Partners Liked Gates' New Role in 2014, And He's Still At It

When Microsoft elevated Satya Nadella to CEO in 2014, the company simultaneously announced that co-founder and chairman Bill Gates would be stepping down to a regular seat on the board but taking on a bigger tech advisory role for Nadella.

"I'm thrilled that Satya has asked me to step up, substantially increasing the time that I spend at the company," Gates said in a welcome video accompanying Nadella's promotion to CEO in February 2014. "I'll have over a third of my time available to meet with product groups, and it will be fun to define this next round of products, working together."

At the time, partners told RCP in a quick, informal poll that they really liked that idea. As we noted in our March 2014 cover story, "CEO 3.0":

A majority felt Bill Gates' decision to spend more time at Microsoft helping Nadella would be a positive, and half described themselves as "reinvigorated about Microsoft" as a result of the C-level and boardroom changes, which also included Gates being replaced by former Symantec Corp. CEO John Thompson as chairman.

Although you don't hear about the tech advisory role very often anymore, partners who approved of Gates getting more technically involved in Redmond should be happy to hear that he's still at it.

Most of the headlines Gates makes these days relate to his philanthropic work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or to his default role as a public intellectual. He's frequently quoted on topics ranging from technology trends to global health to economics to environmental issues to his current reading list. Only rarely is Gates deployed by Microsoft as an intentional public spokesman. Usually any Microsoft-related comments he makes come up in the context of interviews about the Foundation.

Nonetheless, in a pre-recorded Wired video segment about key moments in Gates' life and career that was posted last week, Gates confirmed that he's still putting in time with engineers and technical strategists in Redmond.

"Even to this day I do some architecture things on the various products," Gates said during the segment.

Microsoft hasn't been secretive about Gates' continuing technical involvement. In an early 2017 interview, Gates revealed that his attention within Microsoft was focused on natural language, virtual assistants and various ways to be more contextual about user information. Rather, it's been more of an issue of emphasis.

When Nadella took over as CEO, Microsoft made a point to communicate that Gates would be getting more involved on a week-to-week basis with the company than he had been during the latter part of Steve Ballmer's tenure as CEO.

At the time, Gates' technical advisor role was widely viewed as a critical step to reassure investors that Nadella, who was less well-known on Wall Street than he was in Silicon Valley, would be able to handle the CEO job.

Most of those concerns have evaporated as Microsoft stayed near the forefront of a historic run in tech stocks over the last few years. Microsoft's stock value has roughly tripled on Nadella's watch. "He's done a good job of repositioning the company in investors' minds," Ballmer said of Nadella during an interview with Bloomberg in July.

Microsoft's unstated reason for involving Gates -- to calm investors -- is no longer as important. On the other hand, the surface-level reason -- leveraging one of the sharpest minds in the business of technology -- is as strong as ever.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 22, 2018 at 12:09 PM0 comments


Paul Allen's Legacy at Microsoft

Paul Allen went on to do many significant things in his life, but the achievement that provided the springboard for so many of the rest of his activities was the fortune he amassed as the co-founder of Microsoft.

Primarily, Microsoft is associated with the other co-founder, Bill Gates, whose personality, drive and talents formed the company's identity, and who remains involved in the company's direction on a part-time basis.

On the other hand, Allen, who died of complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 65 this week, has been out of day-to-day activity at Microsoft since 1983, and off the board since 1986. His time at the company ended before Windows became a dominant product, before the Internet emerged as an opportunity for the tech industry and a threat to Microsoft's central position in PC computing, before the public ugliness of the antitrust case, before Microsoft's rise as a major enterprise software player and before the company emerged as one of the handful of cloud megavendors.

That said, the 43-year-old company still bears a few important markers left by Allen himself.

Paul Allen (source: Microsoft)

One is the name. Calling the company "Micro-Soft" was Allen's idea. The hyphen was later dropped, but four decades later, the company still goes by a name reminiscent of a different era in tech. In 1975, "microcomputers" and "micro" were sexy terms in computing. Software remains an element of the name, as well, even in an age in which Microsoft has become more about the cloud and hardware has also become a significant piece of the business.

A bigger legacy of Allen's is his role as a catalyst for getting the slightly younger Gates focused full-time on the computer business. They spent countless hours together at the private Lakeside School  in Seattle working on a teletype terminal connected over a phone line to a time-share computer. In the small scrum of like-minded Lakeside students spurring on each other's enthusiasms for the technical possibilities of the systems, Gates and Allen were especially close.

