Foley on Microsoft

6 Key New Microsoft Cloud Services

IT should keep an eye on some of Microsoft's upcoming cloud-based services, including Power BI and Enterprise Mobility Suite.

Whether you're an IT pro who believes the cloud is an unstoppable force -- or an IT pro who's avoiding as long as possible anything cloud-related, it's worth knowing about a handful of Microsoft cloud wares you'll hear a lot about in the coming year.

Here are six cloud deliverables that Microsoft top brass -- from CEO Satya Nadella on down -- have touted as key to the future of Microsoft.

1. Microsoft Azure Machine Learning (ML): Azure ML is an Azure-hosted service currently available in preview form that lets customers more easily make use of the growing amount of big data they're collecting and attempting to harness. Previously known internally as Cloud ML, the service, released for public preview in July, is designed to allow partners and customers to build predictive analytics services using Microsoft-developed tools and templates. Azure ML evolved from a Microsoft Research project code-named "Passau." Microsoft developers used the algorithms developed for services such as Xbox Live and Bing to build out the service. Microsoft wants customers to use Azure ML in tandem with another Azure service in preview: Intelligent Systems Service, its "Internet of Things" service.

2. Delve: Office Delve is Microsoft's self-described business version of Flipboard for Office 365. The Delve application, rolled out to Office 365 business customers last month, relies on the Microsoft "Office Graph" to search for and display customized information cards to users about the people, documents and relationships that matter to them. Delve, which was formerly code-named "Oslo" in honor of the Oslo, Norway-based Fast Search & Transfer technology Microsoft acquired in 2008, is just the first of a number of Office Graph-centric apps the `Softies are planning to deliver.

3. Dynamics CRM Online: The Microsoft hosted version of its Dynamics CRM product isn't new, but the company is going to step up its CRM Online push directly and through its partners during this fiscal year and beyond. The `Softies' goal is to convince customers to "attach" CRM Online to as many Office 365 seats as possible. The Microsoft CRM team is continuing on its twice-yearly update pace. Its next major CRM/CRM Online release, code-named "Vega," due out this fall, will add simpler sign-up, provisioning, faster self-service and multi-geo tenant functionality, plus a new "Power BI in CRM Web client," according to a Microsoft roadmap.

4. Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS): EMS is a bundle of three key cloud-first/­mobile-first point products. It includes Azure Active Directory Premium, Intune mobile-device manage­ment and Azure Rights Management Services. Microsoft execs consider EMS one of its key differentiators versus Google and Amazon. Microsoft is pitching EMS as a way for businesses to securely manage not just Windows, iOS and Android devices, but also documents and files on those devices. To truly enable this level of security, Microsoft needs new versions of Office that support new added management capabilities for all of these device types.

5. Power BI: Power BI for Office 365 is a suite of self-service business intelligence tools, which Microsoft initially rolled out in July 2013. The suite includes Power Pivot, Power View, Power Query (formerly known as Data Explorer) and Power Maps (formerly known as GeoFlow) delivered as Office 365 subscription services. Power BI for Office 365 works in conjunction with Excel and SharePoint, which allows customers to integrate their on-premises data with Power BI in the cloud. Power BI is key to the continued Microsoft SQL Server push. It's also tied into the quest by the Microsoft Applications and Services Group -- home to Office -- to deliver new tools and services focused on improving the meeting experience.

6. Azure RemoteApp: Code-named "Mohoro," the Microsoft Azure-hosted RemoteApp service isn't a streaming Windows as a service offering. Instead, Azure RemoteApp is a device-installable client app that allows users to access on their Windows, iOS, Mac OS X and Android devices Win32 applications running on Windows Server on Azure. Microsoft released a public preview of Azure RemoteApp in May 2014. Officials claim it already has substantial uptake.

Increasingly, these cloud-first -- and in some cases, cloud-only -- services are emerging as the new kids on the Microsoft enterprise block. Ready or not, here they come.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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