Jun
04
2018
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Microsoft Azure will soon offer machines with up to 12 TB of memory

Do you have an application that needs a lot of memory? Maybe as much as 12 terabytes of memory? Well, you’re in luck because Microsoft Azure will soon offer virtual machines with just that much RAM, based on Intel’s Xeon Scalable servers.

The company made this announcement in concert with the launch of a number of other virtual machine (VM) types that are specifically geared toward running high-memory workloads — and the standard use cases for this is running the SAP Hana in-memory database service.

So in addition to this massive new 12 TB VM, Microsoft is also launching a new 192 GB machine that extends the lower end of Hana-optimized machines on Azure, as well as a number other Hana options that scale across multiple VMs and can offer combined memory sizes of up to 18 TB.

Another new feature of Azure launching today is Standards SSDs. These will offer Azure users a new option for running entry-level production workloads that require consistent disk performance and throughput without the full price of what are now called “premium SSD.” The Standard SSDs won’t offer the same kind of performance, though, but Microsoft promises that developers will still get improved latency, reliability and scalability as compared to standard hard disks in its cloud.

Jun
04
2018
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Microsoft promises to keep GitHub independent and open

Microsoft today announced its plans to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock. Unsurprisingly, that sent a few shock waves through the developer community, which still often eyes Microsoft with considerable unease. During a conference call this morning, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, incoming GitHub CEO (and Xamarin founder) Nat Friedman and GitHub co-founder and outgoing CEO Chris Wanstrath laid out the plans for GitHub’s future under Microsoft.

The core message everybody on today’s call stressed was that GitHub will continue to operate as an independent company. That’s very much the approach Microsoft took with its acquisition of LinkedIn, but to some degree, it’s also an admission that Microsoft is aware of its reputation among many of the developers who call GitHub their home. GitHub will remain an open platform that any developer can plug into and extend, Microsoft promises. It’ll support any cloud and any device.

Unsurprisingly, while the core of GitHub won’t change, Microsoft does plan to extend GitHub’s enterprise services and integrate them with its own sales and partner channels. And Nadella noted that the company will use GitHub to bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services “to new audiences.”

With Nat Friedman taking over as CEO, GitHub will have a respected technologist at the helm. Microsoft’s acquisition and integration of Xamarin has, at least from the outside, been a success (and Friedman himself always seems very happy about the outcome when I talk to him), so I think this bodes quite well for GitHub. After joining Microsoft, Friedman ran the developer services team at the company. Wanstrath, who only took over the CEO role again after its last CEO was ousted after harassment scandal at the company, had long said that he wanted to step down and take a more active product role. And that’s what’s happening now that Friedman is taking over. Wanstrath will become a technical fellow and work on “strategic software initiatives” at Microsoft.

Indeed, during an interview after the acquisition was announced, Friedman repeatedly noted that he thinks GitHub is the most important developer company today — and it turns out that he started advocating for a closer relationship between the two companies right after he joined Microsoft two years ago.

During today’s press call, Friedman also stressed Microsoft’s commitment to keeping GitHub as open as it is today — but he also plans to expand the service and its community. “We want to bring more developers and more capabilities to GitHub, he said. “Because as a network and as a group of people in a community, GitHub is stronger, the bigger it is.”

Friedman echoed that in our interview later in the day and noted that he expected the developer community to be skeptical of the mashup of these two companies. “There is always healthy skepticism in the developer community,” he told me. “I would ask developers to look at the last few years of Microsoft history and really honestly Microsoft’s transformation into an open source company.” He asked developers to judge Microsoft by that and noted that what really matters, of course, is that the company will follow through on the promises it made today.

As for the product itself, Friedman noted that everything GitHub does should be about making a developer’s life easier. And to get started, that’ll mean making developing in the cloud easier. “We think broadly about the new and compelling types of ways that we can integrate cloud services into GitHub,” he noted. “And this doesn’t just apply to our cloud. GitHub is an open platform. So we have the ability for anyone to plug their cloud services into GitHub, and make it easier for you to go from code to cloud. And it extends beyond the cloud as well. Code to cloud. code to mobile, code to edge device, code to IoT. Every workflow that a developer wants to pursue, we will support.”

Another area the company will work on is the GitHub Marketplace. Microsoft says that it will offer all of its developer tools and services in the GitHub Marketplace.

And unsurprisingly, VS Code, Microsoft’s free and open source code editor, will get deeply integrated GitHub support.

