Microsoft Prepping New Windows Server Flash Array Options

Flash storage is one of the fastest-growing new datacenter technologies these days and while critics warn it can cost a lot, proponents say it can vastly improve performance and reduce operational and capital expenses.

With the release of Windows Server 2012 R2, and more specifically Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, Microsoft is testing the limits of flash storage. Violin, a rapidly growing startup which went public last year, and Microsoft codeveloped the new Windows Flash Array. It's a converged storage-server appliance which has every component of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 including SMB 3.0 Direct over RDMA built in and powered by dual-Intel Xeon E5-2448L processors.

The two companies spent the past 18 months developing the new 3U dual-cluster arrays that IT can use as networked-attached storage (NAS), according to Eric Herzog, Violin's new CMO and senior VP of business development. Microsoft wrote custom code in Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 that interfaces with the Violin Windows Flash Array, Herzog explained. The Windows Flash Array comes with an OEM version of Windows Storage Server.

"Customers do not need to buy Windows Storage Server, they do not need to buy blade servers, nor do they need to buy the RDMA 10-gig-embedded NICs. Those all come prepackaged in the array ready to go and we do Level 1 and Level 2 support on Windows Server 2012 R2," Herzog said.

Based on feedback from 12 beta customers (which include Microsoft), the company claims its new array has double the write performance with SQL Server of any other array, with a 54 percent improvement when measuring SQL Server reads, a 41 percent boost with Hyper-V and 30 percent improved application server utilization. It's especially well-suited for any business application using SQL Server and it can extend the performance of Hyper-V and virtual desktop infrastructure implementations. It's designed to ensure latencies of less than 500 microseconds.

Violin is currently offering a 64-terabyte configuration with a list price of $800,000. Systems with less capacity are planned for later in the year. It can scale up to four systems, which is the outer limit of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 today. As future versions of Windows Storage Server offer higher capacity, the Windows Storage Array will scale accordingly, according to Herzog. Customers do need to use third-party tiering products, he noted.

Herzog said the two companies will be giving talks on the Windows Flash Array at next month's TechEd conference in Houston. "Violin's Windows Flash Array is clearly a game changer for enterprise storage," said Scott Johnson, Microsoft's senior program manager for Windows Storage Server, in a blog post. "Given its incredible performance and other enterprise 'must-haves,' it's clear that the year and a half that Microsoft and Violin spent jointly developing it was well worth the effort."

Indeed interest in enterprise flash certainly hasn't curbed investor enthusiasm. The latest round of high-profile investments goes to flash storage array supplier Pure Storage, which today bagged another round of venture funding.

T. Rowe Price and Tiger Global, along with new investor Wellington Management, added  $275 million in funding to Pure Storage, which the company says gives it a valuation of $3 billion. But as reported in a recent Redmond magazine cover story, Pure Storage is in a crowded market of incumbents, including EMC, IBM and NetApp, that have jumped on the flash bandwagon as well as quite a few newer entrants including Flashsoft, recently acquired by SanDisk, SolidFire and Violin.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/23/2014 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Rumor: Microsoft To Rename Nokia's Device Business 'Microsoft Mobile'

Microsoft's deal to finalize its acquisition of the Nokia Devices and Services business is set for this Friday, April 25, with the Nokia branch rumored to be renamed "Microsoft Mobile."

According to the Web site Ubergizmo, the Nokia handset and services business will remain headquartered in Finland under the new name Microsoft Mobile Oy. As my friend Mike Elgan pointed out, Oy is the equivalent of LLC or Corp. "It's also Yiddish for 'ouch,' but it's likely Microsoft has the Finnish one in mind," Elgan noted. Microsoft isn't commenting on the report. "We have confirmed the acquisition will be completed on April 25," according to a spokeswoman for Microsoft. "At that time we will begin the work of integration."

Also, before the merger becomes official, the terms of the $7.2 billion deal, announced last summer, have been changed.

Though nothing major, 21 Nokia employees in China who were slated to remain with the company will now join Microsoft. Since it was China that  held up the deal last month, perhaps these terms were added to appease all parties? The employees work on mobile phones. Microsoft will also now manage the Nokia.com domain and its social media sites for up to a year and will no longer acquire Nokia's manufacturing facility in Korea.

"The completion of this acquisition follows several months of planning and will mark a key step on the journey towards integration," said Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith in a blog post Monday. "This acquisition will help Microsoft accelerate innovation and market adoption for Windows Phones. In addition, we look forward to introducing the next billion customers to Microsoft services via Nokia mobile phones."

Microsoft has a lot riding on that integration. The deal was long championed by former CEO Steve Ballmer, who recently admitted his biggest regret was missing the mobile wave. The deal involved drawn-out negotiations which originally lacked the support of Founder Bill Gates and current CEO Satya Nadella.

It remains to be seen whether acquiring Nokia's devices and services business turns out to be the savior for Windows Phone and Microsoft's tablet ambitions or what ultimately does it in.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/21/2014 at 3:28 PM0 comments


Tech & Tools Watch, April 18: Riverbed, BMC, Netwrix

With so many tools released for IT pros every week, many of them often go under the radar. Looking to address that, I thought it would be a good idea to offer regular roundups with the latest bits of product and technology news. Here in the Schwartz Report, we'll call it "Tech and Tools Watch." Without further ado, here's our first installment:

Riverbed Improves Branch Office Converged Infrastructure
Riverbed has turned granite into steel. The company this week relaunched its Granite Solution, a converged infrastructure appliance it introduced two years ago, with the new name SteelFusion. But the change is more than cosmetic. The new SteelFusion 3.0 offers a six-fold improvement in performance and a three-fold improvement in capacity -- up to 100 terabytes, the company said.

Long known for its branch office WAN optimization hardware, Riverbed's SteelFusion brings the same concept in the form of converged appliances for remote locations. The SteelFusion branch office appliance provides converged compute, storage, networking and virtualization features different from typical converged appliances from the likes of Cisco, Dell and HP. The Riverbed offering stores data centrally at the datacenter or headquarters location and streams it to the branch office rather than storing data at each remote location.

"Data belongs in the datacenter, which is why it's called a datacenter," said Riverbed Director of Technology Rob Whitely. "When putting these in the branch, now I can run my services locally at the branch but I don't want data residing at the branch where it's subject to theft, corruption or downtime."

Riverbed said the new release also offers improved integration with EMC and NetApp SANs with support for NetApp cluster mode and EMC VNX2 snapshots. It also has an improved backup and recovery support with a new recovery agent, an enhanced scaled-out architecture and is better suited for VDI and CAD/CAM-type implementations.

BMC Software's CLM Tool Targets Microsoft Azure
BMC Software's Cloud Lifecycle Management (CLM) software now supports migration to Microsoft Azure. The company said its new 4.0 release, due for GA in early June, makes it simple to migrate from VMware-based clouds to the Microsoft Azure infrastructure-as-a-service platform (IaaS). BMC said the new release of its CLM tool will let IT manage services delivery, operations, planning and compliance via different public cloud service providers' infrastructures from a single management platform and interface.

Workloads designed to run in VMware environments can be easily redirected to Microsoft Azure, according to Steven Anderson, BMC's principal product manager. "You can specify the application stacks, the networking necessities, storage necessities and all those various aspects," he said. "Those parts go into the blueprints and can remain essentially the same. So all you have to do is change the blueprint and point to a different OS image, whatever the image ID is for the platform you're interested in and you can deploy the new instances of those workloads on the new platform in very little time at all."

The CLM tool can integrate through Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Anderson said that while Amazon is by far the most widely deployed cloud, the company is seeing increased usage of Microsoft Azure as well.

Netwrix Survey: IT Pros Admit Undocumented Changes
Netwrix this week released the results of a survey it commissioned which found that more than half (57 percent) of all IT pros surveyed admit they have made undocumented changes that no one else is aware of. These changes put organizations at risk for downtime and security breaches, according to Netwrix, which supplies the Netwrix Auditor for tracking and managing changes.

The company surveyed 577 IT pros for its "2014 State of IT Changes" report. The study shows these changes caused services to stop for 65 percent of those surveyed. It also found these undocumented changes led to daily or weekly downtime (52 percent), were the root cause of security breaches (39 percent) and 62 percent of the changes were unauditable. Only 23 percent said they have an auditing or change management solution in place.

That's good news for Netwrix, which last month made its auditing solutions available as specific modules. It now include specific standalone offerings under the Auditor brand for Active Directory, file servers, Exchange, SQL Server, Windows Server  and VMware.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/18/2014 at 1:02 PM0 comments


Don't Look for Azure To Be Built on OpenStack

If you were wondering if Microsoft Azure service would ever become an OpenStack cloud, it looks unlikely anytime soon based on statements by company officials Thursday.

Perhaps you never thought that was in the cards anyway, but given Microsoft's more-welcome approach to open source, I've always wondered what the future held for OpenStack on Azure. I usually get blank stares when I raise the issue.

But Microsoft doesn't believe there are any OpenStack clouds that come near the size and scale of Azure, or the services offered by Amazon or Google, said Corporate VP Brad Anderson, answering a question during a company presented webinar -- the first of its new Hybrid Cloud Series -- held in Redmond (see Kurt Mackie's recap of the presentation here). The hour-long talk is now available on demand here.

"I hear the conversation -- is OpenStack delivering this promise of public, hosted and private and I would argue there's not a global public cloud that's built on OpenStack today," Anderson responded. "If you look at these public cloud organizations -- us, Google and Amazon -- none of us have built on OpenStack. And we're the only one of those three that has this promise and a proven track record of taking everything that we're doing in the public cloud and then delivering it across... a hybrid model."

While Rackspace may beg to differ, IBM and Hewlett Packard are among those that say their OpenStack-based clouds support OpenStack. But both are still a work in progress. At the same time, OpenStack, like Azure, is designed to run Windows Server instances and Hyper-V virtual machines. The promise of OpenStack, however, is that customers can move their workloads to other OpenStack clouds. Microsoft counters that customers can do that with in-house Windows Server private clouds, hosting providers that support Microsoft's cloud OS (few as those may be at this time) and Azure. It's safe to say that the OpenStack community wouldn't see that as a valid comparison.

The question came up just as the OpenStack Foundation this week released its semi-annual distribution called Icehouse which has 350 new features and targets better scalability for enterprise workloads. Members of the OpenStack community from various companies have consistently described Microsoft as an active participant in committees where it comes to ensuring Hyper-V works well in OpenStack clouds.

Despite questioning the reach of OpenStack, Anderson reiterated the company's commitment to integrating with it. "OpenStack is going to be used in a number of different places so we want to also integrate with OpenStack," he said. "If an organization has made a decision that they're going to use OpenStack, it's a lot like Linux. If I go back and look at Linux 10 years ago, we embraced Linux with System Center. We've got an awful lot of Linux. We look at the number of VMs that are running inside of Azure that are Linux-based, and that's a significant number. We'll do the work on OpenStack to make sure Hyper-V in the Microsoft cloud is a first-class citizen. We will continue that work."

While Anderson was playing both sides, in an ironic sort of way, so was Canonical Cloud Product Manager Mark Baker, whom I chatted with earlier in the week about its release of Ubuntu Linux 14.04. Canonical is a major OpenStack participant and Baker claims Ubuntu is a widely used Linux distribution on OpenStack clouds today. At the same time, Baker said besides Amazon, Microsoft Azure is one of the fastest-growing alternatives when it comes to deployments of Ubuntu.

"Even through people may find it surprising, we have a great working relationship with Microsoft and the Azure team," Baker said. "We see that as one of the fastest-growing clouds, and Ubuntu is growing fast on that."

Regardless, a number of major organizations are using OpenStack clouds including Samsung, Netflix, Time Warner, Best Buy and Comcast, according to Baker, acknowledging most are tech-centric enterprises today.

While Anderson didn't actually go into whether or not Azure will support OpenStack, his sizing of it didn't make it sound imminent. Do you agree with his assessment of OpenStack or is he underestimating it?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/18/2014 at 12:33 PM0 comments


Are Business Leaders Seizing Your IT Budgets?

It's no secret that the ease of procuring various cloud-computing applications and infrastructure services and the BYOD trend have impacted IT organizations' influence. Now a survey released yesterday suggests business leaders are broadly seizing influence over IT decisions from CIOs and enterprise IT decision makers.

More than one-third of IT decisions are made by business leaders who don't report to the CIO, according to the survey released by Avanade, a joint venture of Microsoft and Accenture focused on the deployment and support of Microsoft technologies. The survey of 1,003 business and IT executives shows that 79 percent believe the business leaders feel they are better equipped to make technology decisions.

This shift means IT organizations are becoming "service brokers," according to Avanade. Under this model, IT organizations consult with the business units to determine their needs and goals. Already 35 percent of IT organizations have transitioned to this service-broker model, according to the survey.

Despite the new shift in control, the survey shows that the vast majority of business leaders (83 percent) still have confidence in IT staff interacting with key stakeholders as consultants and 66 percent plan to expand the role of technologists in becoming business advisors in the coming year. To enable this transition, business leaders are turning to IT organizations to partner with them. The survey found that 44 percent of business leaders are looking to enhance their cloud computing skills and 43 percent are looking to work with IT on systems integration.

This shift has not come without pain. "The tilting balance of control over technology decisions and budget has created a real tension between IT and the business and requires IT to rethink its approach, learn new skills and grow its influence," said Mick Slattery, Avanade executive vice president at Global Service Lines, in a statement. "Forward-looking companies are positioning their IT staff as business advisors and see IT contributing more to accomplishing objectives, and driving positive business results than ever before."

Nevertheless IT organizations are for the most part (71 percent) cooperating with this shift, according to the survey.

Are the lines of business seizing your IT budget? If so how much tension has this created in your organization?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/16/2014 at 11:59 AM0 comments


The Switch Is On: Are You Moving to Hyper-V?

Nearly six months after Microsoft has shipped Windows Server 2012 R2, a growing number of IT pros now believe the Hyper-V hypervisor is ready for prime time. A growing number of third parties and IT pros say it's now practical to use Hyper-V for business-critical workloads.

Before the current release of Hyper-V 3.0, that wasn't the case. While Hyper-V was suitable for various workloads, most enterprises were reluctant to use it for heavy duty virtualization. And even those that were using it certainly weren't displacing existing hypervisors, especially VMware's ESX.

It's not that many shops weren't intrigued by the thought of using Hyper-V, which Microsoft has offered free of charge with Windows Server since 2008. It's just that it lacked the robustness and management capabilities offered by VMware. Many say while VMware still has a technical edge over Hyper-V, the gap has narrowed to the point that it's suitable for a growing number of mainstream use cases. It's even more appealing for those considering Microsoft's hybrid cloud strategy, called Cloud OS, that makes it easier to bridge Windows Server to Azure using Hyper-V.

Microsoft this week moved to make it easier to migrate VMware infrastructure to Hyper-V with the release of Virtual Machine Converter 2.0. The free tool lets IT pros migrate VMware-based virtual machines and virtual disks to Hyper-V-based VMs and virtual hard disks (VHDs).

"Virtual machine migration is an increasing priority for many customers as more and more are exploring and evaluating the Microsoft platform against their existing VMware installed base," the company said in a blog post from its server and cloud team. "Whether it's virtual to virtual (from one hypervisor to another) or physical to virtual, migration provides customers a path for consolidation of workloads and services, and the foundation for cloud."

The new VM Converter 2.0 supports V-Center and ESX 5.5,  VMware virtual hardware version 4  through 10 support and Linux guest OS migration support including CentOS, Debian, Oracle, Red Hat Enterprise, SuSE enterprise and Ubuntu. Microsoft also pointed to two new features. The first is an on-premises VM to Azure VM conversion tool, which lets IT pros migrate their VMware VMs directly to Azure. It also now includes a PowerShell interface for scripting and automation support, letting IT pros automate migration processes with workflow tools including System Center Orchestrator, among others, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also said MVVC 3.0, slated for this fall, will add physical-to-virtual (P2V) machine conversion for supported versions of Windows.

Do you plan to make the switch or are you sticking with VMware (or looking at KVM or other alternative hypervisors)? Share your views in the comment section below or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/11/2014 at 11:23 AM0 comments


Windows XP: October 25, 2001-April 8, 2014

Microsoft yesterday issued its final patch for Windows XP and Office 2003. The operating system, arguably the most popular version of Windows ever, is now officially dead (though it's still a long way from the grave). It still lives on millions of PCs and it is well documented that many of them will continue to run the dead OS indefinitely.

Because Microsoft issued the last patch yesterday, nothing bad is likely to happen imminently. It will take many weeks and months before it is clear what vulnerabilities are exploited and how severely it impacts users.

Some expect little of consequence to happen while others say those keeping their Windows XP-based PCs will face major problems. For example, Jason Kennedy, a business product marketing director at Intel, told me this week that he's concerned that many unsuspecting users, especially those with small- and medium-sized business, are awaiting disaster.

"I unfortunately expect many of the bad people who are crafting malware or identity theft opportunities have been lying in wait for some time after April 8," Kennedy said. "I do believe sometime after the deadline those attacks will be unleashed. And people will suffer. I hope it's not severe but I expect there will be problems as a result of not taking the threats serious enough and not taking steps to mitigate."

Given the obvious fact that Intel has a vested interest in users moving off Windows XP since most will have to buy new PCs (with new processors) you may take that with a grain of salt. On the other hand, no one knows what vulnerabilities will surface.

While it remains to be seen if such a dire event happens, those who've decided to stick with Windows XP have made their decisions and are ready to live with the consequences. If you back up your data, chances are the worst that will happen is you'll have to buy a new PC or some other device.

Perhaps you'll give up on Windows altogether? That's what Google, VMware and even Citrix are urging business customers to do. "Many businesses are in a tough spot," Amit Singh, president of Google Enterprise, said in a blog post. "Despite 'significant' security and privacy risks, legacy software or custom-built apps have held businesses back from migrating in time for today's XP support deadline. Companies in this position now find themselves at a timely crossroads. It's time for a real change, rather than more of the same."

Google and VMware teamed up yesterday to announce they will take $200 off Google Chromebooks for Business with VMware Horizon DaaS. The two companies last month announced a pact to bundle the two offerings and this looks to sweeten the deal. Google is offering $100 off Chromebooks for each managed device purchased for a company and Citrix is offering 25 percent off its Citrix XenApp Platinum Edition, which includes Windows XP migration acceleration tool AppDNA.

Windows XP may be dead but as rivals pick at the carcass, it's a long way from being buried.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/09/2014 at 1:24 PM0 comments


Are You Ready for the Last Windows XP Patch?

Tomorrow represents a milestone for many PC and Exchange administrators. It's the long-dreaded day when Microsoft will issue its last patch for Windows XP, Exchange 2003 and Office 2003 (which, of course, includes Outlook).  It's also an important day because Microsoft will also issue the Windows 8.1 Update.

As reported in this month's Redmond magazine cover story, 23 percent of polled readers will keep their Windows XP-based systems running indefinitely. Only 28 percent of you have completed your migrations or have no Windows XP-based machines left. Even though tomorrow is the end for Windows XP, barring any unexpected events, the day will likely come and go without incident -- though you won't be able to avoid hearing about it if you're watching the evening news or listening to the radio.

Nevertheless, Windows XP systems will be around for the foreseeable future as they slowly fade over time. Until then, if you're just using Windows XP for PC apps and are not connecting to the Internet, you shouldn't have any problems. For those still connected, it's advisable to remove the default administrative privileges, enable memory and buffer overflow protection and allow whitelisting for zero-day vulnerability protection, as noted by security software supplier McAfee.

For many organizations, upgrading Windows XP PCs is not a simple task, especially for those with apps that can't run on newer versions of Windows. While there are many remedies -- rebuilding apps, using third-party tools or desktop virtualization/VDI -- all come with a cost and some simply don't see a need to change OSes. Others do but just are going to have to let that deadline pass and either pay extra for support or take other measures -- or perhaps just cross their fingers.

Redmond columnist Greg Shields put it best. In last month's Windows Insider column, he compared replacing Windows XP-based PCs to replacing an aging bridge. "Fixing a bridge or replacing it entirely is an inconvenient activity," he wrote. "Doing so takes time. The process often involves scheduled setbacks, cost overruns and incomprehensible activities that are tough to appreciate when you're idling in construction traffic."

While tomorrow represents the end for Windows XP, Microsoft will issue its Windows 8.1 Update that comes with a more mouse-friendly Start Screen, the ability to pin Windows Store apps to the task bar and APIs that are shared with the forthcoming Windows Phone 8.1.

Right now only a small handful of enterprises are moving to Windows 8.1. But as Microsoft makes more progress in blending the old with the new, perhaps the aversion of moving to the newest version of Windows will subside.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/07/2014 at 12:40 PM0 comments


Microsoft Aims Azure at Dev-Ops and Open Source Communities

Typically when I talk to experts about the public cloud, the usual refrain is that there's Amazon Web Services ... and then there's everyone else. When it comes to everyone else, Microsoft Azure is among the leading players with 12 datacenters now in operation around the globe including two launched last week in China. And with 16 additional centers planned by year's end and 300 million customers, the company has strong ambitions for its public cloud service.

At the Build conference in San Francisco this week, Microsoft showed how serious it is about advancing the appeal of Azure. Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's newly promoted executive VP for cloud and enterprise, said Azure is already used by 57 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and has 300 million users (with most of them enterprise users registered with Active Directory). Guthrie also boasted that Azure runs 250,000 public-facing Web sites, hosts 1 million SQL databases with 20 trillion objects now stored in the Azure storage system and it processes 13 billion authentications per week.

Since its launch in November, Guthrie claims that 1 million developers have registered with the Azure-based Visual Studio Online service. This would be great if the vast majority have done more than just register. While Amazon gets to tout its major corporate users, including its showcase Netflix account, Guthrie pointed to the scale of Azure, which hosts the popular Titanfall game that launched last month for the Xbox gaming platform and PCs. Titanfall kicked off with 100,000 virtual machines (VMs) on launch day, he noted.

Guthrie also brought NBC Executive Rick Cordella to talk about the hosting of the Sochi Olympic games in February. More than 100 million people viewed the online service with 2.1 million concurrently watching the men's United States vs. Canada hockey match, which was "a new world record for HD streaming," Guthrie said.

Cordella noted that NBC invested $1 billion in this year's games and said it represented the largest digital event ever. "We need to make sure that content is out there, that it's quality [and] that our advertisers and advertisements are being delivered to it," he told the Build audience. "There really is no going back if something goes wrong," Cordella said.

Now that Azure has achieved scale, Guthrie and his team has been working on rolling out a bevy of significant enhancements aimed at making its service appealing to developers, operations managers and administrators. As IT teams move to a more dev-ops model, Microsoft is taking that into consideration as it builds out the Azure service.

Among the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) improvements, Guthrie pointed to the availability of auto-scaling as a service, point-to-site VPN support, dynamic routing, subnet migration, static internal IP addressing and Traffic Manager for Web sites. "We think the combination of [these] really gives you a very flexible environment, a very open environment and lets you run pretty much any Windows or Linux workload in the cloud," Guthrie said.

Azure is a more flexible environment for those overseeing dev-ops thanks to the new support for configuring VM images using the popular Puppet and Chef configuration management and automation tools used on other services such as Amazon and OpenStack. IT can also now use Windows PowerShell and VSD tools.

"These tools enable you to avoid having to create and manage lots of separate VM images," Guthrie said. "Instead, you can define common settings and functionality using modules that can cut across every type of VM you use."

Perhaps the most significant criticism of Azure is that it's still a proprietary platform. In a move to shake that image, Guthrie announced a number of significant open source efforts. Notably, Microsoft made its "Roslyn" compiler and other components of the Microsoft .NET Framework components open source through the aptly titled .NET Foundation.

"It's really going to be the foundation upon which we can actually contribute even more of our projects and code into open source," Guthrie said of the new .NET Foundation. "All of the Microsoft contributions have standard open source licenses, typically Apache 2, and none of them have any platform restrictions, meaning you can actually take these libraries and you can run them on any platform. We still have, obviously, lots of Microsoft engineers working on each of these projects. This now gives us the flexibility where we can actually look at suggestions and submissions from other developers as well and be able to integrate them into the mainline products."

Among some other notable announcements from Guthrie regarding Azure:

  • Revamped Azure Portal: Now available in preview form, the new portal is "designed to radically speed up the software delivery process by putting cross-platform tools, technologies and services from Microsoft and its partners in a single workspace," wrote Azure General Manager Steven Martin in a blog post. "The new portal significantly simplifies resource management so you can create, manage, and analyze your entire application as a single resource group rather than through standalone resources like Azure Web Sites, Visual Studio Projects or databases. With integrated billing, a rich gallery of applications and services and built-in Visual Studio Online you can be more agile while maintaining control of your costs and application performance."
  • Azure Mobile Services: Offline sync is now available. "You can now write your mobile back-end logic using ASP.NET Web API and Visual Studio, taking full advantage of Web API features, third-party Web API frameworks, and local and remote debugging," Martin noted. "With Active Directory Single Sign-on integration (for iOS, Android, Windows or Windows Phone apps) you can maximize the potential of your mobile enterprise applications without compromising on secure access."
  • New Azure SDK: Microsoft released the Azure SDK 2.3, making it easier to deploy VMs and sites.
  • Single Sign-on to Software as a Service (SaaS) apps via Azure Active Directory Premium, now generally available.
  • Azure now includes one IP address-based SSL certificate and five SNI-based SSL certs at no additional cost for each site instance.
  • The Visual Studio Online collaboration as a service is now generally available and free for up to five users in a team.
  • While Azure already supports .NET, Node.Js PHP and Python, it now supports the native Java language thanks to its partnership with Oracle that was announced last year.

My colleague Keith Ward, editor in chief of sister site VisualStudioMagazine.com, has had trouble in the past finding developers who embraced Azure. He now believes that could change. "Driving all this integration innovation is Microsoft Azure; it's what really allows the magic to happen," he said in a blog post today. Furthermore, he tweeted: "At this point, I can't think of a single reason why a VS dev would use Amazon instead of Azure."

Are you finding Azure and the company's cloud OS hybrid platforms more appealing?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/04/2014 at 8:15 AM0 comments


Nadella Strikes Balance Between Universal Windows and a Multiplatform World

Microsoft opened its Build conference for developers with a keynote that focused on the company's attempts at breathing new life to its struggling Windows franchise while simultaneously embracing interoperability with other platforms.

In addition to unveiling its intelligent voice assistant planned for Windows Phone 8.1 and announcing the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft's top executives talked of progress towards unifying its operating system across PCs, tablets, phones and its Xbox gaming platform. The company has lately described this and efforts to extend to open source and competitive platforms as a "universal Windows."

Underscoring the progress Microsoft has made toward that effort, Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella said that 90 percent of its APIs are now common and this should remove some of the barriers to developing for the various system types. "That's fantastic to see," Nadella told the 5,000-plus attendees at the event, held in San Francisco. He said Microsoft will continue to push for a "shared library across a variety of device targets."

Those device targets won't be limited to traditional hardware. Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's operating system group, described the company's ambitions for its current-generation operating system, which only accounts for being on a small share of tablets and is still not favored among most PC users.

Those ambitions include not only making Windows tools and frameworks more broadly available but extending them to new types of devices -- including on the so-called "Internet of things," which can range on anything from a piano, as demonstrated, to telemetry components equipped with Intel's x86 system-on-chip called Quark. The component is the size of an eraser, Myerson noted. Such advances will open new opportunities for Windows, he said.

Also in a bid to grow its market share in the low-cost tablet and phone market, Myerson emphasized the company's efforts to expand the presence of Windows by making it free to tablet, PC and phone suppliers offering hardware that's nine inches or less. That promises to take away the key advantage of the Android OS being free.

"We really want to get this platform out there," Myerson said of Windows. "We want to remove all the friction between you and creating these devices."

While Nadella and company are taking steps to expand Windows, they also acknowledged to its core audience that it's not going to be a Windows-everywhere world, as evidenced by the company's long-awaited release of Office for the iPad last week.

One of the biggest barriers to the growth of the modern Windows platform is developers who don't want to be tied to a specific platform. In a move aimed at making their efforts more universal, Corporate Vice President David Treadwell said the company's Windows Library for JavaScript (WinJS) will be cross platform and will be made available to the open source community under the Apache 2 license. It's now available on GitHub.

In a pre-recorded question displayed during the closing of today's presentation, an Android developer asked why he should also develop for Windows. Nadella's answer: "We are the only platform that has APIs with Language bindings across both native, managed and Web. And the fact that that flexibility exists means you can build your core libraries in the language of your choice and those core libraries you can take cross platform. Obviously the Web [is] the one that's easiest to conceptualize and that's what we've done by taking WinJS and putting it into open source and making it a community effort so you can take it cross platform."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/02/2014 at 3:39 PM0 comments


Microsoft To Halt Its E-Mail Snooping When Conducting Internal Investigations

Even though Microsoft had strong evidence that a former employee was transmitting via Hotmail stolen code and trade secrets, customers were unnerved when learning the company snooped at the suspect's e-mail account.

As reported two weeks ago, Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft architect, was arrested for allegedly stealing trade secrets and leaking Windows 8 code to an unnamed French blogger while working for the company. By delving into his Hotmail account, Microsoft was able to provide evidence to the authorities. If the suspect were smart enough to use any e-mail service not owned by Microsoft, the company would have needed to get a warrant from law enforcement authorities.

But the law doesn't prohibit the owner of a service from snooping so Microsoft was within its legal rights to search the suspect's Hotmail account. Nevertheless, Microsoft was well aware it needed to reassure customers it won't take matters into its own hands so blatantly in the future.  Due to the public backlash that arose shortly after the incident came to light, Microsoft said that it would turn to a former judge to determine if it had probable cause to look into a suspect's account.

Clearly that wasn't cutting it since the judge is still on Microsoft's payroll and Microsoft again said it would be making a change. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith on Friday said it would turn all suspected information to the authorities before taking further action. "Effective immediately, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer's private content ourselves," Smith said in a blog post announcing the change. "Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required."

Smith pointed out while the law and the company's terms of service allowed it to access Kibkalo's account, doing so "raised legitimate questions about the privacy interests of our customers." As a result the company will revise its terms of services and has reached out to The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to further discuss the issue of ensuring security without compromising privacy.

It appears this was the right move to take. Does Microsoft's latest move make you feel more comfortable or do you just see it as lip service?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2014 at 12:55 PM0 comments


Microsoft Responds to Amazon with Azure Cloud Price Cuts

As predictably as the sun rises, Microsoft yesterday followed Amazon's latest round of price cuts by reducing the rates for its Windows Azure – rather Microsoft Azure – cloud service. (In case you missed it, Microsoft last week shed the Windows name from its cloud service. Hence Windows Azure is now Microsoft Azure.)

Microsoft is cutting the price of its compute services by 35 percent and its storage service 65 percent, the company announced yesterday afternoon. "We recognize that economics are a primary driver for some customers adopting cloud, and stand by our commitment to match prices and be best-in-class on price performance," said Steven Martin, general manager of Microsoft Azure business and operations, in a blog post. The price cuts come on the heels of the company last week expanding Microsoft Azure into China. 

In addition to cutting prices, Microsoft is adding new tiers of service to Azure. On the compute side, a new tier of instances called Basic consist of similar virtual machine configurations as its current Standard tier and won't include load balancing or auto-scaling offered in the Standard package . The existing standard tier will now consist of a range of instances from "extra small" to "extra large." Those instances will cost as much as 27 percent less than their current instances.

Martin noted that some workloads, including single instances and those using their own load balancers, don't require the Azure load-balancer. Also, batch processing, dev and test apps are better suited to the Basic tier, which will be comparable to AWS-equivalent instances, Martin said.  Basic instances will be available this Thursday.

Pricing for its Memory-Intensive Instances will be cut by up to 35 percent for Linux instances and 27 percent for Windows Server instances. Microsoft said it will also offer the Basic tier for Memory-Intensive Instances in the coming months.

On the storage front, Microsoft is cutting the price of its Block Blobs by 65 percent and 44 percent for Geo Redundant Storage (GRS). Microsoft is also adding a new redundancy tier for Block Blob storage called Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS).

With the new ZRS tier, Microsoft will offer redundancy that stores the equivalent of three copies of a customer's data across multiple locations. GRS by comparison will let customers store their data in two regions that are dispersed by hundreds of miles and will store the equivalent of three copies per region. This new middle tier, which will be available in the next few months, costs 37 percent less than GRS.

Though Microsoft has committed to matching price cuts by Amazon, the company faced a two-prong attack last week which included both Amazon and Google not only slashing prices for the first time but by finally offering Windows Server support. While Microsoft has its eyes on Amazon, it needs to look over its shoulder as Google steps up its focus on enterprise cloud computing beyond Google Apps.

One area where both Amazon and Google have a leg up on Microsoft is their respective desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offerings. As noted last week, Amazon made generally available its WorkSpaces DaaS offering, which it announced back in November at its re:Invent customer and partner conference. And as reported last month, Google and VMware are working together to offer Chromebooks via the new VMware Horizon DaaS service. It remains to be seen how big the market is for DaaS and whether Microsoft's entrée is imminent.

 

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2014 at 12:54 PM0 comments


Protect Your Data on World Backup Day

Today is World Backup Day, created as an independent effort in 2011 on the eve of April Fools' Day. The goal is to underscore that it takes a fool not to back up their files regularly. Described as an independent effort created under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, it was founded because many people still don't understand the need to back up their data. Hence it's aimed at bringing awareness to the issue. While the intent is well grounded, it doesn't seem to have garnered much attention.

As far as I can tell, even some of its sponsors,  including Backblaze, LaCIE and Western Digital, haven't made much noise about World Backup Day this year. Could it be that most providers of data protection software assume everyone backs up their data? Certainly enterprises do and the April issue of Redmond magazine looks at improvements to Microsoft's new System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager and how third-party providers of backup and recovery software are offering new ways to replicate server data of specific apps and functions such as SharePoint, SQL Server and VMware-based VMs.

But the majority of people are still careless when it comes to protecting their data. According to the World Backup Day Web site, 30 percent of people have never backed up their data. With 113 phones being lost or stolen every minute and 10 percent of every computer infected with viruses each month, those 30 percent need to get on board.

If you're one those who haven't backed up their PCs and devices lately (you know who you are), take the time today to do so. At some point, you'll be glad you did.

Posted by Kurt Mackie on 03/31/2014 at 12:30 PM0 comments


The Problem with Office for iPad: No Mouse Support

As soon as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the long-expected release of Office for the iPad last week, I downloaded it on mine. Upon opening Word on the iPad, it displayed all of my documents stored in OneDrive and even sorted them in the order that I last accessed them in. Frankly, Office documents in OneDrive are easier to find and navigate on the iPad than the Microsoft Surface or Dell Venue 8 Pro using the modern Windows 8.1 interface because of how they're organized. Still, because it doesn't have native support for an external mouse, I won't be using Office on the iPad that often.

Even so, if you have an Office 365 subscription and an iPad you should download it and determine how it may best suit your needs. Microsoft optimized Office for the iPad and those that compared it to Apple's own iWork suite believe Microsoft delivered a worthy alternative. But should iPad users who don't have Office 365 subscriptions (the new personal plan costs $69 per year) sign up for it? That depends. Keep in mind if all you want to do is view documents, it's free. Only if you intend to create or edit them do you need an Office 365 subscription. If you don't mind the lack of mouse support, you're set.

But having used a mouse and keyboard with Office for two decades, even though I'm quite open to change and doing things differently, I've become quite accustomed to working with both a keyboard and mouse. Editors and writers tend to frequently cut and paste phrases, sentences and entire paragraphs. Using a mouse and keyboard has become second nature to me. While I'm not averse to typing with an on-screen keyboard, using touch for cut and paste doesn't work for me. But I never bought an iPad with the intent of writing or editing with it. I may pull up a document or PDF to proof, but that's about it.

I bought the iPad to use other apps, notably to read various publications, access e-mail and connect to the Internet when I'm away from my desk. But if I need to take notes, write or edit away from my office, I use a Windows tablet with its type-style keyboard and the track pad and/or an external Bluetooth mouse.

My understanding is while iPads support external Bluetooth keyboards, Apple has made a decision not to support the use of an external mouse on its tablets. Both Android and Windows tablets support them. It's ironic that Apple doesn't do this considering it brought the mouse to life with the Macintosh. Clearly Steve Jobs envisioned weaning users off the mouse to the new touch-based world. It remains to be seen whether CEO Tim Cook has a different view.

I think touch is a great evolution of the user experience but not when it comes to writing and editing anything more than a text, e-mail or social media post. Yes there are ways to jailbreak iOS to enable a mouse to work with the iPad. But until iOS natively gains support for a mouse, I have no intention of using my iPad, which I otherwise enjoy, for content creation. Does this make me stodgy and stuck in my ways or am I in good company?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/31/2014 at 12:26 PM0 comments


Desktop Virtualization as a Viable XP Migration Option

While virtual desktops represent a small niche of the enterprise client system universe, they're a reasonable option for organizations with PCs still running Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, Windows XP will shortly lose official support from Microsoft.

As I reported earlier this month, a survey of Redmond magazine readers found that 23 percent will continue to run their Windows XP-based systems after Microsoft releases the final patch for the OS on April 8. And while the survey also showed an overwhelming 85 percent will deploy Windows 7-based PCs and 35 percent will depoly systems running Windows 8 (multiple responses were permitted), 9 percent said they are looking to virtual desktops. That may include some form of VDI or desktop as a service (DaaS).

Evolve IP, a managed services provider that offers its own hosted DaaS offering based on VMware Horizon View, said its own survey showed that 63 percent will use virtual desktops for at least a portion of their employees. The VDI as a service is hosted in its own cloud where customers can also host their Active Directory instances to manage users. "It's a good mix for the IT department who needs control, but it's also good because it's not an all-in philosophy," said Scott Kinka, Evolve IP's CTO.

There are a number of solutions from the likes of AppSense, Citrix, Dell/Wyse, HP, NComputing and VMware. Of course, Microsoft's own Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and AppV solutions are all viable options as well, either via an MSP or hosted internally. Here's a look at a number of options:

  • AppSense: Using DesktopNow and DataNow, IT can bring together related persona and data to centralize and stream the components to a new desktop. "We don't modify, we just lock down and migrate the settings and other things relative to the application," said Jon Rolls, AppSense vice president of product management."

  • Citrix: With the company's XenDesktop, IT can virtualize Internet Explorer 6 (which can't run on newer operating systems) in a virtual desktop. Likewise, apps that cannot be updated to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 can run in virtual Windows XP instances.

  • NComputing: The supplier of virtual desktop solutions offers its Desktop and Application Virtualization platform for small- and mid-sized business looking for more of a turnkey type offering. The company plans to further simplify the delivery of virtual solutions with the planned release of its new oneSpace client virtualization platform. The company describes it as a workspace for IT to securely deliver apps and files in BYOD scenarios to any device including iPads and Android-based tablets. "Users are getting full-featured versions of their Windows applications but we've done our own optimization to allow those apps to be mobile- and touch-friendly," said NComputing's senior director of marketing Brian Duckering. "Instead of using the Windows Explorer experience, we integrated it and unified it so it's Dropbox- like." It's due to hit private beta this spring.

  • Microsoft: Just last week Microsoft took a step toward making it easier for IT to deploy VDI scenarios based on its Remote Desktop Services. Microsoft released the preview of its Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Starter Kit 1.0. As Redmond's Kurt Mackie reported, Microsoft is billing it as something that should not be used for production environments. It's just for testing purposes. The kit "complements" the management console and wizards used with the RDS server role of Windows Server 2012 R2. It comes with apps including Calculator and WordPad for testing virtual desktop access scenarios. The finished Starter Kit product is scheduled for release in the second quarter of this year and the preview is available for download now. Organizations can also pair Microsoft's RD Gateway with Windows Server 2012 to deploy VDI, as explained in a recent article.

Desktop as a Service
This week Amazon Web Services released its WorkSpaces DaaS offering. Amazon first disclosed plans to release WorkSpaces at its re:Invent conference  in November at its customer and partner conference in Las Vegas. The service will be available with one or two virtual CPUs with either 3.75 or 7.5 GB of RAM and 50 to100 GB of storage. Per-user pricing ranges from $35 to $75 for each WorkSpace per month. Organizations can integrate the new service with Active Directory.

A wide variety of use cases were tested, from corporate desktops to engineering workstations, said AWS evangelist Jeff Barr in a blog post this week. Barr identified two early testers, Peet's Coffee & Tea and ERP supplier WorkWise. The company also added a new feature called Amazon WorkSpaces Sync. "The Sync client continuously, automatically and securely backs up the documents that you create or edit in a WorkSpace to Amazon S3," Barr said. "You can also install the Sync client on existing client computers (PC or Mac) in order to have access to your data regardless of the environment that you are using."

Google and VMware are also making a big DaaS push. As I reported earlier this month, the two companies teamed up to enable Google Chromebooks to work with VMware's Horizon View offerings.

Things could get really interesting if Microsoft offers its own DaaS service.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/28/2014 at 11:28 AM0 comments


Google Slashes Cloud Pricing, Adds Windows Server Support

Google today gave Microsoft shops a reason to consider its enterprise cloud services by adding Windows Server support and slashing the pricing of its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings.

At the company's Google Platform Live event in San Francisco, the company also stepped up its effort to extend the appeal of its IaaS and PaaS services to enterprises by introducing a new blend of the two called Managed Virtual Machines, along with an improved big data analytics offering. The company expanded its menu of server operating system instances available with the Google Compute Engine IaaS with the addition of Suse Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows Server.

"If you're an enterprise and you have workloads that depend upon Windows, those are now open for business on the Google Cloud Platform," said Greg DeMichillie, a director of product management at Google. "Our customers tell us they want Windows so of course we are supporting Windows." Back in December when Google's IaaS was first announced, I noted Windows Server wasn't an available option.

Now it is. However, there is a caveat. The company, at least for now, is only offering Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition, noting it's still the most widely deployed version of Microsoft's server OS. There was no mention if and when Google will add newer versions of Windows Server. The "limited preview" is available now.

The new Windows Server support was a footnote to an event which emphasized lower and more predictable pricing and a new offering that allows customers to get the best of both the PaaS and IaaS worlds. Given Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft frequently slash their prices, Google had little choice but to play the same game. That's especially the case given its success so far.

"Google isn't a leader in the cloud platform space today, despite a fairly early move in platform as a service with Google App Engine and a good first effort in Infrastructure as a Service with Google Compute Engine in 2013," wrote Forrester analyst James Staten in a blog post. "But its capabilities are legitimate, if not remarkable."

Urs Hölzle, the senior vice president at Google who is overseeing the company's datacenter and cloud services, said 4.75 million active applications now run on the Google Cloud Platform, while the Google App Engine PaaS sees 28 billion requests per day with the data store processing 6.3 trillion transactions per month.

While Google launched one of the first PaaS offerings in 2008, it was one of the last major providers to add an IaaS and only recently hit the general availability status with the Google Compute Engine back in December. Meanwhile just about every major provider is trying to catch up with AWS, both in terms of services offered and market share.

 "Volume and capacity advantages are weak when competing against the likes of Microsoft, AWS and Salesforce," Staten noted. "So I'm not too excited about the price cuts announced today. But there is real pain around the management of the public cloud bill."  To that point, Google announced Sustained-Use discounts.

Rather than requiring customers to predict future usage when signing on for reserved instances for anywhere from one to three years, discounts of 30 percent of on-demand pricing kick in after usage exceeds 25 percent of a given month, Hölzle said.

"That means if you have a 24x7 workload that you use for an entire month like a database instance, you get a 53 percent discount over today's prices. Even better, this discount applies to all instances of a certain type. So even if you have a virtual machine that you restart frequently, as long as that virtual machine in aggregate is used more than 25 percent of the month, you get that discount."

