Oct
08
2019
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Nadella warns government conference not to betray user trust

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, delivering the keynote at the Microsoft Government Leaders Summit in Washington, DC today, had a message for attendees to maintain user trust in their tools technologies above all else.

He said it is essential to earn user trust, regardless of your business. “Now, of course, the power law here is all around trust because one of the keys for us, as providers of platforms and tools, trust is everything,” he said today. But he says it doesn’t stop with the platform providers like Microsoft. Institutions using those tools also have to keep trust top of mind or risk alienating their users.

“That means you need to also ensure that there is trust in the technology that you adopt, and the technology that you create, and that’s what’s going to really define the power law on this equation. If you have trust, you will have exponential benefit. If you erode trust it will exponentially decay,” he said.

He says Microsoft sees trust along three dimensions: privacy, security and ethical use of artificial intelligence. All of these come together in his view to build a basis of trust with your customers.

Nadella said he sees privacy as a human right, pure and simple, and it’s up to vendors to ensure that privacy or lose the trust of their customers. “The investments around data governance is what’s going to define whether you’re serious about privacy or not,” he said. For Microsoft, they look at how transparent they are about how they use the data, their terms of service and how they use technology to ensure that’s being carried out at runtime.

He reiterated the call he made last year for a federal privacy law. With GDPR in Europe and California’s CCPA coming on line in January, he sees a centralized federal law as a way to streamline regulations for business.

As for security, as you might expect, he defined it in terms of how Microsoft was implementing it, but the message was clear that you needed security as part of your approach to trust, regardless of how you implement that. He asked several key questions of attendees.

“Cyber is the second area where we not only have to do our work, but you have to [ask], what’s your operational security posture, how have you thought about having the best security technology deployed across the entire chain, whether it’s on the application side, the infrastructure side or on the endpoint, side, and most importantly, around identity,” Nadella said.

The final piece, one which he said was just coming into play, was how you use artificial intelligence ethically, a sensitive topic for a government audience, but one he wasn’t afraid to broach. “One of the things people say is, ‘Oh, this AI thing is so unexplainable, especially deep learning.’ But guess what, you created that deep learning [model]. In fact, the data on top of which you train the model, the parameters and the number of parameters you use — a lot of things are in your control. So we should not abdicate our responsibility when creating AI,” he said.

Whether Microsoft or the U.S. government can adhere to these lofty goals is unclear, but Nadella was careful to outline them both for his company’s benefit and this particular audience. It’s up to both of them to follow through.

Oct
08
2019
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Satya Nadella looks to the future with edge computing

Speaking today at the Microsoft Government Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the case for edge computing, even while pushing the Azure cloud as what he called “the world’s computer.”

While Amazon, Google and other competitors may have something to say about that, marketing hype aside, many companies are still in the midst of transitioning to the cloud. Nadella says the future of computing could actually be at the edge, where computing is done locally before data is then transferred to the cloud for AI and machine learning purposes. What goes around, comes around.

But as Nadella sees it, this is not going to be about either edge or cloud. It’s going to be the two technologies working in tandem. “Now, all this is being driven by this new tech paradigm that we describe as the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge,” he said today.

He said that to truly understand the impact the edge is going to have on computing, you have to look at research, which predicts there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2030, a number even he finds astonishing. “I mean this is pretty stunning. We think about a billion Windows machines or a couple of billion smartphones. This is 50 billion [devices], and that’s the scope,” he said.

The key here is that these 50 billion devices, whether you call them edge devices or the Internet of Things, will be generating tons of data. That means you will have to develop entirely new ways of thinking about how all this flows together. “The capacity at the edge, that ubiquity is going to be transformative in how we think about computation in any business process of ours,” he said. As we generate ever-increasing amounts of data, whether we are talking about public sector kinds of use case, or any business need, it’s going to be the fuel for artificial intelligence, and he sees the sheer amount of that data driving new AI use cases.

