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5 ways COVID-19 changed the data storage market

The past few months have forced the normally conservative data storage world to make on-the-spot adjustments to the ways people buy and use storage.

Recent earnings reports from leading storage companies provided a look at how they adapted to the changes. While they experienced mixed results, clear buying patterns and industry changes emerged in the data storage market. Storage leaders expect many of the changes will remain in place, even after the COVID-19 threat subsides.

The recent earnings calls showed some trends accelerated — such as a move from large data center arrays to hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and the cloud, and a shift from Capex to Opex spending. It also forced new selling strategies as face-to-face sales calls and conferences gave way to virtual events and virtual meetings between buyers and sellers working remotely.

One major storage CEO even experienced COVID-19 personally.

“I contracted COVID-19 in mid-March,” Pure Storage CEO Charlie Giancarlo said last week on the company’s earnings call. “And that experience has provided me with a deep personal appreciation for this virus and its impact. The changes in people’s lives and livelihoods are truly extraordinary. And our expectations of what is or will be normal are forever changed. Every day, each new report on the crisis brings an uneasy mixture of anxiety, uncertainty and hope about the future.”

Charles Giancarlo, CEO, Pure StorageCharlie Giancarlo

Storage vendors confronted this new normal over the last few months, with their business prospects also filled with uncertainty. Pure came out of it better than its larger direct competitors Dell EMC, NetApp and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Still, it joined Dell and HPE in declining to give a forecast for this quarter because of uncertainty. NetApp did not give a long-term forecast but predicts a 6% revenue drop this quarter.

The following are some ways the data storage market changed during the first quarter of COVID-19:

Arrays give way to cloud, HCI

Flash array vendor Pure’s revenues increased 12% over last year, to $367 million. Other array vendors didn’t fare so well, while HCI and services revenue grew as organizations shifted to remote work and bought storage remotely.

Dell EMC’s storage revenue fell 5% to $3.8 billion, while its Infrastructure Solutions Group fell 8% overall (servers and networking dropped 10%). But while storage, servers and networking dipped, Dell reported double-digit growth in its VxRail HCI platform that combines those IT infrastructure tiers.

NetApp revenue dropped 12% to $1.4 billion, including a 21% decline in product revenue. NetApp all-flash array revenue of $656 million dropped 3% since last year, while cloud data services of $111 million more than doubled. NetApp claims it has more than 3,500 cloud data services customers.

NetApp CEO George KurianGeorge Kurian

“I would tell you that as we think about the go-forward strategic roadmap, it’s much more tied to software and cloud services,” NetApp CEO George Kurian said.

HPE storage revenues declined 16% since last year.

Hyper-converged infrastructure specialist Nutanix reported an 11% revenue increase to $318.3 million. Dell-owned VMware also reported revenue from its vSAN HCI software increased more than 20%, as did its NSX software-defined networking product.

VDI encore

It’s no surprise that the VDI expansion would lead to HCI sales, because VDI was among the first common use cases for hyper-convergence. One change since the early days of HCI is that now many of those desktops are sold as a cloud service.

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj PandeyDheeraj Pandey

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said the increase for VDI and desktop as a service (DaaS) in March and April “brought us back to our roots, when a much larger piece of our business supported virtual desktop workloads.”

VDI also helped flash storage catch on, as a way to deal with boot storms and peak periods required for heavy volume of virtual desktops. Not all flash vendors benefited last quarter, but Pure did.

“Certainly, VDI was one of the major use cases out there,” Pure’s Giancarlo said.

In May, NetApp acquired VDI and DaaS startup CloudJumper to address that market.

Who’s buying? And how?

COVID-19’s impact on storage buying was far from uniform. The pandemic left some industries financially devastated, while others had to expand to keep up.

Dell COO Jeff Clarke said Dell saw demand drop among SMBs and industries such as retail, manufacturing, energy and transportation. But financial services, government, healthcare and life sciences increased spending.

Kurian said NetApp also saw an increase in healthcare spending, driven by the pandemic and a need for digital imaging.

Organizations spending on storage are increasingly going to a utility model, buying storage as a service. Pure’s subscription services jumped 37% year over year to $120 million, making up one-third of its overall revenue.

“What we saw in Q1 was that the urgency was to beef up what they currently had in, and that was largely on prem,” Giancarlo said. “But they wanted the option, they didn’t want to sign on to five years of more on prem or anything along those lines. They wanted the option of being able to move to the cloud at any point in time. And that’s exactly what our Pure as-a-Service is designed to do in several respects.”

