VMware CoFounder Diane Greene To Head New Google Cloud Biz

Google yesterday said it is combining its various cloud groups and has tapped VMware Diane Greene to lead its newly reorganized group. Greene will run a new group that includes Google for Work, the Google Cloud Platform and Google Apps.  Bebop, the startup Greene has been running, has also been acquired by Google.

The move will provide a more coordinated group, said Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in a post on the company's blog. "This new business will bring together product, engineering, marketing and sales and allow us to operate in a much more integrated, coordinated fashion," Pichai said. It also brings one of the IT industry's most influential women back into the fold, more than seven years after she was ousted as VMware's CEO by EMC CEO Joe Tucci, when the two failed to see eye to eye.

Greene has since kept a lower profile though she did join Google's Board of Directors three years ago and will remain there, according to Pichai's post. "Cloud computing is revolutionizing the way people live and work, and there is no better person to lead this important area," he said.

Pichai described the startup that Greene was running and now Google has acquired, Bebop, as a new development platform to build and maintain enterprise apps. "Bebop and its stellar team will help us provide integrated cloud products at every level: end-user platforms like Android and Chromebooks, infrastructure and services in Google Cloud Platform, developer frameworks for mobile and enterprise users, and end-user applications like Gmail and Docs," Pichai said. "Both Diane and the Bebop team will join Google upon close of the acquisition."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/20/2015 at 9:11 AM0 comments

HP Challenges Surface Pro with Commercial Windows 10 Tablet

HP Inc., the new PC and printer business that spun off of Hewlett Packard Co. earlier this month, is planning to offer a combined Windows 10-based PC-tablet in January that it believes will appeal to businesses. However, like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, it may have some limitations for their enterprise environments. The company has taken the wraps off the HP Elite x3 1012 G1, which looks like a Surface Pro by sporting a similar 12-inch display but is completely encased in aviation-grade aluminum, has more interfaces, added security support and a wider array of peripherals. Detailed pricing wasn't released other than the entry price will be $899, which will include a standard keyboard and pen.

Like the most recent Surface Pro modes, the new Elite x2 1012 doesn't have a fan, has a kickstand and is designed to offer 10 hours of battery life (actually Microsoft rates the Surface Pro 4 at 9 hours). In a one-hour meeting in New York this week with Keith Hartsfield, VP of mobility and product management with HP's personal systems group, I had the opportunity to look at the system and it definitely had a more commercial feel without taking on any industrial (aka ruggedized) characteristics. It's thin with a much more solid keyboard also made of aluminum. Actually, HP offers two keyboard options: standard and one that's a hair thicker to support smartcards or NFC.

A fingerprint scanner is on the rear of the device itself and the aluminum kickstand lets you hold the device when used as a pure tablet. The device has two USB ports, one full size USB-A and a USB-C supporting Thunderbolt docking. HP offers multiple docking options: the USB-C-based adapter and a traditional Thunderbolt docking station with its high-end HP Wireless Docking Station, which offers based Wigig where "you get zero latency, dual display kind of functionality," Hartsfield explained.

Other aspects of the new device Hartsfield emphasized is the Elite X2 1012's support for Intel's vPro systems management, HP Client Management Solution and the company's own HP Client Security offering. Also included is HP's SureStart bios, which when a system is corrupted by malware, enables a restore from memory.

One capability that may appeal to many IT pros is the standard screws used on the HP device that lets IT pros open the system to replace the battery, drives or upgrade memory themselves if they choose, or even remove the drive before sending it back for servicing, which is a requirement of many government agencies. The kickstand can withstand 10 lbs. of pressure but if it breaks, it too is connected to the device by screws, making it easy to replace, Hartsfield said.

The Bang & Olufsen audio and multiple microphones with HP's noise cancelling software make the device suitable for Skype for Business or other types of conferencing services. The HP Active Pen, which enables the launch of any app with the push of a button, supports 2,048 pressure points compared with the Surface Pen's 1,024.

While it has a number of features the Surface Pro 4 lacks, many do overlap (both offer TPM and lack fans) and there are some areas the Microsoft offering outshines the new HP device. The Surface Pro 4 has a 12.3-inch 2736x1824 display compared with the Elite 1012 G1's 12-inch 1920x1280 display),   and HP's device weighs 2.72 pounds with the travel keyboard (2.89 pounds with the advanced keyboard) compared with 1.73 lbs. for the Surface Pro 4. Also, the Surface Pro 4 comes available with Core M processors as well as Intel's 6th Generation i5 and I 7 processors with SSDs up to 1TB, while the new HP system only comes with a number of Core M processors and maxes out with a 512GB SSD.

Hartsfield said to expect additional configurations to appear but believes the Core M processor is best suited for a fanless system and to ensure optimal battery life. "Core M is a really great choice. This is for the mobile professional and executives that are using PowerPoint and Office or watching movies on a plane," he said. "This is for the person who is always on the move needing ubiquitous connectivity, and the ability to use a real keyboard and a good mouse experience."

Microsoft's release of the Surface Pro, which HP also now resells, has helped shape the market for tablet PCs, Hartsfield said. "I'm glad they created a category that needed to be created," Hartsfield said. "And I'm glad that they spent the better part of $1 billion marketing it to create awareness. We weren't first but I do think we're best. I think one of the things you'll see from HP Inc. as a new company is we've got our innovation mojo back."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/20/2015 at 1:29 PM0 comments

Docker Launches Universal Control Plane for App Portability

Docker this week introduced the latest part of its commercial stack that it claims will provide the software to enable the sharing of distributed applications across cloud, operating systems and virtual machine environments without requiring developers to reprogram their code.

The Docker Universal Control Plane, launched at DockerCon Europe this week in Barcelona, runs on-premises on Windows and Linux physical or virtual servers or behind a firewall in a public cloud instance for the purpose of managing "Dockerized" distributed apps that are in production on any type of infrastructure. It's targeted at DevOps organizations looking for an operational system to deploy and manage distributed applications in production while creating limited tasks for developers.

"If you were moving your distributed application into a specific cloud, you had to build an operational skill set and tooling aligned with one specific cloud -- sometimes even changing the code to align with the cloud providers that containers are running in," explained David Messina, Docker's VP of marketing. "The benefit of the Universal Control Plane is that it cuts across all of that, it allows you to pick and choose your cloud."

The other benefit, he noted, is it provides a self-service portal for the development team. With the infrastructure that already has been provisioned by the ops team, they can deploy and manage the distributed applications wherever they want. "The benefit of that is you have control baked in for IT operations," Messina said. "It comes back to the core tenants of Docker, which is that you want to have things run on any infrastructure, you want freedom of choice, and you want the developers to remain agile through and through."

Messina said a number of large Fortune 500 companies have partaken in private beta tests of the Docker Universal Control Plane and now the company is offering to a larger group of testers for those who sign up. Docker hasn't determined general availability or its pricing yet, though Messina said the company is hoping to release it in the first quarter of next year.

The Docker Control Plane is designed to run symbiotically with the Docker Trusted Registry, according to Messina. "The registry is where the content is, the control plane is the thing that manages the infrastructure and helps with the deployment of the content," he said. Asked if the two will be offered as a bundle, Messina said that's under consideration.

Also at the DockerCon conference this week, the company announced new capabilities aimed to make its container platform more secure. Docker announced what it claims is the first hardware signing of container images to its builds on Docker Content Trust, a framework it released in August, addressing a key shortcoming: that there was no way to validate content.

The hardware signing comes via a partnership with YubiKey4, a provider of USB-based hardware encryption devices that don't allow access to machine without its use and an end-user's second form of authentication.

"This provides the ability to do hardware signing for container content," Messina explained. "It validates the publisher and being sure that content comes from that publisher. We've also set up a model where the publisher themselves can't be compromised by any malicious or nefarious attack. Their root key, which is the most important key in the process of signing content, is always protected."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/19/2015 at 10:40 AM0 comments

Hyper-V Containers Debut in New Windows Server 2016 Preview

Microsoft today released Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 4, providing a first look at Hyper-V containers, an additional deployment option for those looking to create multitenant environments. Hyper-V containers offer a higher level of isolation, which offers better security, according to Microsoft. It's available for download now along with the new System Center 2016 Technical Preview 4.

In addition to the debut of Hyper-V containers, Microsoft has issued improvements to Windows Server containers and the Docker Engine for Windows, which made their appearance in the last technical preview, released back in August.

"Hyper-V containers isolate applications with the guarantees associated with traditional virtualization, but with the ease, image format and management model of Windows Server containers, including the support of Docker Engine," according to Microsoft's Server and Cloud blog post.  "You can make the choice at deployment of whether your application needs the isolation provided by Hyper-V containers or not, without having to make any changes to the container image or the container configuration."

Microsoft acknowledges that while there's still room for improvement, application compatibility is a key focus in the new technical preview. Among the applications and application frameworks that now work with Windows Server containers are ASP.NET 3.5 and 4.6. In addition, the new Nano Server deployment option allows for deployment as both a container host and as a container runtime in which the OS runs within the container. Microsoft said this is "a lean, efficient installation of Windows Server ideal for born-in-the-cloud applications." Microsoft also added support for shared folders support, which Docker calls volumes, as well as hostname configuration.

The Nano Server, Microsoft's reduced servicing deployment option, also includes support for Desired State Configuration, which is aimed at helping automate large server deployments, championed by Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover and lead architect for the server and cloud group. "These give you the tools for rapid iteration and lighter weight DevOps," Snover said.

Nano Server can now run as a DNS Server or Web Server (IIS). Another key new feature added to Nano Server is the Windows Server Application (WSA) installer based on AppX, which Microsoft said provides a way to install other agents, tools and applications on the server.

Microsoft also announced new software-defined datacenter improvements. Building on the Azure-consistent stack of the last technical preview, Microsoft has added high availability to the network controller, improved load balancing, container network and live migration support. Microsoft has also added Virtual Machine Multi-Queue to enable 10G+ performance.

On the storage front, Microsoft has upgraded its Storage Spaces Direct feature to support all flash configurations with NVMe SSD and SATA SSD devices and Erasure Coding, which Microsoft said offers better storage efficiency. The Storage Health Service has improved health monitoring and operations, with one monitoring point per cluster and Storage QoS now supports adjusting the normalization size of the algorithm from the current default 8 KB settings, Microsoft said.

The new security features include shielded VMs and Just Enough Administration, which restricts administrator rights. The latest preview also supports domain controllers and server maintenance roles.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/19/2015 at 12:39 PM0 comments

Most Dell and EMC Customers Surveyed Welcome Merger

A month after Dell announced its definitive agreement to acquire EMC for $67 billion, making it the largest IT merger ever, it appear customers of both companies feel they'll be better off as a result of the deal. At least that's what one survey of 200 C-level IT execs conducted earlier this month by IT advisory firm Enterprise Strategy Group has found.

The results, published today, show that 75 percent of customers believe the merger of the two companies will benefit their organizations, while 17 percent don't expect it to have any impact. Only 3 percent said they are worried it will have a negative impact and the other 4 percent don't know.

Customers who rely on both companies for their datacenter infrastructure were even more bullish -- 84 percent said they expect to benefit. Of those who were primarily only Dell or EMC customers, 68- and 66 percent respectively, believe the deal is good.

ESG pointed out that the survey was not commissioned by any third party, making the data all that more noteworthy. It's also interesting to note that the top benefit that'll come from the merger is "complete and more innovative solutions," according to 65 percent of the respondents. Rival Hewlett Packard Co. completed its planned split, arguing two more-focused firms would be more innovative. The second largest benefit is that customers believe the two companies will offer more stability combined than apart (58 percent), followed by an expectation that Dell-EMC will provide lower cost infrastructure (55 percent). More than half (53 percent) see using the combined company for complete solutions spanning from endpoint devices to datacenter infrastructure while 50 percent welcome having to purchase from fewer vendors.

One area where customers may not put all their IT investments into a combined Dell-EMC basket is in network infrastructure. When asked about those who procure software-defined infrastructure from the VCE alliance, a majority (55 percent) said they'll buy networking components from EMC and Cisco, not Dell (though 26 percent would purchase components coming from both Dell and EMC).

Once combined, 60 percent say they expect to spend more with the new company while only 1 percent said they'll spend less. The obvious but important caveats to this particular data set are a) many of the questions are clearly predicated upon the transaction actually closing and b) this data represents the attitudes of the current Dell-EMC install base.

"While retaining and growing these customers will be critical to the new firm's success, its aspirations will not stop there," according to the ESG report. "As the new Dell-EMC looks to steal market share from incumbents such as HPE and IBM, and fend off encroachment from cloud entrants like AWS (among others), its ability to foster the levels of interest described by respondents in this brief with these non-customers will be essential."

Some of these findings may fly in the face that when industries consolidate that fewer choices lead to higher prices and deteriorated service (anyone who has flown on a major airline lately can attest to that). I suggested as much to ESG Senior Analyst Colm Keagan, but he doesn't believe that comparison holds. "There are still plenty of market pressures coming from legacy vendors [IBM, HP, Microsoft, etc.], cloud vendors [AWS, Microsoft, Google, etc.] and emerging technology companies [Nutanix, SimpliVity, Nimble, Solidfire, etc.]  to keep Dell/EMC honest," Keagan said. "Plus with the huge debt service on the deal [$47 billion], they can ill-afford to start shedding customers by not over servicing them and keeping them happy. "

The bottom line, he added, is there still will be concerns about how the combined company integrates its sales and engineering teams, ensure any staff reductions aren't overly disruptive and rationalize the product portfolios without leaving clients in the lurch. "But the initial client sentiment at this point is positive," Keagan said. "Execution, as always, will be key."

Are you as optimistic about this merger as the ESG respondents?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/18/2015 at 11:49 AM0 comments

Microsoft Readies Customer Lockbox for Office 365

Microsoft's Customer Lockbox and Advanced eDiscovery tools, announced earlier this year with the aim of providing higher levels of compliance for Office 365, will be available Dec. 1. The company announced the pending release as part of yesterday's broad initiative outlined by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to build out the Operational Security Graph and plans to invest $1 billion per year in security alone for Azure, Office 365 and Windows.

Scott Charney, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing, revealed the Customer Lockbox feature for Office 365 in his keynote address at the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco earlier this year. Customer Lockbox ensures that Microsoft employees cannot access customer data or content without their explicit permission. At the time it was announced, Microsoft said the Customer Lockbox feature would be enabled for Exchange Online by year's end and for SharePoint Online in the first quarter of 2016.

If Microsoft needs to access Office 365 content in its datacenters, Customer Lockbox puts in place an approval process, allowing them to approve or reject it. Microsoft engineers will be unable to access the data until the request is approved, according to Microsoft's description of the service. "The lockbox gives you the capability to secure your data, to encrypt your data and give only key access when required," Nadella said in yesterday's speech.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/18/2015 at 10:57 AM0 comments

Satya Nadella Lays Out Microsoft's Security Roadmap

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today gave a holistic view of the company's focus on security and revealed it is building an intelligent operational security graph. Emanating from its Cyber Defense Operations Center in Redmond, this graph is a framework that allows for the sharing of real-time intelligence gathered and shared across every Microsoft offering ranging from sensors, Xbox and Windows devices to the datacenter and public cloud. Nadella said Microsoft is sharing the graph with a new ecosystem of partners and also revealed the company is investing $1 billion in R&D to build security into Windows, Azure and Office 365.

Nadella addressed an audience of federal IT security pros in Washington, DC at the Government Cloud Forum  (a replay is available on demand), where he spelled out the new intelligent security graph. Nadella described it in the context of reporting on the progress Microsoft has made in addressing the threat landscape of 2015 and beyond.

Nadella spoke of the numerous new security features in Windows, Office 365 and its public cloud Azure with the release of the Azure Security Center but also spoke of the huge escalation in breaches this year. "2015 has been a tough year around cyber security," Nadella said. "Just the top eight or so data breaches have led to 160 million data records to being compromised." But Nadella also emphasized the fact that it takes an average of 229 days for an organization to detect an intrusion and, suggesting that the graph will help reduce the time it takes to discover and respond to threats.

Time will tell but today's speech could be remembered as Microsoft's Trustworthy Initiative 2.0. While Nadella didn't describe it as such, he referred to the original Trustworthy Computing Initiative by Bill Gates, the company's founder and first CEO, and suggested Microsoft is now taking that from the focus from software development to operations.

"Fourteen years ago, Bill Gates wrote about Trustworthy Computing as a priority for Microsoft, and we have made tremendous amount of progress on it but with this changing environment, which is no longer just about our code, and the threat modeling and the testing but it is in fact about the operational security posture that we have in this constantly evolving environment, this constantly under attack," Nadella said. "The operational security posture to me is where it all starts."

At the center of that graph that enables Microsoft's new operational security posture is Microsoft's Cyber Defense Operations Center, located on the Redmond campus, which I had the opportunity to recently visit. It is a war room that rivals few others in the world that Microsoft uses to detect threats in advance, and share the information with all of its related product and service groups as well as its partners.

"We don't have silos, we actually have people who are able to in real-time connect the dots between what's happening across all of these services," Nadella said "That operations center, and the output of the operations center, is this intelligence graph that is being used in turn by our products to create security in the products themselves, and we share that intelligence broadly with our customers [and] with our partners."

Among some of the partners that Microsoft has tapped to integrate their security offerings with Microsoft's Azure Security Center are firewall suppliers Barracuda, Trend Micro, Cisco, Fortinet and Checkpoint. Also revealed were partners whose wares will integrate with the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite's Intune service. The integration will let those partners utilize the policy, security settings and data protection capabilities of Intune. Among them are Adobe, Acronis, Box, Citrix, Foxit and SAP.

"Box for EMM with Intune for is the only way that customers can fully manage and secure Office files on mobile devices," explained Chris Yeh, Box senior VP for product and platform, in a blog post. "With the offering, users can determine which applications interact with Box and access corporate content, and implement additional controls and policies on Box and other managed applications."

Nadella also took time to spel out the new levels of security Microsoft has introduced across the board over the past year. It included some demos from Julia White, Microsoft's general manager for Office 365.

In describing the new intelligent security graph and the move to bring it into operation, Nadella has put forward his own Trustworthy Computing Initiative.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/17/2015 at 12:41 PM0 comments

Will Apple's iPad Pro Kill the PC?

Curious to see the new iPad Pro that began shipping last week, I went to Best Buy Saturday to check it out and, as I expected, it's an overgrown version of Apple's standard tablet. Indeed it has many fine refinements including a faster processor, sharper resolution and much better speakers. But it's very expensive for what it is.

Comparisons to Microsoft Surface Pros, other laptops and even MacBook Pros are to be expected and, for some, the iPad Pro might be a suitable replacement. Generally speaking though, they're different beasts. When Apple's original iPad came out five years ago, it was truly a novel device that let us do things we couldn't before. The iPad Pro does offer new capabilities such as an optional pen for drawing, which certainly give it new use cases in certain situations, but it's not anything revolutionary.

Apple CEO Tim Cook stirred up the debate last week when he said that "I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore?"  That may be his goal -- and it certainly was the goal of his predecessor, the late Steve Jobs -- but it still seems like a stretch to say no one would have a reason to buy a PC any more.

I have an older iPad and use it quite extensively to consume content. But when it comes to work and productivity, the PC is a far more useful device. At this point, I wouldn't like to replace either but if the Universal Windows Platform lives up to its promise, I can see giving up my iPad. It's hard to see anyone wanting to give up their PC or Mac for an iPad Pro, and certainly not for one that will cost more than $1,200 if you opt for the 128GB version.

Even if I was to replace the iPad I have now, I'd likely swap it out for the more affordable and lightweight iPad Air 2, which is half as expensive and can handle most everything its larger sibling can do.

What's your take on the new iPad Pro? Do you see buying one, or your organization's employees using them? If so, will it be to replace or merely supplement their PCs?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/16/2015 at 11:23 AM0 comments

Microsoft Helps Developers Build Emotion Detection into Apps

In most cases it's relatively easy to get some sense how others are reacting or feeling in a live situation but online or via videoconference, such subtleties are much more difficult to detect. Microsoft this week released the public beta of an API and tool that lets developers program the ability to detect emotions into their apps.

The new emotion API, debuted at Microsoft's Future Decoded conference in London, was developed by the company's Project Oxford team and demonstrated by Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, U.K., during his keynote address. Microsoft revealed Project Oxford at its Build conference back in April.

Microsoft describes Project Oxford as a portfolio of REST-based APIs and SDKs that allow developers to add intelligence into their applications and services using the company's machine learning technology that comes out of Microsoft Research. Among the APIs now in beta are facial detection, speech and computer vision.

This week's new tool, released to beta testers, is designed to let developers build the ability to detect the eight most common states of emotion: anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise. The state is detected by reading the kind of facial expressions that typically convey those feelings. In a blog post, Microsoft described some scenarios where those APIs would be useful, such as to develop systems for marketers to gauge reactions to a store display, movie or food or creating apps that render options based on the emotion it recognizes in a photo or video.

Microsoft also showcased a scenario tied to the facial hair fundraising effort Movember, in which the company released MyMoustache, to rate facial hair. Microsoft also released a spell check API beta. It's a context-aware programmatic interface that can detect slang as well as proper word usage (such when "four," "for" or "fore" is correct). It also supports brand names and commonly used terms.

By year's end, Microsoft will be releasing additional tools coming from the Project Oxford team, including a video API based on some of the same technology found in Microsoft Hyperlapse that can automatically clean up video. Also coming by year's end are tools to recognize speakers and custom recognition intelligent services (CRIS), which can detect speech in noisy environments.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/13/2015 at 12:46 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Ready for Enterprise with First Major Update

Microsoft today has begun rolling out the first major update to its Windows 10 operating system and has effectively declared it ready for enterprise deployment.

The new update includes a number of usability improvements to Windows 10 including a boost in performance and added features to components of the OS including Cortana and the Edge browser. It also marks the launch of the Windows Store for Business.

The November Update, as Microsoft describes it, is critical for those considering rolling Windows 10 for businesses, said Terry Myerson, executive VP of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a blog post announcing the release. Also known as Version 1511, the update is available on MSDN.

"With this update, there are improvements in all aspects of the platform and experience, including thousands of partners updating their device drivers and applications for great Windows 10 compatibility," Myerson said. "Windows 10 also starts rolling out to Xbox One today and select mobile phones soon. But most importantly, with this free update we have reached the point in the platform's maturity where we can confidently recommend Windows 10 deployment to whole organizations."

While Myerson claimed that  the update offers improved performance and boot time, he underscored that with this release Windows 10 is now ready for enterprises thanks to the availability of Windows Store for Business and Windows Update for Business.

"Windows Store for Business provides IT a flexible way to find, acquire, manage and distribute apps to Windows 10 devices -- both Windows Store apps and custom line of business apps," Myerson said. "Organizations can choose their preferred distribution method by directly assigning apps, publishing apps to a private store or connecting with management solutions."

As reported last week, the Windows Store for Business will be critical to enterprises looking to deploy their own custom-developed Universal Windows apps that aren't in the general Windows Store and enable private stores and application license management.

Meanwhile, Microsoft claims that Windows Update for Business will add management controls for IT pros. For instance, they can set up Windows 10 device groups for end users with staged deployments.

The Windows 10 update also includes support for mobile device management and Azure Active Directory Join, allowing users to have one login, while allowing administrators to join any Windows 10 device to an enterprise domain.

The update now lets users turn off telemetry data, though Microsoft recommends against doing so. Not included in this update but "coming soon" according to Myerson, is enterprise data protection, allowing organizations to segregate enterprise data from personal information and content.

The new features added to Cortana include the ability to recognize e-mail addresses and phone numbers, event tracking, the ability to book rides on Uber (which Microsoft has invested in) and support for additional countries besides the U.S. including Japan, Australia, Canada and India. The Microsoft Edge browser also has improved performance, security and preview capabilities.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/12/2015 at 10:06 AM0 comments

Will Potential Tax Liability Derail Dell-EMC Deal?

Could the historic deal reached by Dell to acquire EMC for $67 billion unwind if the IRS decides it wants a piece of it? Dell officials are reportedly concerned that the IRS could rule that the transfer of the tracking stock that comes with EMC's 81 percent stake in VMware could trigger a taxable distribution that would add $9 billion to the bill.

That's a worst-case scenario posed by the tech business site Re/code, citing multiple unidentified Dell insiders saying such a scenario is a concern. According to the report, Section 355, a provision of the U.S. tax law, describes circumstances that could trigger a tax upon the transfer of the VMware shares.

"Simply put, the law is intended to prevent corporate spinoffs or share distributions from helping pay for an acquisition, which appears to be what Dell is attempting to do,"  wrote Re/code author Arik Hesseldahl.  "If the IRS were to rule that the tracking stock qualifies as a taxable distribution of shares as defined in Section 355, it would remove a key plank of Dell's financing for the transaction. At minimum it would require Dell to borrow more money to pay EMC shareholders for the full value of the company. At worst, sources said, the added tax expense could derail the deal entirely."

Dell is aware of the risks, he noted, having made note of it in the Oct. 12 merger agreement on file with the SEC, which states: "Neither the Company nor any of its Subsidiaries has been a 'controlled corporation' or a 'distributing corporation' in any distribution occurring during the two-year period ending on the date hereof that was purported or intended to be governed by Section 355 of the Code."

Rather because EMC hasn't assumed any control of VMware over the past two years, the deal should "qualify as an exchange described in Section 351 of the Code," according to the merger agreement.

"This is a valid worry, but not a deal breaker," FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives told Reuters. "We see Michael Dell as making sure this deal goes through, even if it takes some deal tweaks along the way."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/10/2015 at 12:39 PM0 comments

Refresh Your Surface Pro 3 with a New Keyboard

One of the many stories of last month's Surface Pro 4 launch was the new keyboard, which is not only easier to use but available with an embedded fingerprint scanner that'll let you login using the new Windows Hello authentication feature in Windows 10.

The new Surface Pro 4 keyboard has thicker keys that are more responsive and more widely spaced, making it much easier to type than the previous version. The wider trackpad is also much easier to use. Having used one in place of the original keyboard offered with the Surface Pro 3, it clearly is much easier to type on.

Just as useful is the built-in fingerprint scanner that lets me log into Windows by touching it rather than inputting my password. Not only does it dispense with the tedious effort of typing in a password to get into Windows but it's more secure. Right now the scanner, which implements Windows Hello, is limited in that you still must use your password for other systems and sites but it was worth the $30 premium for the keyboard.

Perhaps you're wondering why Microsoft didn't put the fingerprint scanner on all the new keyboards for the Surface Pro 4? The reason seems to be support for earlier Surface models. The new Surface Pro 4's camera can enable Windows Hello using facial recognition. Older Surface systems don't have that camera, and those users may still want the fingerprint scanner option.

Even if you purchased a Surface Pro 3 when it was released in June of last year, you'd be hard-pressed to replace it at this point with the new system unless you have a real need for more storage or the new processor. But swapping out the new keyboard can go a long way to make it feel new and improved.  

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/09/2015 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Tools Debut This Week To Boost Compliance

While IT pros have historically had to concern themselves with meeting compliance needs, the rise of hybrid cloud, mobility and the ability to more easily move data have put an increased emphasis on it by organizations. While that's especially the case for those who must meet certain governance guidelines, it's becoming common sense for any business or organization with a stake in maintaining better controls of their information putting the burden on them to ensure against data leakage.

Several suppliers this week have added new compliance and auditing capabilities to their wares in recent weeks, including Centrify, Netwrix and Okta.

The latter, one of the leading identity and access management suppliers, this week announced an update to the Okta Mobility Management tool. The update will give the tool new compliance reporting allowing administrators to view configurations within apps and they can compare them with their policy or identity management systems of record the company said. Administrators can adjust access based on group policies, the company said. Okta also added a new rules engine that simplifies the assigning of users to existing groups based on their memberships and also coming are new workflow capabilities, the company said.

Okta, which held its Oktane15 customer conference in Las Vegas this week, also announced the suite will offer consistent device management for both PCs and Macs, allowing common security policies among all devices. The update also includes an iOS Safari extension that will allow users to log in to their accounts from Safari on their iOS devices.

Netwrix , another provider focused on managing permissions, today launched a new version of its auditing tool. The new Netwrix Auditor 7.1, boasts simplified access to historic audit trails, enabling administrators to determine the root cause of breaches when unauthorized access is suspected. Reporting in the new release is improved to provide account permission audits to show who has access to file shares, storage systems and allowing them to ensure privileges are consistent with their business, the company said. The new release also now generates system health reports and adds support for NetApp Ontap-based storage clusters. It already supported Microsoft, VMware and EMC storage.

Centrify, which also targets compliance with its own identity management suite, added support for five key cloud access security brokers (CASB). The integrations with CloudLock, Elastica, Imperva, Netskope and Skyhigh Networks, aim to provide protection with SaaS apps such as Microsoft's Office 365, Box, Dropbox, Google Apps and Salesforce.com against data leakage by providing data loss prevention.

"Our new CASB partnerships mean that end users benefit from password-free access to SaaS apps, while privileged users and IT benefit from maximum visibility and monitoring of app usage and suspicious behavior to ensure security is not compromised, " said Bill Mann, Centrify's chief product officer, in a statement.

Through the integrations, Centrify said it can provide a common interface to configure SAML-based access tokens for enforcement and inspection purposes and allow for monitoring of privileges and access control.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/06/2015 at 11:12 AM0 comments

Intel Steps Up Focus on Security

Intel Security last week made the case to partners and customers that it is now ready to be their primary supplier of enterprise security solutions. This culminates a year of a major revamping for the business.

Following last year's renaming of the business from McAfee to Intel Security, though keeping the latter branding on specific products, the company wants to be seen as one of the big boys, challenging the likes of Cisco, IBM, RSA and Symantec. It will do so by securing everything including sensors, mobile devices, PCs and all points in the enterprise datacenter and public cloud, while providing the needed wares to equip a security operations center (SOC).

While Intel Security wants to provide many of those wares, it will partner with others to ensure it is providing all of the protection enterprises need. At its Focus event last week in Las Vegas, executives said they want to help customers reduce the number of security vendors needed to provide the needed defenses while covering an ever-growing threat landscape. Over the past year Intel Security, with annual revenues of $3 billion last year, has reshaped its corporate strategy that focuses on the expanding attack surfaces from the endpoint to the network and cloud control points.

The company has brought in seasoned security veterans starting with Chris Young, senior vice president and general manager of Intel Security Group, who came over from Cisco where he was senior VP of its security business. In his keynote address to partners at Focus last week Young said Intel Security is shifting away from a strategy that relies on acquisitions to internal development and partnerships.

"McAfee traditionally was all about buying," Young said, pointing to a long history of buying companies and trying to make them fit. "Everything we did, we acquired this company, we acquired that company. I think that's something we're going to have to change. We're putting more emphasis on building a lot of our technologies." Young didn't rule out buying companies where it makes sense.

Young presided over the introduction of two key new products that he said will bring home its message that the company is not the McAfee antivirus company of the past. One is the new McAfee EndPoint Security 10.x, an endpoint threat detection and response platform, which Young said is based on significant architectural changes from the initial version released early last year. Besides improved performance, the company claims it offers visibility to advanced threats and offers high speed detection and remediation.

The other new product, McAfee Active Response, provides continuous monitoring while giving administrators views via the McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) management console. "We're getting into the game to help our customers be better at hunting and detecting for the undetectable threats with McAfee Active Response," Young said. "We can offer our customers the ability to go out and become really, really compliant by giving them better detection and correction, by automating the process that the smartest security analysts have to follow if they're going to go out and look for the hardest to find threats in their customers' environments. McAfee Active Response is designed to do just that."

Young also talked up support for its Threat Intelligence Exchange (TIE), based on its McAfee Data Exchange Layer (DXL), which the company describes as its "architecture for adaptive security." Intel announced the exchange last year and described DXL as "a real-time, bidirectional communications fabric allowing security components to operate as one immediately sharing relevant data between endpoint, gateway, and other security products enabling security intelligence and adaptive security."

Intel says it enables product integration via an open API that ties to any layer of the exchange without requiring point-to-point integration.

Intel said 16 vendors are now DXL Alliance partners including Windows privilege management provider Avecto, ForeScout Titus and TrapX Security. The company added two more last week, Brocade and Mobile Iron.

Analysts are watching Intel's new security push closely. At a dinner with press and analysts hosted by Intel last week, I sat next to Frank Dickson, research director for information and network security at Frost and Sullivan, who said Intel Security is in a transition phase that kicked off with the hiring of Young.

"We are just starting to see the fruits of the change," Dickson said. "The key is to do more, faster. Active Response is a good first step, but it is only first step. Security professionals are desperate for tools to simplify the administration of security. Intel Security needs to do more. It seems headed down that path. Additional analytics need to be brought to the problem of security; automated analytics that does not involve a human.  I did not hear much at all on automated analytics."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/05/2015 at 12:11 PM0 comments

Microsoft and Red Hat Announce New Open Source Partnership

In what Microsoft is describing as perhaps its deepest partnership with another major enterprise infrastructure player to date, the company is joining forces with leading Linux and open source provider Red Hat to ensure that their respective operating systems and cloud platforms technologies interoperate.

The partnership, announced today, will involve a Red Hat engineering team moving to Redmond to provide joint technical support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux workloads running in the Microsoft Azure public cloud and on its hybrid cloud offerings. The pact also calls for applications developed in the Microsoft .NET Framework language to run on RHEL, OpenShift and the new Red Hat Atomic Host container platform.

If describing this pact as the deepest partnership ever sounds like hype, neither Microsoft or Red Hat has made such a claim with other jointly announced partnerships.

 "We don't do this depth and level of support with any other partner at this point," said Paul Cormier, Red Hat's president of products and technologies, during a Web conference announcing the pact. "It's a much more comprehensive partnership than we have with any of our other public cloud providers. The colocation of our support teams is really a significant differentiator for our enterprise customers."

The other differentiator is that Windows and RHEL are the most widely deployed enterprise server platforms, he said. Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's EVP of Cloud and Enterprise, who was on the webcast with Cormier, agreed.  "I am not aware of us doing anything like this with any other partner before," Guthrie said.

Making the agreement even more noteworthy is it's coming from companies that once had nothing but disdain for each other. "There wasn't much trust there," Cormier said flatly.

The devil will be in the details and execution of what the two onetime rivals announced today and whether it lives up to its promise. Specifically there are five components to what the two companies hope to deliver:

  • Combined support services for hybrid cloud including Red Hat products and on-premises customer environments running on Microsoft Azure. "What this means is as we bring our solutions together to solve customers' real problems," Cormier said. "We need to do that in such a way that we can really give enterprise class support that our customers want, need and expect." To accomplish this, he said Red Hat will collocate its engineers with Microsoft's so when issues or questions arise regarding integration points, their respective engineers will work together to address them.
  • Red Hat will use the newly open sourced .NET technologies in its platforms including RHEL, its OpenShift cloud PaaS offering and Red Hat Atomic Host, the company's container offering. This integration will let developers build applications that include .NET services, which could be more appealing now that Microsoft has open sourced the framework. "I think this will give us greater interoperability across the technologies and really start to give our customers the heterogeneous world that they really want," Cormier said.
  • Subscriptions to Red Hat products supported on Azure and Windows will be supported by Red Hat the same way that they are supported when running in traditional enterprise environments. Red Hat will also expand cooperation and work on Windows being supported on Red Hat products including RHEL, OpenStack and OpenShift.
  • Red Hat's systems management offering Cloud Forms will include management of workloads on Azure. This should provide a common management pane for physical workloads and private cloud environments including its OpenStack distribution and OpenShift.
  • Microsoft is joining the Red Hat Certified Cloud and Service Provider Program (CCSP) to provide certified support for all of its products in Azure. With Microsoft joining the CCSP, Guthrie said that "Red Hat subscriptions will become portable to Microsoft Azure, with full Red Hat cloud access, enabling a consistent application platform on and off premises."

The two teams will start their collocation in Redmond over the next few weeks, Guthrie said. Over time, they may send teams to other locations as well. In the coming months, Guthrie said the two companies will let customers sign up and pay for licenses of Red Hat products on Azure on a usage basis.

"You'll see the integration of the Red Hat CloudForms offering with both Azure and our System Center VMM product that will enable consistent workload management in a hybrid way," Guthrie said. "We'll also enable Red Hat enterprise Linux Atomic Host on Azure and basically deliver a supported and certified small footprint container host that customers can use for enterprise Linux containers."

The deal is the latest evidence that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella meant business when he said last year that "Microsoft loves Linux" and gave further evidence in our September cover story that Microsoft's DNA is changing.  Now the onus is on both companies to make their respective wares interoperate as they promised today.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/04/2015 at 1:44 PM0 comments

Office 365 Customers Slam Decision to End Unlimited OneDrive Storage

Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away. In what has quickly resulted in unwelcome backlash, Microsoft last night announced it's withdrawing its unlimited storage option for consumer Office 365 accounts. Why? Apparently some customers felt that entitled them to store their entire digital movie collections in some case exceeding 75TB. The limit scales back to 1TB effective immediately. Customers will have a year to keep what's there but are unable to store more.

Not surprisingly, the move is going over as well as JetBlue's decision to start charging customers to check their bags earlier this year. "Wow, wtf is Microsoft thinking... They essentially just killed OneDrive," tweeted customer Al-Qudsi, a dental student who's likely to remember this when he sets up his own office.

The problem with Microsoft's reasoning  is that it should have realized when it made the offer that some would actually take the company up on it. "I don't understand why companies offer unlimited something and then are surprised when some people try to use it," tweeted tech editor Harry McCracken, now a contributor to Fast Company.  Many customers slammed Microsoft on its own blog post announcing the change.

"I've been using OneDrive since the early days of SkyDrive and I have more than 300GB of storage from Surface and early adopter bonus," in a comment posted by Jim. "I will cancel my Office 365, demand a *full* refund, and move my files back to my NAS. I will also file a complaint to the BBB. The OneDrive team, you should really be ashamed of yourself. MSFT spent the last two, three years to rebuild the trust with its power users, and you managed to destroy all that hard work by a blog post."

Microsoft explained its reasoning in the announcement. "Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75TB per user or 14,000 times the average. Instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios, we want to remain focused on delivering high-value productivity and collaboration experiences that benefit the majority of OneDrive users."

The changes, according to the post, are as follows:

  • Microsoft is no longer providing unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Subscriptions now include 1TB of OneDrive storage.
  • 100GB and 200GB paid plans are no longer an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.
  • Free OneDrive storage will revert to 5GB from 15GB, which includes the camera roll storage bonus at some point in early 2016.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has scaled back on its storage offerings in OneDrive. Back when it was called SkyDrive, Microsoft offered all customers free 25GB storage and slashed it back to 7GB until last year when it announced the unlimited option. Just over a year ago, Microsoft reversed course. "Today, storage limits just became a thing of the past with Office 365," announced Chris Jones, who was corporate VP for the OneDrive and SharePoint team until he was reassigned back in March, as reported by blogger Mary Jo Foley.

However, if you're among those who never received the unlimited option, you're not alone. "During the past few months, I've heard from several dissatisfied Office 365 subscribers who never received their unlimited storage upgrades," wrote Ed Bott, in his ZDNet Ed Bott Report blog.  "Now we know why."

How severe the backlash is remains to be seen but it's likely to raise questions about Microsoft's free Windows 10 upgrade offer. At the same time, there are many who won't be fazed by the latest move. I've come across many (some are even IT pros) who were unaware of the amount of capacity Microsoft offers. For me, 1TB isn't shabby but for those sold by the more generous option, that may offer little solace.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/03/2015 at 11:34 AM0 comments

HP Officially Splits into 2 Companies

Today marks the first day of business for two new companies spawned from the divestiture of one of the most storied and oldest technology companies in Silicon Valley. Hewlett Packard Co. completed its Nov. 1 split to form HP Inc., the former company's PC and printer business, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which provides IT infrastructure and services.

The official split caps the company's shift in strategy announced a year ago. To mark the occasion, HP CEO Meg Whitman, who now takes on that role for HPE while serving as HP Inc.'s chairman, rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. Combined, the companies recorded more than $110 billion in revenues for its most recent fiscal year. By splitting into two companies, HPE accounted for $53 billion and HP Inc. $57 billion. Wall Street analysts have broached the idea of the original HP splitting into two companies for more than a decade after many questioned the wisdom of its merger with Compaq Computer. When Whitman took over as HP's CEO four years ago, she overturned a hastily announced plan to sell off HP's PC business, arguing that having PCs and enterprise hardware offerings gave the company greater scale than its rivals, notably Dell, IBM and Lenovo.

Last year, Whitman reversed course, saying that two companies would be more competitive than one. Apparently Michael Dell and his investors see things quite differently, with last month's deal by Dell to acquire EMC and its stake in VMware for $67 billion, making it the largest IT industry acquisition.

"They are two diametrically opposed strategies," Whitman told CNBC's David Faber in an interview from the NYSE this morning. "It's quite interesting that we have chosen to deleverage our balance sheet to get smaller [and] to be more nimble and lean into new technology like our 3PAR all flash storage array, like the next generation of networking and servers and our software business, while Dell has chosen to get much bigger, lever way up and really consolidate and make a cost play around older technology. We looked at Hewlett Packard's strengths and we said being smaller and more nimble in this market is a huge advantage."

Some question whether that's the case including the outspoken analyst Toni Sacconaghi, of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., who told The Wall Street Journal "a big part of the market is moving in a single direction, and [HPE] arguably doesn't have offerings to cater to those [customers]. Traditional vendors have challenges in terms of that migration, but you could argue that others have at least taken more visible, positive steps in that direction."

Those "traditional" vendors he identified were IBM and Oracle, which Sacconaghi argues has a better-articulated hybrid cloud strategy than HPE. Last month, HP said it was shutting down its public cloud, opting to resell cloud services from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.

"The truth is that Amazon and Azure are way out in front in the public cloud, and our view was is there a way to partner with them while we provide the hybrid environment," Whitman told CNBC's Faber. "It's the classic where to play, and how to win, and we decided we have a better chance of being the leader in private cloud and virtual private cloud, managed private cloud and then of course our Cloud System Automation that helps you orchestrate your cloud in a multi cloud environment."

