Tag Archives: Microsoft Azure

Managing Windows IoT Core devices with Azure IoT Hub

Device management in Windows IoT Core

In Fall 2016, Microsoft announced Azure IoT Hub device management, providing the features and extensibility model, including an SDK for a wide range of platforms, to build robust device management solutions. With the recent release of the Windows 10 Creators Update, we are excited to announce the availability of the Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library. The open source library allows developers to easily add device management capabilities to their Azure connected Windows IoT Core device. Enterprise device management for Windows has been available for many years. The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library makes these capabilities, such as device restart, certificate and application management, as well as many others, available via Azure IoT Hub device management.

A quick introduction

IoT devices, in comparison to desktops, laptops and phones, have in many cases a much more restricted connectivity, less local resources and in many cases no UI. Remote device management also requires devices to be provisioned for a DM service, adding another challenge to the device setup.

Azure IoT DM is designed for devices with resource and connectivity restrictions. Those devices will also use Azure IoT for their operation, so they need to be provisioned for Azure IoT. This makes Azure IoT DM a very attractive choice for remote device management for IoT devices.

Device management in Windows 10 is based on the Configuration Service Provider (CSP) model. A CSP is an interface in Windows that allows reading and modification of settings of a specific feature of the device. For example, a Wi-Fi profile can be configured with the Wi-Fi CSP, the Reboot CSP is used to configure reboot settings, and so on.

All the CSPs ultimately map into API calls, registry keys and changes in the file system. The CSPs raise the level of abstraction and offer a consistent interface that works on all editions of Windows – desktop, mobile and IoT. The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library will use the same, proven infrastructure.

Windows IoT Core + Azure IoT Hub: Better together

Azure IoT Hub provides the features and an extensibility model that enable device and back-end developers to build robust device management solutions. Devices can report their state to the Azure IoT Hub and can receive desired state updates and management commands from the Azure IoT Hub.

Device management in Azure IoT is based on the concepts of the device twin and the direct methods. The device twins are JSON documents that store device state information (metadata, configurations and conditions). IoT Hub persists a device twin for each device that you connect to IoT Hub. The device twin contains the reported properties that reflect the current state of the device, and the desired properties that represent the expected configuration of the device. Direct methods allow the back-end to send a message to a connected device and receive a response.

The device twin and the direct methods can be used to support the business logic of your IoT solution as well as implementing the device management operations.

The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library connects the CSP-based device management stack in Windows IoT Core with the cloud back-end based on Azure IoT Hub. The client runs on the device and translates the direct method calls and desired properties updates to the CSP calls. The client also queries the device state using the CSP calls and translates that into reported properties for the device twin in the Azure IoT Hub.

Before an IoT device can be managed through the Azure IoT Hub, it must be registered with a unique device identity and an authentication key. The authentication key needs to be securely stored on the device to prevent accidental or malicious duplication of the device identity. In Windows 10 IoT Core the key can be stored in the TPM. How this is done is described in the previous post Building Secure Apps for Windows IoT Core.

With the device provisioned with Azure IoT Hub credentials (connection information and authentication key), managing Windows 10 Core devices through Azure IoT Hub requires no additional enrollment or configuration.

In this post, we will focus mostly on the client aspects of the device management. Please refer to the general Azure IoT Hub device management documentation for a broader look at what the service provides. Below we explore how the Azure IoT Hub device twin and direct methods can be used to manage Windows IoT Core devices.

How to use the Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library

Devices connecting to Azure IoT Hub can only have one connection to the service. This means that all applications, including the DM library, must share an Azure IoT Hub connection. We will provide two sample implementations that you can use depending on if your device has other applications that will connect to the same IoT Hub, as the same device.

Standalone device management client

If your device only needs Azure IoT Hub for device management and no other application will connect to the same IoT Hub using the same Azure device ID, you can use the IoTDMBackground sample to add DM capabilities to your device.

The IoTDMBackground is a background app that can be deployed on your device. The IoTDMBackground app requires the device to be securely connected to Azure IoT. Once started, the IoTDMBackground will receive direct method calls and device twin updates from the Azure IoT Hub, and perform the device management operations.

Integrated device management client

There are scenarios where the capabilities of the standalone device management client are insufficient:

  1. Some device management, e.g. a device reboot or an application restart, might interrupt the normal operation of the device. In cases where this is not acceptable, the device should be able to declare itself busy and decline or postpone the operation.
  2. If your app is already connected to the Azure IoT Hub (for example, sending telemetry messages, receiving direct method calls and device twin updates), it cannot share its Azure identity with another app on the system, such as the IoTDMBackground.
  3. Some IoT devices expose basic device management capabilities to the user – such as the “check for updates” button or various configuration settings. Implementing this in your app is not an easy task even if you know which API or CSP you need to invoke.

The purpose of the integrated device management client is to address these scenarios. The integrated device management client is a .NET library that links to your IoT app. The library is called the IoTDMClientLib and is part of the IoTDM.sln solution. The library allows your app to declare its busy state, share device identity between itself and your app, and invoke some common device management operations.

To integrate the device management to your app, build the IoTDMClientLib project, which will produce the IoTDMClientLib.dll. You will reference it in your app.

The ToasterApp project in the IoTDM.sln solution is a sample application that uses the integrated client. You can study it and use it as an example, or if you prefer step-by-step instructions, follow the guidance below.

1. If your app is already connected to the Azure IoT Hub, you already have an instance of DeviceClient instantiated somewhere in your app. Normally it would look like this:


DeviceClient deviceClient =
   DeviceClient.CreateFromConnectionString(connectionString, TransportType.Mqtt);

2. Now use the DeviceClient object to instantiate the AzureIoTHubDeviceTwinProxy object for connecting your device management client to Azure IoT Hub:


IDeviceTwin deviceTwinProxy = new AzureIoTHubDeviceTwinProxy(deviceClient);

3. Your app needs to implement the IDeviceManagementRequestHandler interface which allows the device management client to query your app for busy state, app details and so on:


IDeviceManagementRequestHandler appRequestHandler = new MyAppRequestHandler(this);

You can look at ToasterDeviceManagementRequestHandler implementation for an example of how to implement the request handler interface.

