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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


Pulseway Makes Formal Entry into MSP Market

After building up a sizable installed base of managed service providers (MSPs) with its mobility-focused remote monitoring and management product, Pulseway is making a formal push into the MSP market.

The 5-year-old Dublin, Ireland, based vendor this week launched Pulseway MSP specifically for managed service providers.

The product's baseline capability is to monitor systems such as Windows and Linux servers, Windows and Mac desktops, or .NET and Java applications and send alerts to administrators, who can drill into specifics and take many types of corrective actions remotely from a Web browser or native app on iOS, Android or Windows Phone.

Pulseway is offered in both SaaS and Enterprise architectures, with the Enterprise version combining SaaS with an on-premises central server.

To date, Pulseway has about 3,000 customers in 80 countries, with the majority of its business in the United States, said Pulseway CEO and Founder Marius Mihalec in a telephone interview.

"At this time, we have quite a lot of MSPs, especially early-stage guys with two to three [employees] starting the business," Mihalec said. "Pulseway comes in at a very affordable price; we find that it fits quite well."

Mihalec estimated that about half of the company's 3,000 customers already are MSPs or IT consultants.

As Pulseway prepared to deliver an MSP product, it has been gathering feedback from the MSP half of its customer base on what would be useful.

Some enhancements to the base product for the MSP edition include more scripting capabilities; the ability to provide customizable and white-labelled reports to customers; integration with a Pulseway Business Management Software, which is a professional services automation package; and collaboration features.

Pricing for Pulseway MSP starts at $2.40 per monitored system per month with discounts based on volume and on annual agreements.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 17, 2016 at 12:09 PM0 comments


OwnBackup Ports Cloud-to-Cloud Backup Offering to Azure

Cloud-to-cloud backup vendor OwnBackup, a major player in the Salesforce.com AppExchange, this week announced it has added Microsoft Azure as a cloud-based backup target for Salesforce.com and other Force.com applications.

The SaaS-to-IaaS/PaaS backup solution was initially released last year with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the target. OwnBackup, with offices in Fort Lee, N.J., and Herzliya Pituach, Israel, also offers cloud-to-cloud backup solutions for ServiceNow and corporate social media accounts.

The Azure release is a first step in the Microsoft ecosystem for OwnBackup, which participated in the Microsoft Accelerator program and the 2016 Microsoft Global Startup Roadshow.

"We plan to continue to deepen our relationship with Microsoft so we can offer an easy and effective way for all enterprises to protect business-critical data in the cloud," CEO Sam Gutmann said in a statement. Although the cloud-to-cloud backup market is crowded, Gutmann is no stranger to its ins and outs. Prior to OwnBackup, he was founder and CEO and then-chairman of Intronis.

OwnBackup has partner programs for systems integrators and ISVs.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 10, 2016 at 1:10 PM0 comments


BCM One Acquires CloudStrategies

BCM One Inc., a 25-year-old New York-based technology integrator, expanded its growing footprint of Microsoft services this week with the acquisition of CloudStrategies Group, one of Microsoft's first born-in-the-cloud partners.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

BCM One started out helping clients manage telecommunications solutions and over time expanded into managed services around the entire technology and networking stack. The company first became a formal Microsoft partner about two years ago.

Pete Zarras founded CloudStrategies in 2009 in order to pursue the opportunity in selling Microsoft cloud products. Since then, CloudStrategies deployed Microsoft cloud services to more than 500 clients and supported the migration of over 100,000 users, the companies said.

CloudStrategies had recently been partnering with BCM One to handle Office 365 migrations, and the acquisition talks developed from that. "Our transaction with CloudStrategies was a natural evolution of our established partnership. It allows us to expand our existing in-house cloud specialists with a proven team that delivers and supports best in class Microsoft solutions," said Frank Ahearn, founder and co-CEO of BCM One, in a statement.

CloudStrategies will take on the BCM One brand and move from its Cedar Knolls, N.J., offices to BCM's Manhattan headquarters.

Zarras will lead a team of four CloudStrategies employees going to BCM One. The acquisition adds several Microsoft competencies to BCM One's portfolio -- Gold Cloud Productivity, Silver Messaging, Silver Midmarket Solution Provider and Silver Small & Midmarket Cloud Solutions.

