Tag Archives: offering

Microsoft extends Office 365 benefit to nonprofit volunteers

Microsoft on Thursday announced a new Office 365 benefit, offering enterprise-sized nonprofit customers free additional Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers.

The new Office 365 benefit enables nonprofit customers who have Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft to receive 10 free Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers per licensed Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 seat. Office 365 F1 includes applications for email, calendars, team collaboration, messaging, intranet, file storage and sharing. Nonprofits with 250 or more users in their organization are eligible for the Enterprise Agreement. The offer starts Jan. 1, according to the company.

Microsoft Cloud Solution Providers will be able to offer the Volunteer Use Benefit to customers directly via the Cloud Solution Provider Channel in spring 2020, according to the company.

The news comes after the company’s announcement in September offering nonprofits free Microsoft 365 Business for up to 10 users. Thursday’s announcement extended this Office 365 benefit to nonprofit volunteers.

This is not the first time Microsoft has donated or provided services for free. Some of their collaboration software programs, such as Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, are available to qualified nonprofits. “But it does mark a significant expansion of access for nonprofits who already pay for Office 365. Keep in mind that Microsoft has long had steep discounts for students and educators, as well,” said Nicole France, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research.

The recent move is motivated by several factors, she said. “One is certainly ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or Salesforces, as the case may be, in terms of publicizing and extending support for the nonprofit sector,” France said.

Another factor has to do with the way Microsoft wants to be perceived by current and potential employees, especially millennials, France said. “We know that this demographic group in particular — an increasingly important one, in terms of recruiting and retention — is strongly motivated by an employer’s mission in the world, not just its commercial business. I suspect this is a significant part of the rationale for giving the nonprofit sector some additional love and attention.”

Lastly, she said, the offering addresses the pressing need for nonprofits to provide appropriate tools to their large numbers of volunteers.

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HYCU backup for Google Cloud adds SAP HANA support

HYCU enhanced its Google Cloud Platform backup with SAP HANA support, offering it as a managed service that eases the burden on IT.

The HYCU Backup as a Service for Google Cloud is purpose-built for GCP, similar to how HYCU’s first major product was purpose-built for Nutanix data protection. It’s fully integrated into Google Cloud Identity & Access Management.

“It was built with the Google administrator in mind,” so there’s no extra training needed, said Subbiah Sundaram, vice president of products at HYCU.

Offering it as a service is critical to protecting cloud workloads natively, according to Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Christophe Bertrand. The firm’s research shows that IT professionals want similar features in cloud-native data protection as in their on-premises environments, but there are gaps.

“Among the key areas are enterprise-class scalability, which HYCU is addressing in this release with enhancements to cloud-native incrementals, scalability, mission-critical application support with SAP HANA and performance optimizations,” Bertrand wrote in an email. “Cloud is about scale, and this means that data protection mechanisms have to adapt.”

Protection for a ‘mission-critical application’

HYCU backup for GCP is supporting SAP HANA for the first time with this release. The support requires a special understanding of the infrastructure being protected and a mechanism to coordinate with SAP HANA to get a consistent copy, according to Sundaram.

The HYCU Backup as a Service uses Google snapshots for database-consistent, impact-free backup and recovery. It includes support for single file recovery.

The use of native storage snapshots is a distinguished approach, according to Bertrand.

“I expect that we will see a number of HYCU customers scale their environments in time,” Bertrand wrote. “SAP HANA is a mission-critical application in many enterprises, and in combination with GCP, offers a lot of promise for scaling deployments up and out, and the ability to do analytics for business uses beyond just backup or BC/DR.”

Sundaram said Google sellers and partners asked for the SAP HANA support — they want more customers adding SAP HANA on GCP. SAP HANA, an in-memory database for processing high volumes of data in real time, is popular with large retailers.

Screenshot of HYCU backup for Google Cloud Platform
HYCU backups use changed block tracking functionality to enable optimized bucket storage use.

Dive deeper into HYCU’s strategy

HYCU’s GCP backup product originally launched in July 2018. Because it is a service, HYCU takes care of the installation, management and upgrades. HYCU claims one-click backups.

It was built with the Google administrator in mind.
Subbiah SundaramVice president of products, HYCU

Users back up to Google Cloud Storage buckets. Starting with this update, HYCU backup uses changed block tracking to enable optimized bucket storage consumption.