Overall other pay-as-you-go services price cuts range from 30 to 50 percent dependency. Among the reductions:

  • Compute Engine reduced by 32 percent across all sizes, regions and classes
  • App Engine pricing for instance-hours reduced by 37.5 percent, dedicated memcache by 50 percent and data store writes by 33 percent. Other services including SNI SSL and PageSpeed are now available with all applications at no added cost
  • Cloud Storage is now priced at a consistent 2.6 cents per GB, approximately 68 percent lower.
  • Google BigQuery on-demand prices reduced by 85 percent.

The new Managed Virtual Machines combines the best of IaaS and PaaS, Hölzle said. "They are virtual machines that run on Compute Engine but they are managed on your behalf with all of the goodness of App Engine. This gives you a new way to think about building services," he said. "So you can start with an App Engine application and if you ever hit a point where there's a language you want to use or an open-source package that you want to use that we don't support, with just a few configuration line changes you can take part of that application and replace it with an equivalent virtual machine. Now you have control."

Google also extended the streaming capability of its BigQuery big data service, which initially was able to pull in 1,000 rows per second when launched in December to 100,000 now. "What that means is you can take massive amounts of data that you generate and as fast as you can generate them and send it to BigQuery," Hölzle, said. "You can start analyzing it and drawing business conclusions from it without setting up data warehouses, without building sharding, without doing ETL, without doing copying."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/25/2014 at 1:00 PM0 comments


Cisco To Provide 'World's Largest' Cloud

Cisco today is bringing new meaning to the old saying, "if you can't beat them, join them."

The company today said it will invest $1 billion over the next two years to offer what it argues will be the world's largest cloud. But rather than trying to beat Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Salesforce.com, VMware and other major providers that offer public cloud services, Cisco said it will "join" them together, figuratively.

Cisco said it will endeavor to build its so-called "Intercloud" --  or cloud of clouds -- aimed at letting enterprise customers move workloads between private, hybrid and public cloud services. Of course Cisco isn't the only provider with that lofty goal but Fabio Gori, the company's director of cloud marketing, said it's offering standards-based APIs that will help build applications that can move among clouds and virtual machines.

"This is going to be the largest Intercloud in the world," Gori said. Cisco is building out its own datacenters globally but is also tapping partners with cloud infrastructure dedicated to specific counties to support data sovereignty requirements. Gorisaid Cisco will help build out their infrastructures to spec and those providers will be part of the Intercloud.

Gori emphasized Intercloud will be based on OpenStack, the open source cloud infrastructure platform that many cloud providers, including Rackspace, IBM, HP and numerous others, support. But there are key players including Amazon, Microsoft and Google, who don't support it. Gori said Cisco can work around that by using the respective providers' APIs and offering in its own programming interfaces for partners to deliver application-specific offerings.

Core to this is the Intercloud fabric management software, announced in late January at the Cisco Live! conference in Milan, Italy. The Intercloud fabric management software, now in trial and slated for release next quarter, is the latest component of the Cisco One cloud platform that's designed to securely tie together multiple hybrid clouds.

Among the cloud providers now on board are Australian service provider Telstra, Canadian communications provider Allstream, European cloud provider Canopy, cloud services aggregator and distributor Ingram Micro, managed services provider Logicalis Group, BI software vendor  MicroStrategy, Inc., OnX Managed Services, SunGard Availability Services and outsourcing company Wipro.

Gori insists Cisco is lining up many other partners, large and small, from around the world. It remains to be seen if Amazon, Microsoft and Rackspace are in the mix. Asked how Cisco's effort is different from VMware, which is also building a public cloud and enhancing it with local partners, Gori pointed out that its service supports any hypervisor.

Cisco will announce more partners and deliverables at its Cisco Live! conference in San Francisco in May. Whether or not Microsoft is one of those players remains to be seen in the future, he said. "Microsoft is a very big player and is going to be part of this expanded Intercloud," he said. "We are going to do something specific around the portfolio."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/24/2014 at 1:29 PM0 comments


Did Microsoft Cross the Line in Searching Hotmail Account for Employee Theft?

A former Microsoft employee was arrested in Seattle earlier this week after the company searched his Hotmail account and found evidence he was allegedly leaking information and code to a blogger who ended up illegally selling pirated software.

Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft architect, is accused of stealing trade secrets and leaking Windows 8 code to an unnamed French blogger while working for Microsoft. Kibkalo, a Russian national who also has worked for Microsoft in Lebanon, also allegedly bragged about breaking into the Redmond campus and stealing the Microsoft Activation Server Software Development Kit, a proprietary solution aimed at preventing unauthorized distribution of the company's software and licenses, SeatlePI reported Thursday.

The move forced Microsoft to admit it had scanned a user account on its Hotmail service to obtain evidence. This comes at a time when many customers lack trust that Microsoft and others are taking enough measures to ensure their privacy of information in the services. Revelations of the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance efforts by Edward Snowden and accusations that Microsoft and others were cooperating with the NSA has heightened those fears, despite efforts by the players involved to ensure such cooperation is limited to rare instances where there are court orders.

In this case, Kibkalo made it quite easy for Microsoft to discover his alleged acts. One must wonder why he or the blogger would use the company's e-mail service to communicate. Putting that aside, Microsoft accessed the e-mails without a court order because apparently the company legally didn't need a court order to search its own service. But the company did obtain court orders for other aspects of the investigation, said Microsoft Deputy Counsel John Frank, in a blog post published last night.

Frank justified Microsoft's decision to access the e-mails in its Hotmail service and it appears Microsoft didn't violate any laws or its own policies, though some question the wisdom of its actions. "We took extraordinary actions based on the specific circumstances," Frank said. "We received information that indicated an employee was providing stolen intellectual property [IP], including code relating to our activation process, to a third party who, in turn, had a history of trafficking for profit in this type of material. In order to protect our customers and the security and integrity of our products, we conducted an investigation over many months with law enforcement agencies in multiple countries. This included the issuance of a court order for the search of a home relating to evidence of the criminal acts involved. The investigation repeatedly identified clear evidence that the third party involved intended to sell Microsoft IP and had done so in the past."

Likely anticipating customers and privacy advocates might be unnerved by the fact that it dipped into its own servers despite the probable cause of the alleged criminal activity, Frank said Microsoft is stepping up its policies for the way it handles such discovery in the future. "While our actions were within our policies and applicable law in this previous case, we understand the concerns that people have," he said.

Moving forward, he said Microsoft will not search customer e-mail or other services unless there's evidence of a crime that would justify a court order. In addition, Microsoft will turn to a former judge who will now determine if the probable cause would justify a court order and even in those instances, the searches would be limited to searching for the information centered around the suspected activity, not other data, and that it would be supervised by counsel.

To ensure transparency, Microsoft will publish whatever searches it has conducted as part of its biannual transparency reports, he said. "The privacy of our customers is incredibly important to us," he said. "That is why we are building on our current practices and adding to them to further strengthen our processes and increase transparency."

Will appointing a judge to evaluate the merits of the case be enough to settle your concerns that the company won't be looking at your data? Leave your comments below or e-mail me directly

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/21/2014 at 3:11 PM0 comments


Symantec Shows CEO the Door After Reboot Fails

Just over a year ago, Symantec CEO Steve Bennett announced a plan to turn around the largest provider of security and data protection products. But as rivals continued to gain ground on the company, its board ran out of patience and showed him the door yesterday.

Bennett, a former GE executive and onetime CEO of Intuit, lasted less than two years as Symantec's chief after his predecessor Enrique Salem was also ousted. When Bennett presided over last year's two-hour analyst event dubbed Symantec 4.0, he positioned it as a reboot of the company. The reorganization focused on realigning R&D with its disparate product groups, integrating its technologies, removing the siloes and improving the company's lagging software subscription rates.

During the two-hour Webcast of the event, Bennett and his executive team talked about plans to move into new product areas like network security and putting in place functional technology sharing across its businesses. But according to reports, Bennett's efforts never took hold, though the company said he did help reorganize the company and reduce costs. But that wasn't enough to stem declining revenues, a dearth of new technology innovations and an executive exodus that included the company's CFO and several key business unit heads, according to a report in The New York Times.

Symantec said it has appointed board member Michael Brown as interim president and chief executive officer, effective immediately. Brown joined Symantec's board in 2005 following its $13.5 billion acquisition of Veritas. He had once served as chairman and CEO of Quantum. The company said it has hired an executive search firm to recruit a permanent CEO.

Shares in Symantec were off 12 percent Friday afternoon as investors wonder who will take the company forward and if there will be a Symantec 5.0.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/21/2014 at 12:50 PM0 comments


Asus Halts Android/Windows Tablet PC Production

Asus reportedly has put on hold plans to release a tablet PC that can switch between Android and Windows just two months after introducing the multi-mode device.

The company introduced the Transformer Book Duet TD300 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January and said it would ship in the first half of this year. But Digitimes last week reported Asus was shelving the release. It stood out as one of the few unique tablet PCs at CES because users can convert the device from a laptop to a tablet and switch between operating systems.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrated it in his CES keynote as the type of new devices the chipmaker sees as boosting demand for its system-on-a-chip processors. Samsung also has announced a similar device, Ativ Q, last summer.  But as noted by BGR, the company never released it and has removed all references to it from its Web site.  

"There are times you want Windows, there are times you want Android," Krzanich said in his CES keynote. Intel's 64-bit SoCs "are the only ones that can offer that capability to seamlessly switch between OSes," he added. "You don't have to make a choice moving forward."

Well for now you do.  But according to The Wall Street Journal, Asus may be facing backlash from both Google and Microsoft, who seemingly would prefer not to see each other's  rival operating systems on the same machine.

While Android is available free and hence Google technically can't stop Asus from releasing the device, the search giant does approve what is sold in its Google Play app store. Analyst Patrick Moorhead told The Journal Google has no incentive to approve dual-OS systems since it would also benefit Microsoft. For its part, Microsoft also has little incentive to give laptop users an additional entrée to the Android marketplace but Digitimes research believed Microsoft had more to gain.

The now-postponed TD300 was appealing because it was a hybrid tablet PC and offered what it called an Instant Switch, allowing users to quickly switch between Android and Windows, rather than rebooting.

If Microsoft can release Office on the iPad, which  Mary Jo Foley reported in her ZDNet All About Microsoft blog will happen next week, surely Google and Microsoft could find a reason to stand out of the way of OEMs releasing a device that lets users switch between two operating systems.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/19/2014 at 11:31 AM0 comments


Windows Azure Can Now Run Oracle Software

When Microsoft announced last summer it had reached an agreement to run the Oracle database, WebLogic middleware and Java on Windows Azure, it seemed as though two worlds were colliding. After all, the two companies have maintained a bitter rivalry over the years, though tensions have eased recently as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has had bigger fish to fry -- like IBM, SAP and Salesforce.com.

Following nine months of development, Microsoft on Thursday said Windows Server-based virtual machine images of Oracle solutions are now available on Microsoft's cloud offerings. Licenses are included with the VM images and can be accessed in the Windows Azure Management Console. When logging in, administrators can click New, then select Compute, followed by Virtual Machine and then From Gallery, which then lets them chose images. Among those now available are:

Oracle Databases

  • Oracle Database 12c Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle Database 12c Standard Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle Database 11g R2 Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Oracle Database 11g R2 Standard Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2

Weblogic

  • Oracle WebLogic Server 12c Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle WebLogic Server 12c Standard Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle WebLogic Server 11g Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Oracle WebLogic Server 11g Standard Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2

Combined Oracle Database/Weblogic VM Images

  • Oracle Database 12c and WebLogic Server 12c Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle Database 12c and WebLogic Server 12c Standard Edition on Windows Server 2012
  • Oracle Database 11g and WebLogic Server 11g Enterprise Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Oracle Database 11g and WebLogic Server 11g Standard Edition on Windows Server 2008 R2

Java

  • JDK 7 on Windows Server 2012
  • JDK 6 on Windows Server 2012
  • Java Platforms, Standard Edition

Although Windows Azure already supported Java, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was president of Microsoft's server and tools business last year at the time of the announcement, had pointed out its Java support was based on the OpenJDK. For those who wanted to use Oracle's Java license, the partnership offers a fully licensed and supported Java on Windows Azure. "We think this makes Java much more first class with Oracle support on Windows Azure." Nadella said at the time.

While Microsoft's initial deal had made the Oracle software available from Oracle back in September, Thursday's announcement makes it available on the Windows Server stack as well.

Do you plan to run any Oracle software on Windows Azure?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/14/2014 at 12:19 PM0 comments


Cloud Storage and File Sharing Providers Extend Enterprise Hooks

While almost everyone uses a file sharing and storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft's SkyDrive, among a slew of other free services, business and IT decision makers want to reign in on the use of those services for business.

One popular alternative is LogMeIn, which today launched Cubby Enterprise. It's described as a business version of its file synchronization and sharing service. The service gives administrators control over data with key security capabilities including the ability to remotely wipe data off devices, set and enforce policies (such as how data are shared) and allows IT to require four-digit PIN codes to access data.

It also supports Active Directory Federation Services integration for single sign-on, domain-based administration to manage user accounts and the ability to remotely deploy on user systems.  Cubby Enterprise also lets IT monitor in real time what data is shared and with whom. Annual subscriptions cost $39.99 per month for five users when prepaid.

Meanwhile, ownCloud launched its ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition yesterday. The new release gives administrators more control over enterprise data thanks to a rules engine that can provide refined policies for how employees access data. The service is based on the ownCloud Community Edition, an open-source file sync and share project, which the company claims has more than 1.3 million users.

The company indicated back in December it was readying a new commercial edition of its offering, which offers a Dropbox-like experience. However customers who deploy it locally on an Apache Web server or Microsoft's IIS, can integrate it with Active Directory and it has an LDAP wizard for other directories. It uses SAML authentication and the company offers an API to tie it to other applications. It also comes with a plugin for the enterprise social media tool Jive -- a rival to Microsoft's Yammer service. (As an aside, Jive is exploring a potential sale, according to a report by Re/code, which says possible buyers include Oracle, SAP and Workday.)

Organizations with ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition can store data on their own servers and/or in public clouds such as Amazon Web Services S3 or any OpenStack-SWIFT- based cloud. It doesn't currently support Windows Azure, though CEO Marcus Rex told me back in December he's eyeing that service as well. Customers can create hybrid storage services using local servers for some data and bursting to the public cloud for other content. Administrators can tie ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition 6 with existing systems management suites and backup and recovery tools. Annual subscriptions start at $9,000 for 50 users.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/12/2014 at 12:55 PM0 comments


Box CEO and Microsoft Critic Warms Up to Redmond

There are dozens of free or low-cost file storage and sharing services but one of the cloud pure plays that has perhaps the most credibility among enterprise IT managers is Box. The service already has large customers such as eBay, Eli Lilly and Proctor & Gamble. Box CEO Aaron Levie has made no secret that he now has his sights on the Microsoft SharePoint market.

Levie stepped up his attack on Redmond back in November telling Forbes that "Microsoft finds itself in this really challenging position where they're being attacked on all dimensions with people whose business models don't rely on the same kind of revenue and the same kind of profits."

Perhaps it was his New Year's resolution to warm up to Microsoft. In January he first praised the company for choosing Satya Nadella as its new CEO in a tweet. Asked about that in a CNBC interview during the annual SXSW Conference taking place in Austin, Texas this week, Levie said he believes Nadella will transform Microsoft into a cloud company and help it become less dependent on its legacy businesses that the Box CEO often criticized.

"Satya is actually really part of the next generation way of how software is going to be developed and how companies are buying technology. And we actually see [that] Microsoft has a major opportunity to become more open with their technologies than ever before, which is a very good thing for us," Levie told CNBC. "It used to be that in the past Microsoft viewed the world through a Redmond lens -- they had to control all the software and all the technology that was deployed in an enterprise. Satya has brought a different level of openness within that company. So we actually think our ability and our change of working with in a complimentary way with Microsoft increasing pretty dramatically under Satya's leadership. At least in that scenario we're viewing it as a very positive thing."

Could that mean some kind of partnership is in the works? Box already has relationships with Google but that wouldn't preclude a deal in this day and age. But while Microsoft has OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, Carson, Nevada-based All Marketing Systems said today it will add Box into OneBigDrive -- a service that consolidates various cloud services including Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. By adding Box, AMS is now providing 32 GB of free storage. The company said it will up that in April to 50 GB with a goal of hitting 100 GB of consolidated cloud storage.

Indeed the cloud file sharing and storage market continues to evolve. Two companies this week also launched cloud file sharing and storage services targeted at enterprises. See my separate post.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/12/2014 at 11:10 AM0 comments


VMware Targets Windows and Chromebook Users with Desktop as a Service

Looking to replace your traditional Windows desktop infrastructure with virtual desktops but don't want to put in the back-end infrastructure? VMware today is launching a new desktop as a service (DaaS) that will extend its Horizon View VDI to organizations that don't want to install hardware and software to support thin-client implementations.

The new VMware Horizon DaaS is an alternative back-end infrastructure required for VDI with the company's new vCloud Hybrid Service, its public IaaS launched last year. Customers adding the new Horizon DaaS can interconnect it with the on-premise Horizon View infrastructure, though it's not required. VMware gained entry to the DaaS market last year with its acquisition of Desktone.

For those looking to replace Windows XP desktops or looking at deploying a VDI-like solution, VMware sees Horizon View as an affordable alternative. The monthly per-user cost starts at $35 with 30 GB of storage. Enterprises unable or unwilling to invest in the infrastructure and personnel to manage a VDI deployment will find the service appealing, says Dave Grant, senior director of product marketing and product management for DaaS at VMware. "It reduces some of the barriers we've heard around desktop virtualization," Grant said.

The $35 price for Horizon DaaS is the same cost of Amazon Web Services' similar Amazon WorkSpaces offering, which was launched last year at its annual customer and partner conference. Grant acknowledged its new service will compete against Amazon WorkSpaces but argued Horizon DaaS on premise is a broader offering since it will work with organizations that also have VMware View on premise and want to augment it. "Some people might want to burst or want to use it for remote offices," he said.

Administrators can provision the new Horizon DaaS offering with full Windows clients Windows 7 and Windows 8), iPads, Android-based devices and Chromebooks. VMware now has a stake in the success of Chromebooks. The company last month announced a partnership with Google to offer the Horizon View VDI solution on Chromebooks.

Grant told me the company is seeing increased demand for Chromebooks by enterprises. "For our clients that want to adopt the Chromebook,  they still need to leverage Windows applications in their organization and they use Horizon DaaS to pipe in and stream those Windows applications onto the Chromebook," Grant said.

Customer accounts are in a multitenant environment ensuring security, he added. "Every tenant has its own resources for compliance and security," he said. "That's extremely important as you get into the enterprise."

Those using full Windows desktops can migrate their licenses to Horizon DaaS and but don't need to deploy Windows Server.

DaaS proponents argue it is an appealing option for shops migrating from Windows XP, which Microsoft will stop supporting next month. According to a survey of Redmond magazine readers about their Windows XP migration plans, 9 percent are considering some form of VDI. Are you considering DaaS in your organization?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/10/2014 at 11:19 AM0 comments


Reader Survey: Many Will Run Windows XP Indefinitely

I was in a hotel lobby last week and saw a kiosk that had obviously suffered a system crash. It wasn't showing the dreaded blue screen of death but it displayed Windows XP powering down. The kiosk apparently froze while trying to reboot. Since it most likely runs Windows XP Embedded, I suspect whoever maintains that hotel's kiosks has no immediate plans to upgrade the operating systems before April 8th -- the last day Microsoft will issue a patch for the aging OS.

Now that Microsoft last month gave Windows XP Embedded a two-plus year reprieve, it will likely live awhile on the numerous kiosks and ATMs running the version of the OS designed for specialized devices. But next month's deadline still holds true for the 30 percent of PCs still running Windows XP. In fact the percentage of systems running Windows XP appears to have inched up a notch.

Indeed many banks, hospitals, schools, government agencies, offices of all sizes and consumers have just one month left before they are running a version of Windows that is no longer supported by Microsoft. It joins the graveyard of its predecessors that include Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows 3.x and others.

Only 28 percent of Redmond magazine readers no longer have any systems running Windows XP. More than 3,000 responded to our online survey, which in itself underscores how many of you have something to say about this. The overwhelming response is triple the amount of readers who weigh in on or most popular surveys. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) have no plans to retire their Windows XP systems. Only 16 percent were scrambling to migrate while 25 percent planned to do so at some point (but it isn't a major priority) and 8 percent haven't decided what they're going to do.

Why are so many organizations sticking to their guns and planning to run an aging operating system that will put themselves at risk? It has nothing to do with the fact that Microsoft said in January it will continue to offer antimalware signatures for another year. Microsoft's free Security Essentials tool will no longer protect Windows XP systems, though third-party endpoint protection software providers such as Bit9, McAfee and Symantec say they will offer some options (though those vendors do advise upgrading).

Even though 35 percent in the Redmond survey said their Windows XP machines aren't connected to the Internet, 7 percent said that was the justification for sticking with it. The largest portion of respondents, 39 percent, said they have applications that can't run on newer operating systems such as Windows 7 or Windows 8. Here were some reasons respondents gave for planning to keep their Windows XP-based systems running after April 8:

  • XP suits the needs of our applications.
  • Running 16-bit apps and cannot afford to upgrade.
  • XP is the last bearable OS Microsoft has produced.
  • Hardware cannot run new OSes.
  • Management isn't ready to deal with the upgrade hassle yet.
  • They're running apps that can't run on any newer OS AND they work well.
  • The physical hosts are never connected to the Internet, and therefore nether are the guests.
  • There may come a time to move completely off XP, but security is not a factor in the decision.

One university had the most intriguing reason: to teach students what an unprotected system can do. "Indeed, we are keeping some XP (virtual) machines in order to teach cyber security courses."

Windows XP is a victim of its own success. Many are passionate in their position that Windows XP was the best and most-stable operating system Microsoft ever released. I felt that way until Windows 7 came out, which, while far from perfect, was much more stable and reliable than Windows XP or Windows Vista. But I don't have any critical hardware or software that won't run Windows 7, which is the overwhelming destination for those who are migrating.

The majority (85 percent) plan to deploy Windows 7 systems while 36 percent will deploy Windows 8 (multiple answers were permitted on this question). Those that are deploying or supporting Windows 8 seem to be doing so in most cases for the handful of executives and power users preferring the touch-based OS that runs on both PCs and tablets. As I noted last month, while Delta Air Lines is deploying 11,000 Windows 8 RT-based tablet PCs in their aircraft, on the ground it's upgrading office workers and gate agents with Windows 7-based PCs. A few hundred execs are getting Surface Pros running Windows 8 Pro.

Regardless of where you stand with Windows XP, the end is near for its support but it doesn't appear we'll have seen the last of it for many years to come.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/07/2014 at 12:13 PM0 comments


Ballmer's Regret: Missing the Smartphone and Tablet Wave

One month removed from Microsoft after decades with the company that included the last 14 as its second CEO, Steve Ballmer made his first public appearance yesterday in an interview with his longtime friend Peter Tufano, a professor at Oxford University.

In an auditorium full of mostly MBA students, Tufano and attendees asked Ballmer a variety of questions during the one-hour session. The most notable moment of the speech came when the former CEO commented on his biggest mistakes and successes while running Microsoft. Not surprisingly, letting Apple and Google dominate the tablet and smartphone market stung the most, especially considering Bill Gates a decade earlier had strong designs on that market.

"There are some things that didn't go as well as we had intended them to," Ballmer said. "We would have a stronger position in the phone market today if I could redo the last 10 years. Yet one of the things you have to say to yourself is 'do you give up?'" When asked how it felt to have Gates trumpet Microsoft's visions of creating a tablet and mobile device market before turning over the company to him, Ballmer said he regretted not moving faster.

Ballmer gave credit to Apple for marrying the hardware and lamented that Microsoft should have done so earlier as well. Now that Microsoft now offers its Surface devices and is expected to close on its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia, which he championed last year, Ballmer said it is important to look ahead and not bemoan mistakes of the past. As it is famously known, Ballmer back in 2007 said the iPhone would flop and was blind sided on how quickly the iPad started cutting into PC usage. Likewise, Google's rapid success with Android appeared unexpected to him.

"There was a little bit of magic too for Android and Samsung coming together," Ballmer said. "But if you really want to bring the vision to market, it is helpful to be able to conceive and deliver the hardware, and our company is in the process of building new muscle, so we're not just thinking of tablets in advance and letting Apple commercialize it."

Ballmer said while most tech companies are "one-trick ponies," including Google and Oracle, he described Apple as one that had two tricks and Microsoft had two and a half. The first was its success with the modern PC with Windows and Office, the second was in the datacenter and the half goes to its rapidly growing Xbox gaming business.

"The fact that we have two and a half, I'm really proud of it and the fact that we've built muscle that lets us do new tricks in the future will distinguish us from all other companies on the planet," he said.

Ballmer, who shared his views on successful leadership, reminded the audience that he has never written a line of production code. "But that didn't let me off the hook for whether we were building the right products with the right quality in the right way," he said. "I won't say things were always perfect, that's not the point. You can't shy away from anything where you alienate people and in some cases if you don't know the details, you learn to ask the right questions. Not everyone does. On the other hand, every company needs to have a measurement system people understand."

That measurement system referred to a company's accountants. "Generally accountants are refs at the gate. They tell you whether the ball went into the goal," he said.

Ballmer had a polarizing tenure at Microsoft and some would question whether he lived up to the leadership principles he spoke of yesterday despite the strong profit growth on his watch. Either way, he reminded the audience he owns a 4-percent stake in Microsoft,  remains on the board and has every interest in seeing Microsoft succeed saying "I'm available to help if the company needs me."

 

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/05/2014 at 12:50 PM0 comments


Microsoft Leadership Shuffle: Reller and Bates Out, Penn Named Chief Strategy Officer

Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella this week will continue to reshape his leadership team with the departure of two senior leaders and the naming of Mark Penn as chief strategy officer. While it remains to be seen how much influence Penn will have, the move potentially give the controversial one-time aide to Bill and Hillary Clinton and current Microsoft marketing executive significant sway over the future direction of the company.

Departing are Marketing Chief Tami Reller and Tony Bates, executive vice president of business development and the onetime CEO of Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2012. The reshuffling of Nadella's leadership team started last week when Julie Larson Green was named chief experience officer of the "My Life and Work." She will be reporting to Qi Lu, executive vice president of Applications and Services Engineering. This change also makes room for former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop to head the Devices and Studios Group upon the completion of Microsoft's $7.2 billion acquisition of the company's handset unit.

News of the shakeup in Microsoft's executive suite was first reported by Re/code's Kara Swisher, citing unnamed sources close to the company. According to the report, Eric Rudder will temporarily take over Bates' responsibilities and Chris Capossela will take over Reller's role as executive VP for marketing. Reller will apparently stay for a transition period while Bates is leaving immediately.

Nadella reportedly informed insiders of the changes Friday and the company is expected to announce the new executive lineup tomorrow. Swisher speculated the move will give Penn a good look at new product areas and areas where Microsoft can invest in new technologies. However the move takes out of Penn's hands Microsoft's huge advertising budget and shifts it to Capossela.

Penn was widely responsible for Microsoft's overall messaging, which as The New York Times' Nick Wingfield noted was controversial, notably the "Scroogled" campaign which raised questions about Google's approach to privacy. While some believed it was lowbrow advertising, Penn loyalists claimed to have data showing it was effective, Wingfield reported.

As the longtime strategist to the campaigns of both Clintons, Penn is no stranger to controversy. He had to step aside as Hillary Clinton's chief strategist during her 2008 presidential campaign after he lobbied a free-trade pact with Columbia on behalf of Burson-Marsteller, which then-Senator Clinton opposed. Penn was also CEO of the public relations firm at the time. It appears unlikely Clinton will bring him back if she runs for president in 2016,  and would certainly be an issue if Nadella is tapping him for a strategic role.

But how much influence Penn will have is uncertain and Nadella will certainly be adding and subtracting additional people from his inner circle. One looming question is the future of Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, who has made no secret of his desire to be a CEO.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/03/2014 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Acronis Creates New Image with Revamp of Data Protection Suite

Backup and recovery software supplier Acronis last week launched what it described as a simplified and more complete suite of data protection software for physical, virtual and cloud environments.

The newly branded AnyData line offers a simplified user interface and boasts a performance boost of 50 percent. It offers both disk, VM, file, single-pass and sector-by-sector backups, full or fast incremental or differential backups and allows for the exclusion of files during backups. On the storage side, it offers a unified backup format, universal restore, deduplication, backup and staging to cloud (as well as tape), encryption, staging to tiered storage and multi-destination staging and retention.

At a press briefing in New York last month, CEO Serguei Beloussov explained the new software was designed to address growing data volumes. Acronis' re-branding and new product suite comes nearly a year after Co-Founder Beloussov returned to Acronis. Beloussov, who is also chairman and onetime CEO of Parallels, took the helm at Acronis following a revolving door of chief executives over the years. The most recent before Beloussov was Alex Pinchev, a former Red Hat president who Acronis tapped in January 2012 and only lasted 14 months.

As part of its new focus, Acronis has four business units: personal, business, mobility and cloud. The personal unit offers backup and storage solutions for individuals, the business group is focused on backup and recovery for small- and medium-sized enterprises, mobility provides secure access, file synchronization and sharing tools, and cloud targets managed service providers, telecommunications carriers and hosters with backup and storage software.

Beloussov said despite the new products and company imaging, Acronis business is strong, saying the last quarter was the best in the company's history with a 50 percent year-over-year increase in large purchases and 70 percent EBIDA growth. While he wouldn't disclose actual revenues, Beloussov indicated the company only had $100 million in revenues a few years ago and now it's up to "several" hundred million.

The suite includes software that protects both data and applications running on clients and servicer in virtual, physical and cloud environments, offering data backup, bare-metal restore capabilities, migration and system environments. It supports Linux, Windows and is compatible with all major file formats including ReFS, FAT16/32, Ext2/3/4, ReiserFS3, XFS, JFS, among others.

AnyData supports all the major virtual platforms including VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and Parallels. It can migrate virtual to virtual, virtual to physical, physical to virtual and physical to physical. It runs agentless in VMware and Hyper-V, supports VMware vCenter integration, simultaneous virtual machine backup, change block tracking, Hyper-V cluster support, any-to-any migration and simultaneous backup in virtual environments.

Acronis is also offering application-specific modules include Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint and Active Directory.

While Acronis boasts large customers such as Chevron, Ford, Intel, Honeywell, NASA, Samsung and Wells Fargo, the company's primary customers are groups with several hundred employees. Even its large customers tend to be remote groups or units, Beloussov acknowledged.

"They have really renewed their focus on the small business customer and the consumer," said Robert Amatruda, research director of data-protection and recovery at IDC. "I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised at the rapid speed these guys have reworked the company. The way they have rebuilt this product, it is now feature-rich around virtualization, and around migration of data for physical to virtual and virtual to virtual. I think you will see Acronis in environments where you have remote offices and workgroups in organizations that need these features."

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/03/2014 at 11:46 AM0 comments


Is Microsoft's DPM a Worthy Data Protection Tool for IT?

When Microsoft jumped into the data protection market back in 2005 with the release of its System Center Data Protection Manager, most providers of backup and recovery and replication software shrugged their shoulders. It was easy to point out that it only supported Windows environments and was not very robust.

Now, the latest DPM release can backup and recover Linux virtual machines, enables deployment in virtual environments by configuring storage as VHD pool disks shared in a System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) library and supports SQL Server clusters, as well as provide Windows Azure backup. DPM has come a long way since its release eight-plus years ago. Yet despite the improvements, most third-party suppliers of data protection software don't see it as a competitive threat.

I spoke with quite a few players over the past week and some argue they aren't seeing DPM used at all and others see DPM running alongside their solutions. Take Simpana from CommVault. Randy DeMeno, chief technologist for the company's Microsoft partnership, says some of his customers use DPM and Simpana runs alongside it. "When you get into long-term storage, e-discovery, heterogeneous virtual environments, heavy e-discovery, search, Exchange, SharePoint, [IBM Lotus] Domino [and] various heterogeneous files, that's where CommVault comes into play," DeMeno says.

"We really do high-speed recovery," says Mike Resseler, the Microsoft evangelist at Veeam Software. "We still don't look at DPM as competition but both can work better together. The reason is Veeam Backup and Replication is on the virtualization layer, DPM on Hyper-V. We support VMware as well. We connect the two and can give an effective and cheap solution to do disaster recovery."

Other tools offer better performance with enhanced data deduplication, adds Subo Guha, VP of product management at Unitrends, who acknowledges the improvements to DPM. "It's still kind of weak compared to what we see from a scalability perspective" Guha argues.

Yet most vendors I talked to acknowledged DPM can complement their own solutions. "They've got the backup piece covered and we've got the piece covered where if there's a disaster we can help get the applications up so it can use the data that they have backed up," says Tim Laplante, director of product strategy at Vision Solutions Inc. His company makes Double Take for high-availability environments (with a focus on business continuity and disaster recovery).

Serguei Beloussov, co-founder and CEO of Acronis, offers perhaps the harshest view of DPM arguing that letting Microsoft protect its own environment is the equivalent of letting the fox in the chicken coop. "What most people want to protect themselves against is errors and failures from Microsoft itself," Beloussov says. "Trying to protect yourself against Microsoft with the tool Microsoft supplies doesn’t sound very competitive."

Despite the richer features providers of data protection software offer, does Microsoft's DPM have a place in your shop? Share your views below or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/28/2014 at 2:34 PM0 comments


IBM Sees Growing Enterprise Demand for Windows Phone

Even though Windows Phone's consumer base is smaller than those for Apple's and Google's mobile platforms, it's projected to be the fastest-growing mobile OS in the coming years. IDC today issued its latest forecast that predicts Microsoft's Windows Phone, which currently holds 3 percent of the market, will account for 3.9 percent of the market by year's end and 7 percent by 2018. Much of that growth could come from enterprise IT decision makers, according to IBM.

An official at Big Blue this week said he sees growing pockets of interest in Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. Most of that interest is coming from IT, not consumers, but it was enough for IBM to give its newly acquired MaaS360 mobile device management platform support for Windows Phone.

IBM added mobile device management to its portfolio of tools for systems administrators two months ago with its acquisition of Philadelphia-based Fiberlink. The company announced the addition at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and at the IBM Pulse conference in Las Vegas.

The company's MaaS360 Productivity Suite provides secure e-mail, calendaring, contacts and a browser. The tool lets IT separate personal apps and data from enterprise software and information. IT can remotely wipe and manage enterprise apps and data without touching the personal side of the smartphone.

Jim Szafranski, senior VP of customer platform services at IBM's FIberlink unit, said many of its enterprise customers would like to see their employees use Windows Phone for work-related activities because of its tight integration with Microsoft's back-end systems. Consumer demand for Windows Phones of course continues to trail that of iPhones and Android devices, he said.

"Actual end user momentum is trailing business interest," Szafranski said. "IT likes Microsoft and likes Windows. They've made a lot of investment in things like Active Directory and Exchange and as a result they have a lot of interest in seeing Windows Phone used by employees. I don't think anyone is going to be all Windows on mobile, but enterprises do want it and I think they have a strong opportunity when it comes to the enterprise side of purchase decisions."

Despite the incremental but steady growth predicted for Windows Phone, it appears much of it will come at the expense of BlackBerry, though a small amount will come from Android and iOS. IDC's latest forecast predicts Apple's iOS and Android will continue to account collectively for 90 percent of the market over the next four years. This is slightly down from its current share of 94 percent.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/26/2014 at 11:55 AM0 comments


Will Slashing Windows Licensing Help Microsoft Tablet Sales?

Looking to boost its fortunes in the low-end tablets market dominated by Apple iPads and devices running Google's Android operating system, Microsoft is reportedly looking at sharply reducing the fees it charges manufactures to license Windows 8.1.

The news, first reported Saturday by Bloomberg, could be announced at this week's annual Mobile World Congress taking place in Barcelona. Citing unidentified sources familiar with the plan, Microsoft will lower the cost manufacturers pay to license Windows 8.1 on tablets by 70 percent from $50 to $15. The new fees would apply to tablets priced below $250 but they could be used on any size or type of device.

While Microsoft didn't comment on the report, it did announce at Mobile World Congress nine new Windows Phone partners. On top of its existing partners Samsung, HTC, Huawei and Nokia, the new influx includes Foxconn, Gionee, JSR, Karbonn, Lava (Xolo), Lenovo, LG Electronics, Longcheer and ZTE.

At Mobile World Congress, Microsoft also announced support for Qualcomm's  Snapdragon 200 and 400 series chipsets and options to support all the major wireless network protocols including LTE (TDD/FDD), HSPA+, EVDO and TD-SCMA (as well as soft keys and dual SIM).

Microsoft's Joe Belifore also confirmed a Windows 8.1 update is coming this spring that promises to appeal more to mouse-and-keyboard users. While not addressing the Windows licensing price cuts, Belifore did say in a blog post  that Microsoft is moving to lower manufactures' licensing costs. "We'll enable our partners to build lower cost hardware for a great Windows experience at highly competitive price points," he said

The company needs to take drastic action if it wants to be a formidable player in the tablet market now dominated by Google and Apple. Google doesn't charge manufacturers any licensing fees for Android or Chrome OS. The added licensing fee of course adds to the price of the device.

For example, the cost of a Dell Venue 8 running Android is currently priced at $229, while a similarly configured Dell Venue 8 Pro with Windows 8.1 now costs $299 (based on prices listed on the company's Web site).  However the Dell Venue Pro also ships with an Office 2013 license, which also adds to the price. But with the current $299 price tag for the Dell Venue Pro 8, it wouldn't be eligible for the reduced Windows 8.1 license fees. Dell would need to lower the price to $250.

Also as the Bloomberg report noted, some of Microsoft's largest suppliers paid Windows licensing fees closer to $30 after marketing funds and other promotional incentives were taken into account.  Meanwhile, Nokia launched its rumored Android phone, the Nokia X at Mobile World Congress. It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft will continue to support that after its $7.2 billion deal to acquire Nokia closes.

What do you think about Microsoft lowering its Windows license fees to go after the low-end tablet market?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/24/2014 at 11:36 AM0 comments


Can Nadella Stand Up to Bill Gates?

Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella has acknowledged during the process of selecting who would replace Steve Ballmer that he asked Bill Gates to come back and dedicate time to key initiatives.

Skeptics may argue that of course he's going to say that. In actuality it could have been either Gates or the board who really made the call. But in any case Nadella appears comfortable with the arrangement. In what was billed as the first interview Nadella has given since he was named CEO earlier this month, he told The New York Times he's prepared to push back with Gates if he feels it's warranted. Nadella said he knows how to handle Gates.

"He's actually quite grounded," Nadella told The Times. "You can push back on him. He'll argue with you vigorously for a couple of minutes, and then he'll be the first person to say, 'Oh, you're right.' Both Bill and Steve share this. They pressure-test you. They test your conviction."

Nadella also said that he's aware of the challenges facing Microsoft and acknowledges that the historically mighty powers do fall from grace. "One of the things that I'm fascinated about generally is the rise and fall of everything, from civilizations to families to companies," he said. "We all know the mortality of companies is less than human beings. There are very few examples of even 100-year-old companies. For us to be a 100-year-old company where people find deep meaning at work, that's the quest."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/21/2014 at 10:43 AM0 comments


Metalogix Targets SharePoint Backup and Recovery

Metalogix this week released its first backup and recovery tool designed solely for protecting SharePoint environments. The new Metalogix Backup 4.0 is the fruit of the company's acquisition of Idera's SharePoint tools business last fall and offers improved performance and support for SharePoint 2013.

But it begs the question: Why would an IT organization want a backup and recovery tool that just protects SharePoint but not the rest of the infrastructure? Metalogix officials argue its new tool is better suited to ensuring recovery of SharePoint than traditional data protection suppliers such as Symantec, CommVault, CA, Veeam Acronis and VisionSolutions, among others.

For example, Metalogix Backup now integrates with the company's StoragePoint Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) tool which reduce the size of large SharePoint repositories. The two can back up not only BLOBS that are in SQL Server but BLOBS that have been externalized by RBS offloading, explained Metalogix Chief Marketing Officer Jignesh Shah.

Metalogix Backup 4.0 also features end user self-service recovery built into the SharePoint Ribbon, Shah emphasized. "This is very important," he said. "It's not an administrative tool that you are going to push out to hundreds or thousands of SharePoint users. You can offer them selective recovery directly from the user interface."

Product manager Steven Goldberg explained why the company believes organizations need a backup and recovery tool designed specifically for SharePoint. "The reality is most SharePoint administrators need better control at the SharePoint level," Goldberg said. "The biggest pain point that often comes up is recovery of documents. If someone destroyed, by mistake, a folder…having to recover that is very difficult to do with the horizontal platforms that don't really have deep support for SharePoint backup and recovery."

But even SharePoint administrators and IT decision makers who agree with that notion naturally have to protect data other than SharePoint, I argued. "In that case we see them complimenting the central backup with specialized purpose-built SharePoint backup," Goldberg said.

To make that point, the company is offering the new Metalogix Backup 4.0 for 50 percent of the cost organizations are paying for their existing solutions. Goldberg said Metalogix will offer the same capacity for half their annual maintenance costs, "no matter which one."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/21/2014 at 12:24 PM0 comments


Microsoft Kicks Off SkyDrive Transition with OneDrive Launch

Microsoft today launched its new OneDrive cloud storage service, which replaces SkyDrive. The new name change comes with a few new bells and whistles.  However, OneDrive won't just show up and replace SkyDrive on your system or device -- you must transition to the new service by logging into OneDrive.com.

Other than the new name, OneDrive looks identical to SkyDrive, which Microsoft agreed to rename last summer after a British court ruled it infringed on a trademark held by Sky Broadcasting Group. Microsoft last month revealed OneDrive as the new name for the service following the ruling.

The new OneDrive also includes real-time co-authoring when used with Office 365, allowing for simultaneous edits of Word, Excel or PowerPoint files. An additional new feature includes taking advantage of Android cameras for backup -- a feature already included with iOS and Windows Phone devices.

What Microsoft didn't say is if you use Windows 8, you'll have to wait a few months for a systems update. According to the instructions, to switch from SkyDrive to OneDrive, you must go to the app store of your device platform.

On iOS the transition was pretty seamless. As instructed. I went to the Apple App Store, searched for OneDrive and installed it. Within a minute or so, OneDrive replaced SkyDrive. However when searching for OneDrive in the Windows Store, it was nowhere to be found.

Upon inquiring with Microsoft, a spokeswoman explained why: "Because OneDrive is built into the OS, OneDrive will be updated in Windows in the coming months."  Likewise, if you try to download OneDrive on a Windows 7 PC,  it will re-install SkyDrive. I wouldn't go as far to say Microsoft has left Windows 8 users in the cold since SkyDrive will continue to work but it is rather ironic that Microsoft was able to deliver it for iOS and Android before Windows.

Microsoft still offers 7 GB of storage free of charge and today said it will offer an additional 3 GB to those who use the camera backup feature. For those who purchase additional storage, Microsoft is now offering monthly billing rather than requiring customers to pay a one-time fee.

The SkyDrive Pro service for SharePoint users will be renamed OneDrive for Business. Microsoft said it will disclose plans for that service at next month's SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/19/2014 at 2:20 PM0 comments


Why Delta Decided To Fly High with Windows 8

Last September, Microsoft announced that Delta Airlines would be equpping its cockpits with Surface tablet PCs running Windows RT 8.1 and a Windows Store app called FlightDeck Pro, designed to replace bulky and oft-dated flight manuals and allowing for real-time updates. I met Darrell Haskin, IT director for Delta's crew department at an event in New York a few months ago held by Microsoft. The event showcased a few dozen customers using Windows 8x and Windows Phone devices. Some were giants like Delta, Siemens and Boeing and others using Windows 8x were small- and mid-sized business including a real estate firm and a medical clinic. This month's Redmond magazine cover story highlights six IT pros using Windows 8 devices and OS in their enterprises.

