Tag Archives: Microsoft

How Microsoft re-envisioned the data warehouse with Azure Synapse Analytics

About four years ago, the Microsoft Azure team began to notice a big problem troubling many of its customers. A mass migration to the cloud was in full swing, as enterprises signed up by the thousands to reap the benefits of flexible, largescale computing and data storage. But the next iteration of that tech revolution, in which companies would use their growing stores of data to get more tangible business benefits, had stalled.

Technology providers, including Microsoft, have built a variety of systems to collect, retrieve and analyze enormous troves of information that would uncover market trends and insights, paving the way toward a new era of improved customer service, innovation and efficiency.

But those systems were built independently by different engineering teams and sold as individual products and services. They weren’t designed to connect with one another, and customers would have to learn how to operate them separately, wasting time, money and precious IT talent.

“Instead of trying to add more features to each of our services, we decided to take a step back and figure out how to bring their core capabilities together to make it easy for customers to collect and analyze all of their increasingly diverse data, to break down data silos and work together more collaboratively,” said Raghu Ramakrishnan, Microsoft’s chief technology officer for data.

At its Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced the end result of a yearslong effort to address the problem: Azure Synapse Analytics, a new service that merges the capabilities of Azure SQL Data Warehouse with new enhancements such as on-demand query as a service.

Microsoft said this new offering will help customers put their data to work much more quickly, productively and securely by pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses and big data analytics systems. And, the company said, with deeper integration between Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, Azure Synapse Analytics can reduce the time required to process and share that data, speeding up the insights that businesses can glean.

What’s more, it will allow many more businesses to take advantage of game-changing technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence, which are helping scientists to better predict the weather, search engines to better understand people’s intent and workers to more easily handle mundane tasks.

This newest effort to break down data silos also builds on other Microsoft projects, such as the Open Data Initiative and Azure Data Share, which allows you to share data from multiple sources and even other organizations.

Microsoft said Azure Synapse Analytics is also designed to support the increasingly popular DevOps strategy, in which development and operations staff collaborate more closely to create and implement services that work better throughout their lifecycles.

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A learning process

Azure Synapse Analytics is the result of a lot of work, and a little trial and error.

At first, Ramakrishnan said, the team developed highlevel guidelines showing customers how to glue the systems together themselves. But they quickly realized that was too much to ask.

“That required a lot of expertise in the nitty gritty of our platforms,” Ramakrishnan said. Customers made it overwhelmingly clear that we needed to do better.”

So, the company went back to the drawing board and spent an additional two years revamping the heart of its data business, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which lets customers build, test, deploy and manage applications and services in the cloud.

A breakthrough came when the company realized that customers need to analyze all their data in a single service, without having to copy terabytes of information across various systems to use different analytic capabilities – as has traditionally been the case with data warehouses and data lakes.

With the new offering, customers can use their data analytics engine of choice, such as Apache Spark or SQL, on all their data. That’s true whether it’s structured data, such as rows of numbers on spreadsheets, or unstructured data, such as a collection of social media posts.

This project was risky. It involved deep technical surgery: completely rewriting the guts of the SQL query processing engine to optimize it for the cloud and make it capable of instantly handling big bursts of work as well as very large and diverse datasets.

It also required unprecedented integration among several teams within Microsoft, some of whom would have to make hard choices. Established plans had to be scrapped. Resources earmarked for new features would be redirected to help make the entire system work better.

“In the beginning, the conversations were often heated. But as we got into the flow of it, they became easier. We began to come together,” Ramakrishnan said.

Microsoft also had to make sure that the product would work for any company, regardless of employees’ technical expertise.

“Most companies can’t afford to hire teams of 20 people to drive data projects and wire together multiple systems. There aren’t even enough skilled people out there to do all that work,” said Daniel Yu, director of product marketing for Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence.

Making it easy for customers

Customers can bring together various sources of data into a single feed with Azure Synapse Analytics Studio, a console – or single pane of glass that will allow a business professional with minimal technical expertise to locate and collect data from multiple sources like sales, supply chain, finance and product development. They can then choose how and where to store that data, and they can use it to create reports through Microsoft’s popular Power BI analytics service.

In a matter of hours, Azure Synapse will deliver useful business insights that used to take days or even weeks and months, said Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data.

“Let’s say an executive wants a detailed report on sales performance in the eastern U.S. over the last six months,” Kumar said. Today, a data engineer has to do a lot of work to find where that data is stored and write a lot of brittle code to tie various services together. They might even have to bring in a systems integrator partner. With Azure Synapse, there’s no code required. It’s a much more intuitive experience.”

The complexity of the technical problems Azure Synapse addressed would be hard to overstate. Microsoft had to meld multiple independent components into one coherent form factor, while giving a wide range of people – from data scientists to line of business owners – their preferred tools for accessing and using data.


With Azure Synapse, there’s no code required. It’s a much more intuitive experience.”

~ Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data


That includes products like SQL Server, the open source programming interface Apache Spark, Azure Data Factory and Azure Data Studio, as well as notebook interfaces preferred by many data professionals to clean and model data.

“Getting all those capabilities to come together fluidly, making it run faster, simpler, eliminating overlapping processes – there was some scary good stuff getting done,” Ramakrishnan said.

The result is a data analytics system that will be as easy to use as a modern mobile phone. Just as the smartphone replaced several devices by making all of their core capabilities intuitively accessible in a single device, the Azure Synapse “smartphone for data” now allows a data engineer to build an entire end-to-end data pipeline in one place. It also enables data scientists and analysts to look at the underlying data in ways that are natural to them.

And just as the phone has driven waves of collaboration and business innovation, Azure Synapse will free up individuals and companies to introduce new products and services as quickly as they can dream them up, Microsoft said.

“If we can help different people view data through a lens that is natural to them, while it’s also visible to others in ways natural to them, then we will transform the way companies work,” Ramakrishnan said. That’s how we should measure our success.

Top photo: Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data, says Azure Synapse will deliver useful business insights that used to take days or even weeks and months. Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft Power Platform adds chatbots; Flow now Power Automate

More bots and automation tools went live on the Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft announced today. In their formal introductions, Microsoft said the tools will make data sources flow within applications like SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics 365, and create more efficiencies with custom apps.

The more than 400 capabilities added to the Microsoft Power Platform focus on expanding its robotic process automation potential for users, as well as new integrations between the platform and Microsoft Teams, according to a blog post by James Phillips, corporate vice president of business applications at Microsoft.

Some of those include robotic process automation (RPA) tools for Microsoft Power Automate, formerly known as Flow, which makes AI tools easier to add into PowerApps. Also newly available are tools for creating user interfaces in Power Automate.

AI Builder adds a point-and-click means to fold common processes such as forms processing, object detection and text classification into apps — processes commonly used for SharePoint and OneDrive content curation.

Microsoft is adding these tools, as well as new security features to analytics platform Power BI, in part to coax customers who remain on premises into the Azure cloud, said G2 analyst Michael Fauscette.

PowerApps reduce the development needed to create necessary connections between systems in the cloud, such as content in OneDrive and SharePoint with work being done in Dynamics 365 CRM, Teams and ERP applications.

Microsoft Power Automate, formerly Flow
Microsoft Power Automate, a low-code app-design tool,is the new version ofFlow.

Chatbots go live

Also announced as generally available at Microsoft Ignite are Power Virtual Agents, do-it-yourself chatbots on the Microsoft Power Platform.

They’ll likely first be used by customer service teams on Dynamics 365, said Constellation Research analyst R “Ray” Wang, but they could spread to other business areas such as human resources, which could use the bots to answer common questions during employee recruiting or onboarding.

If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.
R ‘Ray’ WangAnalyst, Constellation Research

While some companies may choose outside consultants and developers to build custom chatbots instead of making their own on the Microsoft Power Platform, Wang said some companies may try it to build them internally. Large call centers employing many human agents and running on Microsoft applications would be logical candidates for piloting new bots.

“I think they’ll start coming here to build their virtual agents,” Wang said. “[Bot] training will be an issue, but it’s a matter of scale. If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.”

Microsoft Power Platform evolves

PowerApps, which launched in late 2015, originally found utility with users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM who needed to automate and standardize processes across data sets inside the Microsoft environment and connect to outside platforms such as Salesforce, said Gartner analyst Ed Anderson.

Use quickly spread to SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics ERP users, as they found that Flow — a low-code app-design tool — enabled the creation of connectors and apps without developer overhead. Third-party consultants and developers also used PowerApps to speed up deliverables to clients. Power BI, Power Automate and PowerApps together became known as the Microsoft Power Platform a year ago.

“PowerApps are really interesting for OneDrive and SharePoint because it lets you quickly identify data sources and quickly do something meaningful with them — connect them together, add some logic around them or customized interfaces,” Anderson said.

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Microsoft self-service policy for Office 365 raises concerns

Office 365 admins must sacrifice some degree of control as Microsoft allows end users to purchase certain capabilities themselves for Power Platform products.

Microsoft Power Platform includes Power BI, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, which have business intelligence, low-code development and workflow capabilities, respectively. These applications are included in most Office 365 enterprise subscriptions. Previously, only administrators could purchase licensing for an organization.

On Oct. 23, Microsoft announced that it would roll out self-service purchasing to U.S. cloud customers starting Nov. 19.

Reda Chouffani, VP of development at Biz Technology SolutionsReda Chouffani

Widespread adoption of the SaaS model has already caused significant communication gaps between IT and end users, said Reda Chouffani, vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions, a consulting firm in Mooresville, N.C.

“Now introducing this and knowing that Microsoft has over 140 million business subscribers that are empowered to make purchasing decisions on certain apps within the suite … that will make it where more of these [communication issues] will occur, and IT is not going to take it lightly,” he said.