Living in Boston a few years later, Allen grabbed his friend Gates from his college dorm at Harvard to show him the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics with its Altair 8800 on the cover. "This is happening without us!" Gates recalls Allen declaring in a successful effort to rally Gates to prioritize seizing the moment over getting a college degree.

"Microsoft would never have happened without Paul," Gates said in a statement earlier this week. Counterfactuals are difficult to prove. It's hard to imagine that given his interests, Gates would not have seen the magazine himself or seized the moment in some other way. But without the timing enabled by the personal history and chemistry between those two individuals, who knows?

Another Allen imprint on Microsoft's culture is his role in one of the most famous coding death marches in technology. After spotting that article about the Altair, Gates and Allen called the maker of the device and told him they were essentially finished with a version of Basic for it. They hadn't started.

They spent the next few weeks working around the clock. Allen, who was to do the demo, realized on the plane to Albuquerque that they hadn't written a loader, a requirement for their demo, and whipped one up on the  plane. At the time, they were calling their company "Traf-o-Data," but the core of Microsoft was there. As Stephen Manes and Paul Andrew wrote in their biography of Gates, "The development tools Allen put together in this era would serve as the core of Microsoft's language efforts for years."

Finally, what Allen realized was "happening without" them was the democratization of computing that drove Microsoft's growth strategy -- enabling a PC on every desktop -- for most of its corporate history.

Outside of Microsoft, Allen lived the dreams enabled by an early fortune for a technology titan. He invested in successful commercial space flight ventures, bought professional sports franchises, commissioned massive yachts, founded newsworthy companies and backed scientific research projects. Ultimately, he may be more widely remembered for his role in sports or those other activities, but whatever Microsoft would have been called without Paul Allen, it certainly would have been a different company.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 18, 2018 at 10:01 AM0 comments


Surface Makes a Dent in the U.S. PC Market

It's time to start talking about the Microsoft Surface in discussions about top-selling PCs.

Gartner this week published its preliminary quarterly results for PC unit shipments in the third quarter of 2018. On the U.S. list, Microsoft ranked fifth for the quarter, with a 4.1 percent share of the market.

It's a long way from No. 5 to No. 4. According to Gartner, Microsoft shipped 602,000 units in the quarter. Apple, by contrast, moved more than 2 million units in the quarter for fourth place and a 13.7 percent share. The top vendor for the quarter, HP Inc., sold more than 4.5 million units and held a 30.7 percent share in the U.S. market.

In terms of movement, Microsoft is heading in the right direction, with 1.9 percent year-over-year growth for the quarter, a period when Apple dropped by 7.6 percent.

Lenovo, powered by its joint venture with Fujitsu, vaulted 22 percent in the United States, and a 10.7 percent gain worldwide put the computer maker in first place on Gartner's global list for the quarter. Dell rounds out the U.S. top five in second place.

While Microsoft may be a somewhat distant fifth, the results suggest that individual Surface models would rank among the most popular Windows devices. Microsoft has only a few types of Surface -- mainly the Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Laptop and Surface Go -- compared to dozens of lines from its established PC OEM partner/competitors.

The backdrop is a relatively flat U.S. PC market, where overall shipments dropped 0.4 percent, with business PC demand nearly offsetting declines in mobile PC shipments. Because Gartner defines Google Chromebooks as outside the PC market, its figures don't include the double-digit growth of those devices in the United States.

The Surface is gaining ground at a good time for Windows PCs in the commercial sector. Gartner expects business demand for Windows PCs to remain strong. Referring to the global market, analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement, "The PC market continued to be driven by steady corporate PC demand, which was driven by Windows 10 PC hardware upgrades. We expect the Windows 10 upgrade cycle to continue through 2020 at which point the upgrade demand will diminish."

Extended support for Windows 7 formally ends on Jan. 14, 2020. That operating system retained a narrow lead over Windows 10 for the most popular operating system in September, according to Net Applications. That measure and recent Microsoft statements suggesting enterprises were about halfway through their Windows 10 migrations both indicate that there is a lot of remaining potential for Windows 10-based hardware upgrades.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 12, 2018 at 11:27 AM0 comments


Private Equity Firm To Acquire Imperva for $2.1 Billion

Private equity technology investment firm Thoma Bravo LLC continued its sweep of security and other key channel companies with an agreement to acquire Imperva Inc. for $2.1 billion.