I spent time talking with Haskin and several others on his IT team and I later caught up with him at last month's National Retail Federation convention where he talked up Delta's deployment in a session at Microsoft's booth. It didn't surprise me that Delta was pushing forward with a progressive app like FlightDeck Pro. The airline has a long history of investing in IT. Back in 2001, I met with Delta's IT people at the airline's Atlanta headquarters where they spent an entire day guiding me through their IT operations and talking up their migration from legacy mainframe systems to meet the needs of the new Web-enabled world.

Haskin said he hopes this latest initiative makes customers feel better about flying Delta. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

What led to your decision to put Surface PCs in the cockpit and give flight attendants Windows Phones?
Haskin: It wasn't that long ago. We started the project about two years ago but we didn't select Windows until a year ago. [Regarding the decision to give flight attendants Windows Phones] we were setting out to find an electronic replacement for our onboard point-of-sale device. That was a proprietary system, an onboard device that just stayed with the airplane. Rather than have 2,000 devices on the aircraft, every flight attendant has their own device they can keep with them. We don't have to keep anything on the airplane any more, we don't have to have people come up and change them because we'd have to keep them charged. We'd have to dock them periodically to download all the information. Now we just do everything wirelessly into the new system.

Before Windows 8, what were you considering?
Haskin: We did an RFP [request for proposal] to seven different vendors. In most cases they were multiple groups of vendors. So when Microsoft actually bid on it, it was actually Microsoft, Avanade and AT&T. We had groups of other vendors that came in with their solutions. We looked at a lot of different options.

Presumably you there was a bid that included iPads and other non-Windows tablets?
Haskin: You bet.

So what led you to device on Surfaces rather than iPads?
Haskin: We really liked the fact that we're a big Windows shop already at Delta Air Lines. We have Active Directory, so we know a flight attendant versus a pilot. We know what type of aircraft he flies, that's all in Active Directory. Plus we use Exchange for e-mail so it just fit into the corporate architecture better for us.

Were you concerned that Windows 8 might not take off, so to speak? Pardon the pun.
Haskin: Yes, of course we had some concern about that but Microsoft is one of our strategic partners. So we sat down with them and conveyed our concerns with them. They were very supportive and said 'we feel this is going to take off'  and now we believe that it will. They were able to allay our concerns about that.

According to Forrester, Windows may only account for 30 percent of all devices by 2017. If that forecast plays out, is that a concern?
Haskin: I think 30 percent is a pretty good number. I think the fact that Delta has chosen to do this in our operation will naturally have some influence on other companies around the globe.

Why did you go with Surface 2s with Windows RT versus Surface Pros running the full version of Windows 8?
Haskin
: Because pilots only use our in-house applications. There really wasn't a need for us to have all of the additional functionality that comes with the Surface Pro for this particular application in the flight deck. And the battery lasts longer, which is very important to the pilots in our flight deck who might be on a 15-hour flight.

Will you be rolling out Windows 8 for the ground force or other parts of Delta?
Haskin
: We're actually still on Windows XP. We're moving to Windows 7.

Why Windows 7 and not Windows 8?
Haskin: We're just not ready to do that yet.

Will some of those go to Windows 8?
Haskin
: Nope, they're all going to Windows 7. That's primarily the back-office desktop users.

What about executives who might want a touch-based interface?
Haskin
: Our executives all have Surface Pros already.

All of them do?
Haskin: Vice presidents and above all have Surface Pros. That's about 200 executives or so. They love the ability to be able to write notes on things and send them out. Our executives are on the move -- I mean, we're an airline. They're flying all over the world meeting with our strategic partners around the world. It's a great school for them. They've given us really positive feedback for Surface Pros.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/14/2014 at 3:58 PM0 comments


Windows Phone Inches Up in Share, BlackBerry Dives and Android Soars

While most people I know have iPhones and some have smartphones based on Android, Google's platform is clearly taking over the global market. Gartner and IDC released their annual smartphone reports and both showed that Android and iOS extended their dominance in the past year.

That may not be a revelation but the numbers show Android has an overwhelming lead over all platforms with 794 million devices shipped. Android phones now account for 79 percent of the market compared with 69 percent last year, according to IDC's report (Gartner's numbers were similar). I find that somewhat alarming given how often I hear Android is inherently more susceptible to malware and security risks than the other platforms.

Runner-up iOS is the only other major player but despite the fact Apple shipped 153 million iPhones, its share has dropped from 19 percent to 15 percent. Between the two, they account for 84 percent of the smartphone market.

While Microsoft continues to struggle to make a dent in the market it has solidified its third-place position with 33 million Windows Phones shipped. That's nearly double the amount last year. Windows Phone now has a 3.3 percent share of the market, up from 2.4 percent last year. Nokia shipped 89 percent of Windows Phones, which was "a testament to its expanding portfolio that addressed entry level all the way up to large-screen smartphones," wrote IDC analyst Ryan Reith. "What remains to be seen in 2014 is how Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's smart devices will propel volumes higher."

No surprise is that BlackBerry's precipitous fall continued. The smartphone maker shipped 40 percent fewer devices last year (19 million) and its share dropped from 4.5 percent to 1.9 percent.  As Reith noted, it was the only major player to see its share fall. And indeed it fell sharply. "With new leadership, management, and a tighter focus on the enterprise market, BlackBerry may in a better position, but still finds itself having to evangelize the new platform to its user base," Reith noted. I think that was a kind but optimistic assessment for BlackBerry.

The question remains, can Microsoft find a way to make it a real three-horse race with Windows Phone? Given recent reports that even Nokia is considering an Android phone it certainly casts doubt that even Microsoft's new devices unit can take on the Android juggernaut. Or maybe it's just hedging its bets.

Either way, Windows Phone and BlackBerry never come up in conversations I have with anyone developing an app and when I bring them up, the response is typically a deafening silence. I sometimes wonder if some people realize they exist. I still don't think it's game over for Microsoft's smartphones and preferences can change with the wind. But for Windows Phone and BlackBerry, this year and next will be critical if they're going to change this two-horse race.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/13/2014 at 12:52 PM0 comments


OpenDaylight Is Key to Microsoft's SDN Strategy

When the Linux Foundation brought together rival networking and infrastructure providers to join its new OpenDaylight Project last April to provide interoperable software-defined networks, it was interesting to see Microsoft sign on as a "platinum" member. Windows Azure, Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 already support the Open Network Foundation's OpenFlow standards for SDNs (and were enhanced with last fall's R2 releases). But by joining the OpenDaylight Project, Microsoft was committing to open source implementations of key SDN standards.

Microsoft is an OpenDaylight Project platinum sponsor along with Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Ericsson, IBM, Juniper Networks and Red Hat. In addition, Microsoft Group Program Manager Rajeev Nagar, who oversees the Windows Datacenter Networking and Platform team, is on the board and technical steering committee of the project.

In an interview Monday, Nagar explained why Microsoft is putting so much effort behind OpenDaylight. "If you want customers to be able to try out and deploy SDN technologies, if you want to drive interoperability through different vendor implementations, we think participation, encouragement and contribution to industry consortia like OpenDaylight is a valuable thing to do," Nagar explained.

It's still the early days for SDNs but as organizations move to these new virtual network infrastructures to automate their datacenters, Microsoft sees System Center, Windows Server and Windows Azure as critical components of these new architectures.

The OpenDaylight Project released its first deliverable last week  called the Hydrogen distribution. "Hydrogen is a very good start to the effort," Nagar said. "It offers a base controller and then it also offers a slew of services in relation to the controller that people can try out. When folks say 'hey, I want to deploy SDN or try it out, want to deploy an overlay network or I want to control or manage my network through a programmatic manor,' those capabilities are enabled through Hydrogen."

At the summit, Microsoft demoed Hydrogen, which is built on Java, on Windows Server and Windows Azure. Nagar wouldn't say if or when it would offer the code with Windows Server, System Center or Windows Azure.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/12/2014 at 12:57 PM0 comments


Web Crawler Helped Snowden Find Classified NSA Files in SharePoint

Though it's well documented that former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden accessed many classified files stored in SharePoint repositories, it was the unfettered permission he had that let him steal and later release those files.

Giving him that access turned out to be an epic failure, whether or not you believe he did the right thing by sharing what he knew with the world. From a security standpoint, this administrator was an insider who was able to steal a lot of classified data that the agency didn't want disclosed.

Now it has come to light how he found these files. A report this weekend in The New York Times says Snowden used a Web crawler to find the 1.7 million files he ultimately took. It doesn't say whether he used the search engine in SharePoint (which effectively is a Web crawler), a freely available one found on the Internet or a custom bot he created.

According to the report, NSA officials only said it functioned like the Googlebot Web crawler, also known by some as a spider. What remains a mystery is why the Web crawler's activities of scanning classified files didn't set off any alarms, especially since the NSA rarely uses Web crawlers, according to the report. Because passwords were inserted, "the Web crawler became especially powerful."

The NSA is still unclear how Snowden came up with the search terms needed to seek out the files he was looking for and the NSA said it doesn't believe the searches were directed by a foreign power. But knowing the search terms apparently has helped the agency determine what information Snowden had, among other things.

As Steve Ragan noted today in his CSO blog, The Times report missed an important point:  "This isn't mastermind-level hacking, it's something any network administrator would know how to do," he noted. "But because Snowden was an insider, not to mention a network administrator with legitimate access to the commands and portals he was mirroring, his explanation for the access and archiving was accepted at face value."

Ragan explained how this can affect you. "At the time the investigators were duped, the NSA had the same problem many organizations have; they were more worried about defending the network from threats that came from the outside, and didn't seriously consider the potential for threats from within."

So if the NSA's SharePoint documents could be found by a Web crawler by your administrator you could be just as susceptible to data loss as the NSA was. Insider threats are nothing new. But what Snowden pulled off last year and the fact that he did so with a Web crawler is a reminder you need to keep an eye on threats from outside and within.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/10/2014 at 2:23 PM0 comments


Nadella: Don't Split Up Microsoft!

Ever since former CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement late last summer, some on Wall Street were buzzing that now's the time to sell or spin off certain Microsoft businesses "to provide maximum shareholder value."

Proponents of splitting Microsoft up date back to the Department of Justice antitrust trial in the late 1990s. At the time they spoke of creating "Baby Bills," a term derived from the Baby Bells that were spun off of AT&T back in 1984. Founder Bill Gates was dead against that idea for Microsoft and I'd imagine he still is.

But some still think splitting Microsoft up (or at least spinning off a unit or two) is a good idea. Wall Street was enamored with outside candidates because they had less attachment to the so-called sacred cows. Proponents have often touted Microsoft's market-lagging Bing search engine and Xbox gaming business as good candidates Microsoft should shed.

Just because Microsoft tapped an insider as CEO doesn't mean the idea of spinning off units is DOA. Some would even like to see Microsoft split into multiple companies. Analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies even suggested in a blog post Tuesday that Microsoft should be split into three companies -- one focused on enterprise IT, the second comprising mobile devices including tablets and the third on its Xbox business.

The decision to shed any major assets will be made by the board, though the CEO presumably will have a strong voice in convincing the board whatever he thinks is best. Based on his comments this week, I don't get the sense Satya Nadella is pining to sell off Bing or Xbox but considering he's only been on the new job for a few days, he has a lot to delve into. Nadella said as much in his interview with corporate VP Susan Hauser on Tuesday.

Hopefully he won't succumb to pressure from Wall Street to spin off those businesses. While the Bing search engine may never surpass Google in usage or mindshare, the technology in Bing is crucial to Windows, Office, SharePoint and many other initiatives, some that may not have even borne fruit. Likewise with Xbox.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway this week in Microsoft's selection of Nadella as CEO is the company's acknowledg ment that it is an enterprise software company first. At the same time, consumers drive enterprises and the lines have blurred between the two.  From that perspective, IT pros should welcome the selection of Nadella as Microsoft's new CEO. "It appears he's prepared to carry out the strategy the company has set," said Directions on Microsoft Analyst Rob Helm. "It's a choice for continuity, for enterprises that's somewhat of a relief." Helm added that the choice of Nadella is a strong sign Microsoft will stay the course.

Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler agreed. "Talk of bringing in an outsider tends to suggest that the entire strategy of the company and the company needs to be reconfigured," Schadler said. "I didn't believe that was true. I believe the path the company has been on is the right path. They have to move from licensed software to software to software as a service, full stop, period."

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/07/2014 at 1:55 PM0 comments


Does Nadella Really Want Bill Gates Second-Guessing Him?

When Satya Nadella was in discussions with Microsoft's board to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO, Nadella reportedly wanted to have Gates close at hand to advise him on technology and product strategy.

Perhaps that's true or maybe that was the message purposely leaked because it was the board and/or Gates who wanted the founder to work closely with the new CEO. Yesterday's news that Microsoft has tapped Nadella to take over as the company's CEO immediately is a huge milestone for the company. Yet the fact that Gates is handing off his seat as chairman to John Thompson to spend a third of his time working with Nadella and the product teams raises a number of questions.

Most notably, does Nadella really want Gates second-guessing him? Nadella is a 22-year veteran and has a strong understanding of Microsoft's legacy, business and technology and has the monumental task of taking the company forward. Whether you like him or not, Gates is a legend for bringing PCs and office productivity to the masses. But as Microsoft charges into the post-PC era, it's a very different world.

It's rather ironic considering Gates always envisioned the post-PC world but even when he was around, he never saw Microsoft making the transition. Most famously as CEO, Gates overlooked the growth of the Internet in the mid-1990s and, of course, had a hand in the Windows Vista fiasco. But most dramatically, despite having projects such as the WinPad and other mobile tablet efforts in the labs, Apple and Google beat Microsoft to the punch. Gates pooh-poohing the iPod and later the iPhone when it was still a Windows Mobile vs. Blackberry world were gaffes Microsoft is still trying to recover from, though Ballmer shares that blame as well.

Maybe it wasn't Nadella looking for the comfort of Gates' presence but a board that, even though it was confident in Nadella's ability to lead Microsoft, was aware that Wall Street wanted star power in the mix. Another possibility is Gates, as founder of the company, wanted to become more involved, as some sources told The Wall Street Journal. The board may have also offered Gates this new role to compensate for giving up his seat as chairman.

Just as Mary Jo Foley has often and once again pointed out, Gates' main focus in this chapter of his life is his focus on philanthropy -- and rightfully so. The notion that Gates will become more involved at this juncture for any significant period of time sounds questionable, as I also noted just a month before Ballmer announced his retirement. It's also debatable the extent Thompson and the board want Gates involved.

Gates is a brilliant person and I'm not suggesting he doesn't have a lot to offer to Nadella and the product chiefs at Microsoft. I just wonder if Gates' presence will be helpful or if it will hold Nadella and the company back. What do you think?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/05/2014 at 1:58 PM0 comments


It's Official: Satya Nadella To Immediately Take the Helm at Microsoft

Microsoft today named Satya Nadella as the third CEO in the company's history and Bill Gates will step aside as chairman but will serve as a technical advisor. Director John Thompson will replace Gates as chairman. Nadella takes over as CEO immediately.

Reports that the search was winding down and that the two would be named to take the company forward at a critical juncture in its history surfaced late last week. It was looking probable in recent days that Microsoft indeed was set to give Nadella the nod. But given the fits and starts of the search over nearly six months, there was reason to wonder if the decision was certain.

Gates' future role with Microsoft was also in doubt, given his full-time commitment to his charitable trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But Gates will step down as chairman and take on the new board position of founder and technology advisor. In that new role the company said he will spend more time with the company working with Nadella to develop technology and product direction. It remains to be seen how much more involved Gates becomes.

Despite calls for outside blood to take over Microsoft, in the end the company found it had the best candidate from within. "During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead Microsoft than Satya Nadella," Gates said in a statement. "Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth."

Since Ballmer announced he's stepping down back in August, Nadella was always considered a candidate, though at first he was considered a long shot. However, over time his prospects seemed to improve thanks to his 22-year tenure with Microsoft working in a wide number of groups including overseeing its Bing search engine, its Office business and most recently overseeing its enterprise tools infrastructure and cloud business. Unlike Ballmer, who was regarded more for his business and marketing acumen, Nadella is an engineer and computer scientist who also has broad awareness of how technology is applied to business and is seen as having a vision for the future of consumer and enterprise IT.

Nadella also is known to spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley, which should help bring Microsoft into the mainstream of the technology market. His ties to the region promises to help recruit key partners and talent to move Microsoft forward.

When Nadella appeared at a Silicon Valley media event in September to talk about Microsoft's cloud strategy, it was clear the company was floating him as a candidate. But as Wall Street was pushing for an outsider to come in, the search focused on Ford CEO Alan Mulally and several others. It was never clear whether Microsoft offered the job to any of those candidates with the leading ones publicly bowing out.

Even though Nadella is widely respected, questions have persisted whether he could run a company with 100,000 employees  (and about 30,000 more due to come on board once Microsoft closes its deal to acquire Nokia). With former Symantec CEO Thompson stepping in as chairman and a strong CFO in Amy Hood, Microsoft believes the two will take some of that pressure off of Nadella.

In an e-mail to employees, Nadella emphasized the company's mobile and cloud-first transition. "While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more," he noted. "Our industry does not respect tradition -- it only respects innovation. This is a critical time for the industry and for Microsoft. Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places -- as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it. Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile and cloud-first world."

Born in Hyderabad, India, Nadella has a master's degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin and another master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

In a video interview released by Microsoft, Nadella shared Gates' view that the company needs to have the goal to make profound changes. "Everything is becoming digital and software-driven," he said. "I think of the opportunities being unbounded and we need to be able to pick the unique contributions that we want to bring. That's where our heritage of having been the productivity company to now being the do-more company where we get every individual and every organization to get more out of every moment of their life is what we want to get focused on."

Nadella's heritage at Microsoft overseeing enterprise infrastructure and productivity is also a sign the company won't lose sight of its bread and butter as it tries to develop new use cases for individuals and enterprises alike.

As an IT pro, how do you feel about Microsoft's choice?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/04/2014 at 9:58 AM0 comments


Microsoft's Ad Scores in Super Bowl XLVIII

No doubt people are feeling euphoric in Redmond and throughout the Pacific Northwest today with their beloved Seattle Seahawks -- owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen -- trouncing the favored Denver Broncos and winning the Super Bowl. Microsoft also scored a victory of sorts last night with its one-minute commercial. This is the first time Microsoft has aired a Super Bowl spot.

Maybe the commercial wasn't the winner (especially if you're a Seinfeld or Steve Colbert fan) but it's about time Microsoft stepped up and strutted its stuff in front of one of the biggest audiences it can capture in one snap, so to speak. It joined companies during and since the dotcom bubble that have strutted their stuff in Super Bowl commercials including Apple, Dell, Google, HP, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce.com and SAP.

Many companies spend tens of millions of dollars to produce and run commercials for the Super Bowl and that can do a number on your ad budget. But Microsoft's advertising budget was estimated at a hefty $1.23 billion in 2012, according to Ad Age, which described last night's spot as a "tear jerker." The commercial got favorable reviews on social media as well, even by some who are not necessarily Microsoft fans. As Microsoft is about to engage in one of the most significant leadership transitions in the company's history and its home team playing for the Lombardi trophy, what better time for it to redeem itself to the world?

The emotional ad showcased former New Orleans Saints legend Steve Gleason, who now suffers from ALS, the debilitating condition known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Gleason narrated "what technology can do," subtly showcasing how he dictated commands while using eye-tracking technology with his Surface Pro and how doctors use Microsoft's Kinect motion sensors in operating rooms.

The spot also showcased "how Skype brings children around the world together to learn how physically challenged people can continue to pursue their passions in life with the help of technology and the particularly moving story of a mother gaining the ability to hear for the first time," said Mark Penn, Microsoft's executive vice president for advertising and strategy in a blog post. "These are real people telling their own stories in their own words and we hope you feel as inspired by them as we do."

A one-minute commercial isn't going to convince critics or those passive about technology that Microsoft is still in the game. But remember if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, some may argue it didn't really fall. So if it reminded some that Microsoft still has fuel in its tank, it was probably was worth the $4 million it spent (at least) on the commercial especially as Microsoft is set to announce its new CEO (which could come as early as this week). At the same time, Microsoft needs to continue to get the word out on what it offers and where it's going.

What did you think of last night's commercial?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/03/2014 at 10:56 AM0 comments


Spotlight Intensifies on Nadella as Microsoft CEO Frontrunner

The tea leaves continue to point to Satya Nadella as the leading contender to replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's CEO. Since yesterday's report that Nadella is the leading candidate, additional reports have surfaced that Bill Gates may possibly cede the chairman's roll to board director John Thompson.

Gates may step down as chairman but yet have more involvement with the company, Bloomberg reported yesterday. Clearly Nadella wasn't the first choice though some believe outside candidates such as Ford CEO Alan Mulally were placeholders for Nadella to eventually lead Microsoft. Mulally earlier this month said he would not leave Ford this year.

Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran, is viewed as a capable and bright technical visionary but lacking any background in running a large business. Critics have advocated that only an outsider can shake things up in Redmond. Nomura Securities analyst Rick Sherlund believes Nadella is a good choice, especially with CFO Amy Hood at his side.

"He's complimented by a very good CFO and I think Amy Hood will do a lot to manage the cost structure and together with some influence on the board like from ValueAct," Sherlund told CNBC this morning.

The ideal scenario in Sherlund's mind was for Mulally to groom Nadella, who would have shaped the company's technical and product strategy. While Microsoft's stock would have gotten a more immediate bump from bagging Mulally, Sherlund has a price target for Microsoft's stock at $45 per share. It was trading up nearly 2 percent at $37.49 at midday today, making it the second most-active stock on the Nasdaq.

Nadella, who grew up in India, has a reputation as a "relentless questioner," who with substantial technical chops, as Reuters noted in this report today. That's a major departure from Ballmer, better known for his marketing prowess.

Would the combination of Nadella and Hood be enough to keep Wall Street happy? "I think the stock will be in a holding pattern here a little bit," Sherlund said. "Initially it traded up, probably under relief that it wasn't some of the other people that people feared would get that job." While he didn't say so specifically, he didn't deny he was referring to Stephen Elop, a onetime Microsoft executive, who was CEO of Nokia and is slated to return to Microsoft as an executive VP after the Nokia deal is finalized. Elop last year was at one time considered a front runner but quickly dropped from contention, while Nadella was preferred for his deeper engineering background.

Critics of choosing an insider shouldn't presume Nadella wouldn't shake things up at Microsoft and Sherlund said he would need to be willing to cut loose-key executives and bring in new talent. Likewise Sherlund said Microsoft needs to revamp its board. "I think the dynamics on this board are about to change pretty radically," he said. "This board has not done a very good job at looking after shareholder value over the last decade and there's a lot of people don't have a lot of experience in the technology field. This is a tech company, they are going to be run by somebody with a tech back ground, and I think they have to allow him to make the changes that are necessary."

Though Ballmer was recently re-elected to the board, Sherlund said he wouldn't be surprised if he exits. Of course, while a decision remains to be made, fluid reports are pointing to an announcement as early next week. And while it doesn't appear the board has made an offer, the focus on this weekend's Super Bowl is cited as one reason not to announce anything sooner.

In case you haven't heard, the Seattle Seahawks (which, by the way, is co-owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) are going to the big game. Apparently that's the main thing on the minds of employees in Redmond today.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/31/2014 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Microsoft Takes New Measure To Circumvent NSA Surveillance

Looking to ensure its foreign customers don't back off from using cloud services, Microsoft plans to give them the option of assuring their data is stored on systems outside the U.S. The move aims to ease concerns by customers outside the U.S. that the National Security Agency (NSA) or other U.S. agencies can intercept their encrypted communications.

NSA surveillance activities such as the PRISM  program revealed last year by former contractor Edward Snowden have stoked fear in customers that their data stored on U.S. soil isn't secure. Microsoft's response will address concerns and cover data sovereignty requirements by those in foreign countries, particularly Brazil and throughout the European Union.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's chief counsel, revealed the company's plan to give customers the choice of where their data is stored in an interview last week with the Financial Times. "People should have the ability to know whether their data are being subjected to the laws and access of governments in some other country and should have the ability to make an informed choice of where their data resides," Smith said.

Microsoft confirmed his comments but said it has no immediate plans to elaborate. But Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, an advocacy organization for privacy, said Microsoft is the first major U.S.-based digital provider to give customers control over where their data is stored.

"Practically the entire industry is strongly opposed to any EU rule requiring that data on its citizens be stored -- and also regulated -- by either member states or other governmental entities," he said in an e-mail yesterday. "This move should boost the company's prospects attracting EU and other privacy concerned businesses or consumers. It's unlikely, however, that others will follow suit, despite Microsoft breaking ranks with the industry lobby."

Asked why, Chester pointed to a number of groups that oppose forcing providers to offer that choice. Among them are the Internet Association, whose members include Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo; the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trace (BCTT) Digital Trade Working Group, which includes companies that perform online international trade including its corporate chairs Amway, Chrysler, Citigroup, Dow Chemical, FedEx, Ford, GE, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Eli Lilly, MetLife and UPS; and the  Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington, DC.-based think tank, that ironically is backed by Microsoft, Chester noted.

Will their positions change? "They want to stuff exporting consumer data to the cloud down the throat of EU consumers.  Perhaps demand will over time change their position, but for now they want no local rules." What are your views on Microsoft's plans to allow foreign customers to store their data offshore?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/30/2014 at 11:24 AM0 comments


Microsoft CEO Search Reportedly Nearing the Finish Line

The long search for Microsoft's next CEO may be coming to an end and it looks like the crown may go to an insider now that Ericsson Chief Hans Vesberg is no longer in the mix. The leading contender is now enterprise and cloud head Satya Nadella, according to a report this morning by Re/code's Kara Swisher.

An announcement could come within a week, several unnamed sources close to Microsoft told Swisher. Yet other sources tell her the search committee still hasn't ruled naming an outsider to the position. Two other insiders are also still contenders, according to the report. Among them are former Nokia CEO and onetime Microsoft President Stephen Elop and Tony Bates, who led Skype and now leads business development and OEM relationships for Microsoft.

CNBC, a Re/Code partner, noted this morning that  two others are still in the mix. The two are Microsoft COO Kevin Turner and Paul Maritz, a onetime insider who later became CEO of VMware and now runs its parent company EMC's Pivitol Software business. Maritz would be a good choice but he has indicated he isn't interested. Turner would be a surprise move and, from what I've heard, not welcome by many employees and partners.

The search is into its sixth month and the long wait to see who will lead Microsoft is taking a toll on morale at the company, according to Swisher. Also with several Microsoft conferences kicking off in a few months, including SharePoint, Build 2014 and TechEd 2014, failure to have named a new CEO could cast a shadow on those key events, which are expected to reveal the direction of the company's key offerings.

Nadella is a strong candidate, as I noted back in October when he talked up Microsoft's cloud and enterprise computing strategy in San Francisco. In addition to working in numerous groups during his two-plus decades at the company, Nadella has run perhaps the most critical and profitable pieces of Microsoft's business.

While I don't often write about rumors, Swisher is on the money more often than not. Either way, hopefully this search will reach the finish line soon.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/30/2014 at 12:09 PM0 comments


Cisco Launches Multi-Cloud Infrastructure Software

Cisco yesterday launched a new portfolio of software that it claims will let large enterprises and customers build more reliable, secure cloud-based infrastructure and, perhaps most pointedly, is designed to connect multiple clouds via key partnerships and industry standards. The company introduced its new cloud offering at its Cisco Live! conference taking place this week in Milan, Italy.

A key component of the new offering is Cisco InterCloud, management software. The company said  the software lets enterprises build and securely tie together multiple private clouds while ensuring their resiliency. Cisco claims InterCloud, the latest addition to the Cisco One cloud platform, will also reduce the cost of building public, private and hybrid clouds. The software is in field trial now and the company plans to make it available next quarter.

Microsoft is among several key partners in the Cisco One cloud program. Others include EMC, Citrix, Denali Advanced Integration, NetApp, Rackspace, Red Hat, VCE (the company formed by VMware, Cisco and EMC) and Zerto.

Cisco described InterCloud as a software-based tier that lets enterprises and service providers combine and move workloads (including data and applications) across various public or private clouds. Cisco InterCloud is  also designed to carry over security and network policies. Using InterCloud, Cisco said customers can move workloads between Amazon Web Services, Microsoft's Windows Azure and services from BT, CSC/ServiceMesh, CenturyLink Technology Solutions and Virtustream.

Cisco InterCloud will plug into cloud management offerings including Cisco's own Intelligent Automation for Cloud (IAC), CSC/ServiceMesh's Agility Platform, Red Hat CloudForms, among others. Given integration with Cisco's Unified Computing Systems (UCS), Windows Server and System Center, all indications are that Microsoft will tie its own Cloud OS solution (consisting of System Center and Windows Server) to Cisco InterCloud as well.

Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate VP for cloud and enterprise, noted in a blog post how InterCloud will let mutual customers extend Redmond's Windows Azure service. "Cisco InterCloud provides the necessary gateway and virtual networking infrastructure to enable customers to seamlessly move and run their applications and workloads on Windows Azure," Anderson said. "

While touching on Cisco's emphasis on interoperability, Anderson didn't mention Cisco IAC 4.0 management software, which Cisco also announced yesterday. IAC is a separate management offering from Cisco that provides orchestration among multiple cloud infrastructures including Amazon's EC2, VMware's Hybrid Cloud service and clouds based on OpenStack.

Since Cisco did say that its new InterCloud would link with IAC, at some point it's also a safe bet that it will tie to Microsoft's System Center, though neither company officially announced such plans.

 

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/29/2014 at 12:50 PM0 comments


SkyDrive Now Called OneDrive

It took six months but Microsoft has found a new name for its SkyDrive service. The new name, OneDrive will make its debut "soon," the company announced this morning in a blog post. Microsoft didn't say when the new name will appear but urged customers to sign up for alerts.

The new name also applies to its SkyDrive Pro service, which Microsoft will call OneDrive for Business. SkyDrive Pro is the file storage service for Office 365, SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online.

"Changing the name of a product as loved as SkyDrive wasn't easy," wrote Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's general manager for consumer apps and services. "We believe the new OneDrive name conveys the value we can deliver for you and best represents our vision for the future."

Microsoft agreed to rename SkyDrive back in July after losing a trademark infringement case with British Sky Broadcasting Group. Though the company said it would do so after "a reasonable amount of time," it appeared Microsoft was having second thoughts about ditching the name as it continued to promote SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro.

Among the names that some thought were in play to replace SkyDrive were Azure Drive and WinDrive. Perhaps OneDrive wasn't the first choice but it sounds like a suitable name for the service. Do you like it or do you think it was a bad choice?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/27/2014 at 10:23 AM0 comments


Symantec's NetBackup Upgrade Targets VM Backup and Recovery

Symantec last week rolled out the first upgrade to its NetBackup enterprise backup and recovery service in two years. The company said it gave NetBackup 7.6 a significant performance boost and tuned it up for environments using its replication engine for vSphere.

While Symantec is arguably the leading provider of enterprise backup and recovery software, a slew of challengers are targeting its dominance and have focused on the proliferation of virtual datacenters. Many have argued that NetBackup was not keeping up with this trend.

Though not pointing to any specific problems with NetBackup 7.5, Symantec Senior Product Marketing Manager Glen Simon said there is a companywide emphasis on improving Symantec's software. "Across the board there's an increased emphasis on quality," Simon said. "This release is preparing customers for the next generation of the modern datacenters."

On a high level Symantec said NetBackup 7.6 is designed for organizations that are evolving their infrastructure to software-defined datacenters. The new release is designed to automate large-scale data protection even for those at the cusp of making that transition. According to the company's own research, the amount of data organizations are creating is increasing at up to 70 percent yearly, which the new release is designed to address by providing more automation and faster performance.

Simon emphasized that NetBackup 7.6 also addresses the shift to the growth of virtual machines and targets VMware environments. Specifically it uses NetBackup Replication Director to protect VMware environments, according to Simon. It can also use NetApp snapshots taken from its arrays to protect virtualized environments. The new release can recover VMware vSphere VMs 400 times faster than its predecessor, the company claims.

VMware's dominance notwithstanding, it's not the only hypervisor organizations are using. So what about Microsoft's Hyper-V? "Going forward one of the major focuses on the next release will be Hyper-V," Simon said.

Given the competitive landscape and growth of Hyper-V, the company would be wise not to wait another two years for that upgrade.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/27/2014 at 9:54 AM0 comments


Microsoft's Strong Quarterly Growth Shows Early Success of Ballmer's 'One Microsoft'

Microsoft's stellar financial results for the second quarter suggest outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer's devices and services strategy and his "One Microsoft" corporate philosophy is working.

The company stunned Wall Street analysts yesterday with better-than-forecasted results for its second fiscal quarter. The company's $24.5 billion in revenues for the period ended Dec. 31 were $800 million higher than the projected figures. Earnings came in at a whopping 76 cents a share, 8 cents higher than the 68 cents anticipated.

The surprise uptick was the result of an increase in sales of its Surface devices, which last year was a black eye for the company. Also, a large uptake for Office 365 (with 3.5 million subscribers) and high demand for the company's new Xbox One game console helped to spur the growth. Even so, traditional Office revenue declined 24 percent to $244 million, as reported by Redmond's Kurt Mackie.

Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said on last night's earnings call that the quarter's results validate its transition to a devices and services company. Revenues of $11.9 billion were up 13 percent.  In an indication Microsoft may be turning the corner with its Surface devices, the company said revenues doubled last quarter over the previous one to $893 million. The increase is the result of the newly released Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, which received more favorable reviews and a higher level of consumer interest over the previous generation devices.

"We feel good about the progress we have made over the past couple of quarters, and are enthusiastic about the overall opportunity ahead with Surface," Hood told analysts yesterday on the earnings call. "The Windows ecosystem as a whole is also making important progress."

To that latter point, that progress remains incremental at this point.

With Surface devices ranging in price from $449 to $1,799, depending on model and configuration, Reuters estimated Microsoft sold 2 million Surfaces. As a comparison it is estimated Apple will announce that  20 million iPads sold during the same period.  

Still, Microsoft's advantage over Apple and Google is the fact that despite its consumer push, it's still primarily an enterprise company, as Mary Jo Foley points out in her All About Microsoft blog. Commercial revenues of $12.7 billion were up 10 percent. And as noted by The Wall Street Journal, commercial sales account for two thirds of Microsoft's gross profit.

Hood said commercial bookings grew 12 percent, while license renewal rates were healthy among its key enterprise products, despite a large number of license agreements expiring. Renewals increased 12 percent and contracted (but unearned) revenue came in at a record $23 billion, Hood said. "To me this is important as these long-term commitments demonstrate the confidence customers have in our product roadmap and where we are investing in key areas such as big data, infrastructure management and cloud computing," she told analysts.

Microsoft did not use the earnings release to discuss its search for a new CEO but the latest results suggest whoever gets the nod will have to make a strong case to make any dramatic changes in strategy. That doesn't mean one can't and won't make such a case. But the next CEO could also look to find better ways to execute on the existing plan.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/24/2014 at 12:02 PM0 comments


IBM To Hand Off Its x86 Server Business to Lenovo

IBM's long-expected departure from the x86 server business is official. The company today said Lenovo will acquire the commodity business for $2.3 billion, nine years after the Chinese company bought IBM's then-struggling PC business.

The deal includes all IBM servers designed to run Windows and Linux, though the company is not selling off its high-end server business running its Power processor, which runs both Unix and Linux. By selling off its commodity server business, so goes IBM's last major tie to Microsoft as an official partner. All the same, many of IBM's wares and services sit side-by-side with Microsoft-based systems and Big Blue's consulting and services business supports Redmond's key product lines as well. Just last week, IBM said it will support Microsoft's Dynamics product line.

Lenovo is picking up IBM's BladeCenter and Flex System blade servers and switches, Flex-integrated systems, NeXtScale and iDataPlex servers and related software, the company said. The deal also includes IBM's blade networking and maintenance operations. 

In addition to retaining its Power Systems, IBM said its hardware portfolio will include its System z mainframes, storage, PureApplication and PureData appliances. Talks of a deal started to surface earlier this week after falling apart a year ago. As IBM apparently seemed willing to lower its asking price, according to The New York Times, other players including Dell and Fujitsu expressed interest. Instead, IBM decided to finish its aborted negotiations with Lenovo.

It's hardly surprising that IBM decided to exit the server business, given its legacy of focusing on higher margin hardware, software and services. Just as Lenovo used the acquisition of IBM's PC business to expand its line of desktops, laptops and giving it an entry into the tablet market, it will be interesting to see how aggressively Lenovo moves to undercut Cisco, Dell and Hewlett Packard.

"Competition will remain fierce, with no tendency for oligopolistic behavior among the remaining participants," said Forrester analyst Richard Fichera, in a blog post. "Overall server market volumes will not change as a result of this acquisition."

As part of the deal, Lenovo will also resell IBM's Storwize disk storage systems, tape storage, General Parallel File System software, SmartCloud Entry offering and other components of IBM's system software offerings such as its Systems Director and Platform Computing offerings. 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/23/2014 at 12:38 PM0 comments


Should Microsoft Choose John Thompson as CEO?

A rumor surfaced yesterday that Microsoft may be considering John Thompson as its next CEO. Thompson, who after a long career at IBM and at Symantec as the company's CEO, is now on Microsoft's board and heading the search committee for Ballmer's successor.

According to CNET's Charles Cooper, there's buzz in Redmond that naming Thompson as CEO on an interim basis is a plan B that the company is considering, in wake of Ford's Alan Mulally falling off the list. If that were to play out, which I believe is a longshot (though stranger things have happened), that could be to groom an internal candidate such as Satya Nadella or Stephen Elop to take over at a future date.

It wouldn't be the first time a board member stepped in as a CEO. HP's Meg Whitman famously did so over two years ago and who can forget Dick Cheney, who led the vice presidential search team for then-Republican nominee George W. Bush. And we know how that turned out.

Thompson certainly has a strong resume and is well respected. But some question whether his decade as CEO of Symantec was a successful run. While he was there, he led Symantec's famous acquisition of Veritas for $13.5 billion.

While Veritas brought Symantec into the data protection (backup and disaster recovery) market, critics argue the price tag was way too high. In addition to a  major culture clash which I heard from former executives of both companies over the years, rumors have surfaced that Symantec has considered selling or spinning off its data protection business, though nothing has ever come of that.

In addition to his current role on Microsoft's board, Thompson is now CEO of Virtual Instruments, a performance management vendor.

Cooper argues Thompson has credibility with Wall Street,  and that his tenure with Symantec and his reputation in Silicon Valley make him a suitable candidate. Perhaps he'd be fine but I think (and I hope Thompson and the board agree) Microsoft would be better off not naming a CEO who was a plan B.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2014 at 12:36 PM0 comments


Convirture Adds Hyper-V Support to Management Tool

Convirture, which provides a management platform and console for virtual servers and cloud infrastructure, said its solution now supports Microsoft's Hyper-V.

The new release of the company's namesake Convirt Enterprise lets IT pros and administrators provision and manage Hyper-V hosts and virtual machines. Convirt Enterprise had already supported VMware, KVM and Xen hypervisor platforms. It can also manage VMs running in various cloud services, namely Amazon Web Services EC2 as well as those compatible with OpenStack and Eucalyptus Private Clouds.

But before the latest release of Hyper-V (included in Windows Server 2012 R2 last fall, Convirture didn't believe Hyper-V was suited for large-scale virtualization environments. Prior to the latest release of Hyper-V, Convirture also didn't see many IT organizations using it in large-scale datacenter environments, said Arsalan Farooq, CEO of the San Mateo, Calif.-based company.

"We were a little surprised that Hyper-V took this long to start showing up, but there were some legitimate concerns around it and I'm talking about bread and butter hypervisor features," Farooq said. "Since Microsoft shipped Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V has now become real enough that that the cost advantage and the push Microsoft is putting behind it, is starting to gain traction."

Farooq said Convirt Enterprise will appeal to shops running Hyper-V that require more functionality than the Hyper-V Manager Microsoft offers. Yet for those that need to manage multiple hypervisor platforms or require centralized management of multiple VMs and hosts, he said it's a fraction of the cost of Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager.

"Hyper-V Manager is a great tool for small scale management of a few hosts, maybe," he said. "But if you want to go beyond that, if you want to do more capable management, more sophisticated management, you have to go into a full centralized management suite. Now you can have a pretty sizeable Hyper-V environment without having to take on all this conceptual overhead of System Center's networking model and configuration."

Convirt Enterprise provides centralized management in a Web-based console and generates historical metrics, creates VM scheduling and provides self-service provisioning, he added. It costs $449 per single-socket host. Existing customers will receive a free update with the new Hyper-V support. It doesn't support Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service but he indicated the company has it in its roadmap.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2014 at 10:27 AM0 comments


VMware Steps Up MDM Battle with $1.54 Billion AirWatch Deal

VMware today said it has agreed to acquire mobile device management vendor AirWatch for $1.54 billion. AirWatch is regarded as a leading supplier of software for securing and managing smartphones, tablets and other systems and personal cloud storage services.

IT managers are increasingly letting employees use their personal devices on their networks. Even on those networks that may not allow them, many people use their own devices anyway and IT managers need to ensure they can control how and where data is accessed and stored. While VMware has been rolling out its own mobile device management tools called Horizon, it appears VMware has now opted to go with the more established AirWatch, a privately held company based in Atlanta, Ga. with 10,000 customers and 1,600 employees.  To what role Horizon will play in VMware's future remains to be seen but based on the company's initial statements, it looks like Horizon could be left out in the cold.

"AirWatch has a leading position in the standalone MDM market, which VMware hopes to leverage to enhance its own mobile ambitions," said analyst Jack Gold  in a statement released via e-mail. "However, it will be a challenge for VMWare to integrate the AirWatch technology with its own, as is the case with any technology acquisition into an existing base. We expect that AirWatch will become the dominant technology base for any future [VMware] Horizon product, and indeed expect that Horizon will ultimately fade away in favor of the AirWatch brand."

Virtually every major IT vendor is now emphasizing mobile device management. Microsoft has made mobile device management a key feature in System Center 2012 R2. By acquiring AirWatch, VMware also joins a number of established IT vendors that have added device management software to their overall systems administration portfolios. Citrix acquired Zenprise just over a year ago, Oracle in November bought Bitzer and just last week IBM said it is acquiring FiberLink. And Sybase's MDM business was a key reason SAP acquired that company nearly four years ago (in addition to its database business).

At the same time, traditional remote monitoring and management suppliers such as Continuum, GFI Software, Kaseya, LabTech, Level Platforms and N-able are extending their mobile device management features. Many of them have historically sold their wares primarily to managed service providers. However, many have recently begun targeting enterprises.

VMware said the AirWatch operation will be the focal point of its mobile systems management operations. AirWatch will become part of VMware's End User Computing Group, headed by Sanjay Poonen, the company's general manager and executive vice president.

AirWatch founder Alan Dabbiere will report directly to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger. "With this acquisition VMware will add a foundational element to our end-user computing portfolio that will enable our customers to turbo charge their mobile workforce without compromising security." Gelsingter said in a statement.

Under terms of the deal, VMware is funding it with $1.75 billion in cash and $365 million in installment payments, the company said. It's slated to close this quarter.

VMware also issued preliminary financial results for the fourth quarter of 2013, which it will officially release next week. The company said revenues are expected to be $1.48 billion, a 15-percent year-over-year increase. The uptick takes into account divestitures including Pivotal Software. Excluding those divestitures, VMware said revenues increased 20 percent.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2014 at 11:23 AM0 comments


Kinect 2 Coming to Windows This Summer

Microsoft's Kinect camera is best known by those who attach them to their Xbox gaming consoles, although Microsoft also offers a version of the sensor for Windows PCs. While Kinect is a toy for some, for others it's enabling new business opportunities.

