Tag Archives: giving

Facebook targets WhatsApp business messaging at large enterprises

Facebook’s WhatsApp is giving large enterprises tools for communicating with its more than 1 billion users. It’s the latest social messaging channel to enter the contact center, but analysts say most businesses don’t need to rush to adopt such platforms just yet.

Large businesses can use the WhatsApp Business API to integrate a WhatsApp messaging channel with contact center and customer relationship management software. Companies will then be able to create WhatsApp profiles and add WhatsApp click-to-chat buttons to websites or mobile apps.

WhatsApp plans to charge businesses for sending notifications to customers through the app, such as order receipts, shipping updates and boarding passes. The vendor will also make companies pay if they fail to respond to a customer inquiry within 24 hours.

The beta release of the API this month is the Facebook-owned platform’s latest initiative to connect customers and businesses. Earlier this year, the company launched WhatsApp Business, a separate app within which small businesses can create profiles and message with customers. 

WhatsApp is also deepening ties to the social platform of its parent company, Facebook. Businesses using the new API will be able to create Facebook ads that invite customers to message them through WhatsApp.

Facebook would be wise to consider integrating WhatsApp business messaging with its enterprise intranet and collaboration platform, Workplace by Facebook, said Phil Edholm, president of PKE Consulting LLC. That would make the offering more unique, he said.

“From just a pure channel perspective, having WhatsApp as a channel from [consumer] to [business] is interesting, but it’s just another channel,” Edholm said.

WhatsApp business messaging vs. Apple Business Chat

WhatsApp business messaging will rival Apple Business Chat, which lets customers and business interact through iMessages. WhatsApp is particularly popular among Android users.

However, WhatsApp’s offering doesn’t seem to have as many capabilities as Apple’s, nor does WhatsApp seem to have as clear a vision as Apple, said Michael Finneran, president of the advisory firm DBrn Associates Inc. in Hewlett Neck, N.Y.

Unlike WhatsApp, which must be downloaded from an app store, Apple Business Chat is available natively to all iOS users and lets customers remain anonymous when contacting a business. The iMessaging interface also has more productive and more interactive features than WhatsApp business messaging, such as the ability to place orders.

Still, businesses have some time before they need to adopt either platform, Finneran said. Use of Apple Business Chat has so far been limited to a handful of well-known banks, retailers, hotels and internet businesses.

“Unless digital engagement is a key attribute of your business, you can probably wait on Apple Business Chat,” Finneran said. “Everyone can wait on WhatsApp.”

When businesses do decide to adopt additional social messaging channels, they should seek help from communications platform as a service (CPaaS) vendors such as Twilio, Nexmo and Smooch, said Tsahi Levent-Levi, an independent analyst.  

Businesses shouldn’t attempt to juggle too many communications channels on their own, mainly because the APIs for many of these platforms are new and could change, Levent-Levi said.

“You can’t rely on a single channel because the APIs might change, and the way you interact with customers might change,” Levent-Levi said. That necessitates an omnichannel approach, he said. “And you can’t do it on your own, even if you’re big.”

Celebrate the Season of Giving with Xbox

This holiday season is all about giving. Whether you’re giving time to loved ones, giving gifts to family and friends, or giving your stomach more food than it can handle, Xbox wants to make it easy to play together and give together. From December 21 to January 4, you can join Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold for $1 each! Also, you can share your love of gaming by gifting an Xbox Game Pass membership.

Not only are we giving our fans great deals, we have a great opportunity for the Xbox community to give back to kids across the world. Xbox is partnering with GameChanger to make a difference for children in hospitals. For each Xbox Game Pass membership purchased or gifted from December 21 to January 4, Xbox will donate $10 of Xbox Game Pass to hospitals around the world through GameChanger.

Here at Xbox we believe in accessibility, diversity, and inclusion. We also believe that our passionate and awesome community of Xbox fans love to make a difference in people’s lives. That is why we are incredibly excited and humbled to team up with GameChanger this holiday to positively impact the lives of children facing life-threatening illnesses. Over the past several years, Microsoft has partnered with GameChanger and other organizations to place hundreds of thousands of Xbox consoles in hospitals around the world with the goal of providing entertainment to hospitalized children. Now we want to give our great community a chance to get involved as well.

