Oct
30
2020
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Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

The cloud infrastructure market kept growing at a brisk pace last quarter, as the pandemic continued to push more companies to the cloud with offices shut down in much of the world. This week the big three — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their numbers and, as expected, the news was good, with Synergy Research reporting revenue growth of 33% year over year, up to almost $33 billion for the quarter.

Still, John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy, was a bit taken aback that the market continued to grow as much as it did. “While we were fully expecting continued strong growth in the market, the scale of the growth in Q3 was a little surprising,” he said in a statement.

He added, “Total revenues were up by $2.5 billion from the previous quarter causing the year-on-year growth rate to nudge upwards, which is unusual for such a large market. It is quite clear that COVID-19 has provided an added boost to a market that was already developing rapidly.”

Per usual Amazon led the way with $11.6 billion in revenue, up from $10.8 billion last quarter. That’s up 29% year over year. Amazon continues to exhibit slowing growth in the cloud market, but because of its market share lead of 33%, a rate that has held fairly steady for some time, the growth is less important than the eye-popping revenue it continues to generate, almost double its closest rival Microsoft .

Speaking of Microsoft, Azure revenue was up 48% year over year, also slowing some, but good enough for a strong second place with 18% market share. Using Synergy’s total quarterly number of $33 billion, Microsoft came in at $5.9 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $5.2 billion last quarter.

Finally, Google announced cloud revenue of $3.4 billion, but that number includes all of its cloud revenue including G Suite and other software. Synergy reported that this was good for 9%, or $2.98 billion, up from $2.7 billion last quarter, good for third place.

Alibaba and IBM were tied for fourth with 5%, or around $1.65 billion each.

Synergy Research cloud infrastructure relative market positions. Amazon is the largest circle followed by Microsoft.

Image Credits: Synergy Research

It’s worth noting that Canalys had similar numbers to Synergy, with growth of 33% to $36.5 billion. They had the same market order with slightly different numbers, with Amazon at 32%, Microsoft at 19% and Google at 7%, and Alibaba in 4th place at 6%.

Canalys sees continued growth ahead, especially as hybrid cloud begins to merge with newer technologies like 5G and edge computing. “All three [providers] are collaborating with mobile operators to deploy their cloud stacks at the edge in the operators’ data centers. These are part of holistic initiatives to profit from 5G services among business customers, as well as transform the mobile operators’ IT infrastructure,” Canalys analyst Blake Murray said in a statement.

While the pure growth continues to move steadily downward over time, this is expected in a market that’s maturing like cloud infrastructure, but as companies continue to shift workloads more rapidly to the cloud during the pandemic, and find new use cases like 5G and edge computing, the market could continue to generate substantial revenue well into the future.

Oct
29
2020
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Microsoft now lets you bring your own data types to Excel

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft started adding the concept of “data types” to Excel; that is, the ability to pull in geography and real-time stock data from the cloud, for example. Thanks to its partnership with Wolfram, Excel now features more than 100 of these data types that can flow into a spreadsheet. But you won’t be limited to only these pre-built data types for long. Soon, Excel will also let you bring in your own data types.

That means you can have a “customer” data type, for example, that can bring in rich customer data from a third-party service into Excel. The conduit for this is either Power BI, which now allows Excel to pull in any data you previously published there, or Microsoft’s Power Query feature in Excel that lets you connect to a wide variety of data sources, including common databases like SQL Server, MySQL and PostreSQL, as well as third-party services like Teradata and Facebook.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“Up to this point, the Excel grid has been flat… it’s two dimensional,” Microsoft’s head of product for Excel, Brian Jones, writes in today’s announcement. “You can lay out numbers, text, and formulas across the flexible grid, and people have built amazing things with those capabilities. Not all data is flat though and forcing data into that 2D structure has its limits. With Data Types we’ve added a 3rd dimension to what you can build with Excel. Any cell can now contain a rich set of structured data… in just a single cell.”

