Aug
13
2018
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Microsoft stands up Azure Stack for government as JEDI contract looms

Microsoft announced today that it’s released Azure Stack for Azure Government at a time when it’s battling rivals at Amazon and other cloud companies for the massive winner-take-all $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract known as JEDI.

Azure Stack provides customers with a similar set of cloud services that they would get in the public cloud, but inside the cozy confines of the customer data center. For Azure cloud customers who are looking to manage across public and private environments, often referred to as a hybrid approach, it gives a common look and feel across both public and private.

“As a cornerstone of Microsoft’s hybrid cloud approach, consistency means government customers get the same infrastructure and services with Azure Stack as they do with Azure — the same APIs, DevOps tools, portal, and more,”Natalia Mackevicius, Program Director, Microsoft Azure Stack wrote in a blog post announcing the new program.

In addition, the company announced it had passed a third-party FedRamp certification. FedRamp is a government program that provides a standardized way for government procurement officials to assess cloud security.

“Azure Stack for Azure Government directly addresses many other significant challenges our top federal government customers face. This includes tough regulatory, connectivity and latency requirements,” Mackevicius, wrote in a blog post announcement.

While this product is geared for any government customer, this news could certainly be appealing to the Pentagon, which is looking for one vendor to rule them in its latest mega cloud RFP. While Microsoft wouldn’t comment on JEDI specifically because it’s in the midst of answering that RFP, the timing can’t be a coincidence.

Microsoft, along with other competitors including Oracle and IBM, have been complaining bitterly that the one-vendor contract process unfairly favors Amazon. These companies have recommended that the Pentagon go with a multi-vendor approach to prevent lock-in and take advantage of innovation across sellers. The complaints so far has fallen on deaf ears at the Pentagon.

Regardless, Microsoft is still battling hard for the massive contract and today’s release certainly bolsters their approach as they continue to fight to win the JEDI deal — and other government business.

Jul
31
2018
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The Istio service mesh hits version 1.0

Istio, the service mesh for microservices from Google, IBM, Lyft, Red Hat and many other players in the open-source community, launched version 1.0 of its tools today.

If you’re not into service meshes, that’s understandable. Few people are. But Istio is probably one of the most important new open-source projects out there right now. It sits at the intersection of a number of industry trends, like containers, microservices and serverless computing, and makes it easier for enterprises to embrace them. Istio now has more than 200 contributors and the code has seen more than 4,000 check-ins since the launch of  version 0.1.

Istio, at its core, handles the routing, load balancing, flow control and security needs of microservices. It sits on top of existing distributed applications and basically helps them talk to each other securely, while also providing logging, telemetry and the necessary policies that keep things under control (and secure). It also features support for canary releases, which allow developers to test updates with a few users before launching them to a wider audience, something that Google and other webscale companies have long done internally.

“In the area of microservices, things are moving so quickly,” Google product manager Jennifer Lin told me. “And with the success of Kubernetes and the abstraction around container orchestration, Istio was formed as an open-source project to really take the next step in terms of a substrate for microservice development as well as a path for VM-based workloads to move into more of a service management layer. So it’s really focused around the right level of abstractions for services and creating a consistent environment for managing that.”

Even before the 1.0 release, a number of companies already adopted Istio in production, including the likes of eBay and Auto Trader UK. Lin argues that this is a sign that Istio solves a problem that a lot of businesses are facing today as they adopt microservices. “A number of more sophisticated customers tried to build their own service management layer and while we hadn’t yet declared 1.0, we hard a number of customers — including a surprising number of large enterprise customer — say, ‘you know, even though you’re not 1.0, I’m very comfortable putting this in production because what I’m comparing it to is much more raw.’”

IBM Fellow and VP of Cloud Jason McGee agrees with this and notes that “our mission since Istio’s launch has been to enable everyone to succeed with microservices, especially in the enterprise. This is why we’ve focused the community around improving security and scale, and heavily leaned our contributions on what we’ve learned from building agile cloud architectures for companies of all sizes.”

A lot of the large cloud players now support Istio directly, too. IBM supports it on top of its Kubernetes Service, for example, and Google even announced a managed Istio service for its Google Cloud users, as well as some additional open-source tooling for serverless applications built on top of Kubernetes and Istio.