HYCU can keep costs down because the customer doesn’t pay for compute, Sundaram said. The product’s incremental backups and auto-tiering also save money.

The product does not require caching storage, according to HYCU, which means cheaper data transfer for backup and better use of cloud storage.

HYCU, which is based in Boston, Mass., has built its strategy on offering specialized services that go deep in specific environments, according to Bertrand.

“It gives them this best of breed advantage over generalists, and our research shows that IT professionals have no problem using the best cloud backup solutions for the job at hand — meaning using a new solution or an additional vendor,” Bertrand wrote. “I believe that they are well-positioned to deliver additional services beyond backup and BC/DR, such as intelligent data management based on data reuse.”

HYCU Backup as a Service for Google Cloud is available on the GCP Marketplace and through authorized partners. Cost depends on the amount of data under protection and frequency of backup.

HYCU backup automatically updated for current customers in October.

In the coming weeks, HYCU expects to launch its Protégé product for multi-cloud disaster recovery and migration. It’s also planning a major update in early 2020 that will add another supported cloud platform.

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SAP PartnerEdge initiative offers free S/4HANA Cloud resources

SAP is taking a new tact to grow its public cloud offering and development resources: It’s giving them away for free.

As of July 1, qualified SAP PartnerEdge members can now test and demonstrate systems built on SAP S/4HANA Cloud and SAP C/4HANA free of charge. Partners need to have a valid SAP PartnerEdge status and employ three consultants who are certified in “operations capabilities for SAP applications running on S/4HANA Cloud” to get free access to test and demo systems, according to the company. Partners who have at least three consultants certified for SAP C/4HANA applications also qualify for the initiative.

SAP PartnerEdge is designed to provide SAP partners the resources they can use to develop, sell, service and manage SAP systems and applications. The program currently has more than 19,800 partners worldwide, according to SAP.

The new SAP PartnerEdge initiative appears to have positive reviews from partners, but one analyst believes the effort is a long-overdue strategic move to build out SAP applications and keep pace with other cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft.

Seeding the cloud applications

The SAP PartnerEdge initiative is an attempt to open up SAP Cloud Platform and S/4HANA to a broader range of developers and seed the market with applications built on SAP technology, according to analyst Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, based in Berkeley, Calif. This is similar to the approach long favored by the likes of Microsoft and AWS.

“They want the developers of future great products — whether they’re internal development teams, startups or professional teams — to think about SAP as their development platform,” Greenbaum said. “That’s their fundamental strategy for growing the uptake of SAP Cloud Platform and S/4HANA.”

It’s being met with enthusiasm. Alain Dubois, chief marketing and business development officer at Beyond Technologies, called the program a “great initiative.”

Beyond Technologies, a Montreal-based SAP partner that specializes in development and integration of a range of SAP products, including S/4HANA and C/4HANA. It plans to take advantage of the free cloud access the new SAP PartnerEdge program offers.

“We will use it for demos and [proofs of concept] as well as for enablement, which is crucial for us as a value-added reseller because it will help [keep down] customer acquisition costs,” he said.

Shaun Syvertsen, CEO of ConvergentIS, is also looking forward to using the program’s resources. ConvergentIS is an SAP partner based in Calgary, Alberta, that provides SAP technology development and consulting services.

The SAP PartnerEdge program will drive the long-term success of SAP technology with partners, Syvertsen said. It’s particularly valuable for partners to get a deeper understanding of public cloud SAP versions.

“In particular, you have to understand that 20 years of on-premises experience is potentially dangerous in the cloud environment, as the setup and range of flexibility is quite different from on-premises,” Syvertsen said. “So, a new cloud-centric mindset and cloud-specific experience is critical.”

Better late than never

SAP partners have been beating the drum for an initiative like this for years to help them keep pace with competitors like AWS, Microsoft and Salesforce, Enterprise Applications Consulting’s Greenbaum explained.

“The partners and would-be partners have been saying that SAP has to emulate the rest of the market for a while,” he said. “There are lots of open source tools and there’s a huge amount of love and support [for developers] from competitor platform providers, and the partners have always said that SAP has to do something similar or they’ll go somewhere else.”

