Investors weren't thrilled with Microsoft's second quarter financial results, but several partner observers mostly shrugged off the negative parts and applauded Microsoft's performance in strategic areas.
"An initial look at the numbers indicates the [failure to meet analyst expectations] was a miss on the personal computing side, though growth still looks to be strong in the productivity cloud and infrastructure cloud offerings," said Mark Sami, vice president of Microsoft and Cloud Solutions at SPR, a Chicago-based Microsoft managed partner specializing in digital transformation projects.
Of the market reaction that pushed MSFT down by 3% in after-hours trading and continued to trade lower on Thursday, Sami said, "This seems to be an overreaction, as the miss on the desktop side is minimal and many Microsoft users will have to upgrade their Windows 7 environments that will be out of support after this year. This is going to drive a lot of revenue to this sector of the business as well as potentially boost the productivity cloud numbers because of the new way licenses are packaged."
Microsoft on Wednesday reported revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 31 was $32.47 billion, a gain of 12% over the year-ago-period, and below analyst expectations of $32.51 billion. Diluted earnings per share were slightly higher than what Wall Street expected, coming in at $1.10 non-GAAP against predictions of $1.09.
Surprisingly strong quarterly performances by Apple and Facebook seems to have made Microsoft look worse to the market by comparison.
Among Microsoft's three overarching business segments, growth was strongest in Intelligent Cloud, followed by Productivity and Business Processes with More Personal Computing bringing up the rear. Intelligent Cloud revenues rose 20% in the quarter to $9.4 billion. Productivity and Business Processes was up 13% to $10.1 billion, and More Personal Computing delivered single digit growth of 7% to $13 billion.
In a statement, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood drew attention to revenue growth in Microsoft's commercial cloud category, which crosses boundaries between the business segments. "Our solid execution delivered another strong quarter, with commercial cloud revenue growing 48% year-over-year to $9.0 billion," Hood said.
In a quarter when some infrastructure players like Intel have struggled, Microsoft's best data point came in its Azure line of cloud infrastructure products. The Azure business, which competes against market leader Amazon Web Services and other players including Google Cloud Platform, increased in the quarter by 76%. The growth percentage is sequentially flat for Microsoft, but the high-double-digit result still demonstrates strong momentum.
The numbers also suggest that the massive acquisition of LinkedIn is going well. Revenues for LinkedIn are up 29%, and sessions growth for the work-based social media platform is up by 30%.
A new batch of Surface hardware devices unveiled last October provided a bounce in Surface revenues for the quarter of 39%. Those devices that were all shipping for the holidays included the Surface Pro 6, Surface Laptop 2, Surface Studio 2 and Surface Headphones.
Other highlights included 24% growth in server products, a category that includes and was mostly driven by the Azure performance; and 13% growth in Windows commercial products and cloud services.
The biggest headwind by far in the quarterly results related to desktop Windows, once the crown jewel of the company and now something of a drag as the company transitions to cloud. Windows OEM revenues dropped 5% in Microsoft's second quarter compared to the same October to December period in 2017. Also weak was Office Consumer products and cloud services, which grew, but only by 1%.
Hunter Willis, a product marketing manager at AvePoint, a major SharePoint partner based in Jersey City, N.J., was encouraged by Microsoft's progress in the quarter.
"It's no surprise that Microsoft had another successful quarter after grabbing roughly 15 percent of the cloud market last quarter from IBM, Google and Alibaba. Last year alone, Microsoft made 15 acquisitions – headlined by its purchase of open-source software platform GitHub – which helped the company continue to expand into new growth areas. I expect to see Microsoft's intelligent cloud continue to dominate the market, especially given that its balance of IaaS, PaaS, CRM and Office 365 services have created the complete cloud story for its customers, enabling Microsoft and its cloud business to continue to grow at such a rapid rate," Willis said in an email.
