Nov
20
2019
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Google Cloud launches Bare Metal Solution

Google Cloud today announced the launch of a new bare metal service, dubbed the Bare Metal Solution. We aren’t talking about bare metal servers offered directly by Google Cloud here, though. Instead, we’re talking about a solution that enterprises can use to run their specialized workloads on certified hardware that’s co-located in the Google Cloud data centers and directly connect them to Google Cloud’s suite of other services. The main workload that makes sense for this kind of setup is databases, Google notes, and specifically Oracle Database.

Bare Metal Solution is, as the name implies, a fully integrated and fully managed solution for setting up this kind of infrastructure. It involves a completely managed hardware infrastructure that includes servers and the rest of the data center facilities like power and cooling, support contracts with Google Cloud and billing are handled through Google’s systems, as well as an SLA. The software that’s deployed on those machines is managed by the customer — not Google.

The overall idea, though, is clearly to make it easier for enterprises with specialized workloads that can’t easily be migrated to the cloud to still benefit from the cloud-based services that need access to the data from these systems. Machine learning is an obvious example, but Google also notes that this provides these companies with a bridge to slowly modernize their tech infrastructure in general (where ‘modernize’ tends to mean ‘move to the cloud’).

“These specialized workloads often require certified hardware and complicated licensing and support agreements,” Google writes. “This solution provides a path to modernize your application infrastructure landscape, while maintaining your existing investments and architecture. With Bare Metal Solution, you can bring your specialized workloads to Google Cloud, allowing you access and integration with GCP services with minimal latency.”

Since this service is co-located with Google Cloud, there are no separate ingress and egress charges for data that moves between Bare Metal Solution and Google Cloud in the same region.

The servers for this solution, which are certified to run a wide range of applications (including Oracle Database) range from dual-socket 16-core systems with 384 GB of RAM to quad-socket servers with 112 cores and 3072 GB of RAM. Pricing is on a monthly basis, with a preferred term length of 36 months.

Obviously, this isn’t the kind of solution that you self-provision, so the only way to get started — and get pricing information — is to talk to Google’s sales team. But this is clearly the kind of service that we should expect from Google Cloud, which is heavily focused on providing as many enterprise-ready services as possible.

Nov
20
2019
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Google makes converting VMs to containers easier with the GA of Migrate for Anthos

At its Cloud Next event in London, Google today announced a number of product updates around its managed Anthos platform, as well as Apigee and its Cloud Code tools for building modern applications that can then be deployed to Google Cloud or any Kubernetes cluster.

Anthos is one of the most important recent launches for Google, as it expands the company’s reach outside of Google Cloud and into its customers’ data centers and, increasingly, edge deployments. At today’s event, the company announced that it is taking Anthos Migrate out of beta and into general availability. The overall idea behind Migrate is that it allows enterprises to take their existing, VM-based workloads and convert them into containers. Those machines could come from on-prem environments, AWS, Azure or Google’s Compute Engine, and — once converted — can then run in Anthos GKE, the Kubernetes service that’s part of the platform.

“That really helps customers think about a leapfrog strategy, where they can maintain the existing VMs but benefit from the operational model of Kubernetes,” Google VP of product management Jennifer Lin told me. “So even though you may not get all of the benefits of a cloud-native container day one, what you do get is consistency in the operational paradigm.”

As for Anthos itself, Lin tells me that Google is seeing some good momentum. The company is highlighting a number of customers at today’s event, including Germany’s Kaeser Kompressoren and Turkey’s Denizbank.

Lin noted that a lot of financial institutions are interested in Anthos. “A lot of the need to do data-driven applications, that’s where Kubernetes has really hit that sweet spot because now you have a number of distributed datasets and you need to put a web or mobile front end on [them],” she explained. “You can’t do it as a monolithic app, you really do need to tap into a number of datasets — you need to do real-time analytics and then present it through a web or mobile front end. This really is a sweet spot for us.”

Also new today is the general availability of Cloud Code, Google’s set of extensions for IDEs like Visual Studio Code and IntelliJ that helps developers build, deploy and debug their cloud-native applications more quickly. The idea, here, of course, is to remove friction from building containers and deploying them to Kubernetes.

