Tag Archives: Microsoft

Commvault partners with Microsoft for joint engineering

Commvault and Microsoft are joined at the hip with a new partnership deal combining development, marketing and sales efforts for Commvault’s Metallic and Microsoft Azure.

Commvault’s multiyear strategic agreement with Microsoft builds on the two companies’ previous relationship. Metallic’s SaaS-based backup is already hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud, and the new partnership laid down a roadmap to deepen that integration. That roadmap includes building a new SaaS offering of Metallic Cloud Storage on Azure Blob Storage, but other integrations with native Azure services are also in the works.

The partnership also focuses on making Metallic easy to discover, purchase and use. As a result of the agreement between Commvault and Microsoft, Metallic Backup & Recovery for Office 365 was introduced to the Azure Marketplace as a featured application. As a native service, the bill for Metallic will show up on a customer’s Azure bill, and they will be able to use Metallic through Azure’s control panel.

Data protection vendor Commvault launched Metallic SaaS backup in late 2019 as a separate brand and business unit. Manoj Nair, general manager of Metallic, said the demand for SaaS and cloud has accelerated as a result of COVID-19, and customers today have a wide range of vendors to choose from. He said as a native Azure service, Metallic can capture Microsoft customers migrating to Office 365 and shopping for backup.

“There’s a need for trust today, and we’re a trusted solution from two vendors,” Nair said.

Nair also mentioned that this partnership feeds the global launch efforts of Metallic, as it allows Metallic to go to any market Azure is. Metallic launched only in the U.S. in 2019, and became available in Canada last month. With this agreement in place, Metallic will soon be launching in New Zealand and Australia, followed by the European market.

Screenshot of Metallic in Azure Marketplace
Metallic Office 365 backup featured in Azure Marketplace

Chris Powell, chief marketing officer of Commvault, said Metallic started with Office 365 backup because there is an immediate market need. Businesses were already gravitating toward cloud and SaaS, slowly and methodically as they considered how to best optimize costs during their transition. However, Powell said COVID-19 was like a “punch in the mouth,” and organizations were scrambling as they quickly found themselves in a world with more remote workers and more ransomware attacks.

“We were seeing demand even before putting Metallic in Azure Marketplace, but customers are even more cost-conscious now,” Powell said. He also added that Metallic’s other products, Core and Endpoint backup, will be in Azure Marketplace in the future.

Nate Hauenstein, global infrastructure manager at Chart Industries, said the Metallic and Azure partnership comes at a good time. Chart manufactures cryogenic equipment, from Yeti can coolers to large shipping containers found on trucks and barges. Chart also has a hand in the cannabis market, flash-freezing extracted cannabis oil, and recently experienced an uptick in orders for cryogenic freezers for medical research labs.

Six years ago, Hauenstein united Chart’s data protection onto Commvault. As a result of multiple mergers and acquisitions, Chart has more than 30 sites across the globe, and Hauenstein said uniting them all on a single platform was no small task. However, he said the cost savings from heavily virtualizing IT, reducing the physical footprints of each site and bringing every site to a single vendor proved to be a winning argument with his superiors.

But Hauenstein’s task of reducing Chart’s hardware footprint went beyond data protection, and four years ago, he made the company cloud-first by bringing most of its workloads to Azure. He said Chart doesn’t have a single large data center and described its IT as decentralized and full of continually moving parts.

Hauenstein took part in Metallic’s beta and decided that, once his Commvault license was up for renewal in early 2020, he would onboard all of his on-premises backup to Metallic. However, Chart was in the middle of heavy merger and acquisition activity, and Hauenstein felt Chart’s Azure cloud architecture wasn’t mature enough. He said he wanted tight control over where his data was stored in Azure. As a result, he had to pause the Metallic launch.

Hauenstein said the partnership between Commvault and Microsoft will help him a great deal because it lines up perfectly with what he’s working on. He is already in the process of refining his Azure architecture, so wrapping Metallic into that discussion will let him complete both IT projects.

“This partnership is in direct alignment with my objectives. It will make that transition easier,” Hauenstein said.

Technology partnerships between backup vendors and cloud providers aren’t new. Azure Marketplace includes a host of backup products, including Acronis and Veeam. Actifio GO for Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has similar tight integration between the two companies, with fees for Actifio showing up on a customer’s GCP bill.

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said the difference in the partnership between Commvault and Microsoft is its level of integration. It taps into both companies’ channel ecosystems and incentivizes salespeople on both sides, aligning go-to-market between the two. Bertrand sees the deal as more than “just a logo on a website,” which is how he describes most technology partnerships.

Bertrand expects the two companies to build out beyond backup and recovery, with a roadmap leading toward intelligent data management. Bertrand added that the timing of this partnership is also fortuitous, given the increased demand for SaaS and cloud.

“There’s a lot of cloud adoption accelerated by the current situation,” Bertrand said. “This has all the ingredients for success.”