Sharing the view that Microsoft's quarterly results look especially strong on the cloud side is Ryan Duguid, chief evangelist at Nintex, a process management and automation specialist and close Microsoft partner.
"Microsoft has certainly enjoyed an impressive run over the last 5+ years, but to be honest, I think they're only just getting warmed up," Duguid said in an email statement. "Having successfully transitioned away from a dependency on Windows and a perpetual license model across all core franchises, Microsoft has now positioned itself as the dominant player in the cloud, both in terms of core compute power with Azure as well as application delivery through Office 365."
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 31, 2019 at 12:07 PM0 comments
Parts of the Microsoft Dynamics business are tilting overwhelmingly online.
Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood discussed
the company's progress with its business applications suite during a call with financial analysts on Wednesday. Overall the Dynamics business grew 17% in Microsoft's fiscal second quarter, which ran from Oct. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2018.
The real momentum is happening on the online side. Dynamics 365, a comprehensive cloud version of Dynamics that was launched in late 2016, saw revenue growth of 51% -- triple the rate of the Dynamics business overall.
Hood provided one stunning stat within that Dynamics 365 product set. "This quarter, more than nine out of every 10 new Dynamics CRM customers chose our cloud offering," Hood said.
Microsoft's CRM product has long been the cloudiest of the business applications. Dynamics CRM Online was one of Microsoft's first and most successful software as a service (SaaS) offerings. Within the business applications segment, customers have been much more open to putting their customer relationship management solutions in the cloud than they have been with business critical enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.
Yet ratios like those that Microsoft is seeing with CRM carry an inexorable momentum. With more than 90% of new customers choosing the online version, Microsoft will need to dedicate more and more of its development and support resources to the cloud version. That provides another argument for partners with customers wanting to stay on-prem that it will only be harder and harder to get new features and timely support.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 31, 2019 at 11:58 AM0 comments
Microsoft's co-sell program that incentivizes the Microsoft field to sell partner solutions is on pace to exceed last year's total by a wide margin.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provided an update on the program during an earnings call with investors.
"The co-sell program we introduced 18 months ago has already generated $8 billion in contracted partner revenue," Nadella said Wednesday. Nadella offered the statistic as part of a broader comment about the way Microsoft is partnering with companies across the industry to build their digital capabilities, and how that effort creates new opportunities for both customers and the partner ecosystem.
The co-sell program is designed to motivate Microsoft field sellers to push partner solutions by setting aside Microsoft funding to pay those Microsoft sellers 10% of the total value of the partner solution. Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster said at the Microsoft Inspire show at the start of the company's fiscal year in July that the co-sell funding was intended to run through June 2019.
The $8 billion milestone that Nadella touted is a significant increase from the last time Microsoft talked about the program in July 2018. At that time, Schuster said the program had landed $5 billion in partner sales.
Nadella's updated figures suggest that Microsoft's field sold an additional $3 billion from July to December of 2018. Given that Microsoft had clocked $1 billion in sales when it was a pilot program prior to its public launch in July 2017, the co-sell effort is well on its way to surpassing the full fiscal year total of $4 billion from 2018.
With the all-out effort that the Microsoft field usually engages in during Microsoft's fourth quarter (April-June), expect the company to have some interesting co-sell figures to report at Inspire this July.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 31, 2019 at 11:58 AM0 comments
The International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) on Wednesday identified its worldwide leadership team for 2019.
The IAMCP exists to foster business networking opportunities for Microsoft partners and boasts more than 100 chapters in 47 countries. The 2019 Board of Directors consists of 10 officers drawn from IAMCP's three regions -- Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Asia/Pacific (APAC) and Canada, Latin America and the United States (Americas).
Leading the organization is Sergio Baptista of EMEA as president, a role that rotates among the IAMCP's three regions. Elected vice president is Prashanth Subramanian of APAC.
Serving in other designated board roles are Secretary Sarika Malhotra, APAC; Treasurer Tom Major, Americas; and past president Jon Sastre, Americas.