Users with non-guest user accounts in a managed Azure Active Directory tenant will be able to make purchases directly with a credit card, according to a recent Microsoft FAQ. IT administrators can turn off the self-service purchasing policy through PowerShell, however, according to an update this week from Microsoft. Microsoft also extended the rollout date to Jan. 14, 2020, to give admins more time to prepare for the change.

The decision to allow IT to disable the capability likely came about from customer pushback about security concerns, said Willem Bagchus, messaging and collaboration specialist at United Bank, based in Parkersburg, W.Va.

IT admins may still be deterred by the self-service purchasing capability, because some may not be aware they can turn it off via PowerShell, Bagchus said.

“For a small-business IT admin who does everything by themselves or depends on the web only for [PowerShell] functions, it’ll be a bit of a challenge,” he added.

Security, licensing and support concerns

Security remains a top concern for many Office 365 customers, said Doug Hemminger, director of Microsoft services at SPR, a technology consulting firm in Chicago. Midsize and large businesses will be scrambling to turn the self-service purchasing capability off, he said.

“A lot of companies are worried about the data access issues that those users may inadvertently expose their company to,” Hemminger said. “Monitoring is a key part of implementing a certain environment and making sure that governance is in place, so many companies that I work with don’t want to give their employees the ability to go out and buy their own licenses.”

In the world we live in today, employees need access to applications to get their jobs done.
Mark BowkerSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Office 365 admins can apply data management and access policies to Microsoft self-service purchases, which may alleviate some security concerns. End users do not need administrator approval before purchasing an application with a credit card, however.

“Most users will not think twice before purchasing something if it’s going to help them, which means that security may not necessarily be top of mind,” Chouffani said. “That can make it very difficult, because now everybody can pick their product of choice without truly doing some sort of due diligence and evaluation.”

Others said Microsoft will handle security issues properly.

“Microsoft has proved to me that they’re very serious about security,” said Willem Bagchus, messaging and collaboration specialist at United Bank, based in Parkersburg, W.Va. “Anything that may happen from a security perspective, [Microsoft] will be on top of it right away.”

When it comes to licensing, organizations need to administer checks and balances, Chouffani said.

Self-service purchasers can access a limited view of the Microsoft 365 admin center and assign licenses to other end users, according to the Microsoft FAQ.

Daniel Beato, director of technology at TNTMAXDaniel Beato

“Licensing is the least of our worries,” said Daniel Beato, director of technology at TNTMAX, an IT consultancy based in Wyckoff, N.J. “The user can do their own licensing; they will pay with their own credit card or even the company credit card.”

Employees will likely be held responsible for company purchases, however, when an organization reviews its finances, Beato said.

It is also unclear who is expected to provide end-user support when an application fails, Chouffani said.

Microsoft will provide standard support for self-service purchasers, according to the company.

A ‘smart decision for Microsoft’

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

Microsoft’s self-service policy is a smart one for the company, said Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

“In the world we live in today, employees need access to applications to get their jobs done,” he said. “Today’s application environment is very, very dynamic.”

Unlike other Office 365 products, such as Word and Excel, Power Platform applications aren’t widely used, Bowker said. Instead, they are used mainly by niche employees such as corporate developers and data analytics professionals.

“I think overall this will be a good thing,” Bagchus said. “More users and more installations will improve a product.”

Communication is key

No matter their personal feelings on the Microsoft self-service policy, Office 365 admins should be prepared for the changes and adjust accordingly.

Admins should have a good relationship with their organization’s Microsoft sales representative and keep in regular contact with a point person for updates, Bagchus said.

“That way you won’t get blindsided,” he said. “You can evolve with it.”

IT should also collaborate with end users to understand the needs of the business and to be a part of the solution, Chouffani said.

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New telephony controls coming to Microsoft Teams admin center

Microsoft will add several telephony controls to the Microsoft Teams admin center in the coming months, a significant move in the vendor’s campaign to retire Skype for Business Online by mid-2021.

Admins will be able to build, test and manage custom dial plans through the Teams portal. Additionally, organizations that use Microsoft Calling Plan will be able to create and assign phone numbers and designate emergency addresses for users.

Currently, admins can only perform those tasks in Teams through the legacy admin center for Skype for Business Online. Microsoft has been gradually moving controls to the Teams admin center, with telephony controls among the last to switch over.

Microsoft plans to begin adding the new telephony controls to the Teams admin center in November, according to the vendor’s Office 365 Roadmap webpage. The company will also introduce some advanced features it didn’t support in Skype for Business Online, a cloud-based app within Office 365.

The update will let admins configure what’s known as dynamic emergency calling. The feature — supported only in the on-premises version of Skype for Business — automatically detects a user’s location when they place a 911 call. It then transmits that information to emergency officials.

The admin center for Skype for Business Online is “fairly rudimentary,” said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems, a Microsoft-focused systems integrator. The new console for Teams provides advancements like the ability to sort and filter users and phone numbers.

