Tag Archives: Services

Evergreen Services Group: New deal to up MSP revenue to $40M

Evergreen Services Group, a holding company focused on purchasing managed service providers, is on the cusp of its fifth acquisition, a move that will bring the investor’s MSP revenue to more than $40 million.

The company, based in San Francisco, launched in 2017 as a spinoff of Alpine Investors, a private equity firm. Evergreen has received a $100 million equity commitment from Alpine to launch its acquisition campaign, which got underway seven months ago, according to Ramsey Sahyoun, head of M&A at Evergreen.

Evergreen’s investments include Executech, an MSP in the Salt Lake City area; Wolf Consulting and Jenlor, MSPs in greater Pittsburgh; and Interlaced LLC, an MSP in San Diego specializing in Apple environments.

Next up is an acquisition of an Austin, Texas, MSP that Evergreen Services Group expects to announce next week.

M&A in the MSP market

Evergreen’s acquisitions are in line with the general consolidation trend ongoing in the MSP market. A number of investment groups, including Fusion Agiletech, Converge Technology Partners and Great Hill Partners in conjunction with Reliam Inc., for example, are in the process of building IT services company platforms.

Sahyoun said Evergreen offers a different opportunity for MSPs in the M&A landscape. He said Evergreen purchases 100% of a company and generally pays in cash upfront, noting that other investors strike deals based on earn-outs or seller notes.

In addition, Evergreen takes a long-term view as it acquires companies, Sahyoun said.

“We are not going to smash a few MSPs together and sell in three or four years,” he said. “We are fortunate … to have a long-term financial backer behind this vision of ‘Let’s do this over many years and not just try to make a quick buck.'”

The long-range view enables Evergreen to invest in its acquired companies. Sahyoun said investments in sales and marketing, as well as in service delivery, sets up the acquired companies to have sustainable growth.

The companies Evergreen has acquired thus far will operate as stand-alone, independent platforms, he explained. Evergreen’s approach is to treat companies above the $1 million EBITDA threshold as platforms and those below that mark as add-on acquisitions that would be tucked into one of Evergreen’s platforms.

While Evergreen Services Group doesn’t plan to integrate the platform companies, there will be coordination among its holdings. Sahyoun said Evergreen recently started to bring executives from the companies together in a peer-group format in which they can share best practices and discuss business challenges. In addition, Evergreen provides a subject-matter expert directory and playbook on its website to help companies through such tasks as selecting an IaaS provider or collecting accounts receivable.

Chart showing recent transactions in the IT services industry
Evergreen Services Group is among the investment organizations looking to do deals in the MSP market.

Looking for SMB focus, MRR

Evergreen’s acquisition approach is to look for MSPs serving the small and medium-sized business market that have more than half of their business coming from monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

We look for companies that have a good, predictable stream of revenue.
Ramsey Sahyounhead of M&A, Evergreen Services Group

“That is what we value and what gets us excited about this industry,” Sahyoun said of MRR. “We look for companies that have a good, predictable stream of revenue.”

Customer satisfaction and high retention rates are also important factors in assessing acquisition candidates. To determine customer satisfaction, Evergreen Services Group goes through a process of talking to a subset of an acquisition candidate’s customers as part of its post-letter-of-intent due diligence.

Sahyoun said the company uses a third-party vendor to conduct the customer surveys, which yield such information as net promoter scores.

In general, Sahyoun suggested the recent uptick in acquisition activity in the MSP market signals a greater confidence in the companies following the MSP business model.

“The business has gotten fundamentally better over time,” he said, noting the shift from break-fix to MMR revenue. “That is a big part of what is driving investor interest.”

Other news

  • Microsoft made several announcements ahead of its annual partner conference, Microsoft Inspire. Among the disclosures is a free version of Microsoft Teams; a Whiteboard app for Windows 10 that is also slated for iOS; an expanded Azure Data Box offering; and new programs and resources that aim to help partners take advantage of Microsoft’s global customer and partner ecosystems. Microsoft also unveiled an Azure Expert MSP program, two Cloud Practice Playbooks and four Digital Transformation eBooks. Microsoft Inspire will run July 15 to 19 in Las Vegas.
  • Accenture has acquired Kogentix, a Schaumburg, Ill., company that focuses on big data and AI services. Kogentix employs about 220 big data engineers, data scientists, machine learning engineers and software developers, according to Accenture.
  • IT management software company SolarWinds has acquired Trusted Metrics, a threat monitoring and management vendor. SolarWinds said it will launch SolarWinds Threat Monitor, a tool for MSPs and managed security services providers, as a result of the buyout. In related news, private equity investment firm and SolarWinds backer Thoma Bravo revealed plans to purchase a majority interest in identity and access management player Centrify.
  • More than half of North American channel partners expect to see an increase in IT spending in 2018 compared with last year, according to a mid-year survey of 363 partner companies undertaken by OneAffiniti, a channel marketing solutions provider.
  • Dataguise, a data privacy protection and compliance vendor, unwrapped the DgSecure Partner Program for selling the company’s data governance enablement software. The program provides training and certification; incentives; demo software; sales leads and sales enablement tools; and market development funds (MDF). Partners can also access deal registration and marketing materials through the Dataguise partner portal, the vendor said.
  • Networking vendor Ruckus Networks unveiled a program for enabling partners to sell Ruckus Cloud Wi-Fi. The Cloud-Ready Specialization Program offers tools, training, technical support and incentives and is open to Select- and Elite-level Ruckus Ready partners, the vendor said. Ruckus also provides Smart Cities, Large Public Venue and Education specializations.
  • Yamaha Unified Communications, an audio and video conferencing vendor, introduced a global partner program. The program features three tiers — Basic, Emerging and Prime — with incremental benefits and incentives. At the Basic level, partners can access deal registration, a demo program, special discounts, product training and post-sales technical support. Emerging and Prime partners can tap volume incentive rebates and marketing support such as MDF, according to Yamaha UC.
  • WhiteHat Security, an application security provider, and RiskIQ, a digital threat management firm, are integrating their platforms. The integration gives joint customers “a detailed inventory of web-facing properties, which we can onboard into WhiteHat Sentinel for continuous scanning,” according to John Atkinson, vice president of strategic alliances at WhiteHat Security. As a result, channel partners can provide a “comprehensive solution for dynamic application security testing.”
  • Cybersecurity vendor Bitdefender expanded its security offerings for MSPs. New products include Patch Management, Advanced Threat Security, and Endpoint Detection and Response, available within the Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSP endpoint security suite. The three new offerings can be purchased via monthly usage-based licensing, Bitdefender said.
  • LogiGear, a software-testing vendor, said Royal Cyber, a solution provider based in Naperville, Ill., has joined its roster of value-added resellers. Royal Cyber will provide automation testing using LogiGear’s TestArchitect technology, LogiGear said.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