Members at large include Andrea Pescino, EMEA, Bo Bauhn, EMEA, Neeraj Gargi, APAC, David Gersten, Americas, and John Zarei, Americas.
Retiring from the board are Jeff Goldstein, Ro Kolakowski, Javier Abreu O´Neill, Jacobo Senior, Ricardo Escorihuela, Corinne Sharp and Gail Mercer-MacKay.
The new board represents a streamlining from the 2018 board. That board voted in December to reorganize itself from five regions to the current three. The 2018 board had 16 members and four advisory board members.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 17, 2019 at 9:15 AM0 comments
The December 2018 market share numbers are in from Net Applications and they reveal a major milestone for the IT industry. Windows 10 has a larger market share than any other desktop operating system version, including the previous king of all desktop OS versions, Windows 7. It's a narrow but solid lead, with Windows 10 at 39.22% and Windows 7 at 36.9%. It brings Windows 10 on top for both of the most frequently cited platform trackers (Windows 10 took the lead with Statcounter in January 2018). Windows 10's now undisputed lead in both major trackers tells us several things about the state of IT infrastructure.
First, it tells us that Microsoft still has enough weight in the industry to dictate an operating system shift. That seems like a fairly obvious point, but Microsoft did ask a lot with Windows 10, especially with the new and confusing update model. Things Microsoft had going for it included the inertia of an industry accustomed to moving to the next Windows OS every few years and that limited-time free upgrade offer. Even with those advantages, success wasn't a foregone conclusion. Uptake of Windows 10 has been slower and at a smaller scale than Microsoft had publicly hoped for. Three-and-a-half years after launching, Windows 10 is on about 700 million machines. That falls short of the 1 billion systems Microsoft had predicted Windows 10 would power in slightly less time, but it's still impressive. What's also impressive is that Microsoft managed that progress at the same time that it has been distancing itself from its long-held identity as a Windows company. Of course, there's also the stick. Windows 7 hits the end of extended support one year from now. Look for Windows 10's share to ratchet up steadily as companies and consumers race to meet the support deadline, or at least convert as shortly after it passes as they can.
Getting Windows 10 to the top spot underscores something else -- Microsoft continues to dominate an important piece of technology real estate. The PC is certainly not the prize that it was 10 years ago. Credit for that goes to the smartphone, the mobile app ecosystem, constantly improving wireless data coverage and speeds and cloud-based applications, among other things. Yet the PC is still the platform where most day-to-day productive work gets done. The smartphone eats into it, the tablet takes a piece, but for the most part the form factors are finding their niches and the PC fills a critical one. Tasks at which the PC remains the ideal platform include working with words, numbers or code on a big screen with a full-size keyboard, multitasking, copying and pasting across applications and storing files for offline access. Desktops and laptops are still a massive market, remember that 700 million figure above? Predictions that Linux would take off on the PC remain largely unfulfilled. Mac continues to gain a few percentage points here and there, but there's been nothing like a large drop off in Windows usage.
What may be most important about this latest desktop share milestone, though, is that it could be the last shift of this type. Windows operating system migrations have been a staple project in the IT industry for decades -- Windows 95 to Windows 98, Windows 98 to Windows 2000, Windows 98 to Windows XP and on and on and on. The project has come up like clockwork every three or four years. Windows 10 was famously called "the last version of Windows" by Microsoft developer evangelist Jerry Nixon. A better way to think of it may be as the "forever version of Windows." The idea with Windows 10 is it is constantly updated, so versions go out of support every 18 months, but keeping current with the updates will push those support dates back indefinitely. Migrations for the most part will be due to hardware refresh cycles, not Microsoft support deadlines.