“All of these little features add up to making a more friendly voice platform for an administrator,” Arbuthnot said. “They are getting closer and closer to everything being administered in the Teams admin center.”

Microsoft Teams still missing advanced calling controls, features

The superior design of the admin center notwithstanding, Teams still lacks crucial tools for organizations too large to use the management console.

For those enterprises, Teams PowerShell is the go-to tool for auto-configuring settings on a large scale using code-based commands. However, PowerShell cannot do everything that the Teams admin center can do. Microsoft has also yet to release APIs that would allow a third-party consultant to help manage a Fortune 500 company’s transition to Teams calling.

“When you’re up to hundreds of thousands of seats, you don’t really want to be going to an admin center and manually administrating,” Arbuthnot said. “The PowerShell and APIs tend to lag a little bit.”

A lack of parity between the telephony features of Skype for Business and Teams had been one of the biggest roadblocks preventing organizations from fully transitioning from the old to the new platform.

But at this point, Teams should be suitable for everyone except those with the most complex needs, such as receptionists, Arbuthnot said.

Other features that Microsoft is planning include compliance call recording, virtual desktop infrastructure support and contact center integrations.

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SAP Embrace gets new love from SAP-Microsoft partnership

SAP and Microsoft are making their cloud relationship almost exclusive with a new program.

SAP Embrace was announced in May as a program to help SAP customers move workloads to public cloud hyperscalers Microsoft Azure, AWS and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Earlier this month, SAP and Microsoft announced a new development in the program with a three-year agreement to use Microsoft Azure as the preferred hyperscaler infrastructure provider for SAP systems. The deal is intended to address SAP’s issues in moving customers both to the cloud and migration to S/4HANA by providing a simpler, more cost-effective and risk-mitigated path.

SAP Embrace is intended to provide SAP customers a path to the cloud on Microsoft Azure infrastructure, according to the companies. SAP and Microsoft, along with systems integrators, including Deloitte, Accenture and IBM, will offer SAP customers bundles of cloud services, including unified reference architectures, road maps and market-specific information to help mitigate costs and risks of moving to the cloud. Microsoft field sales teams will sell the SAP Embrace bundles directly to customers and Microsoft will also embed and resell components of SAP Cloud Platform in Azure.

SAP worked with Microsoft, AWS and Google to develop the initial phase of SAP Embrace, but subsequent development over the summer led to the partnership agreement with Microsoft to use Azure as its preferred public cloud provider, said David Robinson, SAP senior vice president and managing director of the cloud business group.

SAP customers are in large measure satisfied that any of the three public cloud providers can handle SAP HANA database workloads and run HANA-based applications, Robinson said, but they are looking for a clear and simple path to the cloud, which was the main goal of SAP Embrace.  

“[Customers] would like to understand that, as they migrate to S/4HANA in conjunction with the lift to the cloud, they can follow a path that leads to the intelligent enterprise and will give the most cost-effective and risk managed journey,” he said.

SAP customers lean toward Azure

David Robinson, senior vice president and managing director of cloud business group, SAPDavid Robinson

The SAP-Microsoft partnership came about mainly because the majority of customers that SAP worked with to validate the SAP Embrace model were already leaning toward Azure, Robinson said.

This was primarily because Microsoft had demonstrated that Azure provided a consistent enterprise degree of engagement and support beyond just the compute network and data store, such as support services and lifecycle management, according to Robinson.

“Microsoft understands the enterprise to speak the enterprise language, and has processes wrapped around their compute network and storage around Azure that are more aligned with what SAP customers need to be able to consume and drive their S/4HANA environment,” he said.

SAP and Microsoft relationship may get cozier

It’s unusual that SAP would go with something that’s relatively exclusive, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, but it may be a sign of more to come from SAP and Microsoft.

Joshua Greenbaum, principal, Enterprise Applications ConsultingJoshua Greenbaum

“We know that Microsoft’s SuccessFactors implementation runs on Azure and they’re moving their ERP to Azure, so we know Microsoft wants as many workloads as it can get on Azure and they’re willing to incent SAP to do it,” Greenbaum said. “But I think there’s more to this. There will be another component of this deal coming, because I’m pretty sure that the numbers don’t add up for just this much exclusivity.”

Although the Microsoft Azure deal is not exclusive, the other two hyperscalers were not pleased at the recent addendum to SAP Embrace, Greenbaum said.

He pointed out that Robert Enslin, Google president of cloud sales and former SAP executive, and Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO, are likely tapping their considerable experience to develop enterprise applications.

“It’s pretty clear that they’re going for an apps play that can compete with SAP,” Greenbaum said.

For AWS, on the other hand, Amazon’s relentless expansion into virtually every business may give potential customers pause before they entrust their systems to AWS.

“On the Amazon side there’s a lot of customers — retail, logistics, you name it — where Amazon the mothership is encroaching into a lot of core business areas, so a lot of folks are getting nervous about putting their enterprise software on the Amazon cloud,” he said. “In a way, Amazon sort of backed itself into this position.”