While Dell’s overall revenue was flat from last year, its recurring revenue increased 16%, to around $6 billion. That recurring revenue includes utility and as-a-service pricing.

“We have a very, very modern way to consume and digest IT with the very best products in the marketplace,” Clarke said.

Virtualized sales become common

Remote work has changed the way vendors and customers interact. Like with user conferences, sales calls have become a virtual experience.

“Our teams had to be nimble and quickly embrace a new sales motion,” Dell’s Clarke said. “We successfully pivoted to all virtual engagements with hundreds of thousands of virtual customer interactions in the quarter.”

Clarke said there has been no negative impact, as he and his sales team can meet with more customers than in the past.

Nutanix, which shifted its 2020 .NEXT user conference to a virtual event and pushed it until Sept. 8, has also moved in-person regional shows and boot camps online. Pandey said Nutanix has seen no drop-off in qualified leads for its sales team from going virtual.

“We have gone completely virtual and are seeing comparable yield in terms of qualified leads and virtual meetings for our sales organization at less than half the cost,” he said.

Cost-saving: Furloughs, pay cuts, hiring freezes

Unsure of what the immediate future will look like, IT companies are enacting cost reduction plans and realigning their teams.

Dell is implementing a global hiring freeze, reduction in consulting and contractor costs, global travel restrictions and a suspension of its 401(k) match plan.

HPE said it would enact pay cuts across the board, with the executive team taking the biggest reductions. CEO Antonio Neri also said HPE would reduce and realign the workforce as part of a cost reduction plan save more than $1 billion over three years.

Nutanix implemented two nonconsecutive weeks of furloughs for a quarter of its employees and cut executive team members’ salaries by 10%.

Not all the vendors are reducing staff yet, though. NetApp CEO Kurian said the company reached its target goal of adding 200 primary sales reps, a quarter ahead of schedule.

Pure Storage’s Giancarlo said it’s his “personal mission” to avoid layoffs or furloughs through the rest of 2020, although the company did have layoffs — which he called a “rebalancing” — before COVID-19 hit. “We believe we’re going to be able to perform in such a way that we will not have layoffs or furloughs,” he said.

Despite the changes to the data storage market, one constant is data is growing in volume and important in business around the world.

“While we cannot predict when the world will return to normal, the enduring importance of data is clear,” Kurian said.

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For Sale – NEC LAVIE HZ550G TOUCH LAPTOP-WIn 10 Home-4GB-256GB-Intel Core [email protected] – Lightest Laptop made 835g

Make – NEC x Lenovo

Model – Lavie HZ550G

Colour – Silver

Screen Size – 13.3″

Keyboard layout – US Qwerty plus Japanese

Processor – Intel Core i5-7200U @ 2.50GHz

RAM – 4GB

Hard Drive – 256GB SSD

Graphics Card – Intel HD Graphics 620

Screen Resolution – 1920*1080

Operating System – Windows 10 Home

835g weight

Comes with UK Lenovo charger , since NEC is part of Lenovo.

£450

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New SoftIron management tool targets Ceph storage complexity

Startup SoftIron released a new HyperDrive Storage Manager tool that aims to make open source Ceph software-defined storage, and the hardware it runs on, easier to use.

London-based SoftIron designs, builds and assembles dedicated HyperDrive appliances for Ceph software-defined storage at its manufacturing facility in Newark, Calif. Now SoftIron has developed a tool to assist system administrators in managing the software and hardware in their Ceph storage clusters.

“We’re integrating it in the way that you would normally only see in a proprietary vendor’s storage,” said Andrew Moloney, SoftIron’s vice president of strategy.

Moloney said the new HyperDrive Storage Manager could automatically discover and deploy new nodes without the user having to resort to the command-line interface. If a drive goes down, the graphical user interface can pinpoint the physical location, and users can see a flashing light next to the drive in the appliance. HyperDrive Storage Manager also can lock out multiple administrators to prevent conflicting commands, Moloney said.

“Many of those things have not been addressed and can’t be addressed if you’re not looking at the hardware and the software as one entity,” Moloney said.

Enrico Signoretti, a research analyst at GigaOm, said one of the biggest problems with Ceph is complexity. The optimized SoftIron software/hardware stack and improved graphical user interface should help to lower the barrier for enterprises to adopt Ceph, Signoretti said.