The case for cloud storage as a service at Partners

Partners HealthCare relies on its enterprise research infrastructure and services group, or ERIS, to provide an essential service: storing, securing and enabling access to the data files that researchers need to do their work.

To do that, ERIS stood up a large network providing up to 50 TB of storage, so the research departments could consolidate their network drives, while also managing access to those files based on a permission system.

But researchers were contending with growing demands to better secure data and track access, said Brent Richter, director of ERIS at the nonprofit Boston-based healthcare system. Federal regulations and state laws, as well as standards and requirements imposed by the companies and institutions working with Partners, required increasing amounts of access controls, auditing capabilities and security layers.

That put pressure on ERIS to devise a system that could better meet those heightened healthcare privacy and security requirements.

“We were thinking about how do we get audit controls, full backup and high availability built into a file storage system that can be used at the endpoint and that still carries the nested permissions that can be shared across the workgroups within our firewall,” he explained.

Hybrid cloud storage as a service

At the time, ERIS was devising security plans based on the various requirements established by the different contracts and research projects, filling out paperwork to document those plans and performing time-intensive audits.

It was then that ERIS explored ClearSky Data. The cloud-storage-as-a-service provider was already being used by another IT unit within Partners for block storage; ERIS decided six months ago to pilot the ClearSky Data platform.

“They’re delivering a network service in our data center that’s relatively small; it has very fast storage inside of it that provides that cache, or staging area, for files that our users are mapping to their endpoints,” Richter explained.

From there, automation and software systems from ClearSky Data take those files and move them to its local data center, which is in Boston. “It replicates the data there, and it also keeps the server in our data center light. [ClearSky Data] has all the files on it, but not all the data in the files on it; it keeps what our users need when they’re using it.”

Essentially, ClearSky Data delivers on-demand primary storage, off-site backup and disaster recovery as a single service, he said.

All this, however, is invisible to the end users, he added. The researchers accessing data stored on the ClearSky Data platform, as well as the one built by ERIS, do not notice the differences in the technologies as they go about their usual work.

ClearSky benefits for Partners

ERIS’ decision to move to ClearSky Data’s fully managed service delivered several specific benefits, Richter said.

He said the new approach reduced the system’s on-premises storage footprint, while accelerating a hybrid cloud strategy. It delivered high performance, as well as more automated security and privacy controls. And it offered more data protection and disaster recovery capabilities, as well as more agility and elasticity.

Richter said buying the capabilities also helped ERIS to stay focused on its mission of delivering the technologies that enable the researchers.

“We could design and engineer something ourselves, but at the end of the day, we’re service providers. We want to provide our service with all the needed security so our users would just be able to leverage it, so they wouldn’t have to figure out whether it met the requirements on this contract or another,” Richter said.

He noted, too, that the decision to go with a hybrid cloud storage-as-a-service approach allowed ERIS to focus on activities that differentiate the Partners research community, such as supporting its data science efforts.

“It allows us to focus on our mission, which is providing IT products and services that enable discovery and research,” he added.

Pros and cons of IaaS platform

Partners’ storage-as-a-service strategy fits into the broader IaaS market, which has traditionally been broken into two parts: compute and storage, said Naveen Chhabra, a senior analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester Research Inc.

[Cloud storage as a service] allows us to focus on our mission, which is providing IT products and services that enable discovery and research.
Brent Richterdirector of ERIS at Partners HealthCare

In that light, ClearSky Data is one of many providers offering not just cloud storage, but the other infrastructure layers — and, indeed, the whole ecosystem — needed by enterprise IT departments, with AWS, IBM and Google being among the biggest vendors in the space, Chhabra said.

As for the cloud-storage-as-a-service approach adopted by Partners, Chhabra said it can offer enterprise IT departments flexibility, scalability and faster time to market — the benefits that traditionally come with cloud. Additionally, it can help enterprise IT move more of their workloads to the cloud.

