Zoom has struggled to keep some of its services online this week amid a spike in remote work because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Users have had to wait significantly longer than usual to access recordings of Zoom meetings in the cloud. The company said its engineering team was working to resolve the issue, attributing the backlog to “excessive demand.”
Zoom’s dial-in numbers have also faltered several times this month. Elevated traffic has so far clogged audio lines in Japan, New York and Hong Kong, forcing users to connect to a meeting’s audio using the internet. A dial-in number in Australia was also inaccessible at times this week.
Meanwhile, some users were intermittently unable to make and receive calls through Zoom Phone, the vendor’s cloud telephony service, for extended periods of time this week.
Users have now dealt with 18 non-scheduled Zoom service disruptions in March. There were no such incidents in January and just one in February (an issue that affected only subscribers in Brazil).
In a statement, Zoom said it was working to find a “long-term, sustainable solution” to the issues affecting Zoom Phone. The company thanked customers for their “patience and understanding” during an “unprecedented and challenging time for everyone.”
Zoom is not the only collaboration vendor struggling to cope with a sudden surge in usage. Many users of Microsoft Teams were unable to send messages and perform other tasks on Monday. Some Teams users in Europe were affected by another chat outage on Tuesday.
Last week, experts said they didn’t expect any of the major collaboration vendors to suffer outages that forced their services completely offline for multiple days. So far, that prediction has held. Nevertheless, the influx of remote workers is having some impact.
Zoom has not said how many new users it has gained in recent weeks, but its mobile client is now the most popular free download on Apple’s App Store. Notably, countless schools and universities worldwide have begun to hold virtual classes on Zoom.
Statistics shared by other vendors provide clues to the surge in traffic Zoom is likely dealing with. Microsoft Teams gained 12 million daily active users between March 11 and March 18, a 37% increase. Slack added paid customers at nearly three times its typical rate between Feb. 1 and March 18.
Zoom’s support team is also likely fielding complaints related to factors outside of the vendor’s control, such as the quality of a user’s home Wi-Fi. Residential connections are often less reliable than corporate networks.
Forbes says its online audience grew from 15 million users per month in 2012 to 120 million in 2018, a growth spike that ultimately prompted a large-scale move off on-premises systems and into Google Cloud.
The Google Cloud migration now supports all three aspects of Forbes’ business: content, sales and its publishing infrastructure, according to chief digital officer Salah Zalatimo.
“[In 2020], we’re going to be continuing to mature our business model and diversify our revenue,” Zalatimo said. “Google Cloud is about giving us flexibility. We’re going to be able to establish new products and test new features really quickly.”
Forbes used to run its publishing operations on an on-premises, WordPress-based system that was heavily customized, with a front end clunked up by an accumulation of legacy code.
The number of actual people those audience figures represent is likely lower, as Google Analytics defines a user as a browser endpoint. Thus, if an individual read Forbes content both on a phone and a laptop, the user would be counted twice.
Still, the scale involved led toForbes’ 2018decisionto build a new, custom publishing platform. At that point, the company determined it wanted to make a wholesale push into the cloud centered around one primary provider.
Google won Forbes’ business for several reasons, including pricing, incentives to help its Google cloud migration and a lower-pressure approach to sales, according to Zalatimo. “We didn’t have to make any hard commitments.”
While Forbes has a relationship with Microsoft as an Office 365 shop, it quickly ruled out Azure. “We talked to them, but the pricing was just too high,” he said.
Forbes also met with sales teams at AWS, where it initially hosted the new publishing platform, but ultimately decided that Google provided the most ease of use and the best level of automation for its needs. Forbes moved the publishing platform as part of its Google cloud migration during the first half of 2019.
Forbes has moved most of its digital infrastructure into containers and orchestrates them with Google Kubernetes Engine. It also uses the Istio service mesh to wrangle microservices. Google Cloud storage underpins the system and Google Pub/Sub supports serverless operations.
Forbes estimates that the move to GCP has saved 50 engineer-hours per week thanks to efficiencies and automation. Regression testing and new feature deployment time has dropped by 58%, according to the company.
In addition, Forbes is using Google’s AI and machine learning features to train models that suggest headlines, track trending topics and improve reader engagement.
Google Cloud hones enterprise chops
Former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian came aboard as Google Cloud CEO in November 2018. Since then, Kurian has moved to build out Google’s enterprise cloud sales and support organizations — areas where it had lagged behind competitors. Forbes’ experience on this front has been positive, Zalatimo said.