Now that the two companies have split there are a number of outcomes that need to be considered:

  • Will the new HP Inc. become a more innovative and competitive provider of PCs and printers and will it be able to compete on price as it has in the past?
  • Despite a huge portfolio of storage, server and networking hardware, how will the new HPE stack up against Cisco, Oracle, IBM and of course a combined Dell-EMC?
  • What alliances will HPE make that were never under consideration in year's past?
  • Does HPE become an aggressive acquirer or itself an acquisition target?

"You never know what's going to happen," Whitman said. "This is a very dynamic environment which is one of the reasons we thought it was important to be smaller, so we could be more agile in an environment that requires that."

What's your take on HP's split and the pending combination of Dell and EMC?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/02/2015 at 9:14 AM0 comments

Will Google Merge Android and Chrome OS?

Google has denied a report that it is two years into an engineering effort that would bring both its Android and Chrome OS together as one operating system. The plan, reported by The Wall Street Journal citing unidentified sources, calls for the effort to be rolled out in 2017, though a preview of the integrated OS could appear next year.

However, according to several reports, Google is not killing Chrome OS. Hiroshi Lockheiner, senior VP for Android, Chromecast, Chrome OS tweeted, "There's a ton of momentum for Chromebooks and we are very committed to Chrome OS. I just bought two for my kids for schoolwork!"

The report said Google's engineering team is looking to meld Chrome OS into Android, the most widely deployed operating system on tablets and phones. The notion of combining the two is has often been floated considering the small share of Chromebooks in use, which is believed to be less than 3 percent. Yet they are popular in certain markets, notably for education.

If Google were to follow through with the plan that was reported, it would be a tacit acknowledgment that a browser-modeled operating system that largely eschews the notion of running an application and data locally has limited appeal.

At the same time, combining the two operating systems could position Google to offer Android on PCs. Such a move could potentially mount a challenge to Mac OS and Windows, though it would remain to be seen if the new operating system's functionality would offer a meaningful threat.

Given the source of the report was two unidentified engineers, at the very least it appears there's at least some internal development taking place. But as we know, many technologies developed in companies' research labs never get out.

Update Nov. 2: Lockheiner issued more clarification in an official blog post. "Over the last few days, there's been some confusion about the future of Chrome OS and Chromebooks based on speculation that Chrome OS will be folded into Android," he noted. "While we've been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS."

A number of new Chromebooks are on tap for release next year, he added, also noting the new the new Chromebook for Work. While Chrome OS may not be going away anytime soon, Lockheiner did pont to the new Apps Runtime on Chrome (ARC) that allows Android apps to run on Chromebooks. "We have plans to release even more features for Chrome OS, such as a new media player, a visual refresh based on Material Design, improved performance, and of course, a continued focus on security," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/30/2015 at 2:48 PM0 comments

Veeam Reaches for Larger Enterprises with Availability Wares

Having made a name for itself for its unique approach to backup and recovery by focusing on VMs rather than physical machines for small and mid-size datacenters, Veeam is gunning to move up the food chain with its new enterprise availability suite and cloud connectivity tool.

Veeam now wants to be known as the company that can ensure what is known as provider of "availability for the always-on enterprise." The company will take a key step toward that goal with the Veeam Availability Suite v9, slated for release this quarter. The new release adds an unlimited scale-out data repository and built-in replication in one solution. With its tight integration with Hyper-V and VMware, as well as storage devices of its alliance partners Cisco, EMC, HP and NetApp, the company claims it'll deliver real-time and point recovery objectives within 15 minutes.

In addition, it will offer improved support for cloud services with enhancements to its year-old Cloud Connect tool that'll make it available to clouds of all sizes ranging from small single-site locations to the largest with support coming for Microsoft Azure.

"Veeam has built a great business in the medium-sized business and SMB," CEO Ratmir Timashev said a keynote address at the company's second annual VeeamOn conference in Las Vegas, where I spent several days talking with company executives, industry analysts, customers and partners. "We want to be the de facto standard within the enterprise."

The company indeed has made inroads in taking on larger workloads but some of its claims are ambitious, said Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst with Kusnetzky Group. "They talk about availability in the modern datacenter but they don't cover all the workloads in the datacenter," Kusnetzky said. "For example, they don't do anything with mainframes and they don't do anything with Unix systems." Nevertheless, Enterprise Strategy Group Analyst Jason Buffington said that "they're still the one to beat in virtualization." Noting the added support for tape, added snapshot integration and last year's support for physical Windows servers, Buffington said that Veeam is making inroads into supporting legacy systems.

Veeam took a further step in legacy system support by announcing Veeam Backup for Linux, a free agent that can run on any physical Linux server. It'll let administrators restore backups from on-premises servers as well as cloud instances and will work with the new v9 suite. A closed beta will kick off in the first half of next year. "They're incrementally getting rid of those last reasons to keep that legacy solution," Buffington said.

Doug Hazelman, Veeam's senior director of product strategy, made no bones that the company is looking to take on some of its larger rivals such as CommVault, IBM and Veritas (the company Symantec is spinning off that offers Backup Exec and NetBackup). "We've been having a lot of success," Hazelman said. "There's been several instances where our new license cost is less than the maintenance renewal for their existing software, and yet we have even greater capabilities."

The company also said it has 1,000 providers offering its new Cloud Connect tool and announced at the event the launch of the new  Veeam Managed Backup Portal, aimed at making it easier for additional providers to roll out cloud-based backup-as-a service offerings. See my report about the Azure-based portal on our sister site Redmond Channel Partner.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/30/2015 at 10:05 AM0 comments

Microsoft Celebrates the Release of Windows 10 Devices at New NYC Flagship Store

More than five years after opening its first retail stores, Microsoft finally has one in New York City, which opens today, which the company said will serve as the flagship of 100-plus locations. The new store, also by far its largest, opens on the same day Microsoft is making available for purchase its new lineup of Windows 10 devices, including the new Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Lumia phones and Microsoft Band 2.

The new store is in the heart of midtown Manhattan on 5th Ave.,  just a few blocks away from Apple's flagship retail outlet. Although I was unable to attend the grand opening, the new store is vast and has a wide variety of Microsoft-branded products including some not displayed at any of its other locations. Most notable for now is the Surface Hub, Microsoft's giant screen conference room system that allows for video meetings using Skype for Business.

Also on display is HoloLens, Microsoft's futuristic looking glasses that lets users see holograms, though before rushing there to see it, customers can look but not touch. They're in a sealed glass showcase. The location is a premier spot surrounded by some of the world's largest retailers and is a popular tourist spot and home to many large Fortune 500 companies. Microsoft will have specialists who speak a total of 19 languages.

Like its other retail stores, the flagship location will have its Answer desk and will have a floor for conferences and presentations. But it also has a huge two-story video wall showcasing Microsoft's offerings. "The larger footprint means a deeper customer experience of Microsoft's ecosystem in what we consider to be one of the greatest shopping districts in the world," said Soligon, general manager for worldwide marketing, in a statement. "It really is an awesome canvas to be able to highlight products and have them come to life for customers."

Whenever Microsoft opens a new store, it has large festivities and this one will include the launch of the Xbox One game Halo 5: Guardians, letting customers meet developers of the game from 343 Industries. Also sure to garner attention is a free concert tonight by rapper Pitbull over at Rockefeller Center a few blocks away.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/26/2015 at 11:51 AM0 comments

Private Equity Investors To Buy SolarWinds for $4.5 Billion

IT systems management provider SolarWindows this week agreed to be acquired for a healthy $4.5 billion by private equity investors Silver Lake Partners and Thoma Bravo. That's a 44% premium over the company's share price as of Oct. 8, which was right before the company disclosed it was approached by an unsolicited bidder.

At the time, the company acknowledged that it had retained J.P. Morgan as its financial advisor and DLA Piper LLP to provide legal counsel. That's a nice payday for SolarWinds investors. But what does that mean for SolarWinds customers?

"Becoming a private company will provide SolarWinds with optimal operating flexibility to execute on its long-term strategy of providing superior products for IT and Dev Ops Pros all over the world," said SolarWinds President and CEO Kevin Thompson, in a statement. "We are extremely excited about partnering with Silver Lake and Thoma Bravo in the next chapter of the SolarWinds story."

Indeed at this week's DellWorld conference in Austin, Texas, ironically where SolarWinds is based, Dell Founder and CEO Michael Dell talked up the benefits of being a private company. "No 90 day shot clock," Dell said in his keynote address, referring to pressure on public companies to meet quarterly growth expectations. He also added that the company is now able to focus on customer-oriented initiatives and focus R&D accordingly.

SolarWinds is a popular provider of systems management tools for Windows and VMware environments. It has also extended into hybrid cloud management and entered the managed services provider business with the 2013 acquisition of N-able.

The deal, pending shareholder and regulatory approval, is slated to close next quarter.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/23/2015 at 11:08 AM0 comments

HP To Shut Down Its Public Cloud

As it gets ready to split into two companies in a couple of weeks, HP has confirmed its new enterprise business does not plan to continue its public cloud. HP said it will sunset its public cloud Jan. 31, 2016 which, despite huge ambitions to take on Amazon Web Services and others, never gained ground.

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google have established themselves as the largest global cloud infrastructure providers, and while there a number of other major providers including IBM Softlayer, VMware vCloud Air and Rackspace, their footprints don't currently have the scale and customer base as the big three. Still there are thousands of small and midsize hosting and cloud providers.

The move by HP to shut down its public cloud isn't a huge surprise. Bill Hilf, senior vice president and general manager of HP Cloud, made it official Wednesday. "We have made the decision to double-down on our private and managed cloud capabilities," he said in a blog post yesterday announcing the transition.

As it withdraws from the public cloud business HP will emphasize its HP OpenStack-based Helion platform and CloudSystem private cloud offering. The company will also support customers seeking managed virtual private cloud offerings, he said, adding that HP will have some announcements coming within a few weeks.

"Customer tell us that they want the ability to bring together multiple cloud environments under a flexible and enterprise-grade hybrid cloud model," Hilf said. "In order to deliver on this demand with best-of-breed public cloud offerings, we will move to a strategic, multiple partner-based model for public cloud capabilities, as a component of how we deliver these hybrid cloud solutions to enterprise customers."

Hilf added that will include support for Microsoft's Azure public cloud, along with Office 365, and will utilize last year's Eucalyptus acquisition to provide access to Amazon Web Services and will offer PaaS support to Cloud Foundry-based clouds.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/22/2015 at 10:18 AM0 comments

Dell Brings Azure On-Premises Appliance to Mainstream Enterprises

One year after launching the Microsoft Azure Cloud Platform System for service providers and the largest of enterprises, Dell is looking to bring it to mainstream datacenters. Dell Founder and CEO Michael Dell, joined by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, introduced the new CPS Standard edition today during the opening keynote of the annual Dell World conference taking place in Austin, Texas

The much larger CPS Premium is out of reach to all but the largest datacenters. The new version will be available in a single rack-based converged system running as few as 100 virtual machines. CPS provides the functionality that's consistent with the Microsoft Azure public cloud but brings it on-premises, allowing for hybrid or private clouds based on the same infrastructure.

"We've had a very successful launch of the premium Cloud Platform System and now we're going to democratize it and make it more accessible to every business, any size, by bringing a standard edition," Nadella said. "This really brings hybrid computing to everyone. The combination of the work that we're doing between Azure and CPS, I think is the way to deliver hybrid computing and its future for our customers."

Dell says the CPS Standard edition can be deployed in as little as three hours and like the larger edition, and the public cloud, updates and patching are handled automatically for customers. This new configuration is intended for workloads consisting of 100 to 400 VMs, is a turnkey system consisting of a compute 2U rack loaded with Dell's PowerEdge C6320 server and has networking and storage designed using Microsoft's Storage Spaces are available with hard disk drives and SSDs. It's run with Dell Cloud Manager.

For now, Dell is the only provider of the Azure Cloud Platform System in a single rack, though companies can build their own version using Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center and the Windows Azure Pack. Doing so is expected to become easier next year when Microsoft delivers Windows Server 2016 and the new Azure Stack, which Microsoft has said will bring more complete Azure functionality using the same portal interface than the current Windows Azure Pack.

Those deploying the new CPS Standard before the release of Azure Stack will be able to add on that new capability when it becomes generally available.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/21/2015 at 12:40 PM0 comments

Docker Extends Distributed App Portability Effort with Tutum Acquisition

Docker has acquired Tutum, a startup that provides a platform for development, deployment and management of cloud-scale apps, for an undisclosed amount.

The two-year-old startup has built its entire platform and cloud service based on the native Docker APIs and has native drivers to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM Softlayer, DIgital Ocean, among others, to enable the movement of containerized workloads across clouds and private datacenters.

Tutum's offering is still in beta but the company has 24,000 beta users and hundreds of deployments, said Borja Burgos-Galindo, cofounder and CEO of Tutum, in an interview. The company has not committed to a timeframe for general availability, he said.

"What's most important is the notion of letting users bring their own infrastructure," Burgos-Galindo said. "This also goes to Docker's choice to users. What this enables our users to do is bring the infrastructure they have provisioned that Docker may not natively integrate with their on-premises infrastructure."

Today the platform can grab any Linux virtual machine, whether it's on a laptop or on an OpenStack deployment or on VMware and bring it into Tutum, he explained. "Tutum can use that infrastructure as an endpoint on which to deploy the containerized applications, he said.

It will also be able to grab Windows workloads once Windows Server 2016 with support for Docker Hub becomes available. "We're excited to bring this from the Linux world to the Windows world," Burgos-Galindo said.

The ability to build, ship and run apps in this type of infrastructure will lend itself well to those that need to run in distributed environments comprising a private data center and public cloud environments, said David Messina, vice president of enterprise marketing at Docker.

Tutum has 11 employees, all of whom have joined Docker.  

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/21/2015 at 2:44 PM0 comments

Microsoft Announces the Surface 4 'Enterprise Bundle'

In preparation for what it hopes is a larger corporate demand for the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft today announced what it's calling the "Enterprise Bundle," which includes the newest Surface device, keyboard and a warranty only available to large enterprises (those purchasing thousands of units). The announcement comes in advance of next week's general release of its new crop of Windows 10 devices, notably the Surface Pro 4, Surface Book laptops and Lumia phones

The warranty program, called Complete for Enterprise, will allow IT to pool devices, so if one exceeds the two-replacement limit, it can still be eligible. Also in situations where an organization has an unbootable system but doesn't want to send it back because it has sensitive data on the drive, they can destroy the device.

Microsoft also disclosed the early corporate adopters for its Surface Pro 4 in an effort to demonstrate current demand by large enterprises for its new devices. "This is the most anticipated device for enterprises in years," said Brian Eskridge, senior director for Surface, in an interview. "The response we've seen for the Surface Pro 4 is by far going to be the fastest Surface adopted by businesses ever."

Granted it's only the sixth launch of a Surface and the first in nearly a year and a half but until last year's release of the much-refined Surface Pro 3, it was questionable whether Microsoft's tablet PCs would ever be widely adopted by enterprises.

A unit of Berkshire Hathaway is among the first of 10 large enterprises that Microsoft is revealing today have ordered the Surface Pro 4, mostly on spec. Berkshire Hathaway Automotive has already started replacing older Windows desktops and laptops with Surface Pro 3 devices and now plans to continue its refresh with the Surface Pro 4.

David Austin, Berkshire Hathaway Automotive's CTO, wasn't sure offhand how many units it will ultimately roll out but he said it would be several hundred per month as part of its refresh of older PCs. "We no longer order PCs for our end users," Austin said in response to an e-mail. "This is our one-size-fits-all device. This provides a more seamless experience for the employees and guests."

Asked why Berkshire chose Windows 10 tablets over iPads or Android-based devices, Austin said familiarity with Window and security, in particular, were key reasons. "We know how to secure, patch, and control access on a Windows device," Austin said. Nevertheless, Berkshire is not rolling out Universal Windows 10 apps.  Instead it will be using standard HTML 5 apps in most cases, according to Austin. In addition to the Surface Pro 4s, he said Berkshire will provide the new Surface Book, Microsoft's first-ever laptop that is also slated for release next week, for power users.

Besides Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Microsoft today said those ordering Surface Pro 4s include BNY Mellon, Carlyle Group, Clifford Chance, Covana, The Global Fund, Land 'O Lakes, USI Insurance and Wessanen. Also three universities in the U.K, have placed orders: Brighton College, Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Central Lancashire.

For Microsoft, the Surface business has gone from a black eye for the company to one of its fastest growing businesses. Since revamping its devices business and rolling out the Surface Pro 3 last year, it has grown to a $3.6 billion business for the 2015 fiscal year. It appears Microsoft has even higher hopes for the new Surface Pro 4. And if the Surface Book becomes a runaway hit, that'll surely be gravy.

Is your organization considering Microsoft's newest hardware?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/20/2015 at 2:52 PM0 comments

Google Apps Free Promo Targets Enterprises Using Office 365

The rapid growth of Office 365 has become a thorn in the side of Google Apps team and the company is now fighting back. Google today said it will offer its Google Apps service free of charge to midsized enterprises (organizations from 350 to 3,000 employees) for the duration of their contracts with Microsoft, IBM or any other productivity suite provider. The offer applies to any business, but Google is aiming to target mid-market companies, i.e. those with seats usually between 250 and 3,000. So, no company will be excluded just because they don't fall within that range. 

Google has kicked off the offer as it has seen Microsoft steal its lead in the subscription-based personal and group productivity and SaaS-based e-mail and collaboration markets. While Microsoft reports that there are 15.2 million subscribers to the Office 365 Personal and Home Editions, the company hasn't disclosed how many have subscribed to enterprise-oriented SKUs including licenses with Exchange and/or SharePoint Online. However a report published in August by security vendor Bitglass, showed that Office 365 has overtaken Google Apps over the past year.

Usage of Office 365 increased 300 percent over the past year, showing that 25.2 percent of enterprises use the services, compared with last year's 7.7 percent, according to the report. Google grew too but only has 22.8 percent of enterprises from 16.3 percent last year. Microsoft has fared even better with enterprises with more than 500 employees, where 34.3 percent use Office 365 compared with 22.9 percent that use Google Apps. Bitglass, which fielded the report, gathered the number using traffic reports from 120,000 organizations. Microsoft pointed to the report in the Office Blog and disclosed that Bitglass supports both Office 365 and Google Apps though it's listed partners are Microsoft, Dropbox, Box, Salesforce.com, OneLogin, Okta, Deloitte, Forsythe and Sayers (Google was not listed).

"For several years Google was the standard for cloud based productivity suites. However, with the release of Office 365, Microsoft has provided a viable alternative to Google Docs," said Alan Lepofsky, VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "The timing for this offer is good, as many organizations are evaluating if they should switch from Microsoft's on-premises offering to the cloud, and this helps place Google Apps for Work into the decision making matrix."

Google is hoping that if organizations take advantage of the ability to try its apps suite for the duration of an existing Office 365 contract that they'll see some of the benefits it offers. Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google Docs, explained during an interview that the company has added 350 features to Google Apps, including improved fidelity, support for pivot tables in its Sheets spreadsheet, redlining, real-time editing and the ability to work with legacy file formats and workloads.

Tabone demonstrated two new features added last month that take advantage of its cloud-based machine learning capabilities. One was the ability to perform real-time voice-to-text transcription and the other, to render visualization from datasets that can render key business impact results.

"We are trying to push the industry again," Tabone said. "We are not just a good solution in this space -- we are actually a better solution for most enterprises."

To take advantage of the service, customers must do so through one of Google's 13,000 implementation partners. The company is also offering $25 per user to implement and integrate the service.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/19/2015 at 10:51 AM0 comments

New Containers in Azure Aim To Migrate Legacy Apps

Sphere 3D this week said its Glassware 2.0's containerization tools and its hypervisor now work with Microsoft's Azure cloud. The entire Glassware 2.0 offering, which includes its containers designed to migrate Windows and open source apps to the cloud, now runs on Azure. Both companies announced a partnership earlier this year to ensure the compatibility.

Glassware 2.0 consists of a thin hypervisor it calls a "microvisor" and a proprietary containerization technology that Sphere 3D considers simpler to implement than open source Docker containers because it doesn't require a virtualized desktop. It's designed to port legacy applications to modern architectures without having to rewrite or translate code. DevOps teams can port Windows workloads to the cloud with the microvisor into the containers. The company claims microvisors have intelligence to use only those necessary components of the OS to migrate software to cloud-style infrastructure.

Glassware 2.0 technology on Microsoft Azure solves the challenges associated with transitioning applications to the cloud, "be it Web scalability, mobility, infrastructure management or cloud compatibility," said Sphere 3D CEO Eric Kelly. The apps can run natively on Windows 10, as well as iPads, Chromebooks and thin clients. The company says what makes its approach different is that the host operating system isn't installed on a server but rather just what's in the kernel for the applications to run, which should appeal to those with those who have system end of life issues and want to ensure against security vulnerabilities.

The company launched two offerings for Azure. The first is Exosphere, which requires a direct engagement with the company and is intended for applications that must scale to hundreds of thousands of users. It lets organizations build enterprise app catalogs of Windows apps ported to this containerized platform with images that they have verified for rollout. Once deployed, the apps are network aware and can be distributed to the various platforms.

The other, intended for applications that are accessed by hundreds or maybe thousands of users, is the Glassware G-Series. It will be available next month in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace and is a virtual appliance for application containerization.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/16/2015 at 12:39 PM0 comments

Microsoft Gives Skype a Wider Net with Expanded Chat and Video

Microsoft wants to broaden the reach of its Skype service and is doing so by making it possible for Skype users to invite those on other services such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp to join a conversation. The move comes just a week after Microsoft released new previews of Skype for Business for Office 365 users.

The expanded chat capability, released today, is described by Microsoft as a small update that will change the way people use Skype. The company is hoping that it'll get more people using Skype.

"Anyone can join the chat as a guest from their computer using Skype for Web and enjoy one to one or group instant messaging, voice and video calls," according to the announcement by the Skype team. "No Skype account or app download [is] required. Now you can use Skype to chat with anyone and not just the people in your Skype contact list."

Overall, the increased emphasis on Skype and Skype for Business shows that Microsoft is looking to get more customers using the portfolio of services, though clearly the focus is on the business customers, especially when it comes to video.

In a research note published on Seeking Alpha, Dallas Salazar, chief analyst at CapGainr.com, said he believes Microsoft's latest Skype for Business update could make the company a key player in business videoconferencing, given the forthcoming release's integration with Active Directory, improved user interface, new dashboard and integration with Office apps.

"Basically, this puts Skype for Business on-par with [Google] Hangouts from a tech capacity/use case standpoint. When Microsoft updates Skype for Business to be inclusive of the productivity suite access, this will then become my go-to video app. That's going to be a game changer for me," he wrote. "This also is the next important evolution of video chat to pay very close attention to -- the buildout of cross-sell capacity."

The cross-sell will come with Office 365 and the new Surface Hub. Do you envision using Skype more for personal or business use?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/15/2015 at 1:58 PM0 comments

VMware Is the 'Crown Jewel' in the Historic Dell-EMC Deal

Dell's agreement to acquire EMC for $67 billion, which was announced this week, is by far the largest IT industry deal ever and Dell is poised to have the most comprehensive portfolios of server, storage and IT enterprise management software and services. The deal nevertheless was not welcome by VMware shareholders, who have hammered the stock in the days since the deal was reached.

A day after Dell Founder, Chairman and CEO Michael Dell and EMC Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci talked up the "synergies" and potential cost savings of the deal that will ultimately generate $1 billion in increased growth in its datacenter business, VMware's CEO Pat Gelsinger told CNBC why he feels the market's fears are overblown.

"To us the deal is about growth and having Dell and EMC come together in a larger entity accelerating growth of VMware, we think is a huge opportunity for us in the mid and long term," Gelsinger said. "As you move past this period of volatility, the growth starts to become very apparent from the marketplace. We believe ultimately it will be a very good thing for the market, for VMware for our employees and customers."

While the two companies become a larger provider of IT solutions, Gelsinger said VMware is at the epicenter that will drive that potential growth. "VMware being the crown jewel of the family is about seeing that growth potential," he said.

Given that most large mergers rarely live up to their potential and a good number are outright failures, Dell's largest competitor Hewlett Packard Co. has the most to gain or lose. In a widely reported letter to employees HP CEO Meg Whitman said Dell shareholders "will have to pay roughly $2.5 billion in interest alone." Perhaps that's sour grapes for Whitman, who a year ago was rumored to be courting a deal with EMC. Instead, breaking itself into two companies, which will become official Nov. 1.

"If this goes through HP is totally hosed," wrote independent IT industry analyst Rob Enderle. "Dell would appear as a far more complete vendor than HP is and with HP's crippling layoffs its customers will quickly be looking for enterprise-class alternatives. With EMC Dell could aggressively go after that business hitting HP before the firm can stabilize and protect its client base."

While Enderle believes the Dell-EMC deal can succeed, independent analyst Charles King of Pund-IT, believes the main issue is that the new entity will create a new, non-voting class of VMware shares (worth 0.111 of EMC's 81% stake in the company), which will devalue/destabilize the common shares. Investors are also are concerned that the owners of the new shares (particularly large institutional investors like Elliott Management, which has been agitating for EMC to sell off its VMware stake to create a sizable one time dividend), will sell off the tracking shares as soon as the deal is finalized, he noted.

"There's also some disappointment that VMware wasn't spun off entirely, mixed in with concerns about Dell's ability to effectively manage the company," King said. "Frankly, this scenario was never likely given the value that VMware has provided EMC over the past decade."

Patrick Moorhead, an independent IT industry analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, who was interviewed separately by CNBC, said not to overlook the combination of two large hardware companies with largely complementary product lines could offer greater scale.

"There's a hedge strategy which says you go with the curve and develop scale and that's what I believe is happening here," Moorhead said. "What this will do is create the largest, by scale, hardware company that's out there. That's the play that Dell is making here."

Asked if he believes Dell will be forced to issue more stock or spin off businesses such as the popular SecureWorks unit, Moorhead pointed to the fact that Dell has benefitted from the historically low interest rates. Since going to the bond markets two years ago to finance its deal to go private, Dell's debt has risen from junk to investor grade, he noted.

"What that says is they're able to pay down that debt," Moorhead said. "I believe that gave the confidence for this to be primarily a debt deal. If they had to spin off VMware or something like SecureWorks to generate that cash at an even greater clip, they do have that option.  But I don't necessarily think that's Plan A  for them. I think that would be more along a Plan B."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/14/2015 at 1:03 PM0 comments

Dell To Become IT 'Powerhouse' with Deal to Acquire EMC

Dell-EMC Deal

After a week of speculation, Dell Inc. has agreed to acquire EMC Corp. for $67 billion in what would be the largest IT industry deal ever. The deal, pending approval of EMC shareholders and government regulators, is slated to close sometime next year, and will clearly reshape the IT competitive landscape, giving Dell the leading enterprise storage business, a controlling interest in virtualization giant VMware Inc., the Big Data and analytics business of Pivotal, and the data security and encryption provider RSA.

The combined company aims to provide turnkey solutions from PCs and thin clients, to servers, storage, cloud, security and integrated software-defined datacenter solutions. "We're putting ourselves in an incredible position in this combined powerhouse enterprise company," said EMC Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci on a conference call this morning with analysts and media, which was led by Dell founder, Chairman and CEO Michael Dell, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger and Egon Durban, managing partner at Silver Lake Partners, which is providing $3.5 billion in capital to help finance the deal, which will also be funded by the high-yield bond markets.

Both companies are major forces in the IT industry in their own right, though EMC lacked a server and networking business. Its controlling interest in VMware, which will continue as a publicly traded company, will help Dell extend into the growing segments of mobility management via AirWatch, software-defined datacenter, and next-generation virtualization, which includes public and private cloud, micro-services, and containers.

"From earlier reaction I've had from some of our best and longstanding customers," Dell said, "customers don't want to have to integrate things themselves," pointing to the potential to provide new technology based on the companies' complementary technologies. Dell didn't elaborate to what extent the new company would provide such integrated solutions.

With the huge technology and product portfolio of the combined company, the new Dell would become a formidable competitor to IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Amazon Web Services Inc. and even Microsoft. It also creates questions to what extent Dell will be motivated to see its relationship with Microsoft evolve further, given it will have competitive virtualization, cloud, container and related datacenter infrastructure technology.

On the call, Dell said the company would continue its partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, Cisco and Red Hat Inc., while offering competitive solutions, pointing to the industry's long history of "coopetition," the industry catchphrase for partnering with competitors. "We will be thoughtful about how we do that to make sure we do it in the right way," Dell said. "We do have a history of working together in the past and I think that will accelerate our ability to bring solutions to customers in a faster way."

VMware's Gelsinger pointed to his company's longstanding relationships with Dell rivals Hewlett-Packard Co., Lenovo and others. "Dell has demonstrated their commitment to openness over the decades of the company," Gellsinger said. "That's been a hallmark of them and, likewise, the independent ecosystem of VMware."

Michael Dell also noted the company will continue to support its VCE partnership with Cisco and indicated he'd like to extend EMC's federated business model of maintaining separately run businesses such as Pivotal and RSA. "We've certainly studied this capability and have gotten to know the organization and how the federation works [and] we look forward to enhancing that," Dell said. He offered two examples. "Within Dell we have some fantastic new businesses we've been incubating ourselves. SecureWorks would be one [and] we have another one called Boomi, which is a fast-growing cloud data integration company," Dell said. "I think there are some great aspects to this structure and as we come together as a combined company, I think we will be even more powerful."

Industry analyst Dan Kusnetzky of the Kusnetzky Group pointed to the vast number of areas the two companies would become a larger force in a blog post on our sister site VirtualizationReview.com. "Dell clearly wants to be in a position to knock on any enterprise door and be welcomed in as a major enterprise player," Kusnetzky said.

Indeed, this huge deal comes at a time when the competitive landscape of enterprise technology providers is reshaping, in part due to large changes in the way organizations are procuring and deploying IT infrastructure and services. For its part, activist investor Elliott Management was pushing EMC and VMware to find a way to accelerate growth. HP will separate into two companies next year (HP Enterprise and PC and printer division HP Inc.) and even companies such as Citrix and SolarWinds are under pressure by investors to consider their options.

Under the terms of the agreement, EMC has 60 days to consider a better offer, but given the price Dell and SilverLake have offered and the fact that this deal has quietly been in the works for more than a year, it doesn't appear likely that a better offer will emerge.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/12/2015 at 1:11 PM0 comments

Microsoft To Release HoloLens SDK and Kicks Off Local Demos

Microsoft is taking its HoloLens virtual reality glasses to the next stage of its evolution from demoware to market development. The company will release an SDK next quarter and is kicking off a multicity road show next week to provide demos of the HoloLens.

At the Windows 10 Devices launch event earlier this week, the company gave airtime to HoloLens and demonstrated a game code-named" Project Xray" that would let players engage in shooting matches with holographic guns. Besides "mixed reality gaming" and entertainment, the company's top brass is bullish on the prospect for HoloLens in a variety of industrial settings.

"Instead of immersing yourself in a world of pixels on a screen, HoloLens brings experiences into our real world, opening a new window into the future of personal computing," said Terry Myerson, executive VP for Microsoft's Windows and devices organization. "Whether it's for productivity, design, healthcare or entertainment, HoloLens creates innovative experiences that are simply not possible on any other device or any other platform."

It appears Microsoft for now wants only those serious about building commercial applications for HoloLens. Myerson said developers must apply for the SDK and fork over $3,000 per device to get their hands on it. "Now is the time we want to unlock the creativity of Windows developers worldwide," Myerson said. Among those already working with HoloLens are NASA, Autodesk and Case Western Reserve University. The road show kicks off in Seattle next week and will hit Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Phoenix and Austin. All of the cities appear to be sold out currently, though you can get onto a waiting list.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/09/2015 at 12:00 PM0 comments

Unsolicited Suitor Leads SolarWinds to Consider Options

Popular systems management provider SolarWinds today said it is considering the outright sale of the company or other options, following an unsolicited inquiry by a third party.

After Reuters reported on the inquiry, SolarWinds acknowledged it has retained J.P. Morgan as its financial advisor and DLA Piper LLP to provide legal counsel, providing what the company described as a third party who expressed interest. It wasn't clear whether the third party made an outright offer to acquire SolarWinds or only wanted to discuss possible transaction. SolarWinds emphasized it's too early to determine whether the review will result in any type of transaction.

"Consistent with its duties, our board of directors has determined that it is prudent to undertake a review to see which alternative or alternatives, including our standalone plan, are the best way to maximize shareholder value," said SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson in a statement. "As the board conducts its review, we remain focused on strong revenue growth and cash flow and excited about continuing to deliver our world class products to help IT professionals manage all things IT."

A spokeswoman said the company had no further comment. The company's stock on Friday jumped 13.4% on the news and has a market cap of $3.6 billion. SolarWinds has been under pressure of late as it made its transition to cloud subscription models with lower than expected licensing revenues last quarter. The company had lowered its revenue guidance in July.

SolarWinds is a popular provider of infrastructure, network and management software and services as well as security, database support and IT help desk software. It is also the parent company of remote monitoring and management provider N-able.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/09/2015 at 1:45 PM0 comments

LogMeIn To Acquire Popular Password Manager LastPass

LogMeIn today said it has agreed to acquire LastPass, the popular password management service, for $110 million furthering the company's push into identity and access management (IAM).

By acquiring LastPass, LogMeIn believes it could help its customers address the common problem of employees using the same password for every application they access. LastPass provides single sign-on access with the ability to generate complex and encrypted passwords to each system accessed. LogMein said that 64 percent of Internet users use the same passwords for every application and service they access.

"This transaction instantly gives us a market leading position in password management, while also providing a highly favorable foundation for delivering the next generation of identity and access management solutions to individuals, teams and companies," said Michael Simon, LogMeIn's Chairman and CEO, in a prepared statement.

LogMeIn acquired another IAM provider last year, Meldium, and the company plans to offer both for now, though long-term plans call for developing a common single sign-on service based on LastPass.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/09/2015 at 12:01 PM0 comments

Dell Wants EMC So It Can Gain Control of VMware

Advanced talks between Dell and its backer Silver Lake Partners to acquire storage giant EMC for $50 billion would be the largest in the tech industry and potentially one of the largest leveraged buyouts of a public company. It also appears that Dell's primary interest in EMC is to take control over virtualizations giant VMware, which EMC now holds an 83 percent stake in.

The two companies have reportedly been negotiating a combination for several months and such a deal would involve a huge amount of debt -- $40 billion on top of the $11 billion that Dell now has on the books for its own leveraged buyout in 2013. According to CNBC the two companies are looking to tap the high-yield bond markets to finance the deal. The talks were first reported late yesterday by The Wall Street Journal, which said a deal could come together within a week, though it could also fall apart. The initial report indicated that EMC would want to spin off VMware but CNBC is reporting that Dell wants control over the company. "I know that Dell wants to maintain control over VMware," said CNBC reporter David Faber. "While there might be more sold into the public market, it would not be a wholesale sale of the VMware stake or a spin to shareholders or anything like that. Key to the reason Dell wants to own this is to also control VMware now."

While the reporting is still speculative at this point and neither company has commented, CNBC is reporting that there's a strong possibility that a deal could come together. EMC and VMware have been under pressure for some time by Elliott Management, an activist investor with a track record of forcing change on companies, to find new ways to generate shareholder value. Adding fuel to speculation that EMC will do something is the fact that longtime Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci has announced he will retire next year. EMC, the largest provider of enterprise storage, remains under huge competitive pressure from upstarts with lower cost gear and a growing shift toward cloud storage.

Hewlett Packard earlier this year reportedly was in talks to acquire longtime rival EMC as well. Both companies are under pressure to move beyond their core portfolios of hardware as enterprises move more workloads to cloud providers. HP appears to be a less likely candidate to jump into any bidding given it's in the process of splitting into two companies, which will finalize next month.

Dell and EMC have a storied history. When Dell first started expanding beyond its core PC business, it had a reseller agreement with EMC, which later fell apart when Dell started acquiring storage companies such as EqualLogic and Compellent Technologies, among others.

Naturally Dell taking control of EMC and VMware would have implications on its relationship with Microsoft. While Dell and Microsoft are close partners -- both among their software and hardware businesses -- VMware and Microsoft are key competitors, though they did announce a partnership at the recent VMworld show in San Francisco where the two are working together to support Windows 10 deployments using AirWatch. In addition to having rival virtual machine platforms, VMware is making a big push in mobility management with its AirWatch unit and its vCloud Air public cloud, which competes with Microsoft Azure. At this point the former doesn't appear to be a threat.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/08/2015 at 7:51 AM0 comments

A More Powerful Surface Pro 4 Puts the Pen at Front and Center

Microsoft's surprise entry into the laptop market with the launch of its new high-end Surface Book may have stolen the limelight at yesterday's Windows 10 Devices launch event in New York but the Surface Pro 4 will likely be the system that addresses the needs of most mainstream users.

There's no question that if you look at the Surface Book, which Microsoft calls the ultimate laptop, you'll crave one until you compare its cost with the Surface Pro 4. If you're a power user it may be worth the premium price but if not, you'll quickly determine that the Surface Pro 4 is no slouch either. The comparison is ironically the same as that of the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, which Microsoft compares respectively to the Surface Pro and Surface Book.

While it certainly would be wise to wait and see some of the new systems that emerge from various OEMs before deciding on what to put on your wish list, the Surface Pro 3 has emerged as the most popular Windows device, according to our own reader surveys. With the new Surface Pro 4, which will be available Oct. 26, Microsoft appears to have made some impressive refinements. They include improved resolution, lighter weight, a thinner design and an improved pen that attaches magnetically.

By including the pen, Microsoft is making a clear statement it wants users to take advantage of the ability to annotate content and Web pages. A surprising 50 percent already use the pen, according to Microsoft. The new pen is more responsive and supports up to 1,024 pressure points, designed to provide the feel that you're writing with a traditional pen and paper. It's based on the pen technology gained in Microsoft's acquisition of N-trig earlier this year.

Customers will also have somewhat better configuration options. The popular version with an i5 processor is now available with 16GB of RAM for an extra $200, bringing the cost to $1,499 with 256GB of storage. The 8GB version is $1,299. A fully loaded system with an i7 processor and 16GB of RAM costs $2,699.

Surface Pro 4 is also 30 percent faster than its predecessor, according to Microsoft and it's slightly thinner (.33 inches) and lighter, weighing just 1.69 pounds. It has a slightly larger PixelSense 267 DPI display, generating 5 million pixels (12.3 inches versus 12 inches), thanks to a thinner bezel and the physical screen is the same size, allowing support for existing peripherals.

As a result of the added performance boost, thanks to the new Intel Core 6 processors, Microsoft said the Surface Pro 4 is rated at nine hours of battery life, which is no different than its predecessor, though an engineer at the event told me that the way the new CPU manages power, users could see a more efficient system. The new features, along with the improved PixelSense display and a new Microsoft Pen make the Surface Pro 4 a nice upgrade. But most people who bought a Surface Pro 3 last year will have a hard time justifying replacing it just yet.

Customers, especially enterprise buyers, may want to swap out the keyboard, which introduces a fingerprint scanner that'll take advantage of the Passport authentication based on the Windows Hello technology introduced in Windows 10. While the new keyboard's Windows Hello security feature for logons may make its $129 cost justifiable, the fact that the keys are also more responsive and quieter could be added incentives. The new keyboard will work with both Surface Pro models and likewise the older keyboards can connect to the new systems.

Another welcome addition is the new Surface Dock, an improved port replicator that is the size of a small brick. The Surface Dock, which is portable, works with the Surface Book, Surface Book 3 and Surface Book 4 and is configured with four USB 3 ports, two Mini DisplayPorts, 1 Gigabit Ethernet interface and an audio output port.

Considering it was once a drag on the company, the Surface line has become one of Microsoft's hottest offerings and presuming it performs as advertises, it stands a good chance of reaching new heights.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/07/2015 at 12:46 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Vision Unfolds with a Surprise: The Surface Book Laptop

Microsoft's year-long process of laying out its vision for Windows 10 reached a crescendo today.

At an event for media, analysts and Windows Insiders in New York, the company rolled out two new Lumia phones, an upgrade to its Surface Pro line with an improved Windows Hello keyboard and the company's debut into the high-end laptop market with the new Surface Book. The hardware rollouts put some metal around Windows 10, which originally launched back in July.

The biggest surprise was the introduction of the new 13.5-inch Surface Book. It's a convertible laptop and tablet that Microsoft officials claim can run 12 hours on a single charge and is two times more powerful than a MacBook Pro. "It redefines everything you would expect in a laptop," said Panos Panay, Microsoft's Surface VP, describing it as "the ultimate laptop" too many times to count.

The Surface Book starts at $1,499 for an i5-based system using the new Intel Core 6 processor with 8GB of RAM and scales up to an i7-based system with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB drive, both supporting optional Nvidia GPUs. The Surface Book is targeted at artists, engineers and gamers who require significant processing power. When the top part is removed from the keyboard to function as a "clipboard," it weighs 1.6 pounds; with the keyboard, it weighs 3.5 pounds. The device has a 13.5-inch 10 point multitouch PixelSense display that renders up to 6 million pixels at 267DPI, Panay said. "There's nothing close to it," he said. A new Surface Pen supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. "If you look at a photo on it, it will look real, if you look at a video it'll immerse you," Panay said. The top-end system will cost a hefty $2,699.

The launch of the new laptop shows that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella remains committed to broadening the Surface line. He's not walking away from it as some critics have called on Microsoft to consider.

Terry Myerson, the executive VP who heads the Windows and devices group, announced 110 million devices now run Windows 10. He added that 1 billion questions have been asked of Cortana. Users have built 650 billion Web pages that render via Microsoft's new Edge browser. "It's by far the fastest ramp-up we've ever had," Nadella said regarding Windows 10, in an appearance to wrap up the event.

While the Surface Book clearly now stands as Microsoft's premium device, the Surface Pro 4 is poised to have mainstream appeal to mobile workers, students and consumers. It's an incremental upgrade to the Surface Pro 3 but has some welcome improvements, including an upgraded pen that magnetically attaches to the device. There's a new top-of the line system configured with Intel's new Core 6 i7 processor, 1 TB SSD and 16 GB of RAM. An entry level system will have 4GB of RAM and a 128-GB drive. The Surface Pro 4 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3, but the battery life remains the same at 9 hours.

