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Microsoft plans to acquire Metaswitch Networks and offer its business communication services to carriers through Microsoft Azure. The announcement came less than a month after Microsoft completed the purchase of Affirmed Networks, which developed virtualized network software that Microsoft will use as the infrastructure for Metaswitch products.
Microsoft announced the Metaswitch deal this week. The company did not provide financial details or disclose when it expected to complete the transaction.
Metaswitch provides what the industry calls unified communications as a service. In general, UCaaS providers will run their software in their data centers or third parties’, including cloud providers AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.
Metaswitch provides telephony and team collaboration, and audio, video and web conferencing used by enterprises and contact centers. Its competitors include Netrio, Cisco and FreeSwitch.
The Microsoft acquisition of Affirmed Networks — completed on April 23 — gave the cloud provider an Evolved Packet Core. An EPC is a critical technology for cloud providers that want to offer their data centers as a platform for carriers’ services, such as UCaaS.
An EPC is essential because it’s a framework for providing converged voice and data on carriers’ 4G Long-Term Evolution networks. In the future, EPC will become the underpinning for 5G networks.
Microsoft is not the only cloud provider expanding its platform’s capabilities for carriers. AWS and Google are also on the same path.
Microsoft and the other cloud providers need to work with carriers because the latter is the primary channel for enterprise communication buyers. “MetaSwitch has hundreds of carrier partners that are now potential channels for Microsoft,” said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research.
Irwin LazarAnalyst, Nemertes Research
Microsoft could get its Teams collaboration software into that channel by melding it with Metaswitch, Lazar said. Cisco is executing a similar strategy by rolling its Teams competitor, Webex, into the Broadsoft UCaaS product. Cisco acquired Broadsoft in 2018.
Metaswitch would also plug a hole in Microsoft’s business communications portfolio. Once the Microsoft acquisition is complete, it will have Metaswitch’s communication platform for contact centers.
However, Metaswitch’s session border controller portfolio could place Microsoft in competition with partners AudioCodes, Oracle and Ribbon Communications. An SBC is a necessary hardware for VoIP calling in offices and contact centers.
“I assume Microsoft will not do anything to jeopardize partner relationships,” Lazar said. “But it will have to spend some time ensuring that it doesn’t seek to take business away from its partners.”
“The use of AI is definitely making low-code even lower-code for sure, and no-code even more possible,” said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst at Cognilytica in Ellicott City, Md. “AI systems are really good at determining patterns, so you can think of them as really advanced wizard or templating systems that can try to determine what you’re trying to do and suggest code or blocks or elements to complete your code.”
Kite’s Line-of-Code Completions feature uses advanced machine learning models to cut some of the mundane tasks that programmers perform to build applications, such as setting up build processes, searching for code snippets on Google, cutting and pasting boilerplate code from Stack Overflow, and repeatedly solving the same error messages, said Adam Smith, founder and CEO of Kite, in an interview.
Kite aims to advance the code-completion art
Unlike other code completion capabilities, Kite features layers of filtering such that only the most relevant completion results are returned, rather than a long list of completions ranked by probability, Smith said. Moreover, Kite’s completions work in .js, .jsx and .vue files and the system processes code locally on the user’s computer, rather than sending code to a cloud server for processing.
There are other tools that offer code completion capabilities, such as the IntelliCode feature in the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE. IntelliCode provides more primitive code completion than Kite, Smith claimed. IntelliCode is the next generation of Microsoft’s older IntelliSense code completion technology. IntelliCode will predict the next word of code based on basic models, while Kite’s tool uses richer, more advanced deep learning models trained to predict further ahead to whole lines, and even multiple lines of code, Smith said.
Ronald SchmelzerAnalyst, Cognilytica
Moreover, Kite focuses on code completion, and not code correction, because programming code has to be exactly correct. For example, if you send someone a text with autocorrect errors, the tone of the message may still come across properly. But if you mistype a single letter of code, a program will not run.
Still, AI-powered code completion “Is still definitely a work in progress and much remains to be done, but OutSystems and others are also looking at AI-enabling their suites to deliver faster and more complete solutions in the low-code space,” Schmelzer said.
