A Field Report from the Great Office 365 Migration

Peter Bauer's perch offers a commanding view of one of the greatest migrations in the history of IT -- the movement from on-premises Microsoft Exchange servers to Office 365.

Bauer is chairman and CEO of Mimecast, which provides e-mail security and data security products. Much of the company's business involves layering security and archiving onto Microsoft Office 365, and the company has been building a business on the Microsoft cloud productivity trend for years.

In the earnings call about the company's third quarter results on Monday night, a financial analyst noted that Mimecast reported that 29 percent of its customers are on Office 365 and asked how Bauer saw the Office 365 opportunity progressing in the future.

The ideal source for that information would be Microsoft, but the software and cloud giant rarely provides straight numbers from quarter to quarter, and even more rarely discusses the overall universe of Exchange seats.

In answering, Bauer said he believes Mimecast's customer base is a pretty good proxy for Office 365 adoption.

"When we talk about [Office 365] in the context of the broader Microsoft Exchange ecosystem, we estimated somewhere between 300 million and 350 million corporate e-mail users using a Microsoft-type solution for e-mail," Bauer said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call.

Bauer's figures roughly align with what Microsoft has publicly revealed about Office 365 monthly active users, which hit 120 million worldwide in October. Given Mimecast's estimate that about a third of the overall Exchange universe is on Office 365, the figure passes the back-of-the-envelope test.

Looking forward, Bauer said, "I don't know what the sort of saturation level is in terms of Microsoft's customers moving over. But if one assumes that 75 percent of the market is ultimately on [Office] 365 and if we're sort of a third of the way there after five-plus years of migration, [it] is probably at least another five maybe more years of migration that goes on in the markets."

In the face of Microsoft's vagueness, these estimates from Mimecast, a company with a lot at stake financially in the getting the right answer to the question and a sizable user base of its own to compare against, provides a valuable field report from the overall Office 365 migration.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 02/14/2018 at 8:57 AM0 comments

Nadella: AI Needs Direction

In the great debate over whether the robots will save us or destroy us, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is staking out a more activist position.

Nadella revisited the artificial intelligence issue in a speech at The Economic Club of New York on Wednesday. "I feel like sometimes we in tech, even, abdicate control: '[AI] is going to happen tomorrow and our best case is that we're going to be domesticated cats or whatever,'" Nadella said.

His comment references pessimistic statements like those from scientist Stephen Hawking, who told the BBC, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race...It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate." Or SpaceX/Tesla founder Elon Musk, who has written, "The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. Ten years at most."

Nadella countered Wednesday that "no, it's a choice. I'm not making fun of that as a consequence. It could happen, but only if we abdicate."

He acknowledged the reality of downsides, such as unintended consequences of automation, especially job displacement. In Nadella's view, however, the eventual behavior of AI depends on the values and actions of the people in the tech industry. "We as a society -- starting with Microsoft -- have to do some of our very best work at skilling...students in school or people who are displaced midcareer."

Those comments piggyback on a major theme of his recent book, "Hit Refresh," in which Nadella dedicated an entire chapter to the future of humans and machines.

As he wrote there, "We can't seem to get beyond this utopia/dystopia dichotomy. I would argue that the most productive debate we can have about AI isn't one that pits good vs. evil, but rather one that examines the values instilled in the people and institutions creating this technology."

At Microsoft, Nadella wrote that he is pushing the company's substantial AI-focused workforce to follow principles that AI must be "designed to assist humanity...be transparent...maximize efficiencies without destroying the dignity of people...be designed for intelligent privacy [and] have algorithmic accountability."

Posted by Scott Bekker on 02/08/2018 at 1:34 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Last Major OS Becomes Its Most Popular OS

Now that Windows 10 has surpassed Windows 7 for the first time in global usage statistics, it's not just the latest round of Microsoft's reigning OS passing the torch to the newest release. This time it marks the ascendance of the new model of Windows.

"This is a breakthrough for Microsoft," said StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen in a statement this month about the handover of the lead. StatCounter, a Web analytics company, tracks operating system, browser and screen resolution information for 10 billion visitors each month to more than 2 million sites worldwide.

Cullen is talking about Windows 10's January 2018 results as a breakthrough in terms of wresting control from Windows 7, which, like Windows XP before it, has proven to be an exceptionally sticky OS version for Microsoft.

In January, Windows 10 hit 42.78 percent share worldwide, compared to 41.86 percent for Windows 7. The worldwide milestone follows similar crossover points in the United Kingdom (June 2016) and the United States (January 2017).

[Click on image for larger view.] Source: StatCounter

"Windows 10 was launched at the end of July 2015 and Microsoft will be pleased to have put its Windows 8 experience behind it. However, Windows 7 retains loyalty especially amongst business users. Microsoft will be hoping that it can replace it a lot quicker than XP, launched back in August 2001, which only fell below 5% usage worldwide in June of 2017," Cullen said.

Perhaps more significant, though, is that Windows 10's leading place asserts Windows as a Service, with rolling updates and an end to the old cycle of major launches every three years, as the mainstream version of Windows in the world.

There was a lot of hand-wringing about what exactly was meant when Microsoft officials called Windows 10 the "last major release" of Windows. It doesn't mean much in terms of new features or security patches, which continue to flood in, and at a much more rapid pace than in the old Windows model.

What it does mean is that once users are on Windows 10, they're supported for the life of their device, theoretically protecting them, Microsoft and the Internet at large from the kinds of security issues that have emerged and spread after a still-popular OS has fallen out of support.

The model could have been a failure. It could have followed in the footsteps of Windows 8, which also demanded a lot of adjustment from customers, who, in the main, refused Microsoft's directives.

Instead, Windows 10 -- and Microsoft's new approach to version support -- is the leading type of Windows by market share.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 02/07/2018 at 12:24 PM0 comments

Cloud, Again, Drives Microsoft Earnings

Microsoft's strong financial results for the second quarter of its fiscal year were once again a result of the company's relentless focus on transitioning to cloud.

The company released results after markets closed on Wednesday evening showing revenues of $28.9 billion, a 12% increase over the year-ago quarter, and operating income of $8.7 billion, a 10% bump. Net income was a loss of $6.3 billion, due to a $13.8 billion charge the company took related to the tax bill that Congress passed in December.

Financial analysts greeted the results positively on an earnings call Wednesday night, and MSFT briefly hit record highs in mid-day trading Thursday before falling slightly.

CEO Satya Nadella summarized the big picture for the quarter during the analyst call. "The intelligent cloud and intelligent edge paradigm is fast becoming a reality. Azure growth accelerated. LinkedIn growth accelerated. Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 are driving our growth and transforming the workplace. Xbox is reaching new customers with new offers," Nadella said.

An official statement from Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft, clarified how key cloud was for the results for the October through December period.

"We delivered another strong quarter with commercial cloud revenue growing 56% year-over-year to $5.3 billion," Hood said. The quarterly figure shows Microsoft is now tracking above the famous $20 billion annual cloud run rate that Nadella had set as an audacious goal and that Microsoft first hit last quarter.

While that quarterly cloud figure remains a fraction of Microsoft's overall $28.9 billion in revenues, it's a growing fraction. Cloud's function as a driver of revenue growth is apparent across several of Microsoft's businesses.

The most dramatic example of the trend occurred in the Intelligent Cloud segment. In that unit, server products and cloud services revenue increased by $967 million or 18%. But the cloud portion, represented by Azure revenues, nearly doubled with 98% growth. Server products licensed on-premises also saw revenue growth, but only by 4%.