The Surface Pro 4 has the same form factor as its predecessor but it has a slightly larger display at 12.3 inches, made possible by a thinner bezel. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the Surface Pro 4 is its new Windows Hello-compatible keyboard, with a fingerprint sensor. The keyboard will work with the new system as well as the prior Surface Pro 3 model, Microsoft said. Likewise, those who want to use their old Surface Pro 3 keyboard with the new system can do so, although an engineer at the event told me that "once people see the new keyboard, they're going to want it." Besides the fact it's thinner and, Microsoft argues, more sturdy, it has improved keys that are quieter and have faster transport. It'll cost the same amount as the old one.

Microsoft also launched a Microsoft Band 2 product today with a number of new features and a perhaps more comfortable fit. Also unveiled were three new Lumia phones, including an entry-level unit priced at $139. Lastly, the company announced an SDK for developers who want to build apps for Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality device.

Most of the new products launched today will be available on October 26. Customers can preorder them now.

Microsoft described today's product launches as the "beginning of a new era" for Windows. The company also will support upcoming product rollouts by its key OEM partners, including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/06/2015 at 1:12 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Devices Officially Launch Tomorrow

Microsoft took a decidedly low-key approach to the release of Windows 10 back on July 29, largely because the devices optimized for the new operating system weren't ready. But by making Windows 10 Pro available free of charge for users to upgrade on their existing systems, the company has given them a chance to see and interact with the new operating system.

Now that the hardware is about ready and the key fourth-quarter purchasing season is about to heat up, Microsoft and its partners this week will be unveiling a slew of new PCs, tablets and phones optimized for Windows 10, taking advantage of features such as the Windows Hello biometric authentication capability, Continuum, electronic inking, Cortana and Skype. Perhaps most noteworthy is that many of the high-end new ultrabooks and all-in-one desktops will come with the new Intel Core 6 Skylake processor.

At a launch event tomorrow in New York City, Microsoft is expected to debut two new Lumia phones for Windows 10, an updated Microsoft Band and, perhaps most notably, a new Surface Pro. Some reports have indicated there could be two Surface systems -- a 12-inch model with a similar form factor to the Surface Pro 3 and possibly a larger 14-inch configuration to respond to the challenge of Apple's larger iPad.

Suppliers of Windows devices remain deferential in giving Microsoft the first word. Nick Parker, corporate VP of Microsoft's OEM division, showcased some devices in the pipeline at last month's IFA conference in Berlin. Among the devices Parker showcased was a forthcoming Dell Latitude 11, with an 11-inch display powered with the Core 6 processor and offering a smaller footprint than the popular Dell Latitude 13. Other new business-focused convertible two-in-one systems showcased by Parker were the Hewlett-Packard EliteBook Folio and a new Lenovo Yoga 360.

For the education market, Parker talked up the new Acer Aspire 1 tablet, which is 18mm thin and is equipped with two microphones to make it suited for Cortana and Skype use; and the 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad, which boasts 12 hours of battery life. Two all-in-one desktops highlighted were the new Dell Inspiron 24 with a Windows Hello camera and an edge-to-edge 24-inch display, and the Asus Zen, also a 24-inch system with a 4k option, Windows Hello camera and support for accelerated graphics cards. Parker also talked up the microphones on the Asus device, an important feature for those using Cortana and Skype.

Another system that stood out was the new Toshiba Radius 12, a 12-inch system equipped with the new Intel processor, a Windows Hello camera and a 360-degree hinge. Speaking of Toshiba, Parker also pointed to the company's Data Logger for industrial Internet of Things operations. The device has 20 sensors, which can track information such as GPS, biometric pressure and temperature, he said.

Come back tomorrow when we report on Microsoft's launch or catch the live stream here.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/05/2015 at 11:40 AM0 comments

Windows Phone's Fans Love It, but Is that Enough?

It's no secret that as far as most people are concerned, there two major mobile phone platforms: Android and iPhone. Windows Phones are out there but they represent such a small minority -- by most accounts, less than 3 percent of the market -- that only fans of the platform seek them out. And it appears those fans are few and far between.

Having attended this week's Visual Studio Live! conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., it was a markedly different world. A disproportionately large number of the 300 attendees were carrying Windows Phones. When I did have my iPhone in view, I was jeered on occasion, leaving me to feel like some sort of traitor. Of course, seeing lots of Windows Phones at a conference for Windows developers is hardly a surprise, even if it isn't in sync with the real world.

In the keynote session at the conference on Wednesday, ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley, who also is a Redmond magazine columnist, lamented the problem bedeviling Microsoft when it comes to Windows Phone. "I'm one of the 2 percent," she said. "Windows Phone is the one I am the most leery about Microsoft pulling a turnaround."

Yet those that know Foley are aware she likes Windows Phone. "I am a Windows Phone user, not just because of my job [covering Microsoft] but by choice," she said.

In this month's Redmond column, Foley explained how Microsoft has rebooted its Windows Phone strategy again, with Windows 10 Mobile, which will introduce the new Continuum technology that lets developers build for one Windows platform and have the apps carry over to any form factor, enabling users to switch smoothly between PCs, tablets and phones. Microsoft is hoping this will build enthusiasm for Windows Phone. 

Indeed, it's an interesting concept, but even those developers I spoke with at Visual Studio Live! weren't sold on the appeal. It's one thing to want to switch from a PC to a mid-sized tablet, but why would someone want to do so with a phone, wondered UX expert Billy Hollis of Next Version Systems during a Birds of a Feather lunch discussion.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone enthusiasts are dropping like flies. Our editorial director Scott Bekker for four years was devoted to Windows Phone and remained hopeful that the apps available on Android and iOS would appear. They didn't and still haven't. When his Lumia phone's screen cracked, he threw in the towel without hesitation and decided to get an iPhone. In the end it was the apps. Windows Phone enthusiasts don't care about the apps that are missing on the platform. But the reaction to Bekker's column this week on our sister site Redmond Channel Partner describing his decision to switch was largely supportive.

"I LOVE Windows Phone, but the lack of apps are killing me," wrote Jamison West in the comments section.

The post "expresses exactly how I feel," added Peter Zarras. "I love my [Lumia] 1020 and have no desire to replace it -- but yet, don't yet feel excited or ready to buy a new Windows Phone unless/until certain app limitations are addressed. While I don't miss some apps, I know they're there and some could be helpful to me."

According to unconfirmed but widely reported leaks, Microsoft will debut next week the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, which are 5.2-inch and 5.7-inch devices, respectively. Both will support Continuum and the Windows Hello biometric authentication feature, according to Foley's ZDnet blog post, and will work with the Microsoft Display Dock, an interface that lets a user connect a phone to a full-size keyboard and monitor, which Microsoft demonstrated earlier this year.

Yet Microsoft will have to defy expectations for these new units to lure customers who don't already have Windows Phones. But for the 2 percenters, the new phones could be a nice holiday gift.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/02/2015 at 1:56 PM0 comments

Microsoft Eases Clustering with Container Service for Azure Resource Manager

Amid the slew of announcements at Tuesday's AzureCon (a series of Channel 9 videos released by Microsoft outlining milestones and the future of the company's enterprise cloud service), Microsoft revealed how its Azure Container Service will simplify the way organizations build, configure and manage clusters.

Specifically, Microsoft announced the Azure Container Service Resource Provider for the Azure Resource Manager (ARM) and released a preview of its new Azure Quickstart Templates, which are available for download on GitHub.

Making the Azure Container Service Resource Provider for ARM is noteworthy because ARM is the new canvas for deploying and managing virtual machines on Azure IaaS. Microsoft recently rolled out ARM as an alternative to and intended long-term replacement for the Azure Service Manager (ASM). Microsoft describes ARM as a much more agile way of deploying and administering virtual machines and containers to Azure than the current ASM.

That's because ARM has a simpler API set than the existing ASM APIs, which power functions such as the Azure portal and are baked into all the Azure tooling, said Michael Collier, a Microsoft cloud solution architect who spoke Tuesday at the Visual Studio Live! developer conference, taking place this week in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Like this site, Visual Studio Live! is produced by 1105 Media.) While ASM isn't going away, Collier indicated Microsoft is emphasizing its development efforts on ARM.

"You will see a lot more focus on Azure Resource Manager going forward," Collier said. "It's where everything is happening and not much innovation is going to be happening with the legacy [Azure Service Manager] API."

The Azure Container Service is the outgrowth of Microsoft's work with Docker and Mesosphere to allow for the deployment and management of scalable clusters of hosts where containerized applications can be deployed, orchestrated and managed, explained Ross Gardler, an Azure program manager at Microsoft, in a blog post. "By leveraging ARM, Azure Container Service will make it easy for you to create and manage clusters of hosts pre-configured with Docker, Apache Mesos, Marathon and Docker Swarm," Gardler wrote. "This work couples Azure's hyper-scale and enterprise-grade cloud with proven open source technologies to deliver the foundation for the container deployment, orchestration, and management service any team building container apps will need."

While he underscored that the initial goal of the Azure Container Service is to ease the building and configuration of clusters using either Docker and Docker Swarm for code compatibility, and orchestration and management tools such as Marathon, Chronos and Apache Mesos to ensure scalability to tens of thousands of containers, Gardler explained that the to-be-released Azure Container Service Resource Provider for ARM will let IT pros define and manage the resulting clusters using the ARM APIs. That will make the configuration much simpler, he said, because of the knowledge it requires.

"Our Resource Provider will abstract away much of this complexity," Gardler said. "Those thousands of lines will be reduced to tens of lines for default configurations. This simplification means fewer configuration errors when deploying and managing these complex clusters. This new Resource Provider will also allow you to utilize Azure features such as integrated tagging of resources, Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and the Azure management portal. The result is that you can take advantage of the enterprise-grade features of Azure while still maintaining code portability from the orchestration layer up."

In addition to scaling software, Gardler said it's critical to scale hardware. Hence, Microsoft will leverage the Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets (VMSS), a service that instantiates functions such as create/delete/update on a group of identical VMs through a single API call. "For Azure Container Service those identical VMs are the agents on which containers will be hosted," he said. "Since all VMs in a VMSS have the same configuration, VMSS supports rapid auto scaling of VMs."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/30/2015 at 12:33 PM0 comments

Microsoft Readies Big Data Service That Includes New U-SQL Language

Earlier this year, Microsoft revealed plans to offer a new HDFS-compatible Hadoop File System data store that could run large analytics workloads called Azure Data Lake. So far, the technical preview hasn't appeared but the company today reiterated that the service, which it will actually call Azure Data Lake Store, will be available later this year and also announced some new services planned for its Azure-based Big Data portfolio.

Microsoft describes the Azure Data Lake Store as a single repository that lets users capture data of any size or format without requiring changes to the application as data scales. Data can be securely stored and shared and can be processed and queried from HDFS-based applications and tools, said T. K. "Ranga" Rengarajan, Microsoft's corporate vice president for data platform, in a blog post today outlining the new Azure Data Lake Store.

"Azure Data Lake includes all the capabilities required to make it easy for developers, data scientists, and analysts to store data of any size, shape and speed, and do all types of processing and analytics across platforms and languages," Rengarajan said. "It removes the complexities of ingesting and storing all of your data while making it faster to get up and running with batch, streaming, and interactive analytics.  Azure Data Lake works with existing IT investments for identity, management, and security for simplified data management and governance. It also integrates seamlessly with operational stores and data warehouses so you can extend current data applications."

Complementing Azure Data Lake Store, Microsoft announced its new Azure Data Lake Analytics, an Apache YARN-based service that's designed to dynamically scale to handle large big data workloads. The new Azure Data Analytics service will be based on U-SQL, a language that will "unify the benefits of SQL with the power of expressive code," Rengarajan said. "U-SQL's scalable distributed query capability enables you to efficiently analyze data in the store and across SQL Servers in Azure, Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse."

In a MSDN blog post today, Michael Rys, a principal program manager for big data at Microsoft, explained why U-SQL is suited for Azure Data Lake Analytics:

Taking the issues of both SQL-based and procedural languages into account, we designed U-SQL from the ground-up as an evolution of the declarative SQL language with native extensibility through user code written in C#. This unifies both paradigms, unifies structured, unstructured, and remote data processing, unifies the declarative and custom imperative coding experience, and unifies the experience around extending your language capabilities.

U-SQL is built on the learnings from Microsoft's internal experience with SCOPE and existing languages such as T-SQL, ANSI SQL, and Hive. For example, we base our SQL and programming language integration and the execution and optimization framework for U-SQL on SCOPE, which currently runs hundred thousands of jobs each day internally. We also align the metadata system (databases, tables, etc.), the SQL syntax, and language semantics with T-SQL and ANSI SQL, the query languages most of our SQL Server customers are familiar with. And we use C# data types and the C# expression language so you can seamlessly write C# predicates and expressions inside SELECT statements and use C# to add your custom logic. Finally, we looked to Hive and other Big Data languages to identify patterns and data processing requirements and integrate them into our framework.

Microsoft also announced the general availability of managed clusters for its Azure HDInsight service on Linux, which the company claims has a 99.9 percent uptime SLA. The company also is offering Azure Data Lake Tools for Visual Studio and said that ISV solutions can be offered in the Azure Marketplace.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/28/2015 at 2:01 PM0 comments

BlackBerry Looks for Revival with Android Phone

Despite its continued woes, BlackBerry CEO John Chen is showing no signs of throwing in the towel as he continues to make acquisitions to shore up its position as a supplier of secure smartphones and device management infrastructure. However Chen apparently is finally backing away from the company's storied BlackBerry operating system, which has powered its flagship phones, and going in a different direction. The company today said it'll offer a new line of phones powered by Android.

BlackBerry announced the new Android-based Priv in its earnings release today. The Priv name underscores the company's heritage in protecting privacy. "Priv combines the best of BlackBerry security and productivity with the expansive mobile application ecosystem available on the Android platform," Chen said in a statement included in the earnings release, which fell short of expectations.

Despite the shift to Android, Chen insisted BlackBerry remains committed to the company's latest operating system, BlackBerry 10. Chen also underscored the company's progress with its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBR), including plans to offer new services based on the platform like  BBM Protected, BBM Meetings and BBM Money. The company also recently released BBM for Windows Phone.

As BlackBerry revenues continue to plummet ($490 million, down from $816 million during the same quarter a year ago), the company's $66 million loss was greater than expected. Chen emphasized on the earnings call the company is still "known as the leader in secure data with all the encryption technology," pointing to two key acquisitions to advance its position. First is the pending acquisition of Secusmart, a German provider of secure voice and text communication. The other is U.K.-based Morirtu, which provides virtual SIM cards that let users run both personal and business phone numbers on a single device, which can be iOS, Android or BlackBerry OS. The company also has agreed to acquire mobile device management supplier Good Technology for $425 million, as reported earlier this month.

By shifting to Android, BlackBerry could find an audience of customers who would never consider the Google mobile platform because of its known susceptibility to malware. But given the millions of apps that come with it, BlackBerry has a much larger task at hand.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/25/2015 at 12:05 PM0 comments

App Vendors Jump on AirWatch ACE Bandwagon but Microsoft Will Pass

SAP was among 21 application providers that have joined an effort launched earlier this year by VMware's AirWatch business to support device-native, mobile OS standards for enterprise mobility management systems. That brings the total to 44 suppliers that have joined AirWatch's App Configuration for Enterprise group, the company announced today at its AirWatch Connect conference in Atlanta.

Among other members now on board are Box, Boxer, Cisco, Dropbox, Docusign, StarMobile, SkyGiraffe, TeamViewer, VMware, and Xamarin. However don't expect Microsoft to join the project anytime soon, despite its close work with AirWatch on ensuring Windows 10 support.

"Microsoft does not have plans to support ACE," a spokeswoman for Microsoft stated in response to an inquiry. "However, Microsoft already supports app management capabilities available in the latest mobile operating systems. Plus we go beyond that to deliver unique mobile application management capabilities with Office mobile apps for secure mobile productivity."

During a conference call with media, VMware executives said they'd like to see Microsoft join and add support for its various apps, including, of course, the various Office components. "We take advantage of Apple's iOSconfig, take advantage of Google's spec for doing individual application setups, and we also have done that for looking at Windows and Windows 10," said Noah Wasmer, VMware's vice president of product management and CTO for end-user computing. "We would love to see Microsoft come to the table and we welcome them to see the open standards that are available on these different platforms, and we would love to see them come to the table and take advantage of the spec."

AirWatch, which VMware acquired two years ago for $1.6 billion, describes ACE as a community project. The spec is described by ACE as a way for enterprise application developers to interpret app configurations and security policies from EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) systems, and for EMM systems to configure and secure mobile applications. With ACE, app developers can build a single application that works across all EMM vendors. The app developer does not need to maintain multiple copies of their application, does not need to integrate any proprietary code and no SDK or legacy App Wrapping solutions are required."

According to ACE, functions such as App Tunnel, Kerberos-based single sign-on and various security settings that don't require development efforts as well as those which do, will leverage standard APIs and features built into OSes and offered to EMM vendors to "selectively enable on devices."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/23/2015 at 12:08 PM0 comments

Office 2016 for Windows Arrives with Emphasis on Collaboration

Microsoft today released Office 2016, the latest version of its widely used productivity suite. Subscribers to the suite with Office 365 accounts can now upgrade by downloading the new version. With the new Office 365, Microsoft is looking to make the suite's core applications better suited for real-time collaboration on the fly. In addition to built-in real-time coauthoring in Word, IM via Skype for Business and connectivity to Office Groups are focal new features.

Also critical and coming later in the month from Microsoft is improved synchronization with OneDrive for Business, which the company is promising will be more reliable and offer selective sync. The company had announced Sept. 10 that the new suite would be available today. Customers with volume licensing agreements will be able to download the upgrade on Oct 1.  Although Microsoft had released some early limited previews last year, the company offered technical preview in March.

"We designed it to help change the nature of work within organizations of all sizes," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a blog post announcing the release, underscoring the three scenarios of modern work environments: that users work on multiple devices and locations, they want to collaborate and many use multiple applications. The release also marks Microsoft's new plan for delivering new functions to Office via continuous updates as it is doing with the new Windows 10 operating system, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office Client Applications and Services team, in the official announcement. "It's a new day for our desktop apps," Koenigsbauer said.

"We set out to make working together easier and more impactful by building a suite of integrated apps and services that removes barriers and empowers teams to do and achieve more," Koenigsbauer noted. That effort includes adding real-time coauthoring to Word initially with plans to add that capability to the rest of the suite over time. The new Office 365 Groups feature is included with Outlook 2016 as well as an Outlook Groups app on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. However, the Groups feature depends on having an Office 365 subscription; it's not available with the standalone Office 2016 product. With Groups anyone can create public or private teams and every group has its own shared inbox, calendar, cloud storage for shared files and a common OneNote notebook to keep the team productive. Skype for Business integration lets users initiate an IM session within a file, or create an audio or video call.

Among some other new features are Tell Me, an improved help feature offered in Office 365 and Smart Lookup, designed to make it easy to perform Web searches while creating a document or other content. Excel 2016 now lets users output their data to Power BI for creating new types of charts (see Redmond's First Look at Power BI 2.0 here).

Some forthcoming features released for technical preview today include the new task manager, called the Office 365 Planner, which lets users create plans that can be viewed in a dashboard with alerts that track the progress of a project and  GigJam, revealed in July at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference. GigJam is designed to let users "quickly retrieve, display and share data across different applications and platforms, with the Cortana digital assistant acting as the facilitator." As we reported back in July, "GigJam displays data from different sources as separate card-sized windows on the desktop "canvas." Users can then choose to share each card, as well as how much data from each card others can see. Users can also ask Cortana to link different datasets for convenient sorting. GigJam could be important to the future of collaboration and workflow management, wrote Office 365 and SharePoint MVP Christian Buckley, who is CMO of Beezy.

For enterprises, Koenigsbauer underscored Office 2016's newly added Data Loss Prevention (DLP) features aimed at reducing leakage of sensitive data and support for multifactor authentication. Later in the year, the new Enterprise Data Protection (EDP) capabilities will enable secure exchange of information.

In case you have missed some of our Office 2016 content, you may find the following Redmond coverage useful in understanding what's new in this release:

If you've started using Office 2016, share what you find most useful as well as what you don't like about it, by commenting below or dropping me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/22/2015 at 11:40 AM0 comments

VMware Adds Windows 10 Management and Privacy to AirWatch

At VMworld earlier this month, VMware promised support for Windows 10 and today the company explained how. The company's AirWatch business unit will add Windows 10 configuration and management to its namesake enterprise mobility management suite. The added Windows 10 support is among a number of announcements made at the annual AirWatch Connect conference, which kicked off today in Atlanta.

It's not unusual that VMware would be supporting Windows 10 mobile device configuration and management by updating the AirWatch EMM suite. What did gain notice back at VMworld in San Francisco three weeks ago was how closely the two companies have worked in the background to enable that support. Aside from their longstanding heated rivalry on the systems virtualization front, Microsoft last year decided to jump into the crowded market for enterprise mobility management software by adding its own Enterprise Mobility Suite, which includes Intune, Azure Active Directory and Azure Rights Management. Microsoft now identifies EMS as a $1 billion market opportunity. Microsoft's entry was a direct attack on AirWatch, which VMware snapped up two years ago for $1.6 billion, its largest acquisition to date. VMware has responded in kind by launching its own single sign-on tool, VMware Identity Manager, which in June was added to its higher end AirWatch editions, and was announced at VMworld as a standalone offering, taking on Azure Active Directory.

Despite going at each other -- again not unusual for the two companies -- Microsoft is helping VMware make AirWatch more competitive. "In order to address modern security threats, it's critical [that] hardware and software be designed to work together in tight partnership," said Windows Enterprise Executive Jim Alkove, on stage at VMworld during the keynote session joining Sanjay Poonen, general manager and executive vice president for end-user computing at VMware. "We love Windows 10 because you've opened up Windows 10 for an enterprise mobile management player like AirWatch," Poonen told Alkove.

At today's AirWatch Connect, the company outlined how the EMM suite will support Windows 10. Perhaps most noteworthy, and putting more clarity on why Microsoft is helping AirWatch to the extent it is, is that AirWatch will enable the onboarding of Windows 10 devices thanks to integration with Azure Active Directory. According to AirWatch, using Azure AD join, organizations can allow individual users to enroll enterprise- and employee-owned Windows devices on their own without needing an administrator. The new Windows 10 support in AirWatch includes the ability to bulk-provision a system without having to reimage it. Both Win32 and Windows Universal Apps are supported, while device management policies can be implemented to ensure secure access to enterprise resources. Such policies include, among others, native e-mail configuration, per-app VPN connectivity and security setting enforcement, the company said.

Besides Windows 10 support, also coming to AirWatch are new privacy controls, aimed at providing transparency and consistency for both IT administrators and employees using their own devices to access corporate information systems and services. The company is adding the AirWatch Privacy First Program that provides transparency to individual users so they know what an IT administrator can see, access and change on their device.

At the same time, it ensures if data or an application on an employee-owned device can introduce a problem to the enterprise applications or data, then that the organization's app and information is removed. Likewise, it ensures there's no potential for data leakage from the employee device. "One of the key areas here is to allow us to maintain security on the devices but do so in a way that doesn't infringe on a user's privacy," said Noah Wasmer, VMware's vice president of product management and CTO for end-user computing.

The new AirWatch Privacy First features will be available next quarter. The Windows 10 support is available now.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/22/2015 at 12:08 PM0 comments

80 Percent of Mobile Malware Now Strikes Windows PCs

Windows PCs are now the source of 80 percent of all mobile malware, according to a report released last week. That may offer little consolation if you're an iPhone or iPad user that has just learned about a malware program called XcodeGhost, a corrupted version of Apple's Xcode language that was embedded in a slew of apps, most notably the popular WeChat, representing the first time an exploit has gotten into the Apple Store.

The rise in spyware and continued attacks on Windows PCs, as well as continued rise in vulnerabilities in Android, are the latest findings from Alcatel-Lucent's Motive Security Labs, the company's malware analysis lab. The Motive Security Labs H1 2015 Malware Report found that after a 0.5 percent decline in infections hitting Android-based devices in the first quarter a surge in attacks led to a 0.75 percent rise in the second quarter, resulting from increased adware infections running on Windows-based PCs connected to mobile networks.

Windows PCs connected on mobile networks, particularly via dongles, mobile Wi-Fi devices or tethered to smartphones, are the most vulnerable. "They are responsible for a large percentage of the malware infections observed," according to the report. "This is because these devices are still the favorite of hardcore professional cybercriminals who have a huge investment in the Windows malware ecosystem. As the mobile network becomes the access network of choice for many Windows/ PCs, the malware moves with them."

Two years ago malware hitting mobile devices was evenly (50-50) split among Windows PCs and Android devices, according to Alcatel-Lucent. The fact that 80 percent now strike Windows machines and only 20 percent on Android devices (the amount on iOS and BlackBerry is negligible) is likely the result of Google's efforts to eliminate malware from Google Play and the company's new Verify Apps feature introduced to Android and available on nearly 80 percent of devices running Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) or higher. Yet despite accounting for a smaller proportion of devices attacked, the number of Android malware samples doubled in the first half of this year, according to the report.

Despite the release of Verify Apps, most malware distributed to Android devices are delivered as Trojans, by which Android remains the easiest target because it is open, available on third party app stores and Web sites and they're self-signed, meaning it's difficult to trace malware to its developer, the report added. The study also noted that attackers can easily hijack Android apps, inject code and resign them.

As for the proportional shift to Windows, the period covered precedes the release of Windows 10. With this upgrade, Microsoft has made Windows a much more difficult target. These findings could embolden the case for people to upgrade to Windows 10, which adds a number of key new security features including multifactor authentication and biometric identity management.

It'll be interesting to see what the stats look like next year. Who knows where iOS will be in the mix.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/21/2015 at 3:38 PM0 comments

Former Security Strategist Sues Microsoft for Gender Discrimination

A former senior security strategist at Microsoft has filed a class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination. The lawsuit, filed this week in a federal court in Seattle, comes nearly a year after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s infamous and poorly received remarks suggesting that "karma" was the best way women should expect to receive salary increases and promotions.

While Nadella swiftly issued an apology, saying Microsoft "wholeheartedly" supports closing the pay gap and responded a week later with a new company diversity initiative, the incident was the latest to put the spotlight on discrimination in the tech industry.

Katherine Moussouris, who filed the complaint, is accusing Microsoft of passing her over for promotions ultimately given to less-qualified men, as reported by Reuters. The report added she was also told by supervisors that they didn’t like her "manner or style."

The complaint also claims Moussouris was given a low bonus after reporting sexual harassment. After seven years with Microsoft, she resigned in 2014 after the company failed to address what she described as "pervasive discrimination."

Additionally, Moussouris complained that other women were also discriminated against and consistently ranked below their male counterparts in routine performance reviews.

"Microsoft systematically undervalues the efforts and achievements of its female technical employees," her attorney Adam Klein of New York-based Outten & Golden told Reuters.  

While at Microsoft, Moussouris "was instrumental in prompting" the company to create its bug bounty program launched in 2013, according to a Wired rreport. While at Microsoft, Moussouris also was a BlueHat content chair, lead subject matter expert in the US National Body for the ISO work item 29147 "Vulnerability Disclosure" published last year, editor of the 2014 International Standard ISO 30111 Vulnerability handling processes and owner of vulnerability disclosure policy for Microsoft in terms of overall strategy, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Moussouris left Microsoft in May of 2014 to become chief policy officer at HackerOne.

Microsoft in a statement issued to Wired disputed the allegations. "We’ve previously reviewed the plaintiff’s allegations about her specific experience and did not find anything to substantiate those claims, and we will carefully review this new complaint."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/17/2015 at 12:16 PM0 comments

Microsoft Looks Beyond the Enterprise with Azure AD Extensions

 Active Directory is used by well over 90 percent of enterprises for authentication to core systems ranging from file servers to various other resources connected to organizations' networks. In a key step toward extending its reach to support partners and customers, Microsoft today is adding two new services to Azure AD that the company says can scale and manage external identities.

The new Azure AD B2C Basic service was designed to enable support for customer facing apps and Azure AD B2B Collaboration will add security for business-to-business partners. Microsoft is releasing technical previews of both new services today. Microsoft indicated an Azure AD B2C Premium edition is also in the works.

 "You just turn on the ability to establish trusted relationships between you and the set of partners who you want to work with," said Alex Simons, Microsoft's senior director for Active Directory, during a conversation prior to the announcement. The B2C (business-to-consumer) service that targets consumers can scale to "hundreds of millions of consumer identities," Simons said in a blog post, noting customers can authenticate now with Facebook and Google credentials and soon to be supported are Microsoft Accounts. The service can support hundreds of millions of consumer identities. The first 50,000 are free. Microsoft posted pricing for those with more than 50,000.

"Along with security and scale, Azure Active Directory B2C also easily integrates with nearly any platform, and it is accessible across devices. This functionality means that your consumers will be able to use their existing social media accounts or create new credentials to single-sign on to your applications through a fully customizable user experience. Optional multifactor authentication will also be available to add additional protection."

The Azure B2B Collaboration component will allow organizations to add contractors and business partners, while ensuring resources are protected. It will support single sign-on to resources based on permissions to such apps and services as Workday, Dropbox and Saleforce.com. Simons noted that Microsoft is demonstrating it in the DevZone section at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce, the software as a service company's annual customer and partner event taking place this week in San Francisco.

Organizations using Azure B2B Collaboration can create advanced trust relationships between Azure AD tenants to share access to business applications and data, according to Simons.

A few early access partners including Real Madrid, lens maker Carl Zeiss and Kodak Alaras acknowledged they're testing the new services via Simons post. In the case of Kodak Alaras, the company set it up to support thousands of partners accessing a new extranet.     

"It's the equivalent of setting up a trust between two tenants in Azure Active Directory, the difference being that it's done at an individual group or user level between the tenants," Simons said. "So you wouldn't just have Microsoft say ‘I trust Intel,' it would be Microsoft saying ‘oh I want these five people or these three groups that Intel has specified to be able to use my applications.'"

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/16/2015 at 11:29 AM0 comments

Microsoft President Brad Smith: 'We Want to Sustain People's Trust'

By promoting Brad Smith to president and chief legal officer last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella elevated the company's signal that ensuring trust and privacy is a top and ongoing priority. Equally critical are Microsoft's longstanding desire to ensure digital equality and sustaining the environment – both of which Smith has emphasized.

As Microsoft's general counsel and executive VP for legal affairs, Smith, 56, who joined Microsoft in 1993, has become even more visible lately. This year Smith gave well-received keynotes at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco back in April and more recently in July at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando. Late last month Smith spent nearly an hour meeting with a handful of journalists visiting the Microsoft campus in Redmond, where he emphasized the importance of regaining customer trust more than two years after Edward Snowden's revelation of the NSA's surveillance programs including PRISM.

"I think it's sort of self-evident that trust was shattered two years ago, when the world started to learn what Edward Snowden knew and obviously shared," Smith told us. "Where the cloud is going, where computing is going and just where people are going, trust is an imperative. You don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate what the Supreme Court captured in its decision a few months ago when they said they're putting their lives on the devices.  When you're put your lives on the device, you're putting your lives in the cloud, all of the personal information about you. This is as true for the future of enterprises, as it is for the future of people. So as we often say around here, look people won't use technology they don't trust, and therefore it's just an imperative for us as a company to ensure we put trust in our technology."

That's one reason why Microsoft is challenging a court order insisting Microsoft turn over the emails stored in its Dublin datacenter of a customer suspected in an alleged drug-related matter (oral arguments in that challenge kicked off last week).

"The facts for this are pretty straightforward, the U.S. government served on us a warrant to get the email contents of a customer who is not in the United States, and the email exists and resides in our datacenter in Ireland," Smith said. "Our proposition has been 'hey come on, for 250 years one principal was clear, search warrants reached to the border, they don't reach across the border, police can't take a search warrant unilaterally and search any other country, they have to go through law enforcement in the other country. There there are treaties that exist for this purpose.'"

Regaining customer trust in wake of the Snowden revelations is critical to Microsoft's success as it transitions into a cloud services company focused on mobility, Smith emphasized in our meeting last month.

"If we want to be a successful kind of services company and we want to sustain people's trust, we really need to have a coherent and proactive strategy for how we're going to do this," Smith said. "We want our customers around the world, to be able to make use of the technology we created. We can't do that unless we have an effective regulatory plan, that then manifests itself in engineering features and specifications, and that's what we've sought to do. Ultimately it's forced us to focus very hard on what it is that we've seen them for, what is it that we want customers to know that we stand for."

That has led to the four cloud metrics Microsoft has defined and I'll paraphrase here:

  • Microsoft will ensure data is protected from any attack.
  • Customers own and control their data.
  • With its legal team, Microsoft will make sure your data is managed in accordance with the law.
  • Commitment to transparency. "You will know what we are doing with your data, Smith said.

Microsoft is also committed to supporting advanced encryption, according to Smith. "Encryption plays a vital role," he said. "It is the most important technology for safeguarding people's privacy and protecting their security. So you will see us and others deploying stronger encryption, across services and devices and identifying new ways to do it on an end-to-end basis."

That may mean architecting services that ensure Microsoft and others can't mine data from offerings such as Cortana, he noted.

Smith has a lot of credibility and has generated goodwill in the industry. By making Smith president, it appears Nadella wants to take that even further.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/14/2015 at 10:57 AM0 comments

Is Apple's New iPad Pro a Threat to Microsoft?

Apple's long-rumored iPad Pro surfaced (pardon the pun) this week and with it are comparisons to Microsoft's Surface Pro. Technically speaking, comparing the iPad Pro to a Surface Pro or any Windows Pro-based system is an apples-to-oranges comparison. One is a tablet and the other is a computer.

Yet functionally speaking, for some it may be possible, even desirable to ditch a Windows PC -- at least when out of the office -- in favor of the new iPad Pro. The question is to what extent this will happen or will some even replace their Windows machines in favor of Apple's new ultra-tablet?

The new iPad Pro, launched Wednesday and available in November, comes with a much higher price tag than traditional iPads. It starts at $799 compared to the $499 for the 9.7-inch iPad Air or $399 for an older iPad. But the least expensive iPad Pro only has 32GB of storage. If that's not enough storage for your liking, the next option with 128GB costs $949. If you want a version with built-in cellular, you must, at least for now, go with the $128GB version, which costs $1,079. The optional keyboard is $169 and the new electronic stylus called the Apple Pencil is $100.

For sure, the new iPad Pro appears like an impressive device. It's 6.9 mm thin and weighs 1.57 pound, boasts Apple's high-definition Retina display able to render 4k video. Apple said with its new third-generation AX9 processor, the iPad pro is 1.8 times more powerful than the iPad Air 2. If you're already an iOS and Office 365 user, then carrying around in iPad Pro for basic work and play is an appealing proposition, especially for those who don't need the functions and speed of a PC.

At the same time, the iPad Pros are priced closer to convertible PCs than tablets and those who need or desire the power of a computer might not be able to justify an iPad Pro. That's especially case for those who can get the tablet functionality they want out of the larger iPhones now available.

The good news for Microsoft is even if business users end up flocking to the new iPad Pro, it'll likely drive Office 365 consumption. What's your take? Is the new iPad Pro a threat to Windows?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2015 at 12:04 PM0 comments

2015 Reader's Choice Awards Announced

It should come as little surprise that the largest hardware and software providers surrounding the Microsoft ecosystem received the most votes in this year's annual Reader's Choice Awards (PDF). And once again, Dell Inc. won the most awards, this time in 46 categories.

Dell's edge of course comes from the numerous software, security and hardware companies it has acquired in recent years. So who's nipping at Dell's heels? The strongest gainers this year were Hewlett Packard Co. and VMware Inc., while strong showers Cisco Systems Inc. and SolarWinds Inc. also maintained last year's number of awards. Some strong players in more narrow segments are also coming at Dell -- among them Kaseya, ManageEngine, Netwrix Corp., Goverlan, Acronis, Veeam Software, LANDesk, Flexera Software LLC, NetIQ Corp., Barracuda Networks Inc., Kaspersky Lab,  Webtrends,  IBM Co., EMC Corp. (including RSA Security division), NetApp, AppDynamics, Proofpoint and Lenovo Group Ltd.

These awards are decided by readers, not Redmond magazine, and are based on responses to our survey, fielded in late June to early July to our circulation database of 100,000 readers of which 1,056 participated. We include all  known vendors in each category except for Microsoft (with a few exceptions) to get a sense of what "third-party" software, hardware and services were most favored for working with and in support of Microsoft's core platforms. The exceptions were in the browser, public cloud and tablet categories, where we wanted to see how Internet Explorer, Azure and Surface stacked up these days.

The entire list of categories and winners is available for download.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/11/2015 at 12:03 PM0 comments

BlackBerry Makes Buy In Hopes of Staying Competitive in Crowded MDM Market

Things weren't going so good for mobile device management vendor Good Technology, which late Friday agreed to be acquired by rival BlackBerry for $425 million. While BlackBerry may be best known for its rapidly fading mobile phone business, the company also has a formidable mobile device management platform, deemed by many federal government agencies as the most secure. But both the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Good's MDM suite continue to face pressure from larger rivals including Citrix, Microsoft, VMware's AirWatch unit and IBM, among others. By taking out Good, MobileIron is the last of the large independent mobile device management suppliers.

It appeared Good Technology was flying high last year. The company had a large customer and developer event (with 5,000 in attendance) in New York in June 2014 when the company had filed for an initial public offering. Good Technology's CEO Christy Wyatt at the time said in an interview that she wasn't concerned about being squeezed out by larger vendors such as IBM, which acquired FiberLink, supplier of the MaaS360 suite, VMware's $1.54 billion acquisition of market leader AirWatch (which was the company's largest deal ever) and Microsoft's move into the market with the Enterprise Mobility Suite.

"We have a very strong relationship with Microsoft, but as with any one of these providers, there's going to be parts of the company that want to do MDM and there will be parts of the company that want to partner with Good," Wyatt said at the time. Analysts last summer had valued both Good Technology and MobileIron at $1 billion each, though at least Good apparently was never able to cash in at that level.

The July 2014 cover story of Redmond magazine raised the question: can Microsoft disrupt the mobile device management business with its new EMS, which it had just announced at the time? With much fanfare, Microsoft Corporate VP Brad Anderson argued (and continues to do so), that organizations won't need third-party MDM suites if they use EMS, which includes Azure Active Directory, Intune and Azure Rights Management. "It all begins with identity," Anderson said at the time of the launch, pointing to the move to bring Active Directory to Azure. It's apparently a message that rival VMware believes as well as it launched a standalone version of its VMware Identity Management at last week's VMworld conference.

Perhaps the big players are stacking the deck against smaller ones such as Good and BlackBerry. Both are hoping by joining forces they will become a more formidable competitor. "By acquiring Good, BlackBerry will better solve one of the biggest struggles for CIOs today, especially those in regulated industries: securely managing devices across any platform," said BlackBerry executive chairman and CEO John Chen. "By providing even stronger cross-platform capabilities our customers will not have to compromise on their choice of operating systems, deployment models or any level of privacy and security. Like BlackBerry, Good has a very strong presence in enterprises and governments around the world and, with this transaction, BlackBerry will enhance its sales and distribution capabilities and further grow its enterprise software revenue stream."

Good has 6,200 customers and claims it has half of the companies in the Fortune 100 including all of the top commercial banks, aerospace and defense firms and key players in other large industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and retail, BlackBerry said in its announcement. Yet Wyatt reportedly told analysts last week that Good was not profitable and it was apparently burning through cash. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Good only had seven months of operating cash as of last summer.

Meanwhile look for Citrix, IBM, Microsoft and VMware, among others to continue to put the squeeze on smaller suppliers of mobility management software. Unless they can offer capabilities that are truly differentiated, the big boys are going to soon own the MDM market.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/08/2015 at 10:15 AM0 comments

Jeffrey Snover Promoted to Microsoft Technical Fellow

Microsoft has promoted Windows PowerShell inventor Jeffrey Snover to Technical Fellow.

Snover previously was a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, another esteemed Microsoft title, although his new role is a step up. Snover joins an exclusive group of the company's top engineers. He acknowledged the news on Twitter:

"Bad news: I'll never get another promotion Good news: I've been promoted to Technical Fellow (there's nothing above that)."

Many tweeted in response that it was a promotion long overdue and noted the irony (as did Snover) that there's only one way to go but down, a direction he actually took years ago, voluntarily when he accepted a demotion so he could further his efforts in advancing Windows PowerShell.

Lately Snover has been promoting Microsoft's DevOps vision, partly enabled by Windows Server 2016, which includes a headless Nano Server. His main role at Microsoft has been to improve Windows Server management with system automation and orchestration across platforms. That management effort has centered on PowerShell and a GUI-less Windows Server 2016, in part. At Microsoft conferences and even at this past spring's ChefConf, Snover has evangelized regarding Desired State Configuration (a PowerShell push-pull method for keeping system configurations in check) and management APIs to enable cross-platform automation and configuration management using PowerShell.

Snover first started talking up the need for automation 13 years ago with his Monad Manifesto, which called on IT pros to create automation scripts using Windows PowerShell. In a recent interview with Redmond, Snover explained why he's making that same case to developers as part of the DevOps vision.

"It's a logical next step," he said. "One of the things I see is that a number of the configuration tasks currently done by operators late in the process are going to move forward and be done by developers as part of the build process."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/02/2015 at 2:18 PM0 comments

VMware Announces Azure AD Identity Manager Alternative

VMware announced a new service that looks to go head-to-head with Azure Active Directory (AD) for enterprise single sign-on at this week's VMworld, currently going on in San Francisco.

The company introduced a new iteration of the VMware Identity Management offering, which was first launched in June, that aims to give it broader reach. Identity Management was previously only available for premium AirWatch customers of either the Yellow or Blue editions.

VMware describes its new VMware Identity Manager Advanced Edition as a standalone Identity Management-as-a-Service (IMaaS) offering that can support major device types including Windows PCs, Chromebooks and Apple Macs.

"What's interesting about this new standalone edition is that we include still elements of the AirWatch console to make good on this concept of adaptive access," said Kevin Strohmeyer, director of product marketing for Workspace Services and End-User Computing, in an interview at VMworld. "What really differentiates our strategy is by having these device-specific adapters, the ability to register a mobile device or even a Windows 10 device that allows us to basically have customized authentication flows that are specific for that operating system."

Strohmeyer said he believes VMware Identity Manager handles federation and management of user identities better than Azure AD and is easier to bridge to legacy and Software-as-a-Service-based applications. In addition to addressing the problem of federated identity management, Strohmeyer said the new VMware offering lets administrators manage security groups.