Admittedly, it's more complicated than that with the Long Term Servicing Channel and Software Assurance timelines and other licensing and support wrinkles. There will be kinks that arise with the updates and the rings where application compatibility will be an issue, but they'll largely be one-off situations. A relic, thankfully, is the industry-wide, all-hands-on-deck situations of the old Windows update cycle with ISVs and OEMs all creating new versions of their PCs, applications and drivers, and partners and IT departments testing them all out at once and trying to get them fixed in the first service pack. Another upside could be a more secure Internet, where aging security flaws can't continuously be exploited because connected consumer machines are automatically updated for free, reducing everyone's risk.
For the 39.22% or so of users at home and in organizations who have migrated to the forever OS, congratulations. All of that migration drama is behind you. If you're in the process of a migration project or planning one, take heart -- this should be the last of its kind.
A lot of challenging IT projects remain. The forced update from one soon-to-be-unsupported OS to the next one with its own ticking support clock won't be one of them. Instead, partners and IT departments can focus on higher value efforts like server migrations to the cloud, digital transformation projects and creating great business applications.
The end of the great Windows migration is in sight. In the wake of that mainstay IT project is a more stable, more secure PC with a smaller, but still important, role.
Posted by Scott Bekker on January 07, 2019 at 9:50 AM0 comments
As 2018 draws to a close, it's been a year of milestones for a lot of the Microsoft channel executives who have appeared in the pages of Redmond Channel Partner magazine or in the browser on RCPmag.com since 2005.
Margo Day Retires
Margo Day was an early supporter of RCP, contributing a "Microsoft View" column for our inaugural July 2005 issue and regularly making herself available for interviews in her then-role as vice president of the U.S. Partner Group at Microsoft. She stopped writing the column in the summer of 2006 when a Microsoft reorganization shifted her to vice president of the U.S. West Region for Microsoft's Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners unit.
After five years in that role, Day took a year leave to raise funds and awareness for the Kenya Child Protection Through Education Project of an organization called World Vision, and then returned to Microsoft in 2012 as vice president for U.S. Education.
On Sept. 28, Day retired from Microsoft with plans to dedicate herself fully to the Kenya project. To that point, she had visited Kenya 11 times, focusing on the West Pokot area, and on working through education to change community attitudes toward child brides and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGMC/C).
As befits a Microsoft executive, Day's hope is to scale the project to many more areas of the country.
"World Vision has a dream to build on the success of the program in West Pokot and take it to other FGM/C and child marriage hot spots in Kenya where they work to ultimately end these retrogressive practices so that every child, girl and boy, can live life in all its fullness. I want to lean in to help them do just that. It's why I retired," Day wrote in a blog post.
Jenni Flinders Becomes VMware Channel Chief
Another longtime Microsoft channel executive, Jenni Flinders, took on the top channel job at VMware Inc. in April.
Flinders, who spoke regularly with RCP and contributed several times to the start-of-year Marching Orders features, left Microsoft in 2015 after a career that included general manager roles within the Worldwide Partner Group and a lengthy term as vice president of the U.S. Partner Group. Between Microsoft and VMware, Flinders advised clients on channel strategy as CEO of the Daarlandt Partners consulting practice.
Flinders' official title is vice president of Worldwide Channels at VMware. Unofficially, she's worldwide channel chief.
Gavriella Schuster Takes a Board Seat
Microsoft's worldwide channel chief, Gavriella Schuster, added a strategic board seat to her duties in 2018. Schuster's official title at Microsoft is corporate vice president, One Commercial Partner at Microsoft, which is the top channel role at the company.
In October, Chinasoft International Ltd. announced that Schuster was joining the company's board of directors. The appointment is a signal of the strategic importance to Microsoft of Chinasoft, which bills itself as one of the largest IT services firms in China. Microsoft is the second-largest institutional owner of the 18-year-old company, and the seat makes Schuster Redmond's key ambassador to Chinasoft.
In a statement, Chinasoft CEO Dr. Yuhong Chen said, "We are quickly expanding our Microsoft business, especially around digital workplace and the cloud, and her deep knowledge of the Microsoft ecosystem and her relationships will be invaluable as we expand our presence around the world."