SAP has to do some work to catch up to Salesforce or AWS, but it’s still a relatively new game as cloud uptake numbers are just beginning to gain momentum in the enterprise applications market, according to Greenbaum.

What could be a differentiator for SAP also is the totality of what it can offer compared to the other cloud companies.

“Underneath the hood, SAP provides access to business services — data and processes — that are potentially very valuable,” he said. “Salesforce can do that, but only within the domain of CRM, and AWS doesn’t really do that at all. So, this is a good time for SAP. It would have been a better time two years ago, but the story is hardly over at this point.”

Availability for the new SAP PartnerEdge program for qualified partners began July 1. Registration will remain open until Sept. 30, 2019, according to the company. Partners who have already bought the test and demonstration licenses will receive a migration offer from SAP Partner Licensing Services if they want to migrate their existing services to the free access, according to SAP.

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Cisco ASR 9000 router gets usage-based pricing

Cisco has introduced pay-as-you-go pricing for the latest line card of the ASR 9000 router, offering service providers a more flexible licensing model as they evaluate 5G infrastructure suppliers.

Cisco’s new licensing model, unveiled this week, applies to the new line card and subsequent generations. The latest hardware has a maximum throughput of 3.2 Tbps, uses a half watt of power per gigabit and is available with 32, 16 or 8 ports of 100 GbE. The cards fit into existing ASR 9000 chassis.

The pricing change lets service providers buy a license for ASR 9000 capacity across sites, but only pay for what they use. The cost would increase as ports are activated, said Sumeet Arora, the head of engineering for service provider network systems at Cisco.

Previously, service providers had to buy an ASR 9000 license for each site based on expected demand. As a result, the customers would pay for capacity they weren’t using, Arora said.

The ASR 9000 router in 5G

Cisco is making its pricing more customer-friendly as service providers consider technology like the ASR 9000 to support future 5G business and consumer services. The fifth-generation cellular technology delivers speed, capacity and latency improvements that will enable new products for healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment and the auto industry, proponents have said.

However, analysts do not expect the 5G services market to take off for several years. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins recently told financial analysts that he didn’t expect significant 5G sales until 2020.

ASR 9000
ASR 9000 router with 32 100 GbE ports

Until the 5G market opens, Cisco is aiming the new ASR 9000 line cards at the network edge where service providers deliver virtual private networks and other business services. Other “big use cases” include internet peering, data center interconnects and the IP infrastructure for mobile services, Arora said.

The ASR 9000 router competes with products from Juniper Networks, Huawei and Nokia. The latter two vendors, along with Ericsson, comprise the top three suppliers to service providers.

Last week, Juniper Networks announced a partnership with Ericsson to sell a collection of products for moving 5G traffic. Cisco announced a wide-ranging partnership with Ericsson in 2015, but that deal has stalled, and many analysts believe it is nearly dead.

“The Ericsson-Cisco partnership was a nonstarter, and both parties did not follow up on the promise that they had articulated during the announcement,” said Rajesh Ghai, an analyst at IDC.

Announcing Azure Pipelines with unlimited CI/CD minutes for open source

With the introduction of Azure DevOps today, we’re offering developers a new CI/CD service called Azure Pipelines that enables you to continuously build, test, and deploy to any platform or cloud. It has cloud-hosted agents for Linux, macOS, and Windows, powerful workflows with native container support, and flexible deployments to Kubernetes, VMs, and serverless environments.

Microsoft is committed to fueling open source software development. Our next step in this journey is to provide the best CI/CD experience for open source projects. Starting today, Azure Pipelines provides unlimited CI/CD minutes and 10 parallel jobs to every open source project for free. All open source projects run on the same infrastructure that our paying customers use. That means you’ll have the same fast performance and high quality of service. Many of the top open source projects are already using Azure Pipelines for CI/CD, such as Atom, CPython, Pipenv, Tox, Visual Studio Code, and TypeScript – and the list is growing every day.

In the following, you can see Atom running parallel jobs on Linux, macOS, and Windows for its CI.

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Azure Pipelines app on GitHub Marketplace

Azure Pipelines has an app in the GitHub Marketplace so it’s easy to get started. After you install the app in your GitHub account, you can start running CI/CD for all your repositories.

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Pull Request and CI Checks

When the GitHub app is setup, you’ll see CI/CD checks on each commit to your default branch and every pull request.