Kinect was prominent at last week's National Retail Federation show in New York. During my booth tour, I even had the opportunity to chat briefly with Chris White, the senior program manager for Kinect, who oversees its development and marketing. White confirmed that the eagerly anticipated next iteration of Kinect is on pace to arrive for Windows this summer.

The new Kinect 2 will sport an HD (1080p) swivel camera with 1920 x 1080 resolution, support for 30 frames per second (fps) and a 16:9 aspect ratio. These specs are an improvement over the first-generation Kinect's 640 × 480 (480p) resolution, support for 30 fps and a 4:3 aspect ratio, according to a post by 123Kinect. Many retailers and distributors of apparel and other consumer goods should find that major boost appealing for product development.

Microsoft had a number of partners demonstrating Kinect at its NRF booth last week, which it described in a blog post.

One Microsoft partner bullish about the potential for Kinect 2 is FaceCake, a company that has developed what it calls a virtual dressing room. Using its swivel camera, customers can visualize how apparel will look on them -- whether it's a tie, a blouse or any other garment. With Kinect 2's HD capabilities and other features, the swivel camera will also be able to provide better detail and will be useful for gestures, explained Tom Chamberlin, FaceCake's vice president of business development.

Microsoft has hundreds of developers working with the new Kinect 2 SDK, and the deadline for participating in the preview program is Jan. 31.  As of last week, Microsoft is believed to have filled 300 of 500 of the preview slots.

Among those testing Kinect 2 is NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has already used it to control a robotic arm.

While Kinect 2 promises to have a lot of appeal to those building new vertical and industrial applications, I wonder if Kinect 2's improved precision will make it more appealing for mainstream desktop and communication functions, such as video conferencing. If Microsoft's tendency of getting things right the third time holds here, we may have to wait for Kinect 3. But the Kinect 2 looks like it will be a nice improvement over the first version.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/21/2014 at 2:13 PM0 comments


HP Kicks Off Aggressive Incentive for Windows 7 PCs

The good news is the share of PCs and tablets running Windows 8/8.1 is on the rise. But the bad news is that despite now surpassing the 10-percent share mark, according to Net Applications, some PC vendors are reportedly not pleased at the pace of uptake for the vastly altered operating system.

Many enterprises with Software Assurance or other licensing agreements can deploy Windows 7 when they roll out new PCs to users. Most PC vendors offer consumers a limited number of Windows 7-based systems or give the option to have a system shipped with it. But it's not something they have promoted in the past year. That is until now.

HP has kicked off a promotion and is offering $150 off for customers who chose a PC loaded with Windows 7. And the promotion isn't buried on the company's Web site. In fact, it couldn't be more prominent: just go to HP.com and it's in your face.

The timing could be good for those who have to bite the bullet and get rid of their Windows XP systems, which Microsoft will stop supporting April 8. Although Microsoft said last week that it will extend antimalware support for Windows XP until July 2015, the company will stop issuing security and other patches for Windows XP once the deadline hits. Hence experts are warning that users should upgrade their systems in advance.

A spokeswoman for HP told me the Windows 7 promotion is not because of dissatisfaction with Windows 8. "We've been offering Windows 7 since the availability of Windows 8 and we will continue to offer a broad set of choices for our customers," the spokeswoman said." There are promotions on HP Shopping all the time, this is just another promotion."

Moreover, this is a brief campaign, she said. It will end this Saturday.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/21/2014 at 12:06 PM0 comments


Many ATMs Are Still Running Windows XP

It's bad enough that 30 percent of the PCs in the world still run Windows XP and risk running an unprotected OS after April 8. Even more alarming is that many of those machines are ATMs at banks and other locations.

Does that mean ATMs will become vulnerable to malware or data theft once the deadline expires? As Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported yesterday, it depends. Those that run Windows XP Embedded have a little more time as Microsoft will continue to support that version until early 2016. But those with Windows XP will be susceptible to malware and other attacks, said Dean Stewart, an executive at ATM supplier Diebold.

"It's a very real risk," Stewart told the publication. "No ATM operator wants to get his name in the paper."

Only 15 percent of ATMs will be running Windows 7 by the April 8 deadline, added Aravinda Korala, CEO of specialty software supplier KAL.

Those willing to pay up can receive extended support. JP Morgan Chase is doing this for its thousands of ATMs, according to the report. The extended support could jump fivefold in the second year, according to Korala. Depending on the age of the ATM, it could require new hardware components that cost a few hundred dollars or, for older machines, several thousand dollars.

That some of the leading banks' ATMs are still running some form of Windows XP is not a surprise. Everywhere I go I see Windows XP machines: at the gym, my own Bank of America branch and numerous retail establishments. I hear many classrooms and computer labs also still have Windows XP-based PCs.

More concerning is that some will feel emboldened to wait to upgrade thanks to this week's news that Microsoft will extend antimalware support until January 14, 2015. However, Microsoft warned that the extended support doesn't mean that's a good reason to wait longer to upgrade your Windows XP systems, which will remain vulnerable to other attacks after April 8.

If you still have or support Windows XP systems, what are your plans in light of the April 8 deadline? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/17/2014 at 1:25 PM0 comments


Obama Moves To Limit NSA's Surveillance Activity

Looking to strike a balance between maintaining security against major threats and ensuring individual privacy, President Barack Obama today ordered a halt to the current Section 215 bulk metadata program in its current form. The president also recommended a set of reviews and guidelines aimed at putting limits on the National Security Agency's surveillance activities.

The move is the strongest effort yet by the administration to dial back the activities since last year's disclosure by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of the agency's surveillance programs. However, today's announced changes did not seek to eliminate it. Snowden's revelations last June have shattered the trust of individuals and IT pros alike.

In a speech (transcript) this morning at the Justice Department, the president argued that the review group he commissioned last year did not discover any indication of abuse when mining the metadata found in phone records. Obama emphasized a point he, NSA officials and others have frequently made since Snowden disclosed the various surveillance efforts such as PRISM: The government isn't going through records of domestic citizens but only a consolidated database of records service providers already save for billing and other routine purposes.

Because the review panel concluded it saw no signs of abuse, Obama said, "I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved," citing its effectiveness in thwarting attacks since Sept. 11 2001. But he added the program does need added safeguards moving forward to prevent the potential that exists for abuse.

"This type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future," Obama said. "They're also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate."

Obama said the review board's recommendation that replacing its current approach to tracking records with a third party isn't practical, noting it would pose technical questions, new privacy concerns, cost and less accountability. Another option was raised -- maintaining the current capabilities but using a combination of authorities with improved information sharing. "More work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work," he said.

As such, Obama ordered that the NSA transition from its current program. The government will only target phone calls that are two steps removed from terrorist organizations rather than the existing three. Obama also ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to collaborate with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow agents to only query the database following a judicial order or if there's an immediate emergency.

During the transition, the president also asked Holder to determine how the metadata can be made accessible through what is called the Section 215 program without holding the data itself. Obama has asked for those alternatives by March 28 and he'll seek permission from Congress to launch any new programs (if required), Obama said.

"I believe we need a new approach," he said. "I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata."

Obama announced the government has declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which reviews what he said is the most sensitive activities including Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas as well as Section 215 telephone metadata program. Furthermore, he asked Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. to review the privacy implications of surveillance activities and report to the president and Congress yearly. Obama also called on Congress to approve a panel of advocates from outside the government to weigh in on major cases before the FISC.

To address criticism that the government isn't transparent in its programs, Obama directed Holder to lift restrictions on so-called national security letters, which are used to petition data on individuals without their knowledge, to disclose those inquiries after an investigation has gone past the need for security. "We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government," he said.

While critics see these as a step in the right direction, some argue Obama's statement is incremental at best and is not likely to put an end to this debate. "Despite these welcomed reforms, the president's recommendations are still lacking when it comes to striking the appropriate balance between privacy and security," said Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coaliton) chairman Christian Dawson, in a statement issued after Obama's speech. "Without actions that include meaningful reforms to both bulk surveillance, and the indiscriminate use of National Security Letters, all together such a balance is unlikely to be achieved."

Political rants aside, what's your take on the president's move to curtail bulk collections and review metadata analysis?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/17/2014 at 3:44 PM0 comments


Commercial Windows 8.1 Tablets Showcased at NRF Show

After laying low at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Microsoft pulled out all the stops at the National Retail Federation Show in New York, which kicked off Monday. While the NRF show is focused on retail, the large trade show also encompasses the entire goods supply chain.

Attendance at NRF topped 30,000 with over 500 exhibitors taking up the entire Jacob Javits Convention Center. Microsoft showcased how it is looking to transform business across a number of industries with hardened versions of Windows 8.1, big data analytics and its Dynamics platform. The company talked up planned enhancements for Dynamics for Retail including an unlikely boost from IBM, which will partner with Microsoft on large projects as well as with content management system supplier Sitecore.

I spent the good part of Monday at NRF, where Microsoft hosted a number of sessions to outline how various customers are using the rapidly growing number of Windows 8.1 tablets in retail-type of environments. Ashley Furniture, Avis, Delta Airlines and Kohls were there to talk up how they are using Windows 8.1 tablets and handhelds to enable clerks and sales associates to provide more information on the sales floor.

The operative word from Microsoft officials at NRF was "omni-channel," the emphasis on providing improved Windows-based point-of-sale devices, providing customers better information in the store and online and improving operational efficiency through integration and the use of analytics.

Microsoft's booth was so crowded that it reminded me of its CES and Comdex exhibits. In addition to a display of its Surface tablets, the "device bar" featured laptops, tablets and handheld Windows 8.1 devices from Dell, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo, Panasonic and numerous other players.

"Last year at NRF, in my backpack I had the entire portfolio of Intel Windows 8 devices to show off in the booth," said Paul Butcher, a retail strategist at Intel, speaking at a session on the use of tablets in retail. "This year there was absolutely no way I could have done that. I'm talking about the range of devices available to you as business-minded individuals who need to make a decision about what type of device you're going to deploy."

Tracy Israel, general manager of Microsoft's worldwide retail segment, apologized to a standing-room-only crowd of attendees that it took the company this long to get to this point. "Our customers have been very patient with us," she said. "It's taken us a little time to get where we are. We [can now] enjoy a very healthy share of point-of-sale systems and handheld terminals."

At the booth, Microsoft showcased what it called a "connected fitting room" (developed by Accenture and Avanade for  Kohls) that allows customers to select other merchandise from a touch display. It's designed so a sales associate with a Windows tablet is notified of the request to deliver the item to the customer so he or she doesn't have to leave the dressing room.

Also at the booth, partner FaceCake demonstrated an application that lets customers see how different products would look on them using a Kinect camera in a virtual dressing room. And RazorFish also demonstrated a pop-up store that would enable customers to design their own custom surfboards.

In many retail scenarios, customers are using Windows 8.1 Embedded, a "hardened" version of Windows 8.1, said Simon Francis, Microsoft's Windows Embedded U.K. enterprise lead, who walked me through the company's booth. The embedded version of Windows 8.1 has the same capabilities as the commercial implementation, though customers and partners can lock certain features out such as Internet Explorer or access to the Windows Control Panel. "A lot of these devices are going to be in front of the general public," said Francis. "So you need to lock it down."

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/15/2014 at 2:30 PM0 comments


Will the Latest Employment Reports Impact Your Career Plans?

Among the many priorities IT pros have on their agenda for 2014, one is considering new employment opportunities.

According to a survey of Redmond magazine readers conducted early last month, 26 percent of you will look to change employers this year. That's the same figure of those who responded to last summer's annual salary survey. It's also a two-fold increase over our 2012 salary survey, where only 13 percent said they might look to change employers. An improving economy and a lower unemployment rate were key factors, while many IT pros are unhappy with their current compensation, among other factors.

However, according to a recent report, it may be more challenging finding that new job than you thought. The U.S. Department of Labor's monthly employment report Friday showed growth in jobs slowed sharply to a three-year low. Employers added only 74,000 jobs, falling way short of the  200,000 economists had forecasted.

It remains to be seen whether it was a year-end aberration or a sign that growth in the economy may be decelerating. IT experts have mixed opinions as to what this means for technology jobs. IT job growth is slowing, says Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, which tracks tech employment. Only 3,200 IT jobs were added in December, 15,900 in the past three months and 74,900 in 2013, Janco reported Friday after the Labor Department released its employment report.

"The employment data is not as good as the fall in the national unemployment rate suggests and it seems to be worse for IT pros," Januliaitis said in a statement. "If you factor in the participation rate, the true national unemployment rate would be around 12 percent. That data is causing many companies to consider whether they should expand IT staffs."

However others believe the worst may be over. While IT ranked fifth in job cuts last year, the rate of downsizing decreased 24 percent versus 2012, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which forecasted on Friday that IT would be one of the largest areas of job growth this year. IT ranked third in hiring with 26,000 tech jobs in the pipeline. Another positive indicator: Forrester earlier this month said IT purchases will increase 6.2 percent this year, with the U.S. leading the way. Perhaps skewing last 2013's IT job growth rate numbers were major cutbacks by large employers in the tech industry including Cisco, Hewlett Packard and Intel, according to Dice.

Did last week's report make you feel more optimistic about your career options or do you think it may be more difficult to land a better job than you had anticipated? And for those in IT management who are hiring, are you moving forward with adding new positions this year? If so, where is your highest demand for IT expertise?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/13/2014 at 11:57 AM0 comments


Microsoft's Presence Lives On at CES with Windows 8.1 Devices

After two decades of kicking off the annual Consumer Electronics Show with the opening keynote, Microsoft last year bid the largest tech confab in the U.S. adieu. Even with the first CES without Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer on stage, and no Microsoft booth in the exhibit hall, the company's presence still loomed large in Las Vegas this week.

A number of key Microsoft partner PC makers rolled out a surprisingly plentiful number of new tablets, convertible PCs, laptops and even some desktops running the recently released Windows 8.1 (and plenty of Android-based tablets). All the new Windows devices in the pipeline should substantially bolster Microsoft's client platform.

Asus, Hewlett Packard, Lenovo, Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba are among those that released new Windows 8.1 devices at CES. Dell was relatively quiet, having rolled out an extensive Windows 8.1 lineup in October. However it did introduce a gaming system from its Alienware division.

Though CES emphasizes consumer wares, many of the new Windows 8.1 devices are targeted at business and commercial users, especially now in the BYOD age.

One introduction that raised eyebrows at CES (as reported Wednesday) was the first Intel-based dual-boot convertible laptop/tablet that can run both Android 4.2.2 and Windows 8.1, though not simultaneously, from Asus. Asus' new Transformer Book Duet TD 300 got a substantial amount of buzz and now many are wondering whether other such devices will become a trend.

With so many new Windows 8.1 tablets and PCs at CES, it suggests Microsoft's Surface tablets haven't caused vendors and partners to abandon Microsoft's Windows for Android devices. That could still happen over time. But, so far, it apparently hasn't. Here are some products showcased at CES:

Panasonic Toughpad Is the FZ-M1
Always a favorite of those who require a device that can withstand rugged use is Panasonic's Toughbook line. The new Toughpad FZ-M1 is a 7-inch tablet that Panasonic says is designed to work in any condition.

The 1.2-pound Toughpad FZ-M1 is powered by an Intel Core i5 vPro processor and runs the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1. It comes with 8 GB of RAM, a 128/256 GB solid-state drive and a 1280 x 800 10-point multi-touch display.Panasonic claims a durability rating of MIL-STD-810G at a five-foot drop.

It also supports an optional dedicated GPS, barcode reader, NFC reader, SmartCard reader, 10-foot range RFID transmitters, magnetic stripe reader and multicarrier-embedded 4G LTE wireless connectivity. Due out this spring, the starting price will be $2,099.

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Edition
Lenovo continues to modernize the ThinkPad, which is now available in numerous sizes. The new ThinkPad 8 brings the form factor down to an 8.3-inch device with a 1920 x 1200 display. It is made of aluminum and can function in three modes: desktop, tent and tablet mode.

The ThinkPad 8 is powered by an Intel Atom processor and is available with up to 128 GB of storage, a micro USB 3.0 port and LTE connectivity. Pricing will start at $399. It will compete with the Dell Venue Pro 8. Asus also showcased a similar form-factor tablet, the VivoTab Note 8. It will top out at 64 GB of storage. Asus didn't disclose pricing and availability.

HP's Second-Generation Workstation
Hewlett-Packard launched the second version of its 27-inch HP Z1 desktop workstation. Due to ship in late January, the Z1 G2 starts at $2,000 and is targeted at CAD specialists, graphic designers and those who require compute-intensive performance.

The Z1 G2 is available with Intel Core and Xeon processors, ECC memory and RAID storage configurations. For those with more mainstream requirements, HP also launched the HP 205 and ProOne 400, the latter available with either a 19- or 21.5-inch display. The HP 205 comes in somewhat smaller at 18.5 inches and is powered by an AMD E-Series dual-core processor. It will start at a reasonable $400.

Sony Flips Again
Following up its fall launch of Flip PCs, Sony added the VAIO Fit 11A, an 11-inch iteration of its lineup. It is a convertible PC/tablet hybrid and compliments a line of systems in that family that include 13-, 14- and 15-inch systems. The 2.82-pound Vaio Flip PC will start at $799 and is slated to ship in late February.

Toshiba's Satellite and Tecra
If you're looking for a workstation-class Windows 8.1 mobile system, the Tecra W50 is designed for graphics-intensive applications. It's among the first to have a 15.6-inch Ultra-HD display with a 3840 x 2160 resolution. Ultra-HD digital displays have typically only been found in high-end televisions to this point.

The Tecra W50 is powered with an Intel Core i5 fourth-generation processor enhanced with an NVIDIA Quadro K2100M GPU and 2 GB of dedicated memory. One thing it will lack is a touch display. If that's a deal breaker, Toshiba also launched at CES a 4K display in its new Satellite P50t. Both will be available later in the year. Pricing wasn't disclosed.

That's just a handful of Windows 8.1 systems and devices to show up at CES. My colleague Scott Bekker at sister publication Redmond Channel Partner has showcased some others.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/10/2014 at 1:12 PM0 comments


Dual-Boot Android/Windows Tablet Debuts at CES

While a number of partners used this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to launch a new crop of Windows 8 tablets and laptops, those same partners also launched new Android-based devices. But for those who want the best of both worlds, Asus announced at CES the first Intel-based dual-boot convertible laptop-tablet that can run both Android 4.2.2 and Windows 8.1, though not simultaneously.

Asus' new Transformer Book Duet TD 300 lets users switch between Android and Windows within 4 seconds, the company said. It's the first such system based on Intel's new dual-boot system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor. Like many convertible devices, the Transformer Book Duet is a laptop with a detachable display that converts into a tablet.

It remains to be seen whether customers are craving for tablets that can boot both operating systems but Intel's new CEO Brian Krzanich Tuesday evening said they do. "There are times you want Windows, there are times you want Android," Krzanich said in his first CES keynote as CEO. Intel's 64-bit SoCs "are the only ones that can offer that capability to seamlessly switch between Oses," he added. "You don't have to make a choice moving forward."

Asus' new Transformer Book Duet TD 300 is loaded with an Intel Core i7 processor with HD graphics, 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD and is available with a 1 TB hard drive. The company claims it can run twice as fast as tablets with ARM-based processors. Because it doesn't use OS virtualization, Asus said each operating system utilizes the full capacity of the processor. When running Windows, Asus said it will get 5 hours of battery life and 6 hours when running Android.

With a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 Full HD IPS touchscreen, Asus claims it exceeds Microsoft's viewing requirements for Windows 8.1, though it doesn't appear likely Redmond was looking for its partners to bring dual-boot systems to market. But if archrivals Microsoft and Google can each benefit from the emergence of dual-boot systems by taking share from Apple, Microsoft could pick up share it otherwise might not have gained from those who want Android devices. However, Google doesn't appear to need help from Microsoft, given the accelerating growth of Android.

The Transformer Book Duet will reportedly start at $599. Do you think there's a broad market for dual-boot Android-Windows convertibles or will this be a niche product?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/08/2014 at 12:37 PM0 comments


Microsoft CEO Candidate Mulally Staying Put at Ford

If there was any lingering doubt that Microsoft would name Alan Mulally to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO, Mulally has put that question to rest.

The Ford CEO intends to stay with the automaker through 2014, he told the Associated Press Tuesday afternoon. While Mulally was a favorite among Wall Street analysts, it became increasingly clear last month that Mulally was not headed to Redmond nor was he certain if he was still the top choice of Microsoft's search committee.

Keeping hope alive among Mulally proponents that he wasn't out of the running, he refused to say outright that he would turn down the job if it was offered to him when asked in December. But as I noted a few weeks ago when Microsoft extended its search, it appeared Mulally was a dark horse. Finally Mulally made that official.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/07/2014 at 3:11 PM0 comments


Are Ballmer and Gates Slowing the Microsoft CEO Search?

One of the biggest stories in Redmond last year was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's unexpected announcement of his upcoming retirement. Whoever succeeds him will undoubtedly define the company's agenda in 2014 and beyond. It remains anyone's guess who Microsoft's board will name as the company's third CEO but it appears the only two to sit at the helm -- Ballmer and Founder Bill Gates -- are the reasons why the search is taking so long.

Gates of course is chairman of the board, while Ballmer is also a director and it remains unclear whether either or both will retain their seats. It's reasonable to presume they don't want to give up their current slots. That may be a key reason why many ideal candidates are uninterested, according to a Wall Street Journal piece over the weekend. The publication noted that no new CEO wants their two predecessors in a position to second guess every move they make.

Citing data from executive compensation firm Equilar, The Journal reported only eight companies in the S&P 500 Index have two former CEOs on their boards. That would certainly explain why a candidate like VMware CEO Pat Gellsinger or his predecessor Paul Maritz, once in the inner circle of Gates and Ballmer, might be unwilling to consider the job. Their presence on the board would certainly make life difficult for others such as Stephen Elop or Satya Nadella.

The counter argument for letting them remain on the board is that both Gates and Ballmer are key parts of Microsoft's DNA. Some stakeholders in Microsoft's future would see that as an asset, while others would consider it a liability.

There are several possible scenarios. They both could retain their seats (with Gates remaining chairman), Gates could step down as chairman but remain a board director or one or both of them could leave the board. Which scenario do you think would give the next Microsoft CEO the best chance of improving the company's fortunes?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/06/2014 at 12:06 PM0 comments


Microsoft Extends CEO Search

While Wall Street seems to want Microsoft to choose Alan Mulally as its next CEO, it's beginning to look more like that ship has sailed. Microsoft Lead Independent Director John W. Thompson, who also heads the search committee to find the next CEO, Tuesday revealed the search will continue into next year.

Technically, the search committee has plenty of time to make a decision. Ballmer gave his 12 months' notice back in August of his plan to retire. But most analysts and watchers have gone under the assumption that the board would announce a new CEO by year's end. Apparently realizing that won't happen, Thompson took the unusual step of saying so in a brief blog post that offered little evidence of where the committee was headed.

Some follow-up reports yesterday suggested the board wants someone from Silicon Valley with a strong background in technology. It's reasonable to assume, as Nomura Securities Analyst Rick Sherlund suggested, that the board hasn't offered Mulally the job -- though it hasn't ruled him out yet. It appears, however, that if it felt Mulally was the best candidate, Microsoft would have picked him by now. The fact that he hasn't committed to staying at Ford, which is irking the automaker's board, suggests he hasn't ruled out a move to Redmond if offered the position.

If by chance Microsoft has offered him the job and he's still dragging his feet, the board should fish or cut bait with him for the sake of both companies. One candidate with both tech and management chops that was under consideration, Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf, fell off the list when the mobile processor vendor named him as its CEO.

Another outside favorite is Paul Maritz, the former CEO of VMware Inc. and now CEO of that company's spinoff, Pivotal. Not only did Maritz boost shareholder value for VMware during his stewardship of the company, he has a vision of technology few leaders have today. Maritz also was a former senior exec who spent many years in the inner circle of founder and Chairman Bill Gates and Ballmer. However, while this friendship may carry positive weight for Maritz, tipping the scales the other way is the fact that many of his talking points as CEO of VMware were to marginalize the value of Windows, both on the client side and in the datacenter.

While surely he could spin his way around that, it's a moot point. Maritz told Sherlund over lunch last week he's not interested. With Maritz not being an option, Sherlund has been talking up his longtime colleague and successor at VMware, Paul Gelsinger, who also has strong management and technology credentials. But Gelsinger may have his sights on the top job at VMware's parent EMC when its current CEO Joe Tucci retires.

Thompson said in his post that Microsoft has honed in on about 20 candidates. Wall Street may want an external heavy hitter but Microsoft may be best served by an insider like Satya Nadella. Just like making sure a new version of software is ready to ship, Microsoft (which we all know has a checkered past in that regard)  is being deliberately careful on who will be only the third CEO in the company's history. On the other hand, uncertainty can't sustain Redmond for too much longer.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/19/2013 at 10:51 AM3 comments


Hands-On: Should Microsoft's Surface 2 Be on Your Wish List?

Business users, field workers, students and anyone else looking for a mobile and functional tablet to run Office, handle e-mail, browse the Web and use various other apps almost anywhere should consider Microsoft's new Surface 2. Whether looking to get some work done on a long flight, at a local Starbucks or on the sofa while watching football, the Surface 2 is the best (relatively) low-cost portable unit for that purpose.

I've spent over a month with the new Surface 2, introduced in September and released in late October, and it's a nice evolutionary improvement over the original Surface RT. To be clear, just like its predecessor, the Surface 2 runs an improved version of the scaled-down version of Windows, now called Windows 8.1 RT. That means that if you are looking for a unit that must run traditional apps designed for Windows 7 or earlier, the Surface 2 is not for you unless you've checked the Windows Store and found an equivalent modern app developed for Windows 8.

Given the state of traditional Windows apps in the new Windows Store, there's a good chance at least some apps you use are not available -- at least for now. In some cases, like in the case of Adobe (noted last week), they may never come. Hopefully that will change and, depending on your app usage, you'll have to decide if that's a deal breaker.  

If running a traditional Windows app on the go is a requirement, the new Surface Pro 2 has a nearly identical form factor to the RT model, though it comes loaded with an Intel processor rather than the ARM-based system-on-a-chip architecture. The Surface Pro 2 is somewhat thicker and heavier than the Surface 2 (2 pounds versus 1.5 pounds), and the Pro offers less (though vastly improved) battery life. And you'll pay at least double for the Pro (see Redmond magazine contributor Derek Schauland's take on the Surface Pro 2 here).

But even if all of your desktop or laptop apps aren't available in the Windows Store, that doesn't mean you should rule out the Surface 2. It simply means you shouldn't consider it as a replacement for your existing Windows PC (though that was never the intent of the Surface 2 or its predecessor). Rather it's a perfect companion device for common tasks like using Office to write, create and edit spreadsheets and work in PowerPoint. For many workers, that should suffice.

The Surface 2 I tested is the entry level unit, priced at $449. I used the Type Cover keyboard (at an additional $130 cost), which is now backlit, though a Touch Cover keyboard is also an option for $10 less. Having seen the Touch Cover, I prefer the Type Cover, which feels more like a real keyboard but that's really a matter of preference. It's foolish to get a tablet without some kind of cover. When you want to use it as a pure tablet, you can easily remove the cover and put it aside. But having some form of keyboard option makes sense, especially if you're using Office.

Powered by an ARM-based NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM, the entry level Surface 2 comes with a scant 32 GB solid-state flash drive for storage. But with the installed software, less than half of that capacity will be available for apps and data. Though a USB port will allow for additional storage, if you have your sights on installing lots of apps, you may want to spend an extra $100 for the 64 GB version, which, in reality, should have been Microsoft's entry level model.

Equipped with a perpetual Office 2013 license that includes Outlook, the Surface 2 offers good battery life, a crisp 1920x1080 HD display and performs reasonably well presuming you're not running too many apps at once. The Surface 2 has a very similar form factor to the iPad, though Apple's newest iPad Air is lighter. Even though you can also get an optional keyboard and Office-compatible apps for the iPad (but not Office itself, at least not yet, though many predict that will change in the coming year), the wider display on the Surface 2 seems to make it more suitable for work-related tasks such as working in Office or going through e-mail. The new backlit keyboard is a nice feature but you'll want to make sure to close it when it's not in use to save battery life.

The new dual-position kickstand also is a welcome addition to the new Surface, letting you find a suitable angle for working. I connected my small wireless Logitech mouse to Surface 2's USB port but if you spring for a Bluetooth-compatible mouse, that will free up the lone USB port. Of course, you don't need to use a mouse if you're willing to wean yourself off it. The keyboard does have a track pad or you can use the touch interfaces. I still find the mouse easier for certain tasks, especially when working with an Excel file or copy and pasting in Word, on the Surface 2's 10.6-inch display. However, I'm not sure I'd feel any different with a 20-inch touch display.

Over the past few years, when I go to meetings or attend all-day conferences, I typically take my aging ASUS Eee PC netbook, which runs Windows 7 and can't be upgraded to Windows 8x. The Surface 2 is much easier to carry and pop open on the fly. It is perfect when sitting down at an event or meeting to take notes, keeping an eye on e-mail, browsing the Web and using various social media apps.

While I like the Surface 2, if you already have an iPad, you're not going to want to pass it along to the kids just yet. Chances are you're not going to find all of your favorite iOS apps in the Windows Store. If you do, then you'll find little use for the iPad. Again, in most situations, I doubt that will be the case at this point.

Will that change? As I reported earlier this month, IDC says developer interest in the platform has risen by eight points in the most recent quarter. While that's good news, with 37 percent of developers now saying they want to build Windows apps, that's 35 points below developer interest level in Android and 50 points lower than Apple's iOS. Getting more apps into the new Windows Store ecosystem in the coming year will be critical to the success of the Surface 2 and fellow Windows-based devices that run on low-power system-on-a-chip platforms.

Let's face it though, no one is going to buy a device on the promise that more apps may appear in the future. You're going to consider it based on what it can do for you out of the box. If you're looking to ditch your heavy laptop and all you need is access to files, the ability to work in Office, browse the Web and have it work all day on a single charge (figure eight to nine hours), it'll get you through the day when you're away from the office. Microsoft also has said it will offer a keyboard with a built-in extra battery that will add 50 percent more battery life.

The fact that SkyDrive is integrated nicely into Windows 8.1 makes it easy to synchronize all of the files you use on it with your other systems, including your main computer. Though as I recently noted, it would be nice if SkyDrive had the same ease of use as Dropbox, which is also available as an app in the Windows Store (other popular services such as Box are available).

Some may lament it lacks built-in connectivity to cellular networks, though if you have a phone with a hotspot, it should hold you over when WiFi isn't available. It's likely versions with 4G connectivity will appear or you can also check out the new Nokia Lumia 2520, already equipped for the AT&T network.

There seems to be more demand for the newest crop of Surface systems as it appears they are hard to come by, Network World reported on Monday. Though it could be that's because Microsoft was more conservative in making supply available.

If neither the Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2 suit your needs, there's a slew of alternatives available from third parties such as ASUS, Acer, HP, Dell, Lenovo and Sony. You can bet they will have more consumer-grade and business-class systems in the coming year. Is a Surface 2 on your wish list?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/18/2013 at 10:45 AM0 comments


Microsoft's Kurt DelBene To Oversee HealthCare.gov

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced that Microsoft Executive Kurt DelBene will be taking over the struggling HealthCare.gov Web site. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed in a briefing today that DelBene will be a senior advisor reporting directly to Sebelius.

Aimed at providing entry to the insurance marketplace that is perhaps the largest signature effort of the Obama presidency, HeathCare.gov was a debacle from the day of its launch on Oct. 1. The HealthCare.gov site is pivotal to the success of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, and its beleaguered launch is arguably one of the biggest failed IT efforts to date. At the time of its launch, the site repeatedly crashed and few were able to get into the healthcare exchange. Performance has vastly improved since then but the task is far from complete.

DelBene will take over management of HeathCare.gov from Jeffrey Zients, a management expert who was brought in to temporarily oversee the project. Once the transition is complete, Zients will be moving to his new position as director of the National Economic Council in February.

Microsoft said back in July (at the time of its largest reorganization in many years) that DelBene would be retiring from the company and gave no hint at the time at today's announced move.

DelBene is a 21-year Microsoft veteran and most recently served as president of Microsoft's lucrative Office division. During his tenure, he also oversaw development teams and, according to his bio, oversaw the Office engineering organization including Office desktop applications, Office Web applications, SharePoint, Exchange Server, Microsoft Office Communications Server (now Lync) and Office Labs. In addition he managed document and Web-page authoring and collaboration tools for Office.

Carney described DelBene as "uniquely suited" to overseeing HealthCare.gov, given his management roles at Microsoft, his prior stints as a management consultant with McKinsey and an engineer at AT&T Bell Labs.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/17/2013 at 10:46 AM0 comments


Unitrends Acquires PHD Virtual To Widen Its Backup and Recovery Footprint

Looking to fill key gaps in both the technology it offers and its addressable market of backup and recovery solutions, Unitrends Monday said it is acquiring PHD Virtual.

Unitrends itself was acquired earlier this year by the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners, which also counts PHD Virtual as one of its holdings. By combining the two companies, Unitrends can target smaller companies and offer solutions for environments that are purely virtualized, a limitation of its appliance-based solutions.

PHD Virtual competes with the likes of Veeam and Acronis and sells to organizations with less than 100 employees with average deal sizes of about $3,000. Unitrends enterprise backup appliances are aimed at enterprises with 100 to 500 employees with deal sizes above $20,000. Unitrends competes against Symantec's Backup Exec, CommVault and Barracuda, said Mike Coney, Unitrends' CEO.

"We saw a real fit with PHD Virtual," Coney said. "Their customers are mostly virtual. Where they lose deals is with requests for physical appliances and where we lose deals is when there's a heavy concentration of virtualized environments." Coney noted that PHD Virtual also recently acquired Reliable DR, which brings the company into the disaster recovery-as-a-service market.

Coney is no stranger to the backup and recovery market. He was on the original BackUp Exec team at Veritas before Symantec acquired the company in 2005. So is an IPO in the works for Unitrends at some point? Coney said that's very likely. "Insight has a track record of bringing their companies public," he said. "You have to think that's part of the exit strategy."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/17/2013 at 3:30 PM2 comments


NSA Downplays Scope of Surveillance

Half a year after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden started to unleash classified documents that revealed surveillance of data provided by telecommunications and key cloud and Internet companies, the NSA's top brass spoke out for the first time. But detractors, some who don't believe the NSA's claims, argue the agency has only inflamed the situation, according to those weighing in on social media, blogs and comments added to various reports.

NSA officials gave their first extensive on-the-record interview with 60 Minutes, broadcast last night (transcript),  in an effort to do damage control and correct what the NSA disputes as misinformation about some of Snowden's revelations, which have resulted in deep mistrust by users and IT pros (many of you included) of the privacy and security of their data. Critics came down on CBS for having correspondent John Miller conduct the interview, who was previously an intelligence official, for throwing softballs and a lack of outside analysis to question some of the NSA's claims.

General Keith Alexander, who leads the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, joined by other agency officials, admitted to the damage incurred from Snowden's revelations. At the same time Alexander and Rick Ledgett, who is tasked with assessing the damage, spoke out in an effort to discredit Snowden and deny some of the claims he has made

Alexander insisted the NSA isn't reading the contents of e-mail and other online communications, nor is it listening to actual phone conversations. "There's no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of Americans," he said. "There's no intelligence value in that. There's no reason that we'd want to read their e-mail. There is no intelligence value in that."

The only information in the metadata that's analyzed is phone numbers dialed, the parties on the call and the time and day, Alexander said. Only trends that give probable cause are investigated further, he said. "We don't hear the call," he emphasized. "We don't see the names. [We see] the 'to-from number, the duration of the call and the date, time..." He continued by saying the NSA only passes on the specific phone numbers of those communicating with suspicious numbers to the FBI.

But Alexander did acknowledge that the NSA collects the 300,000 phone records of all Americans. Asked why, Alexander explained: "How do you know when the bad guys, who are using the same communications that my daughters use, is in the United States trying to do something bad? The least-intrusive way of doing that is metadata."

Furthermore, Alexander argued that if the NSA had the tools to analyze metadata prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, it may have found evidence of the planned attacks before they took place. But privacy advocates argue accessing metadata isn't as benign as it sounds and is questionable, if not illegal. Others are concerned for the potential of future abuse.

Alexander also denied that they had direct links to the datacenters of Google and Yahoo, though the question of whether they had access to Microsoft's facilities, disclosed in July, never came up.

Whether you feel CBS let NSA whitewash its surveillance activities, these first remarks by agency officials underscored the damage Snowden caused them. In fact, how much undisclosed information Snowden still has is a mystery. The New York Times reported over the weekend that it is unknown due to the fact that he hacked firewalls, accessed data with other administrators' passwords and used screen scraping tools to gather data. That makes it possible that Snowden still has information that could have devastating consequences, Alexander acknowledged.

Ledgett didn't dispute the possibility that Snowden has 1.7 million documents in hand. If Snowden were to release that information publicly or give it to a foreign government, "it would give them a roadmap of what we know, what we don't know,and give them implicitly a way to protect their information from the U.S. intelligence community's view," Ledgett told Miller.

That notion has led to a debate as to whether the U.S. should give Snowden immunity from prosecution in exchange for returning home to answer questions. Ledgett believes "it's worth having a conversation about," with assurances that all data are secured, while Alexander is against that. "I think people have to be held accountable for their actions because what we don't want is for the next people to do the same thing," Alexander said.

Joined by other NSA officials, the agency also described what it is doing to avoid cyber attacks by foreign nations, which it says could do major damage include bringing down the nation's power grid and financial system. During the broadcast, the NSA revealed it foiled a plot to unleash a virus that would render PCs to a "brick."  The attack, which is said to have emanated from China, would have come in the form of an e-mail notifying users of an important software update, the NSA revealed. Some of its 3,000 cyber analysts tasked with foreseeing such activity caught it before it could do any damage.

It's unfortunate 60 Minutes didn't let critics weigh in in its report but not surprising, given it let Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos show, on the eve of "cyber Monday," a video simulation of drones that he said will someday  deliver packages to customers' doorsteps. On the other hand, last night's broadcast did showcase the agency's thousands of highly skilled engineers and offered a glimpse of the NSA, albeit cleansed, while keeping an important discussion in the spotlight.

As we close the books on 2013, Snowden's leaks were one of the top IT stories of the year and epitomized the power of a rogue systems administrator. Whether or not you see Snowden as a hero or a traitor, his revelations have forced IT and business decision makers to rethink how they encrypt their data. That will be a key issue in the coming year.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/16/2013 at 1:21 PM0 comments


Adobe Shuns Windows Store for Its Creative Cloud

One of the keys to success for Microsoft's Windows Store effort will be getting major traditional software players to develop new modern apps. If you're expecting to see Adobe's Dreamweaver or Photoshop as an app in the Windows Store, that's not in the cards. And it's not because Adobe is ignoring the shift to mobility.

Adobe's move to go all cloud earlier this year (its software model moved from offering one-time license fees to subscription-based software as a service) gave little room to offer its wares in an app store. Adobe believes its new Creative Cloud is the best path to supporting mobile devices as well as traditional PCs and Macs.

I reached out to Adobe recently to see if it had any plans to offer any of its apps in the Windows Store and a spokesman said no. "The latest versions of Adobe's creative pro offerings are available only through Creative Cloud," he said. "We do not have any current plans to release CC tools outside Creative Cloud."

When Adobe announced it will force users of its design, Web development and marketing tools from perpetual one-time licenses to cloud-based subscriptions back in May, customers were outraged. But the move doesn't seem to have hurt the company, which yesterday reported it has 1.44 million subscriptions. That surpassed expectations of just 1.25 million subscriptions.

The way the company looks at it, it has blown past its forecast, thanks to higher-than-anticipated adoption by enterprise customers, CEO Shantanu Narayen told CNBC this morning following yesterday's fiscal fourth quarter and year-end earnings report. At the same time, revenues for the quarter ($1.04 billion) were down 9.7%. Year-end revenue of $4.1 billion was down 6.8% from $4.4 billion.

Adobe stock was trading 5% higher this morning, apparently on investors' beliefs that the company's Creative Cloud transition is working for Adobe. "Adobe employees have embraced the cloud as a much better canvas in order to do their innovation," Narayen told CNBC. "I think it's not just Adobe, but you'll find every single packaged software company embrace and adopt the cloud."

Looking at the company's results, some analysts now say Adobe is "leading the charge" to the cloud in terms of mainstream ISVs who have made a wholesale shift to the cloud. That said, does the absence of Adobe apps in the Windows Store make Windows tablets less appealing to those who live in the Adobe universe? Or are Windows 8 tablets still suitable for use as with Web-based SaaS solutions from Adobe, Salesforce.com and others, in addition to Windows Store apps?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/13/2013 at 2:27 PM0 comments


Microsoft Aims To Extend Cloud Reach with Cloud OS Network

Microsoft today is taking a step forward to advance its Windows Azure infrastructure by launching its new Cloud OS Network. The company now has 25 global partners that will offer cloud services that are effectively compatible with Windows Azure and the latest combination of Windows Server and System Center running in customers' datacenters.

The Cloud OS Network will let organizations create hybrid clouds by extending their Windows Server datacenters to Windows Azure and/or any of Microsoft's Cloud OS Network providers. When Microsoft introduced the Cloud OS term last year upon the release of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, many criticized it as the company jumping into the latest buzzword.

Microsoft indeed was laying the groundwork by positioning Windows Server and System Server as a platform that would let IT managers add capacity to their datacenters by bridging their infrastructures to the public cloud to create a hybrid cloud. But the pieces of Cloud OS weren't there at the time.

This year Microsoft has made some steady progress with the release of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services and the R2 upgrades to Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012. With a major upgrade to Hyper-V, observers said Microsoft finally had a competitive virtual machine.

Another key component Microsoft added with the October R2 wave was the Windows Azure Pack, a free download that adds Windows Azure functionality to Windows Server by providing a self-service portal for managing instances and various services including virtual machines, Web sites and platform scaling.

By launching the Cloud OS Network, Microsoft is extending the scale and reach of this cloud platform. With these 25 new partners, the Cloud OS Network adds 425 datacenters in 90 markets around the world that will manage over 2.4 million servers and 3 million customers, according to Microsoft.

The new partners include Alog, Aruba S.p.A., Capgemini, Capita IT Services, CGI, CSC, Dimension Data, DorukNet, Fujitsu Finland Oy., Fujitsu Ltd., iWeb, Lenovo, NTTX, Outsourcery, OVH.com, Revera, SingTel, Sogeti, TeleComputing, Tieto, Triple C Cloud Computing, T-Systems, VTC Digilink and Wortmann AG. 

Piers Linney co-CEO of U.K.-based Outsourcery told me that the Windows Azure Pack indeed "provides one pane of glass" between a customer datacenter, Windows Azure and his company's Windows Server-based cloud hosting service. Improvements in network infrastructure will provide smoother migrations among the three (Outsourcery also sells Windows Azure from Microsoft to supplement infrastructure it offers).

Microsoft has already invested substantially in its own Windows Azure infrastructure, and extending the same platform to partners gives the company's hybrid cloud strategy much more substance. For example companies in the U.K. have data sovereignty issues with certain information; hence it has to reside on its soil. Yet in cases where that's not an issue, it can supplement its services with Microsoft's new Windows Azure Backup Services.