There are potential drawbacks in a hybrid cloud storage-as-a-service setup, however, Chhabra said. Applying and enforcing access management policies in an environment where there are both on-premises and IaaS platforms can be challenging for IT, especially as deployment size grows. And while implementation of cloud-storage-as-a-service platforms, as well as IaaS in general, isn’t particularly challenging from a technology standpoint, the movement of applications on the new platform may not be as seamless or frictionless as promoted.

“The storage may not be as easily consumable by on-prem applications. [For example,] if you have an application running on-prem and it tries to consume the storage, there could be an integration challenge because of different standards,” he said.

IaaS may also be more expensive than keeping everything on premises, he said, adding that the higher costs aren’t usually significant enough to outweigh the benefits. “It may be fractionally costlier, and the customer may care about it, but not that much,” he said.

Competitive advantage

ERIS’ pilot phase with ClearSky Data involves standing up a Linux-based file service, as well as a Windows-based file service.

Because ERIS uses a chargeback system, Richter said the research groups his team serves can opt to use the older internal system — slightly less expensive — or they can opt to use ClearSky Data’s infrastructure.

“For those groups that have these contracts with much higher data and security controls than our system can provide, they now have an option that fulfills that need,” Richter said.

That itself provides Partners a boost in the competitive research market, he added.

“For our internal customers who have these contracts, they then won’t have to spend a month auditing their own systems to comply with an external auditor that these companies bring as part of the sponsored research before you even get the contract,” Richter said. “A lot of these departments are audited to make sure they have a base level [of security and compliance], which is quite high. So, if you have that in place already, that gives you a competitive advantage.”

Ctera Networks adds Dell and HPE gateway appliance options

Ctera Networks is aiming to move its file storage services into the enterprise through new partnerships with Dell and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The partnerships, launched in June, allow Ctera to bundle its Enterprise File Services Platform on more-powerful servers with greater storage capacity. Ctera previously sold its branded cloud gateway appliances on generic white box hardware at a maximum raw capacity of 32 TB. The new Ctera HC Series Edge Filers include the HC1200 model offering as much as 96 TB, the HC400 with as much as 32 TB and the HC400E at 16 TB on Dell or HPE servers with 3.5-inch SATA HDDs.

The gateway appliances bundle Ctera’s file services that provide users with access to files on premises and transfers colder data to cloud-based, scale-out object storage at the customer site or in public clouds.

The new models include the Petach Tikvah, Israel, company’s first all-flash appliances. The HC1200 is equipped with 3.84 TB SATA SSDs and offers a maximum raw capacity of 46.08 TB. The HC400 tops out at 15.36 TB. The all-flash models use HPE hardware with 2.5-inch read-intensive SSDs that carry a three-year warranty.

Ctera Networks doesn’t sell appliances with a mix of HDDs and SSDs. The HC400 and HC400E are single rack-unit systems with four drive bays, and the HC1200 is a 2U device with 12 drive bays.

“In the past, we had 32 TB of storage, and it would replace a certain size of NAS device. With this one, we can replace a large series of NAS devices with a single device,” Ctera Networks CEO Liran Eshel said.

Ctera HC Series Edge Filers
New Ctera HC Series Edge Filers include Ctera Networks HC1200 (top) and HC400 file storage.

New Ctera Networks appliances enable multiple VMs

The new, more-powerful HC Series Edge Filers will enable customers to run multiple VMware virtual machines (VMs), applications and storage on the same device, Eshel said. The HC Series supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking with fiber and copper cabling options.

“Our earlier generation was just a cloud storage gateway. It didn’t do other things,” Eshel said. “With this version, we actually have convergence — multiple applications in the same appliance. Basically, we’re providing top-of-the-line servers with global support.”

The Dell and HPE partnerships will let Ctera Networks offer on-site support within four hours, as opposed to the next-business-day service it provided in the past. Ctera will take the first call, Eshel said, and be responsible for the customer ticket. If it’s a hardware issue, Ctera will dispatch partner-affiliated engineers to address the problem.

Using Dell and HPE servers enables worldwide logistics and support, which is especially helpful for users with global operations.

“It was challenging to do that with white box manufacturing,” Eshel said.

Software-defined storage vendors require these types of partnerships to sell into the enterprise, said Steven Hill, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

“In spite of the increasingly software-based storage model, we find that many customers still prefer to buy their storage as pre-integrated appliances, often based on hardware from their current vendor of choice,” Hill wrote in an e-mail. “This guarantees full hardware compatibility and provides a streamlined path for service and support, as well as compatibility with an existing infrastructure and management platform.”

Cloud object storage options

The Ctera product works with on-premises object storage from Caringo, Cloudian, DataDirect Networks, Dell EMC, Hitachi, HPE, IBM, NetApp, Scality and SwiftStack. It also supports Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle and Verizon public clouds. Ctera has reseller agreements with HPE and IBM.

Eshel said one multinational customer, WPP, has already rolled out the new appliances in production for use with IBM Cloud.

The list price for the new Ctera HC Series starts at $10,000. Ctera also continues to sell its EC Series appliances on white box hardware. Customers have the option to buy the hardware pre-integrated with the Ctera software or purchase virtual gateway software that they can install on server hypervisors on premises or in Amazon or Azure public clouds.

What is Active Directory? – Definition from WhatIs.com

Active Directory (AD) is a Microsoft product that consists of several services that run on Windows Server to manage permissions and access to networked resources.