The challenge for VMware, however, is that the market for federated identity management tools is crowded, and the company is considered new to the arms race. "A lot of customers have integration to Active Directory as the primary source of their identity management," said IDC analyst Al Gillen. "So for VMware to be trying to drive their own directory strategy outside of that seems a little bit like fighting an old battle that's already won. But they seem pretty committed to it."

Indeed in a VMware press conference, CEO Pat Gellsinger claimed that customers have been pushing the company to add IMaaS to its offerings. "We're getting such good response from the industry and from our customers in making that a standard part of our suite," Gelsinger said. "We are very optimistic about the potential for that as yet another element of what we're presenting to our customers."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/02/2015 at 11:56 AM0 comments

VMware Offers SQL Server Online in vCloud Air

VMware this week launched a new database as a service for organizations looking to move their SQL Server applications online without having to modify them. The company announced its new vCloud Air SQL cloud database, announced at this week's VMworld conference in San Francisco. It's available for testing through VMware's early access program and is planned for general availability by year's end.

The service will initially use Microsoft's SQL Server database to support various memory, compute and storage configurations, though VMware said it will offer other relational databases in the future. It'll work in hybrid cloud environments, allowing organizations to use company's public cloud to scale their databases.

"It's the identical SQL Server you might run inside your own datacenter, so that differentiates it from the Azure competitive offering [now called Azure Database], which is not the same," said Matthew Lodge, VMware's VP of cloud services and product marketing, in an interview at VMworld. "For a lot of our customers, that compatibility really matters to them. Database migrations are hard. Companies don't want to change the technology unless it's a port to a new platform, and they are probably doing that for a different reason."

The company sees two use cases for the forthcoming vCloud Air SQL service: "Organizations can accelerate time-to-market using vCloud Air SQL to rapidly provision database instances in the cloud for development and testing and then run applications in production, either on VMware vCloud Air, or back on-premises in a 100 percent compatible environment," said Michael Cincinatus, VMware's senior director of product marketing for cloud services, in a blog post. "Additionally, organizations can extend on-premises applications with next generation mobile or Web-based cloud native applications running in VMware vCloud Air, using VMware vCloud Air SQL."

VMware is offering its early access testers up to $300 in service credits to trial the new database service.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/02/2015 at 9:47 AM0 comments

Microsoft Talks Mobility Management on VMworld Keynote Stage

As competition in the IT industry has brought together strange bedfellows lately, it appears Microsoft and VMware are the latest to publicly share their love-hate relationship. Of course it's to mutual benefit. In the keynote session on the second day of VMworld 2015, taking place this week in San Francisco, Windows Enterprise Executive Jim Alkove became the first Microsoft executive to appear on stage at VMware's annual confab.

Sanjay Poonen, general manager and executive vice president for end-user computing at VMware, called Alkove on stage during his keynote presentation where both execs explained how the two companies worked together to ensure tight integration between Windows 10 and VMware's AirWatch enterprise mobility management platform

"We love Windows 10 because you've opened up Windows 10 for an enterprise mobile management player like AirWatch," Poonen said to Alkove. "It's unprecedented."  In response, Alkove said: "In order to address modern security threats, it's critical [that] hardware and software be designed to work together in tight partnership. With Windows 10 we're bringing enterprise mobility management to the entire family of Windows devices and we are simplifying deployment to put an end to the days of wipe and reload."

The unique aspect of this brief public display of mutual admiration comes as Microsoft is fiercely aiming to take on VMware AirWatch, which is one of the leading enterprise mobile management platforms (VMware acquired it in 2014). Microsoft corporate VP Brad Anderson has said on numerous occasions that with Redmond's own new Enterprise Mobility Suite, organizations don't require a third-party EMM suite.

"You would think of Microsoft as being low in the ability to execute," said Ben Goodman, product manager for VMware Identity Manager, in an interview at VMworld. "They are a big company." At the same time Goodman lauded Microsoft for its commitment to ensuring compatibility between Windows 10 and AirWatch. "To Microsoft's credit, they've been great in terms of a development partner," he said. "The question is, do you believe [VMware] AirWatch can manage desktops or do you believe Microsoft can manage mobile? We're both kind of new to both spaces."

Looking to demonstrate it's looking to leapfrog others in mobility management, VMware revealed Project A2, which ties together AirWatch and App Volumes, the tool introduced at last year's VMworld that can deliver hundreds of virtual apps. Project A2, which will be made available for technical preview and released next year, will enable the management of virtual and physical apps on desktops.

Also on the end user computing side, VMware announced Horizon 6.2 and Horizon 6.2 for Linux, which the company said will provide richer user experiences, support for Microsoft's Skype for Business and Nvidia's GRID vGP (virtual graphics processing unit), improved VMware Virtual SAN storage optimizations, support for biometric fingerprint authentication and FIPS 140-2 compliance for those with federal government governance requirements.

Updated Sept. 4: An earlier version of this blog erroneously gave attribution to VMware's Kevin Strohmeyer. The correct executive was Ben Goodman, though both were interviewed in separate meetings at VMworld.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 09/01/2015 at 1:29 PM0 comments

Microsoft Says 1.5 Million Enterprise Users Have Deployed Windows 10

While Microsoft this week said 75 million users have upgraded to Windows 10, an additional stat IT pros may find noteworthy is that 1.5 million of them were organizations upgrading their Enterprise Edition licenses.

Members of the Windows team meeting with journalists on the Redmond campus today revealed the figure to demonstrate the rapid adoption of Windows 10, which was released just a month ago. While the number pales in comparison to the consumers or users of the Windows 10 Home and Pro edition, the number of enterprises who have deployed Windows 10 in just four weeks after its released is "unprecedented," said Stella Chernyak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft.

Chernyak didn't say how many companies the 1.5 million licenses represent but said some of them are among some of the largest global customers. "Some of them are rolling out hundreds of machines in some very large pilots," she said. Like all Windows upgrades over the past few decades, most organizations tend to wait up to a year before performing large rollouts of a new version, a trend that appears to be holding despite the large pilots.

The officials noted that the company anticipates an even larger uptake of Windows 10 once a whole new crop of devices roll out later this year and new features are added through the Windows as a Service updates. Added integration to offerings such as Azure Rights Management is currently in the works. Enterprises are also quite enamored with the new biometric authentication feature called Windows Hello, which is aimed at replacing passwords.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2015 at 6:12 PM0 comments

Machine Learning Is Key To Improving Accuracy of Next Microsoft Band

When Microsoft came out with its Fitbit-like band last year, it introduced some interesting new capabilities to the crowded market for such gadgets. But one of the reasons I returned the first iteration of the Microsoft Band after using it for a month was that it didn't appear to render precise and consistent heart rate data. I have come to learn I wasn't the only one to come to that conclusion and decided to wait and see what the next version offers before spending $200. In all fairness, not all share that view.

It appears the company is readying the next version for the upcoming fourth quarter holiday season, according to published reports. In a briefing at the Microsoft Research Center on the Redmond campus yesterday, Corporate VP Peter Lee, who oversees new experiences at the lab (NExT), indicated that the next Microsoft Band will render more accurate heart rates thanks to improved sensors, though he didn't get into the timing of the release. These improved sensors aren't coming in the form of better hardware but rather major advances in the software developed by Microsoft, he explained.

These same advances apply to other work such as Microsoft's Bing platform, which is all emerging as major Microsoft assets for Microsoft's efforts to advance machine learning. Lee gave the brief discussion about the Microsoft Band as an example of a skunkworks project called "Jewel" that came out of its research labs focused on applying machine learning. While machine learning has long been a key focus at Microsoft Research, the company this year took a step forward with the release of Azure ML. The compute and storage enabled by cloud-based machine learning has helped improve the algorithms used to render data such as blood flow, according to Lee, speaking with journalists Thursday at Microsoft's research center on the company's Redmond campus.

Lee admitted that the hardware BOM (bill of materials) included in the sensors of the Microsoft Band was limited and indicated that won't change in the next version. "We found the signal was woefully inadequate, especially when under physical stress, the key use-case for the Microsoft Band," he said. "While I am making disparaging remarks, it is on par or better than what you would find in the Apple Watch and other fitness bands."

It'll be interesting to see how the improvements in the software algorithm contribute to the next version of the Microsoft Band both in terms of accuracy and other yet undisclosed features of the new device.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/28/2015 at 12:32 PM0 comments

Server Market Continues Modest Growth Trend

PC sales growth may be on the downward spiral but expenditures on servers continue to rise, albeit at a single-digit rate. The latest quarterly reports from Gartner and IDC show revenues for servers increased 7.2 percent and 6.1 percent respectively in the second quarter of 2015.

While Gartner and IDC have somewhat different methodologies, both show continued demand for servers. That may surprise some cloud computing purists who wonder why anyone would buy a server. For sure many of these sales are shifting to cloud providers and MSPs but many build their own systems.

Most of the $13 billion that Gartner and IDC reports was spent on servers in the last three months went to the key players: HP, Dell, IBM, Lenovo and Cisco. It marks the fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue growth, IDC said.

"The recent growth trend in the server market is confirmation of the larger IT investment taking place, despite dramatic change occurring in system software thanks to open source projects such as Docker and OpenStack," said Al Gillen, IDC's program VP of servers and systems software, in a statement. "While we do anticipate an impact on product mix and potentially on volumes, it is too early in the adoption cycle for these new software products to have a material impact on servers today. In the meantime, the market demonstrated healthy revenue and shipment growth this quarter."

Much of the growth is coming from demand for x86-based hyper-scale systems as well as refreshes of servers among small and medium businesses, likely an outgrowth of Windows Server 2003's end of support. Microsoft issued its last patch for Windows Server 2003 in April. Refreshes of IBM mainframes helped growth on the high end, though mid-range systems declined 5.4 percent, according to IDC.

In terms of shipments, HP remains the leader with 21.7 percent of the market, posting 2.5 percent growth while No. 2 Dell at 18 percent saw a slight decline (0.4 percent), according to Gartner. Though a distant No. 3, Lenovo, which recently acquired IBM's x86 server business, saw volume growth of 185.7 percent year over year. Both researchers said Lenovo saw 500-plus percent revenue growth, although obviously both increases were aided by picking up IBM's commodity server line.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/26/2015 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Cloud SQL Database Gets Row Level Security

Microsoft's cloud-based SQL Database now supports row level security (RLS), a feature offered in a number of other databases. RLS lets administrators provide row-level access to data based on a user's identity or role.

The company released the RLS feature in its Azure SQL Database last week. RLS will appeal to organizations looking to restrict access to financial data based on an employee's region and role, ensure specific tenants of a multitenant app can only access their own roles of data and it allows analysts to query various subsets based on their position, according to Tommy Mullaney, Microsoft's program manager for SQL Database.

"RLS enables you to store data for many users in a single database and table, while at the same time restricting row-level access based on a user's identity, role, or execution context," Mullaney said in a blog post. "RLS centralizes access logic within the database itself, which simplifies and reduces the risk of error in your application code."

In his post, Mullaney shared how SharePoint workflow vendor K2 Architect Grant Dickinson was able to ensure it was enforcing security and policies across all database vectors. Before implementing RLS, his team had to use query predicates but that mode of enforcing security was "onerous and prone to bugs," according to Dickinson.

"Furthermore, the data access layer and business logic are able to evolve independently from the RLS policy logic; this separation of concerns improves code quality," he said. "The developers could use a policy language they were familiar with -- T-SQL  -- and as such we were productive on RLS from day one."

Microsoft's Mullaney said it plans to add new RLS capabilities through its iterative development and deployment process.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/24/2015 at 1:26 PM0 comments

Surface Pro 4 with Windows Hello May Appear in October

Rumors that new devices including a Surface Pro 4 and a major launch event by Microsoft planned for October amplified this week following a number of published reports. Though the chatter comes from unnamed sources, all along we've said it makes sense that the next wave of systems would hit at that time presuming Intel's next-generation Core 6 architecture is ready. Even without it, October is the time all the major players roll out their lineups for the critical fourth-quarter holiday buying season.

The buzz about a new Surface Pro 4 picked up earlier in the week when the Chinese site WPDang reported that the new tablet-PC will be joined by two new Lumia phones and a Microsoft Band 2 (as of midday Friday the report was not accessible, suggesting perhaps it was pulled). A subsequent report by The Verge added that Microsoft indeed is planning a launch event. The Surface Pro 4 will be similar to its predecessor, meaning it will support the same peripherals and docking station but it's believed it will have Intel's new RealSense camera and will support the new Windows Hello capability. Windows Hello is the new sensor technology designed to let users replace passwords with facial recognition or fingerprint readers to log into the OS.

It is unclear whether the new device will include the new Intel Core 6 processor, code-named Skylake, but Intel is set to release the chipset in two weeks, according to several reports including this Zacks research note. Skylake, like all new CPUs, is faster and more power-efficient but will "drive multiple 4K displays, feature novel instructions to accelerate security operations, and hardened memory defenses [and] has enhanced Iris Pro integrated graphics which can drive up to three 4K monitors at 60Hz." The site Softpedia published a breakdown of SkyLake this week.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) this week in San Francisco, the company announced a broadening of the RealSense camera sensor interface technology for Windows, Android and MacOS. Intel also released its RealSense SDK for Windows, which includes a tool for developers to access the sensor-based capabilities of its Unity platform.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/21/2015 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Citrix Releases Its Workspace Cloud Platform

In what could be the most new product offering from Citrix in years, the company today said its new cloud-based offering for deploying and managing virtual and mobile devices is now available. The company unveiled the Citrix Workspace Cloud back in May, hailing it as architecture for the modern digital workplace.

With its control-plane architecture, the company designed the Citrix Workspace Cloud to give IT administrators or third party managed service providers the ability to securely deliver virtual desktops or applications to users using any public or hybrid cloud offering. The architecture behind the Citrix Workspace Cloud is the Lifecycle Manager, which was built using the engine from ShareFile, the document sharing platform it acquired back in 2011.

The Lifecycle Manager creates blueprints that ease the migration of earlier versions of XenApp to current releases and provides the ability for IT to deploy them in the new management platform. These blueprints "are effectively groupings of things that you need to do to define whatever workload it is you want to deliver," as Citrix VP and CTO Christian Reilly explained back at Synergy.

Citrix said its Lifecycle Management packages let IT pros design, edit and deploy application and desktop blueprints, and once-distributed administrators can manage and monitor the deployed images or apps. The company is offering an entry-level version free of charge to existing customers with maintenance agreements. Citrix is offering various other Lifecycle Management configurations starting at $2.50 per month per user.

Among the deployments it will manage are the Workspace Cloud Virtual Apps and Desktops, which Citrix said will let IT shops securely deliver Windows and Linux apps, browsers and desktop images to any type of device. Priced at $35 per month, it lets IT pros build, design, edit and roll out app and desktop images. It also includes file, share and synchronization functions. Another option for $40 a month is the Integrated Apps and Data Suite, which adds on top of the Virtual Apps and Desktop Services mobile device and app management, as well as productivity tools.

"With Citrix Workspace Cloud, we are opening up virtualization and VDI to a whole new range of customers, for whom it was too complex or too expensive for in the past," said Jesse Lipson, vice president and general manager, Citrix Workflow and Workspace Cloud, in a statement. The move to expand its customer base comes as the company is under pressure by activist investor Elliott Management, which holds 7.5 percent of Citrix's common stock, to grow the company.

Uptake for the Citrix Workspace Cloud by managed service providers and IT organizations is poised to be a critical measure of whether the company can achieve further growth.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/20/2015 at 1:29 PM0 comments

Windows Containers Debut in New Windows Server 2016 Preview

Microsoft today released the third technical preview of Windows Server 2016 and it will give IT pros and developers the first chance to see the company's new Windows Server Containers, which includes the open source Docker Engine. The latest Windows Server 2016 technical preview also includes improvements to Active Directory (both AD DS and AD FS), Hyper-V, failover clustering, remote desktop services and file and storage services. Microsoft posted an outline of all the new features introduced in this release. Not included in Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 (in Microsoft lingo it's TP3) is the new Azure Stack announced back in May at Ignite that will bring Azure functionality to Windows Server or Hyper-V Containers, though Microsoft has indicated that it will show up in a technical preview later this year.

Windows Server Containers and the yet-to-be released Hyper-V Containers with the Docker Engine will introduce a new way for organizations to build and deploy applications faster and more scalable in on-premises and cloud environments. Through last year's partnership with Docker, the two worked to help Microsoft build Windows Server Containers in the server OS to  insure applications built for them are interoperable via new APIs that are compatible with Linux containers, both from a deployment and orchestration standpoint.

"This is a big step on a journey we started a while ago," said Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, in an interview this week. "This TP3 release is the first time we're making publicly available in preview form Windows Server Containers with complete Docker tool chain ported to Windows as well as integration of container deployment and management through Visual Studio."

Docker Senior Engineering Manager Arnaud Porterie noted in a blog post today that "the Docker Engine for Windows Server port is not a fork, nor a different project: it's the same open source code base being built for Linux and Windows." Porterie also emphasized that "the Docker daemon for Windows Server doesn't run Linux images! No virtualization is involved. The Windows Server Containers reuse the host kernel and create a sandboxed environment for the process, exactly like it does on Linux."

From the perspective of development of applications for the Azure public cloud and the on-premises Azure Stack, Windows Server Containers introduce the most important new capabilities in Windows Server 2016 TP3. Yet for IT pros this is just as important as the notion of containerization is to DevOps to allow organizations more business agility, Russinovich explained.

"If you take a look now at any enterprise, they've got to get applications out faster and they've got to iterate on them faster," he explained. "The business motivation for an agile development workflow is what's driving a lot of enterprises [to] the top-level business requirement that you're seeing [from] what started as a grass-roots-driven wave by developers themselves. They're looking for a faster way to iterate as they develop their applications. One of the value propositions Docker likes to tout is a developer can debug and test their container on their own development laptop, and then with high confidence know that that tested application is going to deploy in the same exact way to a production server. And if they're iterating, for example, on their development laptop, they can do that very quickly because the containers deployed so quickly."

Containers in the context of allowing DevOps organizations to iteratively build applications that are scalable for modern cloud environments using micro services is a new concept. But many Fortune 50 companies are either piloting or have small deployments of applications for these new architectures. Because each container is small and isolated, they should help create applications that are less monolithic and more secure. While the technology is still emerging, Russinovich believes the use of micro services will be the next wave of software development, virtualization and IT operations.

"What  you're seeing is the power of this isolation and agility fit nicely with an application level that's decomposed, which also goes back to the business driver of agility," Russinovich said. "If you've got a complex application and many enterprise applications, and even CSV type applications or ISV type applications are complex, [they] consist of many subsystems. If you break down that monolithic application into constituent components, containerize them, and then have the whole thing managed by a microservice application platform you get the benefits of containerization, the agility of deployment, you've got things like rolling update, you get the independence of updates so different teams can work on different parts."

Enterprise Strategy Group Senior Analyst Mark Bowker says he's seeing growing interest among large IT organizations that are enamored by the agility of sites such as Amazon and Facebook and those who offer modern apps, though warns it's still very early days. "I think you're seeing the operating system vendors essentially react and design, and ultimately look at where modern applications are headed, and ultimately making a more efficient operating system to run those types of workloads. It doesn't necessarily have all the full-blown features because a lot of those features are actually written into the application itself," Bowker said.

Many IT pros still don't understand containerization. Russinovich gave a far more extensive explanation of Microsoft's view of what the future of containers holds in a blog post published earlier this week. It's worth reading to understand Microsoft's container vision and what it means for the future of Windows.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the technical preview included Hyper-V Containers and has been updated to reflect that they'll actually come in a subsequent release.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/19/2015 at 9:50 AM0 comments

Microsoft's Latest OneDrive Update Doesn't Include Popular Placeholders Feature

Looking to make OneDrive the cloud storage service of choice, Microsoft last week added improved synchronization, search and support for the new Apple Watch. The upgrade of OneDrive now includes the ability to synchronize shared folders from a desktop app, visibility to when someone edits a file and Microsoft says it's now easier to search for documents. While customers welcomed the improvements, many lamented the lack of a once popular feature called Placeholders, also known as Smart Files, which Microsoft removed in January.

Microsoft first introduced Placeholders in OneDrive with Windows 8.1 but subsequently removed the feature. Placeholders allowed users to see files that are online in addition to local documents. Users complained about the missing feature in the comments section of the blog post by OneDrive Group Program Manager Jason Moore last week announcing the upgrade, imploring Microsoft to bring Placeholders back.

"I switched from Dropbox to OneDrive because of the placeholders," wrote Mark Newton. "Now, OneDrive is just Microsoft's Dropbox." Tom H. added: "This is great folks but there are thousands clamoring for placeholders, especially those of us who bought your Surface tablets. I would have hoped you would have brought placeholders before this other stuff."

 Many complained that they bought the Surface and Surface Pro specifically because of Placeholders. "The elimination of placeholders has made my 'tablet that can replace my laptop' just a tablet," wrote Jeremy. "OneDrive was the only thing allowing your own devices to do what you advertised. Thanks for selling me a thousand dollar tablet. Downgrading now."

Microsoft's Moore did weigh in last week welcoming the feedback. "Folks -- I definitely recommend checking out our UserVoice and leaving feedback there -- write up the features you want and how you'd like us to go about them! We love seeing the passion," he said. One poster, who didn't leave a name called that lip service. "You already know that placeholders back on Uservoice  [Microsoft's customer feedback platform] have more than 13,000 voices, but it's easier to say, 'give your feedback, but we will do what we like to do.'"

Not everyone commenting on Moore's post want Microsoft to bring Placeholders back. "The placeholders were a nightmare for me. Just keep adding reliable functionality," wrote Rusty Gates. But those commenting who want Microsoft to bring Placeholders back far outnumber those who could live without it.

The obvious compromise would be to offer both options and allow customers to choose either configuration.

In the meantime MVP Kent Chen explains in a blog post on Next of Windows how to map OneDrive files to a network drive or alternatively to consider third-party apps such as Odrive.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/17/2015 at 1:24 PM0 comments

Microsoft Is Working with the Canonical Linux Container Hypervisor Project

Ben Armstrong, Microsoft's Hyper-V and virtualization guru, will outline the company's participation in two open source projects: the Canonical-backed Linux Container LXD hypervisor project and OpenStack. Armstrong tipped off that he'd be speaking at ContainerCon 2015, a Linux Foundation event, and at OpenStack Day. Both will be taking place on Microsoft's home turf of Seattle.

As reported Wednesday by open source expert Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Microsoft and Canonical, the parent company that distributes Ubuntu Linux, are working together on LXD, a project to develop Linux container hypervisors. As part of the project, Canonical last year revealed the specs for Linux Containers, or LXC, which is a new stratum on top of LXC that endows the advantages of a traditional hypervisor into the faster, more efficient world of containers," noted Dustin Kirkland, a member of Ubuntu's product and strategy team, in a blog post yesterday.  "Hosts running LXD are handily federated into clusters of container hypervisors, and can work as Nova Compute nodes in OpenStack, for example, delivering Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud technology at lower costs and greater speeds."

Microsoft of course has openly embraced Linux containers with its collaboration with Docker, where the two are among others working on the Open Container Initiative, so the collaboration on LXC and Canonical appears to be a natural evolution of that work. In a quote shared in Kirkland's post, Microsoft's Armstrong, whose actual title is principal program manager lead at Microsoft on the core virtualization and container technologies, said that "Canonical's LXD project is providing a new way for people to look at and interact with container technologies. Utilizing 'system containers' to bring the advantages of container technology to the core of your cloud infrastructure is a great concept. We are looking forward to seeing the results of our engagement with Canonical in this space."

Meanwhile, Armstrong noted in his own MSDN blog post that he'll be speaking at OpenStack Day Seattle 2015 in Seattle later in the week, which is taking place in conjunction with ContainerCon. While Microsoft has been a silent player in OpenStack, Armstrong pointed out that the company's Nova and Open-vSwitch drivers for Hyper-V connect to Active Directory and Cinder drivers for Windows iSCSI.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/13/2015 at 11:16 AM0 comments

Investors To Acquire Symantec's Data Protection Business for $8 Billion

Long wishing to exit the business of backup and recovery and high availability to focus on IT security, Symantec today said it has agreed to sell its Veritas business to private equity firm The Carlyle Group and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC for $8 billion in cash. Carlyle has tapped Bill Coleman, BEA Systems founder and CEO as Veritas chief executive, and former 3Com Chairman and CEO Bill Krauss was named chairman.

The moves will end a decade in which Symantec and Veritas never seemed to find the symmetry they were seeking when Symantec acquired the server and storage management and data protection software provider in 2005 for $13.5 billion. Symantec last year said it was creating two separate businesses with the data management business to retake the Veritas name. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year.

Once the transaction is complete, products such as Backup Exec, NetBackup and Cluster Server will no longer carry the Symantec name. As Veritas reenters the data protection market it will find numerous new competitors who have already spent years going after the business run by Symantec, among them Acronis, ArcServe, Asigra, CommVault, Dell, EMC, IBM, NetApp, Veeam, VMware, Unitrends, Vision Solutions and Zerto.

It also remains to be seen what Veritas' new owners have in store for the business such as en eventual sale or IPO. For its part, Symantec said it plans to use the proceeds to shore up its security business.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/11/2015 at 2:02 PM0 comments

Satya Nadella Congratulates Google's New CEO Sundar Pichai

Google has a new CEO and that's significant news for the company, its competitors, partners and those who use its wide array of offerings -- consumers and businesses alike. So it's hardly surprising that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was among those who yesterday reached out to Sundar Pichai, who was unexpectedly named to run Google as part of the largest restructuring in the company's history, via Twitter: "Congrats @sundarpichai well deserved!"

Through that massive company reorg, Google becomes the largest of several subsidiaries that will fall under a new corporate holding unit called Alphabet, which will be led by former Google CEO Larry Page and President Sergey Brin, both of whom are also cofounders. The surprising development appears to be aimed at allowing Page and Brin to focus on new and emerging businesses and creating a new financial reporting structure.

Page described Pichai as a natural choice to lead Google. Pichai, who most recently headed all product development and engineering for the company, is responsible for the development of the Chrome browser and had recently headed up the Android mobile division. "I know Sundar will always be focused on innovation -- continuing to stretch boundaries," Page said in yesterday's announcement. "I know he deeply cares that we can continue to make big strides on our core mission to organize the world's information."

Nadella and Pichai share a common heritage as they both are from India and Pichai's name was among dozens of outsiders rumored for the Microsoft CEO job when the company was searching for a replacement for Steve Ballmer.

When Page named him to replace Andy Rubin to head the Android business two years ago, Page described him in a blog post at the time as someone who has a "talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use -- and he loves a big bet," as pointed out by The New York Times.

Nadella and Pichai share something else in common: they're both only the third CEOs of their respective companies, though Microsoft is quite older than Google. Pichai's challenge is to lead Google so it can age gracefully -- and with fewer bumps in the road than Microsoft, Apple and others have traveled.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/11/2015 at 11:28 AM0 comments

Google To Restructure as New Company Called Alphabet

Google today said it will create a new publicly traded company called Alphabet, which will serve as the parent for its separate business units including Google itself. Larry Page, Google's cofounder and CEO, will lead Alphabet with Cofounder Sergey Brin as president.

The move is clearly the largest restructuring in the company's history and a major change in organizational makeup for any company its size. The creation of Alphabet aims to separate Google's core search and cloud business from other groups such as the company's investment companies, its Calico life sciences business and Xlab, the incubator for new technologies such as drones, Page said in a blog post announcing the planned move.

"Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable," Page said. "Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence. In general, our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business, with Sergey and me in service to them as needed. We will rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well. We'll also make sure we have a great CEO for each business, and we'll determine their compensation. In addition, with this new structure we plan to implement segment reporting for our Q4 results, where Google financials will be provided separately than those for the rest of Alphabet businesses as a whole."

Details of the new organization are still unfolding but it appears Google is looking to provide a new reporting structure to make its business attractive to investors. Page said by leading the parent company, he and Brin can focus more on emerging businesses, while turning Google over to Sundar Pichai, who will take over as CEO. Pichai is currently Page's top lieutenant at Google.

Ruth Porat, who recently took over as Google's CFO, will assume that role at Alphabet. The name of the parent company has raised some eyebrows. "We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity's most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search," Page said.

Page emphasized the goal isn't to establish Alphabet as a consumer brand. "The whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/10/2015 at 3:59 PM0 comments

IBM To Swap 200,000 Employee PCs with Macs

IBM's partnership with Apple has taken a new twist as Big Blue plans to deploy up to 200,000 Macs. That could equate to more than half of IBM's workforce.

In an internal corporate video published by MacRumors, IBM CIO Jeff Smith revealed the company's plans to roll out up to 50,000 Macbooks to employees to replace their existing Lenovo Thinkpads. Of course it was IBM who developed the Thinkpad before selling its PC business to Lenovo over a decade ago. Nevertheless, Thinkpads remained the client device of choice at IBM. In a separate video clip, Smith recalled a conversation in which IBM Vice President Fletcher Previn told  Apple CEO Tim Cook that one day 50 to 75 percent of IBM employees could have Macs.

Apple and IBM formed a partnership last year in which IBM will develop industry specific mobile apps for iOS and MacOS and offer services to help deploy them. The apparent leak was clearly a precursor to last week's announcement from IBM in which it said it was offering new cloud-based services to help large enterprises deploy and integrate Macs within their IT infrastructures. In the announcement, IBM said Mac deployments in enterprises are on the rise.

The services let IT managers order Macs and have them delivered to employees directly with the system image installed without requiring setup or configuration. IBM partnered with JAMF Software, whose Casper Suite is enabling the ability to create and deploy the system images.

IBM's decision is somewhat ironic considering it delivered the first enterprise PC back in 1981, though the company has no vested interest in the fate of Windows PCs. It remains to be seen how aggressive IBM intends to be with bringing Macs to more businesses as Microsoft looks to convince customers to upgrade to Windows 10. Perhaps IBM is finally getting even with Microsoft for leaving it holding the ball with OS/2. Is a new battle brewing?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/10/2015 at 12:38 PM0 comments

Will Microsoft's Planned Badges Someday Replace MCSE and MCSA Certifications?

The revamp of Microsoft's certification process is under way and the newest offering will come in the form of skills-specific badges for those who don't want, need, or see the value in MCSE or MCSA certifications. For those who do want to pursue MCSE and MCSA certifications, Microsoft is rolling out major improvements to the testing process, to include performance-based exams and the ability to take them anywhere using the company's new online proctoring capability.

Liberty Munson, Microsoft's Principal Psychometrician, outlined the new certification initiatives in a fireside chat earlier this week at the TechMentor conference, taking place on the company's Redmond campus. TechMentor, like Redmond, is produced by 1105 Media. The fireside chat was moderated by Greg Shields, conference cochair,  Redmond columnist and author-evangelist at IT training company Pluralsight.

"We're continuing to evolve the program, and as a result we're going to make some changes where we start badging skills," Munson said. "So we're going to really focus on learning paths, where you pick the skills that you want to go and learn. Some of these courses you will be seeing you can take specific skills and you can get badges and those badges will show up on your transcript and you can show people that you're skilled in certain areas."

The badging training curriculum is likely to roll out in January, according to Munson, and the initial focus will be on Windows Server. Asked if these badges will one day diminish the requirement or desire to seek MCSE or MCSA certifications, Munson told me after the keynote session that it's addressing a generational shift. "The millennials are really about bite-sized chunks, and so we're trying to address that need," she said. "But as a result, certification becomes more difficult of a sell to them because of their learning mind set."

Elaborating on that point, she added: "I think you are going to see fewer people get certifications in the future. If we look a decade from now, two decades from now, certification is going to be something -- I'm going to call it like self-service -- where somebody goes in and they pick the skills that they want to be certified. They design... their own exams and their own certification. I think what we need to do to appeal to that younger generation is give them the flexibility to choose what they want to be measured on so certification takes on a whole different meaning in that potential future. And quite honestly, if certification is going to survive, I think it has to do something like this, it needs to break this mold. Otherwise the millennials are not going to buy into it."

Shields agreed with her, telling me that the notion of badging is a novel approach that many hiring managers and candidates alike may prefer to broader, more extensive certifications that don't necessarily prove specific skills. "As a hiring manager, the ability for someone to look at the badge or to see that someone has certified or passed an assessment in a very particular technology is something that very directly will help him as he goes through finding the right people for the right jobs," Shields said.

At the same time, Microsoft is rolling out a number of significant new capabilities to those who still see and value more traditional MCSE and MCSA certification, Munson emphasized. The new performance-based testing, which is also slated to roll out in January, will represent Microsoft's second attempt to offer exams that go beyond traditional multiple choice questions, enabling candidates to showcase their actual skills.  Microsoft's first stab at performance-based testing years ago was a bust primarily because the underlying infrastructure supporting it wasn't reliable. Given the rollout of Azure, Munson says she's confident that issue is now resolved.

"We think we cracked that nut with Azure in the cloud and really leveraging some of the big things that Microsoft is really focused on right now," she said. "Right now we're in the proof-of-concept phase with our performance-based testing. We probably will start with Windows Server and you'll start seeing elements where performance-based requirements are part of the certification process on the Windows Server exams."

Microsoft is already in the midst of rolling out online proctoring, which eliminates the need for people to have to travel to testing centers. Depending on where a candidate lives,  under the current guidelines, he or she might need to travel hundreds of miles to take an exam, whereas the online proctoring allows people to take them at home or any place they can be monitored to ensure they're not cheating, Munson said. "You have to make sure you're going to be in a location that's going to be uninterrupted," she said. People can take the tests at "home, work, wherever, it doesn't matter.  You can be in your PJs, but you do have to be dressed, because there is a proctor that is going to be watching you."

Online proctoring is already available in 53 countries and Munson hopes to have it rolled out by the end of the calendar year.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/06/2015 at 11:57 AM0 comments

Major Changes Coming from Microsoft Will Impact Your Career

Windows Server, System Center and every other key Microsoft product are now undergoing fundamental architectural and design changes, and if you don't adapt to them and embrace cloud computing, your career in IT likely will be cut short. Regardless of how much experience you have as an MCSE or MCSA, Pluralsight Curriculum Director Don Jones pointed to key changes coming from Microsoft that'll have a major impact on the careers of all IT pros and developers who specialize in all or any component of the Redmond stack.

The changes in Windows Server 2016, the move toward system automation, the shift to applications based on containers,  Microsoft's cloud-first approach and  a move to continuous updates will all require IT pros to gain new skills. Speaking at the TechMentor conference on Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Wash., which, like Redmond, is produced by 1105 Media, Jones' stern warning to attendees was to keep up on these changes and get educated accordingly "or run calculations on the days you have until retirement."

Jones, a cochair of the TechMentor conference (and a former Redmond columnist), also warned that IT pros who aren't proficient in PowerShell -- or have people on their teams who are -- will face problems. It should be noted that Jones is a longtime proponent of using PowerShell and scripting for automation and is a cofounder and president of PowerShell.org.

"It's PowerShell or bust," Jones said. "That's the future." That's because in order to use the forthcoming Windows Server 2016 Nano Server, administrators will have to rely on PowerShell remoting since the server OS won't support video connections or have a GUI.  "How many of you have administrators [and] server admins who are not comfortable with PowerShell? That's a limiting career decision. You're still going to have GUIs. Even Nano has a GUI. Nano is actually going to offer a Web-based GUI, potentially even in the cloud, that connects to the actual Nano server via PowerShell remoting. They are not going to run on the server."

Jones warned that learning PowerShell is a major undertaking. "The thing is if you're not doing anything with PowerShell already, and I don't want to say this in a bad way, you've kind of missed the boat. PS has gone from a curve to a giant block, and it's a lot to learn, if you can devote enough time you can still learn this tech. But, my god, don't wait any longer."

Perhaps the best route is to learn Desired State Configuration, or DSC, the "forward-evolution" of PowerShell, Jones suggested. "It is literally the most important management service that Microsoft has ever created. And if you're thinking, 'well my company is not sure if we want to use it,' you should consider whether that company deserves your time or not. Or whether you would be safer career wise someplace else. This is a big deal... saying we're not going to use DSC is like saying we're not putting gas in the car but we'd still like to drive it."

Here are some other changes coming from Redmond to some of its core products that IT pros will need to adopt to, according to Jones:

System Center: Microsoft's systems management platform in 10 years will look nothing like it does today, yet will remain critical as Microsoft offers fewer tools in the operating system itself. "If you've never used the System Center products before, you need to start becoming familiar what they can do, particularly System Center Virtual Machine Configuration Manager and things like Operations Manager," he said. "Pieces of it will move to the cloud, pieces of it will live on premises and pieces of it will change completely."

Hybrid Cloud: Jones said those who ignore the rise of cloud computing architectures will be making fatal career mistakes. Take Windows Server 2016 and beyond. The new operating system release with the Azure Stack shows a shift toward Microsoft upgrading its public cloud infrastructure and throwing those pieces into Windows Server releases.  So even your datacenters will evolve into cloud environments, he said. "You ignore this cloud thing at a very high risk to your career," he said. "It is not going to be long before every single corporation of any size has got some workload in the cloud." How should IT pros skill themselves for this shift?  "I think you need to be doing something so that you get familiar with incorporating your on premises services with certain cloud services. I'm not saying you have to migrate all of your stuff to the cloud -- that is not the right answer for most organizations. But you need to start looking at the workloads that are suitable and doing some pilots so you as a person can get familiar with it whether your company appreciates it or not. How many of you can could draw a meaningful picture and walk me though the process of setting up a VPN from on-premises into a private section of Azure? That is a core skill."

Big Data: One of the most ambiguous and disliked term in IT, the ability to process massive amounts of data to facilitate the move toward better systems automation will be important, Jones said. "Imagine scraping every single log and performance monitor counter you have and, constantly being able to predict what that data means based on past patterns. This is adding a lot of operational intelligence and insights to IT operations and is a big part of automation. Big data for us is where it loops it back into automation. We look for trends, patterns and correlations. These are all important things."

Heterogeneity: The dream of working in all Windows environments is long gone, Jones notes. And specializing in just one operating system is not going to be the accepted norm moving forward.  "If you don't know how to do some basic maintenance on a Mac or have ever  built a Linux device, it's a good hobby take up because it's going to be a key part of your career," Jones advised. "This is a good way to hedge your bets."

Exchange Server: It's no secret that high on the list of endangered species are Exchange administrators thanks to the rapid push toward Office 365 and hosted versions of the e-mail platform. "Don't bet the rest of your career on a counter argument to something like Exchange is going to go away," he said. "Have a plan B."

Active Directory:  The ability to configure and manage Azure Active Directory and AD Connect are critical. Those who earn a living by adding users to Active Directory are the equivalent to those who pump gas at full service stations.  "If you have someone in your organization because they add users to Active Directory, that paycheck is in threat," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/05/2015 at 1:31 PM0 comments

Windows 10: Try Before You Buy

Last week's launch of Windows 10 was really about the release of the bits online to those who can get it -- mostly Windows Insiders. PC makers took a backseat because they only recently received the final bits. That's a historic deviation for new releases of Windows, but as the OS moves to a more continuous upgrade cycle, that looks to be a moot point going forward.

Between that and Intel's delay in shipping its Skylake processors, PC makers had little choice but to dial back on the hoopla. Most issued reminders that many of their most recent releases support Windows 10 and many more are coming in August and into the latter part of the year. That's not to say they entirely ignored the launch. There's tons of business to be had by hardware manufactures following the launch of Windows 10 and Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, Acer and Toshiba issued reminders of their existing and forthcoming systems.

HP briefed media and analysts last week by outlining which systems are now optimized for Windows 10 and those that are in the pipeline. The unstated message was 'try before you buy.' Take advantage of the free upgrade on your existing system, if eligible, and become familiar with what Windows 10 has to offer.   

"We've been working with Microsoft from the very beginning on Windows 10. As a result we had the opportunity to design our entire 2015 portfolio with Windows 10 in mind," said Mike Nash, VP of product management at Hewlett Packard, on the Tuesday call. "Whether you buy a product that comes from the factory with Windows 10 or you have one of our products that came with Windows 8.1 and you upgrade in the field, it's going to deliver a great Windows 10 experience. We're really confident about that."

According to HP's own research, 22 percent of those it surveyed earlier this year said they'll purchase a new device, while 44 percent will upgrade their current system. Given the falloff in PC sales, that's not a surprising feature and Nash, a former longtime Microsoft exec, is encouraging users to upgrade their existing systems to Windows 10. The implication of course is users will like what it has to offer so much that they'll ultimately want new hardware that takes advantage of its features. And since HP and others are still readying new hardware, the notion of try before you buy will suit them well, according to Nash. "The upgrade becomes a way for you to demo and try out Windows 10," he said.

Indeed when people ask me if they should buy a new system, I say, run Windows 10 on your existing system for now but wait until later this year, as the best is yet to come.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/03/2015 at 11:57 AM0 comments

Windows 10: 14 Million Served on First Day

Some 14 million devices are now running Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system. But many who have reserved their free upgrades will have to wait for days or weeks, the company reiterated last night.

"While we now have more than 14 million devices running Windows 10, we still have many more upgrades to go before we catch up to each of you that reserved your upgrade," wrote Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP for Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, in a post last night on the Windows Blog. "Rest assured we are working 24×7 to continue the upgrade process and are prioritizing the quality of your upgrade experience over anything else. We are grateful for your excitement and enthusiasm and we appreciate your patience over the days and weeks ahead as we carefully roll out Windows 10 in phases to all of you that have reserved."

Microsoft's 5 million Windows Insiders who tested the Windows 10 Technical Preview are getting priority, according to the company. While I ran the Technical Preview on one of my machines, I have two others that I don't use often and continued using Windows 8. If you don't want to wait, there are many ways you can fast-track the process, as reported earlier this week. One is to go to a Microsoft Store and have them download it for you (it's free).  Another avenue is to follow Brien Posey's advice to get in front of the line.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/31/2015 at 10:51 AM0 comments

Windows 10 Launch Puts Spotlight on Its Retail Stores

The Windows 10 launch Wednesday put its 110 retail stores worldwide in the spotlight as Microsoft decided to celebrate with local charities it supports such as The Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and the YouthSpark Summer Camp program, among others. While the Microsoft Stores are intended for consumers, partners and IT pros often come in to peruse the store's wares.