The story was similar in both Office Commercial and Dynamics. Both segments had 10% overall growth, but Office 365 commercial revenue growth pulled its sector forward with 41% growth, while Dynamics 365 revenue growth galloped ahead at 67%.

Product segments without significant cloud components to bolster them generally languished. Windows revenue was up 1% with Windows OEM revenues up and Windows Commercial revenue down. Surface revenues were also up 1% on the strength of more premium devices sold, even as overall volumes decreased.

Meanwhile, cloud has its own costs, which Hood enumerated during the call. "Excluding LinkedIn, operating expenses increased on cloud engineering and sales capacity investments," Hood said, adding later, "As expected, our capital expenditures, including finance leases, increased sequentially to $3.3 billion due to higher levels of customer demand and usage for our cloud services."

Given cloud's impact on Microsoft's quarter, it's clear why Microsoft continues to invest heavily in cloud, even after the dramatic investments of an estimated $15 billion or more in this decade to kick-start its datacenter footprint.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 02/02/2018 at 8:59 AM0 comments

Attack Your Users, and Other Security Enhancements Coming to Office 365

Office 365 administrators who enjoy torturing their own users will have a new toy to play with this quarter. The Attack Simulator for Office 365 Threat Intelligence is expected to enter a public preview any day now, according to a recent update of Microsoft's Office 365 Roadmap.

The simulator is one of a handful of key, near-term security enhancements in the Office 365 roadmap.

The attack simulator has the potential to be a very useful proactive defense tool for IT administrators. Unveiled at Microsoft Ignite in September and set for an imminent public preview, the simulator is a new feature of Office 365 Threat Intelligence.

That Threat Intelligence service, launched last April, provides real-time security insights on global attack trends culled from what Microsoft describes as billions of data points from its global datacenters, Office clients and other sources.

According to the roadmap, the attack simulator "enables admins to send simulated attacks (10-15 different attack categories including phish, brute force password cracking, etc.) to their end users to determine how they respond to attacks and determine if the right policies are in place to help mitigate real attacks."

[Click on image for larger view.] The Attack Simulator for Office 365 Threat Intelligence will allow administrators to test users' password strength and phishing attack readiness, among other things. (Source: Microsoft)

Also close are some additional features for the Office 365 Secure Score, which was originally came out a year ago to allow organizations to get a base security score from Microsoft based on dozens of factors in Office 365 covering user behaviors and security settings. It's like a credit score for an organization's cloud collaboration security posture.

Now Microsoft is adding an "Industry Average Score," displaying average scores that a company can compare to their own score. Microsoft is also testing an "Active Seat Average Score and Reporting Updates" feature for the Office 365 Secure Score. That will allow customers to compare their score against the average score for organizations with a similar number of Office 365 active seats. The update will also help organizations compare their own score between two different dates and offer the option to search a list of actions.

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's original Office 365 Secure Score (pictured) became available a year ago. Microsoft is adding the ability for customers to compare their scores to like-size companies. (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft is also fine-tuning the Office 365 Message Encryption capabilities it released in September. The feature was designed to make sharing of encrypted and rights-protected messages more seamless. However, the original release applied additional message restrictions, such as Do Not Forward. With the new version, administrators in the Admin Portal, or users in their Outlook client, can choose "encrypt only," without any other message restrictions.

In another change set to arrive shortly, Microsoft will add malicious link protection for end users sending e-mails within the same organization. Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection Safe Links for internal e-mails will include time-of-click protection and other functionality of Safe Links, Microsoft said. Slightly later in the quarter, Microsoft plans to introduce Office 365 Cloud App Security -- App Permission Alerts. The feature will allow administrators to create policies to be alerted when a user grants permission to an application to access Office 365 information.

All of the security features are currently in the "in development" section of Microsoft's Office 365 Roadmap page. Although many are supposed to be released very soon, the rollout for the Office 365 user base is staged and can take weeks or months.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 02/01/2018 at 7:47 AM0 comments

Norton: Nearly 1 Billion Cybercrime Victims in 2017

A Symantec Norton survey released this month estimated that close to 1 billion people were affected by cybercrime in 2017.

Norton's exact figure is 978 million people, determined from a mammoth survey of 21,549 people in 20 countries (counting China and Hong Kong as separate countries) that was conducted in October. To reach such a massive number, Norton took an expansive view of cybercrime. Respondents were counted as victims if they answered that they had been hit by any of 20 different types of cybercrime.

Some were serious financial problems with quantifiable monetary costs, such as experiencing a ransomware attack, experiencing credit or debit card fraud, making an online purchase that turned out to be a scam, falling for a technical support scam, or losing a job or a promotion due to a social media posting that the victim did not post.

Others were serious problems that could lead to, but didn't necessarily involve, direct financial damages, such as being notified that your personal information was involved in a data breach, having an account password compromised, being a victim of identity theft, having a device infected by a virus or other security threat, having payment information stolen from a phone, clicking on a phishing e-mail or having financial information compromised from shopping online.

Also included were thorny situations that probably wouldn't lead to direct financial damages, but could take a lot of time and effort to fix. That category included unusual activity or unauthorized access to home Wi-Fi networks, social media accounts, e-mail accounts or smart home devices; location-based information being accessed without permission; having a child suffer online bullying; or having a child's online activity compromise the family's security.

By incident type, the biggest problem was malware infections, which were experienced by 36 percent of respondents. Malware was followed by password compromises at 18 percent, credit/debit card fraud at 17 percent, personal information compromised in a data breach at 16 percent, and unauthorized hacks of e-mail or social networking accounts at 16 percent.

The Norton survey's overall victim estimate, while large, passes the smell test. In fact, it could be conservative. After all, Yahoo revealed in October 2017 -- the same month that the Norton survey was conducted -- that 3 billion user accounts were impacted in a previously reported 2013 data breach that the company had originally thought affected 1 billion users. That total had to include a large percentage of system accounts tied to organizational departments or job roles, as well as multiple accounts tied to individual users, but still -- it's a lot of people.

The Norton survey comes at the question from a different angle, by having users report their own incidents. And that 978-million-victim estimate is an eye-opening figure. Norton estimated that the total population of the countries studied was 3.1 billion, meaning nearly a third of all the people in those countries were hit. The report further estimates that the online population in the study's geographies was 1.8 billion, putting victims at 54 percent.

In other words, more online denizens were hit by cybercrime in 2017, than were not.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/29/2018 at 8:42 AM0 comments

Former Microsoft and Citrix Exec Tatarinov Joins Acumatica Board

Former Citrix CEO and longtime Microsoft senior executive Kirill Tatarinov is joining the board of directors at Acumatica, a Bellevue, Wash.-based cloud ERP company.

On Acumatica's board, Tatarinov will be advising his former Microsoft colleague, Jon Roskill, who joined Acumatica as CEO in 2014 after capping a long Microsoft career with a stint as Microsoft's channel chief.

"Kirill is a very big proponent of advanced technology," Roskill said in a statement, "and his views align well with our intelligent ERP efforts on machine learning, natural user interfaces, and Blockchain. Having another technology advocate on the Board will continue to inspire our product development."

Tatarinov and Citrix parted ways in July after he held the job for about 18 months. Previously, he worked at Microsoft for 13 years, including a lengthy period running Microsoft Business Solutions/Dynamics, which includes the company's ERP and CRM products.