Salah ZalatimoChief digital officer, Forbes
“They are still maturing as an enterprise provider, and we knew that going in,” he said. “But they knew that going in, too.”
Forbes did work with a services partner to help with the Google Cloud migration, but Google’s account representatives were “extremely involved,” he added. “We always had access, even if it was less traditional.” As one example, Forbes’ teams might find themselves having to call a salesperson in order to escalate a technical issue, Zalatimo said.
Forbes is using a wide array of Google Cloud offerings, including its audience analytics platform, BigQuery data warehouse, Hangout meeting software and authentication service, all of which are well-established.
But of all the cloud providers with which Forbes works, Google stands out as keen on engaging customers very early on in the new product development process, he added. “A lot of [vendors] talk about it, and say they want to do it, but I don’t think a lot of companies actually do.”
Weighing Google’s influence
Walmart and other large retailers have shunned doing business with AWS, given how closely they compete with its parent company in e-commerce. Google’s kingmaker positions in general web search as well as the hugely influential Google News service might make a media company such as Forbes similarly think twice about making heavy investments in its technology.
Forbes did factor this into its decision, according to Zalatimo. “Our options [were] either to lean in or lean away,” he said. “At the end of the day, they do carry the leverage. As an independent publisher, we really don’t. So, if you can’t beat them, join them.”
The company is taking part in the Google News Initiative, where Google works with publishers on new product development and other collaborative efforts.
Forbes benefits from this relationship with Google — but not to the extent it gets any special insights into the Google News algorithm, which can heavily affect a publisher’s traffic when changes are made. “They are like Fort Knox about this,” he said.
Online child exploitation is a horrific crime that requires a whole-of-society approach. Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to child online protection. First and foremost, as a technology company, we have a responsibility to create software, devices and services that have safety features built in from the outset. We leverage technology across our services to detect, disrupt and report illegal content, including child sexual exploitation. And we innovate and invest in tools, technology and partnerships to support the global fight needed to address online child sexual exploitation.
In furtherance of those commitments, today Microsoft is sharing a grooming detection technique, code name “Project Artemis,” by which online predators attempting to lure children for sexual purposes can be detected, addressed and reported. Developed in collaboration with The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik and Thorn, this technique builds off Microsoft patented technology and will be made freely available via Thorn to qualified online service companies that offer a chat function. Thorn is a technology nonprofit that builds technology to defend children from sexual abuse.
The development of this new technique began in November 2018 at a Microsoft “360 Cross-Industry Hackathon,” which was co-sponsored by the WePROTECT Global Alliance in conjunction with the Child Dignity Alliance. These “360” hackathons are multifaceted, focusing not just on technology and engineering but also on legal and policy aspects as well as operations and policy implementation. Today’s announcement marks the technical and engineering progress over the last 14 months by a cross-industry v-team from Microsoft, The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik, Thorn and others to help identify potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes and to operationalize an effective response. The teams were led by Dr. Hany Farid, a leading academic who, in 2009, partnered with Microsoft and Dartmouth College on the development of PhotoDNA, a free tool that has assisted in the detection, disruption and reporting of millions of child sexual exploitation images and is used by more than 150 companies and organizations around the world.
Building off the Microsoft patent, the technique is applied to historical text-based chat conversations. It evaluates and “rates” conversation characteristics and assigns an overall probability rating. This rating can then be used as a determiner, set by individual companies implementing the technique, as to when a flagged conversation should be sent to human moderators for review. Human moderators would then be capable of identifying imminent threats for referral to law enforcement, as well as incidents of suspected child sexual exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC, along with ECPAT International, INHOPE and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), provided valuable feedback throughout the collaborative process.
Beginning on January 10, 2020, licensing and adoption of the technique will be handled by Thorn. Companies and services wanting to test and adopt the technique can contact Thorn directly at [email protected] Microsoft has been leveraging the technique in programs on our Xbox platform for several years and is exploring its use in chat services, including Skype.
“Project Artemis” is a significant step forward, but it is by no means a panacea. Child sexual exploitation and abuse online and the detection of online child grooming are weighty problems. But we are not deterred by the complexity and intricacy of such issues. On the contrary, we are making the tool available at this point in time to invite further contributions and engagement from other technology companies and organizations with the goal of continuous improvement and refinement.
At Microsoft, we embrace a multi-stakeholder model to combat online child exploitation that includes survivors and their advocates, government, tech companies and civil society working together. Combating online child exploitation should and must be a universal call to action.