Two names missing from today’s party are Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’ll change over time, though, assuming the project keeps its momentum.

Istio also isn’t part of any major open-source foundation yet. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, is backing linkerd, a project that isn’t all that dissimilar from Istio. Once a 1.0 release of these kinds of projects rolls around, the maintainers often start looking for a foundation that can shepherd the development of the project over time. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we hear more about where Istio will land.

Jul
24
2018
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Google Cloud goes all-in on hybrid with its new Cloud Services Platform

The cloud isn’t right for every business, be that because of latency constraints at the edge, regulatory requirements or because it’s simply cheaper to own and operate their own data centers for their specific workloads. Given this, it’s maybe no surprise that the vast majority of enterprises today use both public and private clouds in parallel. That’s something Microsoft has long been betting on as part of its strategy for its Azure cloud, and Google, too, is now taking a number of steps in this direction.

With the open-source Kubernetes project, Google launched one of the fundamental building blocks that make running and managing applications in hybrid environments easier for large enterprises. What Google hadn’t done until today, though, is launch a comprehensive solution that includes all of the necessary parts for this kind of deployment. With its new Cloud Services Platform, though, the company is now offering businesses an integrated set of cloud services that can be deployed on both the Google Cloud Platform and in on-premise environments.

As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, many businesses also simply want to be able to manage their own workloads on-premise but still be able to access new machine learning tools in the cloud, for example. “Today, to achieve this, use cases involve a compromise between cost, consistency, control and flexibility,” she said. “And this all negatively impacts the desired result.”

Goldberg stressed that the idea behind the Cloud Services Platform is to meet businesses where they are and then allow them to modernize their stack at their own pace. But she also noted that businesses want more than just the ability to move workloads between environments. “Portability isn’t enough,” she said. “Users want consistent experiences so that they can train their team once and run anywhere — and have a single playbook for all environments.”

The two services at the core of this new offering are the Kubernetes container orchestration tool and Istio, a relatively new but quickly growing tool for connecting, managing and securing microservices. Istio is about to hit its 1.0 release.

We’re not simply talking about a collection of open-source tools here. The core of the Cloud Services Platform, Goldberg noted, is “custom configured and battle-tested for enterprises by Google.” In addition, it is deeply integrated with other services in the Google Cloud, including the company’s machine learning tools.

GKE On-Prem

Among these new custom-configured tools are a number of new offerings, which are all part of the larger platform. Maybe the most interesting of these is GKE On-Prem. GKE, the Google Kubernetes Engine, is the core Google Cloud service for managing containers in the cloud. And now Google is essentially bringing this service to the enterprise data center, too.

The service includes access to all of the usual features of GKE in the cloud, including the ability to register and manage clusters and monitor them with Stackdriver, as well as identity and access management. It also includes a direct line to the GCP Marketplace, which recently launched support for Kubernetes-based applications.

Using the GCP Console, enterprises can manage both their on-premise and GKE clusters without having to switch between different environments. GKE on-prem connects seamlessly to a Google Cloud Platform environment and looks and behaves exactly like the cloud version.

Enterprise users also can get access to professional services and enterprise-grade support for help with managing the service.

“Google Cloud is the first and only major cloud vendor to deliver managed Kubernetes on-prem,” Goldberg argued.

GKE Policy Management

Related to this, Google also today announced GKE Policy Management, which is meant to provide Kubernetes administrators with a single tool for managing all of their security policies across clusters. It’s agnostic as to where the Kubernetes cluster is running, but you can use it to port your existing Google Cloud identity-based policies to these clusters. This new feature will soon launch in alpha.

Managed Istio

The other major new service Google is launching is Managed Istio (together with Apigee API Management for Istio) to help businesses manage and secure their microservices. The open source Istio service mesh gives admins and operators the tools to manage these services and, with this new managed offering, Google is taking the core of Istio and making it available as a managed service for GKE users.

With this, users get access to Istio’s service discovery mechanisms and its traffic management tools for load balancing and routing traffic to containers and VMs, as well as its tools for getting telemetry back from the workloads that run on these clusters.

In addition to these three main new services, Google is also launching a couple of auxiliary tools around GKE and the serverless computing paradigm today. The first of these is the GKE serverless add-on, which makes it easy to run serverless workloads on GKE with a single-step deploy process. This, Google says, will allow developers to go from source code to container “instantaneously.” This tool is currently available as a preview and Google is making parts of this technology available under the umbrella of its new native open source components. These are the same components that make the serverless add-on possible.