The promise here is that this will make Excel more flexible, and I’m sure a lot of enterprises will adapt these capabilities. These companies aren’t likely to move to Airtable or similar Excel-like tools anytime soon, but have data analysis needs that are only increasing now that every company gathers more data than it knows what to do with. This is also a feature that none of Excel’s competitors currently offer, including Google Sheets.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Oct
20
2020
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Microsoft debuts Azure Space to cater to the space industry, partners with SpaceX for Starlink data center broadband

Microsoft is taking its Azure cloud computing platform to the final frontier — space. It now has a dedicated business unit called Azure Space for that purpose, made up of industry heavyweights and engineers who are focused on space-sector services, including simulation of space missions, gathering and interpreting satellite data to provide insights and providing global satellite networking capabilities through new and expanded partnerships.

One of Microsoft’s new partners for Azure Space is SpaceX, the progenitor and major current player in the so-called “New Space” industry. SpaceX will be providing Microsoft with access to its Starlink low-latency satellite-based broadband network for Microsoft’s new Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC) — essentially an on-demand container-based data center unit that can be deployed in remote locations, either to operate on their own or boost local capabilities.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The MDC is a contained unit, and can operate off-grid using its own satellite network connectivity add-on. It’s similar in concept to the company’s work on underwater data centres, but keeping it on the ground obviously opens up more opportunities in terms of locating it where people need it, rather than having to be proximate to an ocean or sea.

The other big part of this announcement focuses on space preparedness via simulation. Microsoft revealed the Azure Orbital Emulator today, which provides in a computer emulated environment the ability to test satellite constellation operations in simulation, using both software and hardware. It’s basically aiming to provide as close to in-space conditions as are possible on the ground in order to get everything ready for coordinating large, interconnected constellations of automated satellites in low Earth orbit, an increasing need as more defense agencies and private companies pursue this approach versus the legacy method of relying on one, two or just a few large geosynchronous spacecraft.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft says the goal with the Orbital Emulator is to train AI for use on orbital spacecraft before those spacecraft are actually launched — from the early development phase, right up to working with production hardware on the ground before it takes its trip to space. That’s definitely a big potential competitive advantage, because it should help companies spot even more potential problems early on while they’re still relatively easy to fix (not the case on orbit).

This emulated environment for on-orbit mission prep is already in use by Azure Government customers, the company notes. It’s also looking for more partners across government and industry for space-related services, including communication, national security, satellite services including observation and telemetry and more.

Oct
05
2020
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As it closes in on Arm, Nvidia announces UK supercomputer dedicated to medical research

As Nvidia continues to work through its deal to acquire Arm from SoftBank for $40 billion, the computing giant is making another big move to lay out its commitment to investing in U.K. technology. Today the company announced plans to develop Cambridge-1, a new £40 million AI supercomputer that will be used for research in the health industry in the country, the first supercomputer built by Nvidia specifically for external research access, it said.

Nvidia said it is already working with GSK, AstraZeneca, London hospitals Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore to use the Cambridge-1. The supercomputer is due to come online by the end of the year and will be the company’s second supercomputer in the country. The first is already in development at the company’s AI Center of Excellence in Cambridge, and the plan is to add more supercomputers over time.

The growing role of AI has underscored an interesting crossroads in medical research. On one hand, leading researchers all acknowledge the role it will be playing in their work. On the other, none of them (nor their institutions) have the resources to meet that demand on their own. That’s driving them all to get involved much more deeply with big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and, in this case, Nvidia, to carry out work.

Alongside the supercomputer news, Nvidia is making a second announcement in the area of healthcare in the U.K.: it has inked a partnership with GSK, which has established an AI hub in London, to build AI-based computational processes that will be used in drug vaccine and discovery — an especially timely piece of news, given that we are in a global health pandemic and all drug makers and researchers are on the hunt to understand more about, and build vaccines for, COVID-19.

The news is coinciding with Nvidia’s industry event, the GPU Technology Conference.

“Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia, in his keynote at the event. “The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the U.K., and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”

The company plans to dedicate Cambridge-1 resources in four areas, it said: industry research, in particular joint research on projects that exceed the resources of any single institution; university granted compute time; health-focused AI startups; and education for future AI practitioners. It’s already building specific applications in areas, like the drug discovery work it’s doing with GSK, that will be run on the machine.

The Cambridge-1 will be built on Nvidia’s DGX SuperPOD system, which can process 400 petaflops of AI performance and 8 petaflops of Linpack performance. Nvidia said this will rank it as the 29th fastest supercomputer in the world.