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Our integration with the GitHub Checks API makes it easy to see build results in your pull request. If there’s a failure, the call stack is shown as well as the impacted files.

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More than just open source

Azure Pipelines is also great for private repositories. It is the CI/CD solution for companies like Columbia, Shell, Accenture, and many others. It’s also used by Microsoft’s biggest projects like Azure, Office 365, and Bing. Our free offer for private projects includes a cloud-hosted job with 1,800 minutes of CI/CD a month or you can run unlimited minutes of CI/CD on your own hardware, hosted in the cloud or your on-premises hardware. You can purchase parallel jobs for private projects from Azure DevOps or the GitHub Marketplace.

In addition to CI, Azure Pipelines has flexible deployments to any platform and cloud, including Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform, as well as any of your on-premises server running Linux, macOS or Windows. There are built-in tasks for Kubernetes, serverless, and VM deployments. Also, there’s a rich ecosystem of extensions for the most popular languages and tools. The Azure Pipelines agent and tasks are open source and we’re always reviewing feedback and accepting pull requests on GitHub.

Join our upcoming live streams to learn more about Azure Pipelines and other Azure DevOps services.

  • Keynote: Watch our live Azure DevOps keynote on September 11, 2018 from 8:00 – 9:30 AM Pacific Time.

  • Live training: Join our live Mixer workshop with interactive Q&A on September 17, 2018 from 8:30 AM – 2:30 PM Pacific Time.

You can save-the-date and watch both live streams on our events page. There you’ll also find additional on-demand videos and other resources to help get you started.

I’m excited for you to try Azure Pipelines and tell us what you think. You can share your thoughts directly to the product team using @AzureDevOps, Developer Community, or comment on this post.

Jeremy Epling

@jeremy_epling

Meraki Go offers channel new small-business Wi-Fi market

Meraki Go, a newly launched small-businesses Wi-Fi offering, will give channel partners an edge with customers who were previously out of reach.

That’s the expectation of Cisco Meraki, Cisco’s division that focuses on wireless LAN, cloud-managed switches and other products. Meraki Go offers indoor and outdoor wireless access points, a Meraki Go app for managing the wireless network, and a subscription for support and security updates.

Kevin Rezai, Meraki Go global sales lead at Cisco Meraki, said the Wi-Fi product is built for small-business organizations with fewer than 50 employees. He also noted a possible “sub-niche” of organizations with fewer than 20 employees.

Small-business owners are in a bit of bind when it comes to Wi-Fi, according to Cisco Meraki research. On the one hand, many small businesses tend to get by with consumer-grade Wi-Fi products. A Cisco Meraki survey of 1,000 small-business owners found 43% use the same Wi-Fi offering in their offices that they use in their homes.

But on the other hand, an enterprise-class Wi-Fi product may not prove viable because of the required IT support. More than 80% of the respondents said they lack a full-time IT resource.

The crux is a lot of the Wi-Fi solutions today don’t meet the needs of small businesses.
Kevin RezaiMeraki Go global sales lead at Cisco Meraki

“The crux is a lot of the Wi-Fi solutions today don’t meet the needs of small businesses,” Rezai said.

Pricing is another consideration in the small-businesses Wi-Fi space. Meraki Go aims to lower the price point to make the technology more accessible. An indoor access point is priced at $129, compared with around $600 for the low end of Meraki’s enterprise Wi-Fi access point.

The more affordable price point enables partners to “address their customers in a way they haven’t been able to before,” Rezai said.

Kaseya committed to ‘one-stop-shop’ strategy

IT management vendor Kaseya shared plans to further expand its software platform for managed services providers (MSPs) through yet-to-be-announced acquisitions.

Kaseya’s platform, IT Complete, currently offers a broad suite of integrated MSP products, including remote monitoring and management, professional services automation, and security software.

This past year, Kaseya added backup and disaster recovery software to its portfolio through a buyout of Unitrends. And this week, the vendor purchased RapidFire Tools, a managed services software provider that will operate as independent business under Kaseya. The company provides assessment, internal threat detection and compliance products.

In a recent podcast by market research firm The 2112 Group, Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola revealed more acquisitions to augment the IT Complete platform are on the way.