On the Acumatica board, the Moscow-born Tatarinov joins investor and technologist Serguei Beloussov, the executive chairman and co-founder of Acumatica. Beloussov, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, is also the co-founder, CEO and chairman of the board of Acronis and executive chairman of the board and chief architect of Parallels.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/25/2018 at 4:26 PM0 comments

'Rapid Cyberattacks' the Most Novel Security Threat To Emerge in 2017?

The massive Equifax breach dominated the security headlines last year, but Microsoft security experts are contending that Petya and WannaCrypt are representative of a dangerous new category of cyberattacks that emerged in force in 2017.

In a blog post Tuesday, Mark Simos, lead cybersecurity architect for the Microsoft Enterprise Cybersecurity Group, said the two attacks "reset our expectations" for how bad a cyberattack can be in terms of speed and scope of damage. Simos termed Petya and WannaCrypt, also known as WannaCry, as "rapid cyberattacks."

As a definition for this class of attacks, Simos wrote, "Rapid cyberattacks are fast, automated, and disruptive -- setting them apart from the targeted data theft attacks and various commodity attacks, including commodity ransomware, that security programs typically encounter."

To fit the bill, an attack must be rapid, spreading in minutes through an enterprise; automated, with no human interaction required; and disruptive, with intentional destruction or encryption of data and systems.

Both pieces of malware exploited vulnerabilities in Windows. Petya first appeared in early 2016 as a somewhat standard family of encrypting ransomware that encrypted hard drives, then prompted users for a Bitcoin payment.

The novel bits came in June 2017 in a severe cyberattack with worldwide effect, but that hit Ukraine especially hard and prompted suspicion that it was a targeted assault on that country's infrastructure. The Petya variant used in that case, also called NotPetya, spread through compromised tax preparation software common in Ukraine called MEDoc. NotPetya also used the EternalBlue exploit of a Windows Server Message Block vulnerability and other techniques to traverse networks. EternalBlue had been leaked by the Shadow Brokers hacker group in April 2017, and was widely believed to be a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) hacking tool. Additionally, NotPetya encrypted the file system but solely to destroy a computer; there were no ransom requests.

[Click on image for larger view.] Petya broke from typical security attacks in four ways. (Source: Mark Simos/Microsoft)

WannaCry/WannaCrypt, which also spread via EternalBlue without user interaction, also did some severe and widespread damage for a few days in May before a security researcher accidentally discovered a kill switch.

Focusing on Petya, Simos said that particular rapid cyberattack surprised defenders in four ways. It used the supply chain to enter target environments via the MEDoc application instead of phishing or browsing. Petya employed multiple propagation techniques. The malware moved across networks very quickly, outpacing defenders' ability to detect and respond to the attack. Finally, the lack of an apparent ransom motive made the malware destructive.

Simos and Jim Moeller, principal consultant for Cyber Security at Microsoft, address the issues in an on-demand webinar called "Protect Against Rapid Cyberattacks (Petya [aka NotPetya], WannaCrypt, and similar)."

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/24/2018 at 8:01 AM0 comments

War of Words in the SharePoint Tools Ecosystem

So is Metalogix for sale, or isn't it?

Metalogix's SharePoint tools competitor AvePoint on Tuesday launched a Metalogix switch campaign with a blog post from Chief Revenue Officer Chris Larsen asserting that Metalogix was for sale.

"If you haven't already heard, Metalogix has put their company up for sale. If you are using any of their products, this potential change in ownership could have a significant impact on the continuity of your IT processes and policies for SharePoint and Office 365," Larsen wrote in the post.

Metalogix CEO Trevor Hellebuyck responded a day later with a blog post titled "Metalogix is Forever" that was not quite a denial of being for sale, but that also pushed back against AvePoint's assertions.

"We don't know what sparked their post, but we will recognize it for what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to capture customers who they couldn't otherwise attract with AvePoint solutions. We'll simply say that we are a successful private equity backed business that attracts a lot of attention. Sometimes we respond to that attention; many times we don't," Hellebuyck wrote.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/18/2018 at 12:13 PM0 comments

Microsoft Cortana Has a Bad Few Weeks

It's certainly been a rough start to 2018 for Microsoft's virtual assistant.

  • Even inside Microsoft, Cortana's been getting some rejections. On Jan. 5, Microsoft discontinued a public preview of an integration between Cortana and Dynamics 365 that the company had previously promoted. The preview had put Dynamics 365 in Cortana's notebook, and Cortana had prompted users with relevant information about sales activities, accounts, opportunities and meetings.
  • Cortana was supposed to be besties with Alexa right now. Microsoft and Amazon had announced back in August that people would be able to use Cortana on Windows 10 PCs to access Alexa and to use Alexa on the Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices to access Cortana. The two would become like a team of assistants, allowing Alexa to handle managing Cortana specialties like booking meetings or accessing work calendars when a user was near an Echo, and allowing Cortana to control Alexa specialties like shopping on Amazon.com or controlling smart home devices from a Windows 10 PC. The integration was supposed to be done by the end of the year. But the companies missed the deadline and have not provided a new target date.
  • Alexa is elbowing its way onto Windows territory. During CES last week, Acer announced that it would be bringing Alexa to some of its Aspire, Spin, Switch and Swift notebooks starting in the United States in the first quarter of 2018, with broader availability coming in the middle of the year. Other OEMs have discussed Alexa integrations, as well.
  • CES buzz in general was heavy on Alexa, with some Google Assistant thrown in. It was the second big Alexa year in a row for CES. Cortana, on the other hand, did not make any kind of splash at the show. Apple Siri was also a non-factor. Microsoft did try to generate some Cortana CES buzz by highlighting some reference designs from Allwinner, Synaptics, TONLY and Qualcomm.
  • Outsiders haven't been bothering to teach Cortana many new skills. As All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley pointed out in mid-December, Cortana is seriously lagging behind Alexa in the skills department. Microsoft released the Cortana Skills Kit in May 2017, and take-up has been slow. Alexa had 25,784 skills to start 2018, according to Voicebot.ai. Cortana had just 230 as of mid-December. The enthusiasm level is reminiscent of Microsoft's efforts to get modern apps for Windows 8 and apps for Windows Phone -- a slow, late start.

That Cortana is far behind while there's a lot of excitement about voice assistants is not surprising.

For one thing, she's on the wrong platform. Cortana launched as a public face of Windows Phone, and a good one too. With a backstory and fan base from the "Halo" video game franchise, the name was an inspired choice with a built-in personality to draw upon. But Windows Phone went nowhere, so that's not a user base. (Maybe if the Surface Phone materializes, it will be worth revisiting.)

Smartphones are a logical place for voice input -- typing and texting on phones is challenging and annoying, making the annoyances of dealing with a voice interface a reasonable tradeoff. And talking and listening to a phone is theoretically safer than attempting to look at one while driving. There are more than a billion Android smartphones out there, making Google Assistant an automatic player in the voice assistant game. (The inability of Siri to break out as a voice platform is probably more of a strategic concern for Apple than Cortana's position is for Microsoft.)

When it comes to voice-enabled speakers like the Amazon Echo, voice isn't just a competitive interface choice -- it's the only option in most cases. While Amazon is starting from a small base of maybe 20 to 30 million Echo devices sold to date, the company has all the momentum and a lot of industry partner enthusiasm.