And to wrap it all up, Google also today mentioned a new fully managed continuous integration and delivery service, Google Cloud Build, though the details around this service remain under wraps.

So there you have it. By themselves, all of those announcements may seem a bit esoteric. As a whole, though, they show how Google’s bet on Kubernetes is starting to pay off. As businesses opt for containers to deploy and run their new workloads (and maybe even bring older applications into the cloud), GKE has put Google Cloud on the map to run them in a hosted environment. Now, it makes sense for Google to extend this to its users’ data centers, too. With managed Kubernetes from large and small companies like SUSE, Platform 9, containership is starting to become a big business. It’s no surprise the company that started it all wants to get a piece of this pie, too.

Jul
19
2018
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Microsoft caps off a fine fiscal year seemingly without any major missteps in its last quarter

Microsoft is capping off a rather impressive year without any major missteps in its final report for its performance in its 2018 fiscal year, posting a quarter that seems to have been largely non-offensive to Wall Street.

In the past year, Microsoft’s stock has gone up more than 40%. In the past two years, it’s nearly doubled. All of this came after something around a decade of that price not really doing anything as Microsoft initially missed major trends like the shift to mobile and the cloud. But since then, new CEO Satya Nadella has turned that around and increased the company’s focused on both, and Azure is now one of the company’s biggest highlights. Microsoft is now an $800 billion company, which while still considerably behind Apple, Amazon and Google, is a considerable high considering the past decade.

In addition, Microsoft passed $100 billion in revenue for a fiscal year. So, as you might expect, the stock didn’t really do anything, given that nothing seemed to be too wrong with what was going on. For a company that’s at around $800 billion, that it’s not doing anything bad at this point is likely a good thing. That Microsoft is even in the discussion of being one of the companies chasing a $1 trillion market cap is likely something we wouldn’t have been talking about just three or four years ago.

The company said it generated $30.1 billion in revenue, up 17% year-over-year, and adjusted earnings of $1.13 per share. Analysts were looking for earnings of $1.08 per share on revenue of $29.23 billion.

So, under Nadella, this is more or less a tale of two Microsofts — one squarely pointed at a future of productivity software with an affinity toward cloud and mobile tools (though Windows is obviously still a part of this), and one that was centered around the home PC. Here are a couple highlights from the report:

  • LinkedIn: Microsoft said revenue for LinkedIn increased 37%, with LinkedIn sessions growth of 41%. Microsoft’s professional network was also listed in a bucket of other segments that it attributed to an increased operating expenditures, which also included cloud engineering, and commercial sales capacity. It was also bucketed into a 12% increase in research and development with cloud engineering, as well as a bump in sales and marketing expenses. This all seems pretty normal for a network Microsoft hopes to continue to grow.
  • Azure: Microsoft’s cloud platform continued to drive its server products and cloud services revenue, which increased 26%. The company said Azure’s revenue was up 89% “due to growth from consumed and SaaS revenue.” Once again, Microsoft didn’t break out specifics on its Azure products, though it seems pretty clear that this is one of their primary growth drivers.
  • Office 365: Office 365 saw commercial revenue growth of 38%, and consumer subscribers increased to 31.4 million. Alongside LinkedIn, Microsoft seems to be assembling a substantial number of subscription SaaS products that offset a shift in its model away from personal computing and into a more cloud-oriented company.
  • GitHub: Nada here in the report. Microsoft earlier this year said it acquired it for a very large sum of money (in stock), but it isn’t talking about it. But bucket it alongside Office 365 and LinkedIn as part of that increasingly large stable of productivity tools for businesses, as Github is one of the most widely-adopted developer tools available.

Jul
17
2018
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Walmart enlists Microsoft cloud in battle against Amazon

Once a seemingly unstoppable retail juggernaut, Walmart’s been scrambling to define its digitally in this Amazon-defined era. This morning, the company announced that it’s struck a five-year deal with Microsoft, Amazon’s chief cloud competitor.