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Microsoft seizes malicious domains used in COVID-19 phishing

Microsoft has seized control of several malicious domains that were used in COVID-19-themed phishing attacks against its customers in 62 countries around the world.

Last month, the technology giant filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in order to stop cybercriminals from “exploiting the pandemic by attempting to obtain personal access and confidential information of its customers.” The court documents were unsealed on Tuesday as Microsoft secured control of the domains, which were used in a variety of phishing and business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

In a blog post Tuesday, Microsoft revealed that the “civil case resulted in a court order allowing Microsoft to seize control of key domains in the criminals’ infrastructure so that it can no longer be used to execute cyberattacks,” Tom Burt, corporate vice president of customer security and trust at Microsoft, wrote.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit first observed a new phishing scheme in December of 2019, which was designed to compromise customers’ Office 365 accounts. While efforts to block the sophisticated scheme were successful, Microsoft recently observed renewed attempts by the same threat actors, this time with a COVID-19 lure.

“Specifically, defendants in this action are part of an online criminal network whose tactics evolved to take advantage of global current events by deploying COVID-19 themed phishing campaign targeting Microsoft customers around the world. This sophisticated phishing campaign is designed to compromise thousands of Microsoft customer accounts and gain access to customer email, contact lists, sensitive documents and other personal information,” Microsoft wrote in the complaint.

Microsoft seized six primary domains, five of which were revealed to have the name “Office” in them; the sixth domain was mailitdaemon[.]com, which is used to receive forwarded mail from compromised Office 365 accounts.

Burt wrote in the blog post that BEC threats have “increased in complexity, sophistication and frequency in recent years.” As BEC rises, threat actors have become equipped with new tactics that take impersonation to the next level. “These phishing emails are designed to look like they come from an employer or trusted source,” Microsoft wrote in the complaint.

In these coronavirus phishing emails, threat actors included messages with a COVID-19 theme to lure in victims, playing on the fear and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. For example, threat actors do this by “using terms such as ‘COVID-19 bonus,'” Burt wrote.

According to the FBI, half of cybercrime losses in 2019 were BEC alone. Some experts say BEC attacks have led to as many cyberinsurance payments as ransomware, and in some cases more.

Microsoft isn’t alone in seizing coronavirus-related malicious domains. In April, the Department of Justice announced the disruption of hundreds of online COVID-19 related scams, through public and private sector cooperative efforts.

“As of April 21, 2020, The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has received and reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams, many of which operated from websites that advertised fake vaccines and cures, operated fraudulent charity drives, delivered malware or hosted various other types of scams, ” the DOJ wrote in the announcement.

Like many security vendors, Microsoft said it has observed cybercriminals adapting their lures this year to take advantage of current events such as COVID-19. The company recommended several steps to prevent credential theft, including implementing two-factor authentication on all business and personal accounts.

“While the lures may have changed, the underlying threats remain, evolve and grow,” Burt wrote.

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Microsoft launches Windows File Recovery tool

Microsoft has released a Windows application that lets IT professionals scan local storage devices for lost and deleted files.

The software, called Windows File Recovery, requires Windows 10 version 2004. The tool has been available at the Microsoft Store since the end of June.

The application lets users recover files from internal and external drives, USB devices and memory cards. The app recovers Office files, ZIP files, JPEGs, PDFs, and MPEGs from NTFS, FAT, exFAT and ReFS file systems.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said the Microsoft app shows that people still keep essential information on in-house devices despite the options of cloud storage and backups.

Recovering lost information has long been a difficult task for systems administrators, Bowker said. Many have had to turn to third-party technology, and, in extreme cases, ship drives to a lab to undelete files.

“[The job] required a specialist that would bring in their special skills and special tools to [provide] some opportunity to recover that file,” Bowker said.

Assuming the tool works well, it could prove valuable for IT professionals, he said. If a user accidentally loses a file, the Windows File Recovery tool could offer an efficient means of correcting the mistake.

Windows tweaks

Microsoft also recently released the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 20161. Changes in the preview include a redesign of the Start menu, new Alt-Tab functionality, and alterations to the notification system.

The Alt-Tab function lets users switch between tabs in the Microsoft Edge browser and between applications.

Mark Bowker, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

The new Start menu design has replaced the solid-color backgrounds of application tiles with transparent ones. Notifications now include an app logo to show their origin, and an “X” button to quickly dismiss them.

The new build also moves information from the Control Panel to Settings; details that were once in the Control Panel’s System page will now be in Settings > System > About.

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst, Constellation ResearchHolger Mueller

The charges are not final and might not end up in any upcoming Windows 10 release, Microsoft said.

Holger Mueller, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, said it was good to see Microsoft address the Windows 10 user experience, which hasn’t changed since 2015. He praised the notifications and Alt-Tab changes, saying they would allow for smoother workflow and multi-tasking.

“Now, we have to see if the [build] rollout is successful, and what will make it to the mainstream user,” he said.

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Is SCCM in Azure right for your organization?

You’ve probably heard a lot of rumors about the inevitable demise of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, partly due to its on-premises origins.