Kite works as a plugin for all of the most popular code editors, including Atom, JetBrains’ PyCharm/IntelliJ/WebStorm, Spyder, Sublime Text 3, VS Code and Vim. The product is available on Mac, Windows and Linux.
The basic version of Kite is free; however, Kite Pro costs $16.60 per user, per month. Custom team pricing also is available for teams that contact the company directly, Smith said.
New research from Gartner adds to what’s becoming a consensus view regarding the COVID-19 economy: The cloud offers the greatest near-term growth potential for IT providers.
The market research firm is forecasting an 8% year-over-year drop in worldwide IT spending in 2020. Public cloud services, however, are on track to grow 19% this year, according to Gartner’s projections. Cloud-based conferencing will experience 24.3% growth, while cloud-based telephony and messaging will grow at 8.9% clip, the company reported.
The anticipated expansion of public cloud services and cloud communications stands to benefit channel partners invested in those areas. Managed public cloud services have become an important offering among partners. On the cloud communications front, IT services providers are helping clients deploy Microsoft Teams, RingCentral and Zoom, among other products, to support remote work.
Cloud consultancies have expressed confidence in continued cloud demand during the pandemic, with companies making strategic acquisitions and launching new services.
Factors driving cloud growth
The rise in remote working, an immediate response to the pandemic, drives near-term demand for public cloud services and cloud communications, according to Gartner’s projections. Other factors contribute to cloud demand, however.
John-David Lovelock, distinguished research vice president at Gartner, predicts a likely shortage of servers and data center equipment later in the year. Physical IT resources could become harder to find in late 2020 due to lags in the supply chain, a drop in semiconductor production, tariffs and borders between trading partners remaining closed. Cloud services would provide an alternative for customers in need of compute capacity.
Over the longer term, Lovelock said he anticipates an acceleration of cloud spending as companies seek to retool their business approaches in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cloud spending levels Gartner had been expecting to appear in 2023 and 2024 could start appearing in 2022. “It’s bringing the future forward,” Lovelock said, noting that digital business will be further along in 2020 than it would have been without pandemic-influenced spending.
Lovelock likened the pandemic-driven economic crisis to the Great Recession, when businesses needed to change direction to get out of the downturn. As companies exit the lockdown phase of the pandemic, they will similarly need to change how they do business. With limited cash to do so, they will look to the cloud, Lovelock said.
Gartner’s projections are in line with other market watchers.
Forrester cited cloud infrastructure services as one of the few bright spots in its tech spending forecast, which projects a 5% to 9% decline in 2020. Statista, meanwhile, cited the cloud as propelling the growth of the infrastructure sector, which it forecasts to expand at 3.8% rate in 2020.
“Thanks to cloud, currently the infrastructure market is the only segment in the global IT industry to still show growth in 2020,” Statista noted in its forecast.
Maven Wave, an Atos company based in Chicago, said it is the first Google Cloud partner to roll out a partnership with Snowflake’s cloud data platform. Snowflake in February kicked off its general availability on Google Cloud.
Digital Defense Inc., a cybersecurity company in San Antonio, said it is working with managed service providers to offer healthcare organizations free ransomware assessments, collectively valued at $1 million. Healthcare organizations new to Digital Defense can sign up for the free assessments over the next 60 days. Digital Defense said it is offering the assessments on a first-come-first-served basis or until the $1 million offer is exhausted, whichever comes first.
An insurance industry study from DXC Technology, an IT services company based in Tysons, Va., suggests changes in consumer expectations are opening opportunities for insurers to “adopt and strategically deploy digital technologies.” Among other findings, the survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers revealed that 87% of the respondents would feel comfortable sharing personal and lifestyle-focused data in order to obtain lower insurance premiums.
2nd Watch, a professional services and managed cloud company based in Seattle, has launched a cloud disaster recovery service. The service uses the AWS cloud platform as the recovery site.
Managed services industry association MSPAlliance has teamed up with cybersecurity vendor PC Matic to launch an MSP security awareness program. The program aims to promote security best practices and the adoption of security technologies among MSPs, the companies said. After an MSP demonstrates cyber risk protection practices, the MSP can achieve the MSPAlliance’s Cyber Verify assurance ratings.
Softchoice, an MSP and technology solutions provider based in Toronto, said it has obtained the VMware Cloud on AWS Master Services Competency.