An hour before yesterday's opening of the Microsoft Store at Roosevelt Field, in the New York City suburb of Garden City, store manager Scott Goeke spent a few minutes to chat about the preparations for the Windows 10 launch and some of the expectations he has. Until recently Goeke managed the Microsoft Store in Santa Clara but took the opportunity to return east when an opening came up to manage the Garden City, N.Y. location.

What have you been doing to gear up for the Windows 10 launch?
There's been a ton of excitement from our employees and customers. Our main job is to harness that and make sure we really deliver. We've been working on training our employees for months now, making sure that they have the ability to properly recognize and show off what's going on to our customers and show off all the cool features of Windows 10 and really be the experts.

Have customers been asking questions about what to do about Windows 10 -- should they wait -- and those kinds of questions?
It's not so much about should they wait, they've been coming in ever since we announced it earlier this year. Very rarely are we hearing "should I get it?" It's more "when can I get it," which is really cool for us because that's exactly the kind of customer event we want have for Windows 10.

How are you dealing with these upgrades?
We have a well-oiled plan as to how we work with each one of these upgrades. Our employees are ready to roll. If they have Vista and they're looking to upgrade, they have the ability to purchase Windows 10. But from our initial stuff getting checked in -- we've been checking in computers for the last few days and comparing them so people can have them today -- it's been all Windows 7 and Windows 8.  Our goal here is to make the experience for customers as easy as possible. A lot of people don't know but we offer a ton of free services and the upgrade is a key one of those. We're not looking to charge customers for that. That's a last-case scenario. Most of our customers who are going to be walking in are going to have a great experience.

The online upgrade process has been slow in the early hours of the release.
It's a rollout. We haven't been given specifics and times and places where people are going to get it but anybody can come in here right now. We have the bits for it. We can get it on your computer for free. If you have other computers that you're not sure about or are not running well, we can fix those up for free as well. We are trying to expose our customers to all the cool services that Microsoft specifically has to offer. I think it's fair to say that the Microsoft Store is going to provide the absolute best Windows 10 upgrade experience you can find anywhere.

Are you going to initially try to persuade customers to purchase new Windows 10-based computers?
It's going to be a case-by-case basis. It's certainly not our mission to drive devices exclusively. We're going to assess each computer that comes in on a case-by-case basis. There's a system of rating based on what capabilities a computer has and what operating system it has, if it's full of viruses or malware or things like that. We're going to give them the options that they have.

When customers come in for the free upgrade, are you advising them to reimage the machine with a clean install?
No, it's a bootstrap install. It leaves your old Windows image on there and it holds your information on to your new image.

It appears everyone on line is here to see Abby Wambach. No one I spoke with seemed interested in Windows 10.
We have Abby Wambach, which is awesome, but I'm expecting a great kickoff and I think it will escalate into the weekend and beyond. I know we have a significant number of appointments to get their upgrades.

Do customers ask a lot about using Windows 10 for business?
When we talk to business customers, the common thing I hear is "we're still on Windows 7 and it's time to get something new so I'm sure my IT person is going to be doing this." That's the common theme that we're hearing. They're just kind of under the assumption that this is the answer their company has been waiting for.

Many machines are already able to run Windows 10 but, given the quick release of the bits, it's mostly the new machines that will take advantage of new features like Windows Hello. Are you going to let customers, particularly those who are power users that they may want to wait for the newer machines to come out later in August and into October?
Absolutely. If I'm talking about giving the best experience possible, we have to be very realistic with our customers and help them understand that there are certain features of Windows 10 that not all hardware can take advantage of. People need to understand that this is a service that will continue updating, unlike Windows in the past.

When people do buy new systems, what has been the situation regarding the Office 365 upsell. Do most customers do that?
Oh yes. Office 365 has been doing phenomenal for us. When people start to understand really what's in it for them and the OneDrive storage opportunity that comes with Office 365. We have Office 2016 coming out.

Do some balk at the idea of an annual subscription?
Of course that conversation comes up. For us it's helping them understand. And individual licenses are still the right solutions for some people.

What's your favorite new feature in Windows 10?
The Start menu is my thing. I love the fact that it's back, but more importantly that I have my Live Tiles on my Start menu, so I have the best of both worlds.

Do you think those who have avoided Windows 8 because they didn't like the idea of Live Tiles, balking when they see that even though the Start menu is back that the Live Tiles are still there?
You know what? They see it and say "I didn't expect those to be on there." Then they look at it and understand if you show them what they can do with them.  They say it makes sense. So I don't foresee them balking at that. The way it works and how easy it is to move it around and make it personalized, I think people will be perfectly fine with them.

Once you go through that core new interface with them, what's the next feature in Windows 10 you emphasize?
Microsoft Edge. Showing them the new browser and showing them the reading options and the inking options -- they think is pretty cool.

Have you been playing up Cortana?
That's usually number three for me. I see a lot of my employees after they go to the Start menu that's their number two. It's a great tool to make it more personal. That's what we want people to understand, that it's a personalized experience.

Do you talk about Continuum or are customers not interested in that?
It comes up with certain customers. The ones who are power users are the ones having that conversation or the people with the 2-in-1 experience.

What's your level of confidence as to how many Windows Universal apps will be there?
I'm very, very confident about it. Hearing [CEO] Satya [Nadella] at MGX at our Global Exchange [employee conference] a couple of weeks ago gives me that confidence. I came here from Silicon Valley and over the last couple of years, I've had the opportunity to build some pretty good relationships with customers and understand where they're at in their journey and I see the level of confidence they have which gives me a heck of a lot of confidence as well.

And these are developers who were skeptical about Windows in the past?
They're the whole spectrum but there are plenty who are skeptical that weren't developing for Windows that are developing for iOS and Android. When we started making these announcements and they started seeing what the capabilities are, they were excited about it too. And they're some of the most skeptical people in the world. So if they're excited about it, I have no reason not to be.

Even if Windows Phone doesn't gain critical mass, which appears to be the case at this point, are you confident that Windows as a platform has a strong future?
Oh yes. The size and scope of what we're doing here, this is a huge rollout. This is the best Windows we've ever made. It's a free upgrade, there's no reason it's not going to get there.

How many customers come in asking about the Surface Pro 4?
It's a common conversation. My answer is "I wish I had an idea."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/30/2015 at 10:45 AM0 comments

Microsoft Urges Patience to Those Waiting for Windows 10 Download

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Did you reserve a free upgrade for Windows 10 and still can't get it even though it's supposed to be available today? Apparently you're not alone.

Microsoft's forum page for Windows 10 upgrades currently has a note stating that those who reserved a free upgrade, but don't have it yet, should "watch for your notification in the coming weeks."

Microsoft said Windows Insiders -- those who were testing the Technical Preview -- get first dibs.  A Microsoft spokeswoman sent the following explanation:

"With millions of reservations and Windows Insiders to serve, we want to make sure everyone has a great upgrade experience, so we're rolling-out Windows 10 in phases to help manage the demand. We are rolling out Windows 10 to our Windows Insiders. From there, we began notifying reserved systems in waves, slowly scaling up. If you reserved your upgrade of Windows 10, we will notify you once our compatibility work confirms you will have a great experience, and Windows 10 has been downloaded on your system."

That explains why the system I was runnin g the Technical Preview already has the upgrade and a separate Windows 8.1-based system can't get it. There are ways around that of course. One way is to go to one of Microsoft's 110 retail stores and drop off your machine. Not sure how long that will take and perhaps you don't live near one, so that's not an option.

Another alternative is to take Redmond contributor Brien Posey's advice and run a script that will apparently push though the upgrade. Or you can do what most people will likely do  -- just wait!

Microsoft's forum page for Windows 10 upgrades currently has a note stating that those who reserved a free upgrade, but don't have it yet, should "watch for your notification in the coming weeks."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/29/2015 at 12:54 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Launch: Online but Not On Line

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What if you had a party and you found out everyone came for the food and not to see you? That was the case for people who showed up for Microsoft's Windows 10 launch party at the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y. -- one of nine Microsoft-owned retail stores picked for celebrity events for the launch of Windows 10. Lower key, in-store festivities were planned for all 110 Microsoft Stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

It's a far cry from Microsoft's biggest launch event nearly two decades ago, when computer and electronics stores all over the world opened at midnight for the launch of Windows 95, the desktop OS that ushered in the mainstream PC era. While today's launch of Windows 10 was decidedly more low key and primarily virtual, in the early hours at least it appears to be a non event.

At the Best Buy Store in Westbury, N.Y., other than a few balloons and a couple of signs, it was business as usual. In fact the sign in the front entrance flags the newest Apple MacBook and the Surface Pro 3s still have Windows 8.1 running on them. A few machines do appear to have Windows 10 on them but other than a few people browsing the Best Buy Microsoft department, there was no extra influx of customers. At the Staples store next door, there was no one by their modest PC section and the few systems that were turned on were also running Windows 8.1.

When I asked an employee at Micro Center, also in Westbury, why the store wasn't opening early for the Windows 10 launch, he said Microsoft prohibited the store from doing so. "They still call the shots and they want the focus to be on their stores," he said, though added that the retalier has Windows 10-equipped machines ready to go.

At Roosevelt Field, one of the largest shopping malls in the country, Microsoft is showcasing an appearance by Abby Wambach, who was on the U.S. team that won the women's World Cup Soccer championship this summer.

A line for passes for Wambach's 7 p.m. appearance -- and to take a look at Windows 10, of course  -- formed at 7 a.m. By the time I arrived around 9 a.m. there were about 100 people on that line. I started asking people if they were there to check out Windows 10 and they all universally said they were there to see Abby Wambach. Another who was there asked me "what is Windows 10?" With his two daughters in tow, he continued: "I'm a paper and pencil guy. I still look for payphones." One person waiting on line said bluntly he uses a Mac and was also just there to score some passes to see Wambach.

Well, at least someone was there who has an interest in Windows 10. It turns out Jimmy Solis is a local consultant in the New York City suburbs to small businesses, mostly with 10 to 20 employees. Solis said he's a Windows Insider and has been testing the Windows Technical Preview since it was released in early October, and he's impressed with the final build.

"It's good -- it's going to be like the new Windows 7," Solis said. "It's user friendly, that's for sure. A lot of my clients have complained about Windows 8 but they've fixed all of its bugs." By bugs he was referring to the design of the operating system. Like any IT consultant, Solis said he's going to wait for the first set of patches before recommending any of his clients upgrade to Windows 10.

Scott Goeke, the store manager at the Roosevelt Field location, took about 20 minutes to talk just before the store opened and said he wasn't dismayed when I told him that the crowd was primarily there to see Wambach and not Windows 10. "I'm fully expecting a great kickoff and think it will escalate this weekend," Goeke said. "People have been coming in for months asking about Windows 10."

Many customers had already dropped off their PCs to have the store take care of the free upgrade for them, according to Goeke. The store is offering free installation for those who can't or don't want to go through the process of the download.

While I didn't expect to discover people had camped out for the release, I was surprised to see fewer people waiting there in advance than the crowd that showed up a year ago to celebrate the grand opening of that store. It appears a free Demi Lovato concert on a weekend is a bigger draw than a weekday meet-and greet with Wambach.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/29/2015 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Citrix CEO Mark Templeton To Retire Amid Push for Growth

Citrix today said longtime President and CEO Mark Templeton will retire once the company appoints a successor.  Simultaneously, the company has agreed to give activist investor Elliott Management, which holds 7.5 percent of Citrix's common stock, a seat on its board. The seat will be filled by Jesse Cohen, who will replace Asiff Hirji. Citrix also said that the company's board has formed an operations committee to work closely with the company's management team to find ways to improve margins, profits and its capital structure.

The board has also agreed to Elliott's demands that it consider the sale or spinoff of the Citrix "Go To" business, which includes Go To Meeting, Go to My PC and Go to Webinar, among other related product lines. Citrix said it will conduct a review of strategic alternatives for that business.

Elliott last month sent a letter to Templeton and Citrix chairman Thomas Bogan indicating that it wants to see the company improve its operations and spin off some assets, arguing that Citrix is significantly undervalued and suggesting its stock could be worth up to $100 per share by the end of next year. The stock closed at $61.47 per share on Thursday, though rose on the news and a slightly better than expected second quarter report. The company last quarter collected $797 million in revenue, up 2% year over year, and $103 million in earnings.

In addition to the new board director Cohen, the operations committee will include Citrix director Robert Calderoni, who was also named executive chairman of the board. Bogan was also named to the committee and he'll become lead independent director of the Citrix board.

"We believe the addition of new and fresh perspectives to our board will ensure Citrix continues to lead in application networking and virtualization markets," Bogan said in a statement

Added Elliott's Cohen: "We are confident that the initiatives announced today and the addition of new directors to the company's board will allow Citrix to build upon its position as an innovative industry leader, and to drive significant shareholder value."

Citrix, best known these days for its XenDesktop and XenApp desktop virtualization platform, is also betting big on its new Cloud Workspace platform. The company demonstrated Cloud Workspace for first time at its Synergy conference in Orlando, Fla. back in May. Citrix Workspace Cloud is the company's next-generation digital workspace for Windows-based PCs, Macs, iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, new Linux-based systems and even embedded devices that enable Internet of Things-type environments. It's based on a cloud delivery architecture that provides orchestration across servers and nodes.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/28/2015 at 3:17 PM0 comments

Amazon Shocker: Profit Buoyed By AWS' Runaway Growth and Efficiencies

Anticipating another report of an unprofitable quarter by the margin-pressed Amazon.com, analysts were shocked by the e-retailer's $92 million profit for the second quarter on $23.2 billion in revenues, reported Thursday. Albeit the profit was miniscule, Amazon notoriously posts losses and last quarter wasn't projected to be an exception. Remarkably, taking the squeeze off margins was its Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud service.

AWS revenues surged 81 percent year-over-year to $1.82 billion, showing markedly accelerated growth over the first quarter's 49 percent jump in sales. Analysts also were impressed by AWS margin of 21 percent, up from 17 percent last quarter.

Investors rewarded Amazon pushing its shares up more than 16% during Friday morning trading, boosting its market cap above $250 billion and giving the company a larger valuation than its brick-and-mortar rival Wal-Mart, making it the largest retailer in the world. In addition to tighter companywide cost controls, analysts were notably impressed by the performance of AWS, some even suggesting Amazon may profit by spinning it off or selling it. Wall Street has overnight fallen back in love with Amazon.

What a difference a year makes. At this time in 2014, Amazon posted disappointing results quarter after quarter, with much that blamed on the tight margins of its retail business, huge investments and a slowing AWS business.  

Despite AWS' heavy price cutting to compete with Microsoft and Google, Amazon Chief Financial Officer and Senior VP Brian Olsavsky credited the subsidiary's team with the rollout of numerous new services and features for enterprise customers as well as improved cost efficiencies. "We are seeing continued increases in usage, both sequentially and year-over-year," Olsavsky said on Thursday night's earnings call. "Innovation is accelerating not decelerating. We had over 350 significant new features and services and we believe that's what resonates with customers. While pricing is certainly a factor we don't believe it's always the primary factor. In fact what we hear from our customers is that the ability to move faster and more agile is what they value."

AWS performance gives it new momentum. Though always the undisputed leader in the growing market for enterprise public cloud services, Microsoft and Google have built out large global infrastructures that rival its footprint, features and pricing. IBM, Hewlett Packard, Oracle and Rackspace, among others, continue to mount challenges as well. While these rivals talk up their hybrid differentiators and continue to expand and gain share, so far it isn't stymying AWS' growth. 

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2015 at 10:09 AM0 comments

What's Next for Microsoft's Surface Tablet PC?

Microsoft may be scaling back its hardware ambitions but the company claims it's still very much committed to its Surface tablet PC business, which several years ago gave the company a black eye following lackluster demand. These days, Microsoft's Surface business is on the rise.

Sales of Surface devices were $900 million in the last quarter and $3.6 billion for the entire fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30. Don't expect a vast line of Surfaces as Microsoft doesn't want to alienate its OEM partners.  But CEO Satya Nadella appears upbeat about the business.

"Surface is clearly a product where we have gotten the formula right, earned fans, and can apply this formula to other parts of the hardware portfolio," Nadella said during Microsoft's earnings call on Tuesday.

So what's next? The Windows 10 release is now just days away and many are wondering whether an upgraded Surface Pro is in the wings. The company isn't saying but DigiTimes last week reported various components suppliers have pegged a new high-end system powered by Intel's Skylake processor, the successor to its Broadwell chips, that arrived early this year but later than planned. Skylake is expected to offer incremental CPU power improvements and improved battery life for devices. According to Digitimes and other reports, the newest Surface Pro devices will maintain the same form factor.

Some news regarding the Surface 3 hit today.  The company announced the general availability of its newest Surface 3 tablet PCs with 4G LTE via AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile. The new units should appeal to those who desire or need a device that has cellular connectivity when WiFi isn't available.

A cellular option, available for iPads, Chromebooks and Android tablets, was absent on the latest crop of Surface devices. The price of the units is effectively $100 extra. Microsoft released the Surface 3, based on an Intel's latest system-on-a-chip, quad-core Intel Atom x7 processor, back in April.  It's available with either 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD for $499 or 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $599. With the 4G LTE they will cost $599 and $699 respectively.

The company isn't saying whether it will add 4G LTE for the Surface Pro 3 but given it's been out for more than a year, it's more likely if 4G LTE is slated for a Pro unit, Microsoft will offer it with the next version.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2015 at 2:23 PM0 comments

Cloud Native Computing Foundation Launches To Oversee Container Standards

An industry group formed last month to create standards for containers is on a fast track to get its work done. The Linux Foundation today announced the formation of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which will take on the work of the Open Container Initiative (OCI), formed at last month's DockerCon gathering in Santa Clara, Calif.

The group, which initially called itself the Open Computing Project before changing its name to the OCI, describes cloud-native apps and services as those packaged as micro-services-type containers and is aiming to ensure cloud-native apps and services such as automation tools work irrespective of cloud service, operating system and virtual machine. The Linux Foundation used the annual O'Reilly OSCON conference in Portland to launch the new Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Among the founding members of OCI at last month's DockerCon were Amazon Web Services, Apcera, Cisco, CoreOS, Docker, EMC, Fujitsu Limited, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Joyent, Mesosphere, Microsoft, Pivotal, Rancher Labs, Red Hat and VMware. AT&T, ClusterHQ, Datera, Kismatic, Kyup, Midokura, Nutanix, Oracle, Polyverse, Resin.io, Sysdig, SUSE, Twitter and Verizon have since signed on.

In forming the new organization, Docker has contributed its base container runtime which will be the underlying compute spec.  It will fall under the governance of the OCI, which will also use the Application Container (appc) spec.  The foundation has published its governance charter and the specs are available on GitHub.

Interestingly the technical lead at Docker who is organizing the effort is Patrick Chanezon, who was hired away from Microsoft in April after a two-year stint in Redmond where he worked with Azure GM Mark Russinovich on the Docker container ecosystem. "My main role there was to bring all the Docker ecosystem partners on Azure," he said. "And Microsoft loved the Docker workflow so much that they decided to implement it for Windows. What Mark said a year ago is happening right now."

Docker founder Solomon Hykes recruited Chanezon from Microsoft to help work on the next wave of the Docker platform. The OCP effort kicked off at last month's DockerCon, with Chanezon becoming the company's liaison for the project. Working on standards was nothing new for him, having worked on the JSR 168 Java portlet specification at Sun Microsystems and at Google he worked on the HTLL 5 and Open Social specs.

Chanezon's  formation of the Native Cloud Computing Foundation and agreement on specifications over the past month has happened faster than any other such project he has worked on. "I remember at Sun with JSR 168 there was endless discussion between different vendors," Chanezon recalled. "Here, six week after we announced, we will have the first draft spec on which all participants agree. I've never seen anything get to an agreement so fast. And one of the reasons that's the case is I think container-based computing is being adopted by everyone in the industry. Lots of people want to innovate at the higher level, which is at the orchestration level, and then we can all agree on the standard image format."

From the perspective of advancing interoperability of containers, Chanezon compared OCI to the adoption of the TCP/IP networking standards in the 1990s. "We had lots of protocols, like FTP, Gopher, HTTP and there was lots of competition between all of these protocols, but TCP/IP was the basis on which everyone would agree," he said. "I think with OCI, we're establishing a single basis, and then there will be a lot of competition at the orchestration layer."

The runc spec is now available for comment on and the OCI's goal is to have a first draft available in the next three weeks.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/23/2015 at 10:14 AM0 comments

Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite Could Be a $1 Billion Business

One year after releasing its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), Microsoft says it's the "hottest" product the company now offers. Microsoft COO Kevin Turner last week said EMS is on pace to become the company's next $1 billion product (in annual revenue).

While Turner didn't indicate when that might happen, the company yesterday in its earnings release said it has 17,000 Enterprise Mobility customers, up 90 percent for its fourth fiscal quarter ended June 30, year-over-year. The overall installed base has increased 600 percent, the company said, though naturally from a small base. EMS is a cloud-based service consisting of Intune, Azure Active Directory and Azure Rights Management. Subscriptions start as low as $4 per month per user.

"It is the hottest product we have in the company," Turner said in his keynote address at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, Fla. "This product has exploded. It will be a $1 billion product in the future and the market is being made on it now."

At the same time, many competitors with mobile device management suites and various security tools are fighting back. The latest to do so is VMware, which last month enhanced its AirWatch suite by adding its own single sign-on offering that could compete with Azure Active Directory. Adding insult to injury, VMware was named a Leader in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for enterprise mobility management along with Citrix, IBM, MobileIron and Good Technology, while Microsoft was a Visionary for having "a strong vision but falling short of the leaders in terms of execution." Likewise Okta was showcased as the only leader in the Identity Access and Management as a Service category with Azure AD, showing as a Visionary. When I spoke with Microsoft at the time about that, the company spun it as a good thing that Microsoft was recognized as a visionary for a product that wasn't in the market for even a year.

When Microsoft launched EMS at last year's TechEd conference in Houston, Corporate VP Brad Anderson said outright he believes it will obviate the need for traditional MDM products. In a blog post today showcasing EMS, Anderson maintains that prediction.

"The market is definitely still emerging," Anderson said.  "As the value and necessity of EMM grows, we see customers evolving their approach, innovating, and bringing new needs and demands every day.  On a really regular basis I see the traditional point solution MDM vendors, or the identity and access management vendors, struggling to keep up with these demands – customers are seeking more comprehensive and holistic solutions that are architected for (and can scale to) the cloud."

Since its release a year ago, Anderson said Microsoft has extended EMS support for the newest Outlook app, Android (improved), e-discovery, privileged identity management and improved connectivity between Active Directory and Azure Active Directory with the release of AD Connect.

There are big stakes for Microsoft in its move into the MDM market and its success, or lack thereof, could have a major tailwind effect on other offerings, notably Active Directory. Is EMS on your short list?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/22/2015 at 2:29 PM0 comments

Microsoft Posts Worst Loss Ever but Looks Ahead to Win in Cloud

When Microsoft acquired Nokia's handset business last year, many feared it was doomed on arrival. The new CEO, Satya Nadella, was stuck with the deal struck by his predecessor Steve Ballmer and stuck with trying to make it work. Clearly that didn't happen as Nadella earlier this month warned employees of plans to write off most of the business, resulting in Microsoft posting the worst quarterly loss in its history. 

Microsoft decided to take its medicine and start the new fiscal year 2016 with a clean slate and focus on Windows 10, which arrives a week from today, and its growing cloud business. In the conference call with investors last evening to discuss the quarterly and year-end results, Nadella emphasized Microsoft's growing cloud business, which includes Office 365, Azure and Dynamics, among other services.

Nadella said its cloud business is on an $8 billion run rate this year on pace to become a $20 billion business in 2018. On the call, Nadella focused on the three key areas of focus for Microsoft moving forward, which he outlined at last week's Worldwide Partner Conference Orlando, Fla. The three areas of focus are:

  • Productivity and Business process including its Office 365, SharePoint and Dynamics offerings
  • Building an "intelligent" cloud platform via Azure, which includes everything from its Enterprise Mobility Suite consisting of InTune, Active Directory Premium and Azure Rights Management;  the company's business intelligence and analytics business and security.
  • Windows: Making computing more personal with Windows across PCs, tablets and phones.  While phones may not play out the way Microsoft had once hoped (in terms of gaining large share), its support of iOS and Android is set up not to diminish that ambition.

For those three to play out, Microsoft is betting tens of billions of dollars on building out its cloud infrastructure and beating out its rivals -- most of whom are also critical partners as well including Amazon, IBM, Google, Hewlett Packard, Oracle and VMware.

"We need to own the cloud," said Kevin Turner, speaking in his WPC keynote address, where he typically gives his annual competitive sizing of the markets Microsoft compete in. "The cloud market is being made right now. And I promise you if we don't own it with the customer, somebody else is going to own it. We have the technology, we have the solutions this is the time to own the cloud."

Turner claims that 85 percent of the Fortune 500 runs at least one Azure service and 60 percent run two or more. While it's too early to say whether Turner's prediction of owning the cloud will play out, the numbers, opaque as they are, look promising at this point. It's 8 billion run rate represents an 88 percent year-over-year increase. If Microsoft can maintain its cloud growth goals, its worst loss ever will be a lot easier to swallow.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/22/2015 at 11:49 AM0 comments

Microsoft Premieres First TV Spot for Windows 10

The ad blitz for Windows 10 has begun. Microsoft last night premiered its first TV spot online for the new operating system, which the company is set to release over the air waves next week. The new Windows 10 spot introduces the personal assistant Cortana and Hello, the feature that aims to replace passwords with biometric authentication. Those two features promise to change the way people interact with Windows and Microsoft used babies and young children to bring this point home, saying that "these kids will grow up with Windows 10."

The 60-second spot is emotional yet gets to the heart of what Windows 10 is all about with the takeaway line: "Windows 10: The more human way to do." Microsoft posted the commercial on YouTube last night.

"The campaign tells the Windows 10 story through the lens of the newest generation, inviting people to join a new era with us," according to a post on Microsoft's Blogging Windows. The commercial shows young children "in their natural settings" in England, the U.S., Iceland Morocco and Thailand. According to the company, " the ads show how technology should be more natural, human and intuitive and adapt to people's needs. The key notion -- Windows 10 delivers a more human way to do."

The commercial kicks off Microsoft's year-long advertising and promotional campaign, which the company is calling "Upgrade Your World."  Microsoft's ability to convince everyday users to upgrade to Windows 10 will be critical to the future of the operating system. When it comes to advertising, Microsoft doesn't have the history of connecting with consumers the way others, notably Apple, has long been able to do. Of course convincing IT decision makers to roll it out on PCs over the next two years is equally crucial. But as more people bring their own devices to work (or use them for work), winning them over has never been more critical.

What do you think of the new commercial?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/20/2015 at 11:36 AM0 comments

Google Surges, Crashes and Snoozes

Higher advertising spending on YouTube and on mobile platforms, along with growth in programmatic ad buying helped Google post a stronger-than-expected second quarter. Cost cutting and hints by its new CFO Ruth Porat that Google may, for the first time, offer investors a dividend or repurchase shares helped push its stock and market cap today to an all-time high past $400 billion.

Google revenues of $17.7 billion were up 11% for the quarter, blowing past Wall Street expectations of $14.28 billion. That's right -- the company posted $3 billion more in revenues than analysts expected. Investors applauded the strong quarter by pushing its shares up more than 14% today. Porat, who came over to Google last month from Morgan Stanley, noted that viewership on YouTube has increased 60 percent --  the fastest growth in two years.

The surge in its overall business competed for attention with news that Google's self-driving car was involved in another crash yesterday, this one in Mountain View, Calif. where the company is headquartered. Google said the crash wasn't the fault of the driverless car. A Lexus SUV behind it didn't break at all, wrote Chris Umson, who oversees Google's driverless car program. In a blog post, Umson said it was the 14th time that another driver hit one of its cars, 11 of which were rear-end collisions.
"The clear theme is human error and inattention, Unson said. "We'll take all this as a signal that we're starting to compare favorably with human drivers. Our self-driving cars can pay attention to hundreds of objects at once, 360 degrees in all directions, and they never get tired, irritable or distracted."

Meanwhile, if all of this makes you want to snooze, Google has taken care of that today as well. Google has added a snooze button to the interface of its Gmail program. So if you have a message you want to pop up to the top of your inbox at a more appropriate time, the company now supports that capability. Google said users can now snooze such messages as restaurant reservations, hotel confirmations, calendar invites and package tracking updates.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/17/2015 at 12:23 PM0 comments

Rackspace Will Offer Support for Microsoft Azure Cloud

In what may sound like an unusual arrangement even by today's standards of "coopetition," Rackspace will offer managed support services for Microsoft's Azure cloud. It's a curious arrangement in that Rackspace runs its own public cloud infrastructure as a service that competes with Microsoft Azure. At the same time, the two companies, partners for 13 years, obviously concluded both could benefit from offering the service.

Rackspace is known for its so-called "fanatical support" for the managed hosting and cloud services it offers. While that should like hype, I've talked to many Rackspace customers who have said it's really true. Apparently Rackspace has found there's money to be made in helping customers monitor and manage the rival cloud service. Rackspace recently added Office 365 support as well, has long offered SharePoint hosting and more recently added SQL Server support, along with other Microsoft infrastructure-based services. Last year Rackspace said it would support Microsoft's Cloud OS hybrid cloud software as well as emphasizing new services based on Hyper-V. Meanwhile Microsoft, which offers Azure primarily as a self-service cloud, is relying in partners like Rackspace to offer Azure-based services and support.

Rackspace's own cloud IaaS is based on OpenStack, which the company helped create and championed its move into the open source community five years ago. But the company has struggled over the past few years and recently put itself up for sale only to subsequently decide to remain a publicly traded company.  The company recently named Taylor Rhodes as CEO, who joined Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for Microsoft's cloud and enterprise business, on stage at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this week in Orlando.

"We have hundreds of Microsoft-certified professionals on our team," Rhodes said at WPC. "And now they can help customers who want to leverage the power of Azure to architect their applications the right way from the start.  To deploy to the platform much faster than they usually can on their own, and importantly, you will keep evolving your product, so we'll keep up with your releases in hopes that they use Azure to its full potential so they get full value. "

Rackspace will offer managed 24x7x365 support via its staff of Microsoft certified engineers, architectural guidance, monitoring and hybrid deployment services. Customers can utilize just support for existing Azure services they already have or purchase Azure infrastructure and have Rackspace support it as well.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/17/2015 at 2:28 PM0 comments

Microsoft's Top Office Exec Affirms Commitment to SharePoint

Despite revealing that a new version of SharePoint Server is on Microsoft's roadmap for next year, many customers and partners have wondered how committed the company is to the on-premises version of Microsoft's collaboration platform. Those concerns escalated following the company's first Ignite conference back in May where the company emphasized Office 365 and its new tools such as Delve and left SharePoint Server 2016 largely in the background.

Julia White, general manager of Microsoft's Office division, which oversees SharePoint, admitted that she received 423 e-mails following Ignite asking why she barely mentioned SharePoint in her keynote address at the time. In her keynote at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, taking place in Orlando this week, White acknowledged giving  the short shrift to SharePoint at Ignite and said the company is not deemphasizing SharePoint. "Today, I'm here to say, SharePoint," she said in her keynote Monday.  "SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint, SharePoint. We are absolutely committed. We have a fantastic SharePoint Server 2016 coming out. Rock-solid code based on the cloud. For the first time, we're taking the cloud code base and delivering that with our SharePoint Server 2016, which means you get the great reliability, performance [and] scalability that we've learned from the cloud into the Server code base."

SharePoint 2016 is slated for release in the second half of next year, and it will be built with a 'cloud-first' approach. To be sure, despite the lack of love given to SharePoint by White in her Ignite keynote, Microsoft did hold some sessions at the Chicago confab to outline plans for next year's release. A technical preview or beta is likely later this summer. As reported at the time by my colleague Kurt Mackie, Microsoft is continuing to focus on SharePoint's Files, Content Management, Sites and Portals components going forward. It plans to make it easier to use hybrid architectures (SharePoint Server plus Office 365 services) and make it easier for organizations to perform migrations when they are ready.

"We know that SharePoint will be in hybrid for a long time, [as is ] the nature of that workload," White said. "But it doesn't mean our customers don't want to take advantage of cloud capabilities as well. So now you can have all of your custom workflow on-premises and still be able to tap into the Office Graph in a hybrid capability.  And that's what [SharePoint] Server is delivering."

New features will also include built-in data loss prevention (DLP), auditing, reporting and e-discovery, White emphasized.

Microsoft realizes and has acknowledged that many enterprises will want to use SharePoint Server to keep certain data on premises. At the same time, it appears Microsoft is emphasizing the hybrid nature of SharePoint Server 2016, tying the new on-premises server with much of what's available via Office 365 services.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/16/2015 at 11:46 AM0 comments

Windows 10 Will Be the Last Major Microsoft OS Release

Microsoft has alluded to it for some time but when COO Kevin Turner gave his annual pep talk to partners today, he said in no uncertain terms that the launch of Windows 10 will be the last major new release of the operating system.

Speaking at Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference, taking place this week in Orlando, Fla., Turner said the move to more continuous upgrades means the company is officially moving away from its model of releasing substantial new versions of Windows every three years. "This will be the last monolithic release we have that was built around the three-year upgrade cycle," Turner said. "We will continually be improving the product."

Does that mean there will be no Windows 11, Windows 12, etc.? While Microsoft hasn't explained how it'll number or name these more frequent upgrades, it would be a safe bet that those with bug fixes and just a handful of new features will be point releases. Upgrades with more significant feature sets could get new version numbers much like Apple does with iOS and MacOS X. Hence, a Windows 10.1 followed by Windows 10.2, etc. appears a likely scenario for point releases. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Microsoft downplay those version numbers over time.

What remains to be seen is the business model for Windows moving forward. Will Windows as a service mean customers over time must pay to receive continuous upgrades? Customers that have become accustomed to free operating systems on other device platforms may be reluctant to pay a subscription fee for Windows, particularly consumers. One possible route Microsoft could go is to have a bare bones starter edition that's free and premium versions that are subscription based. It could also be tied to other subscription-based offerings, notably Office 365.

Microsoft's shift to the new Windows-as-a-service model is a likely reason the company is taking a different low-key approach to this launch. Rather than hosting a major event, Microsoft is having distributed celebrations.

Turner and others have noted that Windows 95 hit RTM 20 years ago today. The Windows 95 launch event, which took place in August 1995 on the Redmond campus outdoors with the rights to the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" and Jay Leno serving as master of ceremonies, was a major media spectacle.

As Microsoft sets to kick off delivering Windows as a service moving forward, a new way of introducing it and generating interest makes sense.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/15/2015 at 12:09 PM0 comments

Microsoft Reveals Plans for Windows 10 Launch Events

As the July 29 Windows 10 release draws near, Microsoft today revealed its plans to debut the new operating system. The company will kick off a TV ad blitz next week (July 20)  and planned events at its retail and third-party stores.

Microsoft is also planning "special events" at 13 of its stores throughout the world on the launch day including Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, New Delhi, Dubai, Nairobi, Berlin, Johannesburg, Madrid, London, Sao Paolo and New York City. Among the major retail chains participating include Best Buy, Bic Camera, Croma, Currys/PC World, Elkjøp, Jarrir, Incredible Connection, Media Markt, Staples, Wal-Mart, Yamada, Yodobashi and others, Microsoft said.

As part of its promotional campaign called "Upgrade Your World," Microsoft will showcase those who use Windows 10. The company is also contributing $10 million to 10 global and 100 local nonprofit organizations to promote awareness of their causes, Microsoft said. They include CARE, Code.org, Keep a Child Alive, Malala Fund, Pencils of Promise, Save the Children, Special Olympics, The Global Poverty Project and The Nature Conservancy.

The launch event and ad campaign is largely targeted at consumers but the announcement was conveniently timed with Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference, which CEO Satya Nadella, Windows and Devices Chief Terry Myerson and other key executives kicked off with the opening keynote session. In talking about Windows 10, Nadella emphasized major new security features that enable IT to encrypt and manage access to all business data and separate it from personal information. Nadella took the stage reminding its vast partner base of the principal on which Microsoft was founded: bringing personal computers to mainstream business and home users.

It'll become more personal thanks to Continuum, which will bring a common Windows platform to all types of devices from sensors and phones to tablets, PCs and large conferencing rooms. "We are going to have this one unified platform, and that to me is a key differentiator of what Windows stands for," Nadella said in his WPC keynote.

Also critical extensions to Windows 10 will include the Cortana digital assistant and HoloLens, which will bring 3D user experiences to consumer and business environments.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/13/2015 at 2:37 PM0 comments

Anticipation of Windows 10 Release Stalls PC Sales

It's not unusual for PC sales to fall off in advance of a new operating system release and last quarter was no exception.

PC shipments plummeted 11.8 percent in the three-month period that ended June 30 over the same period last year, according to IDC's quarterly PC Tracker report released Thursday night. The decline was 1 percent more than IDC had earlier projected but was overall in line with the fact that the comparative period last year was buoyed by Windows XP's end of life and the fact that sales channels were reducing inventories to make way for this month's release of Windows 10.

Similar to Gartner, IDC doesn't anticipate an immediate bump after Microsoft's July 29 release of Windows 10. Gartner earlier this week said it's predicting a 5.7 percent decrease in PC spending this year.  IDC points to another noteworthy, but certainly not surprising, point: the free Windows 10 upgrade for those with Windows 7 Home and Pro editions will certainly stall new PC purchases.

Another reason IT professionals will want to wait, at least initially, is for new PCs based on Intel's new processor line, code named Skylake, as well as a new line of Broadwell CPUs. "All of the hardware vendors are readying new designs based on Skylake and to take advantage of the new Windows design with thinner, lighter and better battery life," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst with Moor Strategy.

Moorhead, who follows the PC industry closely, believes Windows 10 will be a popular operating system. Despite the obvious criticism of its predecessor, Moorhead believes the return of application developers will be key to its success.  "I believe there will be many more apps in this ecosystem, if nothing else because of the ease for which you can get them into Windows 10," Moorhead said.

However, Moorhead believes some predictions that Windows 10 will get a strong lift in in the first year are overstated. That includes our survey, published Wednesday, that found that 55 percent will upgrade in the first year, with 21 percent doing so in the first three months. A more reasonable expectation, Moorhead said, is 20 to 30 percent will roll out Windows 10 within a year. "I don't believe any research out there is worth anything because upgrades will be dependent on the promotions Microsoft does," Moorhead said. "We haven't seen them yet but they're coming."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/10/2015 at 12:05 PM0 comments

Windows 10 Upgrade Outlook Appears Strong Despite Weak PC Demand

With just three weeks until Windows 10 is scheduled to arrive, early indications continue to suggest that there will be significant demand among business PC users, though it's less clear whether the new OS will boost Microsoft's share of the tablet market.

More than half of 675 Redmond magazine readers responding to an online survey conducted last week said that they plan to upgrade their existing PCs to Windows 10 within one year. According to the survey, 55 percent will upgrade in the first 12 months and 21 percent will do so within the first three months of Windows 10's release. Thirty five percent say they intend to upgrade within the first six months.

The question was asked in conjunction with the annual Redmond Third-Party Reader's Choice Awards, which will be published in September. With the release of Windows 10 on July 29, 35 percent of those responding said they plan to refresh their PCs at a faster pace than before. On the other hand, 65 percent have no plans to expedite PC refreshes.

Microsoft's plan to offer consumers Windows 10 as a free upgrade could have an impact on demand for new systems given that the new OS could extend the life of older systems.  However, only those with Windows 7 (or later) Home and Pro editions are eligible for free Windows 10 upgrades. Volume licensees and those with Enterprise editions must have Software Assurance to get the Windows 10 upgrade, which has to be downloaded from the Microsoft Volume Licensing Servicing Center.

Microsoft has indicated that it sees a strong pipeline for new PCs and devices despite its push to get customers to upgrade their existing systems. Yet, a number of indicators don't bode well for new system sales for the rest of this year. Among some recent signs that demand for PCs will remain weak were Gartner's report this week that the $606 billion PC and computing  device market will decline 5.7 percent this year and AMD's warning that its revenues for the quarter that ended June 27 would be down 8%, which is much sharper than the 3% that was earlier forecast.

AMD attributed the decline on weaker PC sales, sending its shares down more than 15% Tuesday. Weak PC demand is also likely to impact Intel, according to a Goldman Sachs research note last month. Micron, the largest provider of RAM for PCs, last month blamed a falloff in PC demand for posting lower revenues for its third quarter earnings report.

Does your organization plan to upgrade to Windows 10? If so, will it be via a new system or an upgrade of your existing device? Either way, what is the impetus for you to upgrade to Windows 10 (or not, if that's the case)? Feel free to comment below or drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/08/2015 at 1:40 PM0 comments

Microsoft Links System Center to New Operations Management Suite

When Microsoft launched its new cloud-based Operations Management Suite (OMS) two months ago, the company emphasized that IT organizations could use it directly or as an extension to their existing System Center management implementations. Microsoft last week added that extension with the release of its System Center add-on for OMS.

The idea behind OMS, released during Microsoft's Ignite conference in early May, is that organizations that don't use System Center can use the cloud-based management platform to administer workloads running on Microsoft Azure, Windows Server, Amazon Web Services, Linux, VMware and OpenStack.

"The OMS add-on provides System Center customers access to the full suite of OMS solutions at one low cost," the company said in a blog post. "For every System Center Standard or Datacenter license you own with Software Assurance, you will be able to purchase a corresponding Microsoft Operations Management Suite add-on for access to allocated solutions that enable you to extend your datacenter, quickly enable hybrid cloud scenarios, and take advantage of cloud bursting, migration and dev/test scenarios."

According to Microsoft, OMS for System Center Standard Edition is priced at $60 per month for a two VM pack, though with an annual commitment the cost is $36 a month for those signing up by year's end. If purchasing OMS separately without System Center, the service costs $83 per month, Microsoft said. The company posted a price list, noting that for each System Center license owned, customers can purchase a corresponding OMS add-on.