A few years ago, this might have had some merit, but things have changed with several cloud options. We can both extend SCCM into Azure-based services (PaaS) or put the whole SCCM infrastructure in Azure (IaaS). The need to use cloud services, such as Microsoft Azure, has become more apparent after the sudden surge of people working remotely, adding strain to existing VPN infrastructures. Some traditional on-premises roles are giving way to the cloud service model for this scalability feature, and extending your SCCM environment into Azure is an excellent way to start experimenting with a hybrid approach.

Before the SCCM current branch update program, if you wanted to move your SCCM in Azure, you could only talk about moving the entire infrastructure to Azure. When Microsoft introduced the SCCM current branch, it updated the product to connect it to the cloud using back-end Azure services. Now, most organizations can pick and choose and switch some of the on-premises services with Azure-based ones. Organizations that want to use a cloud-only tool should consider using Intune, which is packaged with Configuration Manager in the Microsoft Endpoint Management product that was announced in November 2019.

Extending to the cloud essentially means you have a hybrid scenario, with some of your infrastructure on premises with other components in the cloud, to take advantage of the flexibility and other benefits when you move a workload out of your data center. There are three paths you can choose to combine the use of SCCM with Azure: Move update workloads from on premises to Microsoft Update, use the cloud management gateway (CMG) or move the SCCM infrastructure to Azure.

Option 1: Move update workloads from on premises to Microsoft Update

Moving software update binaries from internal servers to Microsoft Update is one of the most common scenarios many administrators have begun using due to the increase of remote work due to COVID-19 and the added stress to the VPN infrastructure. When you think about it, why would you want your internet-facing users to go into your infrastructure for updates when their systems get the same data from the cloud?

If you follow the method below, you still control which software updates to deploy through your SCCM infrastructure, but the binaries come from Microsoft Update. If the content is not found on a distribution point in SCCM, then the client will go to the cloud.

Prerequisite: Split tunneling for the VPN.

Configuration: To force clients to go to Microsoft Update, you need to:

  1. Find out which IP ranges cover your VPN clients.
  2. Create a boundary group in SCCM for the IP ranges. The IP ranges cannot be part of any other boundary groups.
  3. Create a distribution point that contains everything except software updates.
  4. Assign the distribution point to the boundary group.
  5. Go to the deployment settings of each software update deployment and any automatic deployment rules. Go to the Download Settings tab and select the checkbox next to where it says, If software updates are not available on a distribution point in current, neighbor or site boundary groups, download content from Microsoft Updates.”
SCCM download settings
When using Microsoft Update rather than the VPN to update clients, you need to adjust the download settings in SCCM.

Cost: The only additional charge may be setting up a new distribution point. There are no extra charges for using Microsoft Update.

Support: Moving software update workloads to Microsoft Update is fully supported and documented in this blog from Microsoft.

Drawbacks: There are a few risks involved with setting this such as:

  • Incorrect or missing configuration of split tunneling in the VPN will cause unintended behavior.
  • Overlapping boundaries might also cause unexpected behavior.
  • If the clients are on premises and content for the software updates are not found on internal distribution points, then they will go to Microsoft Update. You can prevent this by having multiple deployments, but it adds complexity to the setup.

Option 2: Cloud management gateway

The CMG is a cloud service that simplifies the management of your internet-facing clients by having them contact Azure services instead of going through the VPN. The CMG is a PaaS and requires no management of VMs in Azure.

You can use CMG both as a manage-out client management system as well as a content delivery service from the cloud. The service uses a standard A2 v2 VM. The full configuration of the CMG is done via the SCCM console.

As of SCCM 1810, Microsoft deprecated the cloud distribution point, which is now in the CMG offering.

Prerequisites:

  • An active Azure subscription
  • Service connection point in online mode (can be colocated with other SCCM roles)
  • Certificates for server authentication
  • CMG management points in HTTPS mode
  • Clients in IPv4 mode
  • Integration with Azure AD
  • A globally unique name

Configuration: The high-level plan to set up CGM is as follows:

  1. Verify prerequisites
  2. Add CGM in the SCCM console
  3. Configure primary site for client certificate authentication
  4. Add a CMG connection point
  5. Configure management point for HTTPS or enhanced HTTPS
  6. Create a boundary group for external clients
  7. Assign the CMG to the new Boundary Group

For more details on setting up the CMG, refer to the documentation on Microsoft’s site at this link.

Cost: CMG adds additional charges, including:

  • VMs, which depends on the number of CMGs deployed;
  • storage, where the cost depends on how much content you distribute; and
  • egress, how much outgoing traffic is used.

Johan Arwidmark, the technical fellow at 2Pint Software, has a great blog post on the type of costs you can expect when using CMG. If you would rather do this calculation, use the Azure Pricing Calculator here and the pricing details page for Azure bandwidth on this calculator page.

Since the release of SCCM 1902, you can limit the cost through the SCCM console.