Cortana's user base for now is PCs, and when it comes to voice input, it's not a great place to be. The keyboard and mouse/trackpad are an awesome combination -- voice has to get very, very good before it can ever displace those very mature inputs for a user seated in front of a laptop or PC. It's for the same reason that Alexa integration with PCs may be less promising than the PC OEMs make it out to be.

Microsoft's virtual assistant ambitions are bigger than the PC base; in fact, they're bigger than Cortana.

The PC user base is only part of Microsoft's market, and it's a shrinking part. As the company redefines itself as a cloud company, one of its real strengths is its deep history with the enterprise development community and its experience at enabling that community.

Microsoft's official statement about discontinuing the Cortana-Dynamics 365 public preview provides a clear example of the strategy in action:

We are working to deliver a robust and scalable digital assistant experience across all of our Dynamics 365 offerings. This includes natural language integration for customers and partners across multiple channels including Cortana. To that end, we are discontinuing the current Cortana integration preview feature that was made available for Dynamics 365 and we are focusing on building a new long term intelligent solution experience, which will include Cortana digital assistant integration.

Getting developers to use Azure services for voice recognition, chatbots, translation, machine learning and artificial intelligence are all strategic plays for Microsoft. Expect the company to keep working to develop first-rate user experiences that evolve the gimmicky aspects of Cortana's personality into a better and better virtual assistant interface for unlocking deeper business value from more and more of Microsoft's advanced cloud services.

Bad start to 2018 or not, Microsoft needs to keep a hand in virtual assistant technologies. As long as that's the case, Cortana will probably continue her role as the public face of that broader and deeper effort.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/16/2018 at 3:06 PM0 comments

Survey: SharePoint Users Crowd the Cloud Onramp

Microsoft SharePoint users surged into cloud deployments in 2017, according to a new survey.

"The SharePoint and Office 365 Industry Survey" released this week by SharePoint tools suppliers Sharegate, Hyperfish and Nintex included responses from about 450 IT professionals and SharePoint administrators. What makes the survey interesting is that the same three companies surveyed a random sample of their combined client pools in 2016, as well, providing lots of data points for comparison.

There was a triple-digit increase -- 167 percent -- in SharePoint Online deployments from 2016 to 2017. While only 21 percent of respondents in 2016 had SharePoint Online deployed, that number soared to 56 percent in 2017. Even though that means that more than half of companies had SharePoint Online deployed, a lot of them were also still running on-premise SharePoint deployments in parallel.

Yet another data point in the survey shows more and more users trusting their entire SharePoint workload to the cloud. In 2016, one-fifth of users had SharePoint deployed exclusively online. A year later, that number was nearly a third (31 percent). At the same time, hybrid environments (a mix of SharePoint Online and on-premises SharePoint deployments) dropped by 7 percentage points to 34 percent and on-premises-only environments dropped by 2 percentage points to 35 percent in 2017.

The shift to the cloud in SharePoint is mirrored on the Active Directory (AD) side in the vendor survey. In 2016, a very slight majority of AD deployments involved on-premises AD (51 percent). But in 2017, that number fell to 42 percent, while a mix of on-premises and Azure AD jumped 3 percentage points to 34 percent and pure Azure AD deployments rose 4 percentage points to 16 percent.

The survey also reveals the relative share of the last six on-premises versions of SharePoint, dating all the way back to SharePoint 2001, although that version and SharePoint 2003 are present in low enough numbers to make any conclusions about the trends on those editions statistically questionable.

Among the newer versions, the only one gaining significant share is the most recent, SharePoint 2016, which saw a 67 percent increase in deployments from 2016 to 2017. While impressive, it's gaining share at a much lower rate than SharePoint Online/Office 365 and from a smaller base. SharePoint 2016 ended 2017 with a presence in 25 percent of respondents' shops.

Holding steady and maintaining the largest share of any edition, including SharePoint Online, is SharePoint 2013. Deployed at 66 percent of respondents' sites, SharePoint 2013 won't maintain its lead through 2018 if SharePoint Online continues its momentum.

For 2017, SharePoint Online seemed to be taking most of its share from SharePoint 2007, which dropped 2 percentage points to 18 percent, and especially from SharePoint 2010, which dropped 8 percentage points to 40 percent.

As Office 365 deployments continue to gallop ahead, there is little reason to suspect that SharePoint Online's share of overall SharePoint workloads won't continue to increase. The question is how fast.

As befits a survey fielded by tools vendors, a statement accompanying the data points out that obstacles remain for those still moving to SharePoint Online.

"The move to the cloud is not always as easy as it sounds. Microsoft has released a content migration tool to help customers leave SharePoint 2010 and 2013, but it just isn't enough. Here at Sharegate, we still see a large number of customers leveraging our tools to migrate while keeping their existing site structure and objects," said Benjamin Niaulin, Microsoft Regional Director & Product Advisor at Sharegate.

Among the challenges are ongoing concerns about security, cost constraints, time constraints and difficulties in migrating SharePoint customizations from on-premises to online.

This survey says progress to the cloud in 2017 was rapid. The question for 2018 will be whether that pace can continue. Were we looking at low-hanging fruit, easy wins and pilot projects that could stall slightly this year? Or was it an early majority shift that could bring nearly half of the SharePoint customer base exclusively into the cloud by year's end?

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/10/2018 at 2:29 PM0 comments

Intel To Patch All Chips Shipped in Last 5 Years by End of January

Intel will release updates for the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities by the end of January for all chips released in the last five years, CEO Brian Krzanich said Monday.

"For our processors and products introduced in the past five years, Intel expects to issue updates for more than 90 percent of them within a week, and the remaining by the end of January," Krzanich said.

His comments came at the start of his keynote Monday night to kick off the CES industry conference in Las Vegas. Facing by far the biggest security crisis since he took over as CEO in May 2013, Krzanich used the first two minutes of the keynote to discuss the security issues before pivoting to a more standard, future-oriented keynote focused on Intel's technologies for artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Reports emerged last week that Intel and its hardware, operating system and other industry partners were working on patches for a major vulnerability in processors that could allow an attacker to collect sensitive data from computing devices that were working as designed. Intel confirmed and elaborated on the vulnerabilities in a series of public statements last week.

As he thanked industry partners for their speed and effort to release patches, Krzanich showed a slide with statements from those companies about how systems had already been patched. One statement on the slide from Amazon noted, "This is a vulnerability that has existed for more than 20 years in modern processor architectures like Intel, AMD, and ARM across servers, desktops, and mobile devices."

Krzanich's comments Monday did not address whether Intel planned to release updates for products that were more than 5 years old.

His CES comments were also less emphatic than Intel's public statements from last week in downplaying the possibility of performance hits from the patches, although that lack of emphasis could have been simply an effort to get on with the main keynote.

"We believe the performance impact of these updates is highly workload-dependent. Now as a result, we expect some workloads may have a larger impact than others so we'll continue working with the industry to minimize the impact on those workloads over time," Krzanich said Monday.

Previous Intel statements had added that the performance impact for the average computer user "should not be significant," and the company also released partner statements from Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google describing the impact with words like "not...meaningful," "not...noticeable," "no measurable reduction" and "negligible impact."