Linney said he can also provide turnkey services that Microsoft can't such as Office 365 and Lync while offering a mixture of its own cloud hosting and Windows Azure. "We will increasingly create hybrid solutions for all three [customer datacenters, its service provider cloud and Windows Azure] but the solution includes different elements,"Linney said. "Typically we sell Office 365, our own service provider solution, and we integrate them with Azure. Different solutions require different infrastructures and different designs."

The thinking is there's enough for everyone and it gives customers more options. On the one hand it puts Microsoft in competition with these providers but it's no different than the numerous third-party SharePoint and Exchange providers that compete with Office 365, or for that matter Microsoft offering Surface tablets that compete with its longtime OEM partners.

This concept of offering a global service and augmenting it with hosting partners is hardly unique. It's the same model VMware has employed with its hybrid cloud service bringing partners into the fold. And the OpenStack camp supported by IBM, HP, Rackspace and numerous others has a similar model.

The race by all these camps looking to catch up with Amazon Web Services will be to gain scale and convince IT that they have choice and will not be locked into any one provider. For Microsoft's Cloud OS Network to succeed, it will need many more partners. Microsoft said that's in the works.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/12/2013 at 2:15 PM0 comments


Ballmer Reflects on Highs and Lows During Tenure as CEO

As Steve Ballmer prepares to step aside as Microsoft's second CEO after a tumultuous 13-year tenure, his legacy may take years to fully appraise. Since announcing he would be stepping down in late August, some have joyously celebrated a long-awaited change in leadership while others feel, despite some key missteps, that he is worthy of praise for overseeing huge growth during difficult economic times and for making Microsoft a leader in the enterprise.

Ballmer acknowledged his hits and misses with longtime Microsoft watcher and straight-shooter Mary Jo Foley, a Redmond magazine columnist and author of the popular ZDNet All about Microsoft blog. Perhaps no Microsoft outsider knows the innards of Redmond better than Foley and even insiders have learned a thing or two about their company from her over the years. Foley's proficiency for unearthing Microsoft news is well known at all levels of the company. Consequently, Ballmer has avoided sitting down with Foley for two decades -- not for lack of trying on her part -- until last month.

Among the revelations in her interview, which appears today in Fortune magazine, includes the fact that Ballmer had a heavy hand in resolving Microsoft's antitrust litigation in 2000, its push to make Xbox a leading gaming platform and, perhaps most important, his dogged pursuit of the company's enterprise business, which has become a key source of revenue and profit growth.

Regardless how you feel about Ballmer, the company's profit tripled on his watch. At the same time, Ballmer botched Microsoft's Longhorn effort and ultimately the Windows Vista release. Following that debacle, Ballmer failed to accelerate the company's move into the mobile era and now the company is struggling to keep Windows relevant.

A poll of Redmond readers in September after Ballmer's retirement was announced showed 10 percent felt he did an excellent job as CEO, 34 percent said he did a good job, 35 percent believed he was an average CEO and 21 percent gave a poor rating.

Those who commented at the time were mostly critical. "Anyone with a pulse could have ridden that cash cow," said one. "After Gates, Ballmer was a manager, not a leader," argued another. Yet many respondents had more positive assessments. "I think the products introduced, along with the financial performance of the company says it all," a commenter said.

Perhaps the most salient comment I've heard about Ballmer was his inability to make wise management decisions in a company beleaguered with fiefdoms that in many cases rendered innovations to the backburner. As one reader concluded,"...he had command of so much talent and didn't use it wisely."

In her interview, Foley has lots of tidbits worth reading about Ballmer, both in Fortune magazine, and in her All About Microsoft blog, where he recounts and laments the Longhorn debacle. And of course you can find her latest Redmond magazine column, where she looks at the "10 Biggest Surprises of 2013," here.  

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/11/2013 at 12:54 PM3 comments


Microsoft's Door-Buster Promo Aims To Boost Demand for Windows 8.1

Microsoft will be looking to create some consumer traction for Windows 8.1 devices with a new holiday themed sale. Its promotion, called "12 Days of Deals," kicked off this morning with a Dell Venue 8 Pro. Normally priced at $299, this door buster was listed at $99 for the first 20 customers at each store and online.

At just $99, it's a steal! Microsoft also promised after the first 20 people got their $99 tablets, it would offer more at $199 until they ran out. Even though it was a bait-and-switch, $199's not bad price so I figured I'd check it out. Since the store was scheduled to open at 10:00 a.m., I figured I'd get there at 9:30 guessing I'd face either a really long line or no crowd at all since the deal was not widely advertised.

I tried to grab one on the store's Web site right after midnight but the site was unavailable due to the demand. In person, it turned out the line had about a dozen people on it but apparently the store quietly opened at 8:00 a.m., so I was out of luck for the $99. I learned the line began forming at 3 a.m. this morning but it would take more than a deal like that to get me on any line at that hour.

I decided $199 for a tablet running Windows 8.1 Pro could be compelling if it performs reasonably well. The recently released Dell Venue 8 Pro has an 8-inch IPS HD multi-touch display (1280x800) powered by an Intel Atom processor (the Z3740D with 2 MB cache and up to 1.8 GHz quad core), 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage (with support for 64 GB of additional storage by adding a MicroSD card). It also comes with Office Home and Student 2013.

Since I have 14 days to return it, I'll report whether it's a keeper or if I decide to bring it back!  If you're thinking of trying to snag one for $199 at the online Microsoft Store, forget it.  A message on the site says it's sold out.

If you've tried out the Dell Venue 8 Pro, how do you like it?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/09/2013 at 1:09 PM1 comments


Google's New Cloud Service Doesn't Do Windows

Google this week became the latest major player to launch an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud offering with the general availability of the Google Compute Engine. In so doing, Google is now challenging other major providers of IaaS including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, HP, AT&T, Verizon and VMware.

But if you're looking to provision Windows Server in Google's new cloud, you'll have to wait. Right now Google Compute Engine doesn't support Windows Server or VMware instances. During the preview, launched in May, Google Compute Engine only supported Debian and CentOS. Now that it's generally available, Google said customers can deploy any out-of-the-box Linux distribution including Red Hat Enterprise Linux (in limited preview now), SUSE and FreeBSD.

Despite shunning Windows, at least for now, it's ironic to note that one of the leaders of Google Compute Engine also was a key contributor to Microsoft's original .NET development team over a decade ago. Greg DeMichelle, director of Google's public cloud platform, was responsible for the overall design and feature set for Visual C# and C++ and a founding member of the C# language team.

After leaving Microsoft, DeMichelle joined the research firm Directions on Microsoft and also wrote a column for Redmond sister publication Redmond Developer News magazine, where I was executive editor several years ago. (RDN was folded into Visual Studio Magazine in 2009). I reached out to DeMichelle but haven't heard back yet but I do hope to catch up with him and hear more about Google's plans for supporting Windows -- or lack thereof.

Some analysts believe despite Google's late entry, it will be a force to be reckoned with in the IaaS world. In a blog post Monday announcing the launch, Google pointed to several early customers including Snapchat, Cooladata, Mendelics, Evite and Wix. Google reduced the cost of its service by 10 percent and DeMichelle made no secret in an interview with The New York Times that he believes Google is better positioned to take on Amazon Web Services, where he briefly worked prior to joining Google earlier this year.

Like Microsoft, Google entered the enterprise cloud fray years ago by offering a platform as a service (PaaS), known as Google App Engine. Monday's official release of Google Compute Engine means customers can now deploy virtual machines and stand-up servers in its public cloud.

Google is touting the fact that using live migration technology it can perform datacenter maintenance without downtime. "You now get all the benefits of regular updates and proactive maintenance without the downtime and reboots typically required," Google VP Ari Balogh wrote in Monday's blog post. "Furthermore, in the event of a failure, we automatically restart your VMs and get them back online in minutes. We've already rolled out this feature to our U.S. zones, with others to follow in the coming months."

Galogh added Google is seeing demand for large instances to run CPU and memory-intensive applications such as NoSQL databases. Google will offer 16-core instances with up to 104 GB of RAM. The company is now offering those large instance types in limited preview only.

As I noted, Google has lowered the price of its standard instances by 10 percent over the price it offered during the preview period. It also lets customers purchase capacity in increments of 10 minutes, according to its price list. With Google now officially in the game, 2014 promises to be a telling year as to which of the major providers can give Amazon a run for its money. But unless Google introduces Windows Server support, it'll miss out on a key piece of the market.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/06/2013 at 12:06 PM3 comments


IDC's Annual IT Predictions: 'Put Up or Shut Up' in 2014

The mantra for 2014 will be "put up or shut up" when it comes to achieving IT revenue growth and market position in the coming year. That was a key theme outlined by IDC chief analyst Frank Gens during a one-hour webcast yesterday to discuss the influential market researcher's annual worldwide IT forecast.

Spending on IT technology in 2014, excluding telecommunications services, will grow 5.1 percent to $2.1 trillion, which represents a slight uptick over the current year, Gens said. In the coming year, IDC is forecasting a continued move to what it calls the "3rd Platform," centered around mobile devices and the migration to cloud architectures with substantially increased investments in enterprise social networking tools and technology that lets users mine big data.

 "2014 will be all about battles across this platform," Gens said. "The past five years of the third platform build out has been all about laying the infrastructure and developer platform foundations. This next chapter is about fostering an explosion of innovation on that foundation, with hundreds of thousands to millions of new killer apps and solutions."

Recalling Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's "developers, developers, developers, developers" rant from years ago, Gens emphasized during the one-hour call that indeed winning over developers will be critical for those who are going to survive in the coming decade. Ironically for Microsoft, winning over developers will be critical if it's going to be a player in the new mobile era.

Microsoft has about a year to win over developers or it will be doomed in the mobile market, Gens said. The good news is developer interest in the new Windows platform has risen by eight points, according to IDC's latest Appcelerator report. However only 37 percent of developers say they are very interested in developing mobile apps for Windows, still 35 points below Android and 50 points below Apple's iOS.  Microsoft honestly needs to double that interest level within the next 12 months, or it could be game over," Gens said.

Increasing sales of tablets will continue to take a bite out of the PC market, which will continue to slide by 6 percent. Tablets will grow by 18 percent and smartphones 12 percent. Mobile devices will outsell PCs by two and a half to one, Gens said.

Cloud spending, which includes service providers, infrastructure and software will grow 25 percent reaching $100 billion. More than a third (35 percent) of that spending will be on cloud service providers and shared hosting facilities. Just like mobile, cloud providers will fight for developers to support their platforms, Gens noted. "Over the next four years, we will see a tenfold increase in the number of apps in the cloud, driven in part by a tripling of the number of developers and contributors to cloud app ecosystems," he said. "Two-thirds of these new apps will have an industry specific or a role specific focus."

With the amount of digital data growing 50 percent in 2014, users will create 6 trillion terabytes, or 6 zetabytes of data. That will fuel 30 percent growth in infrastructure and tools to mine big data, exceeding $14 billion. IDC is also predicting that in the next three years, 80 percent of the most successful apps will leverage large data streams. Demand for big data and analytics skills will outstrip supply, Gens said.

While many enterprises continue to assess whether they'll see any value by investing in social networking, IDC is predicting within the next three years, 80 percent of Fortune 500 will use it as a key foundation for marketing, selling and maintaining community, up from 30 percent today.

Social networking will also increasingly invade product and service development, according to Gens. By 2016, IDC forecasts 60 percent of the Fortune 500 will deploy social-enabled platforms, solutions that gather input from their communities of customers, partners and other components of their supply chains. To enable that, IDC predicts in 2015 the key social platforms will converge and merge with the major cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds.

It stands to reason the intense competitive environment in IT will not let up in 2014. How does IDC's forecast for 2014 line up with your predictions?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/04/2013 at 2:04 PM0 comments


Down to 2: Mulally and Nadella Reportedly Top Microsoft CEO Contenders

Microsoft's CEO search committee reportedly is honing in on Alan Mulally and Satya Nadella as the top two candidates to succeed Steve Ballmer.

A report by Bloomberg  on Thursday said the committee is leaning toward Mulally, now CEO of Ford, and Nadella, who oversees Microsoft's enterprise and cloud business and is well respected within the company. Sources told Bloomberg that internal candidate Tony Bates and Nokia former CEO Stephen Elop "remain in the mix," though are less likely.

The thinking of the committee remains "fluid," according to the report, meaning any candidate could still float to the top. The committee has aimed to wind down its search by year's end but the process could go into next year, according to the report.

Based on various reports over the past several months, Mulally appears to remain the favorite because of the way he parachuted into Ford last decade and brought it back from the brink, despite his newcomer status to the auto industry (he was previously CEO of Boeing where he rose through the ranks). As I noted back in September, Mulally has already advised outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and helped him architect the One Microsoft strategy modeled in part after One Ford.

Critics argue just because he was able to turn Ford around doesn't mean he can do the same for Microsoft. Many take issue with Mulally's age (68) as well. But perhaps the committee is considering a scenario where Microsoft brings Mulally in for a few years, while naming Nadella president and grooming him as heir-apparent?

The other issue is it is not clear if Mulally wants to, or can, leave Ford in the midst of its own transition. Because Mulally hasn't emphatically ruled out heading to Microsoft, he remains in the mix. But if he does shut the door on leaving Ford, then perhaps Nadella will get the nod?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2013 at 2:55 PM0 comments


Slim Pickings for Windows 8/Surface Cyber Monday Deals

On this Cyber Monday, if you were hoping to find a good deal on a Windows 8 PC and/or tablet you'll have to search long and hard. And even those that may appeal to cost-conscious shoppers are already sold out.

In an apparent effort to clear out inventory of its first-generation Surface devices, Microsoft slashed the price of its Surface Pro to $649 for the version equipped with 64 GB of storage -- down from $799. Unfortunately it's sold out. Though if you want the beefier Surface Pro with 128 GB of storage it was still available this morning for $749 (down from $899) at the Microsoft Store. That's $250 less than the Surface Pro 2 and you will sacrifice battery life and performance if you believe then the savings are worthwhile.

If you're looking for a hot deal on the first-generation Surface RT, Best Buy had them listed at an attractive $199. The bad news is they're sold out. Microsoft is offering the Surface RT for $299 (down from $349), though it's a refurbished version. The newer Surface 2s cost $449.

The only PC equipped with Intel's 4th generation (Haswell) processor at the Microsoft Store is HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15-n011nr touchscreen laptop offered as a Cyber Monday deal. It's listed at $499, which Microsoft claims is $200 off the regular price. It has a 15.6-inch touch screen display, an i5 processor, a 500 GB hard drive, 4 GB of RAM and battery life of six hours.

Some other deals tweeted by Microsoft Sales Excellence Program Manager Eric Ligman include the Dell XPS 18 Touchscreen All-in-One for $699 (down from $1,349) and the ASUS VivoTab Smart ME400C-C2-BK touchscreen tablet reduced $100 to $299 -- but alas they too are sold out. Others, touted as deals, are really the same prices they were advertised at in the past such as the New Dell Venue 11 Pro (64 GB). Also beware of low-cost PCs that don't have touch displays. Whether or not you think you'll ever use the touch features, it makes no sense to buy one without a touch interface. At some point you will need it.

If you're looking for a Cyber Monday deal on a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2, good luck! If you see any deals on Windows 8 PCs and/or tablets, feel free to share them.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 12/02/2013 at 2:56 PM3 comments


Major Microsoft Cloud Outage Blamed on DNS Failure

Yesterday's latest Windows Azure cloud crash, caused by a DNS failure, overshadowed an upgrade to the service and briefly interrupted Microsoft's much-anticipated Xbox One launch last night.

The malfunction apparently brought down portions of the Xbox Live service on the eve of its midnight consumer unveiling. Microsoft is touting the Xbox One release as its most significant gaming launch to date. Fortunately for Microsoft, the outage's impact in Xbox Live didn't lead to major headlines that could have outshined last night's midnight launch.

As speculated, a DNS failure on the management servers outside of Windows Azure indeed was the cause yesterday's failure, Microsoft corporate VP Scott Guthrie confirmed in a tweet last night. "No -- Azure is not having issues (customer apps continue to run fine). The problem is a DNS name server issue outside of azure [sic]," the tweet read.

In addition to Xbox Live inconveniently going down on the eve of the launch of Microsoft's first new upgrade of its Xbox console, Office 365, Outlook.com and SkyDrive also experienced failures.

Yesterday's failures also overshadowed several key upgrades to Windows Azure that Guthrie announced yesterday on his blog including:

  • BizTalk Services: General Availability Release
  • Traffic Manager: General Availability Release
  • Active Directory: General Availability Release of Application Access Support
  • Mobile Services: Active Directory Support, Xamarin support for iOS and Android with C#, Optimistic concurrency
  • Notification Hubs: Price Reduction + Debug Send Support
  • Web Sites: Diagnostics Support for Automatic Logging to Blob Storage
  • Storage: Support for alerting based on storage metrics
  • Monitoring: Preview release of Windows Azure Monitoring Service Library

Microsoft and its key rivals are all in an aggressive race to gain ground in cloud computing on Amazon Web Services. Of course Amazon has had its own share of embarrassing outages.

Presuming yesterday's outages are remediated, as the Windows Azure Service Dashboard indicated this morning, yesterday's failure will be added to the growing annals of disruptions. But it also adds fuel to the fire for opponents of using Windows Azure or any cloud service.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/22/2013 at 10:58 AM0 comments


Salesforce.com Revamps CRM Platform, Signs HP Deal

Salesforce.com announced Salesforce1, its new sales, marketing and service cloud-based platform, at the company's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco this week. Salesforce.com operates the largest software as a service (SaaS) cloud platform and this new addition aims to focus on social features, while making its apps and those of its large ecosystem of ISVs suitable for mobile devices.

Salesforce1 is also architected for the notion of cloud-connected devices and introduces a new application infrastructure designed to enable developers to build apps with social interfaces that are designed for mobility. The company said the new platform has 10 times more APIs and services.

The new community oriented Salesforce1 is available to all customers of the Salesforce CRM and Salesforce Platform. The Salesforce Mobile and Salesforce Admin apps are available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

"It's the world's first CRM platform for everyone -- for developers, for ISVs, for admins, for end-users and, most of all, for your customers," Benioff said on the company's third quarter earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "So you can go social, mobile, cloud and get connected."

Also at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com and Hewlett Packard inked a deal to let customers build virtual instances of the Salesforce CRM platform. Using HP's "Converged Infrastructure" of servers, storage and network gear, the companies will collectively build the Salesforce "Superpod."

"The Salesforce Superpod will allow individual customers to have a dedicated instance in the Salesforce multi-tenant cloud," Benioff said in a statement announcing the deal.

However Salesforce will host the Superpods in its own datacenters and not HP's. In fact, the Superpods are identical to the existing 15 pods in Salesforce datacenters used to host the company's CRM platform, InformationWeek reported. The key difference is that Salesforce will equip the Superpods with HP infrastructure.

Furthermore Salesforce is only offering the Superpods to the largest of enterprises, the InformationWeek report pointed out, adding that it's intended for those who have governance and security requirements. "For the vast majority of customers, this is not appropriate," he reportedly said. "But there are customers who want to go to another level."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/21/2013 at 8:19 AM3 comments


Why Can't SkyDrive's Apps Work Like Dropbox?

With last month's launch of Windows 8.1, the new Surface Pro 2 and the Windows RT-based Surface 2, Microsoft has made its SkyDrive service a key component of the company's "devices and services" strategy. The concept is great but the execution falls short because SkyDrive isn't as easy to use on any device as Dropbox.

That's a major problem and one I believe Microsoft must fix sooner than later. Indeed time is of the essence. Dropbox is reportedly on the verge of securing a whopping $257 million in financing on top of the $250 million it already has raised, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Monday. Dropbox officials believe the company's market cap is worth $8 billion, according to the report. The company has 200 million users, though a vast majority of them use the free service. Nevertheless Dropbox's revenues have grown from $12 million in 2010 to $116 million last year and it's estimated it'll exceed $200 million, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Microsoft has offered its SkyDrive service for many years and those who were fortunate enough to sign up before April of last year secured 25 GB of capacity for free before the company slashed the amount of complimentary capacity down to 7 GB. Even now, the 7 GB limit is more than three times more generous than the 2 GB limit of Dropbox, though you can receive incremental promotional upgrades. I've managed to up my free Dropbox capacity to 5 MB.

All things being equal I'd rather use SkyDrive as my default personal cloud storage provider. Its integration with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and Office 365 (which Microsoft says is on a 1.5 million user run rate) make it an ideal way of synchronizing documents across multiple devices and PCs. It also makes the latest versions of Windows and Office quite compelling. Enterprise users with SharePoint Online can use the even more manageable SkyDrive Pro, but that's a separate story.

Unfortunately all things aren't equal. Though close, SkyDrive is no Dropbox -- at least not in its current form. Perhaps the biggest downside to SkyDrive is its interface on the current crop of devices and on Windows 8.1. The Dropbox app on Apple's iOS and Windows 8.x is much easier to use as it displays files and folders the way users are accustomed to using the Windows Explorer model. SkyDrive doesn't. It renders files as icons. While you can search for content, good luck trying to sort files. In fact, the best way to organize files is by using the traditional Windows desktop.

Of course, one way around that is to use Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1, which does provide a good view of all your files. But that defeats the purpose of using the modern app and it isn't even an option with non-Windows devices.

At the same time, there are some key benefits to SkyDrive versus Dropbox, as Microsoft points out, including remote access and the ability to edit and add notes. And Microsoft makes it easier to do certain tasks like attaching a file to a message in Mail from SkyDrive, which isn't easily done with Dropbox.

Still, I find it easier to find files in Dropbox than SkyDrive and at the end of the day, that's what matters. Microsoft needs to address this in its apps if it wants to appeal to those happy with Dropbox. Moreover, there's no shortage of alternative personal cloud services from the likes of Apple and Google as well as those already reaching out to enterprises such as Box, which also has raised a boatload of funding and has a sizeable installed base.

Also rest assured Dropbox isn't sitting still. The company last week announced Dropbox for Business, which addresses a key objection to the free service: the lack of IT control and questions about security. Dropbox could be an attractive acquisition target for Microsoft, Google, Apple and even Amazon. The latter could be especially attractive as Dropbox currently hosts its infrastructure on Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service S3.

But Microsoft doesn't need to shell out the billions it would take to acquire Dropbox.All it needs to do is make SkyDrive's user interface more flexible in its modern apps across all platforms.

What's your preferred personal cloud storage service?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/20/2013 at 12:23 PM3 comments


Will Microsoft Become More Competitive By Removing Employee Ranking?

Microsoft's decision to do away with its so-called "rank and yank" method of evaluating the performance of its employees (made famous by GE's former CEO Jack Welch) is Redmond's  latest effort to get them to work more closely toward CEO Steve Ballmer's vision of One Microsoft.

It's no secret that the siloes between divisions in Microsoft have led to bitter disputes over technical and product direction. Critics argue those rivalries and fiefdoms helped pave the way for companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Salesforce.com and VMware to lead or eat into markets where Microsoft once had an edge. How the notion of employees being ranked played into those rivalries is hard to say. But removing employee ranking should reduce the Survivor mentality it aims to foster. Experts also argue companies that don't have rigid employee ranking processes are more attractive to talented developers. Removing employee ranking could also help retain valued employees. Of course the end goal is making all Microsoft employees more focused on customer needs.

The One Microsoft reorganization aimed to bring development, sales and marketing with a common goal and it appears this latest move is an outgrowth of this transition. The irony of One Microsoft of course is that it's modeled after One Ford, which the auto-giant succinctly describes as One Team, One Plan, One Goal. As I noted yesterday, Ballmer has called upon Ford CEO Alan Mulally for advice on how to turn Ford around. Of course it's also intriguing given that Ballmer and Chairman and Founder Bill Gates are said to want Mulally to take the reins of Microsoft.

Does removing "rank and yank" further stack the deck for Mulally? That could be one way of looking at it but regardless who becomes Microsoft's next CEO it's in his or her interest to have employees who are on the same page. Only time will tell to what extent this will accomplish that or if a new CEO will have a different philosophy for evaluating employee performance.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/19/2013 at 12:40 PM0 comments


Steve Ballmer's Exit Interview

When Microsoft issued the stunning news that longtime CEO Steve Ballmer would retire, some observers questioned whether he jumped or was pushed. For the first time Ballmer answered the question with graphic detail in an apparent effort to etch his legacy in stone.

In his uncharacteristically self-effacing interview with The Wall Street Journal late last week, Ballmer maintained the decision to leave was his, which he made while in London back in May. Well aware Microsoft needed to change faster or risk becoming marginalized by Apple, Google and others, Ballmer recalled reaching an inflexion point that Microsoft would be able to change faster without him.

"At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern," Ballmer told The Journal. "Face it: I'm a pattern."

Later that month Ballmer set the wheels in motion to inform the board. Also weighing in was lead director John Thompson, the onetime CEO of Symantec, who had made clear to Ballmer in January Microsoft needed to embrace change at a much more accelerated pace.

Ballmer recounted how he met with his close friend Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford who is a candidate to succeed Ballmer, though the automaker has stated its chief will stay put through 2014. During that Christmas Eve meeting at a Starbucks near Seattle, the two talked for hours about Microsoft's new "devices and services strategy" and how Mulally turned around Ford by implementing a more team-oriented approach. Looking for a way to overhaul Microsoft, Ballmer saw that the  team-oriented model would help to eliminate the legendary siloes that have held the company back. Ballmer then changed his management style to fit with this new idea.

It is well-known Ballmer didn't want to retire until his youngest son graduates in 2017. At the time of his retirement announcement, Ballmer said bringing in a new CEO in the midst of a transition might not be in Microsoft's best interests.

The report is a fascinating story of how Ballmer fell on his sword for the good of the company he loves so much. That may very well be how things played out. On the other hand, a skeptic could argue if the board (with or without support from founder and chairman Bill Gates) did force Ballmer's hand -- wanted to spare one of its largest champions and shareholders humiliation -- it's not beyond the realm of imagination that they agreed to give him this graceful and humble exit.

But regardless how you feel about how Ballmer ran Microsoft over the years, the company has grown in revenue and profits consistently throughout his tenure even if its share price did little to increase. An orderly transition is critical and throwing Ballmer under the bus certainly wouldn't further that cause.

The story Ballmer revealed is quite plausible even if he displayed unusual humility. Unless evidence surfaces to the contrary though, I'll take Ballmer at his word. Do you?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/18/2013 at 10:53 AM0 comments


Why Amazon Could See Slow Uptake for Its Cloud VDI Service

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When Amazon announced plans to disrupt the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) market Wednesday by launching WorksSpaces at its re:Invent customer and partner conference in Las Vegas, Citrix shares dropped 4.5 percent on the news. Amazon pitched its desktop-as-a-service offering as a more affordable approach to traditional VDI offered by Citrix, VMware and Microsoft. That's because with WorksSpaces, IT can spin up virtual desktops without buying hardware or software just as they can with Amazon's cloud and storage portfolio of services.

Given its track record in upending traditional business models, one doesn't want to ignore Amazon when it offers anything new (remember Borders?). But analysts I spoke with following the announcement noted Amazon is not likely to take the VDI world by storm overnight for a variety of reasons. Maybe that's why Citrix shares are inching back up today?

One noteworthy barrier to adoption of Amazon WorkSpaces is the end user. When Amazon launched EC2 over seven years ago, it gave developers a way to bypass IT to quickly procure infrastructure. End users on the other hand are not clamoring for VDI, said Forrester analyst David Johnson. "There aren't employees inside a company that are going to run out and sign up for Amazon desktops," Johnson said. Desktop as a service will appeal to those who need "pop-up-desktops" for contractors or to quickly get projects started, Johnson said.

A Forrester survey last quarter found that 11 percent of SMBs and enterprises in North America and Europe are including desktop as a service within the next 12 months. This is up from 5 percent during the same time last year. Looking beyond one year, 12 percent said they are planning hosted desktops, up from 7 percent last year.

When it comes to overall plans for VDI, 52 percent said it was a high priority, up from 48 percent last year and 43 percent in 2011, according to Forrester. IDC's current forecast for client virtualization spending overall this year is $175 million. It projects next year it will rise to $311 million and hit $600 million by 2016.

Although VDI deployments that use public cloud infrastructure are part of a small but emerging piece of that market, Microsoft recently made its Remote Desktop Services (RDS) available for Windows Azure. Amazon WorksSpaces gives users their own instance using portions of Windows Server 2008 R2 and renders a user interface that looks like Windows 7. "There are positives and negatives to both approaches but at the end of the day it's similar for the end user," Waldman said.

Meanwhile VMware also has its sights on offering a desktop as a service VDI offering with its recent acquisition of Desktone and Citrix is also developing a similar offering. But Waldman said large enterprises are wary of putting user data in the cloud. "We see enterprises taking a slow cautious approach to cloud hosted virtual desktops. However, for small and mid-sized companies where VDI is too expensive and complex to get up and running, it makes it more accessible to them."

The most likely candidates for Amazon WorkSpaces are those that are already using Amazon's cloud infrastructure services, Waldman noted. But there's a case to be made that many IT pros will consider Microsoft's RDS, because of the application compatibility, Waldman said.

"While 95 percent of apps can work on client or server, many apps were poorly written and literally hard coded to run on a client operating system," he said. "Even though apps written for Windows can run on Windows Server, there are many instances it would not because of that one bad line of code."

While there are solutions to remediate that, such as Citrix's AppDNA, it could be a showstopper for those looking for quick deployments.

Are you considering a desktop-as-a-service VDI deployment? If so, which offering sounds most appealing?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/15/2013 at 1:53 PM0 comments


Amazon Aims To Disrupt VDI Market with Cloud-Based Offering

More than seven years after upending how IT consumes compute, storage and application services, Amazon is going up the infrastructure stack  to the desktop. Amazon Web Services today said it's gunning to shake up the struggling VDI market with a cloud-based alternative that requires no hardware, software or datacenter infrastructure.

The company announced its plans to offer Amazon WorkSpaces, which it claims it can offer services at half the cost with better performance than traditional virtual desktop infrastructure platforms today. Amazon Web Services senior VP Andy Jassy revealed the new cloud-based VDI offering in his opening keynote address at the company's second annual re:Invent customer and partner conference taking place in Las Vegas.

Saying VDI hasn't taken off because it's complex to setup and manage, Jassy told the thousands of attendees and online viewers in his keynote that Amazon WorkSpaces promises to reduce those barriers. It will allow organizations to move their desktop licenses to Amazon and provides integration with Active Directory.

"You can access your Amazon WorkSpace from any of your devices whether it's a desktop, laptop or an iOS device," Jassy said.  "And you get persistent sessions, so if you're using a WorkSpace on your laptop, and you switch to your Android [or any other] device, the session picks up just where you left off. What's also nice, because it's a cloud service, all of the data lives in the cloud -- it doesn't live local to those devices, which of course is a concern for an IT administrator."

The company described in a blog post a use case with 1,000 employees that would cost just $43,333 using Amazon WorkSpaces. This would be 59 percent less expensive than an on-premise VDI deployment that would cost $106,356 (which includes datacenter investments).

Amazon will initially offer a Standard service that costs $35 per month for one virtual CPU, 3.75 GB of memory and 50 GBytes of capacity; and a Performance plan that costs $60 for two virtual CPUs, 3.75 GB of memory and 100 GB storage per user. A Performance Plus package will come with 7.5 GB of memory. Customers that don't have licenses to move over can purchase licenses for Microsoft Office and antivirus software firm Trend Micro for $15 per month per user.

Jassy said the company intends to first offer invitation-only trials. He did not disclose general availability. Customers can register for the preview now.

Do you think Amazon can change the economics of VDI and make it more appealing? Given Amazon's track record, I wouldn't bet against the company becoming a player in the VDI market.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/13/2013 at 12:49 PM0 comments


Microsoft Explores Putting Fuel Cells in Server Racks

In its quest to build greener datacenters that are also more efficient and reliable, Microsoft is exploring the use of fuel cells installed in the server racks.

Microsoft announced that it is studying the impact of installing fuel cells directly into the racks as a more efficient means of bringing the power plant into the datacenter than using outside generators. A datacenter powered by fuel cells can reduce operational costs by 20 percent, Microsoft projects, according to a research paper the company published.

The study is the latest evolution of Microsoft's Data Plant project, the company's first zero-carbon datacenter launched last year in Cheyenne, Wyo., where it integrated the infrastructure and its components with a wastewater treatment plant. The study aims to determine if integrating fuel cells can improve service availability, reduce infrastructure costs and meet our commitments to sustainability," Sean James, senior research program manager for Microsoft's Global Foundation Services, explained in a blog post.

This would extend Microsoft's Data Plant concept to determine how to take the entire energy supply chain -- from the power plant to server motherboards -- in a single cabinet, James added. In the paper, the authors illustrate how adding a small generator to the server racks can substantially remove the datacenter's complexity by eliminating the electrical distribution within the grid and datacenter.

By using fuel cells instead of outside power, he notes, they're not restricted by the limits of typical Carnot Cycle Efficiency found in traditional power generators. "By integrating fuel cells with IT hardware, we can cut much of the power electronics out of the conventional fuel cell system," he wrote. "What we are left with is a very simple and low cost datacenter and fuel cell system. As the fuel cell industry becomes more mature, especially small form factor fuel cells for automotive and IT applications, the cost of fuel cells will drop. You may end up with one someday delivering clean electricity and heat to your home."

James pointed out this study is only in the early stages but it's a noteworthy step in the company's effort to bring fuel cells into the server rack.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/13/2013 at 4:02 PM0 comments


IE Chief Dean Hachamovitch Reassigned

Update: Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone corporate VP, will apparently oversee Internet Explorer's user experience and application development, according to a report by The Verge's Todd Warren.

Dean Hachamovitch, the Microsoft corporate vice president who oversaw the development of the company's Internet Explorer browser for nine years, is taking on a new role in the company. In a cryptic and brief blog post, Hachamovitch on Monday announced he will join a new team within Microsoft.

While he didn't say what new group he's joining, Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley reported in her ZDNet All about Microsoft blog that he's joining a team focused on data sciences. The move is part of new Windows group head Terry Myerson's effort to assemble his own team, Foley noted. She also pointed out that most of the key personnel who reported to former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky have (or are) moving into new roles.

The move comes just one week after Microsoft released Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7. Since Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, the company made aggressive moves at improving the browser under Hachamovitch's watch, including notably its support for HTML 5.

When Hachamovitch joined the Internet Explorer team nine years ago, Microsoft's browser was falling out of favor. That's because in wake of the demise of Netscape, which Microsoft neutralized, Redmond had little incentive to improve its browser. Microsoft's complacency eventually caught up with it, as the Mozilla Firefox browser gained share followed by Google's launch of Chrome.

The inflexion point came at the first-ever Mix conference in 2006, when Hachamovitch followed chairman and founder Bill Gates in apologizing for neglecting the bug-ridden Internet Explorer 6, which was full of security holes, as recalled by GeekWire on Monday. "We messed up," he said at the time.

It doesn't appear Microsoft will tap anyone to oversee Internet Explorer, Foley noted. Does that suggest Microsoft is going to let the browser once again fall by the wayside? Hachamovitch in his brief post said he is confident that won't be the case.

"Microsoft will of course continue to invest in the browser, in Web standards, in developer tooling for the Web, in privacy, and in even more areas than before," Hachamovitch noted. "There's a new set of capable leaders who will continue the strong work."

Of course, what would you expect him to say?

What's your take on Hachamovitch's move? Is that an omen that Internet Explorer will be marginalized if it doesn't get a new chief? Does it still matter at this point? Or are you confident Myerson plans to ensure future development of the browser?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/12/2013 at 3:58 PM3 comments


Microsoft's Plans To Toss Its Cookies

Microsoft is joining the chorus of tech companies, notably Google, that plan to do away with cookies, the tracking component used on the Web that's typically exploited by advertisers.

AdAge last month reported that Microsoft is developing new ad-tracking technology that would work across PCs, tablets, smartphones and its Xbox gaming platform. The new ad-tracking component would also be integrated into Internet Explorer and Bing, the report noted.

The move doesn't appear to be intended for your convenience though. It's more about continuing ad tracking across TV and video broadcast networks. Michael Schoen, EVP-programmatic product management at IPG Mediabrands, told AdAge that cookies have become irrelevant for television and Web-based video delivery. "For the past two to three years now, there has been a lot of talk about the impending death of the third-party cookie," he said.

Microsoft is developing a "device-identifier" to replace cookies, AdAge reported, meaning users would give permission to share information via a device's terms of service.

"Microsoft would then become directly responsible for users' data and -- assuming it doesn't share it with third parties -- confine privacy concerns to the Redmond, Wash.-based company rather than countless companies that currently collect data on people's browsing behaviors."

Rather than letting hundreds or thousands of advertisers put cookies in the browser, the "device-identifier" would be the sole component doing the tracking. With Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other large players developing similar technologies, there will ultimately be a smaller pool of those tracking user data.  

Windows 8.1, which shipped last month, includes a new identifier designed to render higher quality and more targeted ads in Windows Store apps, while providing other services, including analytics and app-discovery, said Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft's corporate VP for Microsoft's development platform, in a blog post.  Users can turn on and off the advertising ID, Guggenheimer noted.

In addition, Windows 8.1 ships with Internet Explorer 11, which comes with a "do-not-track" feature turned on by default. However, Microsoft's do-not-track feature is just a URL string that signals the user's preference to third-party advertisers. It's up to the advertiser to honor the request or not. Microsoft recently admitted that its efforts to standardize do-not-track browser technology at the Worldwide Web Consortium is mired by disagreement among browser makers and other stakeholders.

While not addressing plans to eliminate cookie use with Internet Explorer, Guggenheimer announced the release of SDKs for developers to implement the advertising ID, though he noted more SDKs are in the works.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether eliminating cookies will improve the performance of Internet Explorer or if the new ad identifier will come with its own baggage.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/08/2013 at 3:42 PM0 comments


Microsoft's Rumored CEO Candidate Short List

According to a Reuters report, Microsoft has reportedly narrowed its shortlist to at least three internal candidates and five external candidates.

Among those still in the running to replace Ballmer are Ford CEO Alan Mulally, former Nokia Chief Stephen Elop and two internal candidates -- Satya Nadella, executive VP for the Cloud and Enterprise Group and Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype who is now executive VP for the Business Development and Evangelism group. The remaining candidates weren't noted, though the report pointed to Computer Sciences Corp. CEO Mike Lawrie as one on Wall Street's desired list.

The search could still take several months, according to the Reuters report, which cited unidentified sources familiar with the matter. Short of luring back Microsoft exec Paul Maritz, who ran VMware before settling into his current role as CEO of spinoff Pivotal, Nomura Securities Analyst Rick Sherlund today said he believes it will be Mulally and thinks he will be named next month. Mulally's name as a preferred candidate surfaced in late September.

Sherlund believes Ballmer will make a quick exit and the company will purchase back his shares, valued at $12 billion. Sherlund said Ballmer will opt to exit the board because he "doesn't want to be second-guessed."

To compensate for Mulally's lack of experience running a tech company, Sherlund believes founder and Chairman Bill Gates will contribute in terms of directing product strategy. "Bill Gates is going to have to roll up his sleeves to compliment Mulally," Sherlund told CNBC's Jim Kramer.

A new CEO would be wise to sell or spin off Microsoft's Bing and Xbox businesses, which are huge drains on profits, Sherlund said. Added Kramer, the new CEO will have to "blow the company up."

I'm still in the camp that Gates isn't going to come back even in the roll Sherlund is predicting. As for speculation that Ballmer may walk away from the board and cash out his shares, that's his choice and I don't see it having a major impact on Microsoft's future direction either way. Despite the latest buzz, there are still many balls in the air. But I do get the sense that the news is going to come sooner than later.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/06/2013 at 2:26 PM3 comments


Should Microsoft Pick at BlackBerry's Carcass?

Once again the soap opera surrounding BlackBerry took an unexpected turn and the struggling former mobile handset leader's already uncertain future became even more questionable. The $4.7 billion buyout by BlackBerry's largest shareholder Fairfax Financial Holdings that was reached in September fell apart yesterday, resulting in CEO Thorsten Heins stepping down in the wake of the news.

As a result of yesterday's drama, which caused the company's stock to plummet 16 percent, Fairfax and undisclosed investors are instead issuing $1 billion in debt securities that can be converted to stock at $10 per share. Meanwhile taking the helm as "acting" CEO is John Chen, the longtime CEO of Sybase. When Chen took over Sybase, it was a onetime large database company that found itself on the brink. Sybase fell on hard times after being squeezed by Oracle, IBM and onetime partner Microsoft, which it ironically helped get into the database market.

While Sybase never was able to regain the share it lost to Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, Chen oversaw the company's expansion into mobile middleware and the development of an in-memory database. Those moves made the company attractive to SAP, which acquired Sybase in 2010 for $5.8 billion, a 40 percent premium to its market cap at the time of the deal.

It remains to be seen whether Chen plans to take "acting" off his title, or merely stand-in for a new CEO.  But if Chen does have long-term plans for BlackBerry that might suggest the company may not be destined to be sold off in pieces as many have predicted will happen.

Indeed Microsoft, along with Amazon, Ericsson and Google were "possible buyers" for BlackBerry, an informed source told The Wall Street Journal, because they were interested in pieces of the company but they all ultimately walked away.

It appears there's little BlackBerry has to offer Microsoft, as reported by technology journalist Mary Branscombe in September. She points out BlackBerry has little to offer Microsoft: the company has no need for its hardware or operating system. Thanks to Skype the once popular BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) would offer little value. Nor would there be value from its enterprise "crown jewel," the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), thanks to mobile device management capabilities in the latest versions of Exchange, System Center and Windows Intune. Given Microsoft's tendency to license patents and not buy them, Branscombe said it's unlikely Microsoft would buy the company for $5 billion just to get them.

I have to agree with her points and even though Microsoft shocked those who never thought the company would acquire Nokia's handset business, it still appears unlikely the folks in Redmond are going to spend heavily for BlackBerry. That doesn't mean there won't be licensing deals or other partnership possibilities. That could be especially possible if Chen decides to focus on expanding BlackBerry's technology assets rather than take the company to the chop shop.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/05/2013 at 1:58 PM0 comments


SharePoint Shops Eying Windows Azure as Office 365 Alternative

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A vast majority of Redmond magazine readers are holding off on moving their SharePoint infrastructures to the cloud and the small portion that are typically opt for Office 365. However a growing number of those planning on running SharePoint in the cloud are looking at Windows Azure at the expense of Office 365.

To be sure, even the majority of those planning to move to SharePoint in the cloud are leaning toward Office 365. But an online survey of nearly 500 readers last week showed a surprising and interesting trend: While 66 percent of current SharePoint online users have Office 365 subscriptions (compared with 14 percent using Windows Azure and 15 percent using other cloud providers), of those planning to run SharePoint in the cloud in the future, 55 percent will opt for Office 365 and nearly 29 percent will use Windows Azure.

That points to a segment of SharePoint shops that are turned off by the lack of code portability from older versions of SharePoint. By standing up their own SharePoint servers in Windows Azure, they get the benefit of running their custom or shrink-wrapped apps in the cloud.

"People don't do customization of SharePoint Online using the old method because the product limits what they can do," explained Forrester analyst John Rymer, who, along with colleague Rob Koplowitz, released a study late last month of their own enterprise customer reluctance to move SharePoint to the cloud. "Integration, for example, is pretty limited, and Microsoft will not accept 'just any random code' and the rules indistinct."

Most SharePoint experts I talk to agree with this but whether or not Office 365 is a real deal-breaker depends on the customer's application and overall requirements. "If you want to use all of the content management capabilities, deeper integration into other line of  business systems, those are the kinds of customers that will continue to run SharePoint either in their own servers or Windows Azure," said Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of K2, a provider of a SharePoint workflow app for Office 365 that uses Windows Azure.