To configure thresholds, you will need to set up outbound traffic alerts. Stopping the CMG will not remove all costs; removing the CMG is the only way to prevent additional fees.

Support: The CMG is one of the focus areas within client management at Microsoft, so expect that the feature will be improved in the future.

Drawbacks: Two distinct downsides to CMG use include additional costs and added complexity with HTTPS.

Option 3: Move the SCCM infrastructure to Azure

Moving the SCCM infrastructure is as it sounds: pushing the servers to Azure instead of hosting them on premises.

Prerequisites: Azure VPN Gateway and Azure ExpressRoute.

Configuration: When setting up SCCM in Azure, you follow the same setup in the cloud as you do for an on-premises environment.

Cost: The costs vary greatly depending on your license agreement.

Because ExpressRoute is the option that makes the most sense for this type of arrangement, if you wish to move all servers to Azure, refer to Microsoft’s ExpressRoute pricing site to determine which plan works best for your organization.

Once you determine which servers to move to Azure, you can then use the Azure Pricing Calculator to see what the cost is.

Support: Microsoft fully supports multiple SCCM in Azure configurations, such as Configuration Manager on an Azure VM or using an Azure VM to run different Configuration Manager site system roles with other roles running in the data center.

Drawbacks: If you want to move all SCCM servers to Microsoft Azure, you will need an unlimited data plan and a reliable connection between the on-premises data center and Microsoft Azure.

Also, an unlimited data plan only exists in Azure ExpressRoute, which can be expensive for some organizations. The lowest price for this type of plan is $300 per month for a 50 Mbps standard circuit connection. For a 1 Gbps plan, the monthly cost is $5,700 for the standard circuit and an additional $1,200 for the local circuit price.

What is supported in each scenario?

The following chart compares the areas supported in each of the three Configuration Manager configurations.

Feature Microsoft Update Cloud Management Gateway SCCM in Azure
Operating system deployment No Yes* Yes
Software updates Yes Yes Yes
Application deployment No Yes Yes
Compliance management No Yes Yes
Client management No Yes Yes
Driver management Yes** Yes** Yes

*Announced in Configuration Manager technical preview version in May 2005. The feature will most likely be added as a preproduction feature in the next version of Configuration Manager.
**New driver updates can be delivered through Microsoft Update.

How can I monitor where my content is coming from?

There are a few ways to do this, but two methods are to check the Cloud Management and Client Data Sources dashboards in SCCM, shown below, or check the log files on the client.

SCCM dashboard
The Client Data Sources dashboard in SCCM keeps track the source of client software updates.

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How to take advantage of Teams-Exchange integration

When Microsoft introduced Teams, there was already an appetite in the marketplace for a platform that supports real-time chat, collaboration, meetings and calling.

The Slack success story motivated Microsoft to release its own version of a team messaging app in 2017. The introduction of Microsoft Teams provided a new way to communicate and collaborate, leading to less use of some Exchange functions. Because Exchange and email continue to be important, Microsoft developed Teams-Exchange integration functionality to give organizations a way to customize how they work with each application.

Exchange is still the go-to tool to organize and manage meetings, send email and centralize all key contact information, such as phone numbers and addresses. For users who rely on Microsoft Teams for collaboration, there are several ways to pull data from Outlook or Exchange Online into the Microsoft Teams channels or vice versa. The following examples highlight some of the Teams-Exchange integration requests administrators might get from users.

Access key Exchange data from within Microsoft Teams

Users who spend most of their time within Teams will want a way to retrieve email and calendars. Teams users can add a new tab with any content they like.

For Outlook email, add a tab by clicking on the (+) symbol in Teams as shown in Figure 1.1.

Teams content tab
Figure 1.1: Click the + symbol in Microsoft Teams to set up a new tab.

From the icons list at the top, select the one labeled Website. Give it a name and add the URL https://outlook.office365.com/mail/inbox for Outlook on the web as show in Figure 1.2.

Teams tab setup
Figure 1.2: To complete the setup for a new tab showing Outlook in Microsoft teams, give the tab a name and add the URL for Outlook on the web.

Use the tabs to add shared calendars for Teams

One of the other areas that users have missed from Teams relates to group calendars. Without direct access to a team’s calendars, many workers must switch between Outlook and Teams to view these shared calendars. A workaround is to create a new tab as explained above, but in this case, set it up to display the group’s shared calendar. Microsoft has this on its 2020 roadmap, but the following instructions will work today.

First, click on the office group calendar from the Outlook web client as shown in Figure 2.1.

office group calendar URL
Figure 2.1: Select the office group calendar from the Outlook web client to get the URL for the calendar.

After clicking the calendar icon, copy the URL from the address bar in the browser as shown in Figure 2.2.

copy calendar link
Figure 2.2: Copy the calendar URL from the address bar in the browser.

Next, go to Teams and add a new tab to the Team channel, select the Website icon and then paste the URL stored from the earlier step to complete the new tab as show in Figure 2.3.