“Our vision is really all about empowering developers and creating a home where you can use any language, any operating system, any cloud, any device for every developer, whether your student, a hobbyist, a large company, a startup or anything in between. GitHub is the home for all developers,” said Friedman. In our interview, he also stressed that his focus will be on making “GitHub better at making GitHub” and that he plans to do so by bringing Microsoft’s resources and infrastructure to the code hosting service, while at the same time leaving it to operate independently. 

It’s unclear whether all of these commitments today will easy developers’ fears of losing GitHub as a relatively neutral third-party in the ecosystem.

Nadella, who is surely aware of this, addressed this directly today. “We recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement,” he said. “We are committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will retain its developer-first ethos operate independently and remain an open platform. We will always listen to develop a feedback and invest in both fundamentals as well as new capability once the acquisition closes.

In his prepared remarks, Nadella also stressed Microsoft’s heritage as a developer-centric company and that is it already the most active organization on GitHub. But more importantly, he addressed Microsoft’s role in the open source community, too. “We have always loved developers, and we love open source developers,” he said. “We’ve been on a journey ourselves with open source and the open source community. Today, we are all in with open source. We are active in the open source ecosystem. We contribute to open source project and some of our most vibrant developer tools and frameworks are open-sourced when it comes to our commitment to all source judges, by the actions we have taken in the recent past our actions today and in the future.”

May
08
2018
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Microsoft and Red Hat now offer a jointly managed OpenShift service on Azure

Microsoft and Red Hat are deepening their existing alliance around cloud computing. The two companies will now offer a managed version of OpenShift, Red Hat’s container application platform, on Microsoft Azure. This service will be jointly developed and managed by Microsoft and Red Hat and will be integrated into the overall Azure experience.

Red Hat OpenShift on Azure is meant to make it easier for enterprises to create hybrid container solutions that can span their on-premise networks and the cloud. That’ll give these companies the flexibility to move workloads around as needed and will give those companies that have bet on OpenShift the option to move their workloads close to the rest of Azure’s managed services like Cosmos DB or Microsoft’s suite of machine learning tools.

Microsoft’s Brendan Burns, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes, told me that the companies decided that this shouldn’t just be a service that runs on top of Azure and consumes the Azure APIs. Instead, the companies made the decision to build a native integration of OpenShift into Azure — and specifically the Azure Portal. “This is a first in class fully enterprise-supported application platform for containers,” he said. “This is going to be an experience where enterprises can have all the experience and support they expect.”

Red Hat VP for business development and architecture Mike Ferris echoed this and added that his company is seeing a lot of demand for managed services around containers.

May
07
2018
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Watch the Microsoft Build 2018 keynote live right here

Microsoft is holding its annual Build developer conference this week and the company is kicking off the event with its inaugural keynote this morning. You can watch the live stream right here.

The keynote is scheduled to start at 8:30 am on the West Coast, 11:30 am on the East Coast, 4:30 pm in London and 5:30 pm in Paris.

This is a developer conference, so you shouldn’t expect new hardware devices. Build is usually focused on all things Windows 10, Azure and beyond. It’s a great way to see where Microsoft is heading. We have a team on the ground, so you can follow all of our coverage on TechCrunch.

May
07
2018
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Microsoft and DJI team up to bring smarter drones to the enterprise

At the Microsoft Build developer conference today, Microsoft and Chinese drone manufacturer DJI announced a new partnership that aims to bring more of Microsoft’s machine learning smarts to commercial drones. Given Microsoft’s current focus on bringing intelligence to the edge, this is almost a logical partnership, given that drones are essentially semi-autonomous edge computing devices.

DJI also today announced that Azure is now its preferred cloud computing partner and that it will use the platform to analyze video data, for example. The two companies also plan to offer new commercial drone solutions using Azure IoT Edge and related AI technologies for verticals like agriculture, construction and public safety. Indeed, the companies are already working together on Microsoft’s FarmBeats solution, an AI and IoT platform for farmers.

As part of this partnership, DJI is launching a software development kit (SDK) for Windows that will allow Windows developers to build native apps to control DJI drones. Using the SDK, developers can also integrate third-party tools for managing payloads or accessing sensors and robotics components on their drones. DJI already offers a Windows-based ground station.

“DJI is excited to form this unique partnership with Microsoft to bring the power of DJI aerial platforms to the Microsoft developer ecosystem,” said Roger Luo, DJI president, in today’s announcement. “Using our new SDK, Windows developers will soon be able to employ drones, AI and machine learning technologies to create intelligent flying robots that will save businesses time and money and help make drone technology a mainstay in the workplace.”