“Number 29” doesn’t sound very groundbreaking, but there are other reasons why the announcement is significant.

For starters, it underscores how the supercomputing market — while still not a mass-market enterprise — is increasingly developing more focus around specific areas of research and industries. In this case, it underscores how health research has become more complex, and how applications of artificial intelligence have both spurred that complexity but, in the case of building stronger computing power, also provides a better route — some might say one of the only viable routes in the most complex of cases — to medical breakthroughs and discoveries.

It’s also notable that the effort is being forged in the U.K. Nvidia’s deal to buy Arm has seen some resistance in the market — with one group leading a campaign to stop the sale and take Arm independent — but this latest announcement underscores that the company is already involved pretty deeply in the U.K. market, bolstering Nvidia’s case to double down even further. (Yes, chip reference designs and building supercomputers are different enterprises, but the argument for Nvidia is one of commitment and presence.)

“AI and machine learning are like a new microscope that will help scientists to see things that they couldn’t see otherwise,” said Dr. Hal Barron, chief scientific officer and president, R&D, GSK, in a statement. “NVIDIA’s investment in computing, combined with the power of deep learning, will enable solutions to some of the life sciences industry’s greatest challenges and help us continue to deliver transformational medicines and vaccines to patients. Together with GSK’s new AI lab in London, I am delighted that these advanced technologies will now be available to help the U.K.’s outstanding scientists.”

“The use of big data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform research and development; from target identification through clinical research and all the way to the launch of new medicines,” added James Weatherall, PhD, head of Data Science and AI, AstraZeneca, in his statement.

“Recent advances in AI have seen increasingly powerful models being used for complex tasks such as image recognition and natural language understanding,” said Sebastien Ourselin, head, School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London. “These models have achieved previously unimaginable performance by using an unprecedented scale of computational power, amassing millions of GPU hours per model. Through this partnership, for the first time, such a scale of computational power will be available to healthcare research – it will be truly transformational for patient health and treatment pathways.”

Dr. Ian Abbs, chief executive & chief medical director of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust Officer, said: “If AI is to be deployed at scale for patient care, then accuracy, robustness and safety are of paramount importance. We need to ensure AI researchers have access to the largest and most comprehensive datasets that the NHS has to offer, our clinical expertise, and the required computational infrastructure to make sense of the data. This approach is not only necessary, but also the only ethical way to deliver AI in healthcare – more advanced AI means better care for our patients.”

“Compact AI has enabled real-time sequencing in the palm of your hand, and AI supercomputers are enabling new scientific discoveries in large-scale genomic data sets,” added Gordon Sanghera, CEO, Oxford Nanopore Technologies. “These complementary innovations in data analysis support a wealth of impactful science in the U.K., and critically, support our goal of bringing genomic analysis to anyone, anywhere.”

 

Oct
01
2020
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Microsoft enhances customer data platform as pandemic drives need for personalization

When Microsoft introduced its customer data platform last February, the focus was on simply connecting silos of data to help customers get the data into the system. But as the pandemic has taken hold this year, customers need deeper insight into their customers, and Microsoft has made some enhancements to the platform today.

James Phillips, president of Microsoft Business Applications Group, says the goal of the platform is about understanding customers at a deeper level. “From that depth of understanding our customers can engage their customers through the entirety of the customer lifecycle,” Phillips told TechCrunch.

That could involve a variety of activities, such as personalizing offers, speaking to them in a way that they know their customers want to be spoken to, offering them new products and services that better meet their needs or supporting them better, he said.

He adds that COVID-19 has changed customer priorities and forced them to make adjustments to the way they do business and how they interact with customers. “As everything’s gone digital, the need to deeply understand your customer and to increase the efficacy of those engagements has really been heightened through this pandemic,” he said.

The company is announcing several new components to the customer data platform product to help customers build that understanding. The first is called Engagement Insights, which, as the name implies takes, all that data they’ve pushed to the CDP to help understand how the company is engaging with the customer better and deliver more meaningful interactions. That goes into preview today.

“Engagement Insights is about directly funneling web, mobile and connected product data back into Customer Insights to help continue to enrich that understanding of the customer in order to better serve them,” he said.