Teams tab calendar setup
Figure 2.3: Complete the tab setup for a shared calendar in Teams by giving the tab a name and adding the calendar URL.

Notify users within Teams of certain email

Another capability that users might find helpful is getting a notification within Microsoft Teams when they receive a specific email.

For this setup, the Exchange administrator will use the automation platform called Power Automate, formerly known as Microsoft Flow. Power Automate is a service included with Office 365 to connect apps on the Microsoft platform so administrators can build customized routines that run automatically when certain conditions are met.

To start, sign into Power Automate and create a new flow. Select the trigger for Outlook named When a new email arrives and add the action in Teams called Post a message as shown in Figure 3.1.

Power Automate flow created
Figure 3.1: Use Power Automate to set up an automated task that triggers when a new email arrives from a specific person and results in a notification posted in a Teams channel.

You will need to perform basic configurations such as email account, filters for what type of email to monitor for and where to post the message. By default, once a flow is created it is active.

Notify users within Teams of certain events

Another useful automation routine to set up is to forward reminders in Teams for specific events. Since Exchange is the platform that manages all calendars and events, you can use a Power Automate task similar to the previous tip that triggers with an email.

Use Power Automate to build a flow that monitors a calendar — the user calendar, shared resource calendars or shared calendars — for a certain event, then automatically post a message to Teams when the start time approaches as shown in Figure 4.1.

Power Automate flow
Figure 4.1: Build a flow in Power Automate to monitor a calendar and then send a notification to a channel in Teams.

There are many more integration opportunities between Microsoft Teams and Exchange Online. For example, administrators can investigate the bots feature in Teams for another way to connect and process commands related to Exchange email, calendars and tasks. Services such as the Virtual Assistant and Bot Framework can offer more advanced integration capabilities without the help of a software developer.

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For Sale – Microsoft Surface Pro 7 12.3” Tablet (Platinum) – Intel 10th Gen Quad Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Black Type Cover, Pen: iPad Pro 12.9 wanted

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 12.3” Tablet (Black)

Specs
Intel 10th Gen Quad Core i7,
6GB RAM,
256GB SSD,
Window 10 Home, 2019 Edition

Extra’s include:
Microsoft Black Type Cover
Microsoft Surface Pen
Case
Also has a screen protector that I never fitted due to not using it.

Purchased new in December but received a works laptop shortly after so its practically unused

It has only been charged a few times

£1100 or may consider a px for an iPad Pro 12.9 inch with keyboard

Everything is boxed as new, If genuinely interested I can get some photos

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Change in ourselves helps drive change in the world   – The Official Microsoft Blog

An email from CEO Satya Nadella to Microsoft employees: 

Seeing injustice in the world calls us all to take action, as individuals and as a company. Sometimes this action is personal – what do I do to change? Sometimes it is organizational – what changes do I need to make around me? And sometimes it is reflected into the world – what can we do as a company to accelerate the change we desire? As we see the everyday racism, bias and violence experienced by the Black and African American community, the tragic and horrific murders of so many, the violence in cities across the US, it is time for us to act in all arenas. As I shared in our Employee Town Hall last week, each of us – starting with me and the senior leaders at the company – has a role to play. We cannot episodically wake up when a new tragedy occurs. A systemic problem requires a holistic response.  

I am heartbroken by the deep pain our communities are feeling. The results of systemic racism, which have impacted opportunities and exacerbated injustices for Black and African American communities, urge me to consider my own role as a leader. I must continue my journey of understanding and empathy and examine actions I take, or don’t take, every day. Listening and learning from my Black and African American colleagues is helping me develop a better understanding of their experience. And I take accountability for my own continued learning on the realities of privilege, inequity and race and modeling the behavior I want to see in the world.  

As a company, we need to look inside, examine our organization, and do better. For us to have the permission to ask the world to change, we must change first. We have to embrace the same speed and mindset that we do in anticipating and building for future technological shifts. Each day, we work to bridge the gap between the culture we espouse and our daily lived experience, but we must do more and do it faster. In order to be successful as a business in empowering everyone on the planet, we need to reflect the world we serve. This is our commitment; we have goals and programs to improve representation in all roles and at all levels. We’re investing in the talent pipeline broadly, as we’ve expanded our connections with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We also have to create an environment where all voices are heard and valued, that’s why inclusion is a core priority for each one of us. I ask each of us to recommit to our shared D&I priority, participate in our inclusion learning programs, use the tools and resources we have shared on becoming an effective ally for others. We have the capabilities to make Microsoft more diverse and inclusive, but we must do the work.  

We also have a responsibility to use our platform and resources intentionally to address systemic inequities in our communities and in society broadly. This is the work we need to do to have lasting impact. For example, we’re using our technology and our voice toward a more equitable criminal justice system with our Criminal Justice Reform Initiative. We created our Supplier Diversity program 15 years ago, so our supplier companies better reflected the diversity of our customers. Today, it makes up nearly 10 percent of our supplier spend. That spend has an amplifying effect, growing the local economies in the communities where those businesses are located. We need to keep building on this work in every community we operate in.   