These sorts of partnerships are a regular occurrence for AWS — in fact, it announced one with Fortnite maker Epic Games, just this morning. The companies involved tend to put on a big show, in return for a discount on services, but Walmart and Microsoft are happily playing into the concept of teaming up to take on Amazon.

Microsoft’s certainly not making any bones about the competition. In an interview, Satya Nadella told The Wall Street Journal that the fight against Amazon “is absolutely core to this,” adding, “How do we get more leverage as two organizations that have depth and breadth and investment to be able to outrun our respective competition?”

Of course, neither Walmart nor Microsoft can be framed as an underdog in any respect, but Amazon’s stranglehold on online retail also can’t be understated. Not even a massive outage at the height of Prime Day could do much to ruffle the company’s feathers.

Included in the deal are AI/ML technologies design to help optimize the in-store experience — one of the key factors Walmart brings to the table in a battle against Amazon, which has mostly just dabbled in brick and mortar. For its part, Walmart has been testing cashier-less stores along the lines of Amazon’s, but the company has just to officially unveil its plans in that space.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft launches new wide-area networking options for Azure

Microsoft is launching a few new networking features today that will make it easier for businesses to use the company’s Azure cloud to securely connect their own offices and infrastructure using Azure and its global network.

The first of these is the Azure Virtual WAN service, which allows businesses to connect their various branches to and through Azure. This basically works like an airline hub and spoke model, where Azure becomes the central hub through which all data between branches flows. The advantage of this, Microsoft argues, is that it allows admins to manage their wide-area networks from a central dashboard and, of course, that it makes it easy to bind additional Azure services and appliances to the network. And with that, users also get access to all of the security services that Azure has to offer.

One new security service that Microsoft is launching today is the Azure Firewall, a new cloud-native security service that is meant to protect a business’s virtual network resources.

In addition to these two new networking features, Microsoft also today announced that it is expanding to two new regions its Azure Data Box service, which is basically Microsoft’s version of the AWS Snowball appliances for moving data into the cloud by loading it onto a shippable appliance: Europe and the United Kingdom (and let’s not argue about the fact that the U.K. is still part of Europe). There is also now a “Data Box Disk” option for those who don’t need to move petabytes of data. Orders with up to five of those disks can hold up to 40 terabytes of data and are currently in preview.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft wants to make you a better team player by nudging you into submission

Microsoft announced a number of new tools for its MyAnalytics tool for Office 365 users today that are geared toward giving employees more data about how they work, as well as ways to improve how teams work together. In today’s businesses, everybody has to be a team player, after all, and if you want to bring technology to bear on this, you first need data — and once you have data, you can go into full-on analytics mode and maybe even throw in a smidge of machine learning, too.

So today, Microsoft is launching two new products: Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics nudges. Yes, Office 365 will now nudge you to be a better team player. “Building better teams starts with transparent, data-driven dialog—but no one is perfect and sticking to good collaboration habits can be challenging in a fast-paced job,” Microsoft’s Natalie McCullough and Noelle Beaujon, using language only an MBA could love, write in today’s announcement.

I’m not sure what exactly that means or whether I have good collaboration habits or not, but in practice, Office 365 can now nudge you when you need more focus time as your calendar fills up, for example. You can block off those times without leaving your Inbox (or, I guess, you could always ignore this and just set up a standing block of time every day where you don’t accept meetings and just do your job…). MyAnalytics can also now nudge you to delegate meetings to a co-worker when your schedule is busy (because your co-workers aren’t busy and will love you for putting more meetings on your calendar) and tell you to avoid after-hours emails as you draft them to co-workers so they don’t have to work after hours, too (that’s actually smart, but may not work well in every company).

With this new feature, Microsoft is also using some machine learning smarts, of course. MyAnalytics was already able to remind you of tasks you promised to co-workers over email, and now it’ll nudge you when you read new emails from those co-workers, too. Because the more you get nudged, the more likely you are to finish that annoying task you never intended to do but promised your co-worker you would do so he’d go away.

If you’re whole team needs some nudging, Microsoft will also allow the group to enroll in a change program and provide you with lots of data about how you are changing. And if that doesn’t work, you can always set up a few meetings to discuss what’s going wrong.

These new features will roll out this summer. Get ready to be nudged.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams gets a free version

Microsoft opened up the news floodgates this morning, in the kick off to its annual Inspire event in Vegas. One of the more compelling announcements of the bunch is the addition of a free version of Teams.