Other public cloud options still available

SAP customers still have the option to deploy S/4HANA and SAP HANA-based applications in any public cloud provider they want, Robinson said.

AWS recently announced new memory upgrades to the EC2 cloud infrastructure designed to manage S/4HANA sized workloads. 

“If a customer still wants to run it on AWS or Google, they can still do it; the support is the same and we continue to certify these workloads on AWS on GCP,” Robinson said. “The difference now is not the support or the ability to run, certify and upgrade — we will always certify that these infrastructures perform on database workloads as we design. But with Microsoft, we’re adding an additional degree of abstraction on top of that around the harmonization of the cloud platform services.”

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Stepping into each other’s shoes leads to better online shopping and a newly innovative relationship for Mastercard and Microsoft | Transform

Mastercard and Microsoft walked a mile in each other’s shoes – or in an update on the old adage, spent three days hacking together – and came up with a new service to make shopping online easier and more secure around the world, not only for shoppers, but also retailers and banks.

The collaborative experience also kicked off a new way of thinking about innovation that promises to lead to even more developments to help e-commerce thrive.

New York-based Mastercard is a leading technology company in the payments space, processing about $20 billion in transactions a day across more than 210 countries or territories. And Microsoft is one of the top e-commerce merchants in the world, with online sales from the Microsoft Store, Xbox, Azure, Office 365 and more.

Both companies have felt an urgency in shifting toward online payments – especially with the increasing popularity of mobile apps and devices – that has made security more difficult even as consumers expect greater ease of use. So they brought together teams of engineers to tackle the issue at the recent Microsoft global Hackathon at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

man at table holding credit card and looking at computer screen“Both our infrastructures are used in creating online transactions, so we owe it to our customers to make them safe, secure and simple,” says Raj Dhamodharan, Mastercard’s executive vice president of channel propositions and partnerships. “Through co-innovation our customers benefit, because we’re solving a pain point that otherwise might take years to solve.”

The collaboration comes amid changing cultures at Microsoft and Mastercard that are being fostered from the top down.

“Both companies have shifted their mentality that by partnering and bringing in diverse thoughts, we build better products and work better together,” says Will White, Microsoft’s director of payments. “The benefit is you get true innovation from two companies that have radically different missions, in different industries, with different constituents.”

Mastercard provides payment services to Microsoft’s online stores, and Microsoft sells technology services back. So the Hackathon teams built on that symbiotic relationship and experimented with ways to securely store payment info, exchange credentials and authenticate identity with biometrics – using a PC to make a theoretical purchase of a game on the Microsoft Store as a trial.

Microsoft’s double role as merchant and tech company gave Mastercard engineers a better understanding of the challenges both stakeholders face, says Mohamed Abouelenin, Mastercard’s director of product development and innovation.

“That helped us push the bar in developing new services to help provide the best experience for consumers,” Abouelenin says.

It was the first time Mastercard had participated in another company’s Hackathon. The experience energized both groups and left them wanting more.

“I saw a big difference in my team when they got back, in how they approach their jobs and have a more customer-oriented perception of things now,” says Anand Mallepally, Mastercard’s vice president of cyber and intelligence solutions, whose group is based in St. Louis. Physically being together in Redmond was “a gamechanger” for the engineers as far as seeing situations from each other’s perspectives, he says. “I can foresee more and more innovative ideas now.”

A hand holding a credit card with a chip over a payment machineThat’s crucial at a time when chips on credit cards are stopping more fraud, leading criminals increasingly to focus on online forums instead, says Mallepally, who’s been working on fraud prevention and digital platforms with Mastercard for more than 12 years.

His team has to tread carefully, however, acknowledging that security protocols can bring friction to the shopping experience. Shoppers are turned off when they have to remember passwords or go through extra verification steps; retailers sell less when transactions take extra time; and the banks that issue credit cards incur extra expenses when they have to develop and implement new safety measures. So it’s critical to consider enhancements to improve the consumer’s experience, along with additional protections.

The situation is complicated by a new regulation Europe implemented in September that requires banks to communicate with the customer for two-factor authentication before online purchases – even for recurring charges such as monthly bills for utilities or streaming services.

The bank might send a code to a credit card customer’s mobile phone or email address, for example, and the customer has to type that in on the checkout screen before a purchase can proceed. That’s expected to reduce fraud but increase friction. It’s also expected to be adopted by other markets around the world, including the U.S., in coming years.

index finger resting on phone screenBut biometric authentication on mobile devices – such as a fingerprint scanner – has been approved to allow consumers to skip that step.

That got Microsoft’s White to thinking.

“How do we level the playing field between the mobile checkout experience and the PC checkout experience?” he wondered. “And why can’t we make e-commerce payments as fast and simple as we have in the physical world, where you tap or insert a card and you’re done?”

The Hackathon teams found an answer to both, with an extra measure of innovation thrown in.