The next piece is about putting AI to work on all that data to allow marketers to make more educated predictions about the customers based on what they know about them. This takes advantage of Azure Synapse Analytics and provides a set of pre-built AI templates to help customers with elements like predicting customer churn, automating product recommendations and estimating customer lifetime value.

In addition, the company is offering a data governance product to help protect that data, and it’s integrating with Microsoft Customer Voice, the company’s survey tool to give customers the ability to fill in the blanks in the data by asking the customers when all of the data doesn’t provide an answer.

Phillips says all of these capabilities are about helping customers be more agile, so that as the world shifts, as it has so dramatically this year, businesses can be in a better position to react to those changes more quickly and meet the changing customer requirements.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft clearly isn’t alone in this type of offering, as every big company that sells marketing tools from Adobe to Salesforce to SAP is offering similar products for similar reasons.

Sep
22
2020
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Daily Crunch: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft takes on Twilio, Google launches a work-tracking tool and Mirakl raises $300 million. This is your Daily Crunch for September 22, 2020.

The big story: Microsoft launches Azure Communication Services

Microsoft announced today that it’s ready to compete with Twilio by launching a set of features that allow developers to add voice and video calling, chat, text messages and old-school telephony to their apps.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure,” wrote Microsoft’s Scott Van Vliet. “Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support 5B+ meeting minutes daily.”

This is just one of a number of announcements that Microsoft made at its Ignite conference this morning. Other additions include a platform for detecting biological threats and the Azure Orbital service for satellite operators.

The tech giants

Google launches a work-tracking tool and Airtable rival, Tables — Tables’ bots help users do things like scheduling recurring email reminders when tasks are overdue and messaging a chat room when new form submissions are received.

Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali — The company said this move should help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in India.

Pinterest breaks daily download record due to user interest in iOS 14 design ideas — Following the release of iOS 14, the excitement around the ability to customize your iPhone home screen has been paying off for Pinterest.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Mirakl raises $300 million for its marketplace platform — Mirakl helps companies launch and manage a marketplace on their e-commerce websites.

Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23 million series A — Pure Watercraft is building an electric outboard motor that can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs.

Morgan Beller, co-creator of the Libra digital currency, just joined the venture firm NFX — And yes, that means she’s leaving Facebook.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Despite a rough year for digital media, Blavity and The Shade Room are thriving — A recap of my Disrupt discussion with Morgan DeBaun of Blavity and Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room.

Big tech has 2 elephants in the room: Privacy and competition — There’s clearly a nervousness among even well-established tech firms to discuss this topic.

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? — The company was founded in 1994, making it more of a mature business than a startup.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

TikTok, WeChat and the growing digital divide between the US and China — Catherine Shu discusses the dramatic shift in the relationship between tech companies in both countries.

Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors — Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors.

Bose introduces a new pair of sleep-focused earbuds — The timing of the Sleepbuds II could hardly be better.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft challenges Twilio with the launch of Azure Communication Services

Microsoft today announced the launch of Azure Communication Services, a new set of features in its cloud that enable developers to add voice and video calling, chat and text messages to their apps, as well as old-school telephony.

The company describes the new set of services as the “first fully managed communication platform offering from a major cloud provider,” and that seems right, given that Google and AWS offer some of these features, including the AWS notification service, for example, but not as part of a cohesive communication service. Indeed, it seems Azure Communication Service is more of a competitor to the core features of Twilio or up-and-coming MessageBird.

Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft has built up a lot of experience in this area, in large parts thanks to the success of its Teams service. Unsurprisingly, that’s something Microsoft is also playing up in its announcement.

“Azure Communication Services is built natively on top a global, reliable cloud — Azure. Businesses can confidently build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support over 5 billion meeting minutes in a single day,” writes Scott Van Vliet, corporate vice president for Intelligent Communication at the company.

Microsoft also stresses that it offers a set of additional smart services that developers can tap into to build out their communication services, including its translation tools, for example. The company also notes that its services are encrypted to meet HIPPA and GDPR standards.

Like similar services, developers access the various capabilities through a set of new APIs and SDKs.