When I shared the data with Forrester's Koplowitz, he was intrigued by the number of respondents who are looking to run SharePoint in Windows Azure. "That's a real interesting data point," he said.

For now, only 15 percent of respondents to Forrester's August survey said they were using Office 365 SharePoint Online, up just 3 percent over last year, prior to the release of the enhanced service. That's relatively consistent with our survey, which shows just 17 percent of our readers are running SharePoint in any cloud service.

While smaller organizations are the most obvious candidates to go to SharePoint Online Office 365, especially if they don't have a collaboration solution, larger shops have more complicated decisions to make. Whether or not larger shops are using Office 365, Windows Azure or third-party infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or managed services providers (or any combination of those), the largest trend is toward hybrid implementations where they are adding capacity to existing SharePoint infrastructure incrementally.

"We're probably seeing 80 percent of our customers go hybrid cloud in some way, maybe for example moving My Sites and some of their extranets to the cloud, and keeping their line of business integration on premise for now," said Ben Curry, managing partner at Summit 7 Systems. Curry and a number of other SharePoint MVPs will be sharing their views on this in two weeks at the SharePoint Live! conference in Orlando, Fla., which, like Redmond magazine, is produced by 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

Are you among the growing number of SharePoint shops looking at Windows Azure (or other IaaS providers) to make your foray into the cloud? Or do you find SharePoint Online Office 365 more appealing?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/04/2013 at 3:34 PM2 comments


William Lowe, Father of the IBM PC, Dies

William Lowe, who led the engineering team responsible for bringing the first mainstream PC to market in 1981, died last month at age 72 from a heart attack.

News of his death was reported earlier this week by The New York Times. Lowe, a longtime engineer at IBM, proposed bypassing IBM's conventional development model and led a team of 12 engineers that produced the IBM Personal Computer 5150 using off-the-shelf parts and software from third parties. The move led to the creation of IBM's PC within a year. Had IBM opted to build it internally, it would have taken several years.

Lowe's effort also put two companies on the map, Intel and Microsoft. The IBM PC 5150 was powered by Intel's 4.77 MHz 8080 processor based on Microsoft's MS-DOS 1.0 operating system. The team engineered the PC in an IBM lab in Boca Raton, Fla. The secret effort was internally known as Project Chess and the PC's code-name was Acorn. It was available with one or two floppy drives at a price of $1,565 (not including a monitor).

The decision to build the IBM PC on an "open architecture" paved the way for the IBM clone market, ultimately dominated by companies such as Compaq and Dell, as well as dozens of other players at the time. While it gave birth to the PC market and Microsoft, it didn't serve IBM well in the end. While Lowe would become president of IBM's Entry Systems Division and later a corporate vice president, he left IBM in 1988 to join Xerox.

Lowe had no apologies for the decision, as The Times noted. "We are committed to the open architecture concept, and we recognize the importance of an open architecture to our customers," Lowe said of IBM's work with Intel and Microsoft. Some say many top executives never believed the PC would amount to anything major -- a key reason Microsoft was permitted to license MS-DOS to other then unknown suppliers.

While we know how that played out for IBM, it certainly makes one wonder if Microsoft would exist in its current form had IBM not gone down that path. For that matter what might computing and devices look like today?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/01/2013 at 2:23 PM0 comments


Windows Phone Sales Surge in North America

While sales of Nokia's line of Lumia phones have shown steady growth in Europe and Asia over the past two years, they have failed to make strong inroads in North America. In a surprising turn, the company's third-quarter earnings report yesterday revealed a sudden spike in North America and the United States.

Between July and September, Nokia reported it has sold 1.4 million Lumias in North America -- an 180 percent increase over last quarter's 500,000 units and a 367 percent rise year-over-year. Overall, Nokia sold 8.8 million Lumias worldwide last quarter, a 19 percent increase over the prior quarter and 40 percent over the same period a year ago.

Does that mean Windows Phone is catching on? The sudden rise in Lumia sales in North America suggests Windows Phone may be gaining appeal but it will take several more quarters to see if that trend continues.

To be sure, the 8.8 million Lumias sold worldwide pale in comparison to the 33.8 million iPhones Apple sold during the same period (on top of the more than 250 million already in the market). Also Nokia indicated that the most popular phone was the Lumia 520, not the high-end Lumia 1020, released in the beginning of the quarter.

So while Lumia, and by extension Windows Phone, sales are on the rise, it remains in a very distant third place to Android and iOS. Microsoft is betting its acquisition of Nokia's handset business for $7.2 billion, which closes early next year, will give it further leverage in advancing its mobile phone business. But just as the company is marketing its new line of Surface tablets, success will ride on killer apps in the Windows Store.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/30/2013 at 11:27 AM0 comments


Metalogix Acquires Idera's SharePoint Tools Business

Looking to further solidify its tooling offering for SharePoint administrators, Metalogix last week said it has acquired Idera's SharePoint business. The move aims to bolster Metalogix backup and recovery software for SharePoint with Idera's monitoring and diagnostic tools, and comes two months after Metalogix acquired Axceler's SharePoint tools business.

Metalogix CEO Steve Murphy has had his sights on Idera's tools business for two years and told me he convinced them to sell, letting it use the proceeds for Idera's more-lucrative SQL Server tools business. Though terms weren't disclosed, it doesn't seem Metalogix intends to spread its wings into offering SQL Server tools. Rather Murphy's key objective is to challenge AvePoint for leadership in the SharePoint administration market.

"We were looking for a more robust backup play to compete against AvePoint and provide much more robust end-to-end infrastructure management for SharePoint," Murphy said, adding that Idera's diagnostic tools for SharePoint fills a key gap in its offering. "We believe from an infrastructure management perspective, this puts us on par or ahead of our competitors."

For its part, AvePoint doesn't see Metalogix's move as a threat. AvePoint Founder and Co-CEO Tianyi (TJ) Jiang, said in an e-mail what every rival says when a challenger comes its way: that it validates its place in the market.

"It is necessary to provide customers with an integrated, comprehensive enterprise solution that can meet all of their collaboration needs, which AvePoint has done since we first opened our doors in 2001," Jiang said. "While we have seen other vendors try to achieve this by attempting to grow and scale -- be it through acquisition or through internal development -- AvePoint continues to utilize our deep resources, 1,400-plus employees globally, to create the integrated enterprise-grade product experience our customers demand in order to collaborate with confidence with their technology investments."

The acquisition of Idera's SharePoint tools business gives Metalogix a customer base of 13,500, according to Murphy, and a more robust partner network and overall "operational maturity," he argued. "This is a big changing of the guard in the marketplace," he said.

The SharePoint Diagnostic tool Metalogix is acquiring from Idera lets IT monitor the content and server performance of a SharePoint farm, provides custom alerting on pages and controls servers from its own dashboard or the SharePoint user interface, according to a description of the tool. It also offers historical trending and forecasting and the tool does not require IT to deploy agents on server farms.

In addition to SharePoint Diagnostic Manager, Metalogix is acquiring SharePoint Audit Manager, SharePoint Audit, SharePoint Backup, SharePoint Performance Monitor and SharePoint Admin Toolset, according to a FAQ on Idera's Web site. Though these are all now Metalogix products, the transition will take several months and for now Idera is providing technical support.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/28/2013 at 1:19 PM3 comments


Enterprise Boost Helps Microsoft Shatter Financial Expectations

Microsoft can talk up "devices and services," the consumerization of IT and BYOD all it wants, but it can thank enterprises for its unexpected surge in revenues and profits.

Overall, the company yesterday reported revenues for the first quarter of its 2014 fiscal year were $18.53 billion, nearly 5 percent higher than the $17.7 billion analysts had expected and up 16 percent year-over-year, while posting earnings of 62 cents per share, compared with consensus estimates of 53 cents per share. Moreover, Microsoft gave a positive outlook for the current quarter which ends Dec. 31. That was a welcome relief to investors after Microsoft reported one of its most disappointing quarters back in July.

The lift came primarily from commercial revenues, which added to $11.2 billion for the quarter, up 10 percent year-over-year. Noteworthy bright spots were sales of SQL Server up 30 percent and sales of its Office products increased 11 percent with Exchange, Lync and SharePoint all growing 30 percent. Server and tools sales increased 12 percent and commercial cloud revenues increased 103 percent.

Improvements in Microsoft's enterprise revenues were especially noteworthy given the fact that IBM and Oracle both fell short during the same period. Microsoft's stock was up 6 percent midday today on its better-than-expected performance along with the positive forecast for the current quarter.

In a category Microsoft calls Commercial Other, which include enterprise cloud revenues from Windows Azure and Office 365, revenues this quarter could reach $1.9 billion on the high end of the forecast, Microsoft said. Revenues in that category this quarter of $1.6 billion were up 28 percent, which the company said reflects increased demand for its cloud services.

Meanwhile, consumer device revenue of $7.46 billion showed modest growth of 4 percent, though device and consumer licensing was down over 7 percent. Microsoft said that was better than it had expected going into the quarter, where it expected a decline in the mid-teens. In Microsoft's struggling Windows business, which continues to be hammered thanks to the growth of tablets, the commercial business held its own.

While non-Pro Windows revenue declined 22 percent, Windows OEM Pro revenue grew 6 percent, Microsoft said. Microsoft revealed Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions have now hit the 2 million mark.

After taking a $900 million charge last quarter on unsold Surface inventory, Microsoft said Surface revenue this quarter doubled to $400 million over the prior period. With this week's release of the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood believes this quarter will show further improvements, noting that customers were delaying purchases in anticipation of the new releases. "With Surface, we are making progress with better end market executions," Hood said.

Now that the new line of Surface hardware is shipping along with Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and upgrades to the Windows Azure portfolio, we'll get a better sense of how enterprises and consumers alike are embracing these new offerings  in three months from now when Microsoft reports its next quarterly results.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/25/2013 at 11:36 AM0 comments


Nokia Tries To Upstage Apple and Microsoft with Launch of Lumia Tablet

Nokia yesterday launched its first tablet, the new 10-inch Lumia 2520, while also adding two new 6-inch smartphones, the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1320. Rumors of a Windows RT-based tablet from Nokia surfaced over the summer but it fell under the radar when Microsoft announced its plan to acquire the company's mobile handset business for $7.2 billion last month.

But apparently that didn't deter Nokia from launching its new tablet. Of course, the deal hasn't closed and Nokia must run its business as it sees fit until the transaction is complete.  

Nevertheless, Nokia's decision to launch a tablet line today is either a foolish act or a brilliant move. That remains to be seen but it takes a lot of guts for the company to attempt to upstage Apple, which it and everyone else knew was launching new iPads today -- the new iPad Air, a thinner and lighter version of its full-sized tablets and a new iPad Mini with Apple's Retina display. The Nokia launch also comes on the day Microsoft is shipping the new Surface Pro 2 and the Surface 2.

Unlike Microsoft's Surface lineup, the Lumia 2520 will ship this quarter with support for 4G LTE connectivity. It also comes with a 6.7 megapixel camera and Zeiss lenses. Besides the Surface, it's one of the only other tablets bundled with Windows RT 8.1. That will likely result in a poor reception for the new Nokia tablet, said independent analyst Jack Gold in a note today.

"Windows RT is not popular and is not selling well, for good reason," Gold noted. "It is a 'dumbed down' version of Windows which does not run all the apps Windows users expect. Most users have not been thrilled with the user experience. I don't expect Nokia to do well with this product for that very reason."

Gold nonetheless described Nokia's new tablet as sporting an impressive design and will appeal to those who want 4G LTE built in.

The future of this new device will likely serve as a test case for Microsoft and it will invariably be integrated as part of Microsoft's Surface portfolio once the deal closes.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/23/2013 at 1:07 PM0 comments


HeathCare.gov Debacle: Biggest IT Failure Ever?

The botched rollout of the Web site built to let customers enroll in an insurance plan under the controversial Affordability Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- will go down as one of the most high profile IT disasters to date.

That's a high bar if you consider all of the major debacles over the years (think of widely publicized E-Trade, Schwab, eBay and Victoria Secret site meltdowns over a decade ago) to more recent Black Friday retail site failures, and over the past year outages that have knocked off Facebook, Twitter and major advertisers of the Super Bowl. Still fresh on many minds was last year's major meltdowns that shut down major portions Windows Azure, Office 365 and Amazon Web Services, which brought down many key sites with it including Netflix last Christmas Eve.

Yet those seem to pale in comparison to the failed launch of HealthCare.gov, the signature effort of the Obama presidency that has become a lightning rod for opponents that played a key role in this month's shutdown of the federal government. Regardless where you stand on Obamacare, you never want the president telling the world how mad he is about how poorly your IT project was planned and implemented, which is what happened yesterday in the White House Rose Garden.

"Nobody's madder than me about the fact that the website isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," the president said. But that may not be easy. According to a report in The New York Times yesterday, Healhcare.gov is a text-book-case study in how not to manage a critical IT project of this magnitude and importance. The site may need 5 million lines of new code, according to yesterday's report. Overall, it's built with 500 million lines of code --five times the amount needed to run a large bank's computer systems, according to the report.

One of the key factors that may have led to this failure was the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency overseeing the exchange, taking the unusual step (for a federal agency) of managing the 55 contractors and overseeing the effort to ensure they can properly integrate the apps and ensure the databases work together.

While the site has seen incremental improvements, the extensive code rewrite could take several weeks, at the very least. According to The Wall Street Journal, HealthCare.gov's registration application developed by lead contractor CGI, transfers data gathered from registrants creating accounts and transfers that data to an the Medicare agency's Enterprise Identification Management app developed by Quality Software Services, a subsidiary of United Health Care, which submits data to the credit reporting service Experian to confirm user identities.

Apparently the data hasn't interfaced well with Oracle Identity Manager. Oracle reportedly has sent engineers to help remediate the problem and add capacity but a company spokeswoman told the Journal that OIM is not the root of the problem. "Our software is the identical product deployed in most of the world's most complex systems" according to the spokeswoman's statement.

Better preparation in the form of load testing to simulate the anticipated traffic may have helped avoid much of the problems that surfaced at launch as well, observers note. Some critics are calling for the head of Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who announced today that Jeff Zients, a recent acting director of the Office of Management and Budget to advise on the project, will be adding a "surge" of tech support to remediate the problem.

"These reinforcements include a handful of Presidential Innovation Fellows," Sebelius said in a blog post. "This new infusion of talent will bring a powerful array of subject matter expertise and skills, including extensive experience scaling major IT systems.  This effort is being marshaled as part of a cross-functional team that is working aggressively to diagnose parts of HealthCare.gov that are experiencing problems, learn from successful states, prioritize issues, and fix them."

As the facts of this story unfold, the failed launch of this site that millions awaited for years is a painful reminder of how a poorly planned development and IT deployment effort can doom a key strategic initiative. While such IT failures happen all too frequently, this one could go in the annals of all time flops.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/22/2013 at 2:54 PM2 comments


Violin Gives Microsoft's Windows Server 2012 R2 More Flash

One of the many notable improvements IT pros will find in Windows Server 2012 R2 is its improved support for flash-based solid state drives (SSDs). The new server OS, released last week, now offers automated storage tiering, which improves performance when using flash-based SSDs in servers and storage arrays.

Windows Server 2012 R2 analyzes requests for disk IO in real time and allocates the most frequently accessed blocks of data to the significantly faster SSDs, while moving blocks of data not recently accessed to traditional mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs). That approach should appeal to the growing number of shops that have added flash to their servers and storage arrays.

But for those looking to run massive scale-out type datacenters and clouds, Violin Memory last week said it has worked with Microsoft to optimize the performance of its flash arrays running with the new Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. Violin Memory said the two companies started working together 18 months ago to develop arrays that can extend the performance and provide lower latency when the new server OS is used with applications, including SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange, by taking advantage of the improvements to Hyper-V and Server Message Block (SMB) file services in the new Windows Server 2012 R2.

The new arrays, which will ship in January for a yet-to-be-disclosed price, can perform at more than one million I/Os per second (IOPS) and scale from 8 TB to 64 TB of memory, with sub-second failover and I/O latency measured in milliseconds.

Microsoft optimized the kernel of Windows Server 2012 R2 to run at these memory speeds in collaboration with Violin over the last 18 months, said Narayan Venkat, the company's VP of products. "As a result, the solution offers SMB 3.0 direct support enabling a Windows-to-Windows communication environment for management integration with System Center and other management simplification on top of the world class file access performance for both SMB and NFS," Venkat said.

Violin is far from the only company targeting flash-based SSDs for the datacenter. Among them are Fusion-io, Intel (which in June upgraded its enterprise flash SSD offerings), LSI, SanDisk's FlashSoft and Stec (acquired in September by Western Digital) as well as key storage and systems vendors Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM (which earlier this year said it will invest $1 billion investment in enterprise flash storage) and Cisco, which last month said it was acquiring Whiptail for $415 million.

A number of startups are offering enterprise flash storage including Kaminario, Nimbus Data Systems, SolidFire and Pure Storage, which in late August said it raised $150 million, valuing the company at $1 billion and putting it on track for a possible initial public offering. Meanwhile Violin's closely watched IPO a few weeks ago has gotten off to a rough start. The company offered its shares at $9 raising $147 million, though as of Friday closed at $7.25.

Do you see yourself taking advantage of Windows Server 2012 R2's flash storage support?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/21/2013 at 1:02 PM0 comments


Upgrading to Windows 8.1 Will Require Some Patience

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 arrived yesterday, and as soon as I got to my desk I embarked on the task of upgrading my PC, which was running the preview release.

The experience was more challenging than I expected. In fact, it killed a good part of my morning and was fraught with frustration.

Though Microsoft said yesterday that you can upgrade by simply going to the Windows Store, when I did so, the Windows 8.1 upgrade was nowhere to be found. The first thing I did was to make sure the Windows 8.1 preview on my system was up-to-date. Indeed, I was due for an update and that process took about an hour.

After extensive searching, I finally found a link to perform the upgrade. However, after launching the upgrade, nothing appeared to happen. It wasn't until about an hour later that my screen indicated that my PC was indeed going through the upgrade process, but I waited an additional hour for it to complete.

Microsoft warned users of the preview that certain apps would be gone, so I prepared for the worst. Indeed, quite a few apps were gone, including -- not surprisingly -- Google Chrome. But also gone was Microsoft Office. Those with Office 2013 will need to go to the Office site and re-install it. Make sure you have your license key. The good news is that all your data should be intact.

My mail settings remained intact -- both my connection to my company's Exchange server and my Yahoo Mail account. My colleague, Redmond Channel Partner Editor in Chief Scott Bekker, had a similar experience with his Exchange connection, though alas, he had to reconfigure his Gmail account.

Upgrades are never fun but this seemed more difficult than it had to be. If you are among those who have yet to perform the Windows 8.1 upgrade, consider yourself warned.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/18/2013 at 12:14 PM0 comments


Salesforce.com Challenges Active Directory with Single Sign-On Service

Salesforce.com's storied strategy of displacing premise-based apps with Software as a Service (SaaS) went deeper this week with the company's release of Salesforce Identity. The single sign on service aims to displace traditional software like Active Directory as the central repository for user authentication.

The company's new Salesforce Identity service extends beyond traditional enterprise directories like Active Directory by connecting employees, customers and business partners to any application, device or service, said Chuck Mortimore, Salesforce.com's vice president of product management, identity and security. In addition, ISVs and customers can white-label that single sign-on service into their applications.

Salesforce Identity is not the first SaaS single sign-on offering. A number of third parties, including Centrify, Okta, Ping Identity, SailPoint, Symplified and quite a handful of other players, now offer single sign-on services. I noted late last year that identity management as a service would be a key area of expansion in 2013.

Indeed, Microsoft this year brought Active Directory to the cloud with Windows Azure Active Directory, which Microsoft said at June's TechEd has processed 265 billion authentication requests from around the world. In addition, Brad Anderson, corporate VP of the Microsoft Windows Server and System Center group services, said that Windows Azure Active Directory processed more than 1 million authentication requests in a period of two minutes, or 9,000 per second.

Salesforce Identity supports all the key authentication standards, including OAuth, System for Cross-domain Identity Management (SCIM), Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and OpenID Connect, which allows IT to synchronize directories ranging from Facebook, PayPal, Amazon and Google to Active Directory.

"You can leverage your existing Active Directory, automatically synchronize users between the two, drive authorization out of existing Active Directory Groups and have those drive profiles and permissions and authorizations to any application brokered to the Salesforce Identity platform," Mortimore explained.

Mortimore avoided saying whether Salesforce is gunning to displace traditional authentication systems such as Active Directory, but reading between the lines, that appears to be the goal.

"The identity marketplace is going through a transition," he said. "The old mechanisms of dealing with identity are not really working for the new use cases in front of customers. You see all sorts of different organizations and identity management organizations trying to deal with this reality. Your LDAP directory isn't necessarily going to be the path forward for all of these applications that are no longer inside your firewall."

In addition to applications, Mortimore explained traditional directories were designed to manage identities of employees, while now IT must address identity management of customers and partners and attributes on devices not owned by the enterprise.

"I see solutions like Salesforce Identity initially interacting with existing on-premises directories, but providing a new cloud-based native identity store option for 'long-tail' external identities such as employees of small partners," said Forrester analyst Eve Maler.

Salesforce's move into the identity management space has been long anticipated. The company announced plans for Salesforce Identity at its annual Dreamforce conference last year. Salesforce has also played a key role in several of the standards committees. Gartner analyst Ian Glazer said IT is demanding identity and access management services interwoven with their SaaS-based applications. Salesforce has added identity management services across its entire platform, including Force.com, he noted.

"This announcement represents a fundamental change in the IAM [identity and access management] market in which non-traditional identity companies such as Salesforce are aggressively entering the market with hopes of major disruption," Glazer said. Yet despite that goal, Glazer doesn't see organizations displacing Active Directory with Salesforce Identity.

"I definitely see organizations using Salesforce Identity (or its competitors), but not with the express goal of replacing AD [Active Directory]," Glazer said. "As enterprise computing moves more toward mobile and cloud computing, the value of AD is diminished. As an enterprise directory, AD will remain [in] usage and meaningful, but the locus of control will shift away from AD and it will likely not be the default source of authentication and authorization services in a post-PC world."

KuppingerCole analyst Mike Small noted in a blog post Tuesday that Salesforce.com has long offered an identity service in its traditional CRM and related offerings. Small pointed out that Salesforce Identity includes an extensible cloud directory and the optional Salesforce Identity Connect module, built on ForgeRock's Open Identity Stack, which bridges between existing on-premise directories and Salesforce Identity. Another appealing capability, Small noted, is that Salesforce Identity's monitoring and reporting capabilities let organizations create user activity and compliance reports.

"Through this platform -- Salesforce.com [is] seeking to change the way in which identities are managed by organizations," Small noted. "To alter the perspective away from one focused on internal IT systems and users to an outward-looking one focused on customers and partners whilst retaining internal control: integrating enterprise identity with CRM."

How will the release of Salesforce Identity change the way you manage access to your applications?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/18/2013 at 1:57 PM0 comments


VMware Extends Hyper-V Support to VM and Host Management

While VMware might want to diminish Microsoft's role in the enterprise, the company understands that if it wants to play an even greater role in managing virtual and cloud infrastructures, it needs to acknowledge Hyper-V as a force to be reckoned with.

In a sign it has embraced that reality, VMware has extended its support for Hyper-V.

At this week's VMworld 2013 Europe conference in Barcelona, VMware announced several new products, but notably VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite 5.8, which provides improved performance monitoring of Hyper-V, as well as SQL Server and Exchange.

The vCenter Operations Management Suite was able to monitor and manage Hyper-V workloads as a guest OS by placing its Hyperic agent in the box. But now, through Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) or VMware's Hyperic management packs for vCenter Operations Manager, it can manage Hyper-V hosts and virtual machines. It also adds support for Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

The new version collects data on the CPU, network, memory and other components, and feeds that into its analytics engine to separate normal performance behavior from unhealthy activity and then provides alerts.

Expanding support for Hyper-V is a smart move that will be welcomed by VMware and Microsoft customers alike, says Pund-IT principal analyst Charles King. "By expanding its support for and visibility into Hyper-V and public cloud services like AWS, VMware is highlighting its continuing technical leadership," King said. "Since these new features are also coming with no additional premium, adding them also enhances the value proposition of VMware's solutions and services."

In tandem with the vCenter Operations Management Suite upgrade, VMware also updated its recently launched vCenter Log Insight analytics tool. The new Log Insight 1.5 release provides real-time analytics to provide searchable information and dashboards. Released in June, the Log Insight upgrade supports "content packs" for specific systems such as Exchange Server and SQL Server, as well as products from Hytrust, EMC, NetFlow and VMware's own Nicira software-defined networking platform, said Mark Leake, director of product marketing in VMware's cloud management business unit.

"These new out-of-the-box capabilities enhance the discovery and topology," Leake said. "So you get deeper discovery of app instances and components and you can apply the analytics that we have in vCenter Operations Manager to them."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/16/2013 at 1:13 PM0 comments


Are Dark Clouds Forming Over SharePoint?

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Nearly a year since Microsoft disclosed that SharePoint is a $2 billion business, the collaboration platform has become the latest punching bag in the IT community.

SharePoint took its latest hits yesterday at the annual Gartner Inc. ITxpo in Orlando Florida where research vice president Jeffrey Mann led a session called "Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint," as reported by Kurt Mackie yesterday. The answer is no but Mann pointed out the dissatisfaction with Microsoft's latest release of SharePoint 2013 and the SharePoint Online service offered with Office 365.

"Many organizations using SharePoint cannot go to the cloud because they have regulatory restrictions or complex, customized implementations that prevent adopting SharePoint Online," Mann said in a prepared Q&A. "Some third-party add-ons they depend on are not available for the cloud version. Others do not trust the cloud or see no reason to change, so they won't make the move."

The second big issue, according to Mann, is IT's frustration with SharePoint. "We regularly hear end users and administrators complain about features or user-experience improvements that they would like to see in SharePoint," Mann noted. "Although they want new functionality, they are less keen to have more upgrades, which are seen as expensive, disruptive and time-consuming. It is difficult to see how users can expect to get changes without implementing new versions. If upgrades were easier, they might be less reticent to install new versions. This is a move Microsoft is trying to address with the app model introduced in SharePoint 2013."

Gartner isn't the only one sounding the alarm on SharePoint. A report released last month by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found that only 6 percent feel they have achieved success with their SharePoint implementations, while 26 percent say they have struggled to meet expectations and 28 percent report that while it's doing the job, progress has stalled to some extent. Seven percent said their SharePoint implementations were not successful. The findings are based on a survey AIIM conducted in July, consisting of a sample of 620 respondents who are among the trade association's 80,000 members.

As Evidence that there's still trepidation about the cloud, the AIIM survey also found that only 9 percent of small organizations plan to move all of their SharePoint content to Office 365, while 2 percent of mid-sized  shops and 3 pecent of large shops plan to do so. Customers, analysts, consultants, integrators and key vendors including Microsoft agree enterprises will widely deploy hybrid cloud models. The AIIM report found that only 20 percent are looking at hybrid clouds, though half will use third-party cloud providers, not Microsoft's Office 365. It bears noting that the AIIM study wasn't aimed exclusively at SharePoint and/or Microsoft shops but at its audience of IT managers and decision makers.

The survey also found that 62 percent are using at least one cloud-based product but only 8 percent said it was SharePoint and 7 percent are using Office 365 as a complete software-as-a-service application. Twenty percent said they're using Exchange Online and 39 percent are using the cloud version of Lync.

When I asked Microsoft for its take on the AIIM study, a spokeswoman noted SharePoint is a leader in Gartner's Magic Quadrant --  two out of three information workers in the enterprise have SharePoint and more than 700,000 developers are building applications for Office 365.  "Microsoft remains very committed to SharePoint for the long term, as the product plays a critical role in the future of collaboration and productivity and is a core pillar of the Office 365 suite," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. "Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest-growing commercial product ever. In fact, the Office 365 business is now on a $1.5 billion annual revenue run rate."

The statement also defended the security of Microsoft's cloud service. "Office 365 offers the most robust set of certifications and standards options of any major cloud based productivity service. In fact, each year, we undergo third-party audits by internationally recognized auditors to validate that we have independent attestation of compliance with our policies and procedures for security, privacy, continuity and data handling."

Another survey by SharePoint tools provider Metalogix Software Corp. earlier this year showed 55 percent intend to continue running SharePoint entirely in-house and only 10 percent plan to run it purely in the cloud. The remaining 35 percent are planning hybrid SharePoint implementations.

While naturally findings are going to vary depending on the audience that's surveyed, another alarming stat piqued my attention back in August: Overall salaries for SharePoint administrators -- though still six figures -- declined by 7 percent this year, according to Redmond magazine's Annual Salary Survey. That especially raised a red flag because our survey showed overall IT salaries increased 3 percent this year. It's not clear what has led to that decline, whether it's a glut of SharePoint experts or the fact that some SharePoint is now running in the cloud.

Yet many SharePoint consultants are seeing more movement to the cloud than these surveys suggest. "We're probably seeing 80 percent of our customers go towards a hybrid cloud in some way, maybe, for example by moving My Sites and some of their extranets to the cloud, and keeping their line of business applications on-premise for now," said SharePoint MVP Ben Curry, managing partner of Summit 7 Systems, a Huntsville, Ala., consultancy and systems integrator.

Curry knows all the pitfalls of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 and will be among numerous experts talking about the future of SharePoint design and architecture at the SharePoint Live! track of the Live 360 conference in Orlando next month. Like Redmond magazine, the conference is produced by 1105 Media Inc.

In an interview last week, Curry told me he'll discuss the deployment of business-critical applications using SharePoint and how to maximize the performance of server farms, as hybrid environments emerge. Curry was once a skeptic of using SharePoint in the cloud but he now believes in it. "That's where a lot stuff's going – online. I'd say the rare client is going all SharePoint 2013 on premise. It really is upgrading pieces of it to 2013 on premise and pieces of it to the cloud, which makes performance a little bit more challenging because you have to first decide what workflows are on premise to know what to architect for."

What's your take on the future of SharePoint? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/14/2013 at 11:04 AM2 comments


Did Nadella Just Audition for Microsoft's CEO Position?

When Microsoft invited us to Monday's press conference in San Francisco for a rare appearance by the head of the company's newly created cloud and enterprise group, we were informed he'd discuss how Redmond is planning for future growth in that business and how it will differentiate itself from its competitors.

Packed with the typical vagueness of a press invite, we certainly weren't going to pass on the opportunity to hear what Satya Nadella had to say. Would there be a major unexpected announcement of a new product or service to come, perhaps a blockbuster acquisition or would he merely describe what those who follow Microsoft already know?

As it turned out, Nadella effectively did the latter, formalizing the already disclosed release dates of products like Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, among other deliverables. But Nadella's media event was also an open Q&A not unlike a presidential press conference, sans the podium and the moderator on stage (and the cocktails that follow).

Though we at Redmond magazine watched the Webcast, our Silicon Valley contributor John K. Waters was on hand to provide color. While an even mix of tech journalists and business media were on hand, it appeared this event were staged for Nadella to make his case to skeptical business journalists who, like us, wonder if Microsoft can remain a force in the post-PC and cloud era.

Given his appearance on CNBC earlier that morning, it also appeared as though this event was staged not only to articulate Microsoft's blueprint for growing its key $20 billion enterprise business but to have him audition as a candidate to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO. Nadella is one of numerous candidates that pundits have floated as potential successors but typically only in passing. Many of them are those who work or have worked at Microsoft. On Monday, Nadella was hammered with questions about just about everything that may impact Microsoft's future, including how the re-org might be impacted by the next CEO and whether or not he considered himself a candidate for the job -- asked predictably by All Things D's Kara Swisher.

Nadella answered the question just like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responds when asked if he might run for president in 2016. "Our board's looking for a new CEO and that process is well on our way," Nadella responded. "Steve is very much the CEO today and I'm excited about my job. That's the sum total of what I have to say on that." Do you think he saw that question coming?

Despite the fact that he didn't drop any bombshells, he certainly had answers for a lot of questions which haven't come his way of late. Perhaps the most interesting was a reporter who asked, and I'm paraphrasing here, how Nadella can effectively run Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group when a key component of the company's enterprise portfolio, Windows Server and by default Hyper-V, which powers Windows Azure, is controlled by a different group, the operating systems organization headed by Terry Myerson.

"This 'One Microsoft' reorganization is just fantastic from us not having in fact any of these notions of who controls what," he said. "If you look at what I'm doing here, you're talking about everything that's happening across Office 365, Dynamics, CRM. What's happening inside our server products and Azure has not changed. The servers are very much part of my organization, but that's kind of immaterial, because some of the componentry like the hypervisor itself is in the core OS, but the entire server gets put together. And that I think you can say this 'One Microsoft' thing is more a reflection of how we were already working and more formalizes it. I celebrate this notion of being able to decouple what I think are our engineering efforts and what is our marketing and business model, because I think categories are going to rapidly shift. What is a developer product, what is an IT product, what is an end user product, all have to be rethought, we think about this as one unified engineering effort, and one unified go to market effort. Especially with consumerization, that becomes even more important."

It's interesting to hear that Windows Server is part of his organization, even if it's also part of the operating systems group. The implication is that there's more overlap and shared resources in these organizational lines than Microsoft has articulated.

The next test of his well-roundedness on the Microsoft portfolio came in the form of a question regarding the role of tablets with apps like CRM. Of course Nadella worked in the Dynamics group years ago so it wasn't foreign territory. "We're really thrilled about some of the client work around CRM and [how] some of our ERP applications are taking advantage of the new Windows 8 touch form factors to enable real work," he said.

 Nadella then tied that to his own line of business. "Any time you're innovating in the front end for different mobile form factors, you also want to have the back end as a service," he said. "So Azure Mobile Services, which I think is one of the fastest-growing services out there. When it comes to mobile, we've done a fantastic job of making the business applications or application development for these new touch and mobile form factors, with the back end that much more easier."

Not only did Nadella get a pitch in for the company's software-as-a-service (SaaS) story, he related that to the company's devices and services strategy, tying it to Windows 8 and the company's development environment.

Some interesting figures Nadella shared worth noting:

  • 70 percent of Windows Azure usage is Microsoft's six-month-old infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering
  • 2.5 million organizational tenants now reside in Windows Azure Active Directory, aided mostly by Office 365. Nadella said that's key for any ISV that can now do single sign-on using WAAD. Note: Despite the figure he gave, a Microsoft spokeswoman sent an updated figure that's actually now 3 million tenants).
  • While Microsoft claims its software runs on 75 percent of Intel-class hardware, Nadella says Microsoft's $20 billion in enterprise revenues makes it a small player in what he sees as a $2.2 trillion market. "What I tell my team is it's not about building software for enterprise IT, but the best way to think about it is to build software that we use in our own stuff [Bing, Office 365, Dynamics Online, Xbox Live, etc.], which is powering our own first-party services and by doing so we're going to meet the future demands of enterprises."

Who knows if Nadella will emerge as a leading candidate to succeed Ballmer. While he might not have the aura of an Eric Schmidt or a Paul Maritz, they didn't either before they were thrust into the limelight. Nevertheless, Nadella could become the same type of executive as those two, whether or not he becomes Microsoft's next CEO. What's your take on Nadella's audition?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/09/2013 at 12:16 PM3 comments


Are You Ready for Smartwatches?

While Dick Tracy's notion of a watch that enables two-way communications dates back to the 1960s, it's no longer science fiction. How quickly watches that extend the smartphone to your wrist catch on is anyone's guess but it seems like we're about to find out.

Samsung is kicking off an ambitious marketing plan for its new Galaxy Gear smartwatch (check out this commercial).  Reviews have largely panned the $299 device for a variety of reasons including the fact it currently has limited functionality. As David Pogue noted in his review in The New York Times last week, the watch will alert you that you have a message, but you have to look at your Galaxy Note smartphone to see that message. It doesn't even work with more widely used Galaxy phones such as the more popular Galaxy S4, though that will apparently be rectified later next month.

The watch does let users receive and make phone calls presuming your phone is nearby (using Bluetooth), controls music playback and take a small number of photos and videos. Oh and it still displays the time. The Galaxy Gear must be charged every night, it's not waterproof and it's big (but that's to be expected).

Samsung is surely not the first to introduce a smartwatch --  Kickstarter-based Pebble Technology, Sony and Motorola now offer smartwatches. But Samsung's huge install base of Galaxy phones and its decision to roll out an aggressive marketing campaign for Galaxy Gear will be a real test of demand for smartwatches. Market researcher Canalys, which forecasts 500,000 smartwatches will ship this year, recently forecast that number will grow nine-fold next year to 5 million.

Besides Samsung, a widely rumored iWatch from Apple next year could be a hit, according to a survey of 799 U.S. consumers by Piper Jaffray. The survey forecasts Apple could sell 5 to 10 million iPhones in the first year they're available. Still, only 12 percent of iPhone users said they'd be interested in purchasing an iWatch, according to the survey. In other words, an overwhelming 88 percent are not interested.

For its part, Microsoft is said to have moved its latest effort to release a smartwatch to the group that designs and markets the company's Surface devices. While The Verge recently reported Microsoft is working on smartwatch prototypes with modified versions of Windows 8, it remains to be seen whether the company's recent move to acquire Nokia's mobile handset business and the company's search for a new CEO will delay Microsoft's entry of a smartwatch.

Many scoff at the idea of having a smartwatch. But those same people never imagined they'd one day have a smartphone too. Are you warming up to the idea of glancing at your wrist to check your e-mail?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/07/2013 at 2:14 PM0 comments


Should Bill Gates Step Down as Microsoft's Chairman?

Three of Microsoft's top-20 investors this week said the unthinkable: The time has come for fo Bill Gates to step down as chairman. I say "unthinkable" tongue-in-cheek as many with various motives have undoubtedly thought Gates should go. But it appears this may be the first time investors made a concerted effort to advance the idea.

The three mysterious investors told Reuters they feel Gates holds too much power considering he continues to sell off shares, holding only 4.5 percent of the company's outstanding shares today -- a figure that will give him no stake by 2018 if he continues to sell them off at the pace he has indicated he will.

The investors, who were not identified, reportedly believe Gates' presence on the board interferes with the creation and adoption of new strategies and would hold back a new CEO's ability to make changes. They see Gates participation on the special committee to find Ballmer's successor as troublesome, according to the report.

Gates' departure as chairman may be inevitable in the coming years, and while anything could happen, it doesn't seem likely the board will strip the founder from having a say in who becomes Microsoft's next CEO. But he won't be able to rubber-stamp anyone if lead independent director John Thompson, sticks to his word to take a broader view.

"I have enormous respect for Bill," Thompson told The Wall Street Journal last week. "But I didn't accept the role on the board or the role as the lead independent director to be Bill's pawn." Thompson, the onetime CEO of Symantec and longtime IBM executive is said to have no problem standing up to Gates.

Do you think Gates should remain Microsoft's chairman and remain on the committee considering Ballmer's successor?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/04/2013 at 1:10 PM0 comments


Dell Refreshes Line of Tablets and PCs

Dell this week refreshed its entire line of tablets and notebook PCs with its new Venue brand of systems, including a wide variety of form factors, price points and sizes ranging from a 7-inch tablet running Google's Android OS to a powerful 15-inch Ultrabook running Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 8.1.

I attended the launch at a hotel in New York and addressed the elephant in the room, asking if there are any Windows RT devices in the pipeline. After taking its existing Windows RT tablet, the XPS 10, off the market last week, I already had an idea how Dell officials would respond. The answer is no.

"We are not planning to refresh our range of RT products, we've had them on the market for a year. Right now we're focused on the full Windows products," said Neil Hand, vice president of Dell's tools and performance PC group.

Later on I asked him what made the group come to that conclusion.

"I think the market data speaks for itself in terms of what the volume has been," Hand said. "We focused very hard on it. We fully supported it with a great product with the XPS 10. It was an award-winning product. Sometimes the best product doesn't always create customer demand. The application base wasn't quite there."

Dell showcased a slew of new tablets, notebooks and hybrids that will start shipping this month and next, coinciding with the launch of Windows 8.1 and the peak holiday season. Among the refreshed systems for Windows 8.1 are:

  • XPS 11: This Ultrabook starts at 2.5 pounds and converts from a tablet to a notebook with a 360-degree rotating hinge, a backlit touch keyboard with a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) display. It starts at $999.99.
  • XPS 13: With a similar form factor to the above-mentioned XPS 11, the XPS 13 is targeted at mobile professionals. This Ultrabook starts at 3 pounds, comes with a more-powerful fourth-generation Intel Core processors, Intel HD 4400 graphics and an improved battery. It has a 1920x1080 HD display and starts at $999.99.
  • XPS 15: Targeted at those who want full multimedia capabilities, this15.6-inch system is available with a Quad HD+ (3200 x 1800) display with Intel's fourth-generation i5 and i7 quad-core processors with optional NVIDIA graphics cards. It's available with 500 GB and 1 TB hard disk drives, a 512 GB solid state drives and Intel's Rapid Start Technology. Pricing starts at $1,499.

New Venue
Dell also unveiled its new Venue line of tablets, which include Windows 8.1-based units available in from factors ranging from 8 to 11 inches and Android devices in the 7 and 8 inch form factors.  The Windows 8.1-based Venue 8 Pro and Venue are powered by Intel's latest Atom quad-core processors, code-named "Bay Trail." It starts at $299. The $499 Venue 11 Pro is based on Intel's fourth-generation Core i3 and i5 processors and comes with the option to use Intel's vPro management software. Both are available with optional keyboards.

The Android-based Venue 7 and Venue 8 tablets are based on Intel's Atom "Clover Trail" Z2760 processors and cost $149.99 and $179.99, respectively.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/04/2013 at 1:07 PM0 comments


Feds Say Windows Azure Meets Key Security Standards

Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud service can now be used for systems that require high levels of security. The U.S. government certified Windows Azure as meeting the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board (JAB) Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO).

That means the Windows Azure meets the security requirements of federal agencies looking to use public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), said Susie Adams, chief technology officer for Microsoft Federal, in a blog post.

While many cloud providers already meet FedRAMP requirements, Microsoft claims Windows Azure is the first to meet the P-ATO requirements from the JAB. The FedRAMP JAB P-ATO includes representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

 "Securing a P-ATO from the JAB ensures that when government agencies have a need for an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS), they know that Windows Azure has successfully met the necessary security assessments," Adams said in her post. "This not only opens the door for faster cloud adoption, but helps agencies move to the cloud in a more streamlined, cost-effective way. Additionally, since Microsoft datacenters were also evaluated as part of the JAB review process, other Microsoft cloud services are ultimately better aligned to meet these security controls as well."

Certainly customers -- either government agencies or others that require the highest level of security -- will welcome this latest milestone. But it remains to be seen whether Microsoft's latest cloud security milestone will be enough to overcome concerns over the government's surveillance efforts under such programs as PRISM , as noted in our cover story this month. What's your take on Windows Azure achieving FedRAMP compliance?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/02/2013 at 3:52 PM0 comments


Microsoft Readies Office Store for Subscriptions

Microsoft has taken a key step toward letting SharePoint and Office customers purchase apps on a usage-based subscription from the Office Store. The company is letting ISVs submit subscription apps in its Seller Dashboard starting today. By next month, customers will be able to purchase apps on a subscription basis.

Since its launch last year, Office Store customers could only purchase software with traditional perpetual-use licenses. By offering subscription-based apps in the Office Store, Microsoft officials believe it will increase the appeal of its Office 365 service and for using SharePoint in the cloud. Two-thirds of the applications in the Office Store are SharePoint apps, given participation from ISVs and developers, said Dene Cleaver, Microsoft's senior product marketing manager for Office.

"We hope the ISVs and developers can drive innovation and update their apps and I think it allows them to price accordingly, so they can continue to drive value," Cleaver said.