Finally, we must carry our company values out into the world in a way that reflects our strengths and expertise. To this end, we will deepen our engagement with six organizations that are advancing social justice, helping community organizers address racial inequality, and offering solidarity to the Black community: Black Lives Matter FoundationEqual Justice InitiativeInnocence ProjectThe Leadership ConferenceMinnesota Freedom Fund, and NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund. This starts with a company donation of $250,000 to each of these organizations ($1.5 million in total), followed by a company match of our employees’ contributions to eligible organizations. Together, through your giving and the company match, we have donated more than $15 million to civil rights, social action, and advocacy nonprofit organizations since 2015.

I have heard from many employees over the past several days, expressing calls for action, calls for reflection, calls for change. My response to all of you is this: Yes. We have to act. And our actions must reflect the values of our company and be directly informed by the needs of the Black and African American community. We must continue to nurture the energy and passion that the Blacks at Microsoft employee resource group fueled in all of us since its founding in 1989. We have been on a cultural transformation journey and must accelerate our pace of change. Each of us, starting with me, must look at where we are as individuals, confront our fixed mindset and act. Our humanity is what calls out to us to make the world a better place. 

We all have a role to play. I will do the work. The company will do the work. I am asking each of you to do the work. And together, we will help make the difference we want to see in the world. 

 Satya 

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WANdisco, Azure do data migration dance

WANdisco has integrated its big data migration with the Microsoft Azure cloud.

WANdisco LiveData Platform for Azure — in customer preview — is designed to make it easier to move petabytes of data to Azure. Customers can discover LiveData through Marketplace and access its services directly through Portal and Azure command line interface (CLI). With LiveData, customers can perform large-scale migration of Hadoop data to Azure, and enable backup and disaster recovery (DR) in the cloud and cloud bursting. As a native service, LiveData Platform for Azure will show up on the same bill as Azure.

WANdisco also launched LiveData Migrator and LiveData Plane for the new Azure-based platform. These two work together to allow consistency between an on-premises Hadoop environment and Azure Data Lake Storage. LiveData Migrator performs a one-time scan of the on-premises data and feeds it to LiveData Plane, which captures any changes after that point.

LiveData can scan through petabyte-scale data and generate a copy in the cloud while ensuring both copies are the same. It is powered by WANdisco Fusion, a consensus engine that keeps data consistent and available across multiple environments. Because it is a single scan and data migration is continuous, nothing needs to be shut down. This integration with Azure makes it easier for Azure customers to discover and deploy LiveData.

LiveData’s ability to move petabytes of data without interrupting production and without risk of losing the data midflight is something no other vendor does, said Merv Adrian, Gartner research vice president of data and analytics. Moving data at this scale takes a long time, and traditionally involves a combination of physically shipping servers loaded with data to a cloud provider and/or transferring data to the cloud during non-peak hours. The data is inaccessible during migration using these methods. Adrian said as a result, enterprises tend not to move live, active data this way.

“Taking everything down until I’m finished isn’t an option,” Adrian said.

LiveData doesn’t technically “finish” the migration until later, but customers can access and make changes to all the data mid-migration. LiveData ensures those changes are reflected in all copies. Adrian said that’s an important differentiator from other migration tools.

WANdisco LiveData does not yet have similar integration with AWS or Google Cloud, but Adrian said that the Azure integration makes most sense. AWS has larger adoption, but Adrian pointed out that AWS and Google have no on-premises presence — those customers are already on the cloud. Microsoft customers are most likely hybrid, running Microsoft products in their data centers while also dipping into Azure for their cloud needs. They are the customers most likely looking to juggle petabytes of data between on-premises and cloud.

screenshot of WANdisco LiveData in Azure
LiveData Platform for Azure can be discovered and deployed in the Azure Portal.

WANdisco CEO and founder David Richards said WANdisco focuses on serving the enterprise market. He said while AWS has higher general market adoption, it has similar adoption among enterprises as Azure. He also said Azure adoption is growing faster among the enterprise, partly because Microsoft’s office productivity and collaboration tools both on- and off-premises are widely popular.

Richards said cloud demand is spiking because of an increase in at-home workers as well as companies investing in AI and machine learning. Business has slowed across the board due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies are thinking of ways to modernize and transform their businesses in response. Investing in AI — specifically, the ability to make better decisions automatically — is a way for businesses to differentiate themselves.

“Businesses have to now reinvent themselves, but that has to come with severe IT mobilization,” Richards said. “The boldest move a company can make is looking at AI.”

Adrian brought up another point about the interplay between COVID-19 and cloud: many businesses are looking to cut costs, and CTOs are going to look at putting hardware on the chopping block. He said it depends on the workload, but in most cases, the total cost of ownership over three years for hosting on the cloud is cheaper than provisioning all the necessary hardware, floor space and cooling to host it on-premises.