Peak-Ryzex, a Columbia, Md., solutions provider focusing on the digital supply chains and mobile workforces, unveiled a partnership with FarEye, a predictive logistics platform.
D&H Distributing added Vade Secure, a predictive email defense software vendor, to its Cloud Marketplace. The latter company provides Vade Secure for Microsoft 365.
Cloud distributor Pax8 said it is offering StorageCraft’s ShadowXafe and OneXafe Solo.
Distributor Synnex Corp. will offer Bitdefender’s Cloud Security for MSP product suite on the Synnex Stellr Marketplace. Cloud Security for MSP provides email security, endpoint detection and response, and patch management among other security technologies.
Liongard, which offers an automation platform for MSPs, closed a $17 million funding round. The latest round brings Liongard’s total funding over the last three years to nearly $23 million, according to the company.
Gtmhub, a strategy execution management software vendor, launched a channel partner program. The company said the program will be led by vice president of business development David Stadulis. Stadulis joined Gtmhub in February from Atlassian, where he was a global alliances manager.
Onapsis, a Boston company that specializes in mission-critical application cybersecurity and compliance, expanded its Business Risk Illustration assessments to include operational resiliency, audit efficiency and cyber risk assessments. The company is offering the complimentary assessments to system integrators, managed security service providers, technology alliances and VAR partners.
Hyper-converged infrastructure vendor Nutanix promoted Christian Alvarez to senior vice president of worldwide channels. Alvarez joined Nutanix in September 2019 as its vice president of Americas channel sales.
Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.
Users of Talkdesk’s contact-center-as-a-service suite have new tools to enhance customer experience, such as virtual agents, remote agent support and deeper hooks into marketing, integrations with CRM cloud platforms and connections to enterprise collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.
The company released 20 new features in the weeks leading up to its recent Opentalk 2020 virtual user conference, and renamed its CCaaS offering Talkdesk CX Cloud. While some of the features, such as a workforce management and business continuity, either were up and running or long-planned, the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to new ones such as CXTalent, which uses AI to pair job seekers with organizations looking to fill remote contact center roles.
For contact centers, the most significant of the new Talkdesk features revolve around the company’s foray into workforce management, said Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst at McGee-Smith Analytics. That means Talkdesk is taking on new, bigger competitors such as NICE InContact, Verint and Genesys.
“They’re building an entire workforce management suite, which includes [agent] performance management and quality monitoring,” McGee-Smith said. “It’s been on their website, but they’ve never publicly taken that step to say ‘Yeah, we’re doing this.'”
Virtual agents, collaboration connectors in Talkdesk CX Cloud
Connecting to enterprise collaboration tools helps agents find answers to customer questions more quickly, said Charanya Kannan, chief product officer at Talkdesk. Customer service cloud vendors including ServiceNow have introduced features to connect agents to their company’s in-house experts who help solve account problems or technical issues.
“A lot of times when customers ask questions, agents will have to communicate with the rest of the organization to get answers,” Kannan said. “At companies where some of these questions are very deep, you need to bring in your technical account manager or different people internally. This provides a mechanism to collaborate, making customer experience not just the job of the contact center employee.”
Many of Talkdesk’s customers, she added, run contact centers with 1,000 or more agents. Finding in-house experts via popular collaboration tools can be an efficient way to navigate large, multinational organizations that are in the process of moving whole IT operations to the cloud.
Other new Talkdesk CX Cloud features include connectors to CRM systems, so salespeople can see more detail about their customers’ interactions with customer service, and vice versa. Currently, Talkdesk customers connect to about 60 different CRMs, Kannan said. Salesforce is by far the most popular, followed by ServiceNow and Zendesk. About 70% of Talkdesk customers use one of those three CRMs.
“Salesforce and Talkdesk share a lot of similarities,” Kannan said, adding that they fit together well because companies that use Salesforce are already familiar with and comfortable working on an extensible multi-tenant cloud SaaS platform, which Talkdesk also is.
Salesforce added voice capabilities for contact centers to its Service Cloud offering late last year, making it a potential competitor for Talkdesk.