Chinasoft positioned Schuster's seat on the board as bolstering its recent expansion into Latin America, India and Malaysia. Catapult Systems is Chinasoft's U.S. subsidiary.
Eric Martorano Becomes a CEO
Eric Martorano was a high-profile executive for Microsoft from 2008 to 2016, when he was a general manager for U.S. Partner Sales with responsibility for $17 billion in revenues. He left Microsoft to become chief revenue officer at Intermedia, a position that kept him in view of Microsoft partners, many of whom are also Intermedia partners.
In late October, Martorano was named CEO and a board member of Accordo Group. The New Zealand-based company provides software and services that leverage business analytics and data science to help SMB customers optimize their software utilization and productivity.
Vince Menzione Moves to Blackbaud
For the last two years, former Microsoft channel executive Vince Menzione has hosted an informative podcast that's been a gem for Microsoft partners. Menzione, one of those indefatigable mentoring types, drew on a well-earned reservoir of goodwill among current senior Microsoft channel executives and many partners to land great interviews for his podcast. The Microsoft execs were willing to talk publicly on Menzione's "Ultimate Guide to Partnering" about a lot of things that they normally kept under wraps.
In September, Menzione -- who, like Martorano, was also a general manager in the Microsoft channel from 2008 to 2016 -- took on a full-time role with Blackbaud as vice president of Global Strategic Alliances. Based in South Carolina, Blackbaud provides cloud software and services for what it calls the "social good community" -- nonprofits, foundations, education institutions, health care institutions and the like.
Ron Huddleston (1973-2018)
As regular readers of RCP are aware, sadly no recap of the milestones of once and former Microsoft channel execs would be complete without mentioning the death of Ron Huddleston. The former Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft executive died Sept. 28 at age 45.
His brief, but high-profile, tenure at Microsoft spanned from mid-2016 through December 2017, and included about 11 months as corporate vice president of the newly formed One Commercial Partner organization.
Huddleston joined Twilio in February of this year as chief partners officer, and oversaw the creation of a new partner program for the fast-growing cloud communications platform company in June.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 14, 2018 at 11:40 AM0 comments
- Register for this webcast here.
When it comes to 2019 priorities, few are as important for Microsoft partners as fleshing out an Azure strategy.
Even for partners who have embraced the cloud on the Office 365 side, the margins have been tightening lately, and we seem to be on (or approaching) the backside of the adoption curve. To be sure, there's a lot of opportunity left in Office 365, but we may be starting to see the beginning of the end of the gold rush phase.
That said, there are other gold rushes in the Microsoft cloud, and they're potentially much bigger than Office 365. The one that Microsoft is most outspoken about is Azure, with its endless possibilities for scale, flexibility and integration of new technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI).
It can be relatively intimidating for partners who haven't done a lot with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) to know where to start or how to expand. I've seen a lot of partners push off really digging into Azure, but we're getting close to crunch time on this one.
That's why I'm really looking forward to a webcast on Monday, Dec. 17, at 11 a.m. PST/2 p.m. ET with Bryan Hamilton of Arrow Cloud and Woody Walton of Microsoft. We'll be talking about the nuts and bolts of the Azure opportunity for partners.
Arrow specializes in datacenter migrations. You may think of them as a distribution and Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) only for partners working with enterprise-scale datacenter migrations. But they've got a lot of resources and help for smaller, even much smaller, partners who are looking to expand their Azure business.
I hope you'll join us for the conversation about great resources available for partners around Azure from both Microsoft and Arrow. We'll hit on some of the high-end capabilities, certainly, but we'll dedicate a lot of the conversation to the challenges and opportunities in Azure for smaller and startup engagements with Azure, as well. Be sure to tune in live so you can get your questions answered in real-time.
Registration is here.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 14, 2018 at 8:31 AM0 comments
Server sales are booming, researchers at IDC reported Tuesday night, with the third quarter recording the highest total revenue in a single quarter for servers ever.