Play 100+ Games for $1

Get your first month of Xbox Game Pass for $1 and spend your holiday with unlimited access to over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One family of devices. With new games added every month, there is always a new adventure waiting for you. All purchases benefit Season of Giving with Xbox. You must be signed in to get this offer (not available for existing members).

Go Gold for $1

Get your first month of Xbox Live Gold for $1! Go Gold for exclusive savings and join the best community of gamers on the most advanced multiplayer network. All purchases benefit Season of Giving with Xbox. You must be signed in to get this offer (not available for existing members).

Already own Xbox Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold?

Here’s how you can still get involved with the cause! Give the gift of 100+ games this holiday season by gifting Xbox Game Pass at full price. Also, you can add additional time to your Xbox Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold membership at full price.

For every Xbox Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold membership you buy or gift, Xbox will donate $10 of Xbox Game Pass to hospitals around the world through Season of Giving with Xbox.

Let’s play together & give together to bring joy to hospitalized children around the world. We hope we can make it a bit easier to make a difference this holiday season. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful end to the year.

Score Big with New NFL Customization Options for Xbox Design Lab

At Xbox, we’re committed to giving our fans choice when it comes to gaming. Just over a year ago, we launched Xbox Design Lab, the first online customization program we’ve ever launched where you can design your very own Xbox Wireless Controller. This Summer, we added even more customization options including new colors, rubberized grips, and metallic finishes on D-pads or triggers to create over a billion design combinations to choose from. Today, we’re excited to announce a special partnership with the NFL that allows you to further customize your Xbox Wireless Controller with your favorite NFL’s team logo through Xbox Design Lab.

Starting today, you can show your team pride on your Xbox controller and add the logo for any of the 32 NFL teams. Further customize your controller with optional black rubberized grip for the back of the controller—a premium upgrade that enhances comfort and control while gaming. Included with your NFL controller is an optional laser-engraved message up to 16 characters at no additional cost, perfect for adding your gamertag or name. These NFL controllers are available exclusively through the US Microsoft Store at xbox.com/xboxdesignlab. Pricing starts at $94.99 USD and each NFL controller includes free engraving and free shipping.

Xbox Design Lab NFL Controllers Key Art

With all the possibilities Xbox Design Lab has to offer, including this new option for NFL-inspired Xbox Wireless Controllers, you can make your gaming setup one-of-a-kind. Xbox Design Lab controllers also make a unique gift for the gamer or football fan in your life. All Xbox Design Lab controllers are compatible with the Xbox One family of devices – Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X – and include built-in Bluetooth technology for gaming on Windows 10 PCs and tablets.

NetApp-SolidFire storage operating systems nudge closer

Nearly two years after acquiring SolidFire, NetApp is giving the all-flash platform and its technology a greater role in its product lineup.

Besides using SolidFire arrays as the key building block of the new NetApp HCI system, NetApp integrated SolidFire features into its flagship Ontap operating system.

NetApp-SolidFire integration appeared in the new operating systems — NetApp Ontap 9.3 and SolidFire Element OS 10 — released at the NetApp Insight conference last week in Las Vegas.

NetApp-SolidFire enhancements include the ability to replicate NetApp SnapMirror snapshots from Element OS systems to Ontap-based storage. Support backup targets include cloud-connected NetApp AltaVault backup appliances and StorageGrid Webscale object storage. NetApp also integrated quality of service from Element OS into Ontap 9.3.

NetApp also introduced its Elio virtual support engine, which is built on the artificial intelligence powered by IBM Watson cognitive computing, and updated Active IQ cloud-based predictive analytics for health diagnostics across its Data Fabric technologies. NetApp also released StorageGrid 11.

NetApp: SolidFire’s Element OS broadens the reach of Ontap, Data Fabric

All-flash array startup SolidFire originally launched Active IQ as part of Element. The $870 million NetApp-SolidFire acquisition in 2015 accomplished a pair of goals that had eluded NetApp. SolidFire SF-Series all-flash arrays allowed it to scrap its long-delayed FlashRay product, which was only available as a single node. NetApp this week also finally entered the hyper-converged infrastructure market with the help of SolidFire storage.