Next, add the using Microsoft.Devices.Management statement at the top of your file, and the systemManagement capability to your application’s manifest (see ToasterAppPackage.appxmanifest file).

You are now ready to create the DeviceManagementClient object:


this.deviceManagementClient = await
    DeviceManagementClient.CreateAsync(deviceTwinProxy, appRequestHandler);

You can use this object to perform some common device management operations.

Finally, we will set up the callback that handles the desired properties updates (if your application already uses the device twin, it will already have this call):


await deviceClient.SetDesiredPropertyUpdateCallback(OnDesiredPropertyUpdate, null);

The callback will be invoked for all the desired properties – those specific to device management and those that are not. This is why we need to let the device management client filter out and handle properties that it is responsible for:


public Task OnDesiredPropertyUpdate(TwinCollection desiredProperties, 
        object userContext)
{
    // Let the device management client process properties 
    // specific to device management
    this.deviceManagementClient.ProcessDeviceManagementProperties(desiredProperties);

    // App developer can process all the top-level nodes here
    return Task.CompletedTask;
}

As an app developer, you’re still in control. You can see all the property updates received by the callback but delegate the handling of the device management-specific properties to the device management client, letting your app focus on its business logic.

To deploy and run your app, follow the instructions here.

The end-to-end solution

Obviously, the entire device management solution requires two parts – the client running on the device and the back-end component running in the cloud. Typically, your back-end component will consist of the Azure IoT Hub, which is the entry point into the cloud for your devices, coupled with other Azure services that support the logic of your application – data storage, data analytics, web services, etc.

Fortunately, you don’t need to build a full solution to try out your client. You can use the existing tools such as the DeviceExplorer to trigger direct method calls and device twin changes for your devices.

For example, to send the immediate reboot command to your IoT device, call microsoft.management.immediateReboot direct method on your device:

The device management client running on the IoT device will respond to the direct method and (unless it is in busy state) proceed with rebooting the device.

The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library supports a variety of device management operations listed in the documentation on the GitHub site. In addition to the reboot management, application management, update, factory reset and more are supported. The list of capabilities will grow as the project evolves.

The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library includes a sample called the DM Dashboard, which hides the implementation detail of the device management operations. Unlike the Device Explorer, you don’t need to consult the documentation and manually craft JSON to use it.

Here is how you can invoke the reboot operation using the DM Dashboard tool:

The DM Dashboard is a convenient tool for testing the client side of your device management solution, but since it operates on one device at a time, it is not suitable for managing multiple devices in a production environment.

Next steps

The Windows IoT Azure DM Client Library is still in beta phase and will continue to evolve. We’re very interested in your feedback, and we want to learn about your IoT needs. So, head over to our GitHub page, clone the repo and tell us what you think.

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Visual Studio 2017 – Now Ready for Your Windows Application Development Needs

Visual Studio 2017 is the most powerful Universal Windows Platform development environment. It brings unparalleled productivity improvements, a streamlined acquisition experience and enhanced debugging tools for Universal Windows Platform developers.

Try out Visual Studio 2017 today!

Redefined fundamentals

We have focused on enhancing the efficiency of basic tasks you encounter every day, starting with a brand-new lightweight and modular installer, a faster and more responsive IDE from start-up to shut down and a new way to view, edit and debug any code without projects and solutions.

Brand-new lightweight and modular installation tailored to your needs – The new lightweight and componentized installer breaks Visual Studio down into independent workloads so you can install just what you need, helping you get to coding much faster. The Universal Windows Platform development workload gives you the right tools to be productive in authoring, debugging and publishing UWP apps. If something is missing, you will be able to add it later using the Visual Studio Installer.

Faster startup and shorter solution load time –  Visual Studio is three times faster for a cold start and two to three times faster for solution loading. This has been made possible by moving extensions out of the startup path using an on-demand-load approach and optimizing and deferring cache initializations. For example, the first launch startup times have improved from 206 seconds in VS 2015 to 64.2 seconds in VS 2017.

Boosted Productivity

In Visual Studio 2017, we have made improvements to code navigation, IntelliSense, refactoring, code fixes and debugging to save you time and effort on everyday tasks irrespective of language or platform.

IntelliSense – You can now blaze through authoring your XAML with the new IntelliSense completion for x:Bind and namespace completion.

IntelliSense has been enhanced with improved filtering that makes long lists much more manageable. IntelliSense is also smarter with CamelCase search and the ability to select the best matching result from the list instead of simply picking the top result.

Code refactoring – Visual Studio 2017 expands the set of refactorings and fixes to help you maintain a readable code base and accelerate your development workflows. For example, you can de-clutter your XAML using the “Remove Unnecessary Namespaces” quick fix and retain only those you need. If you end up removing a namespace that you need later, the “add missing namespace” quick fix helps you add it back.

Navigation – Navigate To is much more powerful with better filtering and preview. We have also enhanced Find All Reference by adding color, grouping and a peek preview in the Find All References window.

Run to Click – Run to Click does exactly what it sounds like; it executes a program until it reaches the targeted line of code and breaks in debug mode. Essentially, it removes the need for developers to constantly add, hit and remove temporary breakpoints by combining all these actions into one click.

Streamlined Azure Development

Visual Studio 2017 comes with a suite of Connected Services that enables you to easily create engaging cloud-first applications powered by Microsoft Azure. Directly from the IDE, you can configure and connect to an Azure Mobile App Service to enable cloud storage, push notifications, authentication and social integration. You can also connect to HockeyApp for app analytics, beta distribution, in-app feedback and track customer metrics.

Five star UWP app development

Discover accessibility and performance issues with the new UI Analysis tool – The UI Analysis tool examines the elements in your app and helps you quickly discover hard-to-find issues around accessibility and UI performance. Additionally, it points to exactly what needs to be done to fix these issues, resulting in high performant five-star apps.

Edit XAML for a running app with runtime editing tools – XAML Edit and Continue lets you change your XAML while the app is running and get immediate feedback. On its own, Edit and Continue is amazingly powerful. When combined with the UI Debugging tools, developers can fix problems faster than ever before and create performant, adaptive and stunning UI.

