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Cisco acquires July Systems for its location, analytics services

Cisco announced this week the acquisition of a company that provides cloud-based location services through retailers’ Wi-Fi networks, while Extreme Networks and Ruckus Networks launched improvements to their wired and wireless LANs.

Cisco plans to use July Systems technology to improve its enterprise Wi-Fi platform for indoor location services. July, a privately held company headquartered in Burlingame, Calif., sells its product by subscription.

July Systems’ platform integrates with a company’s customer management system to identify people walking into a retail store or mall. The July software can then interact with the people through text messages, email or push notifications.

The system also continuously maps the physical location of retail customers and uses the information to calculate their behavior patterns. July Systems software can also send collected data to business intelligence applications for further analysis.

Before the acquisition, July Systems was a Cisco partner. The company made its location services and analytics available through the Cisco Connected Mobile Experiences. CMX is a set of location-based products that use Cisco’s wireless infrastructure.

Cisco plans to complete the acquisition by the end of October. The company did not release financial details.

Extreme, Ruckus releases

Extreme Networks has introduced wired and wireless LAN infrastructure called Smart OmniEdge that incorporates technology Extreme acquired when it bought Avaya’s enterprise networking business last year.

The latest release includes an on-premises version of Extreme’s cloud-based management application, called ExtremeCloud. Both versions provide a single console for overseeing the vendor’s wired and wireless infrastructure, including access points and edge switches. They are also engineered for zero-touch provisioning, enabling customers to configure and activate devices without manual intervention.

Other infrastructure additions include hosted software for radio frequency management on the wireless network, which in today’s workplace has to serve a variety of devices, including PCs, mobile phones, printers and projectors. Automated features in the technology include access point tuning and optimization, load balancing and troubleshooting.

Smart OmniEdge utilizes Avaya’s software-defined networking product for simpler provisioning, management and troubleshooting of switches and access points. Extreme has also added APIs to integrate third-party network products and hardware adapters that companies can plug into medical devices to download and enforce policies.

Extreme has designed Smart OmniEdge for networking a campus, hotel, healthcare facility and large entertainment venue. The company’s wired and wireless networking portfolio incorporates technology from acquisitions over several years, including wireless LAN vendor Zebra Technologies, Avaya’s software-based networking technology and Brocade’s data center network products.

Extreme’s acquisition strategy helped boost sales in its latest quarter ended in May by 76% to $262 million. However, results for the quarter, coupled with modest guidance for the current quarter, disappointed analysts, driving its stock down by 19.5%, according to the financial site Motley Fool.

Meanwhile, Ruckus Networks, an Arris company, released a new version of the operating system for its SmartZone controllers for the wired and wireless LAN. SmartZoneOS 5 provides a central console for controlling, managing and securing Ruckus access points and switches.

SmartZoneOS customers can build a single network control cluster to serve up to 450,000 clients. The controller also contains RESTful APIs, so managed service providers can invoke SmartZoneOS features and configurations.

In February, Ruckus launched SmartZoneOS software that provides essential management and security features for IoT devices. The software works in conjunction with a Ruckus IoT module plugged into the USB port on each of the company’s access points.

Aruba taps ClearPass, Central for SD-Branch management

Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has unveiled software-based wired and wireless networking for the branch that includes a cloud-managed software-defined WAN.

This week, Aruba introduced the software-defined branch technology at the HPE Discover conference in Las Vegas. The latest product, which comprises software and hardware, operates in conjunction with the Aruba Central cloud-based management platform and the Aruba ClearPass policy manager for network access control.

Combined with Aruba access points and switches, the system provides everything a customer needs to run a LAN and an SD-WAN. The latter is for routing traffic to and from the corporate data center, IoT devices and SaaS and IaaS applications. IoT devices could include surveillance cameras, point-of-sale systems, and air conditioning and heating systems.