“I think two of the three announcements that we are going to make are really going to send positive shock waves through the MSP community,” Voccola said in The 2112 Group’s podcast about the upcoming acquisitions.

Voccola said Kaseya is committed to its strategy of becoming a one-stop shop for MSPs — versus a provider of a point product that MSPs can stitch together with other vendors’ products — because the approach meets the needs of how MSPs operates today.

In MSP organizations, a technician typically has multiple functions, which may range from configuration and network management to backup and even service desk work, he said. As result, technicians want a comprehensible “product, one that is deep enough to do what they need to do in the time they need to do it.”

Point products, meanwhile, are more suitable for enterprise IT departments, which usually dedicate entire teams to single functions, Voccola noted. For example, an enterprise IT department might have 500 people focused only on network management, while another 200 do only backup and disaster recovery, he said.

“So much of the tooling and the infrastructure management products [enterprise IT departments] use are frameworks that they have customized substantially with their own internal development teams to augment [and] add company-specific functionality,” he said.

“What is more important [for MSPs] is they accomplish their objective and their task in the quickest, most efficient way possible, and they can move in and out of five or six different functional groups at a fraction of the cost, because that’s what their customers are demanding from them,” Voccola said.

SUSE schools SAP Business One resellers in Linux

SUSE, an open source software provider based in Nuremberg, Germany, has trained 500 SAP partners in an effort to push SAP HANA to more midmarket customers.

The joint SAP-SUSE program focuses on SAP Business One resellers. Business One is an ERP system for small and midsize businesses that grew up in the Windows environment, but now it also runs on SAP HANA and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Dirk Oppenkowski, global alliance director for SAP at SUSE, said SAP aims to gradually move its customer base to Linux and HANA.

As part of the SAP-SUSE program, about 2,500 individuals from the 500 partners went through SUSE’s training academy to become familiar with Linux, Oppenkowski said.

In addition to training, the program also provides profit sharing via deal registration rebates and access to the SUSE Installation Wizard. That tool lets partners deploy SAP Business One running on SAP HANA with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, according to SUSE.

The vast majority of the 500 Business One resellers participating in the program are net-new partners for SUSE. Oppenkowski said, in the past, Business One resellers have been mainly Windows and SQL Server partners. The result is little overlap with SUSE’s reseller channel, he added.

The midmarket program is an offshoot of an ongoing relationship between SUSE and SAP that goes back about seven years.

Other news

  • Security vendor Netwrix Corp. unveiled a technical certification program for its Netwrix Auditor software platform. The Partner Technical Certification Program is designed for technical teams at MSPs, value-added resellers and distributor partners, Netwrix said. By completing online training, partner engineers can achieve two levels of Netwrix Engineer certification: Certified and Pro.
  • ConnectWise is taking applications for a business-expansion idea contest and a merger-and-acquisition matchmaking event. The business-expansion contest, dubbed Pitch IT, offers the first-place winner up to $100,000 to execute its business plan. Runners-up will receive $50,000 and $25,000. ConnectWise’s M&A Deal Crawl event, meanwhile, will bring a number of qualified buyers and sellers together for an in-person meeting Nov. 8 at the IT Nation Connect conference in Orlando, Fla.
  • Broadvoice, a provider of hosted voice, unified communications and SIP trunking services, introduced its Public Sector Program. Through the program, partners can receive help for targeting government, education and nonprofit markets. Partner resources include training, marketing collateral, lead sharing, request-for-proposal tools and technical response assistance, Broadvoice said.
  • Unified Office Inc., an MSP focusing on communications services and business analytics, has launched an offering for the dental industry. The company’s Total Connect Now Dental Management Suite is a voice communications system that integrates with dental practice management software platforms, such as Dentrix, Open Dental and Eaglesoft.
  • Cloud distributor Pax8 has named Ken Patterson as its director of community. Patterson joins Pax8 from Techevolution, a Boston-based MSP, where he served as executive vice president. In his new role, Patterson will oversee Pax8’s community outreach program, partner relationships, and MSPs’ access to education, tools and support, the distributor said.
  • Commvault, a backup and recovery vendor based in Tinton Falls, N.J., has appointed Wenceslao Lada as vice president of worldwide alliances.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Expanding Xbox Voice Commands to Hundreds of Millions of Smart Devices: Xbox Now Connects with Cortana and Alexa-Enabled Devices – Xbox Wire

Here at Team Xbox, we’ve had a long history in offering voice controls as a way to interact with your Xbox console through Kinect and headsets. Today, starting with select Xbox U.S. Insiders, we’re expanding voice support by introducing the Xbox Skill, which enables you to navigate and interact with Xbox One using voice commands through your Cortana and Alexa-enabled devices.

