple datacenters that are geographically close to customers to allow them to access data and computing power faster.

[Click on image for larger view.] Guthrie's keynote included this slide showing Microsoft's Azure regions worldwide.

The list includes 30 generally available regions, including a pair that just opened in Germany, where Microsoft previously didn't have a presence.

"The Microsoft Cloud is also the only [global] cloud vendor licensed to operate legally in China, and the only to offer full data sovereignty in Germany, using our data trustee model," Guthrie said.

To meet German data sovereignty requirements, data in the new regions in Frankfurt and Magdeburg will be under the control of T-Systems, a Deutsche Telekom company acting as the German data trustee. Those new datacenters bring Microsoft's European Azure region list to six, joining Ireland, the Netherlands, Cardiff and London.

Guthrie's total of 34 also includes four regions that are in the development stage but are not yet online. Those are a U.S. Department of Defense East and a U.S. Department of Defense West, as well as two regions in South Korea.

Amazon categorizes its public cloud AWS infrastructure differently and, like Microsoft, positions its datacenter coverage in a light favorable to the physical investments the company has made. While it currently lists 13 regions worldwide with four more in the works, Amazon can make a case that the 35 entities within those regions that it calls availability zones are similar in some ways to what Microsoft calls regions. Although Azure currently has a regional presence in 12 countries, AWS is close behind in 10. Both Microsoft and Amazon detail the global scope of their datacenter infrastructure here for Azure and here for AWS.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 27, 2016 at 3:13 PM0 comments


Dell Unveils 2 New Mobile Thin Clients

Dell on Thursday unveiled a refreshed line of mobile thin clients based on the Latitude family of laptops.

The Dell Latitude E7270 and the Dell Latitude 3460 will both be available on Oct. 4. While these new clamshell-based devices are mobile thin clients, the bulk of thin client demand is expected to continue to be for desktop devices, said Dan O'Farrell, senior director of product marketing for Dell Cloud Client-Computing.

"[We have] a lot of flavors of thin clients or what we call zero clients. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for organizations to furnish the right devices," O'Farrell said. Industries in which mobile thin clients tend to be especially appropriate include finance, health care, government, manufacturing and the energy and exploration sector, he said.

The Dell Latitude E7270 is a "corridor warrior" mobile thin client powerful enough for local use of CAD/CAM applications.

The E7270 is the higher-end of the two devices, with enough horsepower to handle local rendering for CAD/CAM applications, while still portable enough with a 12.5-inch screen and a weight of 2.77 pounds. O'Farrell described the device as appropriate for a "corridor warrior," someone who roams to different work areas inside an office complex rather than necessarily leaving the premises with the device.

The Dell Latitude 3460 is one of two new mobile thin clients from Dell that will be available Oct. 4.

The Latitude 3460 is designed for knowledge workers with use cases where it's important for regulatory or legal reasons that the data accessed on the device be locked down, he said.

Both devices will ship with Windows Embedded Standard 7 64-bit. Although Microsoft offers a Windows 10-generation operating system for thin clients, O'Farrell said the Windows 7 version is "the sweet spot for companies right now."

The mobile thin clients are deployable and manageable with Dell's Wyse Device Manager or with Microsoft System Configuration Manager. Dell is also offering Dell Data Protection | Threat Defense as an option for advanced threat protection of the mobile thin clients.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 22, 2016 at 9:30 AM0 comments


StorageCraft Adds Intelligence to Backup with Gillware Buy

StorageCraft Technology Corp. is bolstering its business continuity platform with technology from a company in the Upper Midwest that prioritizes which data gets backed up.

"This is all about being smarter -- don't just store everything over and over again," said StorageCraft CTO Scott Barnes of the company's acquisition this week of Gillware Online Backup. With the deal, StorageCraft gets Gillware's file backup solution, its data analytics tool for determining what data to back up, a rules engine for prioritizing backups and about 15 employees.

The company's founder and president, Wes Gill, will continue operations in Madison, Wis., as Gillware Data Recovery, which specializes in recovering data from mechanically failed storage devices and counts Western Digital and Dell among its major clients. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, StorageCraft CEO Matt Medeiros said in a statement that funding came entirely from recent growth in operating cash flow rather than debt.