As for the core services, the capabilities here are pretty much what you’d expect. There’s voice and video calling (and the ability to shift between them). There’s support for chat and, starting in October, users will also be able to send text messages. Microsoft says developers will be able to send these to users anywhere, with Microsoft positioning it as a global service.

Provisioning phone numbers, too, is part of the services and developers will be able to provision those for in-bound and out-bound calls, port existing numbers, request new ones and — most importantly for contact-center users — integrate them with existing on-premises equipment and carrier networks.

“Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market,” writes Van Vliet. “We see rich communication experiences – enabled by voice, video, chat, and SMS – continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms.”

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft brings data services to its Arc multi-cloud management service

Microsoft today launched a major update to its Arc multi-cloud service that allows Azure customers to run and manage workloads across clouds — including those of Microsoft’s competitors — and their on-premises data centers. First announced at Microsoft Ignite in 2019, Arc was always meant to not just help users manage their servers but also allow them to run data services like Azure SQL and Azure Database for PostgreSQL, close to where their data sits.

Today, the company is making good on this promise with the preview launch of Azure Arc-enabled data services with support for, as expected, Azure SQL and Azure Database for PostgreSQL.

In addition, Microsoft is making the core feature of Arc, Arc-enabled servers, generally available. These are the tools at the core of the service that allow enterprises that use the standard Azure Portal to manage and monitor their Windows and Linux servers across their multi-cloud and edge environments.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“We’ve always known that enterprises are looking to unlock the agility of the cloud — they love the app model, they love the business model — while balancing a need to maintain certain applications and workloads on premises,” Rohan Kumar, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure Data said. “A lot of customers actually have a multi-cloud strategy. In some cases, they need to keep the data specifically for regulatory compliance. And in many cases, they want to maximize their existing investments. They’ve spent a lot of CapEx.”

As Kumar stressed, Microsoft wants to meet customers where they are, without forcing them to adopt a container architecture, for example, or replace their specialized engineered appliances to use Arc.

“Hybrid is really [about] providing that flexible choice to our customers, meeting them where they are, and not prescribing a solution,” he said.

He admitted that this approach makes engineering the solution more difficult, but the team decided the baseline should be a container endpoint and nothing more. And for the most part, Microsoft packaged up the tools its own engineers were already using to run Azure services on the company’s own infrastructure to manage these services in a multi-cloud environment.

“In hindsight, it was a little challenging at the beginning, because, you can imagine, when we initially built them, we didn’t imagine that we’ll be packaging them like this. But it’s a very modern design point,” Kumar said. But the result is that supporting customers is now relatively easy because it’s so similar to what the team does in Azure, too.

Kumar noted that one of the selling points for the Azure Data Services is also that the version of Azure SQL is essentially evergreen, allowing them to stop worrying about SQL Server licensing and end-of-life support questions.

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft launches new Cortana features for business users

Cortana may have failed as a virtual assistant for consumers, but Microsoft is still betting on it (or at least its brand) for business use cases, now that it has rebranded it as a “personal productivity assistant” as part of Microsoft 365. Today, at its Ignite conference, Microsoft launched and announced a number of new Cortana services for business users.

These include the general availability of Cortana for the new Microsoft Teams displays the company is launching in partnership with a number of hardware vendors. You can think of these as dedicated smart displays for Teams that are somewhat akin to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays, for example — but with the sole focus on meetings. These days, it’s hard to enable a device like this without support for a voice assistant, so there you go. It’ll be available in September in English in the U.S. and will then roll out to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months.

In addition to these Teams devices, which Microsoft is not necessarily positioning for meeting rooms but as sidekicks to a regular laptop or desktop, Cortana will also soon come to Teams Rooms devices. Once we go back to offices and meeting rooms, after all, few people will want to touch a shared piece of hardware, so a touchless experience is a must.

For a while now, Microsoft has also been teasing more email-centric Cortana services. Play My Emails, a service that reads you your email out aloud and that’s already available in the U.S. on iOS and Android, is coming to Australia, Canada, the U.K. and India in the coming months. But more importantly, later this month, Outlook for iOS users will be able to interact with their inbox by voice, initiate calls to email senders and play emails from specific senders.