In addition, Apigee hybrid is now also generally available. This tool makes it easier for developers and operators to manage their APIs across hybrid and multi-cloud environments, a challenge that is becoming increasingly common for enterprises. This makes it easier to deploy Apigee’s API runtimes in hybrid environments and still get the benefits of Apigees monitoring and analytics tools in the cloud. Apigee hybrid, of course, can also be deployed to Anthos.

Nov
05
2019
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ZenHub adds roadmapping to its GitHub project management tool

ZenHub, the popular project management tool that integrates right into GitHub, today announced the launch of Roadmaps. As you can guess from the name, this is a roadmapping feature that allows teams to better plan their projects ahead of time and visualize their status — all from within GitHub.

“We’re diving into a brand new category which is super exciting and we’re really starting to think not only about how forward-thinking software teams are managing their software projects but how they’re actually planning ahead,” ZenHub co-founder Aaron Upright told me. “And we’re really using this as an opportunity to really evolve the product and really introduce now a new kind of entrant into the space for product roadmapping.”

The product itself is indeed pretty straightforward. By default, it takes existing projects and epics a team has already defined and visualizes those on a timeline — including data about how many open issues still remain. In its current iteration, the tool is still pretty basic, but going forward ZenHub will add more advanced features, like blocking. As Upright noted, that’s just fine, though, because while the main goal here is to help teams plans, ZenHub also wants to give other stakeholders a kind of 30,000-foot overview of the state of a project without having to click around every issue in GitHub or Jira.

Upright also argues that existing solutions tend to fall short of what teams really need. “Smaller organizations — teams that are 10, 15 or 25 people — they can’t afford these tools. They’re really expensive. They’re cost-prohibitive,” he said. “And so oftentimes what they do is they turn to Excel files or Google spreadsheets in order to keep track of their roadmap. And keeping the spreadsheets up to date really becomes a complex and really a full-time job.” Yet those tools that are affordable often don’t offer a way to sync data back and forth between GitHub and their platforms, which results in the product team not getting those updates in GitHub, for example. Because ZenHub lives inside of GitHub, that’s obviously not a problem.

ZenHub Roadmaps is now available to all users.

Nov
04
2019
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The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launches the first public preview of its Fluid Framework for collaborative editing

One of the most interesting (and confusing) news announcements of Microsoft’s Build developer conference earlier this year was the first public demo of the company’s Fluid Framework. Fluid is meant to make building collaborative real-time editing experiences easier for developers, but Microsoft is also building it into some of its own tools, like Office and Outlook. It’s nothing less than a re-imagining of what documents should look and feel like.

Today, at its Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft launched the first public preview of the Fluid Framework end-user experience, as well as a private preview for developers.

As Microsoft notes, the Fluid Framework has three main capabilities: the multi-person co-authoring features, the componentized document model and the ability to plug in intelligent agents that can, for example, translate text in real-time or suggest edits. To some degree, this isn’t all that different from Google Docs or even Microsoft’s own collaboration features in Office. But what’s new is that Microsoft is opening this up to developers and that it is looking at the Fluid Framework as a new way to deconstruct and componentize documents, which can then be used across applications.

Microsoft plans to build the Fluid Framework into lots of experiences across Microsoft 365, including Teams, Outlook, SharePoint, OneNote and Office. If you want to see it in action, you can now try the public preview to see what editing documents with it feels like.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels and more

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer — Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite real-time chat application — was dead. It’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to use Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

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Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multi-window chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one to-do app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Rooms, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

Microsoft today announced the public preview of its Power Virtual Agents tool, a new no-code tool for building chatbots that’s part of the company’s Power Platform, which also includes the Microsoft Flow automation tool, which is being renamed to Power Automate today, and Power BI.

Built on top of Azure’s existing AI smarts and tools for building bots, Power Virtual Agents promises to make building a chatbot almost as easy as writing a Word document. With this, anybody within an organization could build a bot that walks a new employee through the onboarding experience, for example.