Determining these costs and identifying which workloads are actually cheaper on the cloud is still a “black art,” Adrian said. It takes meticulous modeling to map out costs, and those models could still be wrong because the demands of the workloads and the cost of the cloud could grow or shrink unpredictably. However, Adrian said AI and machine learning are absolutely better done on the cloud because of the “bursty” nature of their compute demands.

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Microsoft replaces dozens of journalists with AI system

Microsoft is replacing dozens of contract journalists with AI systems, in a move to save money and streamline content curation, but which could also lead to more inappropriate or lackluster content appearing on Microsoft’s sites.

“By favoring machines over humans, Microsoft runs the risk that all kinds of things might go wrong,” said Dan Kennedy, associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of the Media Nation blog.

AI in journalism

The tech giant currently employs full-time staff as well as contract news producers to help curate and edit homepage news on its Microsoft News platform and Microsoft Edge browser. Their duties, according to LinkedIn job descriptions, include cycling relevant news content, editing the content and pairing images with articles.

While Microsoft plans to keep its full-time staff for now, some 50 contract journalists will not have their contracts renewed at the end of the month, according to the Seattle Times.

Microsoft said in a May 29 statement it is not making the move to AI in journalism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” Microsoft said. “This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others.”

By favoring machines over humans, Microsoft runs the risk that all kinds of things might go wrong.
Dan KennedyAssociate professor of journalism, Northeastern University

Using AI for content curation isn’t new. Many social media, video and news platforms have been using AI to recommend content or remove inappropriate content for years.

News organizations, including the Washington Post and the Associated Press, have used AI to produce content quickly and inexpensively. Largely, that content is simple, such as a roundup of the latest scores in sport games. Other news organizations, including the New York Times, use AI to augment staff efforts, such as automatically providing research or identifying headlines and key phrases.

Risky business

Even so, AI isn’t advanced enough yet to handle the duties of human employees at the same skill level, and Microsoft is making a risky move by replacing so many employees, analysts said.

“Certainly there is a risk of badly formatted and incorrect content being produced, but a larger concern may be dull content,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder of market advisory and research firm Deep Analysis.

AI in journalism
Types of marketing and news content AI can produce

Readers are discerning, but journalists know how to draw in readers to even the dullest of topics, he continued. However, “that’s not a strong point of AI,” he said.

“Indeed, even the best AI-driven content is fairly easy to identify and even for readers not conversant with the nuances, they will not engage to the same degree with AI-driven content.,” Pelz-Sharpe said.

Nonetheless, he pointed out, AI does work well for summarizing facts, for ”’reporting’ that is simply ‘reporting.'”

To Nick McQuire, senior vice president and head of AI and enterprise research at CCS Insight, Microsoft’s move comes as somewhat of a surprise, given that Microsoft’s emphasis on responsibility in AI.

“One of their most important [principles around AI technology] is accountability, which means humans must have some oversight and accountability in the deployment of AI,” McQuire said.

“In this respect, I expect Microsoft to still have human oversight around the technology as per their standard governance procedures for AI operations,” he continued.

Microsoft’s AI governance policies are overseen by the vendor’s AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research committee, an advisory board that provides recommendations to senior leadership on responsible AI, including issues such as AI bias, regulations, safety and fairness, as well as human-AI collaboration.

Not a revolution yet

Still, Microsoft’s decision to end the employment of dozens of staff doesn’t mark a revolution for AI in journalism, said Pelz-Sharpe. Rather, it should be viewed as an incremental step.

Pointing out how other news organizations use AI, Pelz-Sharpe said that “enthusiasts like to say that AI will free reporters from drudge work so that they can report and write higher-value stories.’

But, he cautioned, “cost-cutting corporate chains are going to be tempted to use AI to replace reporters.”

And more use of AI won’t have an immediate impact on the journalism industry, but rather a cumulative one, Kennedy said.

“Lower paid entry-level jobs disappear and are automated, reducing the intake of new journalists and making the sector less attractive,” Kennedy said.  “Those jobs will likely never come back — the end result is fewer people in the industry.”

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Microsoft fuels ‘developer velocity’ with Azure, new tools

Microsoft has jumped on the emerging buzzword “developer velocity” as a measure of how fast a development organization can turn ideas into software.

Microsoft’s recent Build 2020 virtual conference repeatedly invoked the phrase, which was highlighted in a recent McKinsey & Company report that ties competent software development to better business performance.

“Improving business performance through software development comes down to empowering developers, creating the right environment for them to innovate, and removing points of friction,” the McKinsey report said. “Industry leaders refer to this capability as ‘developer velocity.’ This goes beyond the definition of velocity as it relates to agile methodologies — meaning it is about not just speed but also unleashing the full potential of development talent.

Developer velocity is about “turning developers’ ideas into software that supports the needs of your customers, and the goals of your business,” wrote Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Cloud and AI group at Microsoft, in a blog post.

Moreover, developer velocity involves minimizing barriers to developer productivity, he wrote.