SoftIron HyperDrive
SoftIron’s HyperDrive Storage Manager tool aims to ease the management of open source Ceph storage.

SoftIron started shipping its ARM-based HyperDrive appliances for Ceph about a year ago. Appliances are available in all-flash, all-disk and hybrid configurations. The most popular model is the 120 TB HyperDrive Density Storage Node with spinning disks and solid-state drives, according to Moloney. He said the average deployment is about 1 PB.

SoftIron has about 20 customers using HyperDrive in areas such as high-performance computing, analytics and data-intensive research projects. Customers include the University of Minnesota’s Supercomputing Institute, the University of Kentucky, national laboratories, government departments, and financial service firms, Moloney said.

SoftIron’s competition includes Ambedded Technology, a Taiwanese company that also makes an ARM-based Ceph Storage Appliance, as well as Red Hat and SUSE, which both offer supported versions of Ceph and tested third-party server hardware options.

Dennis Hahn, principal storage analyst at Omdia, said Red Hat and SUSE tend to focus on enterprise and traditional data centers, and SoftIron could find opportunities with smaller data centers and edge deployments for use cases such as retail, healthcare and industrial automation, with sensors gathering data.

Hahn said customers often look for lower-cost storage with edge use cases, and SoftIron’s HyperDrive appliances could play well there, with its AMD’s ARM processors that generally cost less than Intel’s x86.

Moloney said that Ceph can be “quite hardware sensitive” for anyone trying to get the best performance out of it. Citing an example, he said that SoftIron found it could optimize I/O and dramatically improve performance with an ARM64 processor by directly attaching all 14 storage drives. Moloney said that SoftIron also saw that using an SSD just for journaling and spinning media for storage could boost performance at the “right price point.”

Those who assume that software-defined data center technologies — whether storage, network or compute — can run great on “any kind of vanilla hardware” will be disappointed, Moloney said.

“In reality, there are big sacrifices that you make when you decide to do that, especially in open source, when you think about performance and efficiency and scalability,” Moloney said. “Our mission and our vision is about redefining that software-defined data center. The way we believe to do that is to run open source on what we call task-specific appliances.”

In addition HyperDrive storage, SoftIron plans to release a top-of-rack HyperSwitch, based on the open source SONiC network operating system, and a HyperCast transcoding appliance, using open source FFmpeg software for audio and video processing, within the next three months. Moloney said SoftIron is now “hitting the gas” and moving into an expansion phase since receiving $34 million in Series B funding in March, when he joined the company.

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Steer clear of trouble while following the Office 365 roadmap

Microsoft will make several changes to the Office 365 platform this year that will affect enterprise users. Email client changes and new features in the Office suite and subscriptions can increase support calls, but administrators can help themselves through training and engagement.

Microsoft, which was once tolerant of customers on older products, is pushing customers to adopt the latest Windows 10 build and Office suite to take advantage of new Office 365 functionality and capabilities. At time of publication, the Office 365 roadmap shows nearly 250 features in development with nearly 150 rolling out. Some of the changes include:

  • After October 2020, only Office 2019 and Office Pro Plus will be allowed to connect to Office 365 services, such as email on Exchange Online and SharePoint Online;
  • Microsoft Outlook will receive several changes to its user interface throughout 2020;
  • Office Groups and Microsoft Teams will be the focus for collaboration tool development;
  • Office ProPlus is no longer supported in Windows 8.1, Windows 7 or older on the client operating system and Windows Server 2012, 2012 R2 and 2016 on the server side.

Given the number of updates in the works, many administrators realize that the wave of change will affect many of their users, especially if it requires upgrading any legacy Office suite products such as Office 2013, 2016 and even 2010. To ensure a smooth transition with many of the new Office 365 tools and expected changes, IT workers must take several steps to prepare.

Develop an Office 365 or Office 2019 adoption plan

One of the first steps for IT is to plot out a strategy that outlines the upcoming changes and what needs to be done to complete the adoption process. During this step, the IT team must detail the various software changes to implement — upgrades to the Office suite, introduction of Microsoft Teams and other similar items. The adoption plan can define the details around training material, schedules, resources and timelines needed.

Identify platform champions to help encourage adoption

To be more effective when it comes to gaining the trust of their end users and keeping them invested with the upcoming Office 365 roadmap features, administrators must identify a few platform champions within the business to help build support within the end-user groups and outside of IT.