Auto-generate visual assets for your UWP apps – The brand new manifest asset generator enables you to create all the visual assets for your app from within the Manifest Designer. Using a single source image, you can now create tiles, logos, icons and splash screens at any or all scales to fit every type of device your app targets. We take care of adhering to all the design guidelines suggested for Windows 10 apps like padding and background colors.

Build awesome apps with the Windows 10 Creators Update – Visual Studio 2017 is the first release to support building Universal Windows Platform apps for the Windows 10 Creators Update. We’ve made strides to improve the SDK acquisition, so you only get what you need. This should help you get started as quickly as possible. The Creators Update brings many changes to the platform which you can read about here.

Ready, Set, Build!

If you haven’t already, get started with building your first Universal Windows app with Visual Studio 2017. As always, we welcome your feedback. If you find an issue, let us know via the Report a Problem option in the upper right corner, either from the installer or the Visual Studio IDE itself. Track your feedback on the developer community portal. For suggestions, let us know through UserVoice.

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Just Released – Windows Developer Evaluation Virtual Machines – February 2017 Build

We’re releasing the February 2017 edition of our evaluation Windows developer virtual machines (VM) on Windows Dev Center. The VMs come in Hyper-V, Parallels, VirtualBox and VMWare flavors. The evaluation version will expire on 05/21/17.

Evaluation VM contain:

If you don’t currently have a Windows 10 Pro license, you can get one from the Microsoft Store. If you just want to try out Windows 10 and UWP, use the free evaluation version of the VMs. The evaluation copies will expire after a pre-determined amount of time.

If you have feedback on the VMs, please provide it over at the Windows Developer Feedback UserVoice site.

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MARS future looking sweeter with Microsoft technology

Whether it’s grabbing gum at checkout, satisfying late-afternoon hunger with a Milky Way ®, or even buying pet food for that unconditional loving best friend, we’ve all been surrounded by MARS products and might not even know it! As a century-old family-owned business, MARS has certainly found its recipe for success. The company has made $35 billion in global sales by putting people first in everything they do. With 60 brands across six segments from food, drinks, chocolate, confectionary (gum), pet care and symbioscience, the company is more than just sweet treats. MARS understands a long-term vision that is committed to product, technology and workplace innovation based on the company’s Five Principles– Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom.

MARS has long valued a workplace that encourages mutuality and open communication among all Associates. As MARS looks at new products, services and business units to accelerate its growth, it knows a digital transformation would not only bolster its already collaborative and productive work environment but also attract and retain employees who expect a modern workplace. MARS is deploying Windows 10 to its more than 80,000 associates who work across 400 locations in 78 countries. Windows 10, along with Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, is enabling MARS to digitally transform how its Associates not only work with each other, but how they get work done.

“At MARS, we meet our goals,” says David Boersma, Senior Manager for End User Technologies, MARS, Incorporated. “This company will continue to accelerate its growth organically and through acquisition and we’re using Windows 10 to build the flexibility and capabilities we need to get there.”

— David Boersma, Senior Manager for End User Technologies, MARS, Incorporated

MARS has deployed Windows 10 to help reduce the cost and time associated with large-scale deployments. With a company that spans multiple geographies, its previous upgrades had taken up to four years and cost $4 million. According to Boersma, “Windows 10, on the other hand, has been substantially quicker and with less cost.” The “Windows as a Service” model has allowed MARS to skip the lengthy upgrade cycle which has resulted in accelerated Windows 10 deployment. Originally, MARS set out to deploy Windows 10 to 5,000 Associates in 12 months. Although, it has already exceeded its goal by 110 percent by deploying Windows 10 to 12,500 Associates and is now looking to scale to all Associates by 2018.

By embracing the “Windows as a Service” model, MARS has been able to refocus the time and energy of its IT department from chasing the next operating system update to strengthening its collaborative culture through Office 365, including Yammer and Skype for Business.

“Rather than tying up investment and time to just get through the next product release, we can focus on enhancing key aspects of our culture like mutuality at a digital level, across divisions, borders and time zones – so we can preserve what is special about MARS and help our Associates be more productive and agile.”

— Jonathan Chong, Digital Workplace and Corporate Systems Director at MARS, Incorporated

MARS associates collaborate while using their Windows 10 devices.

MARS associates collaborate while using their Windows 10 devices.

This highly collaborative company has helped create a place where many associates stay 25 years. Although, with its new goal set, MARS wanted to digitally transform not only how its associates work but also attract the next generation of workers.

“We invest a lot of money in attracting and retaining talent. These people now expect a modern, productive work environment and this includes the type of devices we provide and the tools they use at work every day. Products like Windows 10, Skype for Business and Yammer support our engagement and talent management strategies.”

— Paul L’Estrange, CTO and Vice President of Core Services, MARS, Incorporated

MARS Associates use Skype for Business to collaborate.

MARS Associates use Skype for Business to collaborate.

MARS is seeing the positive impact Skype for Business has had on its culture and Associate work-life balance. With Skype for Business, MARS has reduced travel, as Associates now use Skype for Business to tackle projects and resolve issues in real-time.

“We like a lot of human interaction and we’ve been able to use Skype for Business to help us increase that level of collaboration but not necessarily have the person fly half way around the planet. We’ve been able to reduce our overall travel which has been great from a cost perspective. But, we’ve helped positively impact people’s work life balance so they can spend more time at home yet they can still do the business that they need to do around the globe.”

— Joe Carlin, Technology Service Delivery Director, MARS, Incorporated

MARS is also seeing Associates quickly embrace Yammer, as another way to connect and share knowledge. Vittorio Cretella, CIO of MARS, Incorporated says Yammer is “taking down those walls around knowledge and making it accessible which is very valuable.”

MARS associate uses Windows 10 devices to conduct store walk-through.

MARS associate uses Windows 10 devices to conduct store walk-through.

Windows 10 provides MARS the flexibility with the types of devices its Associates and Senior Leaders can use to get work done whether at home, in the office or on the road. Senior Leaders and Associates can now use everything from Surface Pro to OEM devices to help fit their unique work styles. Previously, an associate conducting a store walk-through would have to juggle multiple devices and paper to make note of any product display issues. Once the Associate returned to the office, they’d connect with their peers to resolve the issue. This process could take several days to a week depending on their travel. Today, many issues can be resolved on the spot.