In a statement, Microsoft Vice President of U.S. Partners Stephen Boyle called the acquisition "well aligned to the priorities we are driving across the Microsoft ecosystem," emphasizing the combined companies' Skype for Business, cloud productivity and Azure capabilities.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 04, 2016 at 9:07 AM0 comments


A HoloLens for Any Developer (with $3,000)

Microsoft's hotly anticipated augmented reality platform HoloLens is no longer an invite-only affair.

In conjunction with the release Tuesday of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft moved beyond its initial four-month program of shipping HoloLenses to select developer and commercial partners and opened the not-yet-production-ready devices to North American buyers.

"We've fulfilled the orders for our first waves of developers, and today I'm pleased to announce that we're expanding the program, making HoloLens Development Edition available to all developers and business customers in the United States and Canada," wrote Alex Kipman, technical fellow in the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, in a blog post.

The Microsoft HoloLens Developers Edition is on sale in the U.S. online store for $3,000, a price that includes the goggle headset, a clicker, a carrying case, a charger and cable, a microfiber cloth, nose pads and an overhead strap. Customers are allowed to buy up to five HoloLens devices and are warned that it's for developers only, non-refundable and not intended for use by children under 13.

The intention of the broader release is to encourage development and commercial partners to begin creating the killer apps that will make the devices widely appealing once they reach the commercial release stage.

Kipman also announced the release of a HoloLens Commercial Suite, which includes a limited demo/showcase mode, Mobile Device Management for HoloLens, integration with Azure Active Directory for credentials, controlled OS updates to the devices through Windows Update for Business, BitLocker data encryption and secure boot, and the ability to connect to networks using a HoloLens either remotely via a VPN or wirelessly with Wi-Fi credentials.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 03, 2016 at 11:49 AM0 comments


Time for Microsoft Partners To Take Another Look at VMware?

If anyone should know how Microsoft partners could make themselves fit into VMware's channel, it's Ross Brown.

For a while the No. 2 channel executive during the Allison Watson and Jon Roskill eras of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), Brown has spent the last year as VMware's channel chief.

On Monday, Brown and VMware rolled out some enhancements to the VMware Advantage+ channel program that could make VMware more appealing for more Microsoft partners to work with.

Asked what he thought more Microsoft partners should know about the opportunities in partnering with VMware, as well, Brown encouraged them to "embrace both instead of either or. Most customers are in heterogeneous environments."

Brown pointed out that in some areas, VMware and Microsoft already have strong communities of joint partners. "We have a great relationship through VMware AirWatch with the Windows 10 team," he said. AirWatch was an exhibitor at the recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), an event from which VMware used to be excluded. "We're a great driver of the RDS [Remote Desktop Services] CALs for VMware Horizon."

Author's Note: An earlier version of this story included a quotation about the relative volume of Microsoft RDS CALs that VMware and Citrix are driving. The statement triggered a flurry of e-mails from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware executives that aren't really relevant to the main point of this post, but merit a deeper dive at a later date. Stay tuned.

At the vendor-to-vendor level, the companies' mutual interests aren't always recognized, however. Although he sees Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft's public cloud teams as very forward-looking in terms of cooperating with other vendors like VMware, there can still be resistance at an institutional level within Microsoft to working with, or having partners work with, VMware. "They often try to put people in friend or foe categories," Brown said.

That said, Brown contends there are more opportunities now for Microsoft partners to extend and expand their solutions with VMware than there used to be.

"We're multidimensional. Generally there are more areas of cooperation as opposed to competition between us. Azure is scaling out, and VMware NSX customers want to extend [their deployments] into those clouds," he said.

"We have a great relationship through VMware AirWatch with the Windows 10 team."

Ross Brown, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Partner Organization, VMware

Brown joined VMware with an assignment to help VMware navigate the sales execution transition from a company that sold primarily vSphere to one that also sells AirWatch, Horizon, Workspace ONE, vRealize, NSX, VSAN, vCloud Air and vCloud NFV.

"It illustrates the transition we're going through from a product that's largely bought, and where customers know what they want and they can get it through transactional channels, to a product that has to be sold," he said.

VMware needs the channel more than ever now to help customers understand how they can benefit from the broader portfolio, according to Brown. NSX, for example, "is conceptually mind-bending for people," he said. "You not only have to understand vSphere but the OSI model from Layer 2 all the way through the application session. You can create networks where every node on the network is its own segment to protect against privilege escalation. The current model is perimeter defense with firewalls everywhere. NSX operates like a hotel where every room has its own key."