They decided to leverage the infrastructure Microsoft already has with its Windows Hello technology, which allows 900 million Windows 10 users to access their devices with a fingerprint or facial recognition, instead of a password. Through their combined efforts, they came up with a new feature that screens the user’s biometrics again and then, as long as they match the Windows Hello identification, automatically authenticates the buyer and approves purchases. The new service will give banks and merchants the assurance they’re dealing with actual customers, and shoppers won’t have to go through additional steps to prove themselves.

And the solution can be used across many types of computers, laptops and tablets, without requiring people to own or use a specific device, as the mobile-phone offerings do.

woman on couch holding credit card and looking at computer screen“It’s a solution that neither Mastercard nor Microsoft could have done on our own,” says Matt Rossmeissl, Microsoft’s general manager for commerce engineering operations. “We each had to bring our own expertise to the table to get this done. They’ve got the relationships with the banks, and we’ve got hundreds of millions of Windows devices out there.”

Biometric authentication is built to make online shopping easier for everyone, but it will be especially helpful for those with disabilities, says Priyanka Banerjee, a senior program manager under Rossmeissl. Entering a code for two-factor authentication is a difficult process for anyone who’s blind, for example, or can’t use their fingers to type, especially since those codes are time-limited and expire quickly. But biometric authentication removes that friction.

“Microsoft is very focused on inclusiveness and accessibility, and that’s something that hadn’t yet been thought of in this scenario” by financial services companies, Banerjee says. “What we have built can be extended to those with disabilities, with no extra setup required, and we can make the experience of everybody better.”

The collaborative process is also helping to bring the concept to market faster. The Hackathon engineers were able to accomplish in a few days together what would have taken a month or more apart, says Mallepally.

“We created a prototype in only a week’s time, and I think that will change the relationship between us and Mastercard going forward, because we’ll be more willing to try new things and go do growth hacking,” Microsoft’s Rossmeissl says. “We have at least 10 conversations in parallel going on with Mastercard now.

“If you approach a challenge with an open mind and go into it thinking that what we produce will be better if we work together and leverage our unique independent strengths, we’ll find solutions to problems that could be far better than what we could have done if we’d tried to solve them ourselves.”

All photos provided by Mastercard.

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Author: Steve Clarke

Experts on demand: Your direct line to Microsoft security insight, guidance, and expertise – Microsoft Security

Microsoft Threat Experts is the managed threat hunting service within Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) that includes two capabilities: targeted attack notifications and experts on demand.

Today, we are extremely excited to share that experts on demand is now generally available and gives customers direct access to real-life Microsoft threat analysts to help with their security investigations.

With experts on demand, Microsoft Defender ATP customers can engage directly with Microsoft security analysts to get guidance and insights needed to better understand, prevent, and respond to complex threats in their environments. This capability was shaped through partnership with multiple customers across various verticals by investigating and helping mitigate real-world attacks. From deep investigation of machines that customers had a security concern about, to threat intelligence questions related to anticipated adversaries, experts on demand extends and supports security operations teams.

The other Microsoft Threat Experts capability, targeted attack notifications, delivers alerts that are tailored to organizations and provides as much information as can be quickly delivered to bring attention to critical threats in their network, including the timeline, scope of breach, and the methods of intrusion. Together, the two capabilities make Microsoft Threat Experts a comprehensive managed threat hunting solution that provides an additional layer of expertise and optics for security operations teams.

Experts on the case

By design, the Microsoft Threat Experts service has as many use cases as there are unique organizations with unique security scenarios and requirements. One particular case showed how an alert in Microsoft Defender ATP led to informed customer response, aided by a targeted attack notification that progressed to an experts on demand inquiry, resulting in the customer fully remediating the incident and improving their security posture.

In this case, Microsoft Defender ATP endpoint protection capabilities recognized a new malicious file in a single machine within an organization. The organization’s security operations center (SOC) promptly investigated the alert and developed the suspicion it may indicate a new campaign from an advanced adversary specifically targeting them.

Microsoft Threat Experts, who are constantly hunting on behalf of this customer, had independently spotted and investigated the malicious behaviors associated with the attack. With knowledge about the adversaries behind the attack and their motivation, Microsoft Threat Experts sent the organization a bespoke targeted attack notification, which provided additional information and context, including the fact that the file was related to an app that was targeted in a documented cyberattack.

To create a fully informed path to mitigation, experts pointed to information about the scope of compromise, relevant indicators of compromise, and a timeline of observed events, which showed that the file executed on the affected machine and proceeded to drop additional files. One of these files attempted to connect to a command-and-control server, which could have given the attackers direct access to the organization’s network and sensitive data. Microsoft Threat Experts recommended full investigation of the compromised machine, as well as the rest of the network for related indicators of attack.