Krzanich encouraged users to apply updates as soon as they become available, and said the exploits don't appear to have been used maliciously yet. "As of now we have not received any information that these exploits have been used to obtain customer data, and we're working tirelessly on these issues to ensure it stays that way," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/09/2018 at 8:40 AM0 comments

Update: Intel Confirms Security Problem

Reports have been bubbling up this week that vendors and open source teams are hustling under embargo to fix a major security flaw affecting Intel processors over the last decade. The rumored software fix could seriously slow down both personal systems and public clouds.

Here's the top of The Register's report from Tuesday night:

A fundamental design flaw in Intel's processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug.

Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel's virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December.

Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features -- such as PCID -- to reduce the performance hit. Your mileage may vary.

The next Patch Tuesday is Jan. 9. Microsoft also sent out warnings to some users that their Azure Virtual Machines would undergo an unusual reboot for security and maintenance on Jan. 10, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) e-mailed users of a maintenance reboot on Jan. 5-6, The Register noted. Officially, all the vendors are declining comment.

Patch Tuesdays are always mark-the-date events for IT, but this flaw is looking more like an all-hands-on-deck situation -- both for the security issues and then for the potential of subsequent and permanent performance problems.

UPDATE: Intel released its first statement on the issue Wednesday afternoon, confirming a serious security problem and a fix timeframe for next week, but pushing back partially on the performance hit and on reports that the problem only affected Intel chips. Here's the statement:

Intel Responds to Security Research Findings

Intel and other technology companies have been made aware of new security research describing software analysis methods that, when used for malicious purposes, have the potential to improperly gather sensitive data from computing devices that are operating as designed. Intel believes these exploits do not have the potential to corrupt, modify or delete data.

Recent reports that these exploits are caused by a "bug" or a "flaw" and are unique to Intel products are incorrect. Based on the analysis to date, many types of computing devices -- with many different vendors' processors and operating systems -- are susceptible to these exploits.

Intel is committed to product and customer security and is working closely with many other technology companies, including AMD, ARM Holdings and several operating system vendors, to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively. Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits. Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.

Intel is committed to the industry best practice of responsible disclosure of potential security issues, which is why Intel and other vendors had planned to disclose this issue next week when more software and firmware updates will be available. However, Intel is making this statement today because of the current inaccurate media reports.

Check with your operating system vendor or system manufacturer and apply any available updates as soon as they are available. Following good security practices that protect against malware in general will also help protect against possible exploitation until updates can be applied.

Intel believes its products are the most secure in the world and that, with the support of its partners, the current solutions to this issue provide the best possible security for its customers.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/03/2018 at 4:02 PM0 comments

State of the Password: Bad, People Working on It

Yes, we know most passwords are lame, and we've known it for years. A look at the worst passwords of 2017 confirms the depressing reality:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. letmein
  8. 1234567
  9. football
  10. iloveyou

This particular gallery of sad passwords comes from SplashData's seventh annual list of the 100 worst passwords. The 2017 list was based on 5 million passwords leaked in 2017, not including those from the Yahoo e-mail breach or from adult sites.

A few items on the list changed very little from previous lists by SplashData, a provider of password management software and services. The numeric entries are pretty similar; "123456" held the top spot last year. Only "123456789" is a new number in the Top 10, possibly due to more password-creation filters requiring more than eight characters. The password "password" retained the No. 2 spot.

Some of the new passwords conform to ideas that were in the air in 2017 -- "monkey," "starwars," "freedom" and "trustno1," for example. It's a useful reminder that while we may think of a password as clever in relation to our Dunbar's number of about 150 friends and acquaintances, they're probably not unique when it comes to the hundreds of millions of English-speaking Internet users. And standalone dictionary words -- as in, words not part of a passphrase -- are a password no-no, anyway.

Other entries in the top 100 reflect the utter frustration users have with being required to enter yet another password on yet another site. The entry "password" itself is partly an illustration of that, along with "whatever" and "blahblah." A new entry, "letmein," could be another. A quartet of profane passwords -- "f***you," "a**hole," "biteme," "pu**y" (asterisks mine) -- express that frustration in a pure, crass form.

As a matter of fact, nearly every password in the top 100 could arguably fit into the category of users saying, enough! "I have to create a user name and password to order this pizza? Fine: password." "I have to create a username/password to download this resource that might or might not have any value? Fine: 123456."

One study released in 2016 found that the average user had 27 discrete online log-ins. Others have put the number of accounts people have associated with individual e-mail addresses as high as 130.

While the SplashData list and others like it pull from the lowest-common-denominator passwords -- the ones where users did the absolute least they could do -- there are other reasons we're bad at passwords. For example, sites that don't tell you their password rules until they reject your first attempt. Sites that won't allow a passphrase of words separated by spaces. Sites that won't let you paste in the super-secure passwords generated by a password manager. It also doesn't help that the guy who came up with the rules for creating passwords now admits from retirement that he believes his suggestions were somewhat misguided.

What the list really points to is the fact that passwords are broken. Microsoft highlighted the issue with a long article on Dec. 26 about all the ways it's working to fix log-on processes by eliminating passwords. Components of the effort include Windows Hello (the identity technology built into Windows 10 for use with biometric sensors), the Microsoft Authenticator App, and the company's participation in the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance developing open standards for authentication.

We'll watch those efforts with great interest throughout 2018. We'll have little hope that bad password lists will be less newsworthy by January 2019 or even January 2020.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 01/02/2018 at 11:31 AM0 comments

Tracking Ozzie's Footprints Across Microsoft

Ray Ozzie was a quiet presence in Redmond, but he left deep footprints throughout Microsoft's global operation that will last for years.

Ozzie is stepping down as chief software architect and preparing to retire, according to an employee e-mail that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent out Monday.

"He will remain with the company as he transitions the teams and ongoing strategic projects within his organization -- bringing the great innovations and great innovators he's assembled into the groups driving our business," Ballmer wrote. "Following the natural transition time with his teams but before he retires from Microsoft, Ray will be focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment where Microsoft has many ongoing investments."

Ozzie joined Microsoft in 2005 when the company bought Groove Networks and took on Bill Gates' secondary title of chief software architect a year later as part of the Gates' retirement transition plan. Ozzie was said to have been most comfortable working in small groups and sharing ideas on a whiteboard, and he reportedly suffered from stage fright before large crowds. He made a huge splash early with the Internet Services Disruption memo that he wrote and that Gates forwarded to the rest of the company. But since then, except for a few high-profile magazine profiles and a handful of speeches and interviews, he has largely faded from the public eye.

Source: Microsoft

With Ozzie's history in collaboration, especially with Lotus Notes and Groove Networks, some look for his effect in Microsoft's collaboration technologies, and find his influence wanting. But that misses Ozzie's main task, which was to help Microsoft bridge the gap from 1990s dominance to 21st century relevance. Ozzie found that bridge in the cloud and worked relatively quietly, but steadily, on the project.

Ozzie's largest and most tangible footprints are the massive datacenters that Microsoft has been building since 2007. Media reports described Ozzie poring over reports on available electricity and other factors in choosing sites for the facilities. Meanwhile, Microsoft has received notice for innovations in datacenter design around cooling and power consumption. So far, Microsoft now has mega-datacenters costing about $500 million each in Quincy, Wash.; San Antonio, Texas; Dublin, Ireland; and Chicago. Officials in Virginia recently announced another facility coming in the southern Virginia lakeside town of Boydton.

Smaller Ozzie footprints will be evident in the Windows Azure Platform Appliance containers, a strategic advance which could help Microsoft spread its cloud to organizations around the world where laws, regulation or policy require data to reside inside national borders or organizational walls.