Apps developed for the Office Store can work with Office 365, SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013. However these apps will not work in earlier versions of SharePoint including SharePoint 2010. "The app model [on-premise] is tied to SharePoint 2013," Cleaver said.

One early supporter of the new model is Adlib, which provides an app called PDF Publisher, software that takes multiple documents from any format and publishes them it into a single PDF document. It can also encapsulate them into an internal report. PDF Publisher began as an application that runs on a premises-based server. Adlib President and CEO Peter Duff said the company's cloud-based version offers many of the key features provided in the server implementation.

"We're based in the Windows Azure cloud, and we can integrate that directly into Office 365 as well as on premise," Duff explained. He added that he believes there's pent-up demand to purchase apps for SharePoint on a subscription basis. "People can utilize our technology on a subscription basis without having to implement significant costs associated with on premise hardware and software and operating systems and things like that," he said.

A rich portfolio of apps in the Office Store will be a critical factor in swaying organizations to move to Office 365 and SharePoint Online, experts say, noting many developers are eager to offer them on a subscription basis. "Today it's just pockets of legacy apps that have moved to the app store," said Ben Curry, managing partner and a principal architect at Summit 7 Systems, a Huntsville, Ala. Microsoft partner, consultancy and solutions provider.

Many of his clients have turned to Nintex, a SharePoint workflow provider that is frequently mentioned as one of the first key ISVs to embrace the Office Store with the trial version of its Nintex Workflow Online app. "Clients who love Nintex on premise are now loading the app version. It's an easier model to keep updated."

While Microsoft says there have been 1 million downloads from the store, few are using it in a big way. "I think that will change," Curry said. "As the app store grows, demand will grow."

 

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/01/2013 at 12:03 PM0 comments


Top Brands: Microsoft Stays at 5, Apple Ousts Coke for Top Spot

Despite turmoil in Redmond this year, Microsoft held on as the fifth most popular brand in Interbrand's Best Global Brands, released today. Microsoft's key rivals Apple and Google jumped in rank taking the number 1 and 2 spots respectively.

By becoming the leading brand, Apple ousted Coca Cola, which had topped the charts every year since Interbrand launched the survey 14 years ago. While the ascent of both Apple and Google is hardly surprising, Microsoft's ability to hold on to its spot as number 5 is a feat, considering a weak reception for Windows 8 and its Surface tablets, both released last year.

But Nokia, whose key assets Microsoft is acquiring for $7.2 billion, didn't fare as well. Nokia dropped from 17 last year to 57 -- an overall decline in brand value of 65 percent. After the deal closes of course, Nokia will continue to exist as a company that will retain patents and its telecommunications infrastructure business.

The good news for Microsoft is that its brand equity remains strong in spite of many who question the company's relevance in the post-PC era. IBM's slipped a point, while Apple and Google hold the top brands. Also on the rise, and a considerable threat to Microsoft is Amazon.com, which has a thriving cloud business and remains an aggressive contender in the tablet business.

In case you're wondering, Ford's brand equity increased 15 percent, moving from 45 to 42 percent. That's relevant only if Microsoft ultimately selects Ford CEO Alan Mulally to replace Steve Ballmer. As reported last week, Mulally is said to be a top contender for the job.

Brands are a critical factor to any company's success. Redmond magazine's reader survey this summer showed the jury is still out on Microsoft, though over 90 percent said they plan to spend the same or more with Microsoft in the coming year.

Microsoft will need all the brand equity it can get as it tries to convince customers to give its next generation of Windows software and devices, as well as cloud services, a chance.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/30/2013 at 3:10 PM0 comments


Enterprise Social Network Firm Axceler Is Now ViewDo Labs

In wake of Metalogix acquisition of Axceler's SharePoint business, the remainder of the company is charting a new path and identity. The company, now called ViewDo Labs, will emphasize enterprise social networking, not just for SharePoint but for all collaborative environments.

Part of the deal when Metalogix acquired Axceler's SharePoint business last month was that Metalogix would retain the Axceler brand, hence the new name and focus. ViewDo Labs describes itself as a provider of enterprise social network (ESN) analytics and governance tools. Michael Alden, Axceler's former president and CEO, will hold the same title with ViewDo.

"Our team's goal is to help organizations increase adoption of ESNs by offering visibility into what employees are collaborating on and what platforms are most successful," Alden said in a statement.

ViewDo will release a cross-platform enterprise social network analytics service called ViewPoint Enterprise, which offers a common view via a dashboard of activity in a variety of enterprise social network environments including SharePoint, Yammer and Salesforce.com's Chatter. The company plans to support other enterprise social networking platforms in the future.

ViewPoint is designed to help increase usage of these networks, while reducing overall risk, such as confidential data getting into the wrong hands. The company says VIewPoint will track who is collaborating, what's driving adoption and help determine business metrics from that collaboration.

According to a survey fielded by ViewDo, 46 percent of enterprises don't measure overall productivity and large enterprises are having the most difficult time getting users to adopt social collaboration tools in the workplace.

A trial version of the software is available for download now and is slated for general availability next month.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/29/2013 at 4:32 PM0 comments


Surface 2's 'Workplace Join' Adds MDM and Security Features

Microsoft's first stab at tablets with the Surface RT and Surface Pro have made little inroads in enterprises, which is hardly a surprise given this summer's $900 million write-down of the devices. The company is hoping it can do better with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, launched Monday and due to ship next month.

One of the biggest non-starters for IT managers with the Surface RT and the Windows RT operating system that runs the tablets is IT can't join them to Active Directory domains. While the forthcoming Surface 2s don't do so either, Windows RT 8.1's new "workplace join" feature could make the new tablets more palatable to some IT pros.

As reported in June by Kurt Mackie, the use of a "workplace join" feature adds a security safeguard that ensures that only registered devices can connect to a company's data. Microsoft didn't mention that during Monday's launch event in New York, though I sat down with Surface director Cyril Belikoff right after the formal presentation, who emphasized the workplace join.

"Workplace joins are the access components of a directory service that allows a user to use their ID and password to access their corporate network documents and shares in a secure way," Belikoff said. "It's not a fully domained device but you get the administration of mobile device management and get the access component."

Within the server, IT can assign access rights to document shares and files on the network and can be managed with MDM tools from MobileIron, AirWatch and Microsoft's own Windows Intune device management service.

But he acknowledged that might not suit those organizations that mandate all devices must be jointed to an Active Directory domain. "Surface pro has all the security and management functions those IT organizations need," he said.

Is the Surface 2 and Windows 8.1 RT more appealing to you with the workplace join?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/27/2013 at 12:50 PM2 comments


Is Ford CEO Alan Mulally the Prime Candidate To Replace Ballmer?

Ford CEO Alan Mulally is reportedly Microsoft's lead candidate to replace Steve Ballmer, who is set to retire within the next year.

Once viewed as a longshot, All Things D's Kara Swisher reported yesterday that Mulally has risen as the top contender to replace Ballmer, though it's not clear if he would take the job if offered. Mulally's work turning around Ford is not done and he promised the automaker he would stay on board through the end of 2014.

Swisher, who noted that Mulally is one of the few CEOs who has candidly responded to her e-mails -- and on-the-record -- said he has gone dark after sources told her he's a front-runner. Bloomberg TV suggested maybe the leak was aimed at putting pressure on Mulally to consider breaking his promise to Ford.

It's not surprising that Gates and Ballmer might want to see Mulally take the job. Ballmer himself has deep ties to Ford. His father Frederic was a manager there and Mulally reportedly advised Ballmer in advance of the company's latest restructuring. The new One Microsoft even shares a similar name to One Ford, the automaker's own mission statement to reinvent itself. Indeed Mulally won huge plaudits for saving the company without accepting a government bailout, as General Motors and Chrysler did back in 2009.

Until yesterday's report, many pundits were betting former Nokia CEO and former Microsoft president Stephen Elop was among the top contenders to take over the top spot at Microsoft. Swisher's report said he remains a top candidate, along with Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011. Microsoft also reportedly has contacted another former key Microsoft exec Paul Maritz, the recent CEO of VMware, who is now running that company's spinoff Pivotal.

Ford COO Mark Fields today told reporters at a fundraising event in Detroit, that Mulally remains "focused" on the automaker's long-term turnaround.

Would you like to see Mulally take the reins of Microsoft or do you prefer the Board choose an insider or one who once held a leadership position to take the top slot?

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/27/2013 at 12:49 PM3 comments


SharePoint Experts Say Cloud Collaboration Is Inevitable

While the recent NSA leaks have caused IT decision makers and individuals alike to reconsider their use of cloud services to store and selectively share their files, several SharePoint experts today said they believe online collaboration is inevitable. Nevertheless most mid- and large-size organizations that are using cloud-based implementations of SharePoint -- or considering doing so -- will continue to employ a hybrid strategy.

That was the consensus of a number of participants, including myself, in a Tweetjam organized by Metalogix SharePoint evangelist Christian Buckley this morning. "Companies will use more and more hybrid scenarios to find their way into cloud offerings," said Michael Greth, a SharePoint MVP, specialist and community leader.

Antonio Maio, a product manager at TITUS and SharePoint MVP agreed. "Hybrid will be around much longer than previously anticipated," he said. "Reality of difficult change."

That change has become more difficult following this summer's NSA leaks. For example, 46.3 percent of 300 Redmond magazine readers responding to an online survey said they were concerned about potential government surveillance and 13 percent said they're pulling back on such initiatives. But the economics of cloud computing are going to ultimately dictate more usage not less over time, many predict.

"You will be left behind if you aren't in the cloud and left to watch the people use the nice new features," tweeted Ben Henderson, client services manager at Colligo. Nevertheless  it will remain a hybrid world for the foreseeable future, Buckley predicted. "Data storage/ownership issues will get resolved," he said.

So what do organizations need to do to prepare to move to the cloud? Buckley tweeted, "1) priorities of each workload, 2) governance strategy between cloud and on prem systems, 3) THEN focus on new functionality."

You can view the entire discussion and feel free to weigh in here.  

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/25/2013 at 12:40 PM2 comments


Dell Apparently Last To Abandon Windows RT

It looks like Microsoft is going it alone with tablets running its Windows RT operating system -- the version of Windows 8 that runs only applications that support its Modern UI accessed from the Windows Store.

As reported by The Verge this morning, Dell's XPS 10 tablet, which sported an optional keyboard, is  listed as unavailable in Dell's online store.  As an alternative, Dell recommends the $499 Latitude 10, powered by an Intel Atom processor with the full version of Windows 8. As noted last month, the few PC suppliers offering Windows RT tablets were cutting bait including Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung. I noted at the time that Dell appeared to be the last one standing with the XPS 10, though it could only be found online.

Though Dell is scheduled to announce new tablets Oct. 2, analysts told PCWorld that one running Windows RT 8.1 appears unlikely, leaving Microsoft as the last man standing. That's my bet as well, though it remains to be seen whether OEMs will give Windows RT another chance.

For now, the future of Windows RT is now in Microsoft's hands when it releases its second-generation Surface 2, announced on Monday and scheduled for release next month. The question is will business users give this revamped model a shot or is Microsoft's future in tablets for now aligned with the full-blown Windows 8.1? What's your take? Comment below or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/25/2013 at 12:41 PM0 comments


Will NSA Surveillance and Security Threats Inhibit Your Cloud Collaboration Plans?

When Edwin Snowden revealed the National Security Agency's covert surveillance of communications with the cooperation of the largest service providers, it validated what many cynics and security experts presumed as fact. But the leaks outlining blatant surveillance by companies including Verizon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, among others caught the large universe of IT decision makers off guard.

As my colleague Chris Paoli and I have noted since the June leaks, many organizations were alarmed to read reports that the NSA could access data stored in the public cloud even though the U.S. government has insisted it was only doing so to track suspected terrorist activities overseas. The revelations also came as a growing number of organizations were starting to use Microsoft's Office 365 and SharePoint Online.

In wake of the reports, many organizations have pulled their cloud deployments back in house. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said cloud providers in North America alone stand to lose between $21.5 billion to $35 billion in revenues by 2016 after it came out the NSA was invoking the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act for programs such as PRISM to obtain and mine data to investigate suspected threats.

I don't believe the damage will be that severe, though. A survey of Redmond magazine's readership last month revealed many shops are cloud migration plans on hold, while many are retreating from those under way.  According to our online survey of 300 readers, 35 percent are putting planned projects on hold in wake of the NSA leaks while 13 percent brought cloud projects back in house.

That and other findings from the survey are the basis of our October cover story, which we'll be publishing next week.

But given the large universe of SharePoint administrators, developers and users who make up the readership of Redmond magazine, many decision makers are having new reservations over whether to run SharePoint and other collaboration and enterprise social media tools in the cloud. So when Christian Buckley, the SharePoint MVP evangelist at Metalogix, invited me to participate in a Tweetjam on Security and Cloud Collaboration, I was happy to participate. It takes place Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT.  If you can't make it, you can review the comments at your leisure.

Participating on the Tweetjam are a number of SharePoint MVPs including Antonio Maio, (@antonionmaio2), product manager at TITUS and SharePoint MVP, Eric Riz, (@rizinsights), executive vice president at Concatenate and SharePoint MVP, Tom Resing, (@resing), systems engineer at Jive and SharePoint MCM and MVP, Michael Greth (@mysharepoint), SharePoint specialist and community leader, SharePoint MVP. Buckley, who has organized the Tweetjam, outlined in a blog post the questions it will cover:

  • Are most organization ready to move to the cloud?
  • Did the NSA data breach in the US by Snowden affect your near or long-term plans for the cloud?
  • What are the key risks with moving to the cloud, and what can companies do to mitigate them?
  • Which workloads are most effective in the cloud?
  • How can Microsoft make their cloud options more viable?
  • What 3 things should companies prepare for in their move toward the cloud?
  • What are your cloud predictions for the next 2 to 3 years? 

If these are questions on your mind and you're free, join in the discussion and share your views. Just click here to participate. You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/24/2013 at 3:42 PM0 comments


Will Displaced Nirvanix Customers Seek Refuge with Microsoft?

When Nirvanix last week abruptly informed customers they have weeks to find a new cloud storage provider because it was shutting down its operations, it left more than 1,000 enterprises scrambling to save their data.  Many are likely to turn to Amazon Web Services, which has the most mature and advanced cloud infrastructure, but Microsoft will also likely become a beneficiary of Nirvanix's demise.

Initially Nirvanix told customers last Monday they had two weeks to find a new home for their data but the company later in the week extended the deadline to Oct. 15. Still for those with terabytes or even petabytes of data stored in Nirvanix datacenters, moving all of that data in less than a month is a tall order. Further adding to the difficulty is the fact that Nirvanix doesn't have the most robust network infrastructure, which is being heavily taxed with the fact that all of its customers are trying to pull all of that data at once, explained Andres Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Nasuni, which provides its own storage service that once used Nirvanix as its back-end target.

Rodriguez last week told me he saw this coming long ago and tried warning some of his customers whom he knew were using Nirvanix for some of their cloud storage that he believed Nirvanix was at risk of going out of business.  Now every NIrvanix customer is trying to get their data out. "What's happening now with Nirvanix is the equivalent of bank rush," Rodriguez said. "Everyone is trying to get their data out in a hurry and you know what that does to a network, and it's going to be very hard to get their data out."

When Nasuni used Nirvanix as its cloud storage provider two years ago, Rodriguez became increasingly concerned that it couldn't scale. Nasuni now uses Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service (S3) for primary storage. Nasuni runs annual tests against what Rodriguez believes are the largest cloud providers. The most recent test results released earlier this year concluded that Amazon S3 and Windows Azure were the only two viable enterprise-grade storage services.

Nasuni just added a mirroring option that lets customers replicate their data stored in Amazon S3 to Windows Azure for added contingency. While Rodriguez believes Amazon S3 and Windows Azure are the most scalable and resilient, he warns it could be years before the majority of customers feel comfortable using the latter as their primary target.

The Nirvanix demise validates warnings that it's easier to upload to the cloud than to recover large quantities of data and the need to have contingency and migration plans in place, said Forrester Research analyst Henry Baltazar.  "The recent example with Nirvanix highlights why customers should also consider exit and migration strategies as they formulate their cloud storage deployments," Baltazar said in a blog post last week. Now they have a difficult task in gathering their data, he noted.

"One of the most significant challenges in cloud storage is related to how difficult it is to move large amounts of data from a cloud. While bandwidth has increased significantly over the years, even over large network links it could take days or even weeks to retrieve terabytes or petabytes of data from a cloud. For example, on a 1 Gbps link, it would take close to 13 days to retrieve 150 TB of data from a cloud storage service over a WAN link."

Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf also emphasized in a blog post that failure to have an exit strategy when using a cloud service, especially for storage, can be a recipe for disaster. As for this week's Nirvanix news, Hilgendorf said: "What are clients do to?  For most -- react...and react in panic. You may be facing the worst company fear -- losing actual data."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/23/2013 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Apple's iOS 7 Includes Improved Enterprise Management Capabilities

Untitled Document

In addition to the 9 million who stood in line to get their new iPhones over the weekend, millions of existing iPhone and iPad users were able to download the new iOS 7, released late last week. For those who are holding off, enterprise IT managers have good reason to encourage (perhaps even insist) users to upgrade their iOS devices to the latest operating systems.

Here's a list of some of the new capabilities in iOS 7 that Apple highlighted, which promise to improve security and management of corporate data accessed on user-owned devices:

Protect Corporate Data
IT can now manage which applications and accounts are used to open document and attachments. IT can prevent users from opening personal documents from managed apps, while allowing administrators to configure a list of apps available in the sharing panel.

Per App VPN
Administrators can determine which apps can connect to the VPN, ensuring data transmitted by managed applications only goes through the VPN, while ensuring personal activities do not go travel through it.

App Store License Management
Business can now purchase apps on behalf of users while maintaining ownership of the apps and retaining control of the licenses. Enterprises can now purchase licenses though the Volume Purchase Program (VPP) site and use their mobile device management (MDM) platform to assign apps to users. It lets employees enroll with their personal Apple IDs without providing it to the enterprise. IT can also revoke apps and reassign their use to others. The VPP also now supports purchase of Mac apps.

MDM Enhancements
IT can now set up managed apps wirelessly, install custom fonts and configure accessibility options. IT can configure company owned devices in line with corporate settings and policies. It also supports highly managed deployments.

Enterprise Single Sign-On        
Now users can sign on and authenticate across apps including those from the App Store. All apps configured with SSO verify user permissions to access enterprise resources, logging users in without having to re-enter passwords.

Improved Exchange Integration
Exchange 2010 users can synchronize their notes with Outlook, while they can now view PDF annotations. Search is also improved.

Have you tested any of the new enterprise management features added to IOS7? Share your observations below or drop me a line at jschwartz@11105 media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/23/2013 at 2:43 PM0 comments


4 Ways Microsoft Plans To Grow

Microsoft's departing CEO acknowledged his biggest regret was failing to lead Microsoft into the smartphone and tablet worlds before Apple and Google, which he blamed on Microsoft's botched development of Windows Vista a decade ago.

"I regret that there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows, that we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device form factor called the phone," Ballmer said at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting yesterday. "The time we missed was about the time we were working away on what became Vista, and I wish we'd probably had our resources slightly differently deployed, let me say, during the early 2000s.  It would have been better for Windows and probably better for our success in other form factors."

It will be up to Microsoft's next CEO to take the company forward but Ballmer made clear it will be along the strategy he rolled out in July.

"My greatest desire will be to see the company be so much more successful four or five years from now than it is today," Ballmer said. "That will be grounded in three things:  Number one, we've picked a great new CEO.  Number two, we made fundamental bets before that new CEO came out.  The strategies that we put in place, the approach that I've put in place that the board has endorsed -- those things are important.  The new CEO is important.  And the leadership team and the talent pool that is here is very important."

Ballmer also emphasized Microsoft's financial strength. "The ability to invest, to get into new areas, to think about the next big thing, none of you should take that casually as an investor, "he said. Much of what Microsoft outlined at the financial analysts meeting we've heard before but here are four points Ballmer and the executive team emphasized at the meeting:

One Microsoft Will Empower Devices and Services
Microsoft believes the employee is critical to creating demand for its enterprise IT infrastructure and cloud services. "We do believe that consumers drive a lot of what's coming into the enterprise," Ballmer said. "When I was in Office, Excel was brought into the enterprise because consumers liked Excel and brought it in over Lotus [1-2-3].  We've seen the same thing with the iPad.  Consumers have the iPad and bring it into the business. So we think these end points of these desirable, high-quality devices, combined with the power of our high-value scenarios and services is what's going to propel us forward into reaching customers the way we'd like to."

By bringing together the operating systems groups two months ago, the company is moving forward with tying them together. "We really should have one silicon interface for all of our devices," said Terry Myerson, executive VP for Microsoft's recently formed operating systems group, tasked with unifying Windows.  "We should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices.  And all of the apps we bring to end users should be available on all of our devices." Myerson said the focus on devices will be to ensure they are even more integrated with cloud services. Whether we're branding them Windows or Xbox, we really need one core service which is enabling all of our devices," Myerson said. "We have a very clear vision of what we want to get done, and we're moving very fast."

More Apps Coming
Despite the fact that the Microsoft Store lags that of the Apple iTunes App Store and Google Play in terms of the number of apps available, Myerson believes the company will catch up. "We really are working our angles on this locally, globally," he said. "We're looking at all of it.  We're looking at domains for ISVs.  We're looking at consumer apps.  We're looking at enterprise apps.  We're looking at how the virtuous cycle works on other platforms, how it should work on our platform.  And it really is a top priority for me and my team, and we're working it."

Satya Nadella, executive VP for Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group added: "We're really building out our tooling across all of our assets and enabling these developers to exploit our broadest platform, and I think that's another source of innovation around our platforms that I think will translate into sort of unique app experiences for our platforms."

Stop Google
Microsoft is not throwing in the towel on search and it will relentlessly pursue taking on Google from all angles including seeking relief from the antitrust authorities that were once the bane of its own existence. "I do believe that Google's practices are worthy of discussion with competition authority, and we have certainly discussed them with competition authorities," Ballmer said.  "I don't think their practices are getting less meritorious of discussion.  We've highlighted some of their bad practices in our advertising, in our discussions with regulators, the bundling that they're doing with YouTube and Google Maps and some other things.  Anyway, suffice it to say that I think they need pressure from competition authority.  I think they need pressure in the marketplace."

That pressure isn't just going to rely on the feds bringing Google down but further investments in Bing, Ballmer added. For instance he cited working with Apple to integrate Bing search into its Siri-like voice assistant.

Eat its Own
Cannibalization is very much in play, COO Kevin Turner said. "As we move people from on-premise to cloud, yes, we're willing to cannibalize ourselves to do it," Turner said. "And we've embraced that.  And when I said that transition is underway, it's underway." Saying Office 365 is already a case in point, "I think the cannibalization stuff is imminent."

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/20/2013 at 2:24 PM0 comments


Are SharePoint Experts Earning Less This Year?

While our annual Redmond Magazine Salary Survey showed average wages increasing 3 percent, we discovered a surprising anomaly in this year's report: SharePoint experts are making less this year.

Granted the average SharePoint administrator or developer still earns a six-figure salary, our survey found a decline of 7 percent. Last year the average SharePoint Salary was $107,063, dropping to $100,817 this year.

Given the growth of SharePoint and the release late last year of SharePoint 2013 as well as a substantial upgrade to the SharePoint Online feature of Office 365, I found that surprising.

"I've noticed that trend also and I don't understand that either because it seems everybody wants to use it more," said survey respondent Chris, who told me he was equally surprised when I ran the number by him. "I see SharePoint expertise required in job descriptions all the time."

Could it be that there are more SharePoint experts out there, thereby giving employers a larger pool of candidates to select from? Or is it perhaps an aberration in this year's survey?

If you're a SharePoint expert, or one who hires them, please share your observations. You can comment below or send me a note to jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/18/2013 at 2:20 PM0 comments


Is Microsoft Finally Planning a Siri-Like Feature for Windows Phone?

It appears Microsoft is planning a voice assistant for its Windows Phone platform after all. As Mary Jo Foley noted in her Redmond magazine column this month, Microsoft has spent the past decade working on natural language platform, though it has stepped up its effort over the past two years.

Since that column went to press, it appears she, along with Tom Warren of The Verge, unearthed information that points to a Siri-like voice assistant coming to Windows Phone early next year. In a post on her All About Microsoft blog last week, she said technology Microsoft has under development that goes by the code name "Cortana" aims to compete with Apple's Siri and Google's Now. 

While Windows Phone already understands basic voice commands, according to her sources Cortana, named for an artificially intelligent character from Microsoft's Halo game series, "will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the 'Satori' knowledge repository powering Bing."

In addition to Windows Phone, Foley learned Cortana could work itself into the core Windows and Xbox operating systems because Microsoft is adding it to its entire services-enabled "shell," -- the services Ballmer described in his July reorg letter.

Following her report, Warren learned Microsoft is testing the Cortana UI's ability to gather notifications, weather reports and calendar information. It also uses location information and has access to Bluetooth controls.

Whether you're a fan of voice assistants, or at least the concept of them, it appears all device makers will be focusing on advancing the technology sooner rather than later. If they get it right, as Google appears to have with its new Moto X phone, that can be a good thing, especially for those who can't seem to keep their hands off their devices.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/16/2013 at 2:59 PM0 comments


Microsoft's Paying for Used iPads

Microsoft's latest attempt to garner interest in its Surface hybrid tablet-PCs is a trade-in program the company launched that will let customers swap out their iPads for a $200 gift card applicable toward a Surface.

Actually the $200 gift card can be used toward anything offered in the Microsoft Store but Microsoft is obviously trying to get people to trade in their iPads for a Surface RT or Surface Pro.

The company quietly kicked off the deal last week but word of it started to spread in recent days. The offer runs through Oct. 27, though I'd bet it will remain permanent – unless it turns out that's the date the new Surfaces are available.

Nevertheless, I'm curious how many pe ople will actually take Microsoft up on this trade-in offer. Most people I know love their iPads and have no desire to get rid of them. Also the oldest unit Microsoft will take is the iPad 2. In most cases you can get more for it selling it on eBay or elsewhere than trading it into the Microsoft Store.

Perhaps if your device is broken it's a good deal. While the fine print didn't say the device must work, it did say it's up to the store manager's discretion.  

But the move underscores the increasingly aggressive posture Microsoft is taking toward Apple -- following an ad campaign showing Siri explaining everything an iPad can't do that users can perform on a Surface.

Still, I'll be surprised if many people take Microsoft up on its latest offer. Will you?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/13/2013 at 1:37 PM0 comments


New iPhone 5S Could Raise the Bar for Smartphones

By now you've probably heard Apple launched two new iPhones yesterday, the 5S and the 5C. The long-rumored devices were equipped as expected but analysts gave the lower-end 5C a thumbs-down due to its higher-than-expected price tag and lack of broad appeal to emerging markets.

Many reports have described the new higher-end iPhone 5S as an incremental upgrade but I think it could prove to be a key indicator whether the smartphone market will embrace fingerprint-based authentication. It uses technology Apple gained when it acquired AuthenTec for $356 million last year, which lets users unlock their phones and make purchases on the iTunes App Store, instead of using passwords.

The phone's new Touch ID apparently doesn't let users authenticate to other sites but I would imagine the company is waiting to see how users accept this new feature and iron out any kinks before broadening its use. Should users widely embrace this form of authentication on smartphones, I would expect to see all of the other players rush to add similar features. It would naturally spread to tablets as well.

Apple's new iPhone 5S also sports a vastly improved camera, which will put it in competition with camera offered on Nokia's new Lumia 1020. The sensor on the iPhone 5S is improved and 15 percent larger, the phone supports more pixels and sports a new ƒ/2.2 aperture. The camera also has an improved LED-based flash. The new ARM-based A7 CPU doubles the speed of the iPhone and it's the first based on a 64-bit processor.

As I noted, the 5C is intended as a lower-cost unit and while it will be available in the U.S., analysts are banking on Apple breaking into emerging markets with it. Unlike previous units, the 5C is made of plastic rather than aluminum -- and lacks some of the newer features in the 5S such as the improved camera and Touch ID.

The $99 price tag (with a two-year contract), though half the cost was higher than most analysts expected and not scaled down to the extent anticipated and doesn't appear targeted at emerging markets, according to analysts, who noted it will compete with the newly priced iPhone 5. "The market placement was different than our prior expectations," wrote Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster in a research note. "Previously we thought the 5C would be a lower end phone to address emerging markets like China and India."

Apple also didn't announce an anticipated partnership with China Mobile to offer a lower-end iPhone. "We believe that based on the pricing of the 5C ($549 unlocked), the phone is only a replacement for the 5 instead of downgrading the old device, and still plays in the higher end of the market," Munster wrote.

As for the 5S, Munster, a noted Apple bull, also believes Touch ID could pave the way for a broader payments offering. "We view security as the biggest hurdle in offering a successful payments platform and the biometric feature may be able to address that in iOS 8," he noted.

Do you see fingerprint-based authentication becoming the mainstream on all smartphones? Would you like to see it replace passwords? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2013 at 9:09 AM0 comments


Microsoft Reportedly Readying Next Generation of Surface Tablets

Microsoft is hoping those in the market for a hybrid tablet PC will find the second wave of Surface devices more appealing than the first. We'll get a better sense of that later this month when Microsoft likely unveils new Surface RT and Surface Pro devices.

The company is expected to disclose more details at an event in New York. An invitation to the event only indicated Microsoft will discuss "Surface growth and expansion, specifically pertaining to the commercial and business enterprise sector" and "Microsoft's ongoing commitment to Surface and its business customers."

Microsoft declined to elaborate but several press leaks about both devices appeared this week suggesting a new Surface Pro equipped with Intel's long-awaited Haswell processor is in the works (Intel said yesterday those processors are coming shortly, though it didn't specify when).

A Surface Pro with a Haswell chip, which I've long presumed would be in version 2 of the higher-end unit, will address a key objection to the first Surface Pro with regard to power use. An upgraded Surface Pro unit would support 8 hours of battery life, noted Paul Thurrott at Supersite for Windows, rather than the meager four hours that its predecessor offered.

Also reportedly in development is a new Surface RT 2, according to Neowin.net. The upgrade will have the more-powerful Tegra 4 processor, a 1080p display, a two-step kickstand and potentially support up to 8 GB of RAM (the current device maxes out at 4 GB). The site earlier this year reported that a Surface Mini is also in the works.

It will run on a "variant" of the Windows 8.1 RT operating system, sources tell All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley.

It's unclear when the new devices will actually ship but presumably the company will want to make them available in the critical fourth quarter holiday shopping season. Do the upgrades sound more appealing to you than the first versions?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2013 at 1:01 PM0 comments


Icahn Walks Away from Battle for Dell

After a long and protracted battle, activist shareholder Carl Icahn has walked away from his effort to acquire a controlling interest in Dell, though he hasn't backed away from his insistence that shareholders are accepting an inferior deal.

The tide was clearly against Icahn's Southeastern Asset Management with founder and CEO Michael Dell's pending shareholder vote set for Thursday and all indications that its offer, backed by Silver Lake Partners with a lift from Microsoft, had enough support to win. But Icahn maintains the $13.75-per-share deal valued at $25.5 billion undervalues Dell even though they nominally sweetened the deal in July. After a Delaware court last month ruled in favor of the Dell team's contention that needed fewer votes in favor of the deal than Icahn's group claimed, momentum was in the favor of Dell.

"Dell is paying a price approximately 70 percent below its ten-year high of $42.38," Icahn wrote in a letter to shareholders filed with the SEC today. "The bid freezes stockholders out of any possibility of realizing Dell's great potential."

While expressing regret that he was not successful in his bid, Icahn took solace in the fact that he forced Dell to revise the terms of its bid somewhat. "It certainly makes the loss a lot more tolerable in that as a result of our involvement, Michael Dell/Silver Lake increased what they said was their 'best and final offer.'"  

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/09/2013 at 12:00 PM0 comments


Split Up Microsoft? Most IT Pros Say No

With Microsoft now in search of a new CEO, the noise level suggesting Microsoft should split itself up into multiple companies is predictably up. Yet the steps that "retiring" CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft's board have taken make that seem unlikely in the short term, though of course in business anything can happen.

But with last week's deal to acquire Nokia for $7.2 billion, short of it unexpectedly imploding before the deal closes early next year, Microsoft is on a path to add parts, not remove them. Even so, the latest buzz theorizing a Microsoft divestiture comes from Nick Wingfield, the Seattle-based reporter with The New York Times who today stitched together a scenario that has Microsoft being split into four businesses based on interviews with longtime Microsoft watcher Rich Sherlund of Nomura Securities and other experts.

Wall Street always becomes infatuated with the notion of breaking up companies investors feel they can chop up to make a quick buck. Sometimes divestitures happen for good reason and they're successful.  While most IT pros might not care if Microsoft were to spin off its Xbox gaming business or Bing search engine, most have a stake in the ties between the client, server and the cloud. Hence few IT pros have interest in Microsoft breaking itself into multiple businesses, especially if those ties are broken.

An online survey of more than 1,100 Redmond magazine readers fielded immediately after Microsoft announced that Ballmer will retire as CEO in the next year shows only 12 percent feel Microsoft's next CEO should split Microsoft into multiple companies. So what do they think the next chief executive should do?

Nearly half, or 49.4 percent, believe the next CEO needs to focus on breaking down the silos and fiefdoms that many believe has stifled Microsoft's ability to provide common services across different product lines. Ballmer's "One Microsoft" strategy, which coincidentally is the basis of his July corporate re-org, aims to break down those silos. Just as Ballmer solidified his "devices and services" strategy with the Nokia deal, the new CEO will inherit One Microsoft.

Nearly a quarter of respondents (24.7 percent) believe the new CEO should make major acquisitions that would embolden the company's "devices and services" strategy (ironically we fielded the survey just days before Microsoft announced it plans to acquire Nokia's handset business). Only 13.9 percent believe Microsoft should make moves into new markets.

Just as many investors and others on Wall Street had long wanted Ballmer to go, more than half (58.2 percent) of Redmond readers also welcome the change in leadership. Only 10.6 percent were disappointed in the news, believing only Ballmer or Gates could run Microsoft, while 31.2 percent don't believe Ballmer's departure changes anything.

"There's a lot of finger pointing and blame to go around," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Sanfilippo. "Whether Ballmer has caused some of the issues at Microsoft over the last decade, I think [it] is a lot more complicated than could be blamed on one person."

Some survey respondents agree, saying Ballmer deserves more credit than he received. "Microsoft's rise in the enterprise over Ballmer's tenure is explosive, and he's on the right road to fix the consumer missed opportunities," one respondent said. "Mr. Ballmer is a one-of-a-kind individual, in every positive sense of the word," adds another. "He's a human dynamo -- one of the few people in the world besides Bill Gates who could keep a juggernaut like Microsoft on the track."

One reader sees Ballmer's departure as an opportunity for Microsoft to reevaluate everything. "Ballmer's retirement is a chance for Microsoft to reinvigorate itself," the reader said, adding his successor needs to reevaluate Microsoft's Windows strategy, restore the traditional (Windows 7) interface, work closely with application vendors in regard to mobile versus desktop use and make Windows 8 really effective for tablets and phones. The new CEO also must work to make cloud-based applications "the most secure [and] effective available and sell subscriptions at a very reasonable price-point."

While many are relieved Ballmer is leaving, they're also anxious about the uncertainty new leadership might bring. "His successor needs to first define why Microsoft is in business and not just follow Ballmer's plan of [becoming a] services and devices company."

Many survey respondents believe Microsoft's next CEO must accelerate Microsoft's break with past protective practices, such as offering Office on Apple's iOS platform, while breaking down the political divisions across business units that have stifled innovation.

"Whoever succeeds Ballmer must find a way to continue to break down silos and depoliticize if that's even possible for Microsoft, and accelerate innovation," one concluded. "Microsoft may survive forever as an 'also [ran]' company but their time in the limelight (publicly and to investors) will never return if they don't break out of their current ways including kingdom building and other such silliness. I am not convinced that hardware can save Microsoft... too little too late as there are far too many players that are better at it, and faster."

Respondents were divided on what type of leader Microsoft should seek with 41.4 percent favoring an outside tech visionary in the mold of Steve Jobs and 38.8 percent preferring a turnaround expert such as Lou Gerstner, credited with bringing IBM back from the brink in the 1990s, despite coming from outside the technology industry.

Microsoft's next CEO has one thing going for him or her: A vast majority (69.2 percent), say the company will remain a key provider of enterprise software and services. But a healthy one in four (26.2 percent) say Microsoft will become a less influential player over time, while 4.2 percent believe the company will become marginal. And while a return by Gates is extremely unlikely, 9.2 percent believe only he can save Microsoft. Absent of that happening, one reader said, "They need to find someone who is a technology first person like Gates was, not a marketing-first person as Ballmer is."

Time will tell how history treats Ballmer's tenure but for now, many respondents believe Microsoft needs a leader with more vision and less bluster. "Under [Ballmer's] leadership Microsoft has deeply hurt [its] reputation with IT professionals like [me]," opined one critic. "They need someone with enterprise IT vision who understands that driving wedges with IT professionals gives us the freedom to think past our fears of moving our shops to other products."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/09/2013 at 2:19 PM0 comments


Will Acquiring Nokia Help Microsoft Reinvent Itself?

Microsoft and Nokia certainly caught the tech world off guard earlier this week when Redmond said it was acquiring the core business of the struggling phone maker for $7.2 billion. And if you don't think this changes everything for better or worse, think again.

The notion of Microsoft buying any major hardware company, much less a phone maker, was once unthinkable by founder Bill Gates and lame duck CEO Steve Ballmer. Now Ballmer has effectively described this deal as the missing link to the "devices and services" company he wants Microsoft to be. The first thing to ask: Is that the path the board and the next CEO will see for Microsoft as well? Since they signed off on this deal, that appears to be the marching orders for now -- though we all know how things can change.

Apparently Microsoft investors don't agree Nokia is the missing link. The company's stock has been down since the deal was announced, basically erasing the surge in market cap Microsoft gained when announcing Ballmer's retirement.

Although the deal appeared to be dead after talks fell apart in June, Ballmer and his team have been negotiating all summer, according to a report in The New York Times on how the deal went down. So this is Ballmer's deal but he'll be long gone before he can accept credit or blame.

Critics of the deal argue it pairs two companies that are both afterthoughts in the mobile phone and tablet markets today. Two weak players don't necessarily add up to a strong one. Is this move indeed the missing link that can put Windows Phone and tablets running Windows 8 or Windows RT on the map or is it the ultimate act of desperation?

"I don't think Ballmer's vision matches up with reality," said independent industry analyst Jack Gold, of IT market researcher J. Gold Associates. "I just don't think Microsoft can pull this off effectively. I see it as a knee-jerk reaction to Apple and Google, rather than a real strategy to become a leader in the market."

Yet on a conference call Tuesday, Ballmer said he believes this deal will boost Microsoft's market share in the mobile phone market from 3 percent to 15 percent. An aggressive target, indeed, but depending on how Apple's iOS and the Google Android ecosystem play out, the deal would still render Windows Phone a much smaller player in the market. IDC Wednesday predicted Windows Phone's share will double by 2017 and will cover 10.2 percent of the smartphone market. Google's Android will be the dominant player with 68.3 percent and iOS will be in the middle with 17.9 percent.

Ballmer emphasized on Tuesday's call that acquiring Nokia's handset business will ensure Microsoft bolsters its share in the market -- which he deems critical. "We want to strengthen the overall opportunity for Microsoft from a devices and services perspective and for our partners as well," Ballmer said on the call. "We need to be a company that provides a family of devices ‑‑ in some cases we'll build the devices, in many cases third parties, our OEMs, can build the devices ‑‑ but a family of devices with integrated services that best empower people and businesses for the activities that they value the most."

The message is that not only does Microsoft gain the ability to take charge on how Windows Phones are designed, delivered and marketed, it gives the same capability to refine its Surface tablets and other hardware it decides to deliver.

As part of the deal Ballmer said Microsoft is buying the assigned rights in Nokia's IP license with Qualcomm and other key IP licenses. The company is also licensing, though not buying patents that can work with Windows Phone and other Microsoft products. Microsoft is also licensing rights to use Nokia's HERE mapping geospatial location technology, which it wants to use broadly in Microsoft products. According to various reports, Microsoft wanted to buy the patents and HERE technology outright but Nokia didn't want to part with it. Microsoft sees HERE as critical to breaking Google's hold on mapping.

Whether or not this deal makes you want to run out and buy a Nokia Lumina or have visions of using Bing more often once HERE is integrated, it changes everything about how Microsoft will develop Windows and deliver on its "devices and services" mission.

Do you like this deal or are you concerned about the direction this takes Microsoft? Share your thoughts below or feel free to drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/06/2013 at 2:33 PM0 comments


Are You Looking for a New Job? You’re Not Alone.

Not happy with the bonus or raise you received this year? Perhaps you're long overdue for an increase, want more recognition or you have a boss who knows less about IT than you do.  If so, you're not alone.

The number of Redmond magazine readers that say they may change jobs has doubled since last year, according to the 18th Annual Redmond magazine Salary Survey, published Tuesday. Salaries overall are up 3 percent, slightly lower than the 3.25 percent average salary in last year's survey. But here's the most interesting finding  in this year's report: More than a quarter of the 1,018 qualified respondents (26.8 percent) say they are weighing the possibility of changing employers up from 13.1 percent a year ago.

The surge in those who plan to put out feelers suggests IT organizations are poised to see marked turnover, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that unemployment, though still uncomfortably high continues to come down. The national unemployment rate early last month when we analyzed the survey was at 7.4 percent but IT unemployment was only 3.6 percent according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

When I shared the findings of our survey with Mike Durney, CEO designate of Dice Holdings, which operates the popular job recruitment service for IT pros and developers, he wasn't at all surprised at the trend. Many IT pros and managers have been stuck in jobs where they're being asked to do more, while salaries have not increased at the pace they did before the financial crisis of 2008.

It all comes down to simple supply and demand, Durney and others I spoke with noted. "There are lots of reasons people are afraid to make the leap, but it looks like this year, they're finally starting to make that leap."

Are you making the leap? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/04/2013 at 2:06 PM0 comments


Microsoft Buying Nokia's Devices and Services Business for $7.18 Billion

In an unexpected reversal, Microsoft has agreed to acquire Nokia's devices and services business for $7.18 billion (EUR 5.44 Billion), in cash, both companies announced early Tuesday morning in Espoo, Finland, where Nokia is based.

The deal is Microsoft's second largest, rivaled only by the 2011 acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion and puts an even larger bet on its expansion into hardware. The company's third largest acquisition was aQuantive for $6 billion, which Microsoft wrote off last year.

From a scale perspective, the deal is huge. When the deal closes in the first quarter of 2014, an estimated 32,000 Nokia employees will transfer to Microsoft, including 4,700 in Finland and 18,300 involved in manufacturing, assembly and packaging of products worldwide, the companies announced.

Terms of today's agreement, approved by both companies' boards, covers the acquisition of all Nokia's devices and services business, the licensing of Nokia's patents and of its mapping services.

Such a deal seemed all but dead back in June when the two companies were reportedly in advanced discussions before talks broke down and it appeared unlikely the companies would renew negotiations.

That the two companies had consummated a deal is surprising considering there were no reports they had resumed negotiations. The timing is even more unexpected considering less than two weeks ago Microsoft announced CEO Steve Ballmer will retire within the next 12 months.

Ironically one of numerous candidates to succeed Ballmer is Stephen Elop, Nokia's CEO, who under the terms of today's agreement will return to Microsoft as an executive vice president.

"Building on our successful partnership, we can now bring together the best of Microsoft's software engineering with the best of Nokia's product engineering, award-winning design, and global sales, marketing and manufacturing," Elop said in a statement announcing the deal. "With this combination of talented people, we have the opportunity to accelerate the current momentum and cutting-edge innovation of both our smart devices and mobile phone products."