Based on the targeted attack notification, the organization opened an experts on demand investigation, which allowed the SOC to have a line of communication and consultation with Microsoft Threat Experts. Microsoft Threat Experts were able to immediately confirm the attacker attribution the SOC had suspected. Using Microsoft Defender ATP’s rich optics and capabilities, coupled with intelligence on the threat actor, experts on demand validated that there were no signs of second-stage malware or further compromise within the organization. Since, over time, Microsoft Threat Experts had developed an understanding of this organization’s security posture, they were able to share that the initial malware infection was the result of a weak security control: allowing users to exercise unrestricted local administrator privilege.

Experts on demand in the current cybersecurity climate

On a daily basis, organizations have to fend off the onslaught of increasingly sophisticated attacks that present unique security challenges in security: supply chain attacks, highly targeted campaigns, hands-on-keyboard attacks. With Microsoft Threat Experts, customers can work with Microsoft to augment their security operations capabilities and increase confidence in investigating and responding to security incidents.

Now that experts on demand is generally available, Microsoft Defender ATP customers have an even richer way of tapping into Microsoft’s security experts and get access to skills, experience, and intelligence necessary to face adversaries.

Experts on demand provide insights into attacks, technical guidance on next steps, and advice on risk and protection. Experts can be engaged directly from within the Windows Defender Security Center, so they are part of the existing security operations experience:

We are happy to bring experts on demand within reach of all Microsoft Defender ATP customers. Start your 90-day free trial via the Microsoft Defender Security Center today.

Learn more about Microsoft Defender ATP’s managed threat hunting service here: Announcing Microsoft Threat Experts.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft cybersecurity strategy, hybrid cloud in focus at Ignite

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has hinted that the big news at the company’s Ignite conference will involve cybersecurity and updates to its approach to hybrid and distributed cloud applications.

“Rising cyber threats and increasing regulation mean security and compliance is a strategic priority for every organization,” Nadella said on Microsoft’s earnings call for the first quarter of 2020 this week. He highlighted that the company has offerings across identity, security and compliance that span people, devices, apps, developer tools, data and infrastructure “to protect customers in today’s zero trust environment.”

In addition to Microsoft cybersecurity-related comments, Nadella addressed investor questions about the company’s hybrid cloud business.

“Our approach has always been about this distributed computing fabric, or thinking about hybrid not as some transitory phase, but as a long-term vision for how computing will meet the real-world needs,” he replied in the call.

Satya NadellaSatya Nadella

Microsoft’s hybrid cloud offerings include Azure Stack, which takes a subset of Azure’s software foundation and installs it on specialized hardware to be run in customer-controlled environments.

At Ignite, “you will see us take the next leap forward even in terms of how we think about the architecture inclusive of the application models, programming models on what distributed computing looks like going forward,” Nadella said.

Microsoft targets cybersecurity, hybrid cloud

Given that cybersecurity and hybrid cloud computing are two of the hottest areas in enterprise tech today, Nadella’s teases aren’t especially surprising. But the specific details of what Microsoft has planned are worth delving into, analysts said.

It was a bit surprising that Nadella didn’t mention Azure Stack in his remarks on the conference call, given the progress that product has made in the market, said Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

However, Ignite’s session agenda includes a fair number of Azure Stack sessions, covering matters such as migration planning and operational best practices. One possibility is that Microsoft will announce expansions of Azure Stack’s footprint so it’s more on par with the Azure cloud’s full capabilities, Mueller added. 

Azure CTO Mark Russinovich is scheduled to speak at Ignite on multiple occasions. One session will focus on new innovations in Azure’s global architecture and another targets next-generation application development and deployment.

On Twitter, Russinovich said he’ll discuss matters such as DAPR, Microsoft’s recently launched open source runtime for microservices applications. He also plans to talk about Open Application Model, a specification for cloud-native app development, and Rudr, a reference implementation of the Open Application Model (OAM).

The OAM is a project under the Open Web Foundation. It serves as a specification so the application description is separated from the details of how the application is deployed and managed by the infrastructure 

According to a source familiar with the company’s plans, Microsoft released OAM because it is designed to be built by developers but then passed on for execution by an operations team, adding that DAPR is a way to build applications that are designed to be componentized.

“Developers don’t have to worry about where (an application) will run,” the source said. “They just describe its resource requirements, focus on building a microservices application and not to worry about how each component will communicate with the others,” he said. Going into Ignite, the hyperscale cloud market is being driven by a couple of factors, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with 451 Research.

“AWS, Microsoft and Google sort of define the modern enterprise IT operational paradigm with their breadth of services, innovation and competition,” Lyman said. “At the same time, the market serves as a discipline for them.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft announce something around support for other public clouds.
Jay LymanAnalyst, 451 Research

Hybrid cloud is an example of this, having emerged to meet customer needs to run on-premises infrastructure in a similar manner to public clouds, he added. Azure Stack, Google Kubernetes Engine On-Prem and AWS Outposts are some early answers to the problem.

Meanwhile, Google’s Anthos and IBM Red Hat’s OpenShift platform target multi-cloud application deployments.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft announce something around support for other public clouds,” Lyman said.