Amazon Web Services has integrated its Amazon Chime online meetings software with a video hardware kit for small and midsize conference rooms made by Dolby Laboratories.
Businesses using Amazon Chime could already connect the app to software-agnostic video hardware using H.323 and SIP. But standards-based connections are generally difficult to set up and use.
The Dolby partnership gives Chime users access to video gear that is preloaded with the AWS software. However, Dolby only entered the video hardware market last year, so few Chime customers will be able to take advantage of the integration without purchasing new equipment.
Amazon Chime is far behind competing services, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Both already have partnerships with leading makers of conference room hardware, such as Poly and Logitech. Also, Chime still lacks support for a room system for large meeting spaces and boardrooms.
Online meetings software must integrate with room systems to effectively compete, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. “So the Dolby announcement represents a much-needed addition to their capabilities.”
Dolby Voice Room includes a camera and a separate speakerphone with a touchscreen for controlling a meeting. The audio device’s microphone suppresses background noise and compensates for quiet and distant voices.
AWS recently expanded Chime to include a bare-bones service for calling, voicemail and SMS messaging. The vendor also earlier this year released a service for connecting on-premises PBXs to the internet using SIP.
Unlike other cloud-based calling and meeting providers, AWS charges customers based on how much they use Chime. However, Chime still trails more established offerings in the video conferencing market.
“Customers I’ve spoken to like their pay-per-use pricing model,” Lazar said. “But at this point, I don’t yet see them making a major push to challenge Microsoft, Cisco or Zoom.”
In a recent Nemertes Research study, 8% of organizations using a video conferencing service were Chime customers, seventh behind offerings from Microsoft, Cisco and others. However, only 0.6% said Chime was the primary app they used — the smallest percentage of any vendor.
Adoption of Chime has been “pretty sluggish,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. “But Amazon can play the long game here.” Launched in February 2017, Chime is a relatively insignificant project of AWS, a division of Amazon that generated more than $25 billion in revenue last fiscal year.
Microsoft filled a major gap in its customer experience stack with the Dynamics 365 Commerce online sales platform, giving customers that own physical stores more technology to drive bottom-line revenues. The e-commerce platform is joined by another new app, the Dynamics 365 Connected Store, which combines data collected online with data collected at brick-and-mortar stores.
The idea is not only to enable online sales for traditional retailers, but to also help customers continue their online shopping experiences when they set foot inside a store location, said Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, in a blog post.
Together with other new AI features and data tools added to existing Dynamics 365 applications, Microsoft is giving retailers a strong alternative to Amazon’s platform — but more importantly, it’s challenging integrated CX stacks from Salesforce and Oracle, said Forrester analyst Kate Leggett.
“You can’t support the customer through their end-to-end journey without an e-commerce pillar,” said Leggett, who added that Dynamics 365 Commerce might not be a great leap forward as an e-commerce platform, but it catches Microsoft up to the pack. “It was a real hole in Microsoft’s portfolio.”
Microsoft is focusing its e-commerce platform for B2C retailers for now, Leggett said. Technology vendors sometimes have separate e-commerce platforms for B2B and B2C customers, but Microsoft said it plans to build the B2C side and add B2B-centric features later.
Dynamics 365 Connected Store adds data insights
Dynamics 365 Commerce paired with Connected Store creates a platform for AI and machine learning for behavioral data analysis that can trace customer journeys from online research to their movements through a physical store as they shop. Moreover, Dynamics 365 Connected Store helps store employees personalize their interactions with individual customers by showing them, for example, what the customer was looking at online before they came in.
Kate LeggettAnalyst, Forrester Research
Connected Store’s data tools can help optimize store operations on a day-to-day basis by, for example, summoning clerks via phone notifications to help check out customers during busy times. It also analyzes video and inventory data to report on longer-term buying patterns to promote inventory and merchandising efficiencies within a store or region.
“It’s about real-time insights, connected data and analytics — having that data available to deliver outcomes you need,” Leggett said.
Also previewed by Microsoft were related new features for existing applications, including Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, which aggregates IoT data from goods such as connected kitchen appliances that contain sensors transmitting data back to the manufacturer. Another was a set of tools within Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service to make Microsoft chatbots easier to customize and deploy.
Dynamics 365 Connected Store currently is in private preview, while Dynamics 365 Commerce is in public preview. A Microsoft spokesperson said the general availability date would be revealed in the “coming months,” as well as pricing information.