Build excitement around the upcoming changes

Changes are generally met with some resistance from end users, and this is especially the case when it comes to changing tools that are heavily used such as Outlook, Word, Excel and certain online services. To motivate end users to embrace some of the new applications coming out in 2020, administrators must highlight the benefits such as global smart search, a new look and feel for the email client and several enhancements coming in Microsoft Teams.

Be flexible with training materials and methods

Everyone learns differently, so any training content that administrators provide to the end users must come in several formats. Some of the popular delivery mechanisms include short videos, one-page PDF guides with tips and tricks, blog postings and even podcasts. One other option is to outsource the training process by using a third-party vendor that can deliver training material, tests and other content through an online learning system. Some of the groups that offer this service include BrainStorm, Microsoft Learning and Global Knowledge Training.

Monitor progress and highlight success stories

Once IT begins to roll out the adoption plan and the training to the end users, it is important to monitor the progress by performing frequent checks to identify the users actively participating in the training and using the different tools available to them. One way for the administrators to monitor Office activation is through the Office 365 admin portal under the reports section. Some of the Office usage and activation reports will identify who is making full use of the platform and the ones lagging behind who might require extra assistance to build their skills.

Stay on top of the upcoming changes from Microsoft

End users are not the only ones who need training. Given the fast rate that the Office 365 platform changes, IT administrators have a full-time job in continuing to review the new additions and changes to the applications and services. Online resources like Microsoft 365 Roadmap and blog posts by Microsoft and general technology sites provide valuable insights into what is being rolled out and what upcoming changes to expect.

Share stories and keep the door open for continuous conversations

Microsoft Teams and Yammer are highly recommended for administrators to interact with their end users as they are adopting new Office 365 tools. This gives end users a way to share feedback and allows others to join the conversation to help IT gauge the overall sentiment around the changes in Office 365. They also provide IT with an avenue to make some announcements related to major future changes and evaluate how their end users respond.

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Sony Semiconductor Solutions and Microsoft partner to create smart camera solutions for enterprise customers – Stories

Companies collaborate to make video analytics solutions more accessible in order to drive better business outcomes

TOKYO — May 19, 2020 — Sony Semiconductor Solutions (Sony) and Microsoft Corp. (Microsoft) today announced they are partnering to create solutions that make AI-powered smart cameras and video analytics easier to access and deploy for their mutual customers.

Sony logoAs a result of the partnership, the companies will embed Microsoft Azure AI capabilities on Sony’s intelligent vision sensor IMX500, which extracts useful information out of images in smart cameras and other devices. Sony will also create a smart camera managed app powered by Azure IoT and Cognitive Services that complements the IMX500 sensor and expands the range and capability of video analytics opportunities for enterprise customers. The combination of these two solutions will bring together Sony’s cutting-edge imaging & sensing technologies, including the unique functionality of high-speed edge AI processing, with Microsoft’s cloud expertise and AI platform to uncover new video analytics opportunities for customers and partners across a variety of industries.

“By linking Sony’s innovative imaging and sensing technology with Microsoft’s excellent cloud AI services, we will deliver a powerful and convenient platform to the smart camera market. Through this platform, we hope to support the creativity of our partners and contribute to overcoming challenges in various industries,” said Terushi Shimizu, Representative Director and President, Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation.

“Video analytics and smart cameras can drive better business insights and outcomes across a wide range of scenarios for businesses,” said Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president and commercial chief marketing officer at Microsoft. “Through this partnership, we’re combining Microsoft’s expertise in providing trusted, enterprise-grade AI and analytics solutions with Sony’s established leadership in the imaging sensors market to help uncover new opportunities for our mutual customers and partners.”

Video analytics has emerged as a way for enterprise customers across industries to uncover new revenue opportunities, streamline operations and solve challenges. For example, retailers can use smart cameras to detect when to refill products on a shelf or to better understand the optimal number of available open checkout counters according to the queue length. Additionally, a manufacturer might use a smart camera to identify hazards on its manufacturing floor in real time before injuries occur. Traditionally, however, such applications — which rely on gathering data distributed among many smart cameras across different sites like stores, warehouses and distribution centers — struggle to optimize the allocation of compute resources, resulting in cost or power consumption increases.

To address these challenges, Sony and Microsoft will partner to simplify access to computer vision solutions by embedding Azure AI technology from Microsoft into Sony’s intelligent vision sensor IMX500 as well as enabling partners to embed their own AI models. This integration will result in smarter, more advanced cameras for use in enterprise scenarios as well as a more efficient allocation of resources between the edge and the cloud to drive cost and power consumption efficiencies.