For those of you looking around at much emptier server rooms than you might remember from a decade ago -- before the financial crisis and other factors pushed the computer hardware market sideways -- it's clearly not the same. As they say, the cloud is just someone else's datacenter, and those someone elses are loading up on hardware.
By the numbers, the server market soared year over year in the third quarter by 38 percent in revenues to $23.4 billion and by 18 percent in shipments to 3.2 million units.
It's the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth, according to IDC.
"The worldwide server market once again generated strong revenue and unit shipment growth due to an ongoing enterprise refresh cycle and continued demand from cloud service providers," said Sebastian Lagana, research manager for Infrastructure Platforms and Technologies at IDC, in a statement. "Enterprise infrastructure requirements from resource intensive next-generation applications support increasingly rich configurations, ensuring average selling prices (ASPs) remain elevated against the year-ago quarter. At the same time, hyperscalers continue to upgrade and expand their datacenter capabilities."
The increases reach across the board -- with volume server revenues up 40 percent to $20 billion, midrange revenue up 39 percent to $2 billion, and high-end systems up 7 percent to $1.3 billion. Dell led the quarter both in revenue and unit shipments, followed in revenues by HPE/New H3C Group, Inspur, Lenovo, IBM and Huawei in a tie, and Cisco. Dell, Inspur, Lenovo and Huawei are up; HPE, IBM and Cisco are down.
But as interesting as the slight jockeying for position among those enterprise vendors may be, it's the largely anonymous manufacturers who are making all the servers powering the hyperscale datacenters that create the Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other clouds that are driving the steadiest growth.
IDC labels those vendors as ODM Direct, for original direct manufacturers who design specifically for a high-scale end customer's specific datacenter needs. Think, for example, about how particular Microsoft is about the system requirements in a modular Azure datacenter. It's not interested in off-the-shelf servers.
That group of ODM Direct vendors accounted for $6.3 billion in collective revenue, a gain of 52 percent year over year, and collectively above Dell's individual $4 billion in revenues.
Another rough way to think about this booming server market is that about one in four new servers are bound for the cloud.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 12, 2018 at 10:24 AM0 comments
Satya Nadella rolled out a piece of Microsoft math that longtime Microsoft partners are accustomed to hearing, but it's a good message to hear repeated from the top.
Speaking to Forbes in an interview posted Monday, Microsoft's CEO talked about how Microsoft does best when other companies are making money off its products. The comments took the form of recounting conversations with Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates.
"Bill used to teach me, 'Every dollar we make, there's got to be five dollars, ten dollars on the outside,'" Nadella told Forbes.
Gates also reminded Nadella that great companies were once built on Microsoft's code, and tasked him with rebuilding Microsoft brick by brick until it can happen again. "That's what I want us to rediscover."
The short article about the interview covers Nadella's efforts to build up enough industry trust in Microsoft to credibly acquire GitHub without causing a community revolt, as well as efforts to reduce the institutional arrogance inside Microsoft that can be a side effect of success.
Read more here.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 10, 2018 at 10:22 AM0 comments
Riding on Office 365's success, the Microsoft Teams collaborative chat application has raced ahead of the more entrenched Slack.
That's a key takeaway of a recent Spiceworks survey of its community of IT professionals. The firm saw Teams surge seven times in usage share over two years, with the 900 respondents in North America and EMEA projecting another doubling of usage over the next two years.
"The sudden rise of Microsoft Teams is likely influenced by the fact that it's available at no additional cost to Office 365 users," said Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, in a statement accompanying the survey results Monday.
According to the Spiceworks survey, Microsoft's own Skype for Business has the biggest share at 44 percent. However, Slack-versus-Teams is the high-profile battleground, and in just two years since its launch, Teams has vaulted ahead according to the survey. Teams is now at 21 percent share, up from 3 percent in 2016. Slack is at 15 percent, up from 13 percent two years ago.