“By using Windows 10, MARS associates now finish things on the road instead of waiting until they get back to the office. For example, field associates use their Surface Pro devices in store walk-throughs, and if necessary, use Office 365 to connect with other team members and resolve display issues in one day instead of a week.”

— Joe Carlin, Technology Service Delivery Director, MARS, Incorporated

With a more on-the-go workforce, MARS has strengthened security and data protection for its Associates who are on their smartphones, tablets or their PCs from the office, at home or on the road. As a privately-owned company, MARS takes security seriously especially when it comes to its intellectual property. MARS has enabled Windows security features like BitLocker to encrypt data and Windows Defender to provide a strong layer of security and authentication.

To ensure MARS can do business securely in the cloud and fully realize its digital transformation, MARS has only just begun its journey with Microsoft Azure to enable greater efficiency and reliability. Currently, MARS has two global datacenters that run 85 percent of its business with one datacenter being 25 years old which requires significant cost resources and time to maintain. Now, MARS is currently testing a hybrid cloud model and recently moved its first live production application, a retail app, into Microsoft Azure as well as about 150 other workloads with the expectation to expand to 500-600 workloads over the next year.

We’re excited to see that with Windows 10, Microsoft Azure, and Office 365, MARS is able to foster a modern and productive workplace that will support the company’s ambitious growth strategy. For more detailed information about MARS’ deployment of Microsoft technologies, please check out the case study and video here.

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Hendrick Motorsports gains competitive advantage on the race track

I am a huge NASCAR fan, following races since I was a teenager. It’s a sport where champions are defined by tenth of a second; the smallest detail in a race car makes the difference between winning and losing. NASCAR has the longest season of any sport in the United States, and the competition is fast-paced and relentless. Hendrick Motorsports holds a record 11 car owner championships in NASCAR’s premier division and has four of the most successful teams, including car number 5 driven by Kasey Kahne, car 24 driven by Chase Elliott, car 48 driven by Jimmie Johnson, and car 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr – they are a team to be reckoned with.

“The biggest challenge that we have is keeping a competitive advantage against 39 other teams that we race against on a weekly basis.”

— Matthew Cochran, Manager of Information Technologies at Hendrick Motorsports

Windows 10 provides speed, versatility and enhanced security for its versatile teams

Hendrick Motorsports Gains Competitive Advantage On the Race Track

Hendrick has already upgraded all of its 600 employees to Windows 10 Enterprise, giving them a common mobile platform and the ability to work across devices. Not only does Windows 10 keep their devices and data more secure than any other operating system, the experience works seamlessly on whatever size screen they are using – whether it’s Surface Pro 3, a Panasonic Toughbook or a Windows 10 mobile device. The IT team has also embraced the new approach of Windows as a service to keep all employees up to date.

Hendrick Motorsports Gains Competitive Advantage On the Race Track

By moving to Windows 10, the IT team says it’s seen a 64% reduction in installation and patch time. Outside the office, staff use their devices in a non-traditional environment—the racetrack. Hendrick race engineers have to keep pace with activities on the track and in a highly mobile work environment.

“The racetrack’s probably one of the harshest environments that IT can operate in. We utilize a combination of Windows 10 devices in the garage, on race car haulers, and all the way to the pit boxes. Windows 10 works seamlessly across all those devices from small; 8” devices to large monitor laptops, and that’s what so important to us and such a huge benefit to Hendrick.”

—  Matthew Cochran, Manager of Information Technologies at Hendrick Motorsports

Using data and machine learning to push the limits and take action

With strict regulations governing stock cars, engineers have a limited number of ways they can legally change a car to make it go faster. We worked with Hendrick to develop a customized proprietary universal Windows 10 app powered by the Microsoft Cloud to collect data and distill it quickly enough to inform decisions during a race. Prior to using the solution, much of this data was collected manually and could take many hours and multiple engineers to parcel this data into a manageable format. Now with the power of the Azure cloud and Windows 10, the team can digitally transform their process into real-time data to free up engineers for more mission-critical tasks.

“Before, we had all this aggregated data that we really couldn’t do much with, and now with Azure we can parse it down to really get something useful. The true power of using Azure is that you can make a more informed decision, and nine times out of ten, that’s going to translate into greater performance.”

— Tom Gray, #24 Team Engineer at Hendrick Motorsports

Hendrick selected the Microsoft Azure cloud to analyze large amounts of structured and unstructured data. Cortana Intelligence Suite, a feature of Azure Machine Learning, allows Hendrick to automate data flow. Teams can collect data from the car and timing and scoring feeds from NASCAR, push it up to the cloud for analysis, and then pull back information that’s valuable. With our cloud-based services, Hendrick does not have to invest in costly server infrastructure and instead can pay by the minute for only the computing power the team needs. For instance, on race day, the team can bring a cluster of virtual machines online, and then take it offline as soon as the event is over.

“We have high-performance computing power with Azure that we can scale up only when we need it compared to building a $200,000 infrastructure and keeping it running 24 hours a day, there’s really no question.”

— David Hood, Engineer and Data Scientist at Hendricks Motorsports

Adopting high octane productivity tools

Hendrick Motorsports Gains Competitive Advantage On the Race Track

Hendrick also wanted to standardize on communication, collaboration, and productivity applications companywide, so it deployed Microsoft Office 365 alongside Windows 10. Since the Hendrick racing team supports four different cars, it’s essential that data gets shared among all team members. Employees were quick to start using OneNote to share notes and Skype for Business Online for videoconferencing and messaging teammates during practices and races, when engineers, coaches, and other staff are out on the track in a noisy environment.

“We use OneNote to share information from the racetrack back to our home campus. We have a lot of data throughput and a lot of iteration going on, and it’s paramount for us to be able to share that information among the four teams,” says Hood. “It’s a more collaborative effort now, and as an organization as a whole we’re much stronger because of that.”

The combination of Windows 10, Microsoft Azure, and Office 365—all accessible through a single sign-in on a wide variety of devices—is what makes their experience so powerful. From the IT side, moving to the cloud has reduced an IT maintenance and support burden, and staff is able to spend time more effectively.