Imperva, which specializes in protection of data and applications on-premises and in the cloud, announced the agreement on Tuesday. The deal would leave the current executive team in place and keep its headquarters in Redwood Shores, Calif.

That "buy and build" approach is common for Thoma Bravo, which defines the investment business model on its Web site as advising firms it invests in "to create value through operational improvements, internal expansion and accretive acquisitions."

Chris Hylen, president and CEO of Imperva, described benefits of the deal beyond the value to Imperva stockholders. "The company will have greater flexibility to focus on executing our long-term strategy," Hylen said in a statement.

In the same statement, Chip Virnig, a partner at Thoma Bravo, emphasized the private equity firm's experience with similar companies. "Our expertise and track record investing in cybersecurity fits squarely with Imperva's long-term roadmap, and we look forward to advancing the Company's market position in this rapidly-growing security segment," Virnig said.

Thoma Bravo owns or holds a major stake in several companies that are important business partners for many Microsoft partners. Those companies include Barracuda Networks Inc., Centrify Corp., Continuum Managed Services, McAfee LLC, Nintex Global Ltd., Riverbed Technology Inc. and SolarWinds Inc.

The Imperva board has a 45-day "go-shop" period to solicit other acquisition proposals as part of the acquisition agreement. The parties expect the transaction to close in the fourth quarter of 2018 or in the first quarter of 2019, assuming Imperva's stockholders approve and all regulatory hurdles are cleared.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 11, 2018 at 12:26 PM0 comments


Windows Update Process Suffers Another Black Eye

Over the weekend, Microsoft pulled the latest version of Windows 10 and other version 1809 operating systems, just four days after releasing them.

"We have paused the rollout of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update (version 1809) for all users as we investigate isolated reports of users missing some files after updating," Microsoft said in a statement on its support site. As of Monday afternoon, Microsoft had not released a new update.

Affected platforms included Windows 10, version 1809; Windows Server, version 1809; Windows IoT Core, version 1809; Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019; Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC 2019; and Windows Server 2019.

Microsoft was advising customers who lost files to contact the company immediately. Meanwhile, the company warned anyone who had manually downloaded the installation media not to install it.

Despite the emphasis on the phrase "isolated reports," the decision to initiate such a major disruption by interrupting downloads indicates Microsoft has serious concerns about the code that's been released. There is always a warning to back up files before initiating an update, but a file deletion issue ranks among the most serious types of problems that an upgrade can introduce.

Pulling back the update is another black eye on the major overhaul of the update process for the Windows 10 era, which has been marked by a generally popular operating system but frustration over lack of control over updates and concerns about the speed of release cycles and testing quality issues.

The previous Windows 10 update, April 2018, ran into delays and post-release problems, and the patch release process is also taking serious criticism from patching experts, including Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and moderator of the Patchmanagement.org listserve Susan Bradley.

Nobody is saying that quality control of a Windows operating system releases is easy. Microsoft currently claims a 700-million-user installed base for the operating system, and that OS runs on hundreds of hardware configurations and with thousands of other software applications and cloud services.

This latest incident should suggest to Microsoft that it's time to swing the pendulum back a little from the pressures in technology to "move fast and break things" toward being more deliberate, cautious and exhaustive in the pre-release process for Windows.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 08, 2018 at 11:12 AM0 comments


Microsoft Spruces Up Its Surface Line, Debuts Financing Plan

Microsoft hosted a media event in New York City on Tuesday to reveal three new devices in its Surface line of PCs, as well as complementary headphones and a new consumer financing program.

The new devices were the Surface Studio 2, the Surface Pro 6 and the Surface Laptop 2, all of which became available to pre-order on Tuesday. The Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 will start shipping on Oct. 16. The Surface Studio 2 starts shipping Nov. 15.

The enhancements rolling out for the various Surfaces were mostly of the speeds, feeds and color variety. A new black option is coming to the Surface Pro 6, which is also available in platinum, and to the Surface Laptop 2, which is also available in platinum, burgundy and cobalt blue.

Major enhancements to the Surface Pro 6 include an upgrade to 8th Generation Intel processors, which bring quad-core processors to the 2-in-1 category for a 67 percent performance bump; a 13.5-hour battery life and an 8MP auto-focus camera, according to Microsoft executives. Prices for the new Surface Pro 6 range from $899 to $2,299 depending on the choices of 8GB or 16GB of memory, an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor, and storage options of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB. Prices don't include the Surface Keyboard, so buyers are looking at a minimum of an additional $100 to use the device as intended.