Active Directory stores data as objects. An object is a single element, such as a user, group, application or device, such as a printer. Objects are normally defined as either resources — such as printers or computers — or security principals — such as users or groups.

Active Directory categorizes objects by name and attributes. For example, the name of a user might include the name string, along with information associated with the user, such as passwords and Secure Shell (SSH) keys.

The main service in Active Directory is Domain Services (AD DS), which stores directory information and handles the interaction of the user with the domain. AD DS verifies access when a user signs into a device or attempts to connect to a server over a network. AD DS controls which users have access to each resource. For example, an administrator typically has a different level of access to data than an end user.

Other Microsoft products, such as Exchange Server and SharePoint Server, rely on AD DS to provide resource access. The server that hosts AD DS is the domain controller.

Active Directory services

Several other services comprise Active Directory. They are Lightweight Directory Services, Certificate Services, Federation Services and Rights Management Services. Each service expands the product’s directory management capabilities.

Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS) has the same codebase as AD DS, sharing similar functionalities, such as the API. AD LDS, however, can run in multiple instances on one server and holds directory data in a data store using Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

[embedded content]

How to use the identity and access tool
from Microsoft

LDAP is an application protocol used to access and maintain directory services over a network. LDAP stores objects — such as usernames and passwords — in directory services — such as Active Directory — and shares that object data across the network.

Certificate Services (AD CS) generates, manages and shares certificates. A certificate uses encryption to enable a user to exchange information over the internet securely with a public key.

Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) authenticates user access to multiple applications — even on different networks — using single sign-on (SSO). As the name indicates, SSO only requires the user to sign on once rather than use multiple dedicated authentication keys for each service.

Rights Management (AD RMS) controls information rights and management. AD RMS encrypts content, such as email or Word documents, on a server to limit access.

Major features in Active Directory Domain Services

Active Directory Domain Services uses a tiered layout consisting of domains, trees and forests to coordinate networked elements.

A domain is a group of objects, such as users or devices, that share the same AD database. Domains have a domain name system (DNS) structure.

Group Policy Management console
Active Directory’s Group Policy Management console gives admins a tool to customize user and computer settings in their organization.

A tree is one or more domains grouped together. The tree structure uses a contiguous namespace to gather the collection of domains in a logical hierarchy. Trees can be viewed as trust relationships where a secure connection, or trust, is shared between two domains. Multiple domains can be trusted where one domain can trust a second, and the second domain can trust a third. Because of the hierarchical nature of this setup, the first domain can implicitly trust the third domain without needing explicit trust.

A forest is a group of multiple trees. A forest consists of shared catalogs, directory schemas, application information and domain configurations. The schema defines an object’s class and attributes in a forest. In addition, global catalog servers provide a listing of all the objects in a forest.

Organizational Units (OUs) organize users, groups and devices. Each domain can contain its own OU. However, OUs cannot have separate namespaces, as each user or object in a domain must be unique. For example, a user account with the same username cannot be created.

History and development of Active Directory   

Microsoft offered a preview of Active Directory in 1999 and released it a year later with Windows 2000 Server. Microsoft continued to develop new features with each successive Windows Server release.

Windows Server 2003 included a notable update to add forests and the ability to edit and change the position of domains within forests. Domains on Windows Server 2000 could not support newer AD updates running in Server 2003.

Windows Server 2008 introduced AD FS. Additionally, Microsoft rebranded the directory for domain management as AD DS, and AD became an umbrella term for the directory-based services it supported.

Windows Server 2016 updated AD DS to improve AD security and migrate AD environments to cloud or hybrid cloud environments. Security updates included the addition of privileged access management (PAM).

PAM monitored access to an object, the type of access granted and what actions the user took. PAM added bastion AD forests to provide an additional secure and isolated forest environment. Windows Server 2016 ended support for devices on Windows Server 2003.

In December 2016, Microsoft released Azure AD Connect to join an on-premises Active Directory system with Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) to enable SSO for Microsoft’s cloud services, such as Office 365. Azure AD Connect works with systems running Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2016.

Active Directory versus Workgroup

Workgroup is another Microsoft program that connects Windows machines over a peer-to-peer network. Workgroup allows these machines to share files, internet access, printers and other resources over the network. Peer-to-peer networking removes the need for a server for authentication.

Main competitors to Active Directory

Other directory services on the market that provide similar functionality to AD include Red Hat Directory Server, Apache Directory and OpenLDAP.

Red Hat Directory Server manages user access to multiple systems in Unix environments. Similar to AD, Red Hat Directory Server includes user ID and certificate-based authentication to restrict access to data in the directory.

Apache Directory is an open source project that runs on Java and operates on any LDAP server, including systems on Windows, macOS and Linux. Apache Directory includes a schema browser and an LDAP editor/browser. Apache Directory supports Eclipse plug-ins.

OpenLDAP is a Windows-based open source LDAP directory. OpenLDAP enables users to browse, search and edit objects in an LDAP server. OpenLDAP also features copying, moving and deleting of trees in the directory, as well as enabling schema browsing, password management, LDAP SSL support, and more.

Microsoft and DEWA bringing quantum computing to Dubai | Stories

DEWA will work with Microsoft and access new quantum Microsoft Azure services to create quantum-inspired solutions to power energy optimization and improve sustainability efforts in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — June 28, 2018 — The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) on Thursday announced plans to work with Microsoft Corp. to develop new quantum-based solutions to address energy optimization and other challenges where classical computers have serious limitations, making it the first organization outside the U.S. to participate in the Microsoft Quantum program.