With the booming growth of online technologies and marketplaces comes the burgeoning rise of a variety of cybersecurity challenges for businesses that conduct any aspect of their operations through online software and the Internet. Fraud is one of the most pervasive trends of the modern online marketplace, and continues to be a consistent, invasive issue for all businesses.
As the rate of payment fraud continues to rise, especially in retail ecommerce where the liability lies with the merchant, so does the amount companies spend each year to combat and secure themselves against it. Fraud and wrongful rejections already significantly impact merchants’ bottom-line in a booming economy and as well as when the economy is soft.
The impact of outdated fraud detection tools and false alarms
Customers, merchants, and banking institutions have been impacted for years by suboptimal experiences, increased operational expenses, wrongful rejections, and reduced revenue. To combat these negative business impacts, companies have been implementing layered solutions. For example, merchant risk managers are bogged down with manual reviews and analysis of their own local 30/60/90-day historical data. These narrow, outdated views of data provide a partial hindsight view of fraud trends, leaving risk managers with no real-time information to work with when creating new rules to hopefully minimize fraud loss.
One of the most common ways that fraud impacts everyday consumers and business is through wrongful rejections. For example, when a merchant maintains an outdated and/or strict set of transaction rules and algorithms, a customer who initiates a retail ecommerce transaction through a credit card might experience a wrongful rejection known to consumers as a declined transaction, because of these outdated rules. Similarly, wrongful declined transactions can also happen when the card issuing bank refuses to authorize the purchase using the card due to suspicion of fraud. The implications of these suboptimal experiences for all parties involved (customers, merchants, and banks) directly correlates into loss of credibility, security, and business revenue.
Introducing Microsoft Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection
As one of the biggest technology organizations in the world, Microsoft saw an opportunity to provide software as a service that effectively and visibly helps reduce the rate and pervasiveness of fraud while simultaneously helping to reduce wrongful declined transactions and improving customer experience. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection is a cloud-based solution merchants can use in real-time to help lower their costs related to combatting fraud, help increase their revenue by improving acceptance of legitimate transactions, reduce friction in customer experience, and integrate easily into their existing order management system and payment stack. This solution offers a global level of fraud insights using data sets from participating merchants that are processed with real-time machine learning to detect and mitigate evolving fraud schemes in a timely manner.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection houses five powerful capabilities designed to capitalize on the power of machine learning to provide merchants with an innovative fraud protection solution:
Adaptive AI technology continuously learns and adapts from patterns and trends and will equip fraud managers with the tools and data they need to make informed decisions on how to optimize their fraud controls.
A fraud protection network maintains up-to-date connected data that provides a global view of fraud activity and maintains the security of merchants’ confidential information and shoppers’ privacy.
Transaction acceptance booster shares transactional trust knowledge with issuing banks to help boost authorization rates.
Customer escalation support provides detailed risk insights about each transaction to help improve merchants’ customer support experience.
Account creation protection monitors account creation, helps minimize abuse and automated attacks on customer accounts, and helps to avoid incurring losses due to fraudulent accounts
See the image below to learn more about the relationship between merchants and banks when they both use Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection:
Banks worldwide can choose to participate in the Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection transaction acceptance booster feature to increase acceptance rates of legitimate authorization requests from online merchants using Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection. Merchants using the product can opt to use this feature to increase acceptance rates for authorization requests made to banks without having to make any changes to their existing authorization process.
8×8 has replaced its old online meetings product with a new one that offers more features and is easier to use. The platform is available only to businesses subscribed to 8×8’s unified communications suite, but the company said it may make the service available as a stand-alone app in the future.
The old 8X8 video conferencing product — built with a mix of technologies, including some from Vidyo — didn’t cut it for many customers, executives said. The company used the Jitsi open source video conferencing software that it acquired from Atlassian last year to build the new product, called 8×8 Video Meetings.
“The feedback that we heard from our customers, and where we saw the market going, really necessitated that we … swap out our whole meetings product for a new and modern video communications solution,” said Meghan Keough, 8×8’s vice president of marketing.
The new platform lets guests join meetings without having to install a plug-in or download an app. 8×8 follows the lead of Cisco, BlueJeans, Highfive and others in embracing WebRTC, the latest standard for internet-based communications.
8×8 Video Meetings also gives users their own virtual meeting rooms and lets them live-stream meetings to YouTube. Other new features include more detailed analytics and the ability to remotely control a user’s desktop while in a meeting, which could be useful for IT troubleshooting.
“I like what 8×8 has done,” said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. “They basically updated the system, made it more usable in more places in an enterprise and are not charging more for it.”