Interestingly, Microsoft also stresses that this partnership gives DJI access to its Azure IP Advantage program. “For Microsoft, the partnership is an example of the important role IP plays in ensuring a healthy and vibrant technology ecosystem and builds upon existing partnerships in emerging sectors such as connected cars and personal wearables,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

Apr
27
2018
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Microsoft makes managing and updating Windows 10 easier for its business users

With the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Microsoft is launching a number of new features for its desktop operating system today. Most of those apply to all users, but in addition to all the regular feature updates, the company also today announced a couple of new features and tools specifically designed for its business users with Microsoft 365 subscriptions that combine a license for Windows 10 with an Office 365 subscription and device management tools.

According to Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its enterprise and mobility services, the overall thinking behind all of these new features is make it easier for businesses to give their employees access to a “modern desktop.” In Microsoft’s parlance, that’s basically a desktop that’s part of a Microsoft 365 subscription. But in many ways, this so much about the employees but the IT departments that support them. For them, these updates will likely simplify their day-to-day lives.

The most headline-grabbing feature of today’s update is probably the addition of an S-mode to Windows 10. As the name implies, this allows admins to switch a Windows 10 Enterprise device into the more restricted and secure Windows 10 S mode, where users can only install applications from a centrally managed Microsoft Store. Until now, the only way to do this was to buy a Windows 10 S device, but now, admins can automatically configure any device that run Windows 10 Enterprise to go into S mode.

It’s no secret that Windows 10 S as a stand-alone operating system wasn’t exactly a hit (and launching itat an education-focused event with the Surface Laptop probably didn’t help). The overall idea is sound, though, and probably quite attractive to many an IT department.

“We built S mode as a way to enable IT to ensure what’s installed on a device,” Anderson told me. “It’s the most secure way to provision Windows.”

The main surprise here is actually that S mode is already available now, since it was only in March that Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore said that it would launch next year.

Another part of this update is what Microsoft calls ‘delivery optimization” for updates. With this, a single device can download an update and the distribute it to other Windows 10 devices over the local network. Downloads take a while and eat up a lot of bandwidth, after all. And to monitor those deployments, the Windows Analytics dashboard now includes a tab for keeping tabs on them.

Another new deployment feature Microsoft is launching today is an improvement to the AutoPilot service. AutoPilot allows IT to distribute laptops to employees without first setting them up to a company’s specifications. Once a user logs in, the system will check what needs to be done and then applies those settings, provisions policies and installs apps as necessary. With this update, AutoPilot now includes an enrollment status page that does all of this before the user ever gets to the desktop. That way, users can’t get in the way of the set-up process and IT knows that everything is up to spec.

A number of PC vendors are now also supporting AutoPilot out of the box, including Lenovo and Dell, with HP, Toshiba and Fujitsu planning to launch their AutoPilot-enabled PCs later this year.

To manage all of this, Microsoft is also launching a new Microsoft 365 admin center today that brings all the previously disparate configurations and monitoring tools of Office 365 and Microsoft 365 under a single roof.

One other aspect of this launch is an addition to Microsoft 365 for firstline workers. Windows 10 in S mode is one part of this, but the company is also updating the Office mobile apps licensing terms to add the company’s iOS and Android apps to the Office 365 E1, F1 and Business Essential licenses. For now, though, only access to Outlook for iOS and Android is available under these licenses. Support for Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote will launch in the next few months.

Apr
02
2018
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Microsoft launches 2 new Azure regions in Australia

Microsoft continues its steady pace of opening up new data centers and launching new regions for its Azure cloud. Today, the company announced the launch of two new regions in Australia. To deliver these new regions, Azure Australia Central and Central 2, Microsoft entered a strategic partnership with Canberra Data Centers and unsurprisingly, the regions are located in the country’s capital territory around Canberra. These new central regions complement Microsoft’s existing data center presence in Australia, which previously focused on the business centers of Sydney and Melbourne.

Given the location in Canberra, it’s also no surprise that Microsoft is putting an emphasis on its readiness for handling government workloads on its platform. Throughout its announcement, the company also emphasizes that all of its Australia data centers are also the right choice for its customers in New Zealand.