Microsoft also said it's now looking to extend its use of Azure for backup and recovery to a broader base of customers including small and medium businesses (SMBs) by offering its Azure Site Recovery service with OMS. The company is extending its Azure Backup offering with a new System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) agent, available for download. Also new is Azure Backup for IaaS VMs, which Microsoft says provides access to multi-disk storage and PowerShell automation and a new Azure Backup management console.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/07/2015 at 10:34 AM0 comments

Microsoft’s Stature on Wall Street Surges

As Microsoft wraps up another fiscal year, it appears it was a good one with significant changes that'll shape the company for years to come. Despite the tough choices that CEO Satya Nadella last week said that Microsoft must make, the company is also getting respect for the moves he's made in Silicon Valley over the past year as well as another important place: Wall Street. 

Microsoft has risen sharply among the 100 most respected companies by institutional investors, though it still has a long way to go before coming close to Apple, which once again topped the Barron's annual ranking. While Google dropped one notch to No 4 this year, the two were the only tech companies in the top 10. Amazon.com, which still scored better than Microsoft, saw its ranking drop this year to 17 from 7 last year, while Intel at 25 dropped a bit from 21.

Last year, Microsoft was closer to the bottom of the list at 62 but has jumped to 27. Despite that impressive rise in standing among investors, the question is: does Microsoft have much to show for itself? Its stock today hovering just below $45 per share is up 8%, year-over-year. If you use Apple as the metric, Microsoft's growth was impressive but not earth-shattering. Apple shares have jumped 40% year-over-year. On the other hand, while investors may respect Google more than Microsoft, they haven't put their money where their mouths are when it comes to the search giant. Google shares are down 9% over the past 12 months. Some other notables in the tech market: Cisco is up 12%, Oracle is flat, IBM is down 10% and VMware shares are down 12%. The S&P 500 is up just under 6% during the past year. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 index has jumped up 14%.

When you're in that plus or minus 10%  zone of course, valuations can swing sharply on major news or even the most speculative of rumors. So is Apple the only one to enjoy a meteoric rise in value? Well, Amazon is up 31% (putting aside it's primarily an online retail business, many believe Amazon Web Services is fueling its growth). Salesforce.com is up about 20%, buoyed by recent speculation that Microsoft made an offer to acquire the huge SaaS provider. According to reports, Salesforce.com has held out for much more and many believe such a combination would wreak havoc on both companies and their customers.

In addition to cultural differences, Barron's cover story this week, examined another well-known trend in Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest and other technology providers that has many wondering whether we're in another tech bubble.

Salesforce.com is among a number of companies that use non-GAAP reporting to hide the expenses of huge stock-based compensation that critics say masks the true earnings of a company. Among others who use non-GAAP reporting in a big way to pay large amounts of stock to executives are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Qualcomm, Barrons noted. Microsoft, Apple and Intel eschew such compensation. That would certainly complicate Microsoft absorbing Salesforce.

Many IT pros and developers make big investments in these companies, whether or not they hold shares. If Wall Street is taking more notice -- and interest --that may have all types of consequences in Microsoft's next fiscal year and beyond.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/29/2015 at 12:19 PM0 comments

What 'Tough Choices' Are in Store for Microsoft?

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella yesterday warned employees against believing the company's culture can remain "static" and cautioned that some "touch choices" will be made. The letter, obtained and published by Geekwire and confirmed as authentic by Mary Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog, doesn't specify what those though choices will be but it's a reasonable guess they could have a major impact on Microsoft's smartphone ambitions.

The memo also said that Microsoft will evolve last year's goal to become a productivity and platforms company in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, to "reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices."  As Foley pointed out as she read "between the lines" of Nadella's memo, "Tough choices is many times a sign for layoffs and/or product-line phase-outs." That's true and as Nadella put it, "we will need to innovate in new areas, execute against our plans, make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value."

The market share for Windows Phone remains static in the 3 percent range and there's little evidence that share will increase at all. At the very least, it wouldn't be surprising if Microsoft writes off its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business. Despite limited demand for Windows Phone, it would be surprising to see Microsoft give up on it before the release of Windows 10, which potentially could prop up demand for Microsoft's mobile platform. Last week's decision to combine its devices business with operating systems does suggest there will be some job reductions, certainly in areas where there's overlap. The move reaffirms Nadella's commitment and further moves to support the One Microsoft mission initiated two years ago by former CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft also appears committed to gaming, which, as Foley pointed out in this month's Redmond magazine column, is important.

Also worth pointing out, Nadella said in his memo that Microsoft will invest "in three interconnected and bold ambitions" which aim to:

  • Reinvent productivity and business processes. "We will reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices. We will also extend our experience footprint by building more business process experiences, integrated into content authoring and consumption, communication and collaboration tools. We will drive scale and usage by appealing to 'dual-use' customers, providing productivity services that enable them to accomplish more at work and in the rest of their life activities with other people."
  •  Build the intelligent cloud platform. "All these experiences will be powered by our cloud platform -- a cloud that provides our customers faster time to value, improved agility and cost reduction, and solutions that differentiate their business. We'll further provide a powerful extensibility model that is attractive to third-party developers and enterprises. This in turn enables us to attract applications to our cloud platform and attach our differentiated capabilities such as identity management, rich data management, machine learning and advanced analytics."
  • Create more personal computing. "We will build the best instantiation of this vision through our Windows device platform and our devices, which will serve to delight our customers, increase distribution of our services, drive gross margin, enable fundamentally new product categories, and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly. We will pursue our gaming ambition as part of this broader vision for Windows and increase its appeal to consumers. We will bring together Xbox Live and our first-party gaming efforts across PC, console, mobile and new categories like HoloLens into one integrated play."

As Foley pointed out, Nadella never mentioned Windows Phone, though he used the term mobile. Some have also raised the question of whether Microsoft will continue to put resources into Bing, which Nadella didn't mention.

What tough choices do you think Microsoft should make?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/26/2015 at 10:11 AM0 comments

Startup Snowflake Launches Cloud-Based Data Warehouse Service

A Silicon Valley startup led by former Microsoft Server and Tools President Bob Muglia has launched a cloud-based data warehouse service that it claims will significantly extend the limits of traditional analytics platforms. Snowflake Computing made its Snowflake Elastic Data Warehouse, which Muglia described as a big data platform built from scratch and designed specifically to run in the public cloud, generally available this week. Its release is the latest effort to bring data warehousing to the masses.

Muglia joined Snowflake, founded in 2012, last year. The company, which was founded by the lead architect for the Oracle RAC product along with other database and storage veterans, also said this week it received a C Series investment of $45 million from Altimeter Capital. That brings the total amount invested in the company up to $71 million.

Snowflake says what separates its offering from other high performance data warehouse technology is that it was built from scratch to run in the public cloud. Company officials argue that the cirumstance makes the service much more scalable and less expensive because it uses low-cost cloud storage. Muglia said Snowflake has come across numerous customers capturing machine-generated, semi-structured data using Hadoop-based clusters who have struggled to transform that data into a form that a traditional data warehouse can handle that can enable a business analyst to connect to it with common BI tools such as Excel or Tableau.

"We just eliminate those steps and load the semi-structured data directly into Snowflake and immediately business analysts can run queries against it directly using the tools they understand, and this is a huge savings of complexity and time," Muglia said. With traditional data warehouses, "typically there's a loss that happens from a data perspective as you go through that transformation. Some data is not available because it is not transformed and also the data warehouses tend to only be able to handle a subset of the data. One of our customers was only loading one week's worth of data into their data warehouse because that's all they could support in that, whereas with Snowflake they could keep all the historical data around and when analysts wanted to run a query on data that's say three months old, that was no problem."

Muglia said it's not a problem because of the infinite amount of storage available in the back-end repository of Snowflake -- Amazon Web Services S3 storage. Many of the early customers using Snowflake are using hundreds of terabytes of S3 data. Muglia said the service can easily scale to multiple petabytes of data stored in S3.

"There's no limit to the amount of data you can store," Muglia said. "Obviously if you issued a query that for any reason needed to scan a petabyte of data, that would be very costly and it would be long query to run. Physics still apply but one of the key things is that the way we store that data and the information we gather about the data allows our query processor to do something we call pruning. If you stored five years' worth of data and let's say it was 5 petabytes in size, and you issued a query against one week's worth of that data, regardless of what week it was, we could just select exactly the data we needed. And let's just say we only need half a terabyte of something, we could munch through that relatively quickly and return the results pretty quickly even though you may have 5 petabytes of data."

Asked if in scenarios where a customer has petabytes of data whether Snowflake uses AWS's Glacier archive service, Muglia said that's not necessary given the current economics of storing data in S3. "It's probably the most economical place to store it actually," Muglia said. "Compared to enterprise-class storage it's crazy cheaper, and compared to putting it on nodes, which is what you'd need to do with Hadoop, it's also quite a bit less expensive. Even what people tend to think of as the low-cost alternative they talk about building things like data lakes using Hadoop. In those cases, the data is stored on the active nodes and while that's a whole lot cheaper than EMC storage, it's much more expensive than S3 would be and much more expensive therefore than Snowflake would be."

At today's rate of about $30 per terabyte per month for S3 storage from AWS, Snowflake charges "a slight premium" on top of that for the service. Snowflake is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, so the underlying cloud storage infrastructure is relevant only to the extent customers have other data there. Despite the fact that Muglia left Microsoft four years ago after 23 years, it was ironic to hear him hawking AWS. As Microsoft's Server and Tools president, which was a $17 billion business when he left in 2011, Muglia was one of the first to extoll the virtues of Azure to IT pros prior and right after its launch -- he frequently gave the keynote addresses at the company's annual TechEd conferences. Snowflake hasn't ruled out offering its service on Azure in the future. The company has not conducted a detailed analysis of Microsoft's Azure Blob Storage. "It's feasible to do it in the short run. The question is customer demand," Muglia said. "I think there will probably be a day but it's not tomorrow that we'll do it."

While running Snowflake on S3, Snowflake most pointedly will compete with Amazon's own Redshift data warehousing service and ultimately Microsoft's Azure SQL Data Warehouse, announced in late April at the company's Build conference and set for release this summer. Snowflake Vice President of Product Marketing Jon Bock said for now Amazon's Redshift is a most affordable cloud-based data warehouse service today but argued that its underlying engine is based on code from existing database technology.

"We have the benefit of starting with a completely new architecture and writing the full code base ourselves," Bock said. "One simple example of that is semi-structured data support, that machine data that's increasingly common that people want to analyze. Traditional databases weren't designed for that at all. So what you ended up having to do is put another system in front of that, which is where Hadoop came in. Then you preprocess that data, take the result and load it onto a relational database. We spent time making sure you didn't have to do that with Snowflake. You can take that machine data, load it directly into Snowflake and be able to query it immediately without any of that preprocessing or delay in the pipeline."

If the service lives up to its claims, it should boast a nice valuation, or become an attractive takeover target.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2015 at 11:19 AM0 comments

Microsoft Demos First Multiplatform Container App

A year ago, Docker was just the latest upstart promising to change the way software is developed, deployed and managed. With key industry players supporting its software container platform, Microsoft's partnership with Docker last June was quickly noted for its promise to enable developers to build applications that can work regardless of operating system, virtual machine and cloud. On the heels of joining the Docker-driven Open Container Project this week, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich gave a keynote address at the annual DockerCon conference in San Francisco, demonstrating a key milestone toward building apps that can run on multiple server operating systems.

Russinovich demonstrated what Microsoft claims is the first ever multiplatform container application. "Built, shipped and running using Docker, this container application is the first in the industry to work across both Windows Server and Linux," said Corey Sanders, Microsoft's director for Azure product management, in a blog post. "We want to bring you broad choice and flexibility for building your apps, combining Windows Server and Linux containers with Docker Compose and Docker Swarm, to offer a truly cross-platform experience."

Also demonstrated for the first time was how developers and IT pros can use Microsoft's Azure Marketplace to select and deploy single or multicontainer apps that are sourced from a Docker Hub Image using the Docker Compose developer interface, Sanders noted.

Microsoft also showcased its support for the new Docker Trusted Registry VM image, an on-premises authentication repository launched by Docker this week. The Docker Trusted Registry VM image, also added to the Azure Marketplace, runs on premises where customers can store and share Docker container images.

Along with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM also are offering the Registry, with costs starting at $150 per month. Docker describes it as a highly available registry that offers integration with Active Directory, LDAP directories and other authentication platforms and offers role-based access control and audit logs for organizations looking to manage authorization or with compliance requirements.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/24/2015 at 11:16 AM0 comments

Combining Windows and Devices Engineering Makes Sense

The big headline behind last week's annual Microsoft reorganization was that Stephen Elop and several other longtime senior executives and engineering heads are leaving Redmond. But the bringing together of Windows engineering with devices and Dynamics under cloud and enterprise is a sign that CEO Satya Nadella  is looking to further break down the siloes and, quite frankly fiefdoms, that stood in the way of successful products.

Having the executive who leads the engineering for the software that powers devices such as its Surface tablet PCs, Lumia phones, Xbox gaming consoles and even the new HoloLens, in charge of that hardware as well seems like a no brainer.

Nadella likely realized that, which meant Elop and Terry Myerson couldn't both remain in charge of their respective organizations indefinitely. As The New York Times reported today, Myerson's elevation makes him among the most powerful and visible executives at Microsoft under Nadella. Myerson's 18 year tenure with Microsoft began with an engineering role with the Exchange group, though his work in the operating systems group goes back to when he reported to onetime devices lead Andy Lees where the two reportedly clashed.

Before heading up the Windows group, Myerson was tapped to replace Lees as the head Windows Phone chief. Realizing the Windows Phone software predecessor Windows Mobile had too much legacy baggage to be salvaged a year after modern phone OSes iOS and Android started to take hold, Myerson was a key advocate for starting from scratch and developing Windows Phone, The Times report noted.

Likewise bringing the Dynamics group into the Cloud and Enterprise Group under Scott Guthrie's leadership promises to align the various applications with Azure and the various services and APIs built around it.

While bringing the two groups together looks like a wise move, there's more at stake with the consolidation of operating systems and devices. The question about both is whether they were brought together too late.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/22/2015 at 12:45 PM0 comments

Java License Snafu May Explain Lack of Native Android for Windows 10

Perhaps one of the most interesting announcements Microsoft made at its Build conference in San Francisco six weeks ago was the ability for developers to bridge their Android and iOS applications to the new Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Making it easier for developers to port their existing mobile apps, as well as new ones, to UWP could be critical to making Windows 10 an appealing OS.

However, there's a somewhat different approach developers must take when building their UWP apps for Android versus iOS. Developers looking to port their apps from iOS to the new Windows 10 OS may find it easier than doing so with Android. That's because Microsoft EVP Terry Myerson -- who, in addition to overseeing Windows, is also now responsible for devices -- said in his Build keynote that developers can compile the same Objective-C code used to build iOS apps for iPhones and iPads within Visual Studio on Windows, "enabling you to leverage that code and use capabilities only found on [the] Windows platform." When doing so with Android apps, there isn't a comparable native approach.

That isn't sitting well with at least some Android developers. During the Q&A segment of a one-day Build roadshow stop in New York last month (the show is currently on a worldwide tour), an attendee asked if Microsoft has any plans to do for Android the equivalent of what it has done for iOS and allow native Java development in Visual Studio. Kevin Gallo, who is Microsoft's partner director for the Developer Ecosystem and Platform organization and who gave the day's keynote, responded: "I would love to do that. The challenge we have is there's a company that is currently the steward of Java who doesn't make that easy. For Objective-C it was possible. So we went that route. We see it as a great way of integrating with the application, where you can start with the codebase you've got and just use that language to build."

Implicitly, Gallo was saying Apple didn't stand in Microsoft's way.

The preferred language for native Android is Java. "Java is a very popular language. There are challenges in the Java space," Gallo said. "We're evaluating what we can do there. It's something we definitely are considering." The audience member asked if the issue lies with Oracle. "They're the steward," Gallo said. "They call it a steward for a reason."

The response was followed by laughter, and that was the end of that discussion.

Yet that brief exchange quickly reminded me of the feud Microsoft had in the late 1990s with the original steward of Java, Sun Microsystems, which Oracle acquired in 2010 for $7.4 billion. Sun revoked Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine license in Internet Explorer after accusing Microsoft of violating its terms. The dispute resulted in a lawsuit between the two companies. Concerns that Oracle would be able to engage in anti-competitive behavior also came up among critics of its bid to acquire Sun before the deal was approved by regulators. In more recent years, relations between Microsoft and Oracle have improved and the two announced a broad cloud compatibility pact two years ago.

To what extent Microsoft attempted to gain access to those Java components for UWP isn't exactly clear, but it doesn't look as though a contentious dispute -- if it is even contentious at all -- is rising to the levels of yesteryear.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said the issue appears to be more of a licensing matter than a technical barrier. "I actually think that it would be a big win for Oracle to be involved more directly with an Android development platform on Windows and potentially elsewhere," Hilwa said. "In theory, vendors like Microsoft can do a parallel implementation of Java, much like Google did, but the legal exposure here is still open because of the Oracle/Google case."

Oracle said it's not commenting. A Microsoft spokesperson pointed to the company's new Project Astoria, the tooling announced at Build, which lets developers bring code from their Android apps to Windows while working within their current IDE. "It uses an Android subsystem to run code from your app in a highly efficient, Windows-optimized way," the spokesperson said.

For iOS, Microsoft's Project Islandwood, also announced at Build, imports iOS apps to the Windows ecosystem. "Via a Visual Studio extension, Islandwood takes a project-based approach -- translating your existing Xcode project into a Visual Studio solution, providing native support for Objective-C and its runtime, and providing a strong subset of the APIs you'll find on iOS, which makes it easy to bring your code across without significant modification," the spokesperson said. "Once it's in Visual Studio, it's a regular Universal Windows app app that happens to be written in Objective-C and uses some APIs from another ecosystem."

IDC's Hilwa said he believes most Java developers should find the bridging approach suitable. "The feedback I hear from developers and app owners is that they are more likely to use the Android 'bridge' approach to bring an app to Windows 10," he said. "It promises to be quicker, though admittedly less strategic in terms of commitment to the platform. But, as long as the services being used are Microsoft's services, then essentially Microsoft gets what it wants out of the exercise."

Forrester analyst John Rymer said that to his knowledge, Microsoft doesn't have a Java license but "it relies on Oracle and Azul for the Java VMs that run on Azure." Azul and Microsoft partnered two years ago on a Windows distribution build of the OpenJDK that will run on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

"Underscoring all this, of course, is the assumption that Android and iOS developers will have any interest in Astoria and Islandwood in the first place," wrote Ars Technica's Sean Gallagher last month in a deep look at Microsoft's push to incent Android and iOS developers to port their apps to UWP. "With its broader reach, Islandwood may be the easier sell, but none of this is automatic. There are plenty of developers today using Xamarin to write apps for Android and iOS using C# and .NET. These apps should be easily portable to Windows 8 and Windows Phone -- but often those developers aren't bothering."

Either way, for those wondering why Microsoft is offering native iOS support for UWP but not for Android, that's presumably why. Regarding the question of whether Microsoft will offer native Java support on Project Astoria, the spokesperson said Microsoft has no immediate plans but recommended an alternative in the form of a plug-in available in the Visual Studio Gallery.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/19/2015 at 12:53 PM0 comments

Key Microsoft Execs To Depart Amid Restructuring

Microsoft today said Stephen Elop, once considered a frontrunner to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO in 2013 following the company's $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business, is among several senior executives who'll be exiting Redmond.  CEO Satya Nadella said Elop, along with Chief Strategist Mark Penn, Dynamics Chief Kirill Tatarinov and SVP for Technical Strategy Eric Rudder are leaving the company.

The shakeup comes as Microsoft looks to close out its fiscal year on June 30. Microsoft typically has its annual reorg at this time of year. Nadella said in an e-mail to employees that the company is consolidating the company's business units. The Dynamics business long held by Tatarinov will fall under the Cloud and Enterprise business led by Scott Guthrie, while the devices group headed by Elop will be combined with the Operating Systems Group lead Terry Myerson. The combined organization is called the Windows and Devices Group.

"This new team brings together all the engineering capability required to drive breakthrough innovations that will propel the Windows ecosystem forward," Nadella said in his e-mail. "WDG will drive Windows as a service across devices of all types and build all of our Microsoft devices including Surface, HoloLens, Lumia, Surface Hub, Band and Xbox. This enables us to create new categories while generating enthusiasm and demand for Windows broadly."

Nadella noted that combining Dynamics with the Cloud and Enterprise Group "will enable us to accelerate our ERP and CRM work even further and mainstream them as part of our core engineering and innovation efforts. C+E will work closely with ASG [Applications and Services Group] to ensure the end-to-end experience is cohesive across communications, collaboration and business processes."

The only surprise about Elop's departure is that it took so long, considering he was the only senior executive not seen at major events. Penn is sticking around until September, according to Nadella's e-mail, to pursue something else. Could it be that Penn will be jumping back into the political arena?

Bringing these groups and their engineering teams together makes sense as the company looks to build a more cohesive strategy around mobility, productivity, platforms and cloud.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/17/2015 at 12:13 PM0 comments

LastPass Breach Again Underscores Weakness of Passwords

The popular password management service LastPass disclosed yesterday that it discovered "suspicious activity" on its network in which e-mail addresses, password reminders and authentication hashes were breached, though the company said it doesn't believe encrypted user vault data was seized.

LastPass is among numerous cloud-based password management services that allow individuals and enterprise users to store their encrypted passwords in an online vault to provide single sign-on to Web sites and mobile application services. I have used the LastPass service for several years and have found it useful in an age where we have scores of passwords to remember. The inherent risk of using a password vault service such as LastPass is if your master password is compromised, every site you have registered is at risk as well.  The LastPass breach is the latest evidence that passwords are indeed hard to protect, even by experts

Founder and CEO Joe Siegrist said he has confidence in the encryption methods LastPass uses to protect passwords. "LastPass strengthens the authentication hash with a random salt and 100,000 rounds of server-side PBKDF2-SHA256, in addition to the rounds performed client-side," he wrote a blog post announcing the breach yesterday. "This additional strengthening makes it difficult to attack the stolen hashes with any significant speed."

If you're willing to accept that your passwords are still safe, the fact that password reminders were stolen, they could be used in targeted attacks, Columbia University computer science professor Steve Bellovin told Brian Krebs in his KrebsonSecurity news site. The bottom line is that users should change their master passwords.

The breach hasn't made me decide to stop using LastPass but it does make me look forward to a day when biometric or the common use of two-factor authentication replaces the use of passwords, even though that comes with its own baggage.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/16/2015 at 11:09 AM0 comments

Microsoft Pulls Modern App To Give Skype the Right Touch

Microsoft's decision to scrap the modern version of Skype for PCs means, effective July 7, you'll need to settle for the desktop version of the popular voice, video and chat application. Many PC users probably won't have an issue with the move, announced last week, but it's yet another black eye for Microsoft's Modern app model, which many still call "Metro."

After July 7, if you click on the Modern app version of Skype, it'll automatically switch you to the desktop version.  For its part, Microsoft points out that PC users have said optimizing Skype for touch isn't a necessary part of their experience when using it.

"With the upcoming release of Windows 10 for PCs, it makes sense to use the Skype application optimized for mouse and keyboards use, capable of doing touch as well rather than two separate applications performing the same function," said Aga Guzik, Skype's head of desktop product marketing, in a blog post announcing the switch. Guzik said the move won't impact Microsoft's plans to offer Skype functionality within a specific app planned for Windows 10. "This way if you want to quickly make a call or send a message you can use task based apps and for those of you power users who like the advantages of the all in one app, you can pick what's right for you."

As Mary Jo Foley pointed out today in her All About Microsoft blog, "Microsoft's decision to kill off the Modern Skype client and move customers to the Desktop version seemed to fly in the face of what company officials have been telling developers and customers for the past several years," referring to its push toward Modern (aka Metro) apps.

Guzik told Foley that Universal phone, video and text apps based on Skype will be built into Windows 10 but they won't come with the initial version of the operating system that ships on July 29. Rather, Microsoft will release these three Skype-based Universal communications apps (chat, video and phone) in Windows 10.

Microsoft's focus around the Universal Windows Platform is built on the notion of a common code base for applications whether they run in desktop or touch modes. As such, perhaps this shift away from the Modern Skype app is indicative of Microsoft's plan to deemphasize the Windows 8 app model. Microsoft has said, though, that the modern Skype app would be available for Windows RT users. Windows RT systems can only run modern apps.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/15/2015 at 3:20 PM0 comments

Citrix Targeted by Activist Investor Elliot Management

Activist investor Elliott Management wants to meet with the top brass at Citrix, one of Microsoft's largest partners, to discuss options that would boost the value of Citrix's shares, the hedge fund manager said this week.

 In a letter to Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, Chairman Thomas Bogan and the company's board of directors Thursday, Elliott indicated it wants to see the company improve its operations and spin off its assets. Given Elliott's 7.1 percent stake in Citrix, and its history of targeting companies it believes are undervalued because of how they're structured, the move pushed Citrix shares up 7 percent yesterday and were up 2.6 percent midday Friday. Given Elliott's influence and holding in the company, Citrix can't ignore the request either.

In the letter, Elliott said it believes Citrix is significantly undervalued, suggesting its stock could be worth up to $100 per share by the end of next year. It was trading at $72 Friday but has jumped since Elliott released its letter Thursday.  Elliott released the letter following a 13D filing which requires disclosure when acquiring more than 5 percent of a publicly traded company's shares.

In its letter, Elliott believes that  the 50 percent jump in value "is achievable because Citrix has leading technology franchises in attractive markets but has struggled operationally for years. As a result, today Citrix's operations and product portfolio represent an opportunity for improvement of uniquely significant magnitude." In a statement, Citrix responded: "We will review Elliott's suggestions and respond as we do with all shareholders who engage with us. The Citrix Board and management team continually evaluate ideas to drive shareholder value and are committed to acting in the best interests of all our shareholders."

Citrix stock has grown only 2.8 percent over the past year before this week's jump in response to Elliott's move. In its April earnings release, Citrix lowered its outlook for the year amid a 48 percent drop in profit, resulting from this year's January restructuring. Citrix is betting big on its new Cloud Workspace platform, which aims to bring together key assets including ShareFile, XenDesktop, XenApp and Netscaler. Cloud Workspace, which Citrix emphasized at its annual Synergy conference last month in Orlando, can function as an organization's cloud control plane, bridging multiple public and private clouds, including core datacenter assets, to various client systems including a wide array of mobile devices.

According to various published reports, Elliott likely wants Citrix to shed or spin off some assets, reduce headcount or buy back shares.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/12/2015 at 12:08 PM0 comments

Many Enterprises Will Wait Before Deploying Windows 10

While Microsoft is expecting 1 billion devices to run Windows 10 within the next three years, the company better not count on large enterprises to hit that ambitious goal early. The results of a survey of enterprise Windows IT pros shows a vast majority will wait at least six months to begin deploying the new operating system and a substantial amount will wait more than a year.

The survey, conducted at last month's Microsoft's Ignite conference in Chicago by  Windows tools vendor Adaptiva, showed that 71 percent will wait at least six months and nearly half (49 percent) will wait more than a year to upgrade. Only 186 people participated in the survey, which would lead some to question its statistical validity, but Adaptiva Founder and CTO Deepak Kumar explained all of the people interviewed are deeply involved in the management of their organizations' client systems.

Those responding to an online survey conducted by Redmond magazine at the beginning of this year found that nearly 41 percent planned to upgrade in the first year.

A vast majority (84 percent) of respondents used Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and 40 percent managed more than 10,000 nodes. Eight percent managed 100,000 nodes or more. The largest percentage of those surveyed (35 percent) managed between 1,000 and 10,000 systems; 19 percent had 100 to 1,000 systems and 7 percent were small shops with less than 100 systems. Not surprisingly the larger organizations are most primed to wait.

"With the free upgrade and some of the technology they've put in for ease of upgrade, the expectation in the market is there will be this landslide of Windows 10 adoption," said Kumar. "The surprise for me, is what people are planning to do with Windows 10 is the same as they have done with every other version:  slow adoption."

The fact that organizations may wait is hardly a shocking news flash -- it's consistent with best practices analysts and consultants have given regarding major operating system upgrades since organizations first deployed Windows PCs. "People want to test it and have complete control where it goes out when it goes out," Kumar said.

Microsoft could still hit the 1 billion milestone if it's successful in convincing the vast number of consumers with Windows 7 and Windows 8 on their systems to take advantage of the free upgrade as well as a wide swath of new PCs and tablets expected to appear in the coming months.

Another noteworthy finding from the survey: only 11 percent had at least some machines with Windows XP still in use. This is a marked decline from a year ago at TechEd where 53 percent claimed to still have PCs running the discontinued operating system. Not surprisingly, Windows 7 was most preferred operating system, with 84 percent saying that their organization is running that OS. Windows 8 was in use, at least to some extent, by 57 percent of those organizations.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/11/2015 at 3:14 PM0 comments

Microsoft Acquires BlueStripe To Boost Heterogeneous Monitoring of New OMS

Microsoft today said it has acquired BlueStripe Software, a popular provider of software used to monitor the performance of infrastructure and help systems administrators track down bottlenecks at the transaction layer of applications. The companies didn't disclose terms.

While BlueStripe's performance management platform is popular among enterprises that use System Center Operations Manager, its wares appealed to IT managers for their ability to monitor events throughout the infrastructure and applications stack. The two companies only started working together a few years ago but since BlueStripe talked up the SCOM management packs they've developed, I wondered if Microsoft would swallow the company.

Microsoft said it will stop offering BlueStripe's products on a standalone basis -- the company indicated temporarily -- and will absorb the technology into the new Microsoft Operations Management Suite. OMS, announced at last month's Ignite conference, will be Microsoft's new cloud-based offering that will help manage the components of its new Azure Stack, which the company said will provide Azure-like functionality in the enterprise.

The new OMS, which will work with System Center but not require it, will also provide management of key components of an enterprise infrastructure including (presumably) VMware's virtualization and vCloud Air public cloud, Amazon Web Services and OpenStack-based clouds. BlueStripe and its team could help Microsoft further achieve that goal with OMS. BlueStripe last year developed richer ties to offer a System Center Management Pack for its FactFinder service and late last year integrated it into the Windows Azure Pack.

Despite its ties with Microsoft, BlueStripe also boasted the ability to monitor the impact of transactions in the performance of key applications such as IBM CICS and SAP R3, as well as other transaction-oriented applications running on everything from mainframes to RISC-based Unix systems and Linux-based applications.

"BlueStripe's solution helps map, monitor and troubleshoot distributed applications across heterogeneous operating systems and multiple datacenter and cloud environments. BlueStripe is commonly used today by customers to extend the value of Microsoft System Center by adding application-aware infrastructure performance monitoring," wrote Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager, enterprise cloud. "Now that we have welcomed BlueStripe employees into the Microsoft family, we will be hard at work making BlueStripe's solution an integral part of Microsoft's management products and services, like System Center and Operations Management Suite (OMS). We will discontinue selling the BlueStripe solutions in the near term while we work on these updates, although we will continue to support existing BlueStripe customers during this time."

Certainly BlueStripe's customers will wonder what this means for the future of its performance management software as a standalone offering. While that remains to be seen, Microsoft said at Ignite that so-called "solution packs" will be a key part of OMS.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/10/2015 at 1:25 PM0 comments

Facebook Unfriends Microsoft

Microsoft apps are no longer linked to Facebook accounts. The news came in the form of an e-mail to millions of Microsoft account holders this morning. The social network severed the link between its Facebook Connect interface and Microsoft apps thanks to a change in the Facebook Graph API, which the company officially announced over a year ago.

The link connected contacts from Facebook accounts into Outlook.com and the Windows 8.1 People app. In addition to synchronizing contact info, Facebook Connect linked to various apps that were common among the two companies such as Microsoft's Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and OneDrive.com, allowing users to share content directly in Facebook.

"Due to these changes, Facebook Connect features will no longer be supported," Microsoft's e-mail stated. "If you've connected Facebook to your Microsoft account, your Facebook contacts will stop syncing to Outlook.com or the People app on your Windows devices, and the sharing options to Facebook will stop working as early as June 9th."

While Facebook didn't address the removal of support for Microsoft apps in last year's announcement, the company did say "are removing several rarely used API endpoints."

Is the lack of this connectivity something you'll miss?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/09/2015 at 10:39 AM0 comments

Edward Snowden: No Regrets Two Years After First NSA Leaks

Two years ago, Edward Snowden took it upon himself to release classified documents that revealed widespread surveillance activities by United States and foreign governments, most notably the National Security Agency. In so doing, Snowden became one of the most wanted fugitives by U.S. law enforcement.  Yet he also became the IT industry's most famous martyr for putting the spotlight on how the government was "monitoring the private activities of ordinary citizens who had done nothing wrong."  

Snowden reflected on the impact of his actions in an op-ed column published last Thursday in The New York Times.  The revelations of programs like PRISM outraged privacy experts and IT decision makers alike, making them wonder if data stored in the cloud and their electronic communications were secure. To its credit, Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith led an effort to fight back, as I noted last week following Congress's long battle to put some limits on The Patriot Act, which officially expired June 1.

"Privately, there were moments when I worried that we might have put our privileged lives at risk for nothing -- that the public would react with indifference, or practiced cynicism, to the revelations," Snowden admitted.  "Never have I been so grateful to have been so wrong." Despite violating key espionage laws, the former NSA contractor Snowden marveled at the rapid impact of his actions. "In a single month, the N.S.A.'s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress," he noted of the initial fallout of his revelations. "After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack. Even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated. This is the power of an informed public."

Two years later, the beat goes on, he added, pointing to the impact of his ongoing leaks. "Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness," he wrote. "Since 2013, institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and imposed new restrictions on future activities. The United Nations declared mass surveillance an unambiguous violation of human rights. In Latin America, the efforts of citizens in Brazil led to the Marco Civil, an Internet Bill of Rights. Recognizing the critical role of informed citizens in correcting the excesses of government, the Council of Europe called for new laws to protect whistle-blowers."

For sure, the recent changes to the Patriot Act with the new Freedom Act are the equivalent of a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Still, it's a step in the right direction. Snowden also lamented the way the IT security industry has responded. "Technologists have worked tirelessly to reengineer the security of the devices that surround us, along with the language of the Internet itself," he noted. Secret flaws in critical infrastructure that had been exploited by governments to facilitate mass surveillance have been detected and corrected. Basic technical safeguards such as encryption -- once considered esoteric and unnecessary -- are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private. "

Despite the changes enacted in wake of Snowden's actions, he still used privileged access to classified systems making him a traitor by the letter of the law. The ability for anyone in an organization with unfettered access has put IT decision makers on notice as well that their information systems are at risk. Initial reaction to the revelations two years ago made many organizations wary that data they presumed safe from prying eyes, was subject to backdoor penetration from the Feds.

I recently asked noted security technology expert Bruce Schneier, who I've known for many years, whether he believed Snowden was a traitor or a hero. The silence following my question was deafening and I suddenly felt like the journalist asking a quarterback who just threw an interception at the Super Bowl that cost his team the game how he felt. While Schneier wasn't going to give me a sound bite, he gave me an opaque response. "I don't care about the person. What matters is the documents," he said. "That question will be answered in 20 years by history." Ok, but did Snowden do the right thing by breaking the law and disclosing what was going on? "Yes," Schneier said.

Reading Snowden's op-ed piece, Snowden appears to feel the same way, having marked the June 4 anniversary by revealing that U.S. has expanded its spying initiatives at the border to find hackers.  "The balance of power is beginning to shift," he concluded in his op-ed column. "With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear."

Do you see Snowden as a traitor or have his disclosures of wrongdoings made him worthy of indemnification?



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/08/2015 at 10:45 AM0 comments

Microsoft Extends Global Cloud Footprint with New Datacenters

Microsoft capped off the week by touting the latest expansion to its ever-growing global network of cloud datacenters. The company announced plans to add two datacenters in Canada and expansion of facilities in The Netherlands and in India.

In all, Microsoft said it will shortly have 22 cloud regions and datacenters for Azure and nine for Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online. Microsoft COO Kevin Turner presided over this week's launch of its new Canadian datacenters this week, where the company announced it'll host its cloud services in Quebec City and Toronto sometime next year. "This data residency will provide Canadian businesses with improved latency and geographic redundancy to help them better operate and compete," said Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft's corporate VP for cloud and enterprise marketing, in a blog post today.

Microsoft pointed to an IDC forecast that projects spending on cloud computing services in Canada will grow 45 percent next year to $2.5 billion. Microsoft claims 80,000 businesses are already using the company's cloud services. Among them Microsoft referenced was a Diply.com, a startup based in Ontario that uses Azure to push 850 million page views per day. Among other key Canadian customers are AutoTrader, Genetec and PCL Construction.

The new datacenters in Bangalore, India will be available in preview mode next month, with plans to offer the deployments in the first half of next year, said Microsoft Executive Vice President for Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie in a presentation in Bangalore Wednesday. "Services from local datacenters will open infinite computing capacity for Indian government departments, banks, telecom companies and enterprises of all sizes," Guthrie said. "This will help make Digital India a reality."  


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/05/2015 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Active Directory Certificate Services Advice Roils PKI Security Experts

The idea came off as a simple one: implement Microsoft's Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) and you'll be on your way to a more secure infrastructure. That was the premise of this month's Windows Insider column by Greg Shields, which was quickly criticized by some well-known Microsoft security MVPs and PKI experts.

Among the critics who posted comments were Brian Komar, author of a number of books and guides on Windows PKI security including the Windows Server 2008 PKI and Certificate Security and MVP Paul Adare, a consultant and trainer with a focus on enterprise PKI and Active DIrecotry Rights Management Services (RMS) deployments. Several others weighted in, all lambasting Shields for suggesting that deploying AD CS will jump start a more secure IT infrastructure.

"This is one of the worst security related columns I have ever seen," Adare wrote in the comments section. "Redmond magazine should be ashamed for allowing this to be published at all. As an MVP myself, and one who specializes in AD CS, I'm embarrassed by this." Komar suggested we should remove the article from our site. "It really should be pulled as it would only create disaster in a company as written," Komar  noted. "One of the worst articles I have ever read on PKI. This should be titled ADCS: Worst Practices."

Several commenters criticized Shields for suggesting that you should install an AD CS role onto an existing Active Directory domain controller. It turned out that was a typo which has since been updated, which appeased some but not others, who took issue with the column beyond the typo. Shields acknowledged and regretted the implication of deploying AD CS as a best practice wasn't the best phrasing. In a rebuttal Shields said some of his critics missed his point.

"The comments below have succeeded in manifesting the opposite effect of what I had originally intended. My goal was to merely incent individuals to get started and to highlight a barest minimum of steps that might accomplish that -- even as those steps aren't, as y'all have stated, the very best ones," Shields responded. "There appears an unspoken assertion in these comments that the mere presence of this article presents something like a danger to society. But let's be rational adults here. Would any IT pro, experienced or no, seriously go about creating a PKI solution based solely on a handful of paragraphs in a trade magazine? Likely not."

Shields added that the point of his column was to get people started toward building more secure infrastructure and perhaps on the road to building a more extensive PKI. "And if they turn to Brian's book, Paul's community contributions or the body of PKI knowledge elsewhere, then I've accomplished my goal."

I reached out to David Strom, a longtime colleague and expert on networking, security, PKI and other issues, to get his take on the column and subsequent criticism."​There's an element of truth in both sides," said Strom. "Yes, CAs should be used more, and you should know what you are doing."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/04/2015 at 12:24 PM0 comments

Microsoft Praises Curbs on U.S. Surveillance

It was the latest bruising battle among lawmakers but the U.S. Senate finally agreed on a compromise that will put an end to the Patriot Act, which has allowed government eavesdropping on telephone and electronic communications following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new Freedom Act, signed by President Barak Obama last night hours after its passage by the Senate with a 67-32 vote, takes away the National Security Agency's authority to gather calling data of millions of Americans and instead puts that in the hands of phone companies.

In wake of the disclosures two years ago by Edward Snowden at the scope of the NSA's surveillance efforts, which proponents say is critical in thwarting terrorist attacks, Congress and the president were under intense pressure by privacy advocates to stop the practice. Despite last month's Senate agreement to come up with a compromise that would water down the Patriot Act, which officially expired Monday morning, a strong coalition at the 11th hour moved to preserve it in the days leading up to the deadline.

Opponents of the new Freedom Act argue that it  still doesn't go far enough to protect the privacy of Americans but it is "an important step forward in striking a better balance between public safety and privacy," as noted today in a post by Microsoft Chief Counsel Brad Smith.

"The USA Freedom Act will increase trust in technology by implementing essential reforms to the USA Patriot Act," said Smith in a blog post. "The legislation will ensure that the public is aware of what their government is doing by allowing companies to publish detailed transparency reports. Governments also need to act with proper accountability with proper regard for legal process and people's rights. The reforms of the FISA Court in the bill moves government accountability forward by increasing the transparency of its proceedings and rulings and introducing a process for amicus curiae. And the new law ends the bulk collection of data -- a program that a federal court recently struck down."

For its part, Smith, on behalf of Microsoft, took a leading role in bringing the IT industry together to push for the easing of surveillance. While praising the new Freedom Act, Smith renewed his call on the government to take further steps to ensure data privacy. "There's still more work to do, both here in the United States and internationally," Smith wrote. "High on that list is the creation of new international legal frameworks to tackle other important issues we face in ensuring the free flow of information around the world while respecting national sovereignty."

Passage of the new Freedom Act doesn't put an end to surveillance but keeps it out of the direct purview of the feds. Of course, if you have little trust in the phone companies' ability to better ensure your privacy, the new Freedom Act probably offers little solace.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/03/2015 at 1:35 PM0 comments

Windows 10 To Arrive July 29

Microsoft has finally revealed a delivery date for Windows 10. The official release date is slated for July 29. The company used the eve of the annual Computex conference in Taipei to make the announcement. It's not a surprise Microsoft chose Computex to make it official given that the event is the largest gathering of OEM systems (PC and device) manufacturers.

Millions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will be eligible for a free upgrade on that date, as Microsoft announced in January. Microsoft is letting eligible customers reserve the free upgrades starting today. A Windows 10 icon will appear to the right of the taskbar on eligible devices, allowing users to click on it at any time to initiate their reservation. Microsoft posted instructions on how the process works.

By releasing it in late July, Microsoft is making sure Windows 10 is available for the back-to-school season, which begins in earnest in August. When Microsoft said the OS will ship this summer, many wondered if that meant mid-September to target the fourth quarter holiday buying season. While indeed that's important, making Windows 10 available to students is equally --  if not more -- important.