The Surface Pro 6 (left) and Surface Laptop 2 in the new black color option. (Source: Microsoft)

For the Surface Laptop 2, Microsoft's more traditional clamshell laptop, the processor upgrade to Intel's 8th Generation leads to an 85 percent performance bump over previous models, while battery life clocks in at 14.5 hours, according to Microsoft. Prices on the Microsoft Store site start at $999 for 8GB of RAM, an Intel Core i5 and 128GB of storage. The top-end configuration of 16GB of RAM, Intel Core i7 and 1TB of storage costs $2,699.

The Surface Studio 2 sports the same gargantuan 28-inch screen as the previous version, but moves two generations forward in processors to Intel 8th Generation for a 50 percent performance bump, and features more brightness and contrast in the display. The high-powered system for creative professionals is available in three configurations. The entry level has 1TB of storage with 16GB of RAM at $3,499. The top-of-the-line model costs $4,788 for 2TB of storage and 32GB of RAM.

The main teaser from the Tuesday event was Surface Headphones, which aren't available to order yet and are expected to ship by the holidays.

As to why Microsoft needs an offering in the crowded premium headphone category, Microsoft product design guru Panos Panay said, "We built Surface Headphones to complete the Surface experience." The $349 price tag will deliver 13 levels of ambient noise control, 8 "beam-forming" microphones for phone calls and voice commands, and PC-specific features like voice activation of the Cortana digital assistant and automatic pausing of video when the headphones are removed.

Also Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled a new way for consumers to pay for Surface devices, which tend to carry a premium price tag compared to OEMs' Windows laptops and 2-in-1s. Called Surface All Access, the monthly pricing option includes a Surface device and an Office 365 subscription with a no-interest 24-month payment plan. The financing is provided by WebBank and is administered through Dell Preferred Account, rather than through Microsoft Financing.

Starting monthly bundle prices included a Surface Go Bundle for $24.99, Surface Laptop Bundle for $46.63, Surface Pro Bundle for $47.87, Surface Book 2 Bundle for $54.96 and Surface Studio Bundle for $150.79. The program, which begins on Oct. 16, comes about a month after Microsoft ended new enrollments into its consumer-focused Surface Plus Program.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 02, 2018 at 5:04 PM0 comments


Former Microsoft Channel Executive Huddleston Dies

Ron Huddleston, a senior channel executive at several high-profile technology companies, including Microsoft, where he was a central figure in the major channel reorganization last year, died on Friday.

Huddleston's current professional role was chief partner officer at Twilio, the San Francisco-based cloud communications platform company.

"Twilio is heartbroken over the loss of Ron Huddleston, a dear friend, respected colleague and leader who passed away Friday morning," Twilio said in an e-mailed statement. "Ron joined Twilio to lead the partner organization earlier this year and has made an indelible impact on the organization and team here at Twilio. He is already and will continue to be greatly missed. We hold Ron and his family in our thoughts."

Huddleston's assignment since joining Twilio in February had been building out an ecosystem of ISVs, systems integrators and resellers for the 10-year-old company. Three months ago, he unveiled the launch of Twilio Build. That Twilio partner program combined his professional passions of enabling partners and creating marketplaces, which was his specialty at Salesforce.com and took up much of his attention while he was at Microsoft.

Ron Huddleston at the 2017 Microsoft Inspire conference.

Judson Althoff, executive vice president for the Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft, was Huddleston's supervisor at Microsoft until last December. In a LinkedIn post, Althoff called Huddleston friendly, open and optimistic.

"I learned over the weekend that my long-time friend, Ron Huddleston, passed away. Ron was young, and his death untimely," Althoff wrote. "Ron and I worked together at both Microsoft and Oracle, and he also held leadership roles at Salesforce.com. For as long as I have known Ron, one thing was always clear: He was passionate about his work, especially the cultivation and nurturing of relationships with partners. He spent more than 20 years dedicated to partner success, helping partners grow and partner ecosystems thrive."

Huddleston's tenure at Microsoft was relatively brief, but left significant organizational marks.

He started at Microsoft before his first days on the Microsoft Dynamics team in the summer of 2016 via phone conversations with Althoff. In a 2017 interview with RCP, Huddleston explained how those conversations, as well as talks with CEO Satya Nadella and former CEO Kevin Turner, helped define a new structure for Microsoft's channel.

Those plans started taking concrete shape in January 2017 with the formation of One Commercial Partner (OCP), a new organization to which Huddleston was named corporate vice president.