Despite reporting a steep decline in revenue and profit, Cisco sees possible sales opportunities in the coming months as companies adjust their IT spending in the aftermath of the financial blow delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cisco, a bellwether in corporate IT hardware demand, reported this week that revenue fell 8% year to year in the quarter ending in April, to $12 billion. Net income declined 9% to $2.8 billion, or 65 cents a share.
Cisco warned that the current quarter was unlikely to improve. The company predicted that revenue would fall between 8.5% and 11.5%.
Analysts were not surprised by the earnings report, given the pandemic’s impact on the global economy. “We do expect a slow rebound, but spending on hardware was anemic through the COVID-19 crisis,” said Glenn O’Donnell, an analyst at Forrester Research. “So, in short, Cisco did well relative to conditions, but it’s not much to brag about.”
During an earnings call with investors, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said companies that expect to have liquidity problems over the next three to six months have stopped spending.
But for other organizations, COVID-19 was a “wake-up call” and could help tech buyers get approval from senior executives to make network infrastructure more robust, Robbins said. U.S. health officials have warned that a second wave in the pandemic could strike in the fall.
“I do think customers are now stepping back and asking themselves, ‘What do I need to do to harden my infrastructure and to better prepare my business for the next time something like this happens?'” Robbins said, according to a transcript of the call on the financial site Seeking Alpha.
Industries that could be among the first to pick up IT spending are higher education and healthcare, Robbins said. Both scrambled early in the pandemic to support online instruction and telehealth, respectively. In the future, IT departments could go back to make the initial, rushed deployments more solid.
On the other hand, the hospitality, leisure and travel industry could take longer. To help struggling industries, Cisco launched a $2.5 billion financing program last month that offered low monthly payments until 2021.
Over the next 60 days, Cisco expects to know better which industries are recovering faster, Robbins said.
Revenue down across most products
In the April quarter, overall product revenue fell 12% to $8.6 billion. The company’s infrastructure platform business, which includes switches and routers, declined 15% to $6.4 billion. “Manufacturing challenges and component constraints” hit that unit the hardest, CFO Kelly Kramer said.
Chuck RobbinsCEO, Cisco
Lower revenue from unified communication products drove a 5% decline in Cisco’s application business. Robbins said the UC drop was partly due to Cisco customers exceeding their licensed usage temporarily to support the sudden increase in people working from home. Cisco did not immediately charge the customers.
Also, many companies took advantage of Cisco’s recently launched 90-day free trial program for its core collaboration platform, Webex.
In April, Webex recorded over 500 million meeting participants generating 25 billion meeting minutes, triple the volume in February.
Security and services were the only product categories that recorded an increase in revenue. Security rose 6% to $776 million, while services were up 5% to $3.4 billion.
Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) provides a wide set of options for managing data classification, retention of different types of data, and archiving data. This article will show the options a Microsoft 365 administrator has when setting up retention policies for Exchange, SharePoint, and other Microsoft 365 workloads and how those policies affect users in Outlook. It’ll also cover the option of an Online Archive Mailbox and how to set one up.
There’s also an accompanying video to this article which shows you how to configure a retention policy, retention labels, enabling Archive mailboxes, and creating a move to archive retention tag.
Before we continue, we know that for all Microsoft 365 admins security is a priority. And in the current climate of COVID-19, it’s well documented how hackers are working around the clock to exploit vulnerabilities. As such, we assembled two Microsoft experts to discuss the critical security features in Microsoft 365 you should be using right now in a free webinar on May 27. Don’t miss out on this must-attend event – save your seat now!
How To Manage Retention Policies in Microsoft 365
There are many reasons to consider labeling data and using retention policies but before we discuss these let’s look at how Office 365 manages your data in the default state. For Exchange Online (where mailboxes and Public Folders are stored if you use them), each database has at least four copies, spread across two datacenters. One of these copies is a lagged copy which means the replication to it is delayed, to provide the option to recover from a data corruption issue. In short, a disk, server, rack, or even datacenter failure isn’t going to mean that you lose your mailbox data.
Further, the default policy (for a few years now) is that deleted items in Outlook stay in the Deleted Items folder “forever”, until you empty it, or they are moved to an archive mailbox. If an end-user deletes items out of their Deleted Items folder, they’re kept for another 30 days (as long as the mailbox was created in 2017 or later), meaning the user can recover it, by opening the Deleted Items folder and clicking the link.