As part of the deal, Microsoft will work closely with DEWA to identify the challenges where quantum computing will have the greatest impact. Energy optimization, for example, requires far too much traditional computing power to identify the ideal balance of resources from different energy sources to meet ever-changing consumption needs in real time.

As part of Dubai 10X (an initiative to use advances in technology to deliver new or existing services in radically different ways), DEWA wants to reimagine its role as a utility company by launching “Digital DEWA,” the digital arm of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, and is leveraging Microsoft Quantum to help accelerate its goals. In addition, the two organizations will look at ways to support the Dubai EXPO 2020, an event that brings people from all over the world to share ideas.

“We are delighted to work with Microsoft to bring the revolutionary power of quantum computing to Dubai, to achieve the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, to make Dubai the smartest and happiest city in the world. This also will contribute to addressing key challenges while furthering our goal to make the UAE one of the most innovative and sustainable countries in the world,” said HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, managing director and CEO of DEWA. “This partnership will provide us with early access to Microsoft’s quantum computing research and capabilities to develop solutions that improve performance, productivity and quality of services provided to our customers and beyond.”

Microsoft is pioneering the emerging quantum era through a unique approach that will deliver the industry’s most stable and scalable quantum computer. As the development of the quantum computer continues, select partners such as DEWA can access new quantum-inspired Azure services for the most complete, state-of-the-art, end-to-end quantum programming.

Working with Microsoft, the Quantum Development Kit toolset and Azure quantum-inspired services, DEWA will be able to program and test quantum algorithms, then apply those quantum solutions within the existing Azure platform to achieve real-world impacts even before the development of a general-purpose quantum computer. This work will also provide DEWA with a seamless migration to using Microsoft’s quantum computer once it is available.

“Quantum computing holds the promise of solving some of our planet’s greatest challenges that today’s computers are unable to solve,” said Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of Microsoft Quantum. “Innovative partners such as DEWA understand the benefits of getting in early, not only to build their quantum knowledge and skills but to create immediate solutions that can be applied today.”

DEWA will also work with Microsoft to develop a quantum strategy, including understanding where quantum optimization methods can be applied for greatest impact in Dubai, both on classical computers and in the future on Microsoft’s quantum computer.

More information can be found at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/quantum/.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com.Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

News roundup: TriNet software targets professional services

The theme of this news roundup is specialization: professional services HR, an effort to pull together a comprehensive benefits plan and a payroll offering aimed at the gig economy.

The debut of TriNet software for professional services HR is an effort to provide a platform for small and medium-sized businesses that caters to specific HR needs. TriNet Professional Services “is a bundle more relevant to what a small consulting company owner or an ad agency owner or any type of business depending on people to deliver a service would need,” explained Jimmy Franzone, senior vice president of strategy at TriNet, based in San Leandro, Calif. The new product joins other vertical TriNet software aimed at technology, nonprofits, life sciences and financial services.

In thinking about what the issues are around professional services HR, Franzone said the company bundled in a lot of applications that are ancillary in some other products, but should be important to this demographic. Expense management, performance management, application tracking and a variety of payroll-related tasks are at the core of the professional services package, Franzone said, because they are areas busy consultants, certified public accountants or lawyers would want to easily access.

TriNet’s heavy investment in its mobile application should also work nicely for those looking for professional services HR, Franzone said. “Mobile is a huge driver from the client side, especially in professional services,” he said. “We’re finding, in some ways, the professional services HR [market] is more mobile-enabled than tech or financial services firm employees who are always at a desk. Consulting firms and ad agencies are working outside of their desks. The need to be able to access data is critical to what they do.”

The new TriNet software is supported by a client services team that specializes in professional services HR, Franzone said. “They understand how those businesses work, what questions to ask, and what the trials and tribulations are.”

BenefitsPlace: All employee options on one platform

BenefitsPlace, a new platform from Benefitfocus, has a lofty goal: “We want to unify the entire benefits industry on one platform,” said Tom Dugan, vice president of product management at Benefitfocus, based in Charleston, S.C.

“We want the platform to show carriers’ insurance, life products and critical illness plans, as well as the emergent benefits that are focused on noninsurance products, like ID theft protection and concierge healthcare,” he continued. “We want to onboard all types of sellers’ products to make it easy for brokers to evaluate those sellers’ products and for employers to evaluate and make choices.”

BenefitsPlace won’t just offer the choices, Dugan stressed, but it will also present information around the offerings, so employers and consumers can make informed decisions about their benefits.

The average Benefitfocus customer offers 15 different benefits, and 20% of its clients offer 20 or more, Dugan said. So, the choices can be overwhelming to both employers and employees.

“We want to remove friction from the process,” he said. “We want to help people really understand what’s available, and it’s only getting more difficult when new products come in. We want to help consumers navigate those choices.”

An easier small-business payday process?

In the gig economy, small businesses can struggle with the prospect of payday happening potentially daily. Intuit’s QuickBooks just announced new payroll software options to help small businesses more easily deal with short-term employees who expect to be paid the day they work.

Contractor Direct Deposit brings “drop in the bank account” payment options to small businesses and syncs up with QuickBooks, so everything is streamlined at tax time. Same Day Direct Deposit is a new option in QuickBooks Full Service Payroll, and it’s an alternate way to pay contractors or freelancers more quickly and stay on top of expenses.