Sony’s smart camera managed app powered by Azure is targeted toward independent software vendors (ISVs) specializing in computer vision and video analytics solutions, as well as smart camera original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) aspiring to add value to their hardware offerings. The app will complement the IMX500 sensor and will serve as the foundation on which ISVs and OEMs can train AI models to create their own customer- and industry-specific video analytics and computer vision solutions that address enterprise customer demands. The app will simplify key workflows and take reasonable security measures designed to protect data privacy and security, allowing ISVs to spend less time on routine, low-value integration and provisioning work and more time on creating unique solutions to meet customers’ demands. It will also enable enterprise customers to more easily find, train and deploy AI models for video analytics scenarios.

As part of the partnership, Microsoft and Sony will also work together to facilitate hands-on co-innovation with partners and enterprise customers in the areas of computer vision and video analytics as part of Microsoft’s AI & IoT Insider Labs program. Microsoft’s AI & IoT Insider Labs offer access and facilities to help build, develop, prototype and test customer solutions, working in partnership with Microsoft experts and other solution providers like Sony. The companies will begin working with select customers within these co-innovation centers later this year.

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.

About Sony Semiconductor Solutions

Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation is the global leader in image sensors. We strive to provide advanced imaging technologies that bring greater convenience and joy to people’s lives. In addition, we also work to develop and bring to market new kinds of sensing technologies with the aim of offering various solutions that will take the visual and recognition capabilities of both human and machines to greater heights. For more information, please visit: https://www.sony-semicon.co.jp/e/

For more information, press only:

Microsoft

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, [email protected]

Sony

Sony Corporate Communications, [email protected]

 

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Remote work could cause mobile network problems in a pandemic

The move to make remote work the norm during the coronavirus pandemic could push mobile networks to the brink.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented changes, one of which has been the scale at which employees have been working from home. Mobile networks in the UK reported problems on March 17, although the carriers denied it was connected to the rise in home working.

Still, industry observers said the infrastructure that companies rely on to deliver work-at-home services such as video conferencing, virtual desktops or even phone calls could experience disruptions in the face of prolonged heavy usage.

Mark BowkerMark Bowker

“The spike in activity that has been initiated with work-from-home policies is going to test potential network choke points, bandwidth constraints and the ability of collaboration apps to scale to new levels,” said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. 

Issues already?

Forrester Research principal analyst Dan Bieler said he had already heard reports of certain elements of mobile networks being under strain, and, anecdotally, said he had been on calls in which the quality and connectivity was not what it had been.

Dan BielerDan Bieler

“That’s not entirely surprising,” he said, given the larger percentage of people now working from home.

Bieler noted that everyone who has the same mobile phone carrier within a certain area is sharing the wireless spectrum. The mobile network could be under particular stress, he said, in areas where people use their phones as hot spots to conduct business.

“If you’re in a rural context, you’re already on relatively shaky ground when it comes to cellular connectivity,” he said.

Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst at Gartner, said it was difficult to tell whether networks had been affected so far.

“[There’s been] a couple of reports of issues in some areas — dropped calls and whatnot — but that’s the kind of thing that could happen at any given time,” he said.

An extended peak

To some extent, Menezes said, networks are built to handle high traffic, but such events are brief. Weekends, for example, create a similar situation, with many streaming Netflix or playing video games.

Bill MenezesBill Menezes

“These [networks] are designed to handle theoretical peak usage, but not necessarily when the peak is shifting — it’s coming not only on the weekend, but Monday through Friday now,” he said. “It’s conceivable that you’d start seeing some bottlenecks in areas — especially on the cellular network — that weren’t designed for the constant high level of usage the way the wired broadband networks were.”

People with inefficient home internet connections, Menezes said, might start using their mobile phones as hotspots, furthering the strain on the network. If mobile traffic climbs above weekend levels, he said, there could be disruption.

It’s conceivable that you’d start seeing some bottlenecks in areas — especially on the cellular network — that weren’t designed for the constant high level of usage the way the wired broadband networks were.
Bill MenezesSenior principal analyst, Gartner

“If you look at events that have happened in the past — like the Boston Marathon bombing — even the first responders, who had network prioritization for making calls or doing data sessions, were having trouble getting through, simply because of the overwhelming volume of usage,” he said.

Dealing with heightened traffic

Should the use of mobile phone networks exceed what the available infrastructure can provide, experts said, there is not much carriers can do in terms of bolstering capacity.