Ozzie's other footprints are evident in the array of cloud services Microsoft now offers across nearly its entire product base. Ballmer acknowledged as much in his company-wide e-mail.

"As a company, we've accomplished much in the past five years as we look at the cloud and services. Windows Live now serves as a natural web-based services complement to both Windows and Office. SharePoint and Exchange have now decidedly embraced the cloud. And by conceiving, incubating and shepherding Windows Azure, Ray helped ensure we have a tremendously rich platform foundation that will enable app-level innovation across the company and by customers for years to come."

"With our  progress in services and the cloud now full speed ahead in all aspects of our business, Ray and I are announcing today Ray's intention to step down from his role as chief software architect," Ballmer wrote.

Ozzie's was nothing less than a visionary transformation of Microsoft, fully in line with the title of chief software architect. Ballmer says the position isn't being refilled.

The time for setting the cloud vision and planning the datacenter infrastructure to support the vision is passed. Ozzie's finished that job, and, frankly, given his personality, he's not the right person for the next part – evangelizing and selling Microsoft's cloud. Ballmer has been taking up that baton aggressively .See his speeches in March ("we're all in"), at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference ("Oh, cloud") and this month ("cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud").

To paraphrase the quote famously attributed to Ben Franklin about a republic, Ray Ozzie has given Microsoft a potential leadership position in cloud computing, if Microsoft can keep it.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 10/19/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Economic Warning Signs Flashing at the Channel

The markets and the Fed aren't the only ones saying the recovery is slowing enough to cause concern. Warning signs are flashing all through the small business and IT markets.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released results of its latest Index of Small Business Optimism on Tuesday. See the full PDF here.

The survey was conducted in July  and the results don't show much optimism. The index lost 0.9 points in the July run compared to June for a reading of 88.1. According to the report's summary, "The persistence of Index readings below 90 is unprecedented in survey history." NFIB has been running the survey quarterly since 1973 and monthly since 1986.

"The performance of the economy is mediocre at best, given the extent of the decline over the past two years. Pent up demand should be immense but it is not triggering a rapid pickup in economic activity. Ninety percent of the decline this month resulted from deterioration in the outlook for business conditions in the next six months. Owners have no confidence that economic policies will 'fix' the economy," report authors William Dunkelberg and Holly Wade wrote.

Other findings from the survey are that hiring plans are historically weak, capital spending plans are near the record low set in December 2009 and profit trends are worsening.

Researchers at Ovum reported Tuesday that the number of contracts in the IT service sector increased in the second quarter -- but hold the applause there. Despite the 14 percent sequential increase in deals from 401 in Q1 to 457 in Q2, the total contract value (TCV) of those deals also fell by 14 percent to $30.8 billion.

In a statement, Ovum analyst Ed Thomas indicated that IT service providers dealing with the public sector were faring slightly better than their private-sector counterparts.

"Public sector demand remained steady, particularly in the U.S., which accounted for more than 90 percent of the market's quarterly TVC. This was good news for vendors with a major focus on the U.S. government sector, notably General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and SAIC," Thomas said. "Concerns remain about the scale of outsourcing in the private sector, where TCV for Q2 slipped to only $10 billion as clients shied away from signing large deals."

In a report released earlier this month on worldwide IT spending, IDC reported that first half spending exceeded the analyst firm's expectations and raised spending forecasts for the full year to $1.51 trillion, a 6 percent increase over 2009. By segment, the forecasts are for hardware growth of 11 percent, software growth of 4 percent and services growth of 2 percent. However, the firm tempered its enthusiasm with concerns about the global economy.

"We stand in the middle of two powerful and opposing forces," wrote IDC analyst Stephen Minton. "On the one hand, the very real pent-up demand for new IT investment, which has driven the solid recovery in the first half of 2010 and which will hopefully continue into 2011. On the other hand, the potential loss of confidence in a global economy which remains extremely vulnerable to any further escalation of the European debt crisis or a deterioration in the U.S. stock market."

What are you seeing? Drop me a line at sbekker@1105media.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 08/11/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

11 Takeaways from Microsoft's WPC

Another Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is in the bag. Here are 11 key takeaways from the 2010 WPC:

1. Microsoft wants partners to be "all-in" on the cloud. Nearly everything was about cloud computing. That was a little weird for partners coming in from countries where BPOS and other offerings haven't rolled out yet, but pretty compelling for U.S. partners.

2. Keep an eye on the Windows Azure Appliance. The 900-server, private cloud enclosures are supposed to be coming this year from HP, Dell and Fujitsu -- extending Microsoft's cloud story.

3. Dynamics CRM Online. Margins jump to 40 percent in year one, and 6 percent recurring -- a huge bump from the old 18/6 mix. The offer is only guaranteed to be in place for a year. At the same time, partners are getting 250 Dynamics CRM Online seats for internal use.

4. Cloud Pack Essentials. A quick and dirty set of tools for partners to start moving their business onto the cloud.

5. Cloud Accelerate. A new badge to help born-on-the-cloud partners stand out.

6. Steve Ballmer seemed down. Kevin Turner was at the top of his aggressive game. Outgoing WPG CVP Allison Watson seemed wistful. New Worlwide Partner Group Corporate VP Jon Roskill was approachable.

7. Full speed ahead on the Microsoft Partner Network. New channel chief Roskill has no plans to pause the implementation. New benefits and requirements go online in October, barring technical complications.

8. Gold is back, sort of. The new Gold Certified Partner level will be out when MPN goes into full effect, but the Competencies and Advanced Competencies have been renamed Silver Competencies and Gold Competencies.

9. Microsoft is eyeing MSPs. With Windows InTune and future scaled-down Azure appliances, Microsoft is paying attention to the managed service provider market.

10. The heavy layoffs just ahead of WPC caused scheduling turmoil for partners and vendors, many of whose contacts were suddenly gone.

11. Nonetheless, partner enthusiasm was pretty high, with many partners telling us Microsoft seemed to have its mojo back. Partner attendance was huge at a reported 9,300 out of about 14,000 total attendees.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 07/19/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

IAMCP Gains Traction with Microsoft in US

The IAMCP, which now stands for the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, is coming off its first national meeting, held last month in regional offices and remotely throughout the country. The gathering featured a keynote from Cindy Bates, Microsoft vice president of U.S. Partner Strategy. As one of the top two Microsoft partner executives nationally, the Bates keynote was a good vote of confidence for the IAMCP's first national event where my colleague Jeff Schwartz attended the New York presentation (see his report).

Similarly, the New York IAMCP chapter landed a keynote from Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner last October. That's an impressive amount of love from one of  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's direct reports.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group has been heavily engaged with the Washington, D.C. chapter of the IAMCP in planning for the Worldwide Partner Conference there in July.

Now the IAMCP is announcing a new engagement model with Microsoft's U.S. Partner Group. In the U.S. IAMCP May newsletter that went out June 3, the organization announced, "The Microsoft U.S. Partner Team will be launching a new IAMCP engagement model framework outlining prescriptive guidance on how Microsoft will support IAMCP chapters across the US."

The engagement model will come in two tiers. Ten of the 35 chapters of the U.S. IAMCP will get what is called Core Coverage, under which they will be assigned a Microsoft Engagement Team. The team consists of an Area Partner Territory Manager, a Local Engagement Team Business Development Manager and one Field SMB Marketing Manager.