“Power Virtual Agent is the newest addition to the Power Platform family,” said Microsoft’s Charles Lamanna in an interview ahead of today’s announcement. “Power Virtual Agent is very much focused on the same type of low-code, accessible to anybody, no matter whether they’re a business user or business analyst or professional developer, to go build a conversational agent that’s AI-driven and can actually solve problems for your employees, for your customers, for your partners, in a very natural way.”

Power Virtual Agents handles the full lifecycle of the bot-building experience, from the creation of the dialog to making it available in chat systems that include Teams, Slack, Facebook Messenger and others. Using Microsoft’s AI smarts, users don’t have to spend a lot of time defining every possible question and answer, but can instead rely on the tool to understand intentions and trigger the right action. “We do intent understanding, as well as entity extraction, to go and find the best topic for you to go down,” explained Lamanna. Like similar AI systems, the service also learns over time, based on feedback it receives from users.

One nice feature here is that if your setup outgrows the no-code/low-code stage and you need to get to the actual code, you’ll be able to convert the bot to Azure resources as that’s what’s powering the bot anyway. Once you’ve edited the code, you obviously can’t take it back into the no-code environment. “We have an expression for Power Platform, which is ‘no cliffs.’ […] The idea of ‘no cliffs’ is that the most common problem with a low-code platform is that, at some point, you want more control, you want code. And that’s frequently where low-code platforms run out of gas and you really have issues because you can’t have the pro dev take it over, you can’t make it mission-critical.”

The service is also integrated with tools like Power Automate/Microsoft Flow to allow users to trigger actions on other services based on the information the chatbot gathers.

Lamanna stressed that the service also generates lots of advanced analytics for those who are building bots with it. With this, users can see what topics are being asked about and where the system fails to provide answers, for example. It also visualizes the different text inputs that people provide so that bot builders can react to that.

Over the course of the last two or three years, we went from a lot of hype around chatbots to deep disillusionment with the experience they actually delivered. Lamanna isn’t fazed by that. In part, those earlier efforts failed because the developers weren’t close enough to the users. They weren’t product experts or part of the HR team inside a company. By using a low-code/no-code tool, he argues, the actual topic experts can build these bots. “If you hand it over to a developer or an AI specialist, they’re geniuses when it comes to developing code, but they won’t know the details and ins and outs of, say, the shoe business — and vice versa. So it actually changes how development happens.”

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft’s Azure Synapse Analytics bridges the gap between data lakes and warehouses

At its annual Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced a major new Azure service for enterprises: Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft describes as “the next evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse.” Like SQL Data Warehouse, it aims to bridge the gap between data warehouses and data lakes, which are often completely separate. Synapse also taps into a wide variety of other Microsoft services, including Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, as well as a partner ecosystem that includes Databricks, Informatica, Accenture, Talend, Attunity, Pragmatic Works and Adatis. It’s also integrated with Apache Spark.

The idea here is that Synapse allows anybody working with data in those disparate places to manage and analyze it from within a single service. It can be used to analyze relational and unstructured data, using standard SQL.

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Microsoft also highlights Synapse’s integration with Power BI, its easy to use business intelligence and reporting tool, as well as Azure Machine Learning for building models.

With the Azure Synapse studio, the service provides data professionals with a single workspace for prepping and managing their data, as well as for their big data and AI tasks. There’s also a code-free environment for managing data pipelines.

As Microsoft stresses, businesses that want to adopt Synapse can continue to use their existing workloads in production with Synapse and automatically get all of the benefits of the service. “Businesses can put their data to work much more quickly, productively, and securely, pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses, and big data analytics systems,” writes Microsoft CVP of Azure Data, Rohan Kumar.