"With Windows 10, we start delivering on our vision of more personal computing, defined by trust in how we protect and respect your personal information, mobility of the experience across your devices, and natural interactions with your Windows devices, including speech, touch, ink, and holograms," wrote Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive VP for operating systems, on Microsoft's Windows blog. "We designed Windows 10 to run our broadest device family ever, including Windows PCs, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Windows for the Internet of Things, Microsoft Surface Hub, Xbox One and Microsoft HoloLens—all working together to empower you to do great things."

Following an eight month technical preview, we also now know what features Microsoft will include in Windows 10 and which will get scrapped. Myerson emphasized the following components will in fact come in Windows 10:

  • Cortana: Microsoft's digital assistant will run on all versions of Windows and other platforms, although languages and device types initially will have limitations
  • Microsoft Edge: the company's new modern browser which Myerson said offers "built-in commenting on the Web -- via typing or inking -- sharing comments, and a reading view that makes reading web sites much faster and easier" Myerson  noted.
  • New Apps: Photos, Videos, Music, Maps, People, Mail and Calendar. All are designed to conform to device form factors and enabled to synch with OneDrive.
  • Windows Continuum: The ability for convertible tablet-PCs to easily switch modes from one to the other.
  • Windows Hello: The new logon technology that will enable devices to have FIDO-compatible biometrics as an alternative to password-based authentication.
  • Windows Store: Revamped and unified to support Microsoft's new Universal Windows Platform applications.
  • Windows 10 Home: Updates from Windows Update will automatically be available.
  • Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise: Users will have the ability to defer updates.

Those upgrading from earlier versions of Windows will have to prepare to download apps that were once included in the operating system, according to a Microsoft release note.  Here are some other noteworthy changes:

  • Viewing DVDs will require playback software.
  • Windows 7 desktop gadgets removed.
  • Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hearts Games preinstalled on Windows 7 removed and replaced by new version of Solitaire and Minesweeper, now called the Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Microsoft Minesweeper.
  • USB-based floppy drives will require download of manufacturer drivers.
  • Windows Live Essentials with OneDrive application removed and replaced with the inbox version of OneDrive.

In the release note, Microsoft also outlined system requirements, which include 1 GHz or faster processor or system-on-chip (SoC), 1 GB of RAM for 32-bit systems and 2 GB for 64 GB systems, 20 GHz storage, DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver and support for at least 1024x600 resolution.

Do you plan to upgrade to Windows 10?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/01/2015 at 10:17 AM0 comments

Satya Nadella Ranked Top Visionary Among High-Tech Leaders

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is the most influential leader in the high-tech industry, according to Juniper Research's annual ranking released Tuesday. Nadella bested the likes of Apple's Chief Design Officer Tony Ive, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Netfix Cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings, Alibaba Founder and Chairman Jack Ma, Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla Founder and Chairman Elon Musk.

Nadella's ability to surge past this eclectic and prominent group of technology executives is an unusual turn of events given many people have written off Microsoft as a company with vision, which is the basis of Juniper's ranking.

"The rankings, which are based on Juniper's assessment of key criteria including vision, innovation and personal capital, noted that Nadella's implementation of 'Windows-as-a-Service' represented a fundamental change to Microsoft's OS-focused business model, resulting in a very different process of development at Redmond in future," according to Juniper Research's announcement of this year's survey.

Juniper Research's survey of tech visionaries may not represent the most prominent of rankings but it will be interesting to see if Nadella finds himself coming up more often when it comes to looking at who's setting the agenda for the IT industry. And that's not a given, considering Nadella was just named CEO just under 16 months ago.

While Nadella has set the pace for change in a short amount of time and has strived to show the world Microsoft still has some new tricks up its sleeve, his work has just started and success remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this ranking is another sign that critics may not want to write Microsoft off yet.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/27/2015 at 8:39 AM0 comments

VMware Showcases Plans for the Future of Workspaces on Citrix's Home Turf

In a move that appeared timed to rain on Citrix's parade, VMware last week demonstrated technology it plans to unveil which aims to provide the control plane for managing user workspaces. VMware revealed its hybrid cloud architecture aimed at creating "next-generation" workspaces, and did so on its rival's home turf at Citrix's annual Synergy conference last week in Orlando.

VMware took the wraps off Project Enzo, a new platform that it claims will change the way IT organizations deploy and manage virtual desktop environments, just as Citrix demonstrated its new Workspace Cloud architecture to customers at Synergy. Similar to Project Enzo, Citrix Workspace Cloud aims to provide the control plane based on a hybrid cloud architecture for managing user workspaces on a variety of form factors ranging from PCs, phones, tablets and even Raspberry Pi devices.  

"Project Enzo is a new hybrid cloud-scale architecture that is designed to combine the economic benefits of cloud-based VMware virtual desktops and application technology with the simplicity of hyper-converged infrastructure to transform the IT experience," wrote Sumit Dhawan, VMware's senior vice president and general manager for desktop products and end-user computing, in a blog post announcing Project Enzo. "Project Enzo will enable the unified management of on-premises and cloud-based virtual workspace services (desktops and applications) through a single Web-based portal that will be available as a cloud service on VMware vCloud Air."

While there are certainly architectural differences between Citrix Workspace Cloud and VMware's Project Enzo, they appear to have the same goal in mind: being the center of deploying and securely managing user work environments on a variety of device types. The most noteworthy difference is that Project Enzo seems to prefer vCloud Air when it comes to providing the public cloud infrastructure. By comparison, Citrix executives went to great pains last week to emphasize that the Citrix Workspace Cloud can run in any infrastructure as a service, including AWS, Microsoft Azure and IBM Softlayer. Unlike VMware, Citrix doesn't operate a public cloud of its own and when asked last week at Synergy if it planned to do so, executives indicated firmly the company has no interest in doing so due to the massive investment requirement needed. Both companies are relying on cloud service provider partners to deliver these new platforms.

Each company also described their new architectures as deigned to bring together and manage "hyper-converged" software-defined infrastructures. Microsoft has a similar vision with its newly revealed Azure Stack earlier this month at the Ignite conference in Chicago. Azure Stack will come with the next release of Microsoft's server operating system, Windows Server 2016. VMware's Dhawan said the technical preview for Project Enzo is now available.

A key component introduced with Project Enzo technical preview, according to Dhawan, is its VMware Smart Node technology, which integrates hyper-converged solutions. "Smart Node technology enables the intelligent orchestration and automation of common set-up, delivery and management tasks of virtual workspace services across the hybrid cloud," he said.

Apparently VMware's decision to rain on Citrix's parade by announcing Project Enzo was payback, as pointed out by The Register's Simon Starwood, who recalled Citrix announcing a new version of Xen App, Xen Desktop and Receiver products at VMworld last year. 


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/21/2015 at 3:19 PM0 comments

AWS Outguns Azure in Gartner's IaaS Cloud Magic Quadrant

Rarely a day goes by when I don't receive a news release on behalf of a company announcing it was included in one of Gartner's Magic Quadrant as a leader. If I had a dollar for every one of those announcements I deleted, I could retire now. Today both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft notified me that their respective public cloud services were recognized as leaders in the research firm's infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) report.

Gartner pointed to Amazon and Azure as the only "leaders" in its IaaS classification of cloud providers. Close followers, which Gartner describes as "visionaries" include CenturyLink, Google, VMware and IBM/SoftLayer.  Among the others that Gartner described as "niche" providers were Rackspace, Joyent, Virtustream, Interroute, CSC, Dimension Data, Fujitsu, NTT Communications and Verizon.

Despite grouping AWS and Azure as the only leaders, Gartner singled out Amazon as the superior cloud provider. "AWS has a diverse customer base and the broadest range of use cases, including enterprise and mission-critical applications," the report said. "It is the overwhelming market share leader, with over 10 times more cloud IaaS compute capacity in use than the aggregate total of the other 14 providers in this Magic Quadrant."

The report said AWS still maintains a multiyear competitive advantage over both Microsoft and Google. A Microsoft spokeswoman in a statement said Azure still offers more than twice as much cloud IaaS compute capacity in use as the aggregate total of the remaining providers in this Magic Quadrant other than AWS. Microsoft officials also frequently point out that it has more datacenters around the world than AWS and Google combined with 19.

"This speaks strongly to Gartner's belief that the IaaS market is quickly consolidating around a small number of leading vendors," she said. "Microsoft is seeing significant usage and growth for Azure with more than 90,000 new Azure customer subscriptions every month, more than 50 trillion objects now stored in the Azure storage system and 425 million users stored in Azure Active Directory. In addition to strong use of Infrastructure-as-a-Service capabilities, we're also seeing over 60 percent of Azure customers using at least one higher level service."

The report opined that "Amazon has the richest array of IaaS features and PaaS-like capabilities. It continues to rapidly expand its service offerings and offer higher-level solutions." Microsoft argued it's the only vendor identified as a leader in both Gartner's IaaS and PaaS categories. "We also are differentiated in our ability to enable customers to use these capabilities together in a seamless fashion," she said.  "For example, Azure Resource Manager enables a single coherent application model for IaaS and PaaS services and the Azure Preview Portal blends IaaS and PaaS seamlessly so that customers no longer have to work in multiple, disparate environments."

Gartner also pointed to reliability problems that have plagued Azure including numerous outages, though it notes substantial improvements over the past year. "We are committed to applying learnings when incidents occur to prevent recurrences of similar interruptions and improve our communications and support response so that customers feel confident in us and the service," she said pointing to Microsoft's  Root Cause Analysis to see the most recent improvements.

The report also urged those choosing Azure not to jump in too fast. "Customers who intend to adopt Azure strategically and migrate applications over a period of one year or more (finishing in 2016 or later) can begin to deploy some workloads now, but those with a broad range of immediate enterprise needs may encounter challenges," the report advised.

Microsoft said it has aggressive plans to add new features, and said Gartner even acknowledged as much in the report. And, the spokeswoman's statement added:  "Over the past 12 months, we've added more than 500 new features and services to the Azure platform, including robust IaaS and PaaS capabilities as well as offerings that enable consistency across on-prem and the cloud so customers can achieve the hybrid scenarios they demand."

At its Ignite conference last month, Microsoft announced extensive new hybrid cloud computing features coming in the form of the new Azure Stack, which the company believes will give it a further edge over both AWS and Google.

Of course different surveys and customer sets have their own benchmarks and criteria, as I noted last week, when Nasuni's third evaluation of major cloud providers gave preference to Microsoft Azure. Whether or not you give credence to Gartner's Magic Quadrants, it seems to match industry sentiment that AWS remains the dominant public cloud but Azure is a clear No. 2. Both companies would agree this race is far from over.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/20/2015 at 5:21 PM0 comments

Citrix Demos Its Next-Gen Virtual Cloud Workspace Platform

At its annual Synergy conference in sweltering Orlando, Citrix last week staked its future around the company's new Workplace Cloud and a number of new wares that aims to establish it as the purveyor of the modern digital workplace. The major focus of this year's Synergy conference centered around Workspace Cloud, a platform that aims to ease the design, deployment, orchestration and management of secure work environments for mobile workers.

While virtual desktops and apps account for a small percentage of the workplace computing environments deployed today, their usage isn't trivial. Moreover it stands to grow in the coming years in new forms, including desktop as a service, as workers continue to use more device types, rely more on access from various places and organizations want to better secure information accessed by employees, contractors and even customers on these new form factors. The growth of hybrid cloud and the move to bring your own device policies are also enabling these new environments.

Looking to extend its reach from its core strength of offering virtual desktop and application environments, Citrix first started discussing Workplace Cloud a year ago but only demonstrated it publicly at Synergy last week, where customers also began testing the company's latest new platform. The company hopes to make it generally available in the third quarter. Mark Templeton, Citrix CEO, who is revered for his focus on engineering and user experience, showcased Workspace Cloud as the culmination of its effort to bridge public, private and hybrid clouds to the new ways people work with multiple device types. Templeton said the new digital workspace consists of Windows-based PCs, Macs. iPads, Android tablets Chromebooks new Linux-based systems and even embedded devices that enable Internet of Things-type environments.

"We think of Workspace as the core engine of the software-defined workplace," Templeton said in last week's keynote. "So if you don't do a great job with workspaces across all of those kinds of digital tools, then you're not going to have the engine of the software-defined workplace. And we know that everyone's workspace environment is different." The Citrix Workspace Cloud is based on a cloud delivery architecture similar to the company's BlackBeard reference architecture, which provides the service architecture to distribute XenDesktop and XenApp in hybrid cloud environments and RainMaker, which provides the orchestration across servers and nodes.

The control plane that powers Citrix Workspace Cloud is its ShareFile document sharing platform. Citrix, which acquired ShareFile in 2011, is  a smaller competitor to the likes of Box and Dropbox. But Citrix has spent the ensuing years building on the core ShareFile engine to enable it to become the control plane for the new Citrix Workspace Cloud, which the company describes as a management platform for creating mobile workspaces that include desktops, applications and data provisioned in a hybrid cloud environment that could consist of a private datacenter, as well as a public or private cloud.

A key component of Citrix Workspace Cloud is the Lifecycle Manager, which creates blueprints that ease the migration of earlier versions of XenApp to current releases and provides the ability for IT to deploy them in the new management platform. These blueprints "are effectively groupings of things that you need to do to define whatever workload it is you want to deliver," explained Christian Reilly, CTO for the Citrix Workspace.  "And then obviously the management piece comes after that. I'm not talking specifically about just delivering XenApp and XenDesktop because that's a key short term focus. The power of blueprints is if you kind of expand that out to two worlds, one in dealing with blueprints that can group together with different parts of the network topology, different bits of the infrastructure that need to be orchestrated to create an application workload and blueprints that can then provision or talk to Netscaler or other devices to compete the configuration."

In keeping with its history of not running its own public cloud, Citrix is empowering its base of 1,900 cloud service providers to provision Workspace Cloud in any environment, including Amazon Web Services, Azure and IBM's SoftLayer cloud, among others. The control plane itself runs in Microsoft Azure, but Citrix officials insisted that no customer data or apps touch the control plane, or Azure in particular, unless they want it to.

While building the control plane on ShareFile, Workspace Cloud brings together XenDesktop and XenApp platforms as well as networking gear such as Netscaler and CloudBridge. Stitching these together gives Citrix the opportunity to bundle -- and potentially upsell its wares -- though Templeton said the architecture allows organizations to plug in their own components, such as Microsoft and VMware hybrid cloud infrastructure. Workspace Cloud is an ambitious effort by the company to move itself forward with a major new platform designed to create and manage secure user work environments tailored around workers' tendencies to use multiple and often nontraditional devices to access their Windows environments. In addition to launching Workspace Cloud, Citrix previewed several new other key offerings in its pipeline including extensions to its XenMobile enterprise mobility management platform, networking and security upgrades to its Netscaler and CloudBridge tools, data loss prevention and other security improvements to its ShareFile enterprise file sharing offering. It also showed off new automation capabilities to its XenDesktop and XenApp platforms.

Attendees at Citrix Synergy last week seemed impressed with Workspace Cloud, though even its most visible customers said they need to understand how it might fit into their environments. "We will start playing with the beta," said David Enriquez, senior director of information technology for the Miami Marlins. "It looks to me something we could take advantage of such as spring training temporary deployments, if we have to do something at a minor league park or if we have an event at the ballpark that needs infrastructure but we don't want to put it on our existing infrastructure."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/19/2015 at 1:18 PM0 comments

Worldwide Build Tour Lures Developers for Universal Windows and Azure

Now that Microsoft has outlined its Universal Windows Platform and its new model for building and deploying modern applications for its Azure cloud, the company has hit the road to make its case to developers throughout the world.

The Build tour is taking place today in London and New York. These one-day developer confabs follow last month's annual Build conference, which took place in San Francisco. In the coming days and weeks Microsoft is hosting Build events in Atlanta, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo and Mexico City, among numerous other locations.

I attended the New York event today where a few hundred developers took in a condensed version of the larger Build conference, featuring an overview of Microsoft's UWP and Azure strategy and demos on how to build and port apps to the new platform. Kevin Gallo, Microsoft's partner director for developer ecosystem and platform, gave the opening keynote address in which he called on developers to learn how they can enhance Android and Apple iOS applications for the new UWP by bridging them to Windows. At the same time, Gallo emphasized the ability to port legacy Win32 apps to the new UWP.

Key to the new UWP is the notion that developers can build their apps for Windows regardless of whether they're for a phone, tablet, PC or the new Surface Hub large conferencing system. "All these new APIs are to help create different user experiences on different devices," Gallo said.

Likewise, Microsoft's new love of open source platforms is carrying over to the Build tour, both in terms of the new UWP, which includes the new Edge browser, native support for HTML 5 and XAML, which Microsoft officials emphasized is appealing for developing responsive design to apps. Gallo explained how the new "bridge" capability for developers addresses four key form factors: Web, Win32 apps and integration with applications built in Objective C for iOS and editors for Android developers such as CodeMe. Developers "can use their Android tooling and port to Windows," Gallo said.

Gallo also showcased Microsoft's new Windows for IoT  (Internet of Things). The new Windows IoT Core is available for Raspberry Pi, the popular low-cost small device platform and for MinnowBoard Max, the open source environment for developing embedded apps for Intel Atom processors.

Building on Azure
In the second half of the Build tour keynote session, Neil Hutson, a Microsoft's engineering evangelist, took the stage to talk about extensions to the Azure public cloud. In keeping with Microsoft's emphasis that Azure's not just for Windows and .NET apps, Hutson said that 25 percent of the instances running in the company's cloud are Linux based. "If you want to use a favorite language, platform, framework and operating system, we pretty much have you covered so you can do your best work with us," Hutson said.

While Microsoft has extolled that message for some time now, the next key selling point for Azure rests on its new Azure App Services. The notion behind Azure App Services is that it enables developers to build and deploy modern and mobile apps that can scale globally across the Azure cloud.

Hutson also gave airtime to the array of new data services hosted in Azure ranging from what he described as a high performance SQL DB to support for a variety of alternative SQL and NoSQL database types. Hutson outlined three new features in Microsoft's Azure SQL DB service. First is Elastic Database Pool, which will allow customers to maintain separate isolated databases, the ability to aggregate activity to smooth peaks and the ability define strict performance SLAs. Second is support for full text search and the most warmly received new feature -- based on audience applause -- was support for transparent data encryption (TDE). "That means when data is at rest, it's fully encrypted," Hutson said. Hutson also talked up the new Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which "lets you suck information from SQL DB, and aggregate on premises systems," Hutson said.

Circling back to the Internet of Things, Hutson also talked up how the various data services including Azure Machine Leaning and Event Hub can connect to and process data from millions of devices in near real time.

Stream Analytics consolidates all of that data and allows users to create reports using the new Power BI. They can store infinite amounts of data in the new Azure Data Lake. Hutson also underscored the new Office APIs that will enable interactivity among third-party apps and components of the productivity suite, especially Outlook. With the new Office APIs and Office Graph, developers can build native application experiences into Office 365, Hutson explained. Rather than toggle between Outlook and Salesforce.com, the two can now be integrated, he said.

Microsoft knows developers will be critical to the success of UWP, Azure App Services and the next generation of Office. If the road show comes to your neighborhood, you may want to learn the details and decide for yourself.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/18/2015 at 11:20 AM0 comments

Microsoft Azure Blob Storage Slightly Edges Amazon S3 in Latest Shootout

Companies looking for a large global cloud provider to store significant amounts of data will do well choosing either Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, with the latter performing slightly better according to Nasuni's third biennial cloud storage report. Google, the only other cloud provider with a large enough global scale that could be compared with the two by Nasuni's standards, came in a distant third place.

It's important to keep in mind that this is one benchmark by a single provider with its own requirements --  primarily using a large global cloud provider as a NAS target. But Nasuni performs the tests to determine which services it should use to provide as a storage target and claims it's not wedded to any one player, unless a customer specifies one. Nasuni first began sharing its benchmarks in 2012 when AWS had an overwhelming edge, though that was before Microsoft had a mature infrastructure as a service available.

Today, depending on the service, Nasuni primarily distributes its workloads between AWS and Azure and is always willing to add or shift to other suppliers. Nasuni currently prefers Microsoft Azure Blob Storage and Message Queue though it uses AWS's Dynamo database and EC2 compute instances, said John Capello, Nasuni's VP of product strategy. The primary test Nasuni conducted between October and February for the report evaluated a variety of read-write and delete scenarios, according to Capello.

"For our purposes, which is to write files for mid-sized to large enterprises to the cloud, Microsoft Azure Blob storage is a better target for us than Amazon or Google," he said. "Amazon is a very, very close second. Amazon and Microsoft seem to be, as many others have said, the real two competitors in this space in providing cloud services in general, but specifically with storage, they're very, very close in terms of both their speed, availability and their scalability."

According to the report, which is available for download if you're willing to give up your contact information, is that Microsoft outpaced Amazon and Google when it comes to writing data to a target 13 of the 23 scenarios of varying thread counts or file counts. When it came to reading files, Microsoft constantly performed better, though not to the extent it did in the write tests. Microsoft was twice as fast as Amazon when it came to deleting files and five times as fast as Google.

For system availability, Amazon's average response time of 0.1 seconds slightly edged Microsoft's 0.14 seconds, while Google was roughly five times slower. Nasuni also measured scalability and when writing 100 million objects to look at the number of read and write misses, "Microsoft had, by far, the largest write variance, which was more than 130 times larger than Google's, who had the smallest variance." Read and write errors were almost non-existent, according to a summary of the report. "Only Amazon showed any misses at all: five write errors over 100 million objects, which gives an error rate of .00005 percent."

Nasuni omitted several key players from the test, notably IBM's Softlayer, which was undergoing system upgrades and led to frequent periods of planned downtime during the testing period, according to Capello. HP was also initially in the test, though Capello said Nasuni chose to leave the company out this time because of HP's announced plans of changes in cloud strategy. "Before we decided we weren't going to continue testing them, they actually did surprisingly well, in some cases --  better than Amazon and Microsoft in some of the read-write and delete benchmarks," he said. "If we had run the full test, it would be interesting to see where they came out. "


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/15/2015 at 10:56 AM0 comments

Microsoft Sets the Stage for Patch Tuesday To 'Go Away'

Yesterday was the latest of Patch Tuesday, the ritual which takes place on the second Tuesday of every month. But its days could be numbered. Patch Tuesday won't disappear anytime soon but the release of Windows 10 will set the stage for its ultimate transition to a different release cadence.

Microsoft said at last week's Ignite conference that its procedure for issuing security patches will change with the new OS's release via new "distribution rings" similar to the fast and slow rings offered with the Windows 10 Technical Preview. The company describes it as part of its Windows-as-a-service transition. It will only apply to Windows 10 and future operating systems, given the change in the way Microsoft builds software.

"Our goal is patch Tuesday will go away," said Stella Chernysak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft, during an interview last week at Ignite. "Windows Update for Business essentially means the challenges customers have historically had with their patching will be easier to address."

Chernysak said this will let Microsoft issue patches as needed and allow organizations to better automate how they apply those patches, while at the same time allowing for customers to maintain a predictable process.

"This is our new foundation for us to deliver Windows as a service," she explained. Microsoft will start delivering the first set of Windows Update for Services this summer with additional functionality to be added in the fall.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/13/2015 at 11:50 AM0 comments

Device Guard Joins Windows Hello and Passport To Lockdown Windows 10

Microsoft's effort to displace passwords with technology with its forthcoming biometrics-based Windows Hello and Passport technology has received a fair amount of attention over the past few weeks. But Microsoft has another new technology slated for Windows 10 called Device Guard, which aims to further protect Windows from malware and known and new advanced persistent threats.

Device Guard, announced at last month's RSA Conference in San Francisco, will be an option for those who want deeper protection against APTs and malware in instances where intruders get in. Device Guard uses hardware-based virtualization to block the ability to execute unsigned code. It does so by creating a virtual machine that's isolated from the rest of the operating system. Device Guard can protect data and applications from attackers and malware that have already managed to gain access, according to Chris Hallum, a senior product manager for commercial Windows client security at Microsoft.

"This gives it a significant advantage over traditional antivirus and app control technologies like AppLocker, Bit9, and others which are subject to tampering by an administrator or malware," Hallum explained in an April 21 blog post. "In practice, Device Guard will frequently be used in combination with traditional AV and app control technologies. Traditional AV solutions and app control technologies will be able to depend on Device Guard to help block executable and script-based malware while AV will continue to cover areas that Device Guard doesn't such as JIT based apps (e.g.: Java) and macros within documents. App control technologies can be used to define which trustworthy apps should be allowed to run on a device. In this case IT uses app control as a means to govern productivity and compliance rather than malware prevention."

Device Guard blocks against malware and zero days targeting Windows 10 by only allowing trusted apps signed by software vendors, the Windows Store and internally developed software, according to Hallum. "You're in control of what sources Device Guard considers trustworthy and it comes with tools that can make it easy to sign Universal or even Win32 apps that may not have been originally signed by the software vendor," he explained.

When I met with Hallum and Dustin Ingalls, group program manager for OS security, at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last month, we primarily discussed Windows Hello and Passport, which Microsoft is hoping will replace passwords by enabling biometric authentication. Device Guard is not quite as sexy since it'll be invisible to individual end users but will allow enterprise IT administrators to make it impossible for attackers to execute code not recognized by Device Guard, Ingalls explained.

The VM created with Device Guard creates what Ingalls called a "tiny OS" where the operating system's decision-making components are isolated. "We take the actual critical integrity components and move those out of the main OS," Ingalls explained. "Now we have operating system that's much more difficult to compromise. "On top of that we make use of a feature called user mode integrity, which they know is vetted in the Windows Store."

Stella Chernysak, a senior director for Windows Commercial at Microsoft, described Device Guard as similar to Bitlocker in concept. "Device Guard will be on business systems, where IT has an opportunity to turn it on," Chernysak explained in an interview last week at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Chicago. "It will be an option for IT to take advantage of that feature or IT may make the decision to ask an OEM or partner to turn it on."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/11/2015 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Will Microsoft Really Bid on Salesforce.com?

As rumors surfaced this week that Salesforce.com is seeking bidders to acquire the company, including possibly Microsoft, they were barely noticed in Chicago's McCormick Place, where the Ignite conference was taking place. The mere mention of it to an attendee garnered an uninterested look, where attendees were focused on taking in the wave of new wares Microsoft rolled out.

Though shares of Salesforce.com's stock were halted briefly on Tuesday when they spiked on the rumors, the reports don't suggest Microsoft has actually even made a bid, only that there are at least two bidders and that Microsoft could be one of them and SAP the other. So the speculation swirling Wall Street is just that, though oftentimes speculation does turn into reality. 

When I first read about the rumours, my reaction was that it does seem rather far-fetched that Microsoft would shell out as much as $60 billion to acquire Salesforce.com, even if it is the leading supplier of cloud-based software-as-a service applications. One has to wonder if the huge investment and cash outlay would be worth it, considering such deals rarely have the upside the architects envision.

Considering Salesforce.com's market cap is about $49 billion, a deal to acquire it with the typical premium could reach $60 billion, give or take a few billion. Salesforce.com's 2014 revenues were just over $4 billion with guidance for this year of $5.3 billion -- or 30 percent. While not shabby, last year's annual revenues increased 35 percent, suggesting growth is slowing.  Another problem: despite its revenue growth, Salesforce.com lost $263 million last year. Also Microsoft has competing, though less successful, product lines with Dynamics and Yammer, to name a few.

On the other hand, acquiring Salesforce.com, which is hugely popular with enterprises, could accelerate Microsoft's shift in transitioning into a SaaS provider and extend its developer footprint into the open source community. It would also give Microsoft an even larger presence in Silicon Valley.

Some of that upside notwithstanding, does Microsoft need to bet the farm on Salesforce.com when it could use that cash hoard in more fruitful ways?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2015 at 12:30 PM0 comments

Microsoft Transitions Cloud OS to New Azure Stack

When Microsoft rolled out Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, the company coined it and the then-new Azure Pack as its Cloud OS. While Cloud OS indeed provided the building blocks to build Azure-like clouds in private datacenters and third-party hosting providers, many say it's not seamless. Also Azure itself is a very different cloud than it was in 2012.

Cloud OS is a generic term used by a number of other providers including Cisco and Hewlett Packard. You can expect to see Microsoft phase out its Cloud OS brand that described Microsoft's approach to Windows Server and System Center in favor of the new Azure Stack. Along with the new Operations Management Service, which enables management of multiple servers, clouds and virtual machines, Azure Stack is a product that substantially advances upon the Azure Pack in that it aims to allow enterprises and hosting providers to build and manage cloud infrastructure that truly mirrors the functionality and experience of the Azure public cloud.

While Cloud OS as an amalgamation of Microsoft's datacenter software offerings didn't quite live up to its billing, Microsoft officials were confident at Ignite that the Azure Stack, its new operating system software including the new Nano Server configuration and containers, will enable a common infrastructure for on-premises datacenters and Azure. Time will tell whether Microsoft delivers on that promise but Azure Stack will come next year with Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, Microsoft officials explained here in Chicago this week. Corporate VP Brad Anderson introduced Azure Stack Monday in the opening keynote of Ignite.

"This is literally us giving you all of Azure for you to run in your datacenters," Anderson said. "What this brings you is you get that great IaaS and PaaS environment in your datacenters. You have incredible capability like a unified application model that gives you a one-click deployment experience for even the most complex, multitier applications and then you get that cloud-inspired infrastructure. We're giving you the same software controller that we built for our network, the name is the same, network controller.  We're giving you our load balancing. We're giving you all the storage innovation."

Microsoft released the second technical preview of Windows Server 2016 Monday and the Azure Stack is slated for a later test version. Ryan O'Hara, a Microsoft program director, explained in an Ignite briefing Tuesday the Azure Stack will offer more features than the Azure Pack. Among other things, it will offer all of the services of both IaaS and PaaS and all of the Azure management tools. "We think about Azure Stack as the delivery of Azure innovations on premises," O'Hara said.

In Monday's keynote, Jeff Woolsey, a Microsoft senior technical product manager, demonstrated the Azure Stack. "You see the same IaaS virtual machines, the same network interfaces, the same public IP addresses, the same BLOB storage, the same SQL [and] the same role-based access control both in Azure and in Azure Stack," he said. Through the Azure Portal, Woolsey showed how to associate such Azure services as networking, compute and storage, as well as Azure's software-based load balancers, software-defined network controllers and the distributed firewall. Into the Azure Stack. "We've packaged those up and put those in the Azure Stack for you so you're getting those same software-defined networking capabilities," he said.

Azure Stack will be a key component of the next version of Windows Server but it will be a separate offering. As it rolls out, we'll see if this provides the true vision of the hybrid cloud platform formerly known as Cloud OS.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/06/2015 at 12:10 PM0 comments

Microsoft Kicks off Inaugural Ignite Event with Barrage of New Tech for IT Pros

Days after courting developers to build apps for its new Universal Windows Platform at the Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft deluged more than 23,000 IT pros attending its inaugural Ignite conference in Chicago with a barrage of new offerings to manage and secure the new platform and the entire IT stack.

Ignite kicked off today with a three-hour keynote headlined byd CEO Satya Nadella, who talked up how the company's new wave of software and cloud services will enable IT and business transformation in line with the ways people now work. He also highlighted the need for better automation of systems, processes and management of the vast amount of data originating from new sources such as sensors.

Among the new offerings revealed during the keynote presentation were: Azure Stack, which brings its Azure IaaS and PaaS cloud to on-premises datacenters; Microsoft Operations Management Suite to administer multiple server OSes including Linux, clouds and VMs; and Windows Update Service for Business, while making the case for Windows 10 for enterprise users.

Nadella talked up the company's focus on "productivity and platforms" tied with the shift to cloud and mobility, saying everything Microsoft offers aims to bring all of that together in line with the changes in the way people work and new data types generated from sensors and other Internet-of-Things-type nodes.

"Every layer of the IT stack is going to be profoundly impacted," Nadella said in the keynote session. "This sets up our context. It sets up the tension we have as we set out to manage this IT landscape. "We want to enable to our IT professionals and end users to make their own choices for their own devices, yet we need to ensure the security, the management. We want to enable our business units to choose the SaaS applications of their choice, yet we want to have the compliance and control of efficiency."

Nadella emphasized three themes: making personal computing more personal and secure, bringing together productivity and process and providing more agile back-end infrastructure. Just about everything Microsoft offers will be updated.

SQL Server 2016 will be "the biggest breakthrough in database infrastructure," with a technology called Stretch, allowing a single table to stretch from the datacenter to Azure. Microsoft released the second preview of Windows Server 2016 and is readying System Center 2016 "to make it possible for you to have Azure in your datacenter which is consistent with the public cloud Azure," Nadella said. The new Microsoft Operations Management Suite will provide what Enterprise Mobility Suite provides for client device management to datacenter administration, said Corporate VP Brad Anderson.

The company also gave major airtime to new security wares including the release of the new Advanced Threat Analytics tool, which, among other things, manages activity in Active Directory logs. The company also is moving from its traditional Patch Tuesday delivery of security updates, which take place on the second Tuesday of every month, to "rings" of security releases that will start with the delivery of Windows 10.

For the most part, Microsoft emphasized its new release wave and how it will integrate with key platforms, notably iOS and Android. But in a departure, Windows Chief Terry Myerson couldn't resist talking up Microsoft's added security features on Windows, and the company's new wares to keep Windows even more secure, taking a shot at Google. "Google just ships a big pile of [pause for emphasis] ... code, and leaves you exposed with no commitments to update your device." It was intended to showcase Microsoft's new focus on providing regular security updates for Windows.

Joe Belfiore, corporate VP for Microsoft's operating systems group, showcased the new Windows Hello technology, tied to the company's new Passport authentication service, coming to Windows 10. While Windows Hello will support all forms of biometrics, Belfiore showcased Windows 10 using facial recognition to authenticate into Windows 10.  Belfiore also demonstrated many popular features in Windows 7 that will reemerge into Windows 10 and new features, like Cortana, the new personal assistant that will provide answers to questions. "My mission is to convince you and give you the tools with the belief your end users will love and desire Windows 10," Belfiore said.

In coming posts, we'll drill down into these new offerings, which represent much of Microsoft's product waves expected in the next six-to-12 months.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/04/2015 at 2:08 PM0 comments

Can Android and iOS Bridges Really Save Windows Phone?

Microsoft spent the last two days trying to convince its own and the rest of the software development community that building applications to its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) will let them create innovative and competitive apps. Indeed providing a common architecture for PCs, tablets and Xbox is a lofty goal and has promising implications. Likewise HoloLens, Microsoft's virtual reality headgear, is a worthy attempt to create new capabilities, though its success remains to be seen. The move to provide interfaces that will let Android and iOS developers extend their apps to Windows -- and vice versa -- raised eyebrows this week. It could be a last-ditch effort to save Windows Phone from fading to obscurity but even if it can't save Microsoft's struggling smartphone, UWP could still be a hit in other ways.

In short, UWP will support everything from legacy Win32 apps in the new Windows Store to Web, Android and iOS apps. Michael Domingo, editor-in-chief- of Redmond magazine sister publication Visual Studio Magazine is at the Build conference this week. Domingo explained the various tools that will create these bridges. Among them Project Astoria is the Android runtime bridge, which can be used from the Android Studio IDE to refactor Android app code for the Windows 10 platform. It will include a Windows emulator, and is supposed to allow for debugging and testing of apps from either the Android IDE or Visual Studio IDE. The new Project Islandwood toolkit is an iOS bridge for developing from Objective C. Myerson demonstrated some of the progress his group has made with the tool, showing the ability to debug and test Xcode from within the Visual Studio IDE. Project Centennial is aimed at Windows developers who want a shortcut for recasting current .NET and Win32 Windows apps for the newer Windows Store.

"Windows 10 is going to enable you to reuse your Web code, your .NET and Win32 code, your Android, Java and C++ code, to build amazing new applications, bringing the code over, extending it, putting it in the Windows Store and reaching 1 billion Windows 10 customers," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president and leader of Microsoft's Windows team, in Wednesday's opening keynote at Build, held in San Francisco. Likewise, "you will be able to compile the same Objective C code that's being used in iOS applications within Visual Studio on Windows, enabling you to leverage that code and extend it with the capabilities only found on the Windows platform."

David Treadwell, a corporate VP for operating systems at Microsoft, yesterday demonstrated how Windows 10 will provide a bridge for the Universal Windows Platform and store.  "Apps written to these classic platform technologies will be able to be packaged and deployed with AppX," Treadwell said. "You'll get the same fast, safe, trusted deployment as apps written to the Universal Windows Platform."

Critics were quick to question how well Android and iOS apps will work on UWP, particularly Windows Phone. "Okay programmers, what do you get when you run something in emulation?" asked blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols , on a ZDNet post. "That's right. You get slow performance."

Vaughan-Nichols, an expert on the open source community and Microsoft critic, had a more fundamental question: "If you're a Windows Phone or RT developer, may I ask why?" pointing to its below 4 percent and falling market share. "Microsoft has handed the keys to the Windows Mobile kingdom to Android and iOS programmers. Whether those developers will bother with it is another question. After the first flush of excitement, they too will face considerable technical and market problems getting their apps profitably on Windows. I think Microsoft is making a desperate play to stay relevant in the mobile space with its own operating system and it's one that's destined to fail."

Key to disproving the Vaughan-Nichols theory will be the ability to bridge these apps with ease, agility, speed and with no degradation in performance. Now that Microsoft has built it, will the developers come?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/01/2015 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Microsoft Build: 1 Billion Devices Predicted To Run Windows 10 In Next Few Years

Microsoft believes its new Windows 10 operating system will find its way onto 1 billion PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox gaming consoles and emerging device form factors like its HoloLens by fiscal year 2018, which begins in just over two years. Terry Myerson, executive vice president for Microsoft's Windows group, made the bold prediction in part of the opening keynote presentation at the annual Build conference which kicked off today in San Francisco.

But convincing developers to build applications for the new Universal Windows platform and its application store will be critical if Microsoft can achieve that goal. By providing a common code base for different form factors, Microsoft believes it will have an appealing reason for customers to embrace Windows 10.

In opening remarks, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the case for Windows 10. "Windows 10 represents a new generation of Windows built for an era of more personal computing from Raspberry Pi (the low-cost touch-based device) to the holographic computer," Nadella said.

"Universal Windows apps are going to enable you to do things you never thought were possible," Myerson said. "With Windows 10 we are targeting the largest device span ever. We're talking about one platform -- a single binary that can run across all these devices." While Microsoft has talked up that theme for some time, Myerson announced four key developments that could further embolden Windows to developers and consequently millennials who tend to gravitate to other computing and device platforms.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the ability to port application code for iOS and Android to the new Universal Windows platform. Windows Phones will include an Android subsystem where an app can be written, but the extensions to Windows will enable Android apps to be extended to Windows, Myerson said. Developers will be able to bring the code over, extend it and put it in the Windows Store, "reaching 1 billion Windows 10 customers," he said.

Myerson also announced developers will be able to compile the same Objective C code used to build Apple iOS apps for iPhones and iPads within Visual Studio on Windows, "enabling you to leverage that code and use capabilities only found on Windows platform. "

Addressing the issue of legacy Windows applications, Myerson announced the new Universal Windows apps by letting developers reuse server-hosted code and tools. "Developers will be able to give Web sites live tiles, integrate with Xbox Live and more," Myerson said. Developers can also now enable Cortana notifications, he noted.

Microsoft is also adding support for .NET and Win32 apps into the Windows Store, enabling these apps to take advantage of all of the Universal Windows platform capabilities. It does so using the learnings from Microsoft's App-V technology that lets developers run their applications in virtual environments. Adobe said its Photoshop Elements and Illustrator will be available in this environment.  

The ability to run iOS, Android, legacy Win32 and .NET code could address key barriers to Windows but what will ultimately make Windows 10 fly is the ability to deliver capabilities not currently available. Much of that is now in, or coming into, the hands of developers.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/29/2015 at 2:06 PM0 comments

Bugs in New Windows 10 Preview Could Test Your Patience

Testing beta software is always fraught with unexpected challenges but the new Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 10061, released last week, might test your patience. If you've already downloaded it, you know what I mean. If you're not on the "fast ring" release cycle of the Windows Insider program and haven't seen it, prepare to roll up your sleeves.

Microsoft gave a heads up to some of the bugs that are always present when we agree to test beta software. None of the problems seems insurmountable. The most obvious issue is if you use Win32 apps, including Microsoft Office, they won't launch from the Start Menu. Microsoft was aware of this when it released the new preview but wanted to showcase the new features and tweaked look.

There's an easy fix for this problem, as Gabe Aul, chief of the Windows Insider program, explained in last week's blog post announcing the release. "We know this one will be a bit painful but there is a bug with this build in which Win32 (desktop) apps won't launch from the Start Menu," he explained. "The workaround is to use search to find and launch these apps and pin them to your taskbar for quick access." Once you do that, launching applications will be fine.

If you liked using Microsoft's new browser, code-named Project Spartan, it'll appear they pulled it from the Technical Preview along with the beta of the new Windows Store. Both are still there -- you just have to find them and "repin them to your Taskbar from All apps on your Start Menu," Aul said.

Despite some of these issues, Microsoft wanted to showcase some of the newest features coming to Windows 10. Among them, according to Aul, are:

Start Menu allows users to resize

  • Black theme across Start Menu, TaskBar and Action Center
  • Taskbar optimized for tablets. In tablet mode the size of the Start button, Cortana and Task View buttons increases making them optimized for touch
  • Boot-to-tablet mode is the default setting for tablets smaller than 10 inches
  • Virtual desktops: Users can now create as many as they need

Fixes from previous build include:

  • Hyper-V now works
  • Visual Studio won't crash when creating Universal Apps
  • Project Spartan browser bugs repaired

What's your reaction to the latest Windows 10 build?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/27/2015 at 12:55 PM0 comments

AWS Is Surprisingly Profitable: Now What?

It's been a long time coming for Amazon.com investors who have grown increasingly impatient with the drag its cloud computing business has imposed on profits but the company last week gave them some good news. Under pressure to give a more detailed breakdown of revenues and profitability of its Amazon Web Services subsidiary, the company caved and promised it would share that information commencing with last week's Q1 2015 earnings report.