The main change introduced on Monday is increased up-front product margins for Advantage+ partners to a maximum of 30 percent, compared to a previous limit of 10 percent. Additionally, VMware is streamlining the validation of deal registration, cutting out any human involvement in most cases to reduce delays and improve predictability for partners.

"We're moving to a model where instead of the approval being held by sales, it's very simple -- if we don't know about the deal, it will get approved. At the beginning of the sales cycle, you will know if you're getting the margin," Brown said.

Delays in approvals and the limitation on the top-tier margin made it difficult for partners to justify committing to selling VMware's full portfolio. "Now partners can go and hunt with confidence without worrying about whether they're going to get paid or not," Brown said.

Even for Microsoft partners on the fence about getting involved with VMware yet, the company is worth watching. Brown described the Aug. 1 announcements as a first rev of changes to VMware's partner program that will start coming every six months.

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 01, 2016 at 2:33 PM0 comments


What It Means for Microsoft To 'Double Investment' in IUR

Internal Use Rights (IUR) have consistently been one of the most valuable elements of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) for partners, and Microsoft is doubling down on the benefit in the fiscal year that just started.

"We're providing more access to free software and services via Internal Use Rights (IUR). In fact, we're doubling our investment in free software, cloud services, and platforms for our partners over the next year, giving you the tools needed to build innovative solutions on top of Microsoft technologies," Microsoft's top channel executive, Gavriella Schuster, said last week in a blog post from the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).

Schuster's brief description in the blog post only scratched the surface of the expansion of IUR that began on July 1.

When the benefit consists of a kind of "funny money" -- free licenses and subscriptions from the company that makes them for the internal use of their partners -- what does doubling the investment mean? In this case, it appears to be more than an internal accounting trick for crediting licenses that are given to partners as part of their Gold Competency, Silver Competency or Action Pack subscription fees.

"Our investments involve adding new cloud-related products to the program, building the new IUR platform in the Partner Center and improving the partner experience and technology so partners can utilize IUR easier and better," said a Microsoft spokesperson in a follow-up interview by e-mail.

Examples of new cloud-related products Microsoft plans to launch into the IUR program for select competency partners include a new Dynamics CRM Online Enterprise, Dynamics Employee Self Service, Dynamics CRM Online non-production instances, and Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing.

The IUR seat limits for Gold, Silver and the Action Pack will not change. The original MPN structure called for Gold to provide enough licenses to support a 100-employee partner organization, for Silver to support a 25-employee partner, and for Action Pack to support a 10-user partner.

Schuster's focus during her mainstage keynote at WPC and in an interview with RCP prior to the keynote was on Azure IUR, which are measured differently than other IUR because a seats-based approach doesn't fit. Azure-based IUR, a staple of the Cloud Platform competency, are meted out by Azure resource consumption.

In the just-completed Microsoft FY16, Cloud Platform partners with a Silver Competency got $6,000/year worth of Azure bulk credits and Gold Competency got $12,000. That was twice the amount of bulk credits that Cloud Platform partners got in FY15.

"I want to help you build more robust and innovative cloud solutions. So this year, we are doubling our Cloud Platform Internal Use Rights for you," Schuster said during her keynote at WPC last week.  However, the spokesperson confirmed that those caps aren't changing from the $6,000 Silver/$12,000 Gold thresholds, which took effect midway through this last fiscal year. According to the spokesperson, Schuster's keynote comments referred to the broader doubling of investments in IUR, not to any change in the Cloud Platform competency benefits.

Even if details of the IUR expansion are still in flux, it's clear that Microsoft continues to recognize the strategic value to partners and to itself of IUR. Partners save on their internal IT infrastructure, get all their employees familiar with products across the stack that they might not otherwise use or be able to afford, get the ability to demo solutions, and are able to more affordably perform internal development and testing. The end result, according to Schuster's blog, is a win-win for Microsoft and its partners: "When partners use IURs, their deals are approximately three times larger."