Barnes said the Gillware file backup technology may be worked into hybrid backup and recovery solutions along with StorageCraft's flagship image-based solutions, but that the deal was mostly about the analytics and the rules engine.

"Analytics is something that we didn't have. For us, image was everything," Barnes said. "Our new tagline is, 'Not all data is equal and therefore you shouldn't treat it as equal.'"

Current trends like BYOD make prioritizing backup more important than it used to be, said David McConkie, senior director of product management at StorageCraft. "You don't want to give the QuickBooks database file the same level of backup as the picture of the neighbor's dog," he said.

Gillware's tools and rules engine will help StorageCraft focus on three things -- speed of recovery, mitigating liability to a business and better understanding of the total cost of ownership, McConkie said.

Gillware, which has a partner network of its own, had been a StorageCraft provider and reseller. StorageCraft partners have access to Gillware's products through the Gillware portal immediately, and the products will be part of StorageCraft's partner portal in November.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 21, 2016 at 12:53 PM0 comments


Tech Data To Acquire Avnet Technology Solutions

With its $2.6 billion acquisition of the Technology Solutions portion of Avnet Inc., Tech Data Corp. would bolster its datacenter business and gain a toehold in the Asia-Pacific region.

The blockbuster distribution deal, announced Monday and involving a mix of $2.4 billion in cash and 2.785 million shares of Tech Data common stock, is expected to close in the first half of 2017.

From a revenue standpoint, the deal would make Tech Data about a third larger. Pro forma revenues for the 12 months leading up to July 31 would have been $35 billion for the combined company rather than Tech Data's $26 billion.

Avnet Technology Solutions (ATS) is a much smaller operation with about 40 vendors and 20,000 customers compared to Tech Data's 600 vendors and 105,000 customers. But ATS' focus on converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and other next-generation datacenter technology is a big part of what Tech Data found attractive.

According to the companies, in the year leading up to July 31, "revenue attributable to complex, higher-margin datacenter offerings" would have accounted for 45 percent of total revenue for the combined companies, compared with 29 percent for Tech Data alone. Operating income would have more than doubled over the same period, on a pro forma, non-GAAP basis while accounting for some expected cost savings, the companies said.

The move also gives Tech Data some presence in the Asia-Pacific region where it doesn't currently compete. The company would go from having operations in 21 countries today to 35 countries upon close. Tech Data's current revenue mix is 61 percent in Europe and 39 percent in North America. With ATS included, the mix would be 53 percent in Europe, 44 percent in North America and 3 percent in Asia/Pacific.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 19, 2016 at 9:27 AM0 comments


Dell-EMC Channel Integration To Come in 2017

The long process of integrating the Dell and EMC partner programs will begin in earnest next year.

Dell on Wednesday announced completion of its acquisition of EMC Corp., creating a $74 billion, 140,000-employee giant called Dell Technologies that the company says is the world's largest privately controlled tech company. Businesses within Dell Technologies include Dell, Dell EMC (another new brand as of Wednesday), Pivotal, RSA, SecureWorks, Virtustream and VMware.

The way the new company will be structured means the biggest immediate impact will be on Dell and EMC partners.

Some of Dell's existing business will move into a Client Solutions Group with products retaining the Dell brand. Servers, storage and some other Dell products will merge with EMC into the new Dell EMC brand under an Infrastructure Solutions Group, headed by President David Goulden, a longtime EMC executive who has been CEO of EMC Information Infrastructure since 2014. Goulden's group will also include Virtustream and RSA, according to a slide shown during a press and analyst call Wednesday.

The services business from Dell and EMC is now also its own business unit, under President Howard Elias, a former EMC executive who led the transition from the EMC side.

Several of Dell Technologies' other companies will stand alone as business units, including VMware, Pivotal and SecureWorks.

As of now, things will stay the same for Dell and EMC partners. "There will be no changes to our partner programs. Upsell and cross-sell opportunities will be identified after the close. Two separate deal registration programs will remain in place (with a deal desk to ensure only one partner holds registration)," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail exchange.