The Slack competitor has been kicking around in some form or other since late-2016, but the $60 a year fee has likely made it a bit of a nonstarter for smaller businesses. After all, it’s Slack’s free tier that helped the work chat app gain so much traction so quickly. A free version makes a lot of sense for Microsoft.

Signing users up for Teams is way to get more feet into the door of its application ecosystem, which was once ubiquitous in offices. Once they’ve download teams, workplaces will be hooked into the Microsoft 365 suite.

The free tier actually brings a fair bit of the app to up to 300 people per workplace. Here’s the full rundown of features per Microsoft,

  • Unlimited chat messages and search.
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups, and full team meetups.
  • 10 GB of team file storage plus additional 2 GB per person for personal storage.
  • Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
  • Unlimited app integrations with 140+ business apps to choose from—including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello.
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, backed by Microsoft’s secure, global infrastructure.

The company’s done a good job hooking in enterprise customers, but as it notes, SMBs constitute 90+ percent of businesses globally, so that’s a whole lot more devices to tap into. The free tier is available in 40 languages starting today.

Jul
12
2018
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GitHub Enterprise and Business Cloud users now get access to public repos, too

GitHub, the code hosting service Microsoft recently acquired, is launching a couple of new features for its business users today that’ll make it easier for them to access public repositories on the service.

Traditionally, users on the hosted Business Cloud and self-hosted Enterprise were not able to directly access the millions of public open-source repositories on the service. Now, with the service’s release, that’s changing, and business users will be able to reach beyond their firewalls to engage and collaborate with the rest of the GitHub community directly.

With this, GitHub now also offers its business and enterprise users a new unified search feature that lets them tap into their internal repos but also look at open-source ones.

Other new features in this latest Enterprise release include the ability to ignore whitespace when reviewing changes, the ability to require multiple reviewers for code changes, automated support tickets and more. You can find a full list of all updates here.

Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub wasn’t fully unexpected (and it’s worth noting that the acquisition hasn’t closed yet), but it is still controversial, given that Microsoft and the open-source community, which heavily relies on GitHub, haven’t always seen eye-to-eye in the past. I’m personally not too worried about that, and it feels like the dust has settled at this point and that people are waiting to see what Microsoft will do with the service.

Jul
12
2018
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Snowflake expands beyond Amazon to Azure cloud

Snowflake, the cloud data warehouse, announced a partnership with Microsoft today to expand their offering to the Azure cloud. The new product is still in Preview for now.

Given that Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia worked at Microsoft for more than 20 years, it’s certainly not surprising that Microsoft is the company’s second partner after working with only Amazon since its inception. But Muglia says it was really about seeing customer demand in the marketplace more than any nostalgia or connections at Microsoft. In fact, he says the company is on boarding one to two new Azure customers a day right now.

The plan is to open up a private preview today, then become generally available some time in the fall when they work out all of the kinks involved with porting their service to another provider.

The partnership didn’t happen overnight. It’s been developing for over a year and that’s because Muglia says Azure isn’t quite as mature as Amazon in some ways and it required some engineering cooperation to make it all work.

“We had to work with Microsoft on some of the things that we needed to make [our product] work [on their platform], particularly around the way we work with Azure Blob Storage that we really had to do a little differently on Azure. So there are changes we needed to make internally in our product to make it work,” he explained.

Overall though the two company’s engineers have worked together to solve those issues and Muglia says that when the Azure version becomes generally available in the Fall, it should basically be the same product they offer on Amazon, although there are still some features they are trying to make work on in the Preview. “Our goal is to have literally the same product on Azure as on Amazon, and we are very confident we’ll get there with Microsoft,” he said.

For Snowflake of course, it represents a substantial market expansion because now they can sell to companies working on Azure and Amazon and that has opened up a whole new pipeline of customers. Azure is the number two cloud provider behind Amazon.

The interesting aspect of all this is that Amazon and Microsoft compete in the cloud of course, but Snowflake is also competing with each cloud provider too with their own product. Yet this kind of partnership has become standard in the cloud. You have to work across platforms, then compete where it makes sense.

“Almost all of the relationships that we have in the industry, we have some element of competition with them, and so this is a normal mode of operation,” he said.

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