In a demo at Ignite, Kumar also benchmarked Synapse against Google’s BigQuery. Synapse ran the same query over a petabyte of data in 75% less time. He also noted that Synapse can handle thousands of concurrent users — unlike some of Microsoft’s competitors.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

Ever since the days of Windows NT, the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (better known as ConfigMgr) has allowed companies to manage the increasingly large number of devices they issue to their employees. Then, back in 2011, the company also launched Intune, its cloud-based endpoint management system for corporate and BYOD devices. These days, most enterprises that use Microsoft’s tools use ConfigMgr to manage their PCs and then opt for Intune for mobile devices — and that’s a complex system to manage, even for sophisticated IT departments. So today, at its annual Ignite conference for IT professionals, Microsoft is announcing a way forward for these users to modernize their systems with the launch of the unified Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

As Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me, he takes some blame for this. “A lot of this falls on my shoulders because we just allowed everything to get complex. So we’re just simplifying everything,” he said. “So really at the core, what we think modern management is that modern management is it’s management that is driven by cloud intelligence.”

The general idea here, Anderson explained, is that in earlier eras of IT management, Microsoft and its partners didn’t have the tools to collect and analyze all of the signals it received from these management tools. That’s obviously not a problem anymore today and the company can use the telemetry it gets from a company’s PC deployments, for example, to figure out where there are problems.

“One of the things that we’re able to do is be learned as cloud-scale as we can help organizations improve their end-user experience,” Anderson noted. Common issues with that experience could be extremely long boot times, which slow down and frustrate employees, or issues with the delivery of important security patches. Today, all of this is often still managed by spreadsheets and complex security policies that are administrated manually — and Anderson argues that these days, you always have to think about security and management together anyway.

To quantify this user experience, Microsoft is also introducing what it calls the Microsoft Productivity Score, which looks at both how employees are working and using their tools, as well as how their technology is enabling them (or not) to do so. “The Productivity Score is all about helping an organization understand the experience their users are having — and then giving them the insights and the actions on what they can do to improve that,” explained Anderson.

Over the course of the last few months, Microsoft actually worked with some large customers and took over the management of their Windows and Office deployments, meaning those machines ran nothing but Microsoft 365 agents (and a control group that was managed in a more traditional way). The devices with the modern management system saw an 85% reduction in boot time and an 85% reduction in crashes and a doubling of battery life. Unsurprisingly, the employees that used the devices were also far happier.

As far as the device management experience goes, the new Endpoint Manager and the licensing changes that come with that are meant to not just simplify the branding but also the experience. And Microsoft definitely wants people to move to this modern system, so it’s giving everybody who has ConfigMgr licenses Intune licenses, too, so that they can co-manage their PCs with both tools and get access to the cloud-based features of Intune. The Microsoft Endpoint Manager console will show a single view of all devices managed by either product. “It’s all about simplifying — and we’re taking that simplifying deep and broad from a branding, licensing and product perspective,” said Anderson.

Today, ConfigMgr and Intune manage well over 190 million Windows, iOS and Android devices. Yet Microsoft knows that not every company is ready to move to this modern device management system just yet. That’s why it’s making these licensing changes to help get people on board, but also leaving the existing systems in place and giving them an onramp to move to provisioning new machines to be cloud-managed, for example.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft Azure gets into ag tech with the preview of FarmBeats

At its annual Ignite event in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced that  Azure FarmBeats, a project that until now was mostly a research effort, will be available as a public preview and in the Azure Marketplace, starting today. FarmBeats is Microsoft’s project that combines IoT sensors, data analysis and machine learning.

The goal of FarmBeats is to augment farmers’ knowledge and intuition about their own farm with data and data-driven insights,” Microsoft explained in today’s announcement. The idea behind FarmBeats is to take in data from a wide variety of sources, including sensors, satellites, drones and weather stations, and then turn that into actionable intelligence for farmers, using AI and machine learning. 

In addition, FarmBeats also wants to be somewhat of a platform for developers who can then build their own applications on top of this data that the platform aggregates and evaluates.

As Microsoft noted during the development process, having satellite imagery is one thing, but that can’t capture all of the data on a farm. For that, you need in-field sensors and other data — yet all of this heterogeneous data then has to be merged and analyzed somehow. Farms also often don’t have great internet connectivity. Because of this, the FarmBeats team was among the first to leverage Microsoft’s efforts in using TV white space for connectivity and, of course, Azure IoT Edge for collecting all of the data.

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