“Of course when you have that rich computational fabric, one of the things that you can do is create this new asset, which is data and AI. There is not going to be a single application, a single experience that you are going to build, that is not going to be driven by AI, and that means you have to really have the ability to reason over large amounts of data to create that AI,” he said.

Nadella would be more than happy to have his audience take care of all that using Microsoft products, whether Azure compute, database, AI tools or edge computers like the Data Box Edge it introduced in 2018. While Nadella is probably right about the future of computing, all of this could apply to any cloud, not just Microsoft.

As computing shifts to the edge, it’s going to have a profound impact on the way we think about technology in general, but it’s probably not going to involve being tied to a single vendor, regardless of how comprehensive their offerings may be.

Aug
12
2019
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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone markets in less than three years of existence, is ready to foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements Monday, which included a long-term partnership with global giant Microsoft, Reliance Jio said it will commercially roll out its broadband service next month; an IoT platform with ambitions to power more than a billion devices on January 1 next year; and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months — all while also scaling its retail and commerce businesses.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium-sized businesses as well as enterprises, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries and Asia’s richest man, said at a shareholders’ meeting today.

The service, which is being initially targeted at 20 million homes and 15 million businesses in 1,600 towns, will start rolling out commercially starting September 5. Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year.

The broadband service will come bundled with access to hundreds of TV channels and free calls across India and at discounted rates to the U.S. and Canada, Ambani said. The service, the cheapest tier of which will offer internet speeds of 100Mbps, will be priced at Rs 700 (~$10) a month. The company said it will offer various plans to meet a variety of needs, including those of customers who want access to gigabit internet speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant “free stuff,” Jio, which is a subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house (Reliance Industries) said customers who opt for the yearly plan of its fiber broadband will be provided with the set-top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. Specific details weren’t immediately available. A premium tier, which will be available starting next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The broadband service will bundle games from many popular studios, including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games and Gameloft, Jio said.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to launch new cloud data centers in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

ambani nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s partnership with Reliance Jio

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change.”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft AI platforms to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in 13 Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added. The cloud services will be offered to businesses for as little as Rs 1,500 ($21) per month.

The first two data centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to the Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

The foray into broadband business and push to court small enterprises come as Reliance Industries, which dominates the telecom and retail spaces in India, attempts to diversify from its marquee oil and gas business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s top telecom operator, has amassed more than 340 million subscribers in less than three years of its commercial operations.

At the meeting, Ambani also unveiled that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil producer Aramco was buying a 20% stake in $75 billion worth Reliance Industries’ oil-to-chemicals business.

Like other Silicon Valley companies, Microsoft sees massive potential in India, where tens of millions of users and businesses have come online for the first time in recent years. Cloud services in India are estimated to generate a revenue of $2.4 billion this year, up about 25% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Microsoft has won several major clients in India in recent years, including insurance giant ICICI Lombard.

Today’s partnership could significantly boost Microsoft’s footprint in India, posing a bigger headache for Amazon and Google.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retailer, is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers and producers. Ambani said Reliance Industries plans to list both Reliance Retail and Jio publicly in the next years.

“We have received strong interests from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail. We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired for $42.3 million a majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers. Reliance Industries has previously stated plans to launch a new e-commerce firm in the country.

Without revealing specific details, Ambani also said that Jio is building an IoT platform to control at least one billion of the two billion IoT devices in India by next year. He said he sees IoT as a $2.8 billion revenue opportunity for Jio. Similarly, the company also plans to expand its blockchain network across India, he said.

“Using blockchain, we can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction. And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data, especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people an d not by corporate, especially global corporations,” he added.

Jul
22
2019
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In spite of slowing growth, Microsoft has been flexing its cloud muscles

When Microsoft reported its FY19, Q4 earnings last week, the numbers were mostly positive, but as we pointed out, Azure earnings growth has stalled. Productivity and business, which includes Office 365, has also mostly flattened out. But slowing growth is not always as bad as it may seem. In fact, it’s an inevitability that once you start to reach Microsoft’s market maturity, it gets harder to maintain large growth numbers.