Aruba’s offering is best-suited for smaller enterprises with a wireless-first strategy in the branch, said Will Townsend, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, based in Austin, Texas. “When you look at SD-Branch and look at what Aruba is doing, it’s going to be ideally suited for a greenfield deployment — with mobile the trick — and a small to midmarket-type profile of the customer.”

Aruba SD-Branch components

SD-Branch is a recent concept. The approach simplifies networking by using one device for multiple services, such as routing and firewalls. Aruba’s multi-function device is a gateway appliance a customer would deploy on each site.

The device includes an SD-WAN that routes traffic across the branch’s various links, including MPLS, LTE and broadband. The hardware also executes ClearPass access policies for individuals, groups of people, desktops and mobile and IoT devices. IT staff create the policies that define the available infrastructure, applications and data.

“We’re collapsing that SD-WAN functionality into the gateway and now the gateway becomes the central point of policy enforcement within the branch,” said Lissa Hollinger, a vice president of product and solutions marketing at Aruba.

Aruba Central oversees the SD-WAN, as well as the branch’s access points (APs), switches and routers. The cloud-based application also stores reusable configuration templates for gateways, APs and switches. Central uses the ClearPass-generated templates to automatically provision new devices.

Other components of the Aruba system include a headend gateway at the corporate data center that creates an IPsec tunnel to each branch. The device also has a firewall with essential features for bidirectional filtering of data center traffic.

For customers that want more security, Aruba provides the option of integrating the branch gateway with cloud-based firewalls from Check Point Software Technologies, Palo Alto Networks and Zscaler.

“The integration of [data protection] for WAN services and ClearPass for policy management makes this a competitive offering in the marketplace,” said Mark Hung, an analyst at Gartner.

To lessen the workload of IT staff, Aruba offers a mobile installer app. When a gateway, switch or AP arrives at a branch office, a nontechnical person can scan its barcode with the app to ensure the device is for that location. The process avoids getting hardware that isn’t registered to download the preset configurations for that branch.

Primary users of LANs built with Aruba technology include businesses within the retail, hospitality and healthcare industries. Aruba’s largest enterprise customers typically have an IT staff of less than a dozen people managing from 2,500 to 3,000 branch offices, according to Hollinger. 

Aruba sells the SD-Branch technology as part of Aruba Central. The gateways have a starting price of $1,495, plus an annual subscription of $450. Aruba plans to release the technology in July.

Believe it or not, CIOs need a digital customer experience strategy

Whether or not a company is born digital, delivering a quality digital customer experience has emerged as a key performance indicator for technology leaders.

So say the CTO at Kayak, the CIO at DBS Bank, and the CIO at Adobe Systems Inc., who expounded on this idea during a panel discussion at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Simply put: Customer satisfaction equates to company success, and technology such as artificial intelligence is the link between the two.

The three technology leaders are aggressively helping build a digital customer experience strategy that benefits both customers and the company. Doing this requires collecting data on how customers interact with the company and then finding ways to make those interactions more efficient — and more intelligent. Here is what each had to say about using advanced technology to monitor, enhance and capitalize on customer experience.

The error budget

One of the most practical pieces of advice on creating an effective digital customer experience strategy came from David Gledhill, group CIO and head of group technology and operations at DBS Bank in Singapore. He encouraged the audience to follow his lead and steal Google’s concept of an “error budget,” which can help companies strike a balance between moving fast and keeping customer service top of mind.

DBS Bank, AI, MIT CIO SymposiumDavid Gledhill

The error budget, a concept that’s evolving at DBS Bank, is a joint key performance indicator between technology and operations “to gauge and monitor customer experience” on digital platforms, according to Gledhill. “Every time a customer gets a performance degradation or [experiences] a struggle, it counts against the platform,” he said. Whatever those strikes are — be they performance issues or incomplete transactions — the company should determine a threshold and “round everything up to a single number,” Gledhill said.

Once the strikes against the digital platform hit the error threshold, developers have to stop and “refocus their efforts on solving those customer pain point interactions,” Gledhill said. He pointed audience members to Google’s book Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems for more information.