Huddleston integrated developer evangelism much more tightly into partner operations and began work on industry maps/solution maps/catalogs, which are regional lists of go-to partners for different solution areas.

The OCP structure also included a major re-alignment of partner-facing job roles within Microsoft in the areas of build-with, sell-with and go-to-market. The OCP partner management job role changes took place against a backdrop of a broad and tumultuous reorganization of Microsoft's worldwide field organization in the summer of 2017. Huddleston went on an indefinite family leave from Microsoft in December 2017.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 02, 2018 at 2:49 PM0 comments


Apply Now for the 2018 RCP Rocket Awards

  • Access the 2018 application form here.

We are taking applications starting today for the 6th annual RCP/Rocket Awards sponsored by Redmond Channel Partner magazine and Revenue Rocket Consulting Group.

The 2018 award is open to all U.S.-based Microsoft partners, with annual revenues between $5 million and $100 million and whose innovative business strategies resulted in sustained growth over three years (2016, 2017 and through the first three quarters of 2018).

Those strategies could involve applying new technologies, addressing an adjacent vertical, sharpening a vertical focus or even honing business processes. The 2017 winner, AgileThought LLC, for example, dialed down its hiring process to support very fast growth in billable hours. See the AgileThought story here and visit our RCP Rocket Awards page for more details on the innovative business approaches employed by previous award winners.

The application process this year consists of two steps. First, we're using Survey Monkey as the mechanism in which to submit your initial responses electronically. You can access the survey application here. Second, upon reviewing these initial submissions, we will select a few finalists to interview for a deeper dive into their application submissions, and from which we will determine the winners. The deadline for the initial submission is Nov. 7, 2018.

Joining me on the panel for evaluating all of the submissions are Mike Harvath, CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, and other distinguished guests with hands-on experience in growing an IT services business.

Entries will be evaluated on two key criteria:

  • First, the results. What did your company achieve over a three-year period in terms of revenue, profit and other relevant metrics you deem appropriate?
  • Second, the strategies. What unique combination of strategies did you employ to generate the results you achieved?

The components of the initial survey include:

  • Revenues for 2016, 2017 and so far in 2018.
  • Net income as a percentage of your revenues this year.
  • Brief description of your company's business type.
  • Status in the Microsoft Partner Network.
  • Brief description of the strategies that led to this growth.

For the interview, which we plan to conduct in mid-to-late November, we will probe deeper into your business performance, key strategies, lessons learned and any other aspect of your growth strategies that drove your business.

The winners will be notified in early December. In addition to an award plaque, winners will also be the focus of an article on RCPmag.com, and a donation will be made in their name to a charity of their choice.

Start thinking about getting your entries ready, and good luck. Apply using the survey form here. For any questions, e-mail sbekker@converge360.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 01, 2018 at 10:21 AM0 comments


Tire-Kickers Have a Lot of Previews To Test from Microsoft Ignite

Microsoft introduced a plethora of new technologies for customers and partners to test and evaluate this week in the form of significant previews for a new version of its flagship database, several big advances in the Azure public cloud, and a number of more targeted cloud enhancements and tools.

The batch of preview releases came during the Microsoft Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Fla. While the preview technologies aren't yet supported or touted as production-ready, their delivery marks the key milestone when a product goes from slideware to something concrete. (For coverage of technologies hitting general availability at Ignite, see this roundup.)

SQL Server 2019
The highest-profile public preview at Ignite is SQL Server 2019, the latest release of one of Microsoft's most significant server platform products. The preview is classified as a community technology preview (CTP). Getting the most attention in the new version of the database server is SQL Server Big Data clusters. Other enhancements include database performance enhancements, encryption improvements to protect data in use and significant indexing improvements.

See related coverage for details of the new features and a Q&A about SQL Server Big Data clusters here and here.

Big Azure Advances
A key Microsoft initiative for securing the Internet of Things (IoT) also reached the public preview stage. Microsoft first unveiled Azure Sphere in April, but at Ignite, Microsoft announced the preview for the solution, which includes a microcontroller unit known as the Azure Sphere MCU, a Linux-based Azure Sphere OS and an Azure Sphere Security Service. An Azure Sphere development kit is immediately available for prototyping from seeed for $85. Inspired by the explosion of IoT devices, their increasing connectivity to the Internet and other networks, and the emergence of IoT botnets like Mirai, Azure Sphere is Microsoft's attempt to be a principal provider of a framework for helping device makers and users secure IoT.