That said, AWS launched the first cloud infrastructure service, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud in August, 2006. Microsoft came much later to the cloud, launching Azure in February, 2010, but so were other established companies in Microsoft’s market share rearview. What did it do differently to achieve this success that the companies chasing it — Google, IBM and Oracle — failed to do? It’s a key question.

Let’s look at some numbers

For starters, let’s look at the most numbers for Productivity & Business Processes this year. This category includes all of its commercial and consumer SaaS products including Office 365 commercial and consumer, Dynamics 365, LinkedIn and others. The percentage growth started FY19 at 19% but ended at 14%

Screenshot 2019 07 19 14.34.00

When you look at just Office365 commercial earnings growth, it started at 36% and dropped down to 31% by Q4.

Jul
17
2019
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AT&T signs $2 billion cloud deal with Microsoft

While AWS leads the cloud infrastructure market by a wide margin, Microsoft isn’t doing too badly, ensconced firmly in second place, the only other company with double-digit share. Today, it announced a big deal with AT&T that encompasses both Azure cloud infrastructure services and Office 365.

A person with knowledge of the contract pegged the combined deal at a tidy $2 billion, a nice feather in Microsoft’s cloud cap. According to a Microsoft blog post announcing the deal, AT&T has a goal to move most of its non-networking workloads to the public cloud by 2024, and Microsoft just got itself a big slice of that pie, surely one that rivals AWS, Google and IBM (which closed the $34 billion Red Hat deal last week) would dearly have loved to get.

As you would expect, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke of the deal in lofty terms around transformation and innovation. “Together, we will apply the power of Azure and Microsoft 365 to transform the way AT&T’s workforce collaborates and to shape the future of media and communications for people everywhere,” he said in a statement in the blog post announcement.

To that end, they are looking to collaborate on emerging technologies like 5G and believe that by combining Azure with AT&T’s 5G network, the two companies can help customers create new kinds of applications and solutions. As an example cited in the blog post, they could see using the speed of the 5G network combined with Azure AI-powered live voice translation to help first responders communicate instantaneously with someone who speaks a different language.

It’s worth noting that while this deal to bring Office 365 to AT&T’s 250,000 employees is a nice win, that part of the deal falls under the SaaS umbrella, so it won’t help with Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure market share. Still, any way you slice it, this is a big deal.

Feb
04
2019
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After 5 years, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has transformed more than the stock price

Five years ago today, Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, and by most any measure has been wildly successful. It’s common to look at the stock price as the defining metric of Nadella’s tenure, but the stock price triumph has followed something more fundamental and harder to measure: how he changed the culture of the entire organization.

Nadella’s term at Microsoft has paralleled my own here at TechCrunch. I started in April of 2014, and in one of my first posts, I wrote about the difficulty of substantive change inside an organization the size of Microsoft. In those early moments of both our tenures, I recognized a subtle shift was taking place, one toward service, something Microsoft hadn’t been known for under his predecessors Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Microsoft’s five-year stock price journey under Satya Nadella. Stock chart: Yahoo Finance

But Nadella’s inauguration came at a time when technology itself was shifting, moving from a monolithic model — where IT shopped mostly at one vendor, and they were a Microsoft shop or an Oracle shop or an IBM shop, buying a full stack of products — to one where they subscribe to cloud services and choose the best of breed.

This was also happening against the backdrop of the Consumerization of IT, where power was shifting from large administrative departments to users and teams. Nadella seemed to understand all of this.

The shift in strategy, as I wrote, probably began long before Nadella was handed the keys to the CEO office, but perhaps it took a different kind of leader, like Nadella, to turn the battleship that was Microsoft Corporation. Every company has its own politics and biases, and I’m sure Microsoft did as well, but Nadella seemed to manage those, reorganizing the company over time, and shifting priorities. It didn’t come without the pain of layoffs, including one in 2017 when thousands of people were let go. Long-time executives like COO Kevin Turner and head of Windows and devices, Terry Myerson, also left the company.