“Ultimately, the network infrastructure we have right now is the network infrastructure we will have in four months, six months — however long this situation will last,” Bieler said.

Beyond how long a network improvement might take, carriers may be leery of spending billions of dollars at a time when the economy is uncertain, according to Bieler.

“Nobody knows how long this will last,” he said. While it is unlikely people will be working from home for years on end, Bieler said, carriers face a lack of certainty.

Menezes said they may instead look at other means of freeing up bandwidth.

“One of the things they can do — and they’ve done this in the past — is slow data speeds if the network gets too congested. Obviously, that’s not an optimal type of situation,” he said. “It could either be slowing down speeds for the heaviest users — folks who are home and are trying to use 100 gigabytes of data because they’re doing online gaming. They may be the types of people who are throttled first.”

Another approach, Menezes said, would be a general throttling. For example, limiting everyone to standard-definition video streaming as opposed to 4K.

Bieler said carriers in Italy and Spain have already announced some form of throttling.

Given the hammering the economy has taken, Bieler expects to see the continuance of work operations — ensuring companies keep cash flowing and get projects done on time — given precedence over personal entertainment.

Encouraging people to use networks at off-peak times, Menezes said, could be another way to reduce the strain.

“You see the same thing with utilities, setting up time-of-use pricing. During peak hours, it costs more to buy electricity than during the early morning or evening,” he said. “That’s not necessarily going to help people who have to work from 9 to 5, but the carriers could use those types of methods.”

The future

Bieler said it will be interesting to see how the move to mass remote work will change the way people work and communicate. If the networks can indeed support the additional traffic posed by working and learning from home, it may lead to a fundamental shift in the way things are done.

Enterprise Strategy Group’s Bowker said the situation might emphasize how functional technology has become at enabling mobility and flexibility.

“[This is] a time to recognize how valuable business collaboration tools are during times like this and how employees, students, front line workers [and so forth] are staying connected and productive,” he said.

Among the areas that might be rethought, Bieler said, could be international business travel.

“Is it necessary for someone to travel to New York for a two-hour meeting?” he said.

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Slack redesigns app as Microsoft Teams hits 44 million users

Slack has redesigned its team messaging app in a bid to make the product simpler for workers who aren’t as tech-savvy as its earliest customers.

The refresh comes as Slack falls further behind rival Microsoft Teams in the race for users. The Microsoft product now has 44 million daily active users, up from 20 million four months ago, the tech giant announced Thursday.

Teams has gained 12 million daily active users in the past week alone, a spike the company attributed to the coronavirus outbreak. Slack had 12 million daily active users as of September 2019 but has likely exceeded that figure by now. Slack said it added paid customers at nearly three times its typical rate between Feb. 1 and March 18, netting 7,000 new accounts.

The Slack redesign contains several elements that make the product look more like Teams. The top of the app now features a search bar and navigation buttons. Slack also added tabs for files and notifications, such as when a user tags someone in a message.

Even more significant, Slack now lets paid users place channels within folders. For example, a user could put several channels in a “marketing team” folder. The setup is similar to how Teams groups channels — except in Slack, each user gets to customize the layout.

The inability to organize channels into groups had been a stumbling block for many Slack users, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. Slack should be able to get some companies to switch from free to paid plans with the introduction of folders as a premium service, he said.

The redesign also lays the groundwork for Slack to introduce more real-time communications features. A newly reorganized sidebar within channels features a prominent phone icon that lets users begin a video call.

Screenshot of Slack redesign
Slack unveiled a significant redesign of its app interface on Wednesday.

In the future, Slack plans to “do even more with that call button” through partnerships, said Ilan Frank, Slack’s vice president of enterprise product. Frank declined to provide further details. Currently, Slack’s built-in options for voice and video calls are far less advanced than what’s available in Teams.

The prominent call button is an example of how Slack is trying to make interacting with its app more intuitive. Over the past couple of years, the vendor has given users new ways to access third-party integrations without resorting to so-called slash commands. Those commands require users to type, for example, “/call” to start a call.

A new shortcut menu introduced with the redesign lets users access integrations through a few clicks of their mouse rather than by typing a command. At launch, the menu contains shortcuts to Slack tasks, as well as to the integrations for Cisco Webex, Simple Poll and Freshdesk, a help desk app.