“The more you enable developers to build productively, collaborate globally and securely, and scale what they invent, the better business outcomes you’ll see in areas including financial performance, innovation, and customer satisfaction,” Guthrie wrote.

Old wine in new bottles?

The buzzwords change, but is developer velocity anything more than good old programmer productivity writ large? Either way, that should be the end goal for any developer organization, and some experts voiced skepticism.

6 steps to a product mindset

Andrew Brust, a Microsoft MVP and founder of Blue Badge Insights, a New York IT consulting firm, said he views developer velocity as nothing more than “marketing mumbo-jumbo for enablement and productivity — which is also marketing mumbo-jumbo, but probably easier to decode than ‘velocity.'”

Organizations should enable developers in three primary ways: to develop apps for new platforms and form factors without significant new skill set requirements, to do collaborative development more effectively and to enhance the developer experience across platforms, as opposed to building cross-platform apps, Brust said.

“I’m just thinking of things like VS Code that let you do dev work on Linux and Mac, and even in the browser, as well as Windows,” he said of the cross-platform enablement. “That’s distinct from developing applications that would run natively on those platforms.”

Developer velocity comes to the fore for enterprises burdened with rapidly responding to unexpected challenges with new applications.

“The concept and positioning are very valid, but it does seem like a very marketing-oriented initiative,” said Larry Carvalho, an analyst at IDC. “In a broader sense, developer productivity/velocity is tied to capabilities of overall cloud adoption beyond just developer tools and Microsoft’s message does not completely cover all aspects of the challenge.”

Most major software-driven companies now have teams to support developers with more productive workflows and tooling.

James GovernorJames Governor

“We generally look to companies such as Netflix, Uber, Lyft and Spotify for leadership in these areas because of their proven release cadence for new features,” said James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk, which is based in Portland, Maine and focuses on issues that are important to software developers. Governor cited Netflix for building its open-source Spinnaker continuous delivery engine and having its own Developer Productivity team.

GitHub and HashiCorp are two of companies most well-loved by developers and they’re collaborating on the developer velocity term, which should help it become more widely adopted. Developer velocity is not super well-defined, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable,” Governor said.

[Developer velocity is] marketing mumbo-jumbo for enablement and productivity — which is also marketing mumbo-jumbo, but probably easier to decode than ‘velocity.’
Andrew BrustConsultant, Blue Badge Insights

Enterprises need to move faster than ever before, to remain relevant or even transform to be winner in digital transformation. Changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as shutting down, slowing down, speeding up and reopening, make it even more important that enterprises can move fast.

Developer cycle time

According to Richard Campbell, an IT consultant, co-host of the .Net Rocks! podcast and Microsoft MVP based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, speed counts, as developer velocity is a bit of a spin on an older concept called developer cycle time — the duration between writing some code and getting it running.

“So, you code a little, run a little, debug a little, run a little and so on — cycle time,” he said.

This was easy in the days of tools like Visual Basic where the developer’s PC was essentially the same hardware that a user would have, so they could code and test in the same machine.

However, between mobile development, utilizing the cloud and so on, the cycle times have been getting longer.

“You write some code, and it takes time to push up into the cloud, out to the mobile device — so it takes a while to see what you’ve written in action and make corrections,” Campbell said. “Microsoft is nothing if not a dev tools company. So what you’re seeing from them is an emphasis on improving cycle times by improving the tooling — creating fast mobile emulators, rapid deployment engines, edit-and-continue mechanisms so that you can push changes out without recompiling — all techniques for shortening cycle time.”

Ultimately, shorter developer cycles mean that more software gets delivered faster.

Microsoft is positioned to drive this idea forward by bringing the best of their developer tooling into the cloud and enabling new ways of working collaboratively so teams can focus on delivery, noted Elton Stoneman, a Microsoft MVP and director at London-based Sixeyed Consulting.

Low-code equals more velocity

There are two key ways to accelerate  software development: Offload traditional developer work to (tech savvy) end users with low-code/no-code tools and at the same time provide the pro developer with productivity tools, increasing their velocity. Microsoft addresses these two areas with PowerApps and innovations around Visual Studio, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, Monte Vista, Calif.

“PowerApps and other low-code/no-code tools are about getting to something useful in as little time as possible,” Campbell said. “For certain classes of application, they are the fastest way to get things done. That’s some serious developer velocity.”

McKinsey also identified low-code, no-code tools as enablers of developer velocity. In that regard, Microsoft made a bit of a splash at the Build 2020 event when it announced its acquisition of Softomotive to expand low-code robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities in Microsoft Power Automate.

But Microsoft still has work to do.

“The first is around continuing to strengthen their low-code story and improve things like their RPA game,” said Thomas Murphy, a Gartner analyst. “I think this is key as people need ways to quickly automate more processes and workflows. On the other side of developer productivity are things like IntelliCode and how you make [pro] developers more efficient. Overall organizations need people and tools that can help them be responsive to events, be effective with new technologies and gain effective skill levels.”

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