But Microsoft went from a company trying to compel customers to buy an all-Microsoft, all-the-time kind of approach to one that recognized it was important to work across platforms and to partner widely. To show how serious he was, a year after he started, Nadella set aside his differences with Marc Benioff and Salesforce, and appeared at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference. That was hugely symbolic, given the two companies had engaged in dueling lawsuits over the years, but this was a new day at Microsoft, and Nadella was out to prove it.

In a quote I’ve come back to a number of times over the years, Nadella laid out his new vision of cooperation. While he was going to compete fiercely, of course, he also was going to cooperate where it made sense, because customers demanded it — and under Nadella, it’s all about the customer.

“It is incumbent upon us, especially those of us who are platform vendors to partner broadly to solve real pain points our customers have,” Nadella said at the time. He wasn’t ceding markets, or failing to compete when it mattered, but he also recognized to make customers happy, he had to partner when it made sense.

Back in the days before Satya, partners and developers talked about a much more hostile environment, where it was difficult to get things done, to get the resources they needed, and the attitude was not one of cooperation, but almost hostility. That changed under Nadella, and he should get credit for that.

That all matters, of course, because in the age of the cloud, Nadella’s Dreamforce quote is spot on. Customers expect vendors to cooperate. They expect open APIs. They expect the platform to be friendly to developers — and under Nadella’s leadership, all of this has happened.

The company has also paid closer attention to issues like accessibility, with features such as real-time captions and the new Xbox adaptive controller. Microsoft has instituted programs under Nadella to use AI to improve accessibility, and he has also spoken frequently about responsible AI development.

Nadella has also led an aggressive acquisition strategy using his company’s cash to buy companies big and small. The splashiest acquisitions were LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion in 2016 and GitHub for $7.5 billion last year, but there have been a host of much smaller purchases, most for much less than a billion dollars, that have filled in holes around security, developer productivity, gaming and a wide variety of cloud services.

It is exceedingly difficult to successfully navigate these kinds of broad cultural changes inside a large organization, and while it is probably still a work in progress, Nadella has been mostly effective to this point. The stock price has followed that broader change, but it is not the story here. The story is one of leadership and change management inside a large organization.

Nov
14
2017
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Microsoft’s period of congenial cooperation could be over

 A couple of years ago while a guest of Marc Benioff onstage at Salesforce’s Dreamforce customer conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said something that seemed to signal a new period of amicable cooperation for his company. Several pieces of evidence seem to suggest that the period of friendly cooperation that was in full bloom in 2015 could be over, and not just with Salesforce. Read More

Jul
10
2017
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Microsoft experiences the triumph and tragedy of transformation

Satya Nadella When long-time Microsoft COO Kevin Turner left the company last year, it marked a key turning point in the Satya Nadella era. Turner’s exit enabled Nadella to start putting his own stamp on the company, and the layoffs, strategy shifts and personnel changes we’ve seen recently are a reflection of that. Read More

Nov
17
2016
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Open source and coopetition are the new normal

Two wooden figures holding hands in front of a lake. In a month of unexpected outcomes, we have also seen some tech partnership announcements, ones we thought we might never see. In fact, just this week we witnessed Microsoft joining the Linux foundation and Google joining Microsoft’s .NET foundation. You cannot minimize just how at odds these announcements are with what has been the reality of the tech industry over the last 20 years.… Read More

Aug
04
2016
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Why Microsoft’s Satya Nadella equates LinkedIn with Minecraft

Microsoft Minecraft You could make a case that Minecraft is the professional network of 10-year-olds, but you’d have to work pretty hard at it. That’s not what Satya Nadella means when he uses Minecraft as an example of why LinkedIn was a great acquisition target for Microsoft, speaking to Bloomberg today in an interview reflecting on Microsoft as a company advancing in years. Here’s the key… Read More

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