Another significant security enhancement effort in Azure is a public preview coming on Monday, Oct. 1, for an encryption-in-use solution called Azure confidential computing. Data is commonly encrypted at rest (by encrypting the files or disks on which it is stored) and in motion (via protocols such as HTTPS, SSL, TLS and FTPS). The trickier challenge is to protect data during processing, known as encryption in use. Microsoft at Ignite announced the public preview of a new Azure virtual machine family, which it calls the DC series and is based on Intel SGX technology.

Another public preview that is less than a month away is Azure Digital Twins, which is expected on Oct. 15. The big idea is a service for creating a virtual representation of a physical environment. Part of the IoT platform, an Azure Digital Twin will give partners and customers a platform to create comprehensive digital models and spatially aware solutions, Bert Van Hoof, partner group manager for Azure IoT, explained in a blog post: "Most IoT projects today start from a things-centric approach, but we've flipped that around. We've found that customers realize huge benefits by first modeling the physical environment and then connecting (existing or new) devices to that model."

The concept has been associated with industrial equipment, such as machines and engines, but Microsoft's new vision has more to do with creating smarter spaces out of offices, schools, hospitals, banks, stadiums, warehouses, factories, parking lots, streets, intersections, parks and plazas.

Azure Stack, Microsoft's private cloud version of its Azure public cloud that is sold by certified hardware partners, will become more container-friendly with a public preview of Kubernetes support. Kubernetes is the popular, open-source system for automated deployment, scaling and management of applications in containers. Azure Stack customers will now be able to install Kubernetes using Azure Resource Manager templates.

Targeted Updates
Microsoft declared a handful of other technologies as public previews at Ignite.

  • Ad-hoc data exploration is the focus of Azure Data Explorer, a speed-optimized indexing and querying service for analyzing event data from apps, servers and edge devices.

  • A preview will be available Oct. 1 for Azure SQL Database Hyperscale for single databases, with an auto-scaling capacity of a whopping 100TB per database.

  • Seven months after making Azure DataBricks generally available, Microsoft unveiled several updates to the Apache Spark-based analytics platform for building collaborative Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions. Among those is a preview of Azure DataBricks Delta, a transactional storage layer atop Spark to improve data consistency and read access.

  • A new Azure Managed Disks offering known as Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks is designed for latency-sensitive workloads through the use of solid state drives.

  • Azure Files is being updated with a high-performance, SSD-backed storage tier known as Azure Premium Files.

  • Storage capacity for Azure Managed Disks is being expanded in certain regions to now cover 8, 16 and 32TB capacities. Those storage sizes will apply to Premium SSD, Standard SSD and Standard HDD.

  • An application acceleration platform used internally for Bing, Office 365 and Xbox will be available as the Azure Front Door Service (AFD). It is designed for delivery, control and monitoring of global microservice-based Web applications.

  • A solution for adding governance capabilities called Azure Blueprints is available in preview and will be included in the Azure platform at no additional cost once it is generally available.
  • The Azure Resource Graph brings the ability to explore Azure resources through the Azure Portal, PowerShell or CLI for efficient inventory management.

  • Supporting DevOps teams efforts to ship more quickly with better compliance and auditing is a new Azure Policy tool, with additional features that are unlocked when it's used in combination with Azure App Insights and Azure Monitoring.

  • The constant imperative to predict, monitor and contain Azure usage costs gets a native tool as Microsoft previews Azure Cost Management as a component of the Azure Portal for Enterprise Agreement customers. The capabilities were previously available as a standalone platform from Cloudyn.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 27, 2018 at 9:18 AM0 comments


14 Technologies Hitting GA at Microsoft Ignite

Partners will leave Microsoft Ignite this week with more than a dozen new generally available (GA) technologies to sell or build offerings on, ranging from the latest version of Windows Server to strategic Internet of Things (IoT) offerings to a number of Azure services and features.

Kicking off its flagship IT conference Monday morning with a keynote by CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft released details on more than a dozen major products, services and frameworks. While Microsoft's product cycle has kept pace with industry trends to become more fluid in recent years, GA is still a key milestone that signals a product will be fully supported in production environments.

Windows Server 2019
Headlining the announcements of products reaching GA at Ignite is Windows Server 2019. The direction for Microsoft is clearly to the cloud, and the company ceaselessly encourages customers to move workloads to the Azure public cloud or to purpose-built cloud applications, such as Office 365 or Dynamics 365. Yet, Microsoft has carved a competitive niche for itself in the cloud out of its hybrid capabilities, and promises to continue to make and support software that runs on-premises for a while longer.