Speculation that Microsoft might one day acquire all or part of Nokia had surfaced back in 2011 when the handset maker chose Microsoft's Windows Phone as its smartphone operating system of choice.  But such a deal had remained remote even though both companies have struggled to gain share over the much more dominant phone and tablet platforms iOS from Apple and Google's Android.

Microsoft is presumably hoping that adding Nokia's handset business and related software to its arsenal will give it the scale to expand the Windows Phone platform. Given reports that Nokia is also developing a Windows RT-based tablet, Microsoft may also be betting that the Nokia deal will help bolster its fortunes with its own struggling efforts to  gain share with its Surface tablet line. Microsoft's first crop of Surface devices have been a disappointment – the company in July took a $900 million charge on unsold inventory.

Even though the Nokia deal and Microsoft's bigger push into hardware may put the company at further odds with its PC and phone partners, Microsoft may be betting that just as Google has leveraged its acquisition of Motorola, Microsoft can do the same with Nokia using it to bolster its manufacturing capability and leverage Nokia's relationships with wireless carriers.

"It's a bold step into the future – a win-win for employees, shareholders and consumers of both companies," Ballmer said in a statement. "Bringing these great teams together will accelerate Microsoft's share and profits in phones, and strengthen the overall opportunities for both Microsoft and our partners across our entire family of devices and services. Nokia brings proven capability and talent in critical areas such as hardware design and engineering, supply chain and manufacturing management, and hardware sales, marketing and distribution." 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/02/2013 at 2:23 PM0 comments


Metalogix Acquires Axceler's SharePoint Business

Looking to round out its SharePoint migration and management platform, Metalogix Software Corp. today said it has acquired Axceler's SharePoint software business. The deal makes Metalogix one of the largest independent SharePoint ISVs. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Metalogix is assuming ownership of the entire Axceler brand and SharePoint software portfolio. Neither company will have a stake in the other.

What remains of Axceler is its Lotus Notes business and new suite of enterprise social media management tools called ViewPoint, launched earlier this year for Yammer and Salesforce.com Chatter environments, among others. Axeler CEO Michael Alden said on a conference call this morning that the company will unveil a new name next week.

It appears Metalogix CEO Steven Murphy wanted to keep his company focused purely on SharePoint migration and administration. By acquiring Axceler's SharePoint governance and permissions tools, it gives Metalogix a much broader offering, said Forrester Research analyst Alan Weintraub.

"The portfolio is larger which gives Metalogix a broader opportunity in the market," Weintraub said. "Metalogix growth was restricted by the limited amounts of capabilities they were delivering and their acquisition has allowed them to grow without completely overlapping."

While Axceler brings 3,000 new customers and 70 employees to Metalogix, Weintraub said this deal wasn't about bringing in new customers. Rather it was to allow Metalogix to expand into the important area of governance and permissions management, which complements its existing archiving and capacity management suite.

One area both companies overlap is SharePoint migration. Metalogix offers its Metalogix Migration Manager included in its Content Matrix suite while Axceler offers ControPoint. In an interview Murphy said Metalogix will wean new customers toward Metalogix Migration Manager product but will continue to support the Axceler ControlPoint tool and may issue some updates.

"There's not going to be a strategic roadmap on the ControlPoint Migrator but we'll continue to issue enhancements and support as necessary as that installed base is migrated to the Content Matrix platform," Murphy said. "We don't sunset products in this market, we provide enough functionality in the next releases that people move forward to the new platforms. Microsoft helps with that with their migrations [new releases]. They kind of force everyone to move forward."

Murphy said the two companies already have many common customers and Metalogix was constantly hearing that governance is a key concern among SharePoint customers. "It's the SharePoint governance and administration features that overwhelmingly our customers are looking for, that it made sense to link up with our migration, upgrade and ongoing management capabilities of Content Matrix," Murphy said.

The combined company will have over 13,000 customers and 250 employees. Murphy said Axceler customers will immediately have access to its 24x7 live telephone support service.

Among the 70 employees moving from Axceler to Metalogix is Christian Buckley, a SharePoint MVP and evangelist who is widely regarded in the SharePoint community. "There are a lot of interesting integration stories and products in the pipeline," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2013 at 12:44 PM0 comments


How Will the Next CEO Save Microsoft?

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While the guessing game of who will replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's CEO is on, the bigger question is can any executive fix the troubles in Redmond?

Wall Street tech analyst Rick Sherlund this morning told CNBC perhaps no one can help Microsoft make up for the ground it has lost in the tablet and smartphone race. But he said that may not be the criteria the search committee of Microsoft's board, which includes chairman and founder Bill Gates, will be looking for. 

"You can certainly continue to try but I think this is not about fixing the company in that regard," Sherlund said, adding the bigger priority will be creating shareholder value. Does that mean breaking up the company or using Microsoft's mountain of cash to buy back shares or pay hefty dividends? Or does creating value mean making some key acquisitions that would help increase Microsoft's share value, which has held relatively steady over the past decade?

Stakeholders including enterprise IT decision makers and those who manage their infrastructures with Microsoft products -- as well as those who use them for content creation and management --  might have different views on creating value and consequently how Microsoft should evolve. And that will also be critical to creating shareholder value.

The first thing the new CEO will need to consider is whether the company can deliver on the new "One Microsoft mantra," which really is just a marketing slogan for a concept Microsoft has long aspired. Remember Ray Ozzie's "three screens and a cloud" message, which referred to Microsoft's goal to tie devices, phones and TVs together with the cloud. And over a decade ago when Microsoft first announced the .NET Framework, its goal was to create intelligent devices and services, known as Project HailStorm.

"One Microsoft" looks to break down the organizational siloes -- and in many cases fiefdoms -- with a management structure that the company hopes can better achieve that model. Make no mistake, Apple and Google have similar goals and though unstated Amazon.com has shown signs that it also aspires to a similar goal. Companies like Citrix and VMware have similar worldviews.

It seems unlikely Gates would sign off on a CEO who would want to dismember that anytime soon. That would be a last resort. Despite Microsoft's troubles, they're not on par with the problems that plagued Apple when it was on the brink of collapse before Steve Jobs returned or IBM in the early 1990s when it appeared Big Blue was toast (and its CEO at the time, John Akers, had the wheels in motion to break up the company). Akers was replaced by Lou Gerstner, who was CEO of Nabisco at the time and had no background running a technology company.

Gerstner revived IBM in one of the most unlikely and remarkable corporate turnarounds ever. But I can't imagine that type of executive running Microsoft. And despite Microsoft's troubles, which aren't trivial, I don't see it in the dire straits IBM was in two decades ago. Ironically Microsoft was founded as a company looking to disrupt IBM's business model and prided itself on the fact that it didn't have the corporate makeup and legacy issues that faced Big Blue. In many regards, Microsoft has become what it once rallied against.

Along came Google, VMware and a re-christened Apple, who are now trying to do to Microsoft what it did to IBM. But if companies like Apple and IBM can return from the brink, it's certainly reasonable that the right leader can revive Microsoft's tenuous, though less severe issues and put it on a path to future growth.

In the meantime no one knows how long it will take to name a new CEO or how this will play out. The search committee has a big task on its hands and whoever it chooses will have a major impact on Microsoft's future.

Have any thoughts on who you'd like to see as Microsoft's next CEO and how he or she should take the company forward? Feel free to comment or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/23/2013 at 11:05 AM0 comments


Is There Hope for Windows RT?

While Microsoft continues to promote Windows RT, the version of its client OS designed to work only with software offered via its Windows Store interface, third-party support is fading fast.  

Other than Microsoft's Surface RT, try finding anyone else who offers a tablet with Windows RT. I swung by my nearby Microsoft Store, Best Buy and Staples, and the only Windows RT device I could find was the Surface RT.

In the latest sign that everyone appears to be cutting bait on Windows RT, ASUS last week said it's dropping its Windows RT-based systems, while Acer said it was scaling back. Last month, Lenovo said it would no longer offer the Windows RT-based version of its IdeaPad Yoga. And HP long ago tossed its plans to offer a Windows RT tablet.

Both Acer and ASUS also started selling smaller form-factor Windows 8 tablets, now priced below $400. The ASUS VivoTab Smart ME400, priced at $399, has a 10.1-inch display, weighs 1.3 pounds and has a claimed battery life of 9.5 hours.

The 8.1-inch Acer Iconia W3, which costs $299, is in the same size range as the iPad Mini, most Android tablets and the larger Kindle Fire. While the Acer Iconia W3 hasn't received rave reviews, with full Windows 8 hybrid tablets-PCs hitting the sub-$500 price point, it's no wonder these companies are putting their Windows RT counterparts on ice.

However, not everyone is abandoning ship. Dell still offers the XPS 10, which it introduced last October with the launch of the operating system. Even with that Windows RT tablet, no one would accuse Dell of flaunting it. Has anyone spotted one of these?

If anyone can save Windows RT other than Microsoft itself, it's Nokia. The mobile phone company that has pinned its survival in the smartphone market on Windows Phone is said to have a Windows RT-based tablet in the works. According to Microsoft-News.com, Nokia will announce its Windows RT device at an event in New York. According to the report, the 10.1-inch tablet is based on Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and equipped with LTE support.

It will have to be pretty inexpensive and offer long battery life to gain any footing. The keyboard will reportedly have an added battery for extra power. As far as pricing is concerned, consider the new Lenovo ThinkPad 2 LTE tablet: That 10.1-inch device with an Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of Ram and a 64 GB solid-state drive costs $699 for just the base model and $119.99 for the optional keyboard. It gets 10 hours of battery life, according to Lenovo, and comes with Windows 8.

Unless the next iteration of Windows RT devices can outperform their full Windows 8 counterparts -- presumably from the next crop of Surface RTs and possibly from Nokia's offerings -- it could be an uphill battle. That is, of course, unless Microsoft can further lower the economic bar and show that developers are actually on board. It wouldn't hurt to see some more apps surface, pardon the pun.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/21/2013 at 11:32 AM0 comments


Are VMware Veterans Jumping on the Hyper-V Bandwagon?

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A venture startup financially backed and run by a deep bench of VMware talent is hoping to re-invent the way IT pros manage their virtual infrastructures using a new cloud-based big data analytics service.

CloudPhysics last week went live with its namesake service aimed at simplifying the administration of virtual machines by using a vast real-time analytics engine that aggregates and analyzes billions of data points. Administrators will be able to use the results of these analytic queries to ease the burden of solving the multitude of complex operational issues that come up, according to the company.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also said it has raised $10 million in a second round of venture capital financing from Kleiner Perkins. The company's first round came from Mayfield Fund.

CloudPhysics operates a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) consisting of what it described as a sophisticated real-time data analytics engine. This knowledgebase, which constantly takes in new data feeds, diagnoses and troubleshoots thousands of issues that might affect the function of a VMware ESX virtual server cluster environment such as incorrectly configured scripts, network configuration errors, and memory and IO utilization issues.

"The administrator has multiple questions, literally thousands of questions that are very well-defined explorations or responses to very well-defined problems," explained Founder and CEO John Blumenthal, who is among the VMware veterans who helped launch CloudPhysics in 2011.

Naturally I asked if this is a VMware-only play or if the company will support the growing presence of virtual machines powered by Microsoft's Hyper-V, as well as Xen and KVM hypervisors. Blumenthal said that is indeed the plan and by the end of the year it will support one of the above-mentioned hypervisors. While there's a good chance it will be Hyper-V, he said it's not a certainty. The company is still weighing whether it should consider KVM before Hyper-V.

"The commercial midmarket user who is our targeted customer as we go to market is looking more curiously at Hyper-V," Blumenthal said. "And as you move up in the size of organizations, we are encountering an increased presence and interest in KVM and OpenStack."

Blumenthal described the service as a big data repository that collects more than 80 billion pieces of data each day from a variety of sources, ranging from technical blogs to configuration data from customers and other sources. The data is all "anonymized" and used to create patterns that are subsequently analyzed.

Data fed from customer datacenters and other sources are kept anonymous by using sophisticated cryptography to debunk concerns about the privacy and security of data, Blumenthal said. While I didn't dispute the wisdom of those measures, especially with heightened concerns about surveillance, I asked Blumenthal why an organization would be worried about their memory utilization getting into the wrong hands.

"It's more of a policy issue than anything else," Blumenthal said. "When you talk to users, they make extensive uses of SaaS services, including Salesforce.com, where actually the most sensitive data in a corporation is now off-prem in the form of the customer contact list. Usually, in most of our discussions with our users who raise these concerns, they back down from it very quickly when they stop and think it through."

More than 500 enterprises globally tested the service, which is hosted on the Amazon Web Services EC2 service, though Blumenthal said it can easily be moved to another infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

"It's not tied to Amazon in any way," Blumenthal said. "Amazon's back-end provides the running infrastructure for compliance and security."

Customers install a virtual appliance on their VMware ESX clusters, which function as an agent. Administrators can discover and troubleshoot hundreds of operational problems using specific analytic components that CloudPhysics calls Cards, available from an app store-type environment also launched this week. In addition to accessing cards that offer pre-configured reports, a customer can create their own with a tool called Card Builder.

The analytics engine is designed to help administrators optimize storage, compute, network and other components using various modeling methods that can address performance and cost benchmarks. A planning component lets administrators simulate the effects of adding new hardware, software and other components.

CloudPhysics offers a free community edition. For a standard edition with more features and e-mail support, pricing starts at $49 for customers signing a one-year contract or $89 for those who opt to go month by month. An enterprise edition is available for $149/$189 per month and offers telephone support and the full menu of features.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/19/2013 at 3:32 PM0 comments


Would Transparency by Feds Ease Fears Over Cloud Surveillance?

When President Obama last week called for the government to be more transparent about its data surveillance activities, critics saw it as a step in the right direction, though it's unclear how, when or if that will happen. As I noted at the beginning of the week, claims by Edward Snowden that Microsoft may be feeding the National Security Agency customer data -- which Microsoft insists is not true -- is having a chilling effect on customer confidence that data is safe in the cloud.

Yet well before Snowden disclosed surveillance activity such as PRISM, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)  had established mechanisms for service providers to disclose their data-protection  practices. A key initiative was the Security, Trust & Assurance  Registry (STAR), launched by the CSA two years ago, which is where cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft have provided audited security controls.

Now that Snowden has unleashed a flood of classified information that points to PRISM and the NSA's widespread use of surveillance to thwart terrorism, the CSA has sprung into action, calling attention to its efforts and leading the discussion on the effect of surveillance on cloud security.

The Snowden leaks come just as IT organizations have started to become more comfortable with the notion that data can be securely stored in the public cloud. As I pointed out Monday, less than a third of those surveyed by the CSA in wake of the Snowden leaks believe there is adequate transparency on how often the government accesses their information. That lack of transparency was a recurring topic in the CSA's first-ever town hall panel held Monday.

"Today, there's no mechanism in place for cloud customers, any user organizations that rely on these cloud providers, to know when their data was exposed," said moderator Elad Yoran, VP of finance with the New York City chapter of the CSA and the CEO of Vaultive, an up-and-coming provider of a cloud encryption service. This is an issue Yoran has studied quite intensely for obvious reasons.

Not only is there a lack of transparency by the NSA and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, but many key cloud providers have complained that their hands are tied in that they're restricted in what they're permitted to disclose.

"This is definitely a hot topic for me," said panelist Peter McGoff, general counsel of Box, the popular cloud storage provider. "One thing we look at as a cloud provider, and what we're asking for, is more transparency in the process. We want to be able to communicate to customers at a minimum the numbers of such requests that we get in and what our process is. Right now, it's not quite super clear that we have that flexibility."

McGoff did offer that Box hasn't received an overwhelming number of warrants for enterprise data.

Until last week, the Obama administration has resisted supporting changes in the disclosure policies, but the president is now proposing that the government step up its efforts to be transparent. The proposal was vague and opposition from both parties indicated nothing will change in the near term. However, panelists during the hour-long CSA town hall webcast said Obama's proposal was a positive move.

"It's a good first step," Box's McGoff said. "I felt much better with president Obama coming out and putting a bright light on this."

Robert Brammer, a senior advisor to the Internet2 Consortium and CEO of Brammer Technology, agreed. "The review the president has talked about with the intelligence process with one of the objectives to create more transparency in the process will improve the level of dialogue on this subject," he said.

While calling for more transparency, Brammer argued there's a lot of misinformation, if not hysteria, about government surveillance activities. "Some of the emotional and superficial and narrowly based commentary that's come out in the media -- either in the newspapers or Sunday morning talk shows -- frankly makes this problem worse," he said. "We need a substantive dialogue on the issues and not a bunch of emotional sound bites."

One substantive point, Brammer noted, was a whitepaper (PDF) released last week by the Obama administration that lays out how telecommunications providers access and analyze metadata gathered from calling information.

"This information is limited to telephony metadata, which includes information about what telephone numbers were used to make and receive the calls, when the calls took place, and how long the calls lasted," according to the whitepaper's executive summary. "Importantly, this information does not include any information about the content of those calls -- the government cannot, through this program, listen to or record any telephone conversations."

While Snowden revealed surveillance efforts that were previously not public, much of the concern that has surfaced is old news, added Francoise Gilbert, founder and managing director of IT Law Group, a law firm focused on domestic and international information privacy and security. The U.S. government has had surveillance initiatives in place dating back to the late 1960s, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was initiated in 1978, Gilbert pointed out during the CSA panel discussion.

"The topic of government access to data is not something new," she said. "There have been many iterations and many amendments to these laws to keep up with technology, technology progress, and there has been a movement for the past two years to amend one of these laws -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act -- to also bring it to the 21st century."

Gilbert also pointed to due-process requirements such as the Wiretap Act. While critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), created under FISA, believe the judges rubber-stamp most law enforcement warrants, Gilbert argued U.S. citizens have more protections than those in many foreign countries such as the United Kingdom.

"There is no FISA court -- they just come in and have access to your information," she said of many foreign counties. "In general, the laws I would say are definitely more favorable to the governments in foreign countries, especially in the U.K.," than in the United States.

Perhaps, but there's a growing chorus of critics in the United States who don't view the current laws along with the Patriot Act as very favorable to their privacy. While the government argues its surveillance efforts have thwarted potentially deadly attacks, even the panelists on this week's CSA webcast concurred that the feds are going to have to look at becoming more transparent.

I'd say that's especially true in wake of the latest leaks by Snowden, reported yesterday by The Washington Post. The report reveals an audit last year that found that the NSA overstepped its legal authority by erroneously tapping both foreign and American targets here in the U.S., typically the result of typographical, operational or computer errors. The audit cited 2,776 such errors, Snowden told the Post. According to the report, Snowden shared the documents from the audit with the newspaper. An anonymous NSA source sanctioned by the White House told the Post "We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line." 

What effect have the disclosures of programs like PRISM had on your plans to use public cloud services? If you haven't already, please take a few minutes to participate in our brief survey, which can be accessed here.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/16/2013 at 4:25 PM0 comments


Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 R2 Wave Release Set for Oct. 18

While most watchers presumed Microsoft would deliver its next wave of Windows client and data center products sometime this fall, the company today has made it official: all will be released Oct. 18.

Microsoft didn't say if it was planning a major live launch event but the company will make all of the recently announced new software available on that date. PC makers will launch new PCs and tablets with Microsoft's new Windows 8.1 client, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc said in a blog post this morning.

Though there was no mention of a new Surface device on that date, commenters on the blog were already speculating on one. It's possible Microsoft will hold off on that to not upstage its already aggravated OEM partners. "We haven't announced RTM today," LeBlanc noted. "This announcement is just for general availability. We also haven't made any new announcements for TechNet subscribers."

At launch, Windows 8 customers can upgrade to the improved Windows 8.1 version via the Windows Store (see MSDN Magazine Editor-in-Chief Mike Desmond's take on some of the key new features in Windows 8.1 here).

In the case of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, existing customers can download it that day, while new customers can buy the new release on Nov. 1. The fact that Microsoft is launching its client and server upgrades underscores the so-called seamlessness the company has emphasized since the June TechEd conferences in New Orleans and Madrid.

Brad Anderson, the Microsoft corporate VP who outlined the new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 in the opening keynotes at TechEd in June announced the release date for the new server operating system in a blog post today. The two, along with an upgraded Windows Intune also slated for release that day, are part of Microsoft's release strategy.

Apparently Anderson sees Windows Server 2012 R2 as a work of art, having noted the release date coincides with the 501st anniversary of Michelangelo exhibiting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. "If you love great works of art, then it's up to you to decide," he said.

Indeed, some IT pros might agree that building a hybrid cloud datacenter architecture takes both artistic and technical skills. Also it's not surprising that Microsoft is looking to tie the launches of the client and server OSes together, especially given Microsoft's emphasis on how IT can provide more seamless management of user-owned Windows PCs and tablets.

Perhaps most noteworthy in the Windows Server 2012 R2 upgrade is improvements to Hyper-V and easier integration with public cloud services including Windows Azure. To enhance Windows Server, Microsoft is launching the Windows Azure Pack, though it wasn't immediately clear if that will be included in the Oct. 18 launch.

If you've looked at any of the upgraded wares, feel free to comment below or pass along your thoughts to jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/14/2013 at 3:35 PM0 comments


IT's Dilemma After NSA Leaks

The leaks by Edward Snowden revealing the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA's) classified but wide-ranging PRISM data-gathering effort -- which is aimed at intercepting and thwarting terrorist threats -- have had a chilling effect on customer confidence that data is safe in the cloud.

For better or worse, these revelations have also caused consumers and enterprise customers to cast a more skeptical eye on Microsoft and other key tech stalwarts including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo. I say "more skeptical" because there was no shortage of cynicism about what role these providers were already playing in sharing their data.

Snowden cast Microsoft as a key villain when one of his leaks charged Redmond was cooperating with the NSA in letting it tap into e-mails from Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), data stored in SkyDrive, and Skype chat sessions and phone conversations.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith swiftly denied allegations that the U.S. government had back-door access to data and encryption keys. "Microsoft does not provide any government with direct and unfettered access to our customer's data," Smith stated. "Microsoft only pulls and then provides the specific data mandated by the relevant legal demand." The company only responds to requests for specific accounts and identities, and governments must serve court orders or subpoenas for account information, he added.

The problem is the U.S. government has tied the hands of providers as to how much they can reveal about their level of cooperation. Smith argued Microsoft wants to disclose how it handles national security requests for customer information, but as of mid-August, the U.S. Attorney General has denied the company's request to allow it to be more transparent. "We hope the Attorney General can step in to change this situation," Smith said

Meanwhile, customers and enterprises are rethinking how they use the cloud for their data. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in early August released a report predicting that absent of the U.S. government taking action, recent security concerns could cost the cloud computing industry anywhere from $22 billion to $35 billion.

A survey by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) found 56 percent of respondents outside the United States are less likely to use a domestic cloud provider, while 10 percent have actually cancelled a cloud deployment here. Less than one-third of all participants -- including those domestically -- believe there's adequate transparency on how often the government accesses their information.

It's possible the U.S. government will never let Microsoft and other cloud providers fully disclose what covert activities go on in the name of national security. That's a consideration that has to play into every enterprise IT decision maker's choice to use any cloud service, whether it be Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure, Office 365 or even letting employees use consumer services such as Box, Dropbox and SkyDrive.

President Obama's proposal Friday to improve transparency was a step forward -- but it will certainly face political obstacles.

We want to know how you're addressing these issues. We've fielded a survey to get your views and we'll be reporting on what you can do to protect your organization's data in the cloud. You can also e-mail me your thoughts at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/12/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Auditing Vendor Sees More Demand for Google Apps than Office 365

Hardly a week goes by when Google or Microsoft doesn't announce a key win for their respective cloud-based productivity services. While analysts say it's premature to declare a winner, Google Apps continues to gain ground on Microsoft's Office 365.

While none of the major IT researchers have published data, Gartner back in April indicated Google Apps is gaining ground on Office 365. Under what it described as a narrowed analytical framework, Gartner analysts on a webcast suggested Google Apps had anywhere from a 33 to 50 percent share of the cloud productivity app market.

Gartner hasn't published any formal research nor has Forrester Research. "The number of customer acquisition announcements both vendors make and the inquiries that we do on this topic don't really give a clear picture as to which is up, either," analyst T.J. Keitt said in an e-mail. Pointing to a video Forrester posted earlier this year on how to choose between the two, Keitt said "We're too early to declare a winner and loser in this competition."

In a nod to Google, auditing software provider BeyondTrust this week unveiled a version of its PowerBroker Auditor for Google Apps. The company said the free tool available for download is designed to simplify the manual task of making configuration and administrative changes for security and compliance reporting.

When I asked if there's a version for Microsoft's Office 365, the company said that will follow in the future. "Customer feedback indicated that Google Apps was being widely deployed, more so at this point than other online collaboration solutions, so we went with that feedback and released support for Google Apps first," said Brad Hibbert, BeyondTrust's vice president for product strategy and operation, in an e-mail. The company says it has 5,000 customers.

Making this more noteworthy is the fact that BeyondTrust lists itself as a Microsoft Gold Partner. BeyondTrust doesn't have a partnership with Google, according to the list of partners on its Web site. However that's in the works, according to Hibbert. "We've begun the partnering process with Google as a result of this product development," he noted.

Is your organization forsaking Office or Office 365 in favor of Google Apps? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/09/2013 at 3:06 PM0 comments


How Will Microsoft Rename SkyDrive?

Microsoft's announcement last week that it must find a new name for its SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro cloud storage services is the latest blow to Microsoft's efforts to maintain consistent branding for its flagship products.

The company must stop using the SkyDrive brand after coming up short in a legal dispute with British Sky Broadcasting Group, which claimed it had dibs on the name. It's a setback for Microsoft, which has heavily marketed SkyDrive over the past several years and has described it as the key cloud storage component for Windows 8x and Office 365. Likewise Microsoft last year attached the SkyDrive Pro brand to the cloud-based online storage component for SharePoint 2013 and the SharePoint Online component of Office 365.

So what should Microsoft call it? Should the company emphasize the Azure brand and call it Azure Drive? That's a bit of a tongue-twister. What about WinDrive? That's presuming Microsoft could work out something with Tormax, which has a glass sliding door called Win Drive.  Share your suggestions below.

Speaking of naming changes, one that Microsoft quietly changed this week was Power Pivot, which originally was one word. The company acknowledged the change explaining it was intended to bring consistency to the other BI offerings. Microsoft outlined plans this week to release a preview of its new Power BI tool for Office 365.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/09/2013 at 2:15 PM0 comments


Life Insurer Deploys 30,000 Windows 8 Tablets

Untitled Document

Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company in Japan is rolling out one of the largest known deployments of Windows 8-based tablets. The company is giving Fujitsu tablets to 30,000 of its sales reps, both Fujitsu and Microsoft announced today.

The companies say it's the largest rollout of Windows 8 tablets in Japan and it probably ranks among the largest known deployments anywhere. Meiji Yasuda Life will start using the tablets next month at 1,200 locations, according to Fujitsu. Both Fujitsu and Microsoft worked together to develop what they describe as a sales terminal.

Equipped with a 12.1-inch display and just 15mm (.59-inch thick), it weighs approximately 880 grams (1.15 pounds) and is powered to last an entire day. In addition to sporting the typical Windows 8 touch interface, it's designed to allow for handwritten input, allowing customers to sign documents.

The tablet has a built-in mobile WAN module to work on the wireless NTT DOCOMO LTE-based network. The systems are also designed to encrypt data on the tablets' solid state drives.

Erwin Visser, Microsoft's general manager, Windows Commercial said in a blog post today that the tablets are replacing Windows XP-based PCs, where sales reps put together proposals and then printed them out.  "Using the Windows 8 tablets, their sales efforts will be more efficient and the customer experience will be greatly improved," Visser said. "The company also expects to process contracts more quickly, while ensuring customer security is protected and eliminating the need for printed documentation altogether."

This is a big win for Windows 8 and Microsoft and probably welcome news after the release of last quarter's tablet market share report from IDC released Wednesday. Now Microsoft needs many more big deployments to get enterprises interested in Windows 8.

Many IT pros tell me they plan to pass on major Windows 8 rollouts for the mere reason that they typically skip releases after performing major upgrades. Most organizations have upgraded their Windows XP (and earlier) PCs with Windows 7 and don't see a need to transition again at this time. But there are still a huge number of Windows XP-based systems that will no longer be supported with security patches after April 8 of next year and Microsoft is encouraging organizations to consider Windows 8 rather than Windows 7.

As more organizations find use for tablets, perhaps the resistance to Windows 8 could subside. It remains to be seen how quickly enterprises will take a keener interest in tablets and even when they do, whether they'll choose those based on Windows 8, iPads or devices loaded with Google's Android or Chrome OS.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/07/2013 at 12:29 PM0 comments


Dell Committee Accepts Revised Bid as Icahn Sues To Block Changed Vote Date

Ahead of Friday's scheduled vote  -- or should I say re-scheduled scheduled vote -- Dell's Special Committee accepted last week's revised bid from founder Michael Dell and his investors led by Silver Lake Partners.

Consequently the vote was once again rescheduled until Sept. 12. Michael Dell and Silver Lake agreed in return to not require that shares not cast count as "no" votes, a sticking point over last week's revised bid. The committee also agreed to reduce the breakup fee to $180 million from the original $450 million.

"The Committee is pleased to have negotiated this transaction, which provides as much as $470 million of increased value," said Alex Mandl, the committee's chairman, in a statement posted this morning. "We believe modifying the voting standard is in the best interests of Dell shareholders, both because it has enabled us to secure substantial additional value and because it provides a level playing field for the decision facing shareholders. The original voting standard was set at a time when the decision before the shareholders was between a going-private transaction and a continuation of the status quo. Since then, the nature of the choice facing shareholders has changed because of the emergence of an alternative proposal by certain stockholders."

That alternate proposal was the $12-a-share bid led by investor team Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management (which actually values at $15 to $18 a share because shareholders would retain a portion of their shares after receiving a payout). Icahn and his team fear Dell's offer undervalues the company. Icahn last week filed a lawsuit on Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, Del. to block the vote change. Icahn and his investors are aiming to replace the entire Dell board and Michael Dell as CEO.

It appears (so far) that the revised offer from Dell-Silver Lake has a better chance of succeeding than it did before they upped their offer. But anything can happen over the next month and Icahn isn't throwing in the towel just yet.

By going private, Dell and Silver Lake argue they can be more competitive by not having to disclose information, while allowing the company to make long-term bets that may not pass muster with the scrutiny of public shareholders.

So the battle continues.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:28 PM0 comments


Windows Tablet Market Share Grows Despite Weak Windows RT Sales

Windows is now installed on 4 percent of all tablets (1.8 million licenses sold) in the second quarter. However, Windows RT only shipped on 200,000 systems, mostly Microsoft's Surface RT, IDC reported today.

The findings in IDC's second-quarter Tablet Tracker report presented the latest stinging data point that systems with Windows RT are not catching on with consumers, business users or IT pros despite rapid growth during the same period for iPads and Android-based tablets. Because the second quarter ended June 30, the numbers don't take into account the fact that Microsoft last month slashed the price of its Surface RT devices and took a $900 million charge on the extra inventory.

But it doesn't look likely it will have a dramatic effect on the next quarter. "We don't see [Windows RT] making traction at all," said IDC program manager Ryan Reith, in an e-mail. "The bigger problem is hardware partners are beginning to shy away from the platform as they don't see consumer demand or its fit in the industry."

As for tablets running Windows 8, Reith is more optimistic. "As we have said all along, uptake for Windows 8 will be slow but eventually it will stick," he said, acknowledging the latest quarterly report is unlikely to silence critics. "Windows 8 is slowly making progress but it's a huge focus point for the industry and media with a very large target on its back, so I'm not quite sure it has come even close to meetings critics' needs."

Indeed the 1.8 million tablets running Windows 8 pale in comparison to the 14.6 million iPads sold and the 28.2 tablets loaded with Android, which respectively account for 32.5 and 62.6 percent market share.

Meanwhile Microsoft over the weekend quietly cut the price of its Surface Pro tablets by $100 bringing it down to $799 for a system configured with 64 GB of storage and $899 for a 128 GB version. Keep in mind that doesn't include the price of keyboards, which can add $129 (for the Type version).

While the latest price cut on the Surface Pros may help move the needle a tad, I'm still betting a forthcoming version with Intel's Haswell processors will offer more appeal to users, presuming they offer the all-day battery life that CPU promises. Current Surface Pros only run about 4-5 hours, limiting their appeal.

Top Tablet Operating Systems, Shipments, and Market Share, Second Quarter 2013 (Shipments in Millions)

Vendor 2Q13 Unit Shipments 2Q13 Market Share 2Q12 Unit Shipments 2Q12 Market Share Year-over-Year Growth
1. Android 28.2 62.6% 10.7 38.0% 162.9%
2. iOS 14.6 32.5% 17.0 60.3% -14.1%
3. Windows 1.8 4.0% 0.3 1.0% 527.0%
4. Windows RT 0.2 0.5% N/A N/A N/A
5. BlackBerry OS 0.1 0.3% 0.2 0.7% -32.8%
Others 0.1 0.2% N/A N/A N/A
Total 45.1 100.0% 28.3 100.0% 59.6%

Source: IDC

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:21 PM0 comments


Is Office 365's Growth Lowering Salaries of SharePoint and Exchange Experts?

Salaries for SharePoint developers and administrators have dropped 7 percent this year -- but they're still drawing six figures in pay.

As we pull together the forthcoming 2013 Redmond Salary Survey, which we'll publish in the coming weeks, the median compensation for SharePoint developers and administrators was $100,817, compared with $107,063 last year.

Likewise, the average salary of Exchange administrators was slightly less -- $87,569 versus $88,889 last year, a 1.5 percent decline. It begs the question, is the growth of Office 365 cutting into the earnings of those with SharePoint and Exchange expertise? To be sure, those who said they have Office 365 expertise also draw six-figure salaries.

The majority responding to this year's survey say the cloud is having either no impact or a positive effect on their salaries and careers. At the same time, as noted last week, a growing number of respondents are looking for new jobs.

Are you one of them? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com and let me know how your career as a Windows IT pro is going.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2013 at 1:26 PM0 comments


Windows XP Migration: The Next Y2K Crisis for IT Pros?

As the clock continues to tick for Microsoft's Windows XP, Microsoft and others are doing everything they can to motivate reluctant users to migrate off the aging operating system. Suffice to say, it remains an arduous process. In a token effort to remind people of the OS's limited life, Microsoft last week said it's holding a virtual retirement party for Windows XP, which it will officially stop supporting April 8 of next year.

Could that day be the closest thing we've had to the Year 2000 (Y2K) crisis scare -- when any computer not properly updated would be rendered inoperable? And with some of the legacy systems out there that led everyone to wonder if there would be dial tone or running water. Certainly those at Microsoft looking to get people off Windows XP might want people to give it that same sense of urgency.

For those who haven't been paying attention, Microsoft will no longer issue system or security patches for Windows XP after that date. That means continuing to run systems with Windows XP can make them a sponge for malware, viruses and other problems.  The so-called retirement party comes in the form of an information graphic Microsoft published with snippets outlining why users should get off Windows XP. But it was really just Microsoft's latest gimmick to draw attention to the issue.

Nevertheless it's not a trivial problem. Larger organizations know what they have to do and if they don't want to do it themselves they'll hire outside partners to help with migration of apps and configuration of the new systems.

Smaller businesses and branch offices of larger enterprises often are the guiltiest of those still saddled with PCs still running Windows XP. Some may beg to differ with the term "guiltiest." I have heard from quite a few stalwarts who will go to the grave with their Windows XP systems and are quite angry at Microsoft for pulling the plug on it. But from everything I'm hearing April 8 is the real deal. No one expects Microsoft to give Windows XP another stay of execution.

There are many who appreciate that sense of urgency and intend to upgrade as the date comes closer, though it's expected many upgrades will happen after April 8 as well. Many shops will ultimately break down and make the move. Those who choose to do it themselves can use some of the tips adeptly outlined by Redmond magazine's online news editor, Kurt Mackie, back in April. But many liken the task to mowing their own lawn or painting their house. Sure they could do it but they'd rather pay someone else a few bucks and not have that burden to deal with it.

For decision makers who feel that way about moving their PCs to a new operating system, there are plenty of third-party options, though some might be costly. In a move to offer an inexpensive approach for smaller organizations looking to make the upgrade, Harry Brelsford, founder of SMB Nation on Thursday August 1 is launching a new service called XPmigrations.com.

Brelsford has run SMB Nation for over a decade in Bainbridge Island, Wash. and is a fixture in Redmond. While Microsoft won't be promoting XPmigrations.com, officials there are well-aware of the effort, Harry told me. And XPmigrations.com will use Microsoft Community Connections to help introduce consultants to appropriate business and civic groups.

Here's how XPmigrations.com works: Any qualified Windows consultant can register at the XPmigrations.com site to apply to become a migration expert. SMB Nation itself has a network of 40,000 SMB IT Pros and Harry explained to me that the goal is to have migration experts available nationwide. The experts will help customers choose how to handle a migration including choosing the right PC for their needs and then moving data over and getting each desktop or mobile system configured and connected to the network. The cost to upgrade each PC is $200.

Breldsford calls it a co-op and XPmigrations.com will operate like a temporary employment agency, which he ran in another lifetime. In effect, XPmigrations.com will sort of function like an online labor pool or marketplace of Windows XP migration experts, he explained. XPmigratiions.com performs background checks on prospective consultants, equips them with a migration assessment tool kit and trains them to become a Certified Migration Expert (CME). "We liken the need to migrate off Windows XP as the equivalent of a Year 2000 issue," Brelsford told me.

While the number and scale of systems that may be affected if organizations didn't update the proper systems may not measure up to a Y2K crisis, the number of systems running Windows XP is significant. An astounding 41 percent of Redmond magazine readers still have Windows XP-based systems within their organizations, according to the Redmond 2013 Readership Survey. Another interesting figure shows only 18 percent have absolutely no Windows XP-based systems (meaning 82 percent have such PCs) compared with 3 percent who say they don't have any Windows 7-based systems.

On the other hand, only 23 percent report that more than half of their systems are Windows XP-based. Yet less than half -- 45 percent -- say they plan to migrate off of those systems by the end of the year, with another 24 percent planning to do so but haven't established a timeframe.

But we all know what's going to happen. Most are going to wait until the last minute and beyond. And then there are the diehards.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/01/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Reader Feedback Wanted: Looking for a Higher-Salaried Job?

As I scour the data from this year's 2013 Redmond Salary Survey, it appears salaries on average are on the rise. The average increase in compensation is almost as high as last year's annual salary survey but a notable difference is a growing number of you are looking for a new job.

While you'll have to wait a month for the final results, I'm looking for some of you to give some color to align with some of the trends I'm spotting. If the only thing holding you back is you don't want to tip off your employer or colleagues that you're not happy with your salary or job (or maybe you don't want to admit you're doing better than most), no worries, I won't identify you.

But if you want to share your insights on what's driving compensation for Windows IT pros and how they're navigating their careers these days, your feedback would be welcome. One caveat: I do need to know who you are to ensure I am sharing accurate information but again, I will not identify you unless you want me to. That said, please answer the following questions:

  • Is your experience with any Microsoft-based technology valued by your current employer?
  • How has the raise and bonus you received this year compare with what you've received in previous years?
  • What's your view of why your employer is either being more generous or less with salaries this year?
  • Do you feel the only way you can boost your salary is to move on to a new job?
  • If salary isn't the reason you're looking for a new job, what is?
  • How is the cloud impacting your career?

Other relevant thoughts on the state of compensation and the job market for Windows IT pros are also welcome. You can reach me at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/31/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments


Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff Mocks Microsoft's Surface

Never one to miss an opportunity to taunt his rivals, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff gave his unbridled assessment of Microsoft's struggling Surface: The alternatives are superior.

"The reason why they're not accelerating growth is for one simple reason," Benioff told The New York Times, in an article over the weekend breaking down Microsoft's quest to keep Windows relevant in the tablet era. "There's a better technology."

I shrugged it off as typical Benioff bravado as he often takes swipes at Microsoft, which besides Oracle and SAP is perhaps Salesforce.com's largest competitor. Not only does Microsoft pose a formidable threat to Salesforce.com in the market Benioff's company dominates -- CRM -- but Microsoft and Salesforce are looking to draw customers and developers to their competing cloud platforms -- Force.com and Windows Azure respectively.

Salesforce.com officials coincidently put substance behind Benioff's remark to The Times today with the release of its latest tooling for developers. An upgrade to its Salesforce Platform Mobile Services, launched back in April, provides extended support for those building native iOS and Android apps. The new release even targets Microsoft C# and .NET developers with the included Xamarin Mobile Pack, which includes the Mono framework, as one of the new packs added to Salesforce Mobile Services.

As Adam Seligman, Salesforce.com's vice president of developer relations outlined the new additions to its new mobile offering and specifically explained the addition of the Xamarin pack, I asked if he sees adding native support for the new Windows runtime and Microsoft's tile-based app model in Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone. "We have seen no demand for Windows RT," Seligman explained. "What we are doing for these cross platform devices is supporting regular native Web with HTML 5."

While he wouldn't say whether he shares Benioff's opinion that the Surface is inferior, I asked Seligman if ultimately supporting the new Windows runtime is on Salesforce.com's agenda. "Our mobile SDK today supports Android and iOS and if other platforms get some share we'll definitely look at supporting them too."

Many organizations use Salesforce.com's CRM and other SaaS offerings. If using Salesforce.com on Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone is confined to HTML 5 and JavaScript, will that limit the appeal of Surfaces and other Windows-based mobile devices? Share your opinion or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/30/2013 at 1:15 PM0 comments


The Demise of Microsoft's Surface Is Greatly Exaggerated

It really gets under my skin when Microsoft's Surface devices are described as an abject failure. Indeed it's fair to say that Microsoft has failed to make a meaningful dent in the tablet market with the Surface including distribution blunders and poor marketing that led to Microsoft's $900 million write-down. But to suggest they're DOA is premature.

The Surface could wind up sharing the same fate as the Zune (it's already outlived the ill-conceived Kin) but the game is far from over despite Microsoft's gaffes with its tablet entries. Forget the failure of the Zune and remember other technology entries where Microsoft was late to the party such as Windows NT, Active Directory, Hyper-V and even Internet Explorer.

Though the clock is ticking, there's still time for Microsoft to generate demand for the Surface and Windows 8/RT. In Nick Bilton's Bits blog yesterday in The New York Times he refers to the Surface as a failure, though he stopped short of comparing them to the Zune.  

"The Surface failed because Microsoft confused consumers who didn't want to think about RT or Pro or what version of Windows their new device would run," he wrote.

Bilton is right in that Microsoft needed to offer customers better clarity about the differences between Surface RT and Surface Pro. A better name for RT (maybe Express or Lite) to better clarify the differences between the two would have helped avoid that confusion.

Microsoft's long-term vision for Windows is a day when people have all but forgotten about the traditional desktop interface that now powers over a billion PCs and have moved on to its new modern tile interface. But presuming Microsoft can convince its base of developers and customers to make that transition, it will be many years before that happens.

In the meantime, Microsoft needs to play to those who only want to shell out a few hundred dollars for a device and those who want a full-function system that can appeal to workers who need more than a tablet intended for information consumption.

Until the economics make it possible to offer Windows RT machines -- including Surface RTs -- for less than $300, they will have a hard time moving the needle. It's getting closer with the latest price drop. Having a low-cost alternative to the iPad and devices based on Google's Android (as well as its Chromebooks) is a must if Microsoft wants to be in the game.

At the same time Microsoft has to figure out how to walk the fine line for those who want the desktop. It must make that experience appealing while tempting (but not forcing) them