With the Xbox Skill, you can use voice commands to power your Xbox One console, adjust volume, launch games and apps, start and stop broadcasts on Mixer, capture screenshots, and more. It’s the fastest way to get into your games and one of the easiest ways to interact with your console for everyday tasks. For example, if you have the skill enabled on your Echo and you’re a part of the Insider preview, just say “Alexa, start Rocket League.” and this command will automatically turn on your console, sign you in, and launch your game.

The Xbox Skill integrates with your Cortana and Alexa-enabled device such as a Windows 10 PC, Amazon Echo, Harman Kardon Invoke, Sonos One, or Cortana and Alexa apps on iOS and Android, enabling voice commands to control your Xbox One console.

For Xbox Insiders* in the U.S. who want to try the Xbox Skill with Cortana or Alexa, here’s how to get started:

If you use Cortana:

  1. Sign into the Xbox you want to control.
  2. On your Windows 10 PC, click here and sign in with your Microsoft account to link the skill.
  3. Try your first command! “Hey Cortana, tell Xbox to open Netflix.”

If you use Alexa:

  1. Sign into the Xbox you want to control.
  2. Click here, sign in with your Amazon Account, and click Enable.
  3. Sign in with your Microsoft account to link the skill.
  4. Let Alexa discover your console, then follow the instructions to pair your console with Alexa.
  5. Try your first command! “Alexa, start Rocket League.”

Wondering what else the Xbox Skill can do? Just say “Ask Xbox what can I say?” to discover more commands for your console. For a full list of commands, troubleshooting assistance, and to give the team feedback and ideas, you can visit the Xbox Insider Subreddit.

As always, your feedback is important to us and our partners as we continue to evolve this experience and grow our voice integration across devices, digital assistants and voice services.

*Note to Xbox Insiders: We will be rolling the Xbox Skill out to Xbox Insider rings gradually. If the Digital Assistant setting is visible on your console in Settings -> Devices, then you are currently eligible to test the Xbox Skill. If it doesn’t appear, then please be patient as we are working quickly to add more Insider rings to the beta.

Microsoft releases new security tools for political campaigns to combat hacking attempts

Microsoft is offering new security tools to political campaigns — some measures with a level of technology usually reserved for government and big corporate customers — as it expands its efforts to stifle hacking attempts from foreign entities.

The Redmond company announced late Monday a new set of tools, called AccountGuard,  that will closely watch hacking attacks and attempts made against campaigns, and notify their staff when threats occur. Microsoft will also offer training for staffers on how to make accounts more secure, and let them test new security tools “on a par” with the features Microsoft sells to government and corporate clients.

The AccountGuard services will be included for free to campaigns, candidates, think tanks and other political groups that are Office 365 customers. The service is the newest part of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program announced this spring, which aims to make elections secure.

Microsoft pointed to the need to expand security efforts, saying it seized six website domains last week, with the help of a court order, that belonged to hacking group Fancy Bear. The group is believed to have ties to the Russian government and was behind the 2016 hack against the Democratic Party.

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That group and others like it use domains such as senate.group and office365-onedrive.com to give the appearance of a trusted organization when they send out phishing emails. The emails could be used to obtain passwords and infiltrate political organizations.

So far, Microsoft has shut down 84 of these fake domains set up by Fancy Bear in the past two years. The company also revealed last month that it thwarted two attempts last fall by hackers trying to get inside two Senate candidate campaigns, including Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill’s.

The number of hacking attempts has ticked up as midterm election campaigns get underway, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Monday. It’s widely believed the threats aren’t as numerous as they were during the 2016 elections, but cybersecurity executives say they are still serious.

“We can only keep our democratic societies secure if candidates can run campaigns and voters can go to the polls untainted by foreign cyberattacks,” Smith wrote.

Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud gets transaction processing

Oracle is now offering transaction processing capabilities as part of its Autonomous Database Cloud software platform, which is designed to automate database administration tasks for Oracle users in the cloud.