Racing toward success

Hendrick Motorsports is keeping its eye on the prize: and by delivering a seamless experience that allows its teams to be inventive, consistent, and collaborative in their decision making is giving them a competitive edge.

“A season is a marathon of 39 races. When you’re successful, it’s the challenges you win that you remember, not necessarily the champagne at the end,” says Doug Duchardt, General Manager at Hendrick Motorsports. “We’re using Windows 10, Microsoft Cloud and Office 365 to work together and get better every day—just as we do across all our race teams.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Jason

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Crystal Group brings fast fashion to retailers in less than 24 hours using Microsoft technologies

You may have noticed that it seems like your favorite retailers are magically stocking store shelves with the latest trends in fashion at record speeds. You can attribute this to “fast fashion,” and it is revolutionizing the garment manufacturing industry. Instead of a clothing manufacturer producing a single style, fashion retailers now expect a single order that consists of hundreds of styles.

Windows 10, along with Microsoft cloud services, is enabling Crystal Group to digitally transform its processes to help modernize its workforce and to become more agile with the realities of fast fashion.

Before fast fashion, you could wait months for the latest fashion trend to debut on the runways and to reach your hometown. To stay ahead of the “fast fashion” trend, Crystal Group of Companies [CG], a leading international garment manufacturer and FORTUNE 17 company based in Hong Kong, is deploying Windows 10 Enterprise and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite across 4,500 employees. Windows 10, along with Microsoft cloud services, is enabling Crystal Group to digitally transform its processes to help modernize its workforce and to become more agile with the realities of fast fashion. Through this technology, Crystal Group has achieved accelerated sales cycles and significantly improving design concepts to protype garments in days versus months for its global customers like Victoria Secret and in in-time customers such as Gap, H&M, Levi’s.

 Crystal Group Brings Fast Fashion to Retailers in Less Than 24 Hours Using Microsoft Technologies

“Fashion is changing all the time and our role is to help customers stay one step ahead of consumer preferences,” says Karl Ting, General Manager, Information Services Department, Crystal Group. “Today, consumers choose from a plethora of styles online, and they expect to see the same variety in stores. This is partly responsible for ‘fast fashion,’ pioneered by retailers like H&M and Zara.”

Previously, designers would travel to a customer’s office juggling multiple devices and folders brimming with style printouts to work on. While back at the Crystal office, an assistant designer converted the drawings into a soft copy and then uploaded them into the quotation system. That process took several days before a customer signed off on a design.

To make design concepts a reality in less than 24 hours versus weeks, CG employees now use the following custom, fashion-forward apps built on the universal Windows 10 platform to expedite its entire sales cycle.

  • Style Library app on their Surface Pro 4 to show their customers the company’s latest library of styles. Together, they can use the Surface Pen to quickly draw on the screen and finalize their designs. This process took up to 7 days and can now be done in 12 hours. Once a design is signed off, the Crystal merchandiser uses the Style Library app to quickly convert the order into a quotation record.
  • Quotation app: Once the order is in the system, a sales manager reviews and approves the quote via the Quotation Approval app on their Surface Pro 4 or Microsoft Lumia phone.
  • Sales Hub Apps: Employees use the app as one-stop-shop for customer data where they can track the go-to-market dates for sales, marketing, research and development and merchandisers.

“These Windows 10 apps are going to set us apart in the market,” shared Ting. ”Our designers, who are working with customers in the United States or Europe can instantly upload finalized styles. The faster customers see their concept become garments, the happier they are.”

 Crystal Group Brings Fast Fashion to Retailers in Less Than 24 Hours Using Microsoft Technologies

Windows 10 Security Safeguards Customer Data

With a more on-the-go workforce, CG strengthened security and data protection for its employees carrying classified designs and intellectual property on their devices as they move from one office to another. “Security is our top concern in an ever-changing IT landscape,” says Carol Tai, senior manager, Infrastructure and Operations at the Crystal Group of Companies. CG has deployed Windows 10 security features like BitLocker to encrypt corporate data on employees’ personal and corporate devices – and Credential Guard and Windows Hello to provide a stronger layer of security and authentication. Azure Right Management has also provided end-to-end information security, no matter who an employee shares it with.

CG employees are also excited about Continuum, which turns any phone running the Windows 10 Mobile operating system into a big screen projector to showcase their designs to customers. Previously, CG employees had to balance multiple devices to a client’s office, making presentations more challenging as employees switched from device to device. Now, they can use a dock or adapter to connect their Windows Phone to a TV or monitor. “Having a phone as a desktop using Continuum is revolutionary for our business. We’ve reduced the number of devices employees need to carry – without compromising productivity,” says Ting.

“The latest desktop and mobile operating system and cloud computing technologies from Microsoft are delivering a suite of modern tools to help us meet the accelerated demands of fast fashion and stay ahead of the competition,” says Ting.

We’re proud that with Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure, CG has differentiated itself in the highly competitive retail manufacturing industry. Visit their customer story page for more details about Crystal’s digital transformation.

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Luxury retailer Pirch taps Surface to enhance customer experience, drive business

If you’ve ever built a new home, remodeled an existing one, or simply bought a new appliance, you know that these decisions can be overwhelming and stressful (did I make the right choice?). That’s why Pirch, a first-of-its-kind appliance, plumbing and outdoor brand retailer, wanted to transform the customer experience by delivering a truly innovative approach to the appliance buying process. To do so, Pirch looked to Microsoft to provide the right technology to engage with the customer and offer a seamless and stress-free experience. That’s where Surface Pro 4 and Pirch’s custom platform, Pirch Advisor, make all the difference.

Welcome to Pirch

When you walk into Pirch, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t the average kitchen, bath and outdoor appliance store. Within minutes of stepping through the door, a Pirch team member welcomes you with a smile, and offers you a beverage – from freshly-made lemonade to an espresso. You’ll smell a chicken that’s roasting on a nearby rotisserie spit. From there, your personal Lifestyle Experience Advisor (LEA) will guide you through the showroom, allowing you to not only see, but to actually try the appliances that may one day be in your home. Pirch showrooms are living, breathing showcases of how the right product can transform your space into an expression of your lifestyle. It is a truly personal and completely unexpected experience.