The other 25 U.S. chapters will get Extended Coverage, which will involve a smaller Microsoft Engagement Team – an Area Partner Territory Manager and an SMB Marketing Manager – working with the three IAMCP regional leads. The regional leads are Howard Cohen, Eastern Region; Richard Losciale, Central Region; and Marc Hoppers, Western Region. According to the IAMCP newsletter statement, the extended coverage will have "an emphasis on communications support over in-person meetings and presentations."

Cohen, who is also the Communications Chair for the U.S. IAMCP Board, said in an interview that IAMCP will choose which 10 chapters qualify for core coverage. "It's a combination of proximity to a Microsoft office and the size and resourcefulness of the chapters," Cohen said. Those decisions will be made sometime before the Microsoft-IAMCP engagement model launches next quarter.

The new model arose from a mutually recognized reduction in field engagement between IAMCP and Microsoft that started about 18 months ago, when the recession was at its worst.

"Up until about a year and a half ago, field engagement was terrific. In addition to the PAMs managing managed partners, there was a Partner Community Manager working with the IAMCP chapter, as well as Area Sales Managers," Cohen said.

"Over the last year and a half, all of those people who were partner-facing were really turned customer-facing," he added. "It became more and more difficult to do fundamental things, to work with Microsoft tactically to get things done. Even for the IAMCP chapter, which was usually the alternative that people would turn to when they couldn't get traction with Microsoft, it was even difficult for us to get traction.".

The problems weren't universal to all geographies, and the IAMCP began discussions with Microsoft several months ago in a project called Consistent Touch, Cohen said.

"We're very happy about this. This is a real recognition that the relationship that we worked for over the years has really worked and is really delivering results for our members," Cohen said.

There's been a lot of concern among partners that the new Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) favors large partners with dozens of engineers at the expense of the smaller shops that make up the bulk of Microsoft's massive channel. Of special concern is the MPN requirement effective in October that employees certified to qualify a company for an Advanced Competency can not be used to qualify the company for any other Advanced Competencies.

The increased engagement with IAMCP, and the attention to the partners of all sizes that the organization represents, is a solid step on Microsoft's part to do right by its partner community. It also means that if you're feeling frustrated by your interactions, or lack thereof, with Microsoft, it may be a good time to join the IAMCP.

As for the name, the IAMCP has long been known as the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners. The word Certified is now officially outdated as the Certified and Gold Certified levels of the Microsoft Partner Program officially switch off when the MPN goes fully live in October. While the organization's legal name "IAMCP," is unaffected, the group has changed its logo and Website references from "Certified" to "Channel."

Posted by Scott Bekker on 06/03/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

More Detail on the LA-Google Messaging Deal

A shout out to our sister publication for government IT consultants, Washington Technology, which ran a piece this month about the famous Los Angeles-Google deal. Writer David Hubler goes into a lot of depth about Computer Sciences Corp.'s role, partnering with Google to implement the messaging system. The system is eventually supposed to cover 30,000 public employees. If the implementation is a success, it will be another major case study supporting a cloud mail system, as opposed to on-premise, like Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus or Novell GroupWise, which is the system the Google setup will replace. Of course, if it doesn't work properly...

Posted by Scott Bekker on 05/24/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

IBM Buys Sterling Commerce

Big Blue made a major customer acquisition move today in buying Sterling Commerce, according to an analyst. IBM is buying the Dublin, Ohio-based electronic data interchange (EDI) software company from AT&T for $1.4 billion. Analyst Ray Wang told RCP's Jeffrey Schwartz that by processing large volumes of transactions between B2B trading partners, Sterling actually brings IBM a lot of high-value customers among large banks, telcos and retailers.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 05/24/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

New MPN Competencies, Action Packs Take Effect

The slow rollout of the new Microsoft Partner Network passed a milestone today with the launch of the new competency structure and the new Action Packs.

Any partner with a Microsoft competency and specialization under the old system was supposed to be automatically transitioned into a new competency, with an e-mail notification. For some partners, the new competency name won't be much of a change. For example, the Security Solutions competency with a specialization in Identity & Secure Access will now go by the competency name Identity and Security. The ISV competency goes to, wait for it, ISV. For others, though, the new competency name is a lot different. Partners with the competency/specialization combo of Information Worker Solutions/Office Solutions Development are now in the Portals and Collaboration competency.

Even for those with big changes in the name of their competency, the difference is purely between Microsoft and partners for now. All competency benefits stay the same until a wider set of changes in October. Similarly, partners are supposed to continue using their previous competency logos for now, as well.

The really controversial changes to the competency structure occur in October. At the same time as new benefits are launched, Microsoft will introduce the advanced competency structure. Small- to mid-size partners have been especially concerned about those changes, which will eliminate the Gold Certified Partner level and will require partners to have unique engineers dedicated to each competency for the advanced level. For example, a partner looking to get an advanced competency in both Business Intelligence and Data Platform won't be able to share engineers for both competencies. Not a big deal for the Avanades of the world, but a gating factor for five-to-20-person partner shops.

Also today, new subscription programs go into effect. Microsoft is ending the current Microsoft Action Pack Subscription (MAPS), a massive program with a huge and mostly adoring fan base. As of today, there are two new versions of the Action Pack: The Action Pack Solution Provider subscription and the Action Pack Development and Design subscription. Microsoft is also ending the much smaller but also highly regarded Empower for ISV programs.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 05/24/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Former Microsoft Executive Martinez Lands at Salesforce.com

Former high-ranking Microsoft executive Maria Martinez has landed at Microsoft's archrival in the cloud CRM space, Salesforce.com, less than a year after she retired from Microsoft.

Martinez was announced Wednesday as executive vice president of Customers for Life, Salesforce.com's department dedicated, obviously enough, to customer retention. She'll report to Frank van Veenendaal, president of worldwide sales and services.

Martinez left Microsoft last July as corporate vice president of Microsoft Services, a position of special interest to large Microsoft partners. That role at Microsoft sets the company's services strategies, including how aggressively or gently Microsoft treats partners when going after consulting service business. The Microsoft post's responsibilities include management of Microsoft Consulting Services.

Microsoft filled Martinez' post immediately with Kathleen Hogan, who began her Microsoft career in 2003 in the partner-facing role of vice president of Customer and Partner Experience. Prior to joining Microsoft, Hogan was a partner at McKinsey & Co. in Silicon Valley and worked at Oracle Corp.

Martinez joins a company that is a poster child for cloud computing businesses and has enjoyed surging revenues, even during the recession. Salesforce.com first cracked the $1 billion in revenues mark in its 2009 fiscal year, which ended in January 2009, and reported revenue growth of 21 percent for fiscal year 2010 -- reaching $1.3 billion in revenues.

Those revenues are probably only slightly less than Microsoft's revenues across the entire Microsoft Dynamics line -- which includes not only cloud CRM but on-premise CRM and several lines of on-premise ERP (Microsoft bundles Dynamics revenues in with Office revenues in its financial statements, making direct comparisons difficult). But Microsoft isn't enjoying anywhere near the growth in business applications that Salesforce.com is reporting. For the nine months of Microsoft's current fiscal year, the company reported that its Dynamics revenues were down 1 percent.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 05/06/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Mailbag: Looking out for the Little Server

In my column for the April issue of RCP, "Looking out for the Little Server," I shared my concern that the stand-alone server category may suffer from benign neglect as the industry focuses on data-center blade designs that serve the cloud.