In its first disclosure on AWS, Amazon said its cloud computing subsidiary is a $5 billion business that's growing. Specifically, it posted $1.57 billion in revenue for the period, a 49% year-over-year increase. Based on analyst estimates that would put AWS on a $6 billion run rate, according to Redmond's new sister site AWSInsider. The most surprising revelation from Amazon's earnings report was that AWS is profitable. AWS had a margin of 17 percent. Macquarie Analyst Ben Schachter told The Wall Street Journal that AWS "is significantly more profitable than we expected." 

Noting the 15% jump in the company's stock on the news, Finro Equity Analyst Lior Ronen today was among a number of others suggesting that Amazon spin off AWS. In a Seeking Alpha blog post Ronen said based on AWS' $1.57 billion revenue for the quarter AWS segment is on a $6.9 billion annual revenue run rate, based on 11% quarterly growth. Assuming a price-to-sales ratio ranging from 7 to 10, AWS is worth between $48 billion and $69 billion, Ronen predicted.

"By spinning AWS, Amazon will be able to create two tech giants -- one focused on e-commerce and online retail business and the other on cloud computing and IaaS services," he said. "Amazon could leverage the two companies to create a whole that is bigger the sum of its parts: AWS could focus on its niche, develop new revenue streams, and invest further in its technology, while Amazon could do the same on its e-commerce platform. That is the only way Amazon could create a sustainable growth for the long term and employ the advantages it has in both businesses."

However Equity Analyst James Brumely was among those skeptical about AWS' long-term prospects. In a separate Seeking Alpha post, Brumely argued that as cloud services become more commoditized it will put pressure on future margins for AWS. Brumely also said that Google and Microsoft will continue to put pressure on Amazon. "Even as exciting as unexpected operating profits are for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) arm of the e-commerce giant, it doesn't change the fact that the company still lost money last quarter, nor does it change the fact that margins for AWS are more likely to continue to shrink rather than widen as cloud-computing continues to become commoditized," he said.

Furthermore, the 17% margin isn't as impressive as it seems, he argued, pointing to the fact that 291 of the companies in the Fortune 500 have operating profits of 15% or higher. More alarming, he said, is the fact that its 17% margin represents a marked decline from last year's profit of 23% during the same quarter.

"What happened?," he asked. "In simplest terms, Amazon (in a very Amazon-esque manner) has decided to become and remain the low-price leader with the cloud-storage world, and didn't worry about making much -- if any -- profit in the business. As turns out, it still made some operating profit as a cloud-computing provider, but it's making progressively, relatively less as time moves along."

The findings from Amazon's AWS stats may be vague but it's a noteworthy step not just for investors but for buyers of cloud infrastructure services who -- while looking to bet the best deal possible -- surely don't want to see their provider lose money indefinitely. And just as competitors tend to respond to pricing moves of one another, it'll be interesting to see if Microsoft, Google, IBM and others follow suit.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/27/2015 at 7:50 AM0 comments

Azure, Hyper-V and Spartan Browser Added to Microsoft's Bug Bounties

Microsoft is extending its bug bounty program, which pays up to $100,000, to include Azure, Hyper-V and the new Project Spartan browser that will be included in the new Windows 10 operating system.

Microsoft's bounty program has existed for several years and had already provided awards for detecting flaws in Internet Explorer and Office 365. Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich announced the addition of its cloud service, Hyper-V and Project Spartan to the bounty program at this week's RSA Conference in San Francisco. Among his three talks at the RSA Conference was an overview of the security of the Azure cloud service where he made the announcement at the end of his presentation.

"We want to make sure we don't have attacks discovered on Hyper-V before we do, so we're asking now for researchers to be there so we can get on top of them before attackers can take advantage of them," Russinovich said. "It's showing that we really want to keep our systems secure and make sure that the good guys aren't encouraged to go take their information and do evil with it but rather help everybody get some incentive like this."

Bounties for fixes that cover known flaws range from $500 to $15,000 and Microsoft will pay up to $100,000 for a mitigation bypass to any of the company's isolation technologies. It also offers $50,000 BlueHat bonuses for discovery and mitigation of zero-day vulnerabilities. Jason Shirk of the Microsoft Security Response Center said in a blog post Wednesday  that the bounty extension will include Azure virtual machines, Azure Cloud Services, Azure Storage and Azure Active Directory, among others. The bounty will also cover Sway.com, the preview of Microsoft's new social network for sharing information. Shirk said Microsoft is only offering the bounty for Project Spartan through June 22.

Stephen Sims, a security researcher at the SANS Institute said Microsoft has paid handsomely for a number of discoveries, such as last year's $100,000 to Yang Yu, who disclosed three exploit mitigation bypass techniques to the company. "My experience with MSRC is they're kind of a pain, they're not very friendly about it but it is good that they have that program setup," Sims said. "But they do pay if you can prove to them without a doubt. If you can find one bug, it's a year's salary, potentially."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/24/2015 at 12:13 PM0 comments

RSA Encryption Inventors Lament Its Use for Ransomware

When the developers of the original RSA encryption algorithms built what has become the mainstream means of encrypting and decrypt data, it wasn't lost on them that some bad guys might also find malicious uses for it as well. Two of its inventors yesterday said they were alarmed at the use of encryption for ransomware, which has become a pervasive way of gaining access to users' PCs and enterprise servers using increasingly more sophisticated social engineering and phishing techniques.

"As a security threat, encrypting ransomware has flown beneath the radar of many IT departments. It emerged as a consumer problem and at smaller companies and agencies," said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research, who once again moderated this year's Cryptography Panel at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. "Many IT admins, unfortunately, write off the potential for ransomware incidents as unavoidable end-user errors that merit a slap on the wrist, but can't be helped. But all evidence suggests the problem isn't going away."

Given two of the panelists invented many of what are now the RSA algorithms used in today's encryption methods -- Adi Shamir, a professor at the Weizmann Institute  in Israel, and MIT Professor Ronald Rivest -- Kocher asked them for their perspective on their use for ransomware.

"As the inventor of one of the algorithms, I sort of feel like the mother whose son has been brainwashed and he's off to become a Jihadist in Syria somewhere," Rivest said. "I think that ransomware is one of those areas where our community failed in a particularly miserable way," Shamir added. "There are good security programs you can use in order to protect yourself from this ransomware."

Shamir said he fears the worst is yet to come as the Internet of Things enables homes and businesses to become more connected. "Think about your TV being ransomware'd stopping to work, with a big display that you have to pay in to get the TV service back," Shamir said. "I think it's a very serious problem. It's going to stay with us and we really have to think about new techniques to stop it."

Shamir also noted that because systems can be infected silently for weeks or months before a user is aware of it, backing up files also won't solve the problem. "Eventually your files on the backup are going to be the encrypted files," he said. "This is a huge issue of the correctness of backed up data, which is a major problem."

This month's Redmond magazine cover story looked at the continued impact of ransomware on consumers and enterprises alike. Panelist Ed Giorgio a cryptographer and security expert said the malicious use of encryption is just part of the problem. "Ransomware is not just about encrypting your data so you don't have access to it, in order to do ransomware you have to first penetrate somebody's computer, then you have some sort of an exploit," Giorgio said. "But as we all know, criminals are very innovative and once they penetrate your file, they will find other things in your computer they can blackmail you for. Even if we do solve the loss of data problem, ransomware will still be around.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/22/2015 at 12:16 PM0 comments

RSA's New Leader To Tackle Rapidly Shifting Security Landscape

This is not your father's RSA. That was the message the company's new president, Amit Yoran, effectively gave in the opening keynote on Tuesday at the annual RSA Security Conference in San Francisco attended by more than 30,000 IT security professionals. While it's hosted by RSA, a subsidiary of EMC known for its development of the industry standard RSA public key cryptography algorithm, the conference is an industry event with participation by its partners and competitors alike.

While focusing his keynote on issues that plague security professionals, it set the stage for changes Yoran is planning for the company he took the reins of last year from longtime President Art Coviello, who recently retired. "We're reengineering RSA across the board to enable us to deliver on this vision," Yoran said toward the end of his address. "This time next year, we won't be the same RSA you have known for decades."

Yoran didn't use his keynote to explain how he plans to remake RSA. But at a gathering of press and analysts a day earlier in brief remarks he indicated a move away from RSA's original SecureID strong authentication token platform. Addressing the current risk factors, which extend beyond enterprise perimeters thanks to the growing ubiquity of public and hybrid cloud services, he noted the launch of its new Via identity management product line and extensions to RSA Security Analytics.

RSA described its new Via portfolio as the first smart identity tools that use contextual awareness instead of static rules such as traditional passwords to single sign-on access to systems. The first in the portfolio, RSA Via Access, is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that offers step-up authentication using mobile devices to provide single sign-on access. The portfolio also includes RSA Via Governance, built on its identity management and governance platform acquired by Aveksa, which provides views into access privileges, automates user access and flags orphan user accounts and inappropriate user access, according to the company. Also built on its Aveska acquisition is the new Via Lifecycle, a user provisioning platform.

The other major area of emphasis for the company is the extended capabilities of RSA Analytics. Based on RSA's 2011 acquisition of NetWitness, which Yoran led as CEO at the time, the company is launching a new release of RSA Analytics that will focus on extending visibility from the endpoint to the cloud. And that gave Yoran fodder for much of his talking points in his opening keynote.

Referring to the 2014 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report that found less than 1 percent of successful advanced threat attacks were spotted by SIEM systems, he argued his call for change. "We're still clinging to our old maps," he said. "It's time to realize that things are different."

Given existing defense mechanisms are not sufficient in and of themselves these days, he believes analytics will be key to proactively identifying attacks. "We must adopt a deep and pervasive level of true visibility everywhere, from the endpoint to the network to the cloud, if we have any hope of being able to see the advanced threats that are increasingly today's norm," he said.

The Stuxnet, Equation Group and Carbanak intrusions are a handful of examples he pointed to. "One of the defining characteristics across all of them is their stealthy nature," he said. "Until written about they were virtually undetectable because they bypassed traditional defenses. Even now many organizations operate completely blind as to whether they are victim to these published techniques. Traditional forms of visibility are one-dimensional, yielding dangerously incomplete snapshots of an incident, let alone any semblance of understanding of an attack campaign. Without the ability to rapidly knit together multiple perspectives on an attack, you'll never fully understand the scope of the overall campaign you're facing."

Arguing he wasn't hawking his products, Yoran said "I'm not just standing up here and saying 'buy RSA gear.' I'm the first to admit that we need to go further than what is available today. We're on a journey to full visibility. Our environments, business practices and adversaries continue to evolve and so must we."

As I said, this is not your father's RSA.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/21/2015 at 2:19 PM0 comments

Microsoft Shuts Down Open Source Subsidiary

Microsoft late last week said it's shutting down the MS Open Tech subsidiary it formed three years ago to invest in open source initiatives and will absorb it into the company. The company announced the formation of Microsoft Open Technologies Inc. in April 2012, staffed with an interoperability strategy team in Redmond that aimed at accelerating its push into the open source community.

In a blog post late Friday, MS Open Tech's president Jean Paoli said the independent organization accomplished what it set out to do and the time is right to bring its people and efforts back into Microsoft. "MS Open Tech has reached its key goals, and open source technologies and engineering practices are rapidly becoming mainstream across Microsoft," Paoli said. "It's now time for MS Open Tech to rejoin Microsoft Corp., and help the company take its next steps in deepening its engagement with open source and open standards."

The move is hardly surprising. In the past year, Microsoft has extended its push into the open source community more than most ever would have expected. Not that Microsoft is positioning itself as an open source company but it in some way supports every major initiative and has made contributions once unthinkable including its .NET Framework. Mark Russinovich, CTO for Azure, earlier this month raised eyebrows when raising the specter of Microsoft open sourcing Windows saying "it's definitely possible."

"Open source has become a key part of Microsoft's culture," Paoli said in his Friday post. "Microsoft's investments in open source ecosystems and non-Microsoft technologies are stronger than ever, and as we build applications, services, and tools for other platforms, our engineers are more involved in open source projects every day. Today, Microsoft engineers participate in nearly 2,000 open source projects on GitHub and CodePlex combined."

Paoli also noted that Microsoft has brought "first-class support" to Linux and Azure, partnered with Docker to integrate its containers to enable support on Azure and Windows, built Azure HDInsight on Apache Hadoop and Linux and created developer support for open platforms and languages including Android, Node.js and Python. In addition to deep support for Docker, Paoli pointed to integration with other key environments, both open and competing proprietary platforms, notably iOS. Among other projects he noted were contributions to Apache Cordova, Cocos2d-x, OpenJDK, and dash.js, support for  Office 365 on the Moodle learning platform and collaboration on key Web standards including HTML5, HTTP/2 and WebRTC/ORTC.

As Microsoft absorbs MS OpenTech, it will create the Microsoft Open Technology Programs Office, according to Paoli. "Team members will play a broader role in the open advocacy mission with teams across the company," he said. "The Programs Office will scale the learnings and practices in working with open source and open standards that have been developed in MS Open Tech across the whole company. Additionally, the Microsoft Open Technology Programs Office will provide tools and services to help Microsoft teams and engineers engage directly with open source communities, create successful Microsoft open source projects, and streamline the process of accepting community contributions into Microsoft open source projects."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/20/2015 at 11:17 AM0 comments

Docker Client for Windows Released 

Microsoft's efforts to support containers in Windows took another step forward yesterday with the release of the Docker Client for Windows. The release of Microsoft's Docker command-line interface for Windows comes with Docker's updated container platform, dubbed Docker 1.6.

It comes after an active week for Docker, which on Tuesday received a huge equity investment of $95 million, which the company said it will use in part to further its collaborations with partners including Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM. Microsoft also just announced that Docker containers are coming to Hyper-V and for Windows Server.

"Docker Client for Windows can be used to manage Docker hosts running Linux containers today, and managing Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers will be supported in the future to provide the same standard Docker Client and interface on multiple development environments," wrote Ahmet Alp Balkan, a software engineer for Azure Compute at Microsoft. Microsoft and Docker have collaborated to port the Docker Client to the Windows environment in Docker's open source project, which you can see on GitHub."

Balkan also noted that IT pros will be able to find Windows Server Container Images in the Docker Hub among the 45,000 Docker images for Linux already available, a figure he noted continues to grow. IT pros and developers can download the Docker Client for Windows via the Chocolatey package manager or they can install Boot2Docker, which creates a Docker development environment within a virtual machine, Balkan noted.

The new Docker 1.6 includes a new container and labels that let IT pros and developers attach user-defined metadata to containers and images within various tools, Docker said. Also the new Docker Registry and API, along with the Docker 1.6 Engine boasts improved reliability and performance.

Docker's updated Compose 1.2 tool, designed for running complex applications, reduces repeatable processes.  The release also includes the Swarm 0.2 clustering component, which the company said turns a pool of Docker hosts into one virtual host. The updated release includes a new spread strategy for scheduling containers, more Docker commands supported, the ability to add more clustering drivers and support for more Docker commands such as pulling and inspecting images.

Finally, Docker added Machine 0.2, which the company said has an improved driver interface, more reliable provisioning and the ability to regenerate TLS certificates to ensure better security when a host's IP address changes.

Posted on 04/17/2015 at 1:03 PM0 comments

Microsoft Pushes To Further Distance Itself from AWS

Ask most people what companies are Microsoft's biggest rivals and some will say Apple but most will identify Google. Several published reports even point to powers in Redmond as a key force behind regulators coming down on the search giant this week. IT pros may throw VMware and Red Hat in the mix of major Microsoft competitors but its neighbor Amazon Web Services is right up there having launched its famous cloud infrastructure services years ahead of Microsoft. Even the entry of Azure got off to a slow start, lacking a complete infrastructure service to rival the offerings of AWS.

Microsoft talked up the kink in the armor last year when Amazon shocked investors with heavier-than-expected losses, due primarily to its investments in AWS. Anyone who knows Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is aware he's not going to throw in the towel on AWS that quickly, though there are some who'd like to see him agree to spin off the cloud business into a separate company. But Bezos' rationale around AWS was always to let the two businesses feed off each other.

Proponents of a divestiture could be buoyed or deflated depending on what Amazon's numbers look like when it reports next week but, to date, history is not on its side. While we've reported on gains by Microsoft, IBM and numerous others at the expense of AWS, by no means is it game over for Amazon, which continues to crank out new offerings on a weekly basis. Consider over the past week when AWS held one of its regional summits, this one in San Francisco. The company pointed to the fact that software partners continue to extend support for AWS' services, simplified its Amazon Machine Learning service, announced its new new Elastic File Storage service and has extended its burgeoning Amazon WorkSpaces offering.

Rarely does a week go by when where isn't something new coming out from what is still the largest provider of infrastructure services, which is why Redmond parent company 1105 Media has launched the new AWSInsider site, which debuted this week. This new sister site is a welcome addition to our portfolio, but in no way will diminish the way Redmond covers AWS for Microsoft-focused IT pros. Rather it only promises to enhance it.

The timing couldn't be better as AWS Furiously Fights off Cloud Competitors. And it's number one antagonist and Pacific Northwest rival Microsoft is about to step up that battle in the coming weeks at its Build conference in two weeks and Ignite in early May. In a preview leading up to Microsoft's big splash,  Jeffrey Snover, lead architect for the Windows Server division, last week talked about six key sessions he'll be participating with the likes of Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, where they'll talk about the company's datacenter vision moving forward, which includes the combination of new versions of Windows Server, System Center, and Azure. A key component will go deep on how this new datacenter vision extends its hybrid cloud platform, aka Cloud OS, with new levels of automation aided by PowerShell's Desired State Configuration and support for containers.

It will be interesting to see how the new offerings coming from not only Microsoft and AWS but all of the major players as well as the lesser known ones, who will also play a key role in how organizations view and procure IT in the future.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/16/2015 at 1:19 PM0 comments

European Union Accuses Google of Violating Antitrust Laws

The European Union has once again thrown the gauntlet down on Google, this time charging the company with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance in search by favoring its own comparison shopping service at the expense of others. The EU is also launching a separate investigation to see if Google has used its clout as the dominant supplier of mobile phone software to hold back providers of competing mobile operating systems, namely Apple and Microsoft. Google denied both allegations.

Regarding the charges that it skews results in its search engine to benefit its own shopping comparison service, the EU charged that "Google gives systematic 'favourable' treatment to its comparison shopping product (currently called 'Google Shopping') in its general search results pages, e.g. by showing Google Shopping more prominently on the screen."

Google diverts traffic from competing comparison shopping services obstructing their ability to compete, said the EU complaint.

"The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries -- this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation," it said in a statement. The EU wants Google to operate its own comparison shopping services the same as it treats those of rivals. Google has 10 weeks to respond, at which point the EU will hold a formal hearing.

In response to that allegation, Google said in a blog post it has plenty of competitors and argued its own offerings are often underdogs. "Indeed if you look at shopping -- an area where we have seen a lot of complaints and where the European Commission has focused in its Statement of Objections -- it's clear that (a) there's a ton of competition (including from Amazon and eBay, two of the biggest shopping sites in the world) and (b) Google's shopping results have not harmed the competition," Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, said in a blog post. "Companies like Facebook, Pinterest and Amazon have been investing in their own search services and search engines like Quixey, DuckDuckGo and Qwant have attracted new funding. We're seeing innovation in voice search and the rise of search assistants -- with even more to come."

As for Android, the EU said it's investigating whether or not Google has violated antitrust regulations by thwarting development of mobile applications to other operating system providers by providing incentives to smartphone and tablet suppliers to install Google's apps and services exclusively. "Distribution agreements are not exclusive, and Android manufacturers install their own apps and apps from other companies as well," said Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's VP of engineering for Android, in a blog post addressing the investigation. "And in comparison to Apple -- the world's most profitable (mobile) phone company -- there are far fewer Google apps preinstalled on Android phones than Apple apps on iOS devices."

Do you feel the EU has a case or are the latest charges just a witch hunt?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/15/2015 at 11:30 AM0 comments

Docker Founder: 'We've been Given a Mandate To Build Something'

Investors are so bullish about how Docker is poised to play a major role in the future of enterprise IT infrastructure and software development that they filled its coffers with $95 million in D Series funding. Docker, regarded as the leading provider of containers for enterprise developers to build service oriented, scalable and portable software, took the huge cash infusion even though the provider of containers hasn't used up last fall's most recent infusion of $40 million.

The company's meteoric rise in just two years has quickly garnered support by enterprise IT heavyweights including Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, VMware and IBM. Not only does Docker aspire to make operating systems and virtual machines much less relevant but it wants to make it possible for developers to build software without regard to the OS or public cloud provider, with the ability to scale with or without a virtual machine. The company claims that the Docker platform shrinks software development times from weeks to minutes and drives 20x improvements in computing resource efficiency.

Docker says it has logged 300 million downloads of instances for its Docker Hub hosted offering and 15 large Fortune 50 companies are now testing its forthcoming Docker Hub Enterprise offering. More than 1,200 open source developers have contributed to the Docker platform, according to the company. David Messina, Docker's VP of marketing, said on a conference call with journalists that the company plans to use the proceeds of the $95 million to expand the orchestration, networking storage and security features of the Docker platform and build on the APIs that enable extensions to platforms from partners like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM.

"I think we've been given a mandate to build something and clearly there's a community of people who are very excited about what we've built so far," said Docker founder and CTO Solomon Hykes, speaking during the conference call. "The expectations are extremely high, almost impossibly high. Our goal is to build a universal tool. Very specifically we're trying to solve fundamental problems that affect all applications, and although at any given time the implementation is limited in its scope. For example most obviously you can only run applications in Docker if they can run in Linux, but over time we're working to expand that scope, and the most dramatic example is our partnership with Microsoft."

Docker's partnership with Microsoft, launched in May and extended in October, is significant. The next version of Windows Server, code-named "v.Next," will ship with native support for containers and with a ported version of Docker that will support Windows container technology, Hykes noted. Microsoft last week said it will release the next technical preview of Windows Server next month.

"As a developer in an enterprise, you'll be able to develop, build and test applications using Docker's standard tooling and interfaces for both Linux and Windows environments," Hykes said. The notion of using Docker containers is that developers can build applications for .NET, Java and modern programming languages that are portable and scan scale without requiring huge investments in virtualization. 

More Lightweight and Faster than a VM

"The first thing that happens when people play with containers in their development projects is it looks like a VM but faster and more lightweight and consuming less memory. And those are all true," Hykes said. "Several years before Docker existed, a common, wisdom among [IT pros and developers] was a container was just that: smaller, more lightweight, a faster VM. The fundamental difference between Docker and other lower-level container tools is simply we disagree. We think containers and VMs are fundamentally different. They operate at different levels of the stack and as a result they are not mutually exclusive. You can use containers with VMs, you can use containers without VMs, directly on bare metal, and we're seeing organizations do both."

Currently most customers aren't using Docker containers to replace virtual machines, Hykes said, emphasizing the notion that containers are designed to ensure existing infrastructure and applications don't require change.

"Typically what we've seen is the way developers reason about containers is not as a possible replacement for VMs, but as an additional layer on top of their infrastructure, which allows them to pick and choose the best infrastructure for each job. [This] means it now becomes easier for an organization to use VMs where VMs make sense, to use bare metal when bare metal makes sense and, of course, to pick and choose between multiple physical machine providers and virtual machine providers and then layer on top of all these different parts of their infrastructure. On top of which they can express their applications. So the bottom line is containers are for applications and VMs are for machines."

To the point regarding the type of applications Docker containers are best suited, Hykes said they can be applied to any type. "Docker can be applied to any sort of application. Over time, I think we're seeing more and more practitioners grow comfortable with the technology, comfortable with the best practices and evolve from the original pilot project, which is typically a non-vital project and gradually trust Docker with projects of larger and larger magnitude."

Messina said the appeal of Docker Server and the forthcoming Docker Hub played a key role in Goldman Sachs and Northern Trust joining the parade of investors funding this new round. The two companies have used Docker for various development efforts and now these organizations are standardizing on Docker in their application lifecycle infrastructure," Messina said.

Insight Venture Partners led the round with new investments from Coatue, Goldman Sachs and Northern Trust. Also participating in the round were previous investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Trinity Ventures and Jerry Yang's AME Cloud Ventures.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/14/2015 at 1:38 PM0 comments

Microsoft releases Skype for Business Client for Office 2013

Microsoft today as planned is releasing the Skype for Business client just weeks after introducing the Technical Preview. The company announced the release of the new Skype for Business as part of the Office 2013 April rollout. All Office 365 customers are scheduled to receive the update by the end of May.

Organizations not ready to let their users transition to the new Skype for Business client can allow administrators to switch back to the existing Lync interface, Microsoft said. The company posted instructions for how customers can roll back to the current Lync client, both for shops with Lync Online and those with Lync Server.

A new version of the Lync Server, to be called Skype for Business Server, is scheduled for release next month. Microsoft said in March that the new server edition will support high availability including support for the company's AlwaysOn capability included in SQL Server.

Skype for Business is the new phone and conference interface that replaces Lync and will bring the look and functions of Skype to Office. Microsoft claims that more than 300 million consumers use Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion, its largest acquisition to date. Now comes the litmus test on whether Microsoft will get bang for its buck. By integrating the enterprise features of Lync with the interface of Skype, Microsoft is hoping it can raise the profile of its communications technology among business and enterprise users.

Microsoft first indicated plans to integrate Lync with Skype and give it the Skype brand late last year and released the technical preview of the new Skype for Business client at last month's Convergence conference in Atlanta. Skype for Business represents Microsoft's latest effort to give it an even stronger foothold in universal communications, which it has long aspired to do. Microsoft introduced Lync nearly five years ago as a revamped iteration of its Office Communications Server.

The company is hoping that the familiarity and access to all of the 300 million users Microsoft claims Skype has will increase its appeal and usage both within businesses and among consumers. Microsoft says Skype for Business has "enterprise-grade security" and controls for compliance. Just like the existing Skype and Lync clients, the new Skype for Business provides IM, presence, voice and video calls and meetings. With this new release, Skype is integrated directly into Office.

In the new client, users can initiate and control calls from their Office contact lists. It also brings the Skype emoticons to discussions, improved file transfer including the ability to drag and drop, the ability to let recipients see file details including the file's size and name and it lets users take notes from within the clients via OneNote. It also includes the Skype call monitor.

How quickly do you see your organization using Skype for Business?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/14/2015 at 10:26 AM0 comments

Microsoft Challenges Court Order To Turn Over E-Mail in Dublin Datacenter

Microsoft last week filed a legal brief challenging a court order that is forcing the company to turn over a customer's e-mails stored in a foreign datacenter.

The brief, filed April 8 with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, seeks to argue last summer's court order that Microsoft must turn over the messages from the customer, who is suspected in an alleged drug-related matter. The identity of the suspect is not known and Microsoft said at the time of the ruling, which was upheld by Judge Loretta Preska, that it would appeal the order.

A number of major technology companies last year had filed briefs in support of Microsoft's appeal including Apple, AT&T, Cisco and Verizon, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noting that the outcome promises to set a precedent for all U.S.-based cloud providers storing data abroad.

"Settled doctrine makes this Court's job simple: Because laws apply only domestically unless Congress clearly provides otherwise, the statute is properly read to apply only to electronic communications stored here, just as other countries' laws regulate electronic communications stored there," according to the brief, which Microsoft published. "Even if the Government could use a subpoena to compel a caretaker to hand over a customer's private, sealed correspondence stored within the United States, however, it cannot do so outside the United States without clear congressional authorization."

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, indicated in a blog post that he's confident the company will prevail. "As we stated in our brief, we believe the law is on the side of privacy in this case, he said. "This case is about how we best protect privacy, ensure that governments keep people safe and respect national sovereignty while preserving the global nature of the Internet."

Smith also argued that the feds are long overdue in evaluating electronic privacy laws. "While there are many areas where we disagree with the government, we both agree that outdated electronic privacy laws need to be modernized," he said. "The statute in this case, the Electronics Communications Privacy Act, is almost 30 years old, he noted. "That's an eternity in the era of information technology."

Those differences of course pertain around combatting criminal activities versus protecting privacy. Smith acknowledged that conflict but renewed his plea for the government to find a resolution. "Law enforcement needs to be able to do its job, but it needs to do it in a way that respects fundamental rights, including the personal privacy of people around the world and the sovereignty of other nations," he said. "We hope the U.S. government will work with Congress and with other governments to reform the laws, rather than simply seek to reinterpret them, which risks happening in this case."


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/13/2015 at 11:11 AM0 comments

PC Sales Decline Not as Bad as Expected

PC shipments have been on the decline. But if you want to look at the glass half-full, those declines aren't as bad as originally forecast.

IDC yesterday reported that 69 million PCs shipped for the first quarter of this year amounted to a 6.7 percent decline over the same period last year. Though that's the lowest number of PCs shipped for the quarter since 2009, this year's decline wasn't as sharp as IDC had originally forecast last fall when the market researcher had predicted volumes to drop by 8.2 percent.

The better-than-expected number -- if you do look at the glass half full -- came from a slower decline in the United States than other parts of the world, according to IDC Senior Research Analyst for PCs Rajani Singh. In the U.S. 14.2 million PCs shipped in the first quarter, a 1 percent decline over the same period last year, according to IDC. The strongest segment of growth was portables, notably in new categories such as new Bing PCs, Chromebooks, convertible PC-tablets and ultra-slim notebooks, according to IDC, which said desktop shipments were sluggish this quarter.

Gartner said desktop declines were in the double digits but figures won't be available for another few weeks, according to analyst Mikako Kitagawa. For its part, Gartner said it had forecast more moderate declines and it says shipments declined 5.2 percent. Gartner is also forecasting moderate PC growth for the years to come.

"The PC industry received a boost in 2014 as many companies replaced their PCs due to the end of Windows XP support. But that replacement cycle faded in the first quarter of 2015," Kitagawa said in a statement. "However, this decline is not necessarily a sign of sluggish overall PC sales long term. Mobile PCs, including notebooks, hybrid and Windows tablets, grew compared with a year ago. The first quarter results support our projection of a moderate decline of PC shipments in 2015, which will lead to a slow, consistent growth stage for the next five years."

The pending arrival should boost PC shipments later this year once Microsoft releases Windows 10, IDC's Singh stated. "Windows 10 should be a net positive as there is pent-up demand for replacements of older PCs," she noted. "Only part of the installed base needs to replace systems to keep the overall growth rate above zero for rest of the year."

Kitagawa in an e-mail said she doesn't anticipate the arrival of Windows 10 playing a significant role in an uptick of PC demand. "We don't expect Windows 10 will stimulate the demand, but will see shipment growth from supply side as manufactures will try to push the volume," she said. "If related marketing activities are visible enough, then it can draw buyers' attention, but it does not mean that it can increase the sales to the end users."

Both research firms also noted that the two largest PC providers, Lenovo and Hewlett Packard respectively, were the only suppliers to grow sales during the quarter. IDC said Lenovo with 19.6 percent share of the market, shipped 13.4 million PCs, an increase of 3.4 percent. HP's sales of just under 13 million systems were up 3.3 percent giving it a 19 percent share of the market. Dell, the No. 3 player, shipped 9.2 million PCs, a 6.3 percent decline giving it a 13.5 percent share.

Smaller PC vendors, defined as "others," accounted for a third of the market and saw their shipments decline 17.6 percent, according to IDC. Naturally that impacted their market share, which dropped from 38.4 percent to 33.9 percent. If that trend continues, expect to see the big get bigger and the rest of the market to be squeezed. One variable is whether HP will be able to maintain its scale after it splits into two companies.



Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/10/2015 at 12:40 PM0 comments

Microsoft Adds Hyper-V and Nano Server to List of Planned Containers

In a move Microsoft says will further advance container technology to more deployment scenarios and workloads and allow developers to build more scalable apps, too, Microsoft today said it will offer Hyper-V containers.

The introduction of Hyper-V containers comes just weeks before Microsoft plans to debut the preview of the next version of Windows Server, code-named "v.Next," which the company will demonstrate at its Build conference in San Francisco. As part of today's announcement, Microsoft also revealed plans to offer a container-based scaled down version of Windows Server called the Nano Server, aimed at modern, cloud-native applications. The latest report of the Nano Server under development surfaced last month.

Microsoft Hyper-V containers will offer a deployment option to running applications on Windows Server. The company announced last fall that the next version of Windows Server will support containers, which are lightweight runtime environments with many of the core components of a virtual machine and isolated services of an OS designed to package and execute so-called micro-services. However, while the addition of containers to Windows Server V.Next has been described before, the Hyper-V containers addition is something new.

Microsoft has previously described a partnership with Docker to ensure its containers could run in Windows Server environments. The move followed an earlier announcement in June 2014 to ensure that the Microsoft Azure public cloud could run Docker containers on Linux-based virtual machines. Microsoft has also indicated that Azure will support Docker's open orchestration APIs and Docker Hub images in the Azure Gallery and Portal.

The latest addition today of Hyper-V containers will offer a deployment option that offers extended isolation utilizing the attributes of not just the Windows operating system but Hyper-V virtualization, according to Mike Neil, Microsoft's general manager for Windows Server, in a blog post.

"Virtualization has historically provided a valuable level of isolation that enables these scenarios but there is now opportunity to blend the efficiency and density of the container model with the right level of isolation," Neil wrote. "Microsoft will now offer containers with a new level of isolation previously reserved only for fully dedicated physical or virtual machines, while maintaining an agile and efficient experience with full Docker cross-platform integration. Through this new first-of-its-kind offering, Hyper-V Containers will ensure code running in one container remains isolated and cannot impact the host operating system or other containers running on the same host."

The Hyper-V containers will support the same development and management tools as those designed for Windows Server Containers, Neil noted. Moreover, he said developers don't need to modify applications built for Windows Server Containers in order to run in Hyper-V containers.

And for modern application scenarios where Hyper-V and Windows Server would be overkill, Neil described the new Nano Server as "a minimal footprint installation option of Windows Server that is highly optimized for the cloud, including containers. Nano Server provides just the components you need -- nothing else, meaning smaller server images, which reduces deployment times, decreases network bandwidth consumption, and improves uptime and security. This small footprint makes Nano Server an ideal complement for Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers, as well as other cloud-optimized scenarios."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/08/2015 at 10:34 AM0 comments

Microsoft To Release Updated 'Windows Server 2016' Technical Preview Next Month

Microsoft late Friday issued a short reminder that the Windows Server preview released in October is set to stop working on April 15. A new preview is slated to arrive in May, the company announced.

The company will release a fix so that testers can continue using it between April 15th and the release of the second technical preview, according to the Windows Server blog. "If you would like to continue your evaluation, we will soon deliver a solution until the next preview is released in May," read the blog post. "We will update this blog with more information shortly."

Given it has taken seven months for Microsoft to release the second Windows Server Technical Preview, it'll be interesting to learn what major changes make it into the new build, especially after a panel discussion last week at ChefConf in Santa Clara when Microsoft Azure General Manager Mark Russinovich said it's "it's definitely possible" that Microsoft is considering making Windows an open source platform.

Windows Server 2016, as it is now called, is scheduled for release next year. The platform, including System Center, is undergoing a "deep refactoring," according to Jeffrey Snover, distinguished engineer for the Windows Server Group. As reported last month, Microsoft is aligning the components of each to create a more software-defined, cloud-optimized platform.

It'll also be interesting to see if the reported "Nano Server" edition of Windows Server will appear with the forthcoming technical preview, which will  be a smaller option to use than the Server Core option that currently exists in Microsoft's flagship Windows Server 2012 R2.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/06/2015 at 1:10 PM0 comments

Microsoft Turns 40 as Stock Drops to 40

The 40th anniversary of Microsoft's founding is tomorrow, April 4. And in a twist of irony, its stock closed yesterday at just a hair above $40 per share ($40.29 to be precise). While that's still higher than the $35 it was trading at when Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer, the stock has declined 20 percent since November.

Microsoft's history is among the most interesting growth stories of a company that started with nothing and rose into one of the world's most influential companies. It all started in 1975 when Paul Allen and Bill Gates were able to get its iteration of Basic for the Intel microprocessor-based MITS Altair up and running.

Certainly most Microsoft IT professionals and developers know the rich history behind that but for those who don't (or want to recap those interesting times), you can check out this seven-minute Channel 9 video which recaps some key milestones from 1975. Back then, a gallon of gas was 53 cents and Microsoft's revenues that year were $16,705. Microsoft enjoyed many years as the world's most-valued company until recent years when Apple overtook it -- aided by many mistakes made by Microsoft over the past decade.

Nevertheless since Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft's CEO just over a year ago, the company has remade itself, fully embracing open source and rival proprietary software and services and making mobility and cloud the core of everything it delivers. Nadella defined Microsoft as a "productivity and platforms" company. Investors cheered until January when the company forecasted a weaker outlook for the current quarter, leading to its current stock decline.

Most Wall Street analysts see the current decline as a hold on buying opportunity but there are a handful of skeptics. Among them is Goldman Sachs, which downgraded Microsoft to a Sell on Wednesday. Analyst Heather Bellini in a research note warned that the stock will sit at $38 per share over the next 12 months, below the consensus of $46.97. To be sure, this is a contrarian view but it's worth pointing out the headwinds she sees. Among them:

  • Microsoft was buoyed last year by the end of life of Windows XP and there's no equivalent issue that will force upgrades this year.
  • The free Windows 10 upgrades will impact Windows licensing revenue.
  • There's currently little room for lowering costs .
  • PC sales will remain flat.
  • Cloud licensing products such as Office 365 have much tighter margins than traditional software.

Bullish reports counter that Microsoft's strong commercial software business is gaining share and its cloud business, backed by strong Azure growth, is showing signs that it'll become a key cash cow in the future. Microsoft's tendency to exceed expectations has tempered some concerns over the lower guidance.

Noting both that the Goldman findings and bullish reports, Morningstar yesterday said it's holding its four-star rating of the company. "Microsoft remains a cash flow juggernaut," the report said. "Generating more than $26 million in free cash flow in the past fiscal year and with more than $85 billion in cash on its balance sheet, the technology powerhouse has the financial flexibility and resources to remake itself."

Microsoft's biggest challenge moving forward is to keep Windows successful, while attracting and retaining new talent that will help the company move into the future, as described by The Economist.

Many dread turning 40 while others relish the milestone. Microsoft appears to have moved passed its own mid-life crisis before turning 40, but time will tell.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/03/2015 at 9:49 AM0 comments

Former Windows Chief Leads Investment Group in Security Startup

Andreesen Horowitz last week invested on an addition $52 million in security startup Tanium, adding on to the $90 million the Silicon Valley venture capital firm last year infused into the endpoint security provider. Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows group until his unceremonious departure more than two years ago, is now at Andreesen Horowitz and largely leading the firm's investment in Tanium.

Tanium claims its endpoint security platform is designed to provide near real-time visibility to cyber threats against the largest of organizations. The company's vision is to scale without degradation regardless of the size of the organization or number of endpoints. The Tanium platform has two key components: Endpoint Security and Endpoint Management. Endpoint Security provides threat detection, incident response, vulnerability assessment and configuration compliance and Endpoint Management performs patch management, software distribution, asset management and asset utilization reporting.

The company claims with the Endpoint Security component of its platform it can provide 15-second threat detection and remediation, can connect to key external threat intelligence feeds and supports open standards such as OpenIOC (the open framework for sharing threat intelligence contributed by Mandiant), Yara for creating signatures that identify malware families, the Structured Threat Information eXpression (STIX) language for describing threat information and Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information (TAXII). The Endpoint Management component aims to provide accurate assessments of vulnerability by providing accurate visibility of all endpoint assets.

During a CNBC interview this week, Sinofsky, who sits on Tamium's board, described the company's addressable market as up to 1 billion endpoints and argued Tanium's approach to threat detection and systems management is broader than traditional security providers currently offer.

"It's broader than any one security company, or any one in the traditional area we used to call systems management," Sinofsky said. "What's incredible about Tanium is it takes a modern and novel innovative approach to the difference between what used to be the mundane task of inventory of just tracking your PCs with the network and edge detection of companies like Palo Alto Networks and FireEye, and the like land Symantec is kind of a legacy provider of endpoint protection -- the signature files, and malware. Tanium is all about 15-second response across a billion end points in the enterprise world."

The added $52 million, which brings up the total investment up to $142 million, has doubled Tanium's valuation bringing it up to $1.75 billion, according to reports. Sinofsky declined when asked by CNBC to confirm the reported valuations.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/03/2015 at 12:42 PM0 comments

SharePoint Migration Provider Metalogix Acquires Rival MetaVis

Two leading suppliers of tools that enable migration from SharePoint Server to Office 365, OneDrive for Business and other cloud services are coming together. Metalogix, which also offers Exchange migration tools, today said it has acquired rival MetaVis for an undisclosed sum.

The deal not only eliminates a key rival for Metalogix but it facilitates the company's move to offer a richer set of cloud services tools. Among the MetaVis portfolio are SharePoint Migrator, Office 365 Migration and Management Suite and the Architect Suite, which will extend Metalogix's Content Matrix, Migration Expert, ControlPoint and SharePoint Backup tools.

"What's great is we were in the process of building out a fully integrated cloud solutions platform and MetaVis has exactly that, a very easy-to-install, agentless, simple cloud platform where we're able to combine our efforts," said Metalogix CEO Steven Murphy. "Now we're able to hit the market with a very nice, integrated migration suite which includes ongoing management with a focus on security and compliance administration, which are some really important issues."

With the pending arrival of SharePoint Server 2016, along with several older versions and the growing use of Office 365, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, many organizations risk making key mistakes if they don't plan out their migrations and insure data is moved in a form that makes it usable once it's moved to a new target, especially if it's online. Maggie Swearingen, a SharePoint consultant at Proviti and a Redmond magazine contributor pointed this out in the April issue.

"As organizations consider a myriad of options from Microsoft, it becomes essential to have not only a long-term strategic technology vision -- but also a SharePoint migration and upgrade roadmap that's big on efficiency and low on cost," Swearingen wrote. "The sad reality is that many SharePoint migrations are considered failures by the organization and business even when the content successfully moves from point."

In her report, Swearingen pointed to five of the most popular SharePoint migration providers. In addition to Metalogix and MetaVis, they include AvePoint, Dell Software and Sharegate (of course Microsoft offers its own free tools).

"We think in a nutshell, this [merger of Metalogix and MetaVis] will solidify our stake as a leader in the migration and movement of content to the cloud -- Office 365 and other targets and this will just extend our range around compliance, security and administration," said Murphy.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/01/2015 at 11:59 AM0 comments