Where to find recoverable items in Outlook
This opens the dialogue box where a user can recover one or more items.
Additionally, it’s also important to realize that Microsoft does not back up your data in Microsoft 365. Through native data protection in Exchange and SharePoint online they make sure that they’ll never lose yourcurrentdata but if you have deleted an item, document or mailbox for good, it’s gone. There’s no secret place where Microsoft’s support can get it back from (although it doesn’t hurt to try), hence the popularity of third-party backup solutions such as Altaro Office 365 Backup.
Litigation Hold – the “not so secret” secret
One option that I have seen some administrators employ is to use litigation or in-place hold (the latter feature is being retired in the second half of 2020) which keeps all deleted items in a hidden subfolder of the Recoverable Items folder until the hold lapses (which could be never if you make it permanent). Note that you need at least an E3 or Exchange Online Plan 2 for this feature to be available. This feature is designed to be used when a user is under some form of investigation and ensures that no evidence can be purged by that user and it’s not designed as a “make sure nothing is ever deleted” policy. However, I totally understand the job security it can bring when the CEO is going ballistic because something super important is “gone”.
Litigation hold settings for a mailbox
If the default settings and options described above doesn’t satisfy the needs of your business or regulatory requirements you may have, the next step is to consider retention policies. A few years ago, there were different policy frameworks for the different workloads in Office 365, showing the on-premises heritage of Exchange and SharePoint. Thankfully we now have a unified service that spans most Office 365 workloads. Retention in this context refers to ensuring that the data can’t be deleted until the retention period expires.
There are two flavors here, label policies which publish labels to your user base, letting users pick a retention policy by assigning individual emails or documents a label (only one label per piece of content). Note that labels can do two things that retention policies can’t do, firstly they can apply from the date the content was labeled, and secondly, you can trigger a disposition / manual review of the SharePoint or OneDrive for Business document when the retention expires.
Labels only apply to objects that you label; it doesn’t retroactively scan through email or documents at rest. While labels can be part of a bigger data classification story, my recommendation is that anything that relies on users remembering to do something extra to manage data will only work with extensive training and for a small subset of very important data. You can (if you have E5 licensing for the users in question) use label policies to automatically apply labels to sensitive content, based on a search query you build (particular email subject lines or recipients or SharePoint document types in particular sites for instance) or to a set of trainable classifiers for offensive language, resumes, source-code, harassment, profanity, and threats. You can also apply a retention label to a SharePoint library, folder, or document set.
As an aside, Exchange Online also has personal labels that are similar to retention labels but created by users themselves instead of being created and published by administrators.
A more holistic flavor, in my opinion, is retention policies. These apply to all items stored in the various repositories and can apply across several different workloads. Retention policies can also both ensure that data is retained for a set period of time AND disposed of after the expiry of the data, which is often a regulatory requirement. A quick note here if you’re going to play around with policies is that they’re not instantaneously applied – it can take up to 24 hours or even 7 days, depending on the workload and type of policy – so prepare to be patient.
These policies can apply across Exchange, SharePoint (which means files stored in Microsoft 365 Groups, Teams, and Yammer), OneDrive for business, and IM conversations in Skype for Business Online / Teams and Groups. Policies can be broad and apply across several workloads, or narrow and only apply to a specific workload or location in that workload. An organization-wide policy can apply to the workloads above (except Teams, you need a separate policy for its content) and you can have up to 10 of these in a tenant. Non-org wide policies can be applied to specific mailboxes, sites, or groups or you can use a search query to narrow down the content that the policy applies to. The limits are 10,000 policies in a tenant, each of which can apply to up to 1000 mailboxes or 100 sites.
Especially with org-wide policies be aware that they apply to ALL selected content so if you set it to retain everything for four years and then delete it, data is going to automatically start disappearing after four years. Note that you can set the “timer” to start when the content is created or when it was last modified, the latter is probably more in line with what people would expect, otherwise, you could have a list that someone updates weekly disappear suddenly because it was created several years ago.
To create a retention policy login to the Microsoft 365 admin center, expand Admin centers, and click on Compliance. In this portal click on Policies and then Retention under Data.