Mapping the ‘customer journey’

Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at Adobe, said AI and machine learning have always been a part of the software company’s products. “We refer to it as the Adobe magic,” she said.

But what the company is attempting to do now is to use those tools to improve the customer’s experience with Adobe products — especially with its Creative Cloud. “What we want to be able to do with it is really unleash the power and let our customer have access to it so that we can remove the mundane and let people focus on the creativity,” Stoddard said.

Our view of the world with AI, from a product perspective, is more of a Harry Potter view of the world. We want to do good things and help people do their tasks quicker.
Cynthia StoddardSVP and CIO, Adobe

Part of Adobe’s digital customer experience strategy is to map a customer’s “journey” across its product set, which can help illuminate both customer friction points as well as repetitive activity that might be ripe for automation. “Our view of the world with AI, from a product perspective, is more of a Harry Potter view of the world,” she said. “We want to do good things and help people do their tasks quicker.”

Stoddard said she uses an “outside-in” approach to understand the customer’s perspective by “looking at their journey points and ensuring that we remove all friction points,” she said. But she also said it’s important to look at the world from an inside-out perspective, which focuses on designing for enterprise scale and efficiency.

When the two perspectives conflict, “the customer comes first,” she said.

A hybrid approach

Giorgos Zacharia, CTO and chief scientist at Kayak, demystified AI and machine learning as computational statistics with more computational power. “To me, there is nothing magic about it,” he said.

At Kayak, the digital customer experience strategy is the strategy for the company, according to Zacharia. “The dominant metric is completion of transaction — has the user found what they’re looking for?” he said.

Kayak, data science, AI, MIT CIO SymposiumGiorgos Zacharia

But as Kayak’s developers experiment with how to better serve their users, their ideas can sometimes produce an undesirable result. “If you change the user experience way too much, the users might be taken aback,” Zacharia said. “And it takes time to retrain them.”

This happened recently when Kayak developers implemented a machine learning algorithm for sorting flights. Rather than sorting by price, the algorithm sorted by likelihood that a customer would complete a transaction. “For some users, the snackers, we call them, those who run a search to see what the current prices are, they were taken aback that they didn’t see the cheapest price on top,” he said.

Zacharia and his team addressed the issue with a hybrid approach — the cheapest fare is on top and the rest of the results are sorted by likelihood of conversion. “It works for the user — for now,” he said.

Box workflow gets upgrade with Progressly purchase

Box last week acquired workflow software company Progressly for an undisclosed amount, with the hopes of upgrading its own core workflow and automation to better suit its customers.

The acquisition of Progressly is an interesting one for document management company Box, as it just last year released Relay, a product it developed in partnership with IBM that is also meant to help companies with workflow management. The idea behind the Progressly purchase, according to analysts, is to beef up the Box workflow capabilities.

“While Box and IBM have been talking about Relay for years, I have not seen much traction of it in the industry,” said Alan Lepofsky, a principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc. “I think it will be good for Box to expand the capabilities of their own native workflow engine, increasing the number of triggers and actions that can occur both inside Box, as well as becoming an engine for processes within other tools.”

The importance of workflow automation for companies can’t be understated. Between onboarding, contract management and other business necessities, a company can save a lot of time and money with a capable automation process.

While the Box workflow capabilities were there, they were described as “rudimentary” by Holly Muscolino, a research vice president at IDC.

“The way [Box] is positioning it is that the software from Progressly, or at least the team at Progressly, will develop software that will go into the core Box product,” Muscolino said. “They have a rudimentary workflow in Box, but this will enhance that.”

Box also has partnerships established with other business process companies, like Nintex and Pega.  Muscolino said she sees this acquisition as potentially adding triggers to get partner processes automated within Box.

And improving the Box workflow capabilities is not expected to lead to a new product, according to Lepofsky, but rather enhance the existing features within Box.