An Introduction to the Microsoft Hybrid Cloud Concept and Azure Stack

In the last years, so-called “cloud services” have become more and more interesting and some customers are already thinking of going 100% cloud. There are a lot of competing cloud products out there, but is there a universal description of a cloud service? This is what I will address here.

Let’s start with the basics. Since time began (by that I mean “IT history”) we have all been running our own servers in our own datacenters with our own IT employees. A result of this was that you had different servers for your company, all configured individually, and your IT guys had to deal with that high number of servers. This led to a heavy and increasing load on the IT administrators, no time for new services, often they even had no time to update the existing ones to mitigate the risk to be hacked. In parallel, the development teams and management expect IT to behave in an agile fashion which was impossible for them.

Defining Cloud Services

This is not a sustainable model and is where the cloud comes in. A cloud is a highly optimized standard service (out of the box) without any small changes in the configuration. Cloud Services provide a way to just use a service (compared to power from the power plug) with a predefined and guaranteed SLA (service level agreement). If the SLA breaks, you as the customer would even get money back. The issue with these services is that these servers need to run in a highly standardized setup, in highly standardized datacenters, which are geo-redundant around the world. When it comes to Azure, these datacenters are being run in so-called “regions” with a minimum of three datacenters per region.

In addition to this, Microsoft runs their own backbone (not the internet) to provide a high quality of services. Let’s say available bandwidth meets Quality of Services (QoS).

To say it in one sentence, a cloud service is a highly standardized IT service with guaranteed SLAs running in public datacenters available from everywhere around the world at high quality. In general, from the financial point of view, you pay it per user, services or other flexible unit and you could increase or decrease it, based on your current needs.

Cloud Services – your options

If you want to invest in cloud services, you will have to choose between:

  • A private Cloud
  • A public Cloud
  • A hybrid Cloud

A private cloud contains IT services provided by your internal IT team, but in a manner, you could even get as external service. It is being provided by your datacenter and only hosts services for your company or company group. This means you will have to provide the required SLA.

A public cloud describes IT services provided by a hosting service provider with a guaranteed SLA. The services are being provided by public datacenters and they are not being spun up individually just for you.

A hybrid cloud is a mixture between a public and a private cloud, or in other words “a hybrid cloud is an internet-connected private cloud with services that are being consumed as public cloud services”. Hybrid Cloud deployments can be especially useful if there is a reason not to move a service to a public cloud such as:

  • Intellectual property needs to be saved on company-owned dedicated services
  • Highly sensitive data (e.g. health care) is not allowed to be saved on public services
  • Lack of connectivity could break the public cloud if you are in a region with poor connectivity

Responsibility for Cloud Services

If you decide to go with public cloud services, the question is always how many of your network services are you willing to move to the public cloud?

The general answer should be the more services you can transfer to the cloud, the better your result. However, even the best-laid plans sometimes can be at the mercy of your internet connectivity as well, which can cut you off from these services if not planned for. Additionally, industry regulations have made a 100% cloud footprint difficult for some organizations. The hybrid solution is then the most practical option for the majority of business applications.

Hybrid Cloud Scenarios

These reasons drove the decision by Microsoft to provide Azure to you for your own datacenter in a packaged solution based on the same technology as within Azure. Azure itself has the main concept of working with REST-Endpoints and ARM templates (JSON files with declarative definitions for services). Additionally, Microsoft deemed that this on-premises Azure solution should not provide only IaaS, it should be able to run PaaS, too. Just like the public Azure cloud.

This basically means, that for a service to become available in this new on-prem “Azure Stack”, it must already be generally available (GA) in public Azure.

This solution is called “Azure Stack” and comes on certified hardware only. This makes sure, that you as the customer will get performance, reliability and scalability. That ones you expect from Azure will be with Azure Stack, too.

As of today, the following Hardware OEMs part of this initiative:

  • DELL
  • HPE
  • Lenovo
  • Cisco
  • Huawei
  • Intel/Wortmann
  • Fujitsu

The following services are available with Azure Stack today, but as it is an agile product from Microsoft, we will expect MANY interesting updates in the future.

With Azure Stack, Microsoft provides a simple way to spread services between on-premise and in the public cloud. Possible scenarios could be:

  • Disconnected scenarios (Azure Stack in planes or ships)
  • Azure Stack as your development environment for Azure
  • Low latency computing
  • Hosting Platform for MSPs
  • And many more

As we all know, IT is hybrid today in most of the industries all over the world. With the combination of Azure Stack and Azure, you will have the chance to fulfill the requirements and set up a unique cloud model for all of your company services.

Summary

As you have seen, Azure Stack brings public Azure to your datacenter with the same administration and configuration models you already know from public Azure. There is no need to learn twice. Training costs go down, the standardization gives more flexibility and puts fewer loads on the local IT Admins which gives them time to work on new solutions for better quality. Also, with cloud style licensing things becomes less complex, as things are simply based on a usage model. You could even link your Azure Stack licenses directly to an Azure Subscription.

As hybrid cloud services are the future for the next 10 years or even more, Azure and Azure Stack together can make your IT world the most successful that it ever was in the last 10 years and moving forward.

If you want to learn more about Azure stack, watch our webinar Future-proofing your Datacenter with Microsoft Azure Stack

How about you? Does your organization have interest in Azure Stack? Why or why not? We here on the Altaro Blog are interested! Let us know in the comments section below!