Although Dell and EMC are being split across business units, the vision for 2017 involves combining the partner programs. "We also plan to provide one unified partner program with a centralized channel structure, one approach to deal registration, and robust incentives on incremental and net new accounts. Our intent is to create the best possible program for our alliance and channel partners so they can be successful in servicing their customers," the spokesperson said. "This future business partner program will bring together the best elements of the Dell PartnerDirect Program and EMC's Business Partner Program. "

For other Dell Technologies companies, including the two now in the Infrastructure Solutions Group, it wasn't clear if changes would be coming to their partner programs related to the merger.

Comments during the call by Dell Technologies Chairman and CEO Michael Dell seemed to indicate that partners of those businesses shouldn't expect major near-term changes.

"The rest of our family, Pivotal, RSA, SecureWorks, Virtustream and VMware will continue to keep their independence and retain their freedom to develop their own ecosystems. That's part of our commitment to providing openness and customer choice, foundational principles at Dell Technologies, and, I believe, of any successful technology company," Dell said.

A spokesperson for VMware echoed those points and indicated that Dell Technologies-driven changes to the VMware channel program weren't on the horizon.

"A key to VMware's success is the open ecosystem that it has carefully cultivated over the last decade and a half. Dell Technologies recognizes that VMware thrives on its vibrant ecosystem of partner networks including OEM partners, systems integrators, solution providers, resellers and customers. Dell Technologies intends to support VMware's continuing success as an independent company. Dell Technologies will support VMware's open ecosystem and not place any limitations on its ability to partner," the spokesperson said via e-mail.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 07, 2016 at 11:06 AM0 comments


VMware Making Workstation, Fusion Upgrade Free

When VMware ships its new generation of desktop virtualization software next week, the upgrade will be free for many existing customers.

VMware plans a half-step incremental release of VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro, which run on Mac computers, and Workstation Player and Workstation Pro, which run on Windows and Linux. The main enhancement of the version 8.5 release of the Fusion line and the 12.5 releases for Workstation is the addition of support for Windows 10 Anniversary Edition and Windows Server 2016 within virtual machines.

"We hear from our users year on year that having to pay for something as small as a minor operating system release gets a little long in the tooth year after year," said Michael Roy, VMware's product line marketing manager for Fusion, Workstation and Horizon Flex, in a telephone interview from the VMworld conference in Las Vegas this week.

The free upgrade compares to current 8.0/12.0 upgrade costs of $50 for Fusion, $80 for Fusion Pro and Workstation Player, and $150 for Workstation Pro.

VMware is also extending the upgrade offer back further than the two releases that upgrade pricing normally permits, Roy said. The free upgrade will be available for users with Fusion 4 or later and Workstation 7 or later.

Part of the reason for saving customers an upgrade fee in this release cycle is that VMware is working on a future dot-zero release with significantly more changes, Roy said.

Nonetheless, Fusion users will see more than just new Windows version support in 8.5. This version of Fusion now supports tabbed virtual machine windows and Siri integration.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 31, 2016 at 11:31 AM0 comments


D&H Ramps Up Credit to SMB Resellers

SMB-focused distributor D&H Distributing is expanding the amount of credit it offers to resellers by nearly 50 percent, the Harrisburg, Pa.-based company said Monday.

The expansion applies to D&H's Business Assurance program, which combines funding from D&H's vendor partners. The credit expansion applies to nearly 850 reseller customers, who have good credit standing with D&H and show growth potential. The credit lines can go up from $2,500 to $100,000, with typical increases of about $25,000 per reseller, the company said.

In total, the increase in available credit is close to $23 million.

The credits come in addition to a separate Incentive Rewards program, in which resellers earn points for purchases that they can exchange for Visa gift cards, travel certificates, golfing equipment and other items. Purchases made through the credit programs can count toward the incentive points.

D&H executives hope the program will boost overall business in the SMB channel, which they view as an underserved market. In a statement, Tony Warfield, senior director of credit services at D&H, said, "Many programs in the marketplace don't necessarily focus on resellers in the SMB space, and instead direct credit toward larger accounts."

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 29, 2016 at 1:02 PM0 comments


Follow Microsoft IT to Mostly Wireless Networking?