Native workflow inside Box should be considered more of a feature and not an additional monetary channel.
Alan Lepofskyprincipal analyst, Constellation Research Inc.

“Native workflow inside Box should be considered more of a feature and not an additional monetary channel,” Lepofsky said.

Lepofsky added that customers can find more automation capabilities within competitors, like Microsoft OneDrive and Flow. And by beefing up the workflow with the Box acquisition of Progressly, the company is trying to better challenge the other players in the market.

“I think the driving factor was customer need,” Lepofsky said. “The opportunity to help automate content-centric workflows is a big step in helping people get their jobs done.”

While improving the Box workflow features seemed to be the main reason for the Progressly purchase, Box’s chief product officer, Jeetu Patel, also made it clear that the small team of 12 at Progressly was a factor in the acquisition, calling the team in a blog post a “group of highly talented individuals that have created a world-class product with a vision that is directly aligned with the team here at Box.”

Patel added that the Progressly team will “allow us to play a bigger role in how Box customers digitize and automate business processes.”

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Liquidware user experience monitoring fills gap in DaaS migration

When IT leaders at a global events and publishing company chose to move their physical and virtual desktops to the cloud, they quickly discovered they couldn’t do it alone.

By early 2016, Informa had more than 1,000 employees using Citrix virtual desktops. As that number had grown, the desktops and their support infrastructure became increasingly difficult to manage.

“Complexity is the biggest enemy in IT,” said Martin van Nijnatten, head of end-user computing at the London-based company. “That was the key argument for moving from doing your own VDI to desktop as a service.”

At the same time, the VDI user experience was getting worse.

“There was a big gap between the physical desktops and the VDI estate,” said Peter MacNamara, senior VDI engineer at Informa. “Your user experience would not be the same wherever you went.”

The end-user computing team decided to migrate from physical and virtual desktops to Amazon Web Services’ desktop as a service (DaaS) offering, WorkSpaces. The move was made possible by Liquidware, whose products — particularly its user experience monitoring software — identified potential problems and provided much-needed management capabilities for the new cloud desktops and applications.

“[With WorkSpaces], you don’t have the tools that Citrix and VMware have natively,” MacNamara said. “So we had to fill that gap. Liquidware, especially with their monitoring tool, let us do that.”

User experience monitoring gets proactive

It’s moving from being reactive to proactive.
Martin van Nijnattenhead of end-user computing, Informa

After selecting AWS, Informa evaluated several virtual desktop management and user experience monitoring vendors to assist with the migration. The company considered RES Software (which Ivanti has since acquired), Unidesk (which Citrix has since acquired) and FSLogix in addition to Liquidware.

After a proof-of-concept deployment that ran through late 2016, Liquidware won out. Its Liquidware Essentials Bundle — which includes Stratusphere for user experience monitoring, ProfileUnity for user environment management and FlexApp for application layering — provided the capabilities Informa needed, and it wasn’t overly complicated to use, MacNamara said. It took less than a day to set up Stratusphere, which is available as an appliance in the Amazon Marketplace, and get it monitoring the Citrix virtual desktops, he said.

Peter MacNamara, senior VDI engineer at InformaPeter MacNamara

The user experience monitoring tool immediately paid dividends, identifying applications that could potentially cause problems when they moved to the cloud. The performance hit that McAfee’s antivirus software caused on the virtual desktops, for example, would have been too much to bear on WorkSpaces, MacNamara said. Armed with this information, the IT department was able to address the issue before it affected users.

“It’s moving from being reactive to proactive,” van Nijnatten said.

Informa used the information gleaned from Stratusphere to right-size its Amazon WorkSpaces deployment, making sure it allocated enough resources so as to not cause any performance problems, said Dave Johnson, who worked with Informa on this project as a Liquidware sales manager. And Liquidware’s ProfileDisks feature helped Informa capture user profiles on physical and Citrix virtual desktops and migrate them to Amazon WorkSpaces, Johnson said.