Slack is giving its newest users access to the redesign first. Like many collaboration vendors, Slack has reported an uptick in usage in recent weeks as people work from home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to make sure that those new teams that are formed right now, especially in this time of remote work, see this new interface,” Frank said. Everyone else will get the update within a few weeks, except Slack’s largest customers. They will get more time to roll out the new design.

Through its latest changes, Slack wants to make its app more palatable to nontechnical users. The move could help the vendor convince more customers to deploy its app companywide. Software developers were the first to adopt Slack in droves. But that cohort now represents a minority of Slack’s users, Frank said.

Slack needs to sell to more organizations with thousands of employees to become profitable. The company has made progress in that regard: Over the past year, the number of customers each paying more than $100,000 annually for Slack increased by 55% to 893 customers.

But Slack is facing an uphill battle against Microsoft, which has a stranglehold on the market for cloud productivity tools. More than 200 million workers use Office 365 every month, giving them access to Teams at no additional charge. And Microsoft is particularly good at selling to large organizations: Ninety-three of the Fortune 100 are now using Teams.

On a conference call with investors in December 2019, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield tacitly acknowledged he would have difficulty reaching a customer base equal in size to Microsoft’s. For example, Microsoft Lync, an older collaboration application that the vendor later rebranded as Skype for Business, had 100 million users in 2015.

In response to Teams hitting 44 million users on Thursday, Slack said in a statement that its app and Teams are “different tools used for different purposes.” The company said Slack is a collaboration tool that integrates with third-party applications. Nevertheless, Microsoft has integrated Teams with other applications too. Also, Teams has most of the same collaboration features as Slack.

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For Sale – Mac Pro 2009 (4,1) – with Mojave

Spare machine to go in order to make space…

Mac Pro 2009 (4,1) with firmware updated as (5,1) compatible
– Xeon Quad-core – 2.66GHz (to be confirmed)
– 32GB RAM (4 sticks)
– 500GB SATA HDD, brackets in all bays
– Optical drive
– ATI 5770 (up to El Capitan)
– nVidia GT 630 (1GB) (Mojave)

Still outruns the ‘Darth Vader’ MacPro (2013). With a (SATA) SSD (not included), the machine flies!

GT630 can stay for El Capitan (hence both GPU cards). Working with macOS Mojave; reportedly compatible with Catalina (but not tested).

5770 must not be present for Mojava (macOS limitation)

No monitor/display. No box. Expect scuff marks on external casing.

£350 collected from my office in the Science Park (Milton Road)

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For Sale – Dell 9370 i7 FHD, Dell 7590 i7 UHD touch, Alienware m15 r1 GTX 1070

Hi Adam

I’ll make an offer of £800 for the 7590.

Before you jump to the conclusion it’s a lowball offer it’s because I can get the same spec direct from the Dell outlet for £1295.

Refurbished Cheap Laptops and 2-in-1 PCs: Dell Outlet | Dell UK

The offer is based on the fact that I’d have a contract with Dell so if there’s any repeat of the expanding battery issue (or any other potential long term fault) I can go after Dell from a legal viewpoint, I can’t do that if I buy a unit second hand from a private individual. Legal liability is over and above warranty coverage and is worth that level of difference to me, simplistically if they decide not to undertake a warranty issue as they don’t ‘agree’ with the claim then there’s nothing I can do unless I bought it from them directly.

I realise you’re pretty unlikely to accept the offer but put it out there for you to consider.

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Storytelling using data makes information easy to digest

Storytelling using data is helping make analytics digestible across entire organizations.

While the amount of available data has exploded in recent years, the ability to understand the meaning of the data hasn’t kept pace. There aren’t enough trained data scientists to meet demand, often leaving data interpretation in the hands of both line-of-business employees and high-level executives mostly guessing at the underlying meaning behind data points.

Storytelling using data, however, changes that.

A group of business intelligence software vendors are now specializing in data storytelling, producing platforms that go one step further than traditional BI platforms and attempt to give the data context by putting it in the form of a narrative.

One such vendor is Narrative Science, based in Chicago and founded in 2010. On Jan. 6, Narrative Science released a book entitled Let Your People Be People that delves into the importance of storytelling for businesses, with a particular focus on storytelling using data.

Recently, authors Nate Nichols, vice president of product architecture at Narrative Science, and Anna Schena Walsh, director of growth marketing, answered a series of questions about storytelling using data.