8×8 also rolled out an early access program for software to manage video conferencing hardware in conference rooms. The product offers a way to connect third-party video cameras from vendors like Logitech and Crestron (powered by minicomputers by Mac and Intel) to 8×8’s video services.
In July, Gartner named 8×8 one of four leaders in the unified communications as a service (UCaaS) market, alongside Microsoft, Cisco and RingCentral. But the research firm previously cautioned that 8×8 offered an unintuitive video conferencing platform with a limited set of features.
8×8 Video Meetings is part of the vendor’s X Series offering, which combines calling, messaging, meetings and contact center.
The company has attempted to differentiate itself from competitors by its own technology, rather than relying on partners. RingCentral, nearly twice as large as 8×8 by revenue, relies on Zoom for video calling and Nice inContact for contact center.
“8×8 is trying to be a complete one-cloud solution for communication and collaboration,” Kurtzman said.
While Office 365 and Exchange Online are all the talk in the messaging world, there are still a lot of mailboxes in the data center. Most estimates say there are more Exchange mailboxes running on premises right now than there are in Office 365.
Exchange Server’s importance to your organization means it’s crucial to hone your abilities to diagnose a problem when an outage occurs. Every issue is different, but there are some common problems that can be fixed with some Exchange troubleshooting tools to get the system back up and working in short order.
Troubleshooting an Exchange outage can be difficult. There is added pressure when a problem with the messaging platform occurs because everyone in any organization relies on email. This process can be complicated because there are four different versions of Exchange supported by Microsoft: Exchange 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. There are significant differences among these products, but there are some tools and tips that should work with all of them.
Verify your deployment
One way to avoid an outage is to get Exchange set up properly. A good Exchange Server deployment is always going to be your best weapon in the fight to keep messaging services online.
Here are some tools you can use to verify a correct Exchange deployment:
The Exchange Server sizing calculator: Microsoft’s Exchange team published an Excel spreadsheet that helps you properly size your Exchange Server deployment with tailored requirements for RAM, storage, networking and CPU for your Exchange hardware. My experience with troubleshooting messaging platform outages has often shown most problems occur due to improper sizing of Exchange Server.
Jetstress: Jetstress measures the IOPS on your Exchange servers and reports on the ability of the hardware to handle the load. The problem with Jetstress is that the testing process for IOPS can, and often will, stress your server to the point of failure. This means that you need to run Jetstress before you install and configure the Exchange bits. Furthermore, testing IOPS is a good reason not to use virtual servers for Exchange. Jetstress will cause your server to fail during the testing process, which will affect the other servers running in your virtual server environment.
Using Remote Connectivity Analyzer
It’s difficult to pin down the cause of an Exchange outage when you can only examine the system from inside your network. With some issues, what you really need is a way to look at Exchange from the outside. Microsoft offers a web-based tool that can see how your Exchange platform responds to requests that come from outside your network.
Remote Connectivity Analyzer — formerly known as Exchange Remote Connectivity Analyzer, or ExRCA — started as an on-premises Exchange troubleshooting tool but has since been expanded to cover other Microsoft products, such as Skype for Business and Office 365. The first tab on the website is dedicated to Exchange Server troubleshooting tests. Remote Connectivity Analyzer can test ActiveSync Exchange web services, Outlook connectivity and internet mail flow.
The Message Analyzer tab parses the email headers to show detailed information about a specific email’s path. These tests are fairly simple to run and can give you a lot of information about the state of your Exchange servers without needing to give someone access to your network.
How to use Telnet to verify connections
While Remote Connectivity Analyzer is one of the great Exchange troubleshooting tools for testing what the outside world can access on your Exchange environment, sometimes, you need to figure out if you can access the outside world from inside your network. One simple tool to do this is Telnet.
You can install Telnet as an optional feature on all Windows workstation and server OSes. Once Telnet is added, it just takes a simple command with a valid Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) destination to verify you can get out from your network to that destination.
Telnet makes it plain if firewall configurations block the transmission of mail out from your network or if the destination network is down.
Working with Windows logs
While not exactly an Exchange troubleshooting tool, Windows logs provide a lot of useful information when attempting to analyze a messaging problem. This might seem like a basic idea for many IT veterans, but some less experienced administrators might have difficulty deciphering what they find in the logs into actionable information.
For Exchange troubleshooting purposes, you should concentrate on the Application log. Filter the log for red events, and then search on the internet for more information about the specific errors you are seeing.