The performance data Stratusphere provided proved so valuable that Informa rolled the product out to its physical desktops as well. There are some improvements that van Nijnatten said he would like to see, however. Tops on that list is the incorporation of machine learning technology.

“Right now, you still have to do a lot of digging and conclusion-drawing yourself by looking at the data,” he said. “I think that there’s an opportunity to collate that data and create some more intelligence out of it.”

Liquidware ProfileUnity screenshot

VDI-to-DaaS migrations catching on

For most of DaaS’ existence, organizations considered it almost exclusively for greenfield deployments. Migrating from VDI to DaaS was too complex, and it was a waste to abandon investments in on-premises virtual desktops, the thinking went.

That’s slowly changing. At Informa, it was more important to embrace the future than to hold on to the past, MacNamara said.

Informa is one of many Liquidware customers that have moved or are considering moving from VDI to DaaS, Johnson said.

“A number of organizations have moved their core infrastructure to the cloud, and now they’re looking at moving their desktops,” he said. “To the user, it’s a very minimal impact, because the look and feel of the desktop is the same.”

Informa has run its IT infrastructure on AWS for more than a decade, dating back to a time when “everybody said you were out of your mind” if you moved core services to the cloud, van Nijnatten said. That familiarity led the company to choose Amazon WorkSpaces over DaaS offerings from Citrix and VMware, because those vendors still have a certain level of reliance on their on-premises VDI products, he said.

“Amazon was born in the cloud, and Citrix and VMware [weren’t],” van Nijnatten added.

An ongoing process

Informa’s work with Liquidware and Amazon WorkSpaces is not complete; the company still plans to move the remaining pockets of Citrix users to AWS and is also in the process of migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The scale of that operating system upgrade would have been impossible for Informa’s Citrix infrastructure to handle, van Nijnatten said.

“We would’ve needed to redesign the whole setup,” he said.

The ultimate goal is to offer nonpersistent cloud desktops that rely on Profile Unity to provide a consistent user experience and an added level of security.

“Now what we’re working towards is, you can log on to an Amazon workspace and your settings follow you,” MacNamara said. “Your documents follow you. It’s all there.”

I-Squared will help ensure the US has the skilled talent it needs to grow – Microsoft on the Issues

The lifeblood of Microsoft is and will always be our employees. Our company was built by a world-class team comprised of many of the best and brightest people, including many of the best software developers from around the world. High-skilled immigration has not only been important to the success of Microsoft and other individual tech companies, but in the global leadership position of the entire American tech sector. Our collective success won’t continue unless Congress reforms the nation’s immigration system into one that protects American workers while preserving the ability of American companies to continue to recruit the world’s best high-skilled talent.

That’s why we support new legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Jeff Flake that takes important steps to reduce the green card backlog, strengthen U.S. worker protections, prevent H-1B program abuse and raise new STEM training funds for Americans. At a time of such great discourse in our country around immigration, we believe that S.2344, the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act, strikes the right balance to keep our economy strong, attract and retain top global talent and build more opportunities for American workers. We hope the Senate’s leaders will come together to support these important reforms.

One of the most important features of I-Squared is its focus on eliminating bottlenecks in the lengthy green card process for high-skilled workers. As we’ve stated previously as we’ve endorsed and spoken out for HR 392, current per country limits on employment-based green cards are arbitrary and create uncertainty and tremendous hardship for our employees and their families as they endure decades-long backlogs. This uncertainty is also not good for American businesses that want to retain this valuable talent in the country.

I-Squared eliminates those discriminatory per country limits. It also ensures that green card numbers that have gone unused in prior years due to bureaucratic processes are not wasted, but instead applied to reduce the existing backlog. I-Squared further proposes a new conditional green card process for a more direct path to permanent residence, giving more security to both employers and employees. If Congress could move forward and diminish the many uncertainties in the green card process, we could then focus even more effort on our work creating next generation technology.