Over the next two years, the Microsoft IT department plans to convert more than two-thirds of Microsoft sites to completely wireless networking.

"In the grand scheme of things, we'll be cutting over 90 percent of our end-user network infrastructure," said David Lef, principal network architect at Microsoft IT, in a blog Q&A this month.

Lef is participating in a series of posts about the broader transition of Microsoft's internal network, which supports 220,000 employees and vendors, 886 sites, 2,500 apps and processes, and 1.2 million devices. The whole series is worth a read. You can find the first and second installments here and here.

But the wireless transition is interesting as a partner opportunity. If a company with the scale and high-level demands of Microsoft can trust wireless networking for the bulk of its infrastructure, a lot of smaller companies with less-demanding environments might feel more comfortable about cutting their cables.

For a company like Microsoft, which is always trying to create technology markets, showing the way toward a business goal is always part of the internal motivation for IT projects. That's the case here, as Lef said. "It's driven primarily from the high-level goal of cloud first, mobile first."

But it's been bottom-up, too. Microsoft employees have voted with their network connections that they want the flexibility of wireless. "Traffic and use analysis showed that the wireless network was very quickly becoming our main network infrastructure, from a user's perspective," Lef said, adding, "At many of our information worker sites, wired port utilization is less than 10 percent. If you average it out across all of our user sites, it's closer to 30 percent, but when you do the math, it still ends up being a lot of investment in network infrastructure that simply isn't necessary."

Lef expects a wireless-first, rather than wired-first, network will save money on upgrades, additions to the networking environment, equipment and maintenance.

Plenty of challenges remain. For one thing, Microsoft IT will finish rolling out 802.11ac across the company before removing any wired infrastructure. Some desktop PCs need wireless adapters. There are all the usual device and driver issues. Ensuring adequate bandwidth is a constant concern, especially with bring-your-own-device and the Internet of Things.

Challenges aside, the pilot stage is complete. Some 200 sites, including datacenters and engineering centers, will keep their wires and networking hardware. But for 660 sites worldwide, Microsoft will spend the next two years ensuring wireless readiness and then weaning them off their cables.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 25, 2016 at 11:07 AM0 comments


Microsoft Embraces LinuxCon

The détente between Microsoft and the open source community seemed to reach a new level this week at LinuxCon North America in Toronto.

The list of the show's sponsors itself (see below) seemed an inversion of the old order, with Microsoft in the top Diamond tier while more traditional Linux heavyweights Red Hat and SUSE occupied the next tier down.

The speaker list was thick with Microsoft executives. Wim Coekaerts, Microsoft's new corporate vice president of Enterprise Open Source, gave a major keynote about Microsoft's evolving approach to Linux and open source. Technical Fellow Jeffrey Snover talked about PowerShell, which Microsoft last week released in an open source version and became available for Linux and Mac. Rob Dolin, whose titles include "Technical Diplomat" for Microsoft, took the stage with an IBM colleague to discuss an Open Container Initiative (OCI) certification program. Ross Gardler, who works on the Azure Container Service in Microsoft's Linux Compute Team, held a session on the next generation of containers. The list of Microsoft speakers goes on.

A graphic from Jeffrey Snover's LinuxCon presentation offers a "PowerShell loves Linux" twist on the "Microsoft loves Linux" graphics Microsoft has displayed recently.

The ultimate symbol at this show was a brief embrace between Coekaerts and Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst as the two passed each other on stage in the interval between their back-to-back keynotes.

"It was cool to be with Jim Whitehurst on stage. Microsoft and Red Hat together; that's a big difference from many years ago," said Coekaerts, who came to Microsoft after a long stint running open source engineering at Oracle, later in his keynote.

The "many years" portion of that quote is critical, as Microsoft has been generating "turning the industry on its head" reactions for some time now.