In strict terms, what Microsoft is announcing for Windows Server 2019 is an October GA, making real availability at least a week off. In technical terms, Windows Server 2019 is a Long-Term Servicing Channel release. That means it is compiled to include features from previous Semi-Annual Channel release versions 1709 and 1803, and that it will have five years of mainstream support and five years of extended support.

A simultaneous Semi-Annual Channel release of Windows Server, version 1809, will also be made available. Microsoft is emphasizing a focus in that version on containers and micro-services.

Internet of Things
One of Microsoft's most significant IoT initiatives also hit GA during Ignite. Azure IoT Central is intended to democratize IoT by making it accessible to users and organizations that don't want to set up the back-end infrastructure or perform the integration necessary to support and leverage an army of sensors and other devices in the field.

The solution differs from other Azure IoT solutions in that it is a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering rather than a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering. Companies subscribe to Azure IoT Central on a per user per month model. The service gives each device a unique security key, provides device libraries, supports common connectivity protocols, scales to millions of connected devices or millions of events per second, and offers time-series storage. The technology had been in public preview since December.

A more tactical GA release this week in the IoT arena is new capabilities in the Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service. Overall, that service allows customers to provision, register and scale IoT devices. The new capabilities will deliver more control to customers over their IoT solutions through the ability to reprovision devices from one IoT solution to another and through enrollment-level allocation rules.

Major Azure Services
Three major services that change the product mix for the Azure public cloud reached GA at Ignite.

Microsoft is throwing its hat in the firewall-as-a-service ring with Azure Firewall. Hitting GA after a three-month public preview phase, Azure Firewall brings native security controls to the Microsoft public cloud. Microsoft describes it as "a managed, cloud native network security service to protect application resources with built-in high availability and unrestricted cloud scalability." The security control includes central administration and logging across subscriptions and virtual networks.

Another major Azure service reaching GA after a short public preview is Azure Virtual WAN. The cloud networking service is designed to allow organizations to provide branch-to-branch connectivity through Azure in an optimized and automated way. Customers can configure branch devices manually to connect to Azure Virtual WAN, or they can work with partners who automate the process. Microsoft lists a number of preferred partners already, including Barracuda Networks, Check Point, Citrix, NetFoundry, Palo Alto Networks, Riverbed Technology and 128 Technology.

Monitoring Azure services is an evolving task with an ever-broadening scope, and Microsoft made a number of enhancements GA to Azure Monitor. With the changes, Azure Monitor becomes the central location for monitoring infrastructure, apps and networks on Azure. The main change is integrating Azure Log Analytics and Azure Application Insights into Azure Monitor as features, rather than as separate services. While maintaining the full functionality of those deep application monitoring and deep infrastructure monitoring tools, Microsoft is making them available from within the Monitor interface.

Other Azure Enhancements
Eight other significant Azure services and features also hit the GA stage at Ignite.

  • A new Speech Service takes improved versions of several of Microsoft's AI speech capabilities and combines them into a single service. Included are speech recognition, speech translation capabilities and customization capabilities to create a unique voice.

  • A version 4 SDK for the Bot Framework, with ease-of-use and pick-and-choose enhancements to make it faster and simpler for first-time bot creators.

  • The Azure Cosmos DB has three significant updates that are GA -- multi-master support for high-availability and lower latency, the Cassandra API that makes Cosmos DB multi-model and multi-API, and the Reserved Capacity subscription option.

  • The size limit for Azure Files shares is being expanded dramatically from 5TB to 100TB, a move Microsoft positions as enabling more flexible migrations of on-premises data files to the cloud.

  • Azure Maps are updated with an improved Map Control API, which adds enhancements related to data layering, visualization, HTML-based icons and a new spatial math library.

  • The Azure Standard SSD Managed Disks offering will give customers running Web servers and lightly used servers better performance with this SSD (Solid State Drives) offering than they would get from Azure's offerings featuring Hard Disk Drives (HDD).

  • The Azure Serial Console is a tool to help developers and system administrators conduct self-service diagnosis and troubleshooting on virtual machines even when the VM is unreachable.