In another IU development at WPC, SkyKick Co-CEO and Co-Founder Evan Richman said Microsoft and SkyKick will continue offering two of SkyKick's cloud-related products to partners through the Microsoft IUR benefit. The programs allow partners to use the SkyKick Migration Suite to move up to 500 seats of their business to Office 365 and grant them a perpetual use license for SkyKick Cloud Backup, which backs up Office 365 and OneDrive data to the Azure cloud.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 21, 2016 at 1:35 PM0 comments


Encrypting Everything All the Time

Security vendor Sophos on Tuesday released an update of its mature encryption product focused on making encryption more of a no-brainer for midmarket customers who are interested in securing their files but have felt boxed-out of the technology by the difficulty of implementation.

"We're reimagining how encryption needs to work to become widely adopted, versus just being used in enterprises," said Marty Ward, vice president of product marketing at Sophos, in an interview.

The release of Sophos SafeGuard Encryption 8 takes what had been a file and disk encryption product and adds two key elements -- encryption of files by default and the extension of the encryption functionality for a customer to mobile devices, specifically iOS and Android.

"People used to have to classify data, decide how to encrypt it and then train all the users on how to use it. That seemed like a lot of work," Ward said. "Our focus is on simplicity and automation."

A 100 percent channel company, Sophos has an end user sweet spot of organizations with between 100 and 5,000 users, a customer demographic that the company's own research shows is growing more interested in encryption technologies, Ward said.

Sophos SafeGuard consists of a management server for management of encryption keys, a management console that IT uses to administer the product, agents for Windows and Mac laptops and PCs, and an app for iPhones and Android devices.

The intention of the new functionality is that any file that's created by a customer will be encrypted by default. It can be shared among employees, who are able to open the file if the Sophos software verifies that the user, the application and the device all check out and do not appear to be under any sort of active malware threat.

Sharing files outside of the organization can either be done by first decrypting the file, which is a logged event, or by creating a password for the file that will allow the file to be opened.

"It's a great opportunity for channel partners because what they can go in and do now is [say], 'This is not just a sale of encryption but it's tied in with mobile,'" Ward said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 19, 2016 at 2:00 PM0 comments


Microsoft Adding 250 Techs to Field Organization

  • See our full WPC 2016 coverage here.

Microsoft will add 250 technical people to its field organization over the next year to help partners develop their cloud businesses.

"I want to help you build new cloud and hybrid practices on our advanced workloads, so we're investing more technical resources in the field, cloud architects, to help you build those new practices," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, during a keynote last week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC).

The types of workloads the new field resources will specialize in will include Power BI and data analytics, Schuster said in an interview with RCP.

"That brings our total people in the field dedicated to partner success, so people who are 'partner somethings' in the field, to 3,500. It's a pretty big investment," Schuster said.

The 250 new employees in Microsoft's fiscal year 2017, which runs from this month through June 2018, represent almost an 8 percent bump in partner-focused field staffing by Microsoft.

Schuster said the new employees will not be focused on particular customer segments, such as SMB or enterprise.

"What they're supposed to do, and the way that we'll govern them, is based on those partners they think have the highest potential in the market. It's not based on which customer sets are they going to go after. It's more about their solution and how they can help them build their solution and how invested that partner is in building that practice," Schuster said.

"If you get a great repeatable practice going with SMB customers or CTM customers, you can really outperform an enterprise partner. Or if you get some really great horizontal solution in the enterprise, you could outperform everybody. They're going to just be evaluating who do I think has the highest potential in the market to drive consumption," she said.

Also at WPC, Schuster unveiled a new marketing logo for Microsoft partners with Gold competencies that includes the Microsoft logo (see below).

"Part of our intention is to make it obvious to our customers who our best partners are, who our gold partners are, and so for the first time ever we're coupling the Microsoft logo to the Gold Partner brand. If you earn Gold, you've earned the right to have the Microsoft logo on your card," Schuster said. "You have to also share what your competencies are so the customer can get to the level of detail that you're good at the thing [they're] looking for."

Barb Levisay contributed to this report.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 18, 2016 at 2:05 PM0 comments


WPC 2016 Preview: RCP Contributor Sessions

RCP analyzed the Worldwide Partner Conference session catalog to help partners get the most out of the show or to track it from the office. For more on WPC 2016, visit our event page here.

Several columnists and regular contributors to Redmond Channel Partner magazine are presenting this week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

RCP Blogger, Columnist and Contributor Barb Levisay
• US05 - Connect to your customers through modern marketing
Tuesday, 2:30-3:30 p.m., North 104B (session repeats Wednesday, 4-5 p.m., in North 104C)
Speakers: Barb Levisay, Diane Golshan, Diana Ishak
"Your company's brand matters, and having a clear, actionable marketing plan for positioning your company with customers and for strategic partnerships is essential. In this panel discussion about modern marketing for U.S. partners, we share the tools, resources, and best practices for your partner business."