Julia White, Microsoft corporate VP for Azure, told me last month that the company’s strategy around its data center expansion has always been about offering a lot of small regions to allow it to be close to its customers (and, in return, to allow its customers to be close to their own customers, too). “The big distinction is the number of regions we have. “White said. “Microsoft started its infrastructure approach focused on enterprise organizations and built lots of regions because of that. We didn’t pick this regional approach because it’s easy or because it’s simple, but because we believe this is what our customers really want.”

Azure currently consists of 50 available or announced regions. Over time, more of these will also feature numerous availability zones inside every region, though for now, this recently announced feature is only present in two regions.

Mar
30
2018
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Azure’s availability zones are now generally available

No matter what cloud you build on, if you want to build something that’s highly available, you’re always going to opt to put your applications and data in at least two physically separated regions. Otherwise, if a region goes down, your app goes down, too. All of the big clouds also offer a concept called ‘availability zones’ in their regions to offer developers the option to host their applications in two separate data centers in the same zone for a bit of extra resilience. All big clouds, that is, except for Azure, which is only launching its availability zones feature into general availability today after first announcing a beta last September.

Ahead of today’s launch, Julia White, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure, told me that the company’s design philosophy behind its data center network was always about servicing commercial customers with the widest possible range of regions to allow them to be close to their customers and to comply with local data sovereignty and privacy laws. That’s one of the reasons why Azure today offers more regions than any of its competitors, with 38 generally available regions and 12 announced ones.

“Microsoft started its infrastructure approach focused on enterprise organizations and built lots of regions because of that,” White said. “We didn’t pick this regional approach because it’s easy or because it’s simple, but because we believe this is what our customers really want.”

Every availability zone has its own network connection and power backup, so if one zone in a region goes down, the others should remain unaffected. A regional disaster could shut down all of the zones in a single region, though, so most business will surely want to keep their data in at least one additional region.

Mar
28
2018
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Microsoft can ban you for using offensive language

A report by CSOOnline presented the possibility that Microsoft would be able to ban “offensive language” from Skype, Xbox, and, inexplicably, Office. The post, which cites Microsoft’s new terms of use, said that the company would not allow users to “publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity)” and that you could lose your Xbox Live Membership if you curse out a kid Overwatch.

“We are committed to providing our customers with safe and secure experiences while using our services. The recent changes to the Microsoft Service Agreement’s Code of Conduct provide transparency on how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. The company notes that “Microsoft Agents” do not watch Skype calls and that they can only respond to complaints with clear evidence of abuse. The changes, which go into effect May 1, allows Microsoft to ban you from it services if you’re found passing “inappropriate content” or using “offensive language.”

These new rules give Microsoft more power over abusive users and it seems like Microsoft is cracking down on bad behavior on its platforms. This is good news for victims of abuse in private communications channels on Microsoft products and may give trolls pause before they yell something about your mother on Xbox. We can only dare to dream.

Mar
21
2018
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Microsoft Power Apps update includes new Common Data Service

Microsoft announced the spring update to its Power BI and Power Apps platform today with a significant enhancement, a new common data service that enables companies to build data-based applications from a variety of data sources.

This is part of a wider strategy that is designed to remove some of the complexity associated with gathering, processing and incorporating data into applications.

Microsoft is essentially giving customers access to the same set of tools and services it has used internally to build Dynamics 365, its enterprise suite of tools that includes CRM, marketing automation and field service along with enterprise resource planning tools (ERP).

While the company has been allowing third party developers to build application on the platform for about 18 months with its Power Apps tools, they haven’t been able to take advantage of the data under the hood without some heavy lifting. Microsoft aims to change that with the Common Data Service.

Diagram: Microsoft

“What that service means, practically speaking, is that it’s not only a place to store data, but a model (schema) that is stamped out there with everything you would need to build a business app around [elements] such as contacts, events, customers [and so forth], Ryan Cunningham, Microsoft program manager for Power Apps explained. This allows the programmer to take advantage of pre-built relationships and rules and how they should be enforced without having to code them from scratch.

Cunningham points out that they tried to make it fairly simple to build the apps, while still providing a level of customization and the ability to use Microsoft data or data from another source. That’s where the Common Data Store comes in.

He says that developers can take advantage of the 200 connectors that come pre-built out of the box and connect to all that data you’ve been collecting in the Microsoft products, but they aren’t limited to the Microsoft data. “You can still build custom applications on top of the platform, and get the benefit of the platform we’ve built our tools on,” he said.

The Common Data Store is part of a much broader set of announcements around the spring releases of Dynamics 365, Office 365 and Power BI platforms all announced today.

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