  • The Azure SignalR Service builds on the SignalR ASP.NET library for adding real-time functionality, like chat or stock tickers, to Web applications by providing a back-end service that handles tasks like capacity provisioning, scaling and persistent connections.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 24, 2018 at 2:43 PM0 comments


Microsoft Teases AI, Mixed Reality Integrations in Dynamics 365

New modules coming to Dynamics 365, Microsoft's business applications suite, promise to help businesses access cutting-edge AI and mixed reality technologies to solve their everyday problems.

Microsoft showcased five new apps for Dynamics 365 on Tuesday that integrate everyday business tasks with either the AI capabilities that increasingly permeate the Azure cloud or the mixed reality promise of the Microsoft HoloLens visor-based computer and Windows Mixed Reality immersive headsets from OEMs.

The demonstrations came as a teaser for the Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Envision conferences next week in Orlando, Fla., where Microsoft will address IT and business applications audiences and unveil new products, features and services across its many platforms.

In a briefing for press and analysts, Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president of Business Applications & Industry Marketing at Microsoft, unveiled three AI modules that will be released as previews this fall: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service and Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights.

Taylor described the three products as "a new class of AI applications that will deliver out-of-the-box insights by unifying data and infusing it with advanced intelligence to guide decisions and empower organizations to take informed actions."

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales will be designed for both salespeople and their managers, providing next-step suggestions for the sales team and coaching recommendations based on pipeline analysis for their managers.

The Customer Service module will use natural language recognition and AI to both guide customer service employees and to provide virtual agents that can handle basic tasks and lower support costs. Again, the emphasis, Taylor said, is to deliver those benefits "without needing in-house AI experts and without writing any code."

The Market Insights module for Dynamics 365 is aimed at surfacing Web and social insights to improve the performance of marketing, social media and market research teams.

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft officials showed off two mixed reality modules for Dynamics 365 that have been previously discussed as part of the October 2018 release of Dynamics 365, which will be generally available on Oct. 1.

[Click on image for larger view.]

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist (pictured above) provides for a new type of customer support that takes advantage of the hands-free nature of a HoloLens headset. The person needing assistance can wear the HoloLens, which both streams video to a remote support worker and allows the support worker to project spatial directions or diagrams onto the person's display. In technical terms, the solution consists of heads-up, hands-free video calling, image sharing and mixed reality annotations.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Layout immerses planners and their customers in a 3-D version of potential room designs, floor plans or entire building configurations that help them collaborate on the finished setup. Leveraging various pieces of the Microsoft stack, including HoloLens or immersive goggles, the Layout module includes capabilities for scanning real spaces, loading new virtual layouts to overlay the physical version and the ability to view the results in mixed reality or via streaming to other screens.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 18, 2018 at 2:31 PM0 comments


Meta Networks Unveils Partner Program

Software-defined perimeter (SDP) specialist Meta Networks on Monday launched a formal partner program.

SDP is an emerging area in IT security, with analysts at Gartner last year identifying it as one of the top 10 security approaches to keep an eye on. Generally replacing virtual private networks, an SDP uses software-defined policies to put users at the center of the network security model, identifying those users in policies and determining what resources they can access.

Meta Networks executives position their approach as zero-trust, meaning that users don't have default access to resources within the network. Instead, they only see and access resources that they need for their jobs. Meta layers its SDP as an encrypted cloud service, or Network as a Service (NaaS), delivered via points of presence around the world that customers connect to. The NaaS supports connections from on-site users and remote users, from datacenters and from clouds, including public clouds like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.

Meta Networks calls its partner program the Meta NaaS Channel Program, and it is designed for managed security service providers, VARs, VADs, integrators and IT service providers. Current Microsoft channel partners are a key potential source of partners, said Director of Sales Royi Barnea, due to the tight integration of Meta's products with Microsoft infrastructure software and services.

The initial program is three-tier, with Silver, Gold and Platinum levels for financial rewards and incentives. The program also includes standard components, such as training, certification, demo solutions, sales and marketing materials, sales leads and market development funds.

Palo Alto, Calif-based Meta Networks has also built an indirect account management team and dedicated partner services team.

One early market opportunity for SDP is VPN replacement to provide secure, browser-based remote access to applications for contractors, partners and customers, company officials say. Another popular use case is secure remote access for employees.

The solution is tailored for medium-sized organizations, Barnea said. "Organizations with 300 to 5,000 users are a perfect fit and a very fast sales cycle," he said. "Sales average two weeks to a month, and sales reps like that very quick win and small and fast sales cycle."

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 17, 2018 at 12:53 PM0 comments


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