Coekaerts put up a slide during his keynote showing the journey. Highlights included:

  • July 2009: Contributed 20,000 lines of code to Linux kernel
  • April 2013: Launched Azure Virtual Machines running Ubuntu on Day 1
  • October 2014: Announced that Docker would be fully supported in Windows Server
  • November 2014: Announced .NET for Linux
  • April 2015: Unveiled Visual Studio for Linux and OS X
  • May 2015: Introduced PowerShell DSC for Linux at Ignite Conference
  • September 2015: Launched HDInsight on Ubuntu at AzureCon
  • November 2015: Announced Red Hat and Microsoft partnership
  • March 2016: Announced SQL Server on Linux at Data Driven
  • August 2016: Announced PowerShell for Linux

As Coekaerts' list shows, Microsoft's embrace of open source isn't new, but has certainly grown tighter since late 2014. Some skeptics remain concerned about whether this embrace represents a genuinely new attitude or a variation on the old embrace, extend and extinguish.

Coekaerts is busy making the case for his new employer. "Over the past few months I've been asked more times than I can count, 'Wim, why did you join Microsoft?'" he wrote in a blog post timed to LinuxCon this week. "As a Linux guy who has watched the company from afar, I am the first to admit that Microsoft hasn't always been the most open company. After talking to some of the executives at the company, I found that the days of a closed Microsoft are over."

RCP will be doing a deeper dive on open source and the Microsoft partner community in the next print issue. Drop me a line at sbekker@rcpmag.com and let me know how the mixture of Microsoft and open source is playing out in your business.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 24, 2016 at 12:50 PM0 comments


With Genee Buy, Microsoft Gives Cortana a Little Sibling

A virtual assistant tuned for scheduling meetings through natural language in e-mail, SMS, Twitter or chat is the latest tuck-in acquisition by Microsoft as it continues to advance its Office 365 cloud productivity platform.

Microsoft on Monday announced a signed agreement to acquire Genee for an undisclosed sum. The San Francisco-area startup was founded in 2014 and had raised $1.45 million in first-round funding last August. Founders Ben Cheung and Charles Lee will join Microsoft.

The Genee bot joins Cortana, Microsoft's flagship personal assistant technology, which is becoming more and more of a platform as AI and chat-based technology get increasing focus from Microsoft.

Still in beta, according to the company Web site, Genee's main use case is an e-mail to set up a meeting. Addressing an e-mail to the person or people the user wants to meet with, the user would cc genee@genee.me as if Genee were a live personal assistant. Sample text, according to an example message on the Genee site, might be, "Hi Adam -- looking forward to launching the marketing initiative next week. Genee, please find availability to meet for 60 minutes any day next week in the afternoon."

From there, Genee takes the natural language request and compares calendars it has access to and sends links of available times to those whose calendars Genee can't view.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Rajesh Jha described it as especially useful for scheduling meetings among large groups and in cases where you don't have access to someone's calendar.

The Genee service will shut down on Sept. 1, according to a blog post Monday by the Genee co-founders. Details about when the Genee service will spin up as part of Office 365 or under a Microsoft brand weren't immediately available.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 22, 2016 at 10:08 AM0 comments


Cisco To Lay Off 5,500

Cisco plans to eliminate about 7 percent of its global workforce in order to increase its focus on security, Internet of Things (IoT), collaboration, next-generation datacenter and cloud.

The networking giant announced the cuts as part of its first quarter earnings report on Wednesday evening. The restructuring to eliminate up to 5,500 positions will begin during the current financial quarter.

Discussing the restructuring during an earnings call, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins described the past year as a "challenging environment" in which Cisco "executed extremely well." Cisco reported a 3 percent revenue gain for the year to $48.7 billion and an 8 percent non-GAAP earnings-per-share increase to $2.36.

"Today's market requires Cisco and our customers to be decisive, move with greater speed and drive more innovation than we've seen in our history. Today we announced a restructuring enabling us to optimize our cost base and lower growth areas of our portfolio and further invest in key priority areas, such as security, IoT, collaboration, next-generation datacenter and cloud," Robbins said on the earnings call. "We expect to reinvest substantially all of the cost savings from these actions back into the businesses and we'll continue to aggressively invest to focus on our areas of future growth."

Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kramer said the restructuring will result in pretax charges of $700 million, of which $325 million to $400 million will be recognized in the first quarter of the fiscal year and the rest hitting during the rest of the year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 18, 2016 at 11:35 AM0 comments