Quality of service is something we could have done sooner in Ontap, but now it’s state of the art.
Octavian TanaseSVP of Ontap software and systems group, NetApp

The SolidFire Element OS was written with native support for quality of service (QoS). By integrating it in Ontap 9.3, NetApp is eyeing customers who run a greater variety of applications with Clustered Ontap operating system than they did with Ontap 7-Mode.

The NetApp-SolidFire adaptive QoS in Ontap 9.3 allows customers to set a floor and ceiling for performance and use “smart bursting” as applications require it, said Octavian Tanase, a senior vice president of NetApp Data Ontap software and systems group.

“Quality of service is something we could have done sooner in Ontap, but now it’s state of the art. As we upgraded from Ontap 7-Mode to Clustered Ontap, that’s when customers started to deploy heterogeneous workloads, to get capacity and performance on one system,” Tanase said.

NetApp ‘democratizes’ DR, targets data security

NetApp MetroCluster in Ontap 9.3 allows disaster recovery workloads to run across IP-based networks, in addition to traditional Fibre Channel support. Running across IP eliminates the need to install SAS-to-FC bridges or expensive switches.

“We think we have been able to democratize DR,” Tanase said.

Ontap 9.3 adds multifactor authentication, a configurable engine that requires users to invoke a second token to gain access to data. The update supports external key management for WORM compliance with NetApp SnapLock volume management.

NetApp StorageGrid 11 added the ability to mirror on-premises data to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. It permits authorized users to run Apache Hive script in an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and mirror data to an Amazon S3 bucket.

StorageGrid 11 will notify Amazon Lambda to run facial recognition for security when a user requests images stored in an AWS.

NetApp also refreshed its OnCommand Insight management tool, most notably adding an analyzer for estimating AWS costs.

Stand up infrastructure on a budget with Azure DevTest Labs

Many businesses expect IT teams to do more without giving them more money — and, sometimes, cutting an already…


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small budget. But new projects mean test and development — an expensive endeavor in the data center. One way to alleviate this financial strain is to move those test and development workloads into the cloud.

Running a test environment in the data center is expensive, with high costs connected to hardware, software, power and cooling — not to mention all the time and effort IT spends keeping everything running and properly updated. Instead, administrators can turn to the cloud to develop and test applications in Microsoft’s Azure DevTest Labs. This enables companies to trade in hardware expenses and switch to a pay-per-use model. Other features in the service, such as the auto shutdown for VMs, can further control costs.

In this first part of a two-part series, we explain the merits of using a test bed in Azure and configuring a VM for lab use. In part two, we explore ways to manage the VM in DevTest Labs, as well as benefits gained when a workload moves out of the data center.

What is Azure DevTest Labs?

Many businesses maintain an on-premises test environment that emulates the production environment, which lets development teams test code before it is pushed into production. This also enables other teams within the app dev team to perform usability and integration testing.

But a test environment can have slight variations from the production side. It might not have key updates or patches, or it could run on different hardware or software. These disparities cause the application to fail when it hits the production environment. Azure DevTest Labs address these issues, enabling admins to build an infrastructure that is disposable and adaptable. If the test environment requires drastic changes, the team can remove it and build a new one with minimal effort. In contrast, a typical on-premises production setting generally cannot be offline for very long; the investment in hardware, software and other infrastructure requires lengthy deliberation before IT makes any changes.

The team can turn off DevTest Labs when the test period ends so that resources go away, and there are no costs until the service is needed again.

Creating another lab scenario to test a new feature removes the effort to twist and tweak an existing test environment to bring necessary components online, which can cause problems with other testing scenarios. An on-premises test environment requires sizable expense and effort to maintain and keep in sync with production. In contrast, admins can quickly configure a test setting in Azure DevTest Labs.

What are the benefits of Azure DevTest Labs?

The most noticeable benefits to DevTest Labs include:

  • Pay as you go pricing: The lab only incurs cost when a VM runs. If the VM is deallocated, there are no charges.
  • Specified shutdown: IT staff can configure DevTest Labs to shut down at a certain time and automatically disconnect users. Turning the service off — for example, shutting it down between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. — saves money.
  • Role-based access: IT assigns certain access rights within the lab to ensure specific users only have access to the items they need.

How do I get started with Azure DevTest Labs?