Thanks for reading!

Posting passwords on Trello leads to latest data exposure mess

Data exposures in web applications and cloud services are becoming more in fashion these days, and Trello is the latest service being used poorly in the enterprise.

According to an investigation reported by Brian Krebs, Flashpoint security analyst David Shear discovered hundreds of boards exposing data and passwords on Trello from government agencies, healthcare organizations and others. This follows news that large enterprises and government agencies accidentally set Amazon Web Services buckets and Google Groups to public.

By default, Trello boards are either password-protected or visible only to team members. However, it is possible to share boards with anyone on the web, and the contents of those boards can even be indexed by search engines.

Shear found organizations sharing logins and passwords on Trello for corporate WordPress accounts and iPage domain hosting accounts. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health in Phoenix exposed sensitive info, including how to navigate the organization’s payroll system. Even the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was found to be leaking passwords on Trello.

Many companies don’t realize that they have employees storing confidential or sensitive information on public-facing sites, like Trello.
Justin Jettdirector of audit and compliance for Plixer

James Lerud, head of the behavioral research team at Verodin, based in McLean, Va., called this incident “the latest in a long line of public exposures involving improper handling of credentials.”

“There have been numerous examples of private keys out in the open on GitHub. It’s pretty difficult for companies like Trello or GitHub to prevent this type of exposure; the responsibility lies with the users of these services,” Lerud wrote via email. “Companies [that] use these types of services need to regularly audit what kind of data is being exposed to the public and not rely on a third party to discover problems.”

Justin Jett, director of audit and compliance for Plixer, based in Kennebunk, Maine, said it is “an extremely dangerous practice to store credentials on public-facing sites or directories.”

“Passwords should never be stored in a manner that could be perceived as plaintext. They should be stored in a secure and encrypted environment where data thieves aren’t given a free pass to the data. The number of phishing attacks used to steal users’ credentials continues to grow; we don’t need to make it even easier for the thieves,” Jett wrote via email.

“Many companies don’t realize that they have employees storing confidential or sensitive information on public-facing sites, like Trello. Security teams often don’t have the visibility they need to know when credentials have been compromised until after a data breach,” Jett wrote. “In many cases, it likely comes down to a matter of educating users on best practices. Corporate training can aid the reduction of such blatant exposure of sensitive data.”

What is the future for Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging?


With the influx of cloud services integrating with on-premises products, many Exchange administrators wonder what…

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changes they’ll see in the next version of Exchange Server, particularly with unified messaging. To predict the evolution of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging, we can glean some clues from how the company implemented and changed this feature in previous Exchange versions.

The company’s strategy the last several years has been a gradual shift from on-premises products to subscription-based cloud services. In some instances, Microsoft has integrated a cloud service with an on-premises product to sway enterprises toward its cloud offerings. For example, despite its name, Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection filters email for on-premises Exchange Server.

Microsoft plans to release Exchange Server 2019 in the second half of 2018. As of this article’s publication, the preview is under development. But we should expect Microsoft to add — and remove — some cloud-based features in this next version.

History of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging

Microsoft debuted unified messaging in Exchange 2000 with its instant messaging (IM) feature on the company’s Real-Time Collaboration server platform.

When Microsoft released Exchange 2003, the company included its Live Communications Server (LCS) that split off some functionality from the Real-Time Collaboration stack. The LCS controlled IM, video and voice functions on the platform.

In July 2006, Microsoft and Nortel formed the Innovative Communications Alliance to share technology, improve their unified communications platforms and integrate Nortel telecommunications hardware with Microsoft software.

Microsoft then released Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, which brought the company closer to a complete telephone system. OCS 2007 did not integrate into the public switched telephone network, but it did allow voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls. With VoIP, Microsoft needed voicemail, and the company incorporated this feature in Exchange Server 2007.

With all these changes, many IT pros have difficulty understanding what telephone services OCS, Lync and Skype for Business provide and which ones Exchange Server handles. Exchange Server answers the calls, but it does not provide any telephone services up to that point. Microsoft Exchange unified messaging can pick up the line and provide services after a call connects.

Microsoft Exchange unified messaging in the cloud

Following the launch of Office 365 in 2011, Microsoft focused on the development of its cloud products.

Lync Server 2010 was the private branch exchange (PBX) on the market when Microsoft released Office 365, but its features were limited compared to a cloud PBX offering. Lync Online — now called Skype for Business — only controlled IM and presence services for users who had mailboxes migrated into the service.

To predict the evolution of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging, we can glean some clues from how the company implemented and changed this feature in previous Exchange versions.

Exchange Online, the hosted email service from Microsoft, provided a full unified messaging service from the cloud with all the same features of the on-premises version of Exchange. Companies could tie on-premises telephone systems to Exchange Online to use the cloud service for voicemail.

Microsoft now offers its Azure Voicemail cloud service, which replaces the unified messaging functionality of Exchange Online for customers who use the Skype for Business Cloud PBX.

Unified messaging in Exchange Server 2013 and 2016

With Exchange 2003, Microsoft introduced the concept of a front-end Exchange server. This wasn’t a complete deployment of separate Exchange bits for separate Exchange functions. Exchange 2007 and 2010 both featured differentiated server roles, such as the Mailbox, Hub Transport and Client Access roles.