RCP Columnist Mike Harvath
• Are you growing to buy, or growing to sell your business?
Monday, 1-2 p.m., MPN Theater
Speakers: Mike Harvath, CEO; Reed Warren, VP
"This session will focus on your motivations for growing your business, and what you should do to optimize your business to acquire a complementary product or services firm and/or sell your business."

• Build, buy and/or sell your business. How to navigate this crazy market?
Wednesday 1-2 p.m., North 206EF
Speakers: Mike Harvath, CEO; Reed Warren, VP
"This session will focus on why the market highly values successful cloud services businesses, and how to become a top quartile cloud company."

• How to make your cloud services business a top quartile profit performer, and grow like crazy
Wednesday, 4-5 p.m., North 206EF
Speakers: Mike Harvath, CEO; Reed Warren, VP
This session is another look from a slightly different angle on why the market highly values successful cloud services businesses, and how to become a top quartile cloud company.

RCP Contributor Eric Rabinowitz
• Customer Experience: The new competitive differentiator
Monday, 4-5 p.m., South 709
Speakers: Eric Rabinowitz, Jennifer Tomlinson, Ray Meiring, Nate Kristy
"Learn how to build compelling personal conversations with your prospects and customers across the buying journey. Hear tips from savvy partners who have cracked the code on customer engagement."

RCP Contributor Jeff Hilton
• Step it up: Use partner mashups to increase revenues
Tuesday, 1-1:30 p.m., Community Hub Theater
Speaker: Jeff Hilton
"According to IDC, cloud partners sell $5.87 of their own offerings for every $1 of Microsoft. That's a nice multiplier! Don't have these offerings? Take solutions from other partners, and do a mashup of products and services to create perfect solutions for your target market. That sounds super easy, but before you jump in, you'll want to ask and answer some very important questions."

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 11, 2016 at 6:25 AM0 comments


WPC 2016 Preview: 7 Technologies Hitting Prime Time

RCP analyzed the Worldwide Partner Conference session catalog to help partners get the most out of the show or to track it from the office. For more on WPC 2016, visit our event page here.

These are the buzzwords that have graduated, at least in terms of Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) sessions and Microsoft commitment and focus, to full-fledged partner opportunities with concrete tools, processes and guidance behind them.

1. IoT: The number of sessions about Internet of Things (IoT) opportunities seems substantially higher than a year ago, with many of them focused on nuts-and-bolts concerns like the capabilities of the Azure IoT Suite.

2. Power BI: The business intelligence-focused cloud service is on the verge of being a theme this year, with sessions on leveraging it on its own, with Dynamics CRM Online, with Salesforce.com and with ERP products, among others.

3. Power Apps: Microsoft's platform for building and deploying custom line-of-business applications is the star of several sessions this time.

4. Azure Stack: The ability for customers to run Azure on-premises was delivered in rough form a few years ago. But the new Azure Stack has much better parity with Microsoft's public cloud offering, leading to new partner opportunities.

5. Cortana Intelligence Suite: Intermingled with machine learning and many other Microsoft technologies, the Cortana Intelligence Suite is a backdrop of many case study-style presentations, as Microsoft moves to ramp up channel understanding of the capabilities.

6. StorSimple: Microsoft bought StorSimple in 2012 and released the Azure StorSimple virtual appliance to complement the physical appliance in 2014. This year, Microsoft is reaching out more aggressively to its channel with sessions designed to both introduce the StorSimple product and provide partnering details.

7. Cloud Platform Immersion Program: The Immersion programs are sales tools that are similar to the old Microsoft Experience Center (MEC) demos that Microsoft's field would often help partners use to give customers a full-stack experience to move a sale to close. Microsoft is running dozens of availabilities at the WPC for partners to get familiar with what a Cloud Platform Immersion Program demo would look like for their customers. Some of the available setups involve SQL Server 2016, Cortana Intelligence Suite, IoT, Enterprise Mobility Suite, System Center 2012 R2, Azure, StorSimple and Office 365.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 11, 2016 at 6:29 AM0 comments