The vendor launched a new Oracle Autonomous Transaction Processing (ATP) cloud service, expanding on the data warehouse service that debuted in March as the first Autonomous Database Cloud offering. The addition of Oracle ATP enables the automated system to handle both transaction and analytical processing workloads, Oracle executive chairman and CTO Larry Ellison said during a launch event that was streamed live.

Ellison reiterated Autonomous Database Cloud’s primary selling point: that automated administration functions driven partly by machine learning algorithms eliminate the need for hands-on configuration, tuning and patching work by database administrators (DBAs).

That frees up DBAs to focus on more productive data management tasks and could lead to lower labor costs for customers, he claimed.

“There’s nothing to learn, and there’s nothing to do,” said Ellison, who also repeated previous jabs at cloud platforms market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) and previewed the upcoming 19c release of the flagship Oracle Database software that underlies Autonomous Database Cloud.

Cloud success still a test for Oracle

However, while Ellison taunted Amazon for its longtime reliance on Oracle databases and expressed skepticism about his competitor’s ability to execute a reported plan to completely move off of them by 2020, Oracle lags behind not only AWS but also Microsoft and Google in the ranks of cloud platform vendors.

Make no mistake, Oracle still has to prove themselves in the cloud.
Adam Ronthalanalyst, Gartner

“Make no mistake, Oracle still has to prove themselves in the cloud,” Gartner database analyst Adam Ronthal said in an email after the announcement.

And Oracle isn’t starting from a position of strength. Overall, the technology lineup that Oracle currently offers on its namesake cloud doesn’t match the breadth of what users can get on AWS, Microsoft Azure and the Google Cloud Platform, Ronthal said.

But Oracle ATP “helps close that gap, at least in the data management space,” he said.

Together, ATP and the Autonomous Data Warehouse (ADW) service that preceded it “are Oracle coming out to the world with products that are built and architected for cloud,” with promises of scalability, elasticity and a low operational footprint for users, Ronthal said.

Oracle's Larry Ellison speaking at the launch of Oracle Autonomous Transaction Processing
Larry Ellison, Oracle’s executive chairman and CTO, introduces the Autonomous Transaction Processing cloud database service.

The Autonomous Database Cloud services are only available on the Oracle Cloud, and Oracle also limits other key data management technologies to its own cloud platform; for example, it doesn’t offer technical support for its Oracle Real Application Clusters software on other clouds.

In addition, Ronthal noted that it’s typically more expensive to run regular Oracle databases on AWS and Azure than on Oracle’s cloud because of software licensing changes Oracle made last year.

“Oracle is doing everything it can to make its cloud the most attractive place to run Oracle databases,” Ronthal said.

But now the company needs to build some momentum by convincing customers to adopt Oracle ATP and ADW, he added — even if that’s likely to primarily involve existing Oracle users migrating to the cloud services, as opposed to new customers.

Oracle’s autonomous services get a look

Clothing retailer Gap Inc. is a case in point, although the San Francisco company’s use of Oracle databases could grow as part of a plan to move more of its data processing operations to the Oracle Cloud.

For example, Gap is working with Oracle on a proof-of-concept project to convert an on-premises Teradata data warehouse to Oracle ADW, said F.S. Nooruddin, the retailer’s chief IT architect.

That’s a first step in the potential consolidation of various data warehouses into the ADW service, he said. Gap also plans to look closely at Oracle ATP for possible transaction processing uses, according to Nooruddin, who took part in a customer panel discussion during the ATP launch event.

Gap already runs Oracle’s retail applications and Hyperion enterprise performance management software in the cloud.

As the retailer’s use of the cloud expands, the Autonomous Database Cloud technologies could help ensure that all of its Oracle database instances, from test and development environments to production systems, are properly patched and secured, Nooruddin said.

Ellison said Oracle ATP also automatically scales the transaction processing infrastructure allotted to users up and down as workloads fluctuate, so they can meet spikes in demand without paying for compute, network and storage resources they don’t need.

That capability appeals to Gap, too, said Connie Santilli, the company’s vice president of enterprise systems and strategy. Gap’s transaction processing and downstream reporting workloads increase sharply during the holiday shopping season — a common occurrence in the retail industry. But Santilli said Gap had to build its on-premises IT architecture to handle the peak performance level, with less flexibility for downsizing systems when the full processing resources aren’t required.