Retention policies link in the Compliance portal
Select the Retention tab and click New retention policy.
Retention policies and creating a new one
Give your policy a name and a description, select which data stores it’s going to apply to and whether the policy is going to retain and then delete data or just delete it after the specified time.
Retention settings in a policy
Outside of the scope of this article but related are sensitivity labels, instead of classifying data based on how long it should be kept, these policies classify data based on the security needs of the content. You can then apply policies to control the flow of emails with this content, or automatically encrypt documents in SharePoint for instance. You can also combine sensitivity and retention labels in policies.
Since there can be multiple policies applied to the same piece of data and perhaps even retention labels in play there could be a situation where conflicting settings apply. Here’s how these conflicts are resolved.
Retention wins over deletion, making sure that nothing is deleted that you expected to be retained and the longest retention period wins. If one policy says two years and another says five years, it’ll be kept for five. The third rule is that explicit wins over implicit so if a policy has been applied to a specific area such as a SharePoint library it’ll take precedence over an organization-wide general policy. Finally, the shortest deletion policy wins so that if an administrator has made a choice to delete content after a set period of time, it’ll be deleted then even if another policy applies that requires deletion after a longer period of time. Here’s a graphic that shows the four rules and their interaction:
Policy conflict resolution rules (courtesy of Microsoft)
As you can see, building a set of retention policies that really work for your business and don’t unintentionally cause problems is a project for the whole business, working out exactly what’s needed across different workloads, rather than the job of a “click-happy” IT administrator.
It all started with trying to rid the world of PST stored emails. Back in the day, when hard drive and SAN storage only provided small amounts of storage, many people learnt to “expand” the capacity of their small mailbox quota with local PST files. The problem is that these local files aren’t backed up and aren’t included in regulatory or eDiscovery searches. Office 365 largely solved part of this problem by providing generous quotas, the Business plans provide 50 GB per mailbox whereas the Enterprise plans have 100 GB limits.
If you need more mailbox storage one option is to enable online archiving which provides another 50 GB mailbox for the Business plans and an unlimited (see below) mailbox for the Enterprise plans. There are some limitations on this “extra” mailbox, it can only be accessed online, and it’s never synchronized to your offline (OST) file in Outlook. When you search for content you must select “all mailboxes” to see matches in your archive mailbox. ActiveSync and the Outlook client on Android and iOS can’t see the archive mailbox and users may need to manually decide what to store in which location (unless you’ve set up your policies correctly).
For these reasons many businesses avoid archive mailboxes altogether, just making sure that all mailbox data is stored in the primary mailbox (after all, 100 GB is quite a lot of emails). Other businesses, particularly those with a lot of legacy PST storage find these mailboxes fantastic and use either manual upload or even drive shipping to Microsoft 365 to convert all those PSTs to online archives where the content isn’t going to disappear because of a failed hard drive and where eDiscovery can find it.
For those that really need it and are on E3 or E5 licensing you can also enable auto-expanding archives which will ensure that as you use up space in an online archive mailbox, additional mailboxes will be created behind the scenes to provide effectively unlimited archival storage.
Click on a user’s name to be able to enable the archive mailbox.
Archive mailbox settings
Once you have enabled archive mailboxes, you’ll need a policy to make sure that items are moved into at the cadence you need. Go to the Exchange admin center and click on Compliance management – Retention tags.
Exchange Admin Center – Retention tags
Here you’ll find the Default 2 year move to archive tag or you can create a new policy by clicking on the + sign.
Exchange Retention tags default policies
Pick Move to Archive as the action, give the policy a name and select the number of days that has to pass before the move happens.
Creating a custom Move to archive policy
Note that online archive mailboxes have NOTHING to do with the Archive folder that you see in the folder tree in Outlook, this is just an ordinary folder that you can move items into from your inbox for later processing. This Archive folder is available on mobile clients and also when you’re offline and you can swipe in Outlook mobile to automatically store emails in it.
Now you know how and when to apply retention policies and retention tags in Microsoft 365, as well as when online archive mailboxes are appropriate and how to enable them and configure policies to archive items.
Finally, if you haven’t done so already, remember to save your seat on our upcoming must-attend webinar for all Microsoft 365 admins:
Is Your Office 365 Data Secure?
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