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WPC: Microsoft Rolls Out Cloud, Big Data Tech Previews

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Microsoft's Server and Tools Business on Monday rolled out a series of technology previews and incentives aimed at making Microsoft's cloud and big data offerings more robust and easy for businesses to use.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft STB president, announced the cloud offerings during a keynote Monday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston and in a blog post.

"The technology to help our partners realize the opportunities in cloud computing and big data is here and the time to collectively help our customers embrace these mega trends is now," Nadella wrote in his blog entry.

Nadella provided details on five programs:

Power BI for Office 365 got the biggest crowd reaction at WPC, especially after an entertaining demo by Microsoft Technical Fellow Amir Netz, who pulled visual data on the comparative popularity of different music stars over the decades and breathlessly narrated the results as if it were a horse race.

Nadella described Power BI as "our new self-service business intelligence (BI) solution that combines the data analysis and visualization capabilities of Excel with the power of collaboration, scale and trusted cloud environment of Office 365."

Power BI requires an IT department or partner to prepare data sets, such as company financial data or CRM data, and place them in a Data Catalog, which is hosted in SharePoint Online. IT can configure how frequently the data is updated. Users can then import that internal data and combine it with public data prepared by Microsoft from sources such as Wikipedia.

Once they've found data from the catalog, end users can use Excel to connect data from different sources and analyze it.

Power BI also allows the creation of BI Sites, where companies can set up dedicated workspaces for business intelligence projects. Mobile apps will allow for access to those BI sites from iPads or Windows 8 devices. Another feature, called Q&A, includes a natural language query experience in which users ask questions of the data in a search box and get back answers in a table, graph or map, depending on how Power BI interprets the question.

[Click on image for larger view.] Q&A in Power BI. (Source: Microsoft)

Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, highlighted Power BI as a huge partner opportunity. "With the launch of Power BI for Office 365, partners will be able to bring powerful BI solutions to SMBs," Roskill said.

A public preview of Power BI for Office 365 will be available later this summer. Microsoft has not released pricing for the production version, but officials say it will be a per-user, per-month model.

A Premium offer for Windows Azure SQL Database will offer dedicated capacity "for more powerful and predictable performance from Azure databases," Nadella said.

"One of the challenges with [Windows Azure] SQL is what I'll call noisy neighbors," said Eron Kelly, general manager of SQL Server Product Marketing, in an interview. "With the new premium version, we're locking down and dedicating a certain amount of capacity -- bandwidth and CPU."

The premium Platform as a Service database will debut as a preview toward the end of July. Once in production, customers will pay an additional fee per core along with the standard per-gigabyte price of SQL Azure. The per-core price will be disclosed later.

New Windows Azure Active Directory capabilities will extend AD management to third-party cloud services, making it possible for organizations to control employee accounts for cloud services used as part of their job. While Microsoft is working with some of the biggest Software as a Service vendors to integrate their services with Azure AD, the system is also extensible so ISVs and other third parties can create their own integrations.

Cloud OS Accelerate is an incentive program to encourage new private and hybrid cloud solutions for customers. A $100 million combined investment in incentives for Cloud OS Accelerate will be made by Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, HP and Dell.

A Windows Intune offer will go into effect Oct. 1 for discounting Microsoft's cloud management suite. Customers who buy Windows Intune as part of the Office 365 or CAL suite will get a 30 percent discount, Microsoft officials said.

More News and Analysis from WPC 2013:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 08, 2013 at 11:58 AM