With the release of Exchange 2013, Microsoft pared back those roles to more of a front-end/back-end configuration. Exchange 2016 features one Exchange server role other than the edge transport role, which is designed to be deployed in a demilitarized zone.

The Microsoft Exchange unified messaging role received very little development in Exchange Server 2013 and 2016. The only change for unified messaging with those releases is that Exchange 2016 no longer supports the deployment of separate roles. These trends will likely continue with the release of Exchange 2019 with a single deployment option for all the roles on the same physical server.

The future of Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging

At the moment, details on Exchange 2019 are sparse. Microsoft plans to release a public preview of the on-premises product in mid-2018.

Based on recent trends from Microsoft, we can expect that Exchange Server 2019’s minimum requirements will include supported versions of the Windows Server operating system and Active Directory.

Microsoft will continue to steer organizations to its online services over on-premises software. Companies that want the latest features and functionality will need to consider whether a move to Exchange Online is a better fit.

Microsoft to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion | Stories

Acquisition will empower developers, accelerate GitHub’s growth and advance Microsoft services with new audiences

Chris Wanstrath, Satya Nadella and Nat Friedman
From left: Chris Wanstrath, Github CEO and co-founder; Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO; and Nat Friedman, Microsoft corporate vice president, Developer Services

REDMOND, Wash. — June 4, 2018 Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced it has reached an agreement to acquire GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform where more than 28 million developers learn, share and collaborate to create the future. Together, the two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences.

“Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness and innovation,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “We recognize the community responsibility we take on with this agreement and will do our best work to empower every developer to build, innovate and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in Microsoft stock. Subject to customary closing conditions and completion of regulatory review, the acquisition is expected to close by the end of the calendar year.

GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries. Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud and any device.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman, founder of Xamarin and an open source veteran, will assume the role of GitHub CEO. GitHub’s current CEO, Chris Wanstrath, will become a Microsoft technical fellow, reporting to Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie, to work on strategic software initiatives.

“I’m extremely proud of what GitHub and our community have accomplished over the past decade, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. The future of software development is bright, and I’m thrilled to be joining forces with Microsoft to help make it a reality,” Wanstrath said. “Their focus on developers lines up perfectly with our own, and their scale, tools and global cloud will play a huge role in making GitHub even more valuable for developers everywhere.”

Today, every company is becoming a software company and developers are at the center of digital transformation; they drive business processes and functions across organizations from customer service and HR to marketing and IT. And the choices these developers make will increasingly determine value creation and growth across every industry. GitHub is home for modern developers and the world’s most popular destination for open source projects and software innovation. The platform hosts a growing network of developers in nearly every country representing more than 1.5 million companies across healthcare, manufacturing, technology, financial services, retail and more.

Upon closing, Microsoft expects GitHub’s financials to be reported as part of the Intelligent Cloud segment. Microsoft expects the acquisition will be accretive to operating income in fiscal year 2020 on a non-GAAP basis, and to have minimal dilution of less than 1 percent to earnings per share in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 on a non-GAAP basis, based on the expected close time frame. Non-GAAP excludes expected impact of purchase accounting adjustments, as well as integration and transaction-related expenses. An incremental share buyback, beyond Microsoft’s recent historical quarterly pace, is expected to offset stock consideration paid within six months after closing. Microsoft will use a portion of the remaining ~$30 billion of its current share repurchase authorization for the purchase.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is acting as legal advisor to Microsoft. Morgan Stanley is acting as exclusive financial advisor to GitHub, while Fenwick & West LLP is acting as its legal advisor.

Media & Analyst Conference Call

Nadella, Friedman, Wanstrath and Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood will host a joint conference call for media today, June 4, 2018, at 7 a.m. Pacific/10 a.m. Eastern to discuss this transaction. The call will be available to international callers at +1 (201) 689-8023 (no password required), to U.S. callers at (877) 407-0666 (no password required), or via webcast at https://edge.media-server.com/m6/p/eudfciq3 at that time. More information is available on http://news.microsoft.com.

Additional details will be available when the acquisition closes.

About GitHub

GitHub is the developer company. We make it easier for developers to be developers: to work together, to solve challenging problems, to create the world’s most important technologies. We foster a collaborative community that can come together — as individuals and in teams — to create the future of software and make a difference in the world.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications, (425) 638-7777,

rrt@we-worldwide.com 

Forward looking statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements, which are any predictions, projections or other statements about future events based on current expectations and assumptions that are subject to risks and uncertainties. The potential risks and uncertainties include, among others, that the expected financial and other benefits from the GitHub transaction may not be realized, including because of: the risk that the transaction may not be completed in a timely manner or at all; any restrictions or limitations imposed by regulatory authorities; the impact of the acquisition on GitHub’s developer community and enterprise customers; the extent to which we achieve anticipated financial and buyback targets; the impact of management and organizational changes on GitHub’s business; the impact on GitHub employees and our ability to retain key personnel; our effectiveness in integrating the GitHub platform and operations with Microsoft’s business; and our ability to realize our broader strategic and operating objectives. Actual results may differ materially from the forward-looking statements because of these and other risks and uncertainties of our business, which are described in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), including our Forms 10-K and 10-Q. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made. Readers are cautioned not to put undue reliance on forward-looking statements, and Microsoft undertakes no duty to update any forward-looking statement to conform the statement to actual results or changes in the company’s expectations.

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.