To set up Azure DevTest Labs, you’ll need an Azure subscription. Sign up for a 30-day trial from the Microsoft Azure site. Go to the Azure Resource Management portal, and add the DevTest Labs configuration from the Azure Marketplace with these steps:

  • Select the New button at the top of the left column in the Azure portal. This will change the navigation pane to list available categories of services and the main blade to a blank screen. As you make selections, this will populate with related information.
  • In the search box, enter DevTest Labs, and press Enter.
  • In the blade that displays the search results, click on DevTest Labs. This will display more information about DevTest Labs and a Create button.
Install Azure DevTest Labs
Figure 1. Find the option to add the Azure DevTest Labs to your subscription from the Azure Marketplace.

Click the Create button. Azure will prompt you to enter configuration settings for the instance, such as:

  • The name of the lab: The text box shows a green checkmark if the value is acceptable.
  • The Azure subscription to use
  • The region where the DevTest Lab will reside: Pick a region closest to user(s) for better performance.
  • If auto shutdown should be enabled: This is enabled by default; all VMs in the lab will shut down at a specified time.

Enter values for these options; items marked with a star are required. Click Create, and Azure will provision the DevTest Labs instance. This typically takes a few minutes to gather the background services and objects needed to build the lab. Click the bell icon in the header area of the Azure portal screen to see the progress for this deployment.

DevTest Labs provisioning
Figure 2. Click the bell-shaped icon in the Azure portal to check the provisioning progress of the DevTest Labs instance.

Once Azure provisions the lab, you can add objects and resources to it. Each lab gets a resource group within Azure to keep all the items packaged. The resource group takes the name of the lab with some random characters at the end. This ensures the resource group name for the lab is unique and ensures the admin manages its resources through DevTest Labs.

To find the lab, select the option for DevTest Labs from the left navigation pane. For new users, it might be listed under More Services at the bottom. When the lab is located, scroll down to the Developer Tools section, and click the star icon next to the service name to pin DevTest Labs to the main navigation list.

Click DevTest Labs in the navigation list to open the DevTest Labs blade and list all the labs. Click on the name of the new lab: techTarget — for the purposes of this article.

Azure DevTest Labs environment
Figure 3. After Azure provisions the lab, the administrator can add compute and other resources.

This opens the blade for that lab. The administrator can populate the lab with compute and other resources. New users should check the Getting Started section to familiarize themselves with the service.

What components can we put in the lab?

DevTest Labs creates sandbox environments to test applications in development or to see how a feature in Windows Server performs before moving it to a production environment.

Administrators can add components to each lab, including:

  • VMs: Azure uses VMs from the Marketplace or uploaded images.
  • Claimable VMs: The IT department provides a pool of VMs for lab users to select.
  • Data disks: You can attach these disks to VMs to store data within a lab.
  • Formulas: Reusable code and automation objects are available to objects within the lab.
  • Secrets: These are values, such as passwords or keys, the lab needs. These reside in a secure key vault within the Azure subscription.

Administrators can modify configuration values and policies related to the lab, change the auto startup and auto shutdown times and specify machine sizes that users can create. To find more information on these items, select My virtual machines under MY LAB in the navigation list. Click Add at the top of the blade to insert a VM.

Add a new VM
Figure 4. Create a new VM with the Add button in the lab.

For the purposes of this article, select Windows Server 2016 Datacenter as the VM base image. The next blade shows the following items that are required to build the VM:

  • VM name: A unique name for the VM.
  • Username: The admin username for this VM — it cannot be administrator.
  • Disk type: Options include solid-state drive or hard disk drive — SSD provides better performance, but will raise the cost of operations slightly.
  • VM size: The number of CPU cores and amount of RAM — after selecting the one you want, click Select.
Configure the lab VM
Figure 5. Make selections to build the VM for the lab. The blades show the options and prices based on the size of the VM.

You can also select artifacts to install when the VM is created, and configure advanced options for the resource. Find more information about artifacts at Microsoft’s Azure documentation site.

For labs with more complex needs, advanced settings let administrators adjust the VM’s networking settings and set the VM as claimable.

When you finish the lab VM configuration, click Create. Azure will do its work, which will take some time to complete.

In the next installment of this article, we will look at VM management in Azure DevTest Labs and different testing scenarios within the service.

Next Steps

A Hyper-V lab can help with certification studies

Explore OpenStack’s capabilities with a virtual home lab

Keep a test VM from affecting the production environment

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