Surface does for Pirch what other tablets can’t

Pirch is a great example of how businesses are taking advantage of Surface’s full PC power and sleek form factor. For Pirch, Surface allows the LEAs to tap into the company’s full platform – Pirch Advisor – which houses everything from individual client preferences and designs to Pirch’s product availability and pricing. Built on Azure, the platform utilizes Microsoft Office 365, pen and touch for everything from customer-facing tasks to managing backend business operations.

For example, when a customer sees the range of their dreams, Surface and Windows allow the customer’s LEA to utilize Pirch Advisor to seamlessly note the preference, check product availability and pricing, schedule a follow up and more – all while never having to leave the customer’s side. There’s no other device out there that can handle Pirch’s need for full PC capability with a mobile and premium design like what Surface provides. No other single product offered the robust functionality within a single operating platform.

Behind the scenes with Pirch

I had the opportunity to sit down with Craig Hills, Director of Digital Operations at Pirch, and learn more about why he trusts Microsoft to help support the company from behind the scenes business operations to enhancing its spectacular in-store experience.

As an appliance retailer, why was it so important to make sure you made the right choices when it came to technology?

Interestingly, the world of home appliances has been somewhat hesitant to fully embrace technology in the same way that other retail industries have. When you’re working with blueprints and designs, it’s still a largely analog world. At Pirch, we have such a customer-centric and personalized approach. Surface is the perfect solution for us because it integrates tightly with Pirch Advisor and our LEAs can get the full benefit of the Pirch company platform. In addition, the pen and touch capabilities help us keep the tactile element of the creation experience. It’s important that being able to create is at the heart of the experience, because that’s really what we’re doing here, helping our guests create the home of their dreams.

Knowing that, what was it about Surface that made you confident it would meet those needs?

When we first started looking at tablets, we quickly realized that only Surface was capable of the performance we needed. With Surface we use just one device for everything. Since it runs Windows, it ties in perfectly with our IT infrastructure without having to create a ‘lite version’ of Pirch Advisor during the customer shopping experience, and then transferring that information into the full system, which already runs Microsoft Windows and Office 365. That’s essentially double the work for our employees. Surface takes out that step and just does it all.

The other main qualification when we were looking at devices was a premium look and feel. Pirch is not just a store and our showrooms are like no other. We needed a device that fits that ethos. Surface has a beautiful design aesthetic, with the magnesium casing and the eye popping screen; it fits right into our image. It’s stylish and beautiful.

Has using Surface positively impacted your business?

Absolutely. From the moment we introduced employees to Surface, they loved it and could immediately see its potential. We’ve received so much feedback supporting the efficiency gains and ease of use by utilizing Surface to support back-end business operations. Not to mention the cost-savings of moving to a digital platform versus printing. Ultimately, we are most excited about the benefits that Surface has provided our guests – beginning with an outstanding experience from the moment they walk into Pirch, to the product selection and the ease of communications throughout the entire process. It’s been great.

Pirch uses a custom-built platform called Pirch Advisor on Surface. What does that offer your customers/employees, and why was Surface the best device for it to run on?

It all goes back to that personalized, joyful guest experience, and delighting them. We built Pirch Advisor with Microsoft Azure as an end-to-end platform for our business. LEAs can do everything from create a customer’s perfect kitchen to manage inventory and budgets. Not only does Surface run Pirch Advisor on the showroom floor to assist LEAs, but it’s the best device to run everyday business operations too.

With the rise of eCommerce, how do you see technology playing a role in the home appliance and broader retail industry over the next 5 years? 10?

Technology will play a huge role – at least it will for Pirch! The challenge is how do you make technology personal and use it in a way that enhances – and doesn’t detract from – the ultimate customer shopping experience. Surface does that and brings technology to the forefront in a way that feels natural and allows us to keep our focus where it should be, on the individual customers in the story. People still want and need that human touch, and Pirch was founded on the principles that people should be able to experience the things that are going to make their home, a home.

We love hearing the vision for Surface come to life for customers like Pirch, and seeing first-hand how our devices positively impact a company. We are proud of how Surface is enabling people and amazing companies like Pirch take their business to the next level.

Thank you, Craig, and the entire Pirch team for choosing Surface and letting us tell your story.

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PGA TOUR and Microsoft Build Custom Universal Windows 10 Apps to Engage Golf Fans

The PGA TOUR ® showcases one of the most elegant sports in the world with a rich history and storied tradition. What most people don’t realize is what happens behind the scenes to pull off the great TOUR golf events that so many of us enjoy watching throughout the year. The TOUR has 600 players, thousands of employees and volunteers, and is involved with more than 100 tournaments each year across three tours in the US and throughout the world, where big purses and prestigious titles are bestowed. As the world’s premier professional golf association, it is also one of the most innovative sports organizations on the planet, striving to deliver an experience for its fans that puts them right in the action. Technology plays a key role in enabling the PGA TOUR to deliver unique experiences its fans have come to expect.

Over the past several months, the TOUR has deployed Windows 10 to over 800 devices across its organization, with a goal of 1,300 by the end of the summer.

Last November, Microsoft entered into a partnership with the PGA TOUR to work together to build custom technology solutions that would make data and content easier to manage and interpret, and enhance TOUR operations and fan engagement starting with the adoption of Windows 10. Our two teams have wasted no time. Over the past several months, the TOUR has deployed Windows 10 to over 800 devices across its organization, with a goal of 1,300 by the end of the summer. They are also changing the way that they bring tournament insights to staff and golf fans everywhere. By building custom apps on top of the universal Windows 10 platform, the PGA TOUR is adopting the philosophy of ‘build it once, run it anywhere’, starting with four universal Windows 10 applications that run on Surface Pro 4 and Lumia 950 devices.

“Fans want to be able to see each drive, approach shot and putt in real-time and compare tournaments,” said Steve Evans, SVP and Chief Information Officer, PGA TOUR. “Technology plays a key role in making that a reality across any digital device, but using modern day technology doesn’t stop with us providing interesting and fun user experiences. It’s also about using technology like Windows 10 to drive PGA TOUR operations to deliver a better experience for our employees, our players and our fans around the world.”