I-Squared also takes significant steps to strengthen protections for American workers and prevent abuses of the H-1B program. The bill directly prohibits use of the H-1B program to displace American workers; it prohibits certain practices that currently get in the way of ensuring that H-1Bs that have been approved are actually used; and it implements more rigorous wage requirements. At the same time, the bill builds flexibility into the program to adjust at a measured pace to the market demand for high-skilled talent.

Particularly in today’s strong economy, we need to take additional steps to prepare Americans for digital jobs by investing in our domestic STEM training programs. Through the additional fees imposed by I-Squared, close to $1 billion additional dollars could be provided each year to states to support STEM education and build the country’s talent pipeline and support training for U.S. workers to enter STEM fields, including apprenticeships. As we’ve said before, these are fees that Microsoft is more than prepared to pay.

High-skilled immigration programs are critical to meeting our country’s need for skilled talent. But it needs to complement — not compete with — investing in the American workforce. The bill introduced by Senators Hatch and Flake hits the right note and makes the system better for all of us.

Tags: Brad Smith, Immigration, legislation

Hyper engine aims to give enterprise Tableau analytics a boost

Tableau is continuing its focus on enterprise functionality, rolling out several new features that the company hopes will make its data visualization and analytics software more attractive as an enterprise tool to help broaden its appeal beyond an existing base of line-of-business users.

In particular, the new Tableau 10.5 release, launched last week, includes the long-awaited Hyper in-memory compute engine. Company officials said Hyper will bring vastly improved speeds to the software and support new Tableau analytics use cases, like internet of things (IoT) analytics applications.

The faster speeds will be particularly noticeable, they said, when users refresh Tableau data extracts, which are in-memory snapshots of data from a source file. Extracts can reach large sizes, and refreshing larger files takes time with previous releases.

“We extract every piece of data that we work with going to production, so we’re really looking forward to [Hyper],” Jordan East, a BI data analyst at General Motors, said in a presentation at Tableau Conference 2017, held in Las Vegas last October.

East works in GM’s global telecom organization, which supports the company’s communications needs. His team builds BI reports on the overall health of the communications system. The amount of data coming in has grown substantially over the year, and keeping up with the increasing volume of data has been a challenge, he said.

Extracting the data, rather than connecting Tableau to live data, helped improve report performance. East said he hopes the extra speed of Hyper will enable dashboards to be used in more situations, like live meetings.

Faster extracts mean fresher analytics

The Tableau 10.5 update also includes support for running Tableau Server on Linux, new governance features and other additions. But Hyper is getting most of the attention. Potentially, faster extract refreshes mean customers will refresh extracts more frequently and be able to do their Tableau analytics on fresher data.

“If Hyper lives up to demonstrations and all that has been promised, it will be an incredible enhancement for customers that are struggling with large complex data,” said Rita Sallam, a Gartner analyst.

Sallam’s one caveat was that customers who are doing Tableau analytics on smaller data sets will see less of a performance upgrade, because their extracts likely already refresh and load quickly. She said she believes the addition of Hyper will make it easier to analyze data stored in a Hadoop data lake, which was typically too big to efficiently load into Tableau before Hyper. This will give analysts access to larger, more complex data sets and enable deeper analytics, Sallam said.

Focus on enterprise functionality risky

Looking at the bigger picture, though, Sallam said there is some risk for Tableau in pursuing an enterprise focus. She said moving beyond line-of-business deployments and doubling down on enterprise functionality was a necessary move to attract and retain customers. But, at the same time, the company risks falling behind on analytics functionality.

Sallam said the features in analytics software that will be most important in the years ahead will be things like automated machine learning and natural language querying and generation. By prioritizing the nuts and bolts of enterprise functionality, Tableau hasn’t invested as much in these types of features, Sallam said.

“If they don’t [focus on enterprise features], they’re not going to be able to respond to customers that want to deploy Tableau at scale,” Sallam said. “But that does come with a cost, because now they can’t fully invest in next-generation features, which are going to be the defining features of user experience two or three years from now.”