Looking ahead to the end of 2020, 53 percent of users expect to be using Skype for Business, 41 percent expect to be using Teams, 18 percent expect to be using Slack and 12 percent expect to be using Google Hangouts.
"Although Skype for Business has maintained the lead overall, Microsoft is putting more of an emphasis on Microsoft Teams as the default communications app for Office 365, which is enticing organizations to give it a try. As a result, we'll likely see Teams adoption rates double in the next couple years," Tsai said.
The survey found that overall usage of chat apps is increasing among businesses, with usage up 20 percentage points to 62 percent this year compared to 2016. At the same time, the expectation that chat apps will supplant e-mail is down among IT pros to 16 percent from 25 percent two years ago.
As they shift to Teams, organizations seem to be trading innovation and usability for security. Survey respondents found Slack the most innovative. They ranked Teams fourth for reliability, compatibility and user-friendliness, behind Skype for Business, Slack and Google Hangouts, respectively. But Teams was viewed as the leader for security, manageability and cost-effectiveness.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 10, 2018 at 12:25 PM0 comments
If it seems like Microsoft provides two or three different Azure services to accomplish any task, that's probably because, in a lot of cases, it's true.
For the emerging area of Internet of Things (IoT), developers face a confusing array of choices in a few different areas within the Azure catalog of services. As part of a session at the Live! 360 conference in Orlando this week, Eric Boyd offered attendees some guidance on a couple of key architectural questions.
Boyd, the founder and CEO of responsiveX and a Microsoft Azure MVP and Microsoft Regional Director, has spent time the last few years experimenting with a burgeoning collection of IoT devices and components in his home and with the ways he can use Azure services to light up and connect the devices.
From watching his enthusiasm during a running demo throughout his presentation with a Raspberry Pi, you could tell he's been doing it partly because it's fun. The larger purpose has been getting to know the technology so well that he can help his clients figure out how to implement IoT in meaningful ways.
"What the IoT is all about is not tinkering and building the Raspberry Pi. It's about taking all the everyday things in our life and connecting them," Boyd said. "IoT is the new norm. This is just like Web and mobile. It is just the way now. It's certainly something that a lot of you should be thinking about as you look out at devices on your factory floor or agricultural scenarios."
Connecting those devices is where Azure comes in, and the services can be overwhelming. For example, when it comes to messaging, a developer might be confused by the options of Service Bus, Event Hubs or IoT Hub. All can be, and have been, used in IoT solutions. Boyd offered a succinct overview in his session.
"OK, there are all these messaging services in Azure. When do I use which service?" Boyd asked. "IoT Hub is built on Event Hubs. If you don't have a scenario where you have devices -- and I use that term loosely because that can mean a lot of things, but if you have applications where you're wanting to stream data in -- Event Hubs is the better solution for you. If you have devices, then IoT Hub is the right fit. We did IoT before IoT Hub in Azure using things like Service Bus. We built a massive kiosk network in Azure that you guys have all been customers of. But IoT Hub simplifies things [for IoT scenarios]."
Boyd also offered a way to think about the difference between IoT Central and IoT solution accelerators, two different services in the Azure catalog both intended for developers getting started with IoT. Both can get you up and running quickly, but IoT Central is more limiting. "It probably isn't your long-term strategy," Boyd explained.
"Azure IoT Central is a SaaS service. You can think of it like Office 365 for IoT. You can just go spin up a service really quickly without having to think about code. It's not a bad service. If you want to just kick the tires and prove something out and demo it to your executive group, it's great for that. It may be a good service to go pilot some things, as well," he said.
You can also get off to a quick start with the IoT solution accelerators, but those are much better as a starting point for an enterprise solution, he explained. The accelerators automatically spin up various IoT-related services for canonical, pre-built scenarios, including remote monitoring, connected factory, predictive maintenance or device simulation.