Volunteers use Windows 10 devices and apps to track tournament data

PGA TOUR

Walking Scorer is one of three Universal Windows apps that TOUR volunteers will use to track and manage player and course information, including player scores as shown on a Microsoft Lumia.

I recently had the pleasure of joining the team at a PGA TOUR event, where I quickly learned that volunteers play a pivotal role. There are more than 300 volunteers at each TOUR event that help to drive the ShotLink Scoring System, powered by CDW. This group compiles scoring and statistical information at every shot and at every hole – adding a plethora of stats at each tournament, which are then used for scoreboards, television broadcasts and websites such as PGATOUR.com. About two-thirds of the volunteers operate lasers from towers behind each green that measure distance of approach shots and putts. Others record driving distances and some are walking scorers with each player group. In partnership with SMT and Microsoft Services, we built three apps that volunteers will be migrating to. The first app is the ‘Walking Scorer’ which runs on Microsoft’s Lumia, creating a more user friendly experience on familiar devices to track and manage player and course info, continuing to deliver instant stats to TOUR staff. The second app that volunteers will transition to is the ‘Laser Operator’ which also runs on Lumia devices and collects data from laser sensors on the greens. The third app they tested at the tournament was the ‘Grid View’, which runs on Surface Pro 4 devices and will be used by a volunteer around the green to now digitally input ball position when the laser operator has an obstructed view.

“With the Microsoft Surface Pro and Lumia devices running Windows 10, the PGA TOUR will have intuitive, secure and easy to use devices that allow our volunteers to track every shot and deliver accurate and timely data to our backend systems,” – Steve Evans, Chief Information Officer, PGA TOUR 

Universal Windows app delivers instant stats and trends to fans in new and engaging ways

Another exciting experience the PGA TOUR and Microsoft showcased was the ‘Tournament Companion’ app, which is currently being beta tested with attendees during the tournament. Fans will be able to use the app to track tournament data including: player location via a heat map, the ‘pickles’ diagram (i.e. the bird’s eye view of the course and holes), statistical game analysis, player leader boards – and they can even play live games with other attendees. While the team is first focusing on hospitality, we will build this out for fans to allow them to get deeper insights whether at the tournament or at home.

PGA TOUR

Grid View is used by volunteers to digitally input ball position when the laser operator has an obstructed view, replacing clipboard and papers on the green as shown on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Additionally, Microsoft was testing a golf performance app that we built with Windows 10 and Azure. It allows instructors to record videos of their student’s swing, analyze and annotate the slow motion replay, and save all of the footage to the Microsoft Cloud. Students can access and review their swing footage after their lessons, on the go from any device.

Over the coming months, the PGA TOUR will continue to integrate Microsoft technology into its organization, including the power of the Microsoft Cloud (Azure) and Office 365 to better integrate data and video analysis for golf fans, staff, players and commentators.

As Ben Hogan once eloquently stated, “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” It’s a pretty exciting journey to be on and look forward to the next phase with the talented team at PGA TOUR.

Jeremy

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Windows 10: The Platform for the Intelligence Revolution

As we enter into what the industry refers to as the fourth Industrial Revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, Microsoft believes it is intelligence that will most significantly enable Industry 4.0 in business. Simply “connecting things” is not enough.

This week at Hannover Messe 2016 in Germany, we will demonstrate how Microsoft together with its customers and partners are building ecosystems of intelligence – business ecosystems for interconnected services, people and things.

With these new ecosystems customers can enter new and profitable businesses, while improving margins, reducing waste and positively impacting the environment. Customers need devices of many shapes, sizes and capabilities to power these ecosystems, which collect, transform, analyze and make the data actionable to inform and help them improve inventory processes, track customer product usage, and how floor machinery is operating, etc. Windows 10 powers these devices from the smallest internet of things (IoT) devices, to highly mobile devices such as smartphones and 2-in-1’s, to large screen devices such as Surface Hub for collaboration and insights.

Customers require a platform that supports developing a single adaptable application that can run across multiple device form factors – only the Universal Windows 10 Platform provides this. Customers also require absolute confidence in the management, servicing and update models provided by Windows; and demand the enterprise security built into Windows 10 – the most secure operating system we’ve ever built.

This week, you’ll have an opportunity to see and hear from customers who have built solutions using our Universal Windows 10 platform, including:

Automated Cars

IAV connected highly automated driving

IAV connected highly automated driving

  • Everyone wants to drive a car that is safe and lives up to their comfort needs. IAV, an engineering services firm and worldwide pioneer of highly automated driving, is showing how drivers can be productive on the road when the car is doing the driving for them. They are using the unique Windows 10 Continuum capability to stream Windows 10 directly to a car’s dashboard to allow for safe, easy access to important data and services on the road. Specifically, the solution integrates data and services into the vehicle through devices the driver already owns such as a Windows notebook, tablet or smartphone; with features and apps like Cortana, Skype for Business, Calendar, Outlook and Groove Music.

Smart Street Lights

SM!GHT, a corporate startup of EnBW, Smart City Light

SM!GHT, a corporate startup of EnBW, Smart City Light

SM!GHT, a corporate startup of EnBW, Smart City Light dashboard map of Barcelona

SM!GHT, a corporate startup of EnBW, Smart City Light dashboard map of Barcelona

  • SM!GHT is a corporate startup of EnBW, one of the four big power providers in Germany headquartered in Karlsruhe. SM!GHT has developed “Smart City Lights” based on Microsoft Azure to power intelligent streetlights that feature Wi-Fi hotspots, e-Mobility charging stations, an SOS-Button and environmental sensors. These smart streetlights sense things like pollution, temperature, humidity and traffic congestion, all in an effort to help planners and commuters make better decisions. The data is monitored and collected from the streetlights using a Windows 10 universal app on a tablet and analyzed in real time using Azure Stream Analytics and Machine Learning. In an instant, cities can determine which neighborhoods or routes have the highest pollution or traffic and send drivers in a different and better direction. Drivers have the possibility to avoid traffic jams, air quality improves and commuters are happier because they’re getting to their destination more quickly and less frazzled.