The column prompted a server solution specialist and Microsoft licensing expert with a major distributor, who asked that he not to be identified by name, to respond with some interesting observations:

"In reference to your column on April 1 (Looking out for the Little Server), I could not agree more. There are a number of players in this space that have convinced themselves that everyone in SMB will go to the cloud, for one reason or another. There are several factors that I'm seeing that push against that thought:

  • VARs are only going to move their customers to the cloud if they are convinced that it's secure
  • VARs are only going to move their customers to the cloud if they are convinced that they can continue to make money doing so
  • VARs that derive any substantial portion of their business from hardware sales are going to need to see substantial financial up-tick to move to the cloud
  • VARs will need to be convinced that their cloud providers are not going to take their customers direct
  • SMB end-users will need to be convinced of the security of the cloud
  • SMB end-users will need to be convinced of the stability and reliability of the cloud
  • SMB end-users will need to be convinced that their data will be theirs, and only theirs, no matter whose servers it resides on.

"SBS is a great play, but it needs to be extended to meet more needs. There should be a telephony product that fits better than OCS. There should be a version of CRM that fits this space. There should definitely be an ERP solution that the average small business can use. Microsoft has the stack, but none of the parts know each other.

"If you want to see a nice play, and it makes me crazy to say it, you can take a look at Lotus Foundations Start and Foundations Reach. If you put those two together and add a ShoreTel VoIP system (made to integrate), there's a great SMB play there. I'd love to see Microsoft make a better solution than this (ShoreTel makes a system that integrates with MS CRM, too), but I don't see the current regime supporting that."

Posted by Scott Bekker on 04/19/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Microsoft Pushes Partners to SCE, DPM 2010

Partners often don't think of opportunity when it comes to Microsoft's management technologies that are branded under the System Center umbrella. But Microsoft is making a major marketing push to get partners involved with two System Center products that were released to manufacturing today. The products are System Center Essentials 2010 and Data Protection Manager 2010.

David Mills, a senior product manager at Microsoft, acknowledged to my colleague Lee Pender that Microsoft has more evangelizing to do with partners on the management side. "There are still a lot of partners who are not aware that Essentials is out there," Mills said. "There's a lot of noise in [the management] space." But Mills also said that because of the number of Microsoft partners and all the potential mid-market customers, the opportunity for partners to help those customers manage their networks is relatively huge.

Microsoft is making a sustained effort to get the word out to the channel ahead of the products' general availability. The effort included a Partner Readiness Week for System Center Essentials 2010 in late February. During that week, Microsoft offered five online training courses about SCE 2010 and DPM 2010.

In a webcast last week on DPM and SCE (pronounced "ski"), RCP Executive Editor Jeff Schwartz talked to Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Washington, D.C. area Microsoft Certified Professional partner company. (Sobel's main claim to fame is his cover photo on the February issue of RCP magazine, but I may be biased.)

Sobel told Schwartz that he's already talking to customers about the products and sees a lot of opportunities for his firm.

"We can help them with the installation and the configuration and get [customers] all ready because we have the experience of doing it in multiple environments, and we can tailor it to their environments," Sobel said. "Then we leave them with the tools and help them when they need the partner for escalation on the parts they want assistance with or for the new project work as an add-on."

So far, Sobel said customers have been interested in having the management pieces that SCE 2010 and DPM 2010 provide, particularly the simplified management of the environment when they want to enable their people to do a little bit more, especially on the virtualization side.

"As more and more mid-market organizations are virtualizing, this is a great way for them to keep a handle on correct management of all of those moving parts. What we've been finding is that this is a great, simplified platform to let our customers dig in deep and manage their environment," Sobel said.

Customers are in two camps, Sobel said. Some already have management technology that SCE 2010, especially, could replace or consolidate. Others know they have problems, but they're not sure how to solve them.

"In general, most organizations have some kind of management technology. But often that can be a lot of management process where they run around and do inventory, or they've got these four or five little tools that aren't really a unified piece. Or they have some Tivoli and older management tools or they have some of the tools that come from the hardware vendors," Sobel said. "They're really looking for one that's more robust. I think it's a little bit more greenfield than it is displacement. But you do find that there are these homegrown mismatches of pieces that are doing the management already."

Stay tuned to RCP's May issue for a lot more detail on the partner opportunities in the SCE and DPM releases. In the meantime, check out the news story or listen to a replay of the webcast (Registration required).

Posted by Scott Bekker on 04/19/2010 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Channel Greets Exchange 2010

In honor of Veterans Day tomorrow, I'll quote one of my favorite Joe Toye lines from my favorite HBO series, "Band of Brothers": "Where's the best chow? In Berlin."

You could rephrase the quote this week to "Where's the best e-mail server launch? In Berlin." Doesn't have the same punch, somehow, but a big deal for the Microsoft channel all the same.

Microsoft launched the newest version of its $1-billion-plus-per-year e-mail server along with Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server at Tech-Ed Europe in Berlin Monday. Our own Kurt Mackie monitored all the webcasts and posted a lengthy story with a lot of the details about the Software plus Services and unified communications underpinnings of the server here.

The public release meant that Exchange 2010 and the new Forefront Protection product are available as trial downloads.

The Exchange Server 2010 launch comes in the middle of a wave of releases across the Microsoft stack, from Windows 7 a few weeks ago to SQL Server 2008 R2 next year.

Microsoft's been busy priming the channel for all these launches. Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop said yesterday that more than 45,000 partners are trained on Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010. Several vendor partners announced services and solutions around Exchange 2010 in Berlin, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Avanade, Dell Inc., EMC Corp., Kaspersky Lab, Symantec Corp. and Unisys Corp.

In support of the product launch, Microsoft released two documents filled with cost-benefit data that could be useful to partners. The studies, done by Forrester Research and based on customer product trials, are "The Total Economic Impact of Microsoft Exchange 2010" and "The Total Economic Impact of Windows Server 2008 R2." Check out Kurt's story for a lot of handy links to resources.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 11/10/2009 at 1:23 PM1 comments

PC Processors to the Rescue!

I've been scratching my head lately as I've compared the government's statistics for third quarter GDP growth against the corporate earnings of the IT titans. The U.S. GDP is supposed to be up 3.5 percent for Q3, while Microsoft, Tech Data and Ingram Micro all reported double-digit declines in revenues over roughly the same period.

But finally, some positive news out of the tech sector. IDC says worldwide PC microprocessor shipments in Q3 "rose substantially and to all-time record levels for a single quarter." The bounce in shipments is 23 percent quarter over quarter. Revenues for the same period are up 14 percent.

The story is more subtle than a 1:1 relationship with the U.S. economy. The chip growth doesn't actually line up with the U.S. economy, which IDC notes is still hamstrung by housing foreclosures and rising job losses. Many of these chips are being manufactured in China for sale in netbooks there, and IDC warns that the Chinese market is opaque -- inventory can hide in lots of places. But let's keep our fingers crossed that this could be the start of something good.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 11/10/2009 at 1:23 PM0 comments

Quanta Computer Releases Microsoft Response Point Phone System

The Microsoft Response Point SMB phone system has been in a holding pattern since Microsoft basically put it in maintenance mode in June, but a few companies have been moving forward with Response Point-based products. The latest is Quanta Computer, which released the RP310 Softphone for Microsoft Response Point Phone Systems today. Quanta is looking for resellers here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 11/10/2009 at 1:23 PM0 comments

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