Cloud costs and considerations for Oracle users

In taking aim at AWS, Ellison again said Oracle would guarantee a 50% reduction in infrastructure costs to Amazon users that migrate to Autonomous Database Cloud — a vow he first made at the Oracle OpenWorld 2017 conference.

Meanwhile, Ellison said Oracle customers can use existing on-premises database licenses to make the switch to Oracle ATP and ADW, avoiding the need to pay for the software again. In such cases, users would continue to pay their current annual support fees plus the cost of their cloud infrastructure usage.

The ATP and ADW services layer the automation capabilities Oracle developed on top of Oracle Database 18c, which Oracle released in February as part of a new plan to update the database software annually. During the ATP launch, Ellison disclosed some details about the planned 19c release and the capabilities it will add to Autonomous Database Cloud.

When databases are upgraded to the 19c-based cloud services, the software will automatically check built-in query execution plans and retain the existing ones if they’ll run faster than new ones, Ellison said. That eliminates the need for DBAs to do regression testing on the plans themselves, he added.

Other new features coming with Oracle Database 19c include the ability to configure Oracle ATP and ADW on dedicated Exadata systems in the Oracle Cloud instead of sharing a multitenant pool of the machines, and to deploy the cloud services in on-premises data centers through Oracle’s [email protected] program.

Oracle’s official roadmap shows 19c becoming available in January 2019, but Ellison claimed that was “worst case” and said the new release may be out before the end of this year.

Expert questions funds for interoperability challenges in healthcare

One expert says the $2 million in funding ONC is offering developers to address interoperability challenges in healthcare — although commendable — may not be enough.

“I applaud ONC for recognizing this challenge and making funds available for development of interoperability platforms and solutions,” said John McDaniel, senior vice president of innovation and technology for health IT consulting firm The HCI Group. “However, based on the work we have done with vendors that offer interoperability solutions, I don’t believe $2 million will address the issue.”

ONC funding offered in two areas

ONC will provide up to $2 million in funding to two recipients focused on developing innovative and breakthrough advances in two areas: expanding the scope of population-level data-focused application programming interfaces (APIs) and advancing clinical knowledge at the point of care, according to ONC.

For expanding the scale of APIs, ONC wants to see projects that reduce provider burdens associated with reporting through API technology, as well as assessing trade-offs associated with various big data formats and challenges to the scope of FHIR-based APIs.

As for advancing clinical knowledge at the point of care, ONC hopes to see “emerging innovations” in clinical medicine, as well as data-driven medicine infrastructure and legal and policy implications for innovative approaches, according to the ONC news release.

Additional funding may be available

ONC will fund up to $1 million per area of interest by 2019. After the funds are awarded, there will be a two-year project and budget period, but applicants are encouraged to submit responses based on a five-year project and budget period because additional funding for three to five years could be provided based on the availability of funds and “meaningful progress.”

Based on the work we have done with vendors that offer interoperability solutions, I don’t believe $2 million will address the issue.
John McDanielsenior vice president of innovation and technology, The HCI Group

The funding opportunity will be open for three years, allowing for the possibility that ONC will issue additional awards to other eligible applicants for future “priority areas of interest.”  

ONC expects the funding to “further a new generation of health IT development and inform the innovative implementation and refinement of standards, methods and techniques for overcoming major barriers and challenges as they are identified.” Though he questions whether $2 million will be enough to address interoperability challenges in healthcare, McDaniel said he has seen ONC be successful with similar initiatives in the past, such as establishing incentives to motivate healthcare organizations to implement EHRs, which enabled the digitization of patient care documentation.

The full scope of interoperability challenges in healthcare

Now, McDaniel said, the challenge is to enable full interoperability to not only digitize retrospective patient data, but to “capture and use real-time patient information coupled with cognitive computing to assist care providers with decision-making and best practices given the full view of all relevant patient data.”

“Developing interoperability between EHR’s is a good start, but since only a percentage of relevant retrospective patient data is maintained in those systems, we need to establish interoperability standards for dynamic exchange of data from all source systems, including IoT, EHR’s medical devices, personal health devices, etc., to enable precision and predictive care models,” McDaniel said.