Smart Refrigerators

Liebherr pharmaceutical refrigerator

Liebherr pharmaceutical refrigerator

  • Liebherr Group, a leading equipment producer that manufactures 2.4 million fridges a year, announced it will bring intelligence to pharmaceutical refrigerators and freezers with Windows IoT and Azure Stream Analytics. These refrigerators must be particularly sturdy and energy efficient as they are often used to store sensitive contents like medical supplies. Hospitals and medical companies sign legal agreements ensuring their supplies will be stored at the correct temperature, and they need fridges that will help them keep that promise. Windows IoT provides the foundation Liebherr needs with Enterprise class update, servicing, security and support required in the Medical field. The company plans to launch the SmartDeviceBox2.0 in April 2017.

Intelligent Fleet Management

ZF Services and Openmatics dashboard on a Windows 10 universal app platform called deTAGtive logistics, powered by Microsoft Azure, to improve operational and business processes

ZF Services and Openmatics dashboard on a Windows 10 universal app platform called deTAGtive logistics, powered by Microsoft Azure, to improve operational and business processes

  • ZF is a global leader in driveline and chassis technology as well as active and passive safety technology. ZF Services is working with Microsoft to showcase concepts of how intelligence and connectivity can be used for better fleet management along with ZF Services’ connectivity specialist, Openmatics. Together, ZF Services and Openmatics developed a dashboard on a Windows 10 universal app platform called deTAGtive logistics, powered by Microsoft Azure, to improve operational and business processes in truck and bus fleets. deTAGtive logistics collects real-time data using tags attached to a customer’s cargo and Bluetooth Smart technology. The platform stores this data in the Azure cloud, and provides truck and bus fleet managers access to real-time insights. This keeps customers informed on the location of their goods in transit as well as transportation conditions such as weather and truck speeds. The platform can also can instantly push alerts to a drivers Windows 10 phone or Microsoft Band to alert them based on specific events such as shocks to cargo, or loss or refrigeration allowing real time resolution.

Additionally, these great solutions require the right hardware and tools to bring them to life. We also saw some exciting announcements at Hannover Messe today from key partners such as:

  • Dell made a number of announcements continuing their momentum in the IoT space. This included availability of the Dell Edge Gateway 5100 Model running Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT. It is a rugged device built for industrial environments including support for extended temperature ranges. Dell also launched five new accessories for the Edge Gateways, including I/O and power modules, ZigBee module, CAN bus card, and IP65 rugged enclosure.
  • Together with the OPC Foundation, Microsoft announced availability of the OPC-UA stack on the Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform at Hannover Messe 2016. This enables customers and partners to build OPC-UA clients and servers on all Windows 10 products (including Windows 10 IoT Core) for the first time. The global standard OPC-UA works on a secure, reliable, open, scalable, platform independent and flexible communication standard for industrial automation. This allows machine builders and IA providers to aggregate fine-grained data in the cloud from existing OPC-enabled equipment deployed across their global customer landscape. The We will show a vertical (Sensor to Cloud) and horizontal (Factory Relay) secure integration with Microsoft Azure IoT.

Microsoft recognizes the incredible pressure the manufacturing industry faces maintaining opportunities for workers and leveraging existing investments in equipment balanced with the need to protect operations from security threats and to analyze rich data to predict and drive real-time action. Together with our partners, Microsoft is at the forefront of this era, creating intelligent systems that bring together services, people and things that improve the way we work and live. We believe Windows 10 is a critical platform for this intelligence, built with the security and privacy our customers depend on to maintain a competitive edge. Please find more on Windows based Manufacturing solutions here.

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Microsoft and Red Hat partner to deliver more flexibility and choice

The cloud is changing the world, offering enterprises, independent software vendors (ISVs) and developers alike endless scale, speed and agility in a cost-effective way. I’ve been talking with customers about “why cloud” for years. Recently there has been a shift in these conversations, as the benefits have become undeniable. Now, for customers everywhere, the new question is “how cloud.”

“How cloud” comes down to customers embracing the cloud on their terms. This shows up in two primary challenges that exemplify the importance of our partnership with Red Hat.

  1. Businesses continue to grapple with the challenge of bringing together existing on-premises investments with a cloud environment for greater speed, scale and cost benefits. Hybrid cloud has emerged as a way to solve this.
  2. Customers require flexibility and choice in their cloud investments across platforms, tools and languages. Simply put, they want to ensure that they can use what they already know and use today to take full advantage of what the cloud has to offer.

The partnership we are announcing today with Red Hat extends our commitment to offer unmatched choice and flexibility in an enterprise-grade cloud experience across the hybrid cloud. With more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 using Microsoft’s cloud, for us to team with the leader in enterprise Linux allows even more businesses to move to the cloud on their terms. By working with Red Hat, we will address common enterprise, ISV and developer needs for building, deploying and managing applications on Red Hat software across private and public clouds, including the following:

  • Red Hat solutions available natively to Microsoft Azure customers, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux applications and workloads as well as Red Hat application platform offerings. Available in the coming weeks, this includes Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well as the JBoss middleware platform.
  • Integrated enterprise-grade support spanning hybrid environments, with Red Hat and Microsoft co-locating support personnel to deliver an end-to-end enterprise support experience for Red Hat offerings on Microsoft Azure that is deeper and richer than any other public cloud offering. This experience will enable enterprises to move their production Red Hat solutions to the public cloud with confidence. Co-locating support will be available in the next few weeks.
  • Collaboration on .NET for a new generation of application development capabilities, providing access to .NET technologies across Red Hat offerings, including OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which will be available within the next few weeks.
  • Unified workload management across hybrid cloud deployments, including integration between Red Hat CloudForms and Microsoft Azure and System Center Virtual Machine Manager to manage Red Hat Enterprise Linux on both Hyper-V and Microsoft Azure. Support for managing Azure workloads from Red Hat CloudForms is expected to be added in the next few months.

Later today I’ll be joining Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s president of Products and Technologies, on a webcast to talk more about the partnership and answer your questions. You can check it out here at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT to learn more about how flexibility and choice have united Microsoft and Red Hat to meet customers where they are on their cloud journey. For full details on the partnership, you can also read the press release and the Red Hat Blog.

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