"This looks similar, but it's not the same," Boyd said of the accelerators in comparison to IoT Central. "You can modify it, redeploy it. The code for this dashboard, unlike IoT Central, is available to you, so you can tweak and customize it however you need it."
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 06, 2018 at 10:05 AM0 comments
A Microsoft program manager this week gave some insight into the ways that artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are shaping the Microsoft stack -- sometimes in surprising ways.
Pranav Rastogi, who led Tuesday's keynote of the inaugural Artificial Intelligence Live! track at the Live! 360 conference, is one of the people inside Microsoft helping drive those capabilities and technologies across the company's vast array of products. Rastogi provided attendees with an overview of what those technologies are and where they're starting to emerge in products.
"The idea here is really to democratize AI for each and every employee so that it's available and employees can use it to transform their own businesses," Rastogi told an audience of several hundred attendees at the Orlando conference.
During his hour-long talk, Rastogi provided a tour of AI technologies that can immediately be leveraged by developers, end user and business analysts. To date, AI has mostly been the domain of data scientists. Rastogi's discussion dealt with the other user profiles who may not think of themselves as potential users of AI right now. An example was a slide labeled, "Introducing the Citizen Data Scientist."
All of the AI technologies he highlighted fit into a bucket that Data Relish Ltd. Principal Jen Stirrup, another speaker at the conference, described Tuesday as the types of machine learning capabilities that are commonly coming online right now -- training computers to do a single task at roughly a human level of proficiency. That's as opposed to the strong AI of self-directed fictional scenarios like R2-D2 in "Star Wars," Skynet in "The Terminator" or HAL 9000 in "2001."
For Microsoft, the AI democratization journey has three phases. First is infusing every Microsoft application with some AI capabilities so that early adopter customers can leverage the technologies if they're looking for them. The second phase involves bringing AI to every business process, which would mean driving adoption among users both through increased ease of use and raising awareness of the vertical and horizontal benefits of using Microsoft's tools. The final phase is getting every employee at all of Microsoft's customers using the AI capabilities in some way.
The "every application" phase is in the early stages but spreading quickly across many products, making the effort already broad, if not particularly deep. As an example, Rastogi showed how Microsoft is redefining existing applications with AI using the pre-built AI services, such as Vision, Speech, Language and Search. Those capabilities are being used to create new conversational experiences inside other applications like Microsoft's own Cortana, Office and Skype, as well as other applications like Slack, Facebook Messenger and Kik Messenger.
Rastogi also showed how dense the company's flagship AI platform, Azure, is getting with machine learning capabilities. At the first level are the sophisticated pre-trained models that are ready to be called from within other applications, such as the Vision, Speech, Language and Search services mentioned earlier. The lengthy list of Azure services also includes a few designed to help data science and development teams, such as Azure DataBricks, Azure Machine Learning and Machine Learning VMs. Additionally, Rastogi highlighted the Azure options for using AI-optimized hardware in Microsoft's datacenters, and for having the compute performed in the cloud, on-premises or at the edge.
The product set where the "AI everywhere" story appears strongest is in Power BI, Microsoft's business intelligence platform for accessing, manipulating and visualizing data. A product that essentially aimed to democratize BI is now evolving to do the same for AI, as well. There are capabilities for data scientists, certainly, including Power Query integration for Azure Machine Learning and integrations with Azure frameworks. Data scientists and BI professionals can also script in R or Python or create machine learning models via clicking.
But end users also have ways to explore AI through Power BI, using Natural Language exploration. Examples of the types of things that end users or business analysts can leverage in Power BI include sentiment analysis, key-phrase extraction, optical character recognition and text translation.
Most of the AI capabilities Microsoft enables today still require a lot of leading-edge expertise, integration, development work and data science expertise. Yet it's clear that Microsoft is working rapidly to integrate those technologies all the way out to end-user-facing applications and will continue to push hard in that direction.
Posted by Scott Bekker on December 05, 2018 at 9:42 AM0 comments