Microsoft cybersecurity portfolio gains gravity

Some analysts believe Microsoft is already well positioned in the cybersecurity market on the proven reliability of Windows Defender, Active Directory, the Azure Active Directory, Azure Sentinel and Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection.

“Many enterprises trust Microsoft to manage the identities of their users accessing information both from on-prem and cloud-based applications,” said Doug Cahill, senior analyst and group director at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Ma. “They’re already a formidable cybersecurity competitor,” he said.

In a recent survey conducted by ESG, IT pros said one of the most important attributes they look for in an enterprise-class cybersecurity vendor is the reliability of products across their portfolio and that they are “well-aligned” with their particular IT initiatives.

“Obviously, Microsoft is one of the leading IT vendors,” Cahill said. “They have Active Directory, which is broadly adopted, serving as a foundational piece of their cybersecurity strategy,” he said.

Logically, the next step for Microsoft is to extend its platform out to so it plays across the broader attack surface, which includes the rapidly growing Office 365.

During the earnings call, Nadella ran down what he believes are the individual strengths of the company’s cybersecurity offerings. He made special note of the cloud-based Sentinel and its ability to analyze security vulnerabilities across an entire organization using AI to “detect, investigate and automatically remediate threats.”

Nadella said the company would reveal more details about its “expanding opportunities in the cybersecurity market” at Ignite.

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Microsoft Ignite 2019 conference coverage

Editor’s note

For Microsoft, it’s all cloud, all the time.

No matter the market — education, developers or enterprise — the technology giant continues to expand and heavily market its cloud offerings to those groups. And for good reason. Sales related to cloud products continue to go through the roof, totaling $11 billion in a recent earnings release.

It’s not all from traditional server workloads running on Azure. Microsoft says it has more than 180 million users on its Office 365 collaboration platform. The company expects its investments in AI, a good portion of which will have its roots in Azure, will pay off in the future.

This guide highlights the company’s recent moves in the marketplace. Check back during the Microsoft Ignite 2019 conference, being held Nov. 4 to 8 in Orlando, Fla., for articles about product updates and new offerings.

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Microsoft wins $10 billion JEDI contract over AWS

Microsoft has been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense’s controversial JEDI contract over AWS in a surprise development that could be remembered as a watershed moment in the battle for market share among hyperscale cloud computing providers.

AWS had widely been expected to win the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, which was first announced in September 2017 and vigorously pursued by IBM, Oracle, Google and Microsoft. The DoD narrowed the field of candidates to AWS and Microsoft in April, and in July a judge tossed out a federal lawsuit brought by Oracle in protest of the process.

AWS had a perceived leg up on competitors for the JEDI contract, thanks not only to the breadth and depth of its cloud platform, but due to precedent. Several years ago, AWS landed a $600 million contract with the CIA centered on further development of the intelligence agency’s big data analytics capabilities.

Still, in May 2018, Microsoft said it had won a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars that would see a panoply of U.S. intelligence agencies use its Azure Government service.

The DoD’s JEDI proposal, as laid out in a November 2017 memo, calls for a 10-year contract with a single provider to create a “highly available, exponentially elastic, secure, resilient cloud computing environment that seamlessly extends from the homefront to the tactical edge.”

The JEDI contract is worth up to $10 billion over the life of the agreement, but the base contract period is for just two years with $1 million guaranteed, according to the DoD.  About $210 million is expected to be spent during the initial two years, but the remainder of the contract is subject to rigorous ongoing reviews, the DoD said.

AWS could not immediately be reached for comment, but in published reports, a company spokesperson expressed surprise at the result.

“AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion,” the company said.

The specter of presidential politics has loomed over the JEDI contract saga, with President Donald Trump – a harsh critic of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – saying in July that his administration planned to scrutinize Amazon’s JEDI bid in the wake of complaints about the award process from AWS competitors.

It isn’t immediately clear whether Amazon can or will pursue additional recourse following the JEDI contract award to Microsoft.

“All offerors were treated fairly and evaluated consistently with the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria,” the DOD said in a statement. “Prior to the award, the department conferred with the DOD Inspector General, which informed the decision to proceed.”

While the Pentagon plans to eventually move 80% of its internal systems to the platform created by JEDI, it maintains many other cloud services. It also “continues to assess and pursue various cloud contracting opportunities,” according to a statement.

The cloud infrastructure market is worth about $100 billion at present, according to new numbers from Synergy Research. AWS has about 33.5% share of that market, with Microsoft at about 16.5%, Synergy reported.

AWS may still have a healthy lead over Microsoft, but the JEDI award gives the latter not only bragging rights but also a high-profile testimony to Azure’s readiness for the world’s most critical and sensitive workloads, which could prove quite valuable in negotiating other large-scale deals.

More details of the DoD’s decision-making process could be learned in coming days. In recent months, there had been some speculation the DoD would add an additional vendor to the JEDI contract after an initial award, both to hedge its strategic bets and mollify critics.

This is a breaking news story. More details to follow.

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