Cortana can now also send you daily briefing emails if you are a Microsoft 365 Enterprise user. This feature is now generally available and will get better meeting preparation, integration with Microsoft To Do and other new features in the coming months.

And if you’re using Cortana on Windows 10, this chat-based app now lets you compose emails, for example (at least if you speak English and are in the U.S.). And if you so desire, you can now use a wake word to launch it.

Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft Teams gets breakout rooms, custom layouts and virtual commutes

Unsurprisingly, Teams has become a major focus for Microsoft during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s no surprise that the company is using its annual Ignite IT conference to announce a number of new features for the service.

Today’s announcements follow the launch of features like Together Mode and dynamic view earlier this summer.

Together Mode, which puts cutouts of meeting participants in different settings, is getting a bit of an update today with the launch of new scenes: auditoriums, coffee shops and conference rooms. Like before, the presenter chooses the scene, but what’s new now is that Microsoft is also using machine learning to ensure that participants are automatically centered in their virtual chairs, making the whole scene look just a little bit more natural (and despite what Microsoft’s research shows, I can never help but think that this all looks a bit goofy, maybe because it reminds me of the opening credits of The Muppet Show).

Image Credits: Microsoft

Also new in Teams is custom layouts, which allow presenters to customize how their presentations — and their own video feeds — appear. With this, a presenter can superimpose her own video image over the presentation, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Breakout rooms, a feature that is getting a lot of use in Zoom these days, is now also coming to Teams. Microsoft calls it the most requested feature in Teams and, like in similar products, it allows meeting organizers to split participants into smaller groups — and the meeting organizer can then go from room to room. Unsurprisingly, this feature is especially popular with teachers, though companies, too, often use it to facilitate brainstorming sessions, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

After exhausting all your brainstorming power in those breakout rooms and finishing up your meeting, Teams can now also send you an automatic recap of a meeting that includes a recording, transcript, shared files and more. These recaps will automatically appear on your Outlook calendar. In the future, Microsoft will also enable the ability to automatically store these recordings on SharePoint.

For companies that regularly host large meetings, Microsoft will launch support for up to 1,000 participants in the near future. Attendees in these meetings will get the full Teams experience, Microsoft promises. Later, Microsoft will also enable view-only meetings for up to 20,000 participants. Both of these features will become available as part of a new “Advanced Communications” plan, which is probably no surprise, given how much bandwidth and compute power it will likely take to manage a 1,000-person meeting.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft also made two hardware announcements related to Teams today. The first is the launch of what it calls “Microsoft Teams panels,” which are essentially small tablets that businesses can put outside of their meeting rooms for wayfinding. One cool feature here — especially as businesses start planning their post-pandemic office strategy — is that these devices will be able to use information from the cameras in the room to count how many people are attending a meeting in person and then show remaining room capacity, for example.

The company also today announced that the giant Surface Hub 2S 85-inch model will be available in January 2021.

And there is more. Microsoft is also launching new Teams features for front-line workers to help schedule shifts, alert workers when they are using Teams off-shift and praise badges that enable organizations to recognize workers (though those workers would probably prefer hard cash over a digital badge).

Also new is an integration between Teams and RealWear head-mounted devices for remote collaboration and a new Walkie Talkie app for Android.

And since digital badges aren’t usually enough to improve employee well-being, Microsoft is also adding a new set of well-being features to Teams. These provide users with personalized recommendations to help change habits and improve well-being and productivity.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That includes a new “virtual commute” feature that includes an integration with Headspace and an emotional check-in experience.

I’ve always been a fan of short and manageable commutes for getting some distance between work and home, but that’s not exactly a thing right now. Maybe Headspace works as an example, but there’s only so much Andy Puddicombe I can take. Still, I think I’ll keep my emotional check-ins to myself, though Microsoft obviously notes that it will keep all of that information private.

And while businesses now care about your emotional well-being (because it’s closely related to your productivity), managers mostly care about the work you get done. For them, Workplace Analytics is coming to Teams, giving “managers line of sight into teamwork norms like after-hours collaboration, focus time, meeting effectiveness, and cross-company connections. These will then be compared to averages among similar teams to provide managers with actionable insights.”

If that doesn’t make your manager happy, what will? Maybe a digital praise badge?

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