Here in Part II of a two-part Q&A they talk about why storytelling using data is a more effective way to interpret data than traditional BI, and how data storytelling can change the culture of an organization. In Part I, they discussed what data storytelling is and how data can be turned into a narrative that has meaning for an organization.

What does emphasis an on storytelling in the workplace look like, beyond a means of explaining the reasoning behind data points?

Nate NicholsNate Nichols

Nate Nichols: As an example of that, I’ve been more intentional since the New Year about applying storytelling to meetings I’ve led, and it’s been really helpful. It’s not like people are gathering around my knee as I launch into a 30-minute story, but just remembering to kick off a meeting with a 3-minute recap of why we’re here, where we’re coming from, what we worked on last week and what the things are that we need going forward. It’s really just putting more time into reminding people of why, the cause and effect, just helping people settle into the right mindset. Storytelling is an empirically effective way of doing it.

We didn’t start this company to be storytellers — we really wanted everyone to understand and be able to act on data. It turned out that the best way to do that was through storytelling. The world is waking up to this. It’s something we used to do — our ancestors sat around the campfire swapping stories about the hunt, or where the best potatoes are to forage for. That’s a thing we used to do, it’s a thing that kids do all the time — they’re bringing other kids into their world — and what’s happening is that a lot of that has been beaten out of us as adults. Because of the way the workforce is going, the way automation is going, we’re heading back to the importance of those soft skills, those storytelling skills.

How is storytelling using data more effective at presenting data than typical dashboards and reports?

Anna Schena WalshAnna Schena Walsh

Anna Schena Walsh: The brain is hard-wired for stories. It’s hard-wired to take in information in that storytelling arc, which is what is [attracting our attention] — what is something we thought we knew, what is something new that surprised us, and what can we do about it? If you can put that in a way that is interesting to people in a way they can understand, that is a way people will remember. That is what really motivates people, and that’s what actually causes people to take action. I think visuals are important parts of some stories, whether it be a chart or a picture, it can help drive stories home, but no matter what you’re doing to give people information, the end is usually the story. It’s verbal, it’s literate, it’s explaining something in some way. In reality, we do this a lot, but we need to be a lot more systematic about focusing on the story part.

What happens when you present an explanation with data?

Nichols: If someone sends you a bar chart and asks you to use it to make decisions and there’s no story with it at all, what your brain does is it makes up a story around it. Historically, what we’ve said is that computers are good at doing charts — we never did charts and graphs and spreadsheets because we thought they were helpful for people, we did them because that was what computers could do. We’ve forgotten that. So when we do these charts, people look at them and make up their own stories, and they may be more or less accurate depending on their intuition about the business. What we’re doing now is we want everyone to be really on the same story, hearing the same story, so by not having a hundred different people come up with a hundred different internal stories in their head, what we’re doing at Narrative Science is to try and make the story external so everyone is telling the same story.

So is it accurate to say that accuracy is a part of storytelling using data?

Schena Walsh: When I think of charts and graphs, interpreting those is a skill — it is a learned skill that comes to some people more naturally than others. In the past few decades there’s been this idea that everybody needs to be able interpret [data]. With storytelling, specifically data storytelling, it takes away the pressure of people interpreting the data for themselves. This allows people, where their skills may not be in that area … they don’t have to sit down and interpret dashboards. That’s not the best use of their talent, and data storytelling brings that information to them so they’re able to concentrate on what makes them great.

What’s the potential end result for organizations that employ data storytelling — what does it enable them to do that other organizations can’t?

With data storytelling there is a massive opportunity to have everybody in your company understand what’s happening and be able to make informed decisions much, much faster.
Anna Schena WalshDirector of growth marketing, Narrative Science

Schena Walsh: With data storytelling there is a massive opportunity to have everybody in your company understand what’s happening and be able to make informed decisions much, much faster. It’s not that information isn’t available — it certainly is — but it takes a certain set of skills to be able to find the meaning. So we look at it as empowering everybody because you’re giving them the information they need very quickly, and also giving them the ability to lean into what makes them great. The way we think about it is that if you can choose to have someone give a two-minute explanation of what’s going on in the business to everyone in the company everyday as they go into work, would you do it? And the answer is yes, and with data storytelling that’s what you can do.

I think what we’ll see as companies keep trying to move toward everyone needing to interpret data, I actually think there’s a lot of potential for burnout there in people who aren’t naturally inclined to do it. I also think there’s a speed element — it’s not as fast to have everybody learn this skill and have to do it every day themselves than to have the information serviced to them in a way they can understand.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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