Tag Archives: release

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Full Product Release Now Available on Xbox One – Xbox Wire

Today, the Full Product Release (1.0) update for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) released for new and existing owners across the Xbox One family of devices. This is a big moment for the PUBG Xbox community, now over nine million players strong, who have been every bit an important part of the development process since we first launched in Xbox Game Preview in December 2017. With the support of fans and the team at Microsoft, it’s been an incredible journey and we’re just getting started.

The Full Product Release comes with several exciting updates, including the Xbox One debut of the Sanhok Map, available today, along with Event Pass: Sanhok, which unlocks awesome rewards for leveling up and completing missions. The Sanhok Map is included with the Full Product Release 1.0 update, and Event Pass: Sanhok can be purchased in the Microsoft Store or the PUBG in-game Store beginning today. For additional details on all of the new features included in the Full Product Release update today and in the weeks ahead, click here.

While Full Product Release represents an exciting milestone for PUBG on Xbox One, it does not represent the end of the journey. The game will continue to be updated and optimized, and we have an exciting roadmap of new features and content ahead in the months to come, including the winter release of an all-new snow map.

The Full Product Release of PUBG for Xbox One is available for $29.99 USD digitally and as a retail disc version at participating retailers worldwide. If you already own the Xbox Game Preview version of PUBG on Xbox One you will receive a content update automatically today at no additional cost.

As shared previously, we’re also providing some special bonuses both to new players and those who have supported PUBG over the past nine months.

To enhance the ultimate PUBG experience on Xbox, fans can also look forward to the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Limited Edition Xbox Wireless Controller, which is now available for pre-order at the online at the Microsoft Store and starts shipping to retailers worldwide on October 30 for $69.99 USD.

Be sure to tune into Mixer’s very own HypeZone PUBG Channel to catch the most exciting, down-to-the-wire PUBG action that give viewers the opportunity to discover streamers of all levels during the most intense moments of the game.

Whether you’re already a player or your chicken dinner hunt starts today – now is the best time to jump into PUBG on Xbox One!

Alteryx 2018.3 gives users new data visualization options

The general release of Alteryx 2018.3 is now available, bringing with it more data visualization tools in an effort by Alteryx Inc. to give users of the data preparation and analytics platform a broader set of visualization capabilities.

The quarterly update became generally available on Aug. 28. It also adds other new functionality to the Alteryx Analytics platform, including an analytics caching feature and a Python tool that will allow developers to write to Jupyter Notebook. In addition, Alteryx 2018.3 offers faster performance, more server management options and increased support for the Spark processing engine.

For users, the highlights of the new release are likely to be the additional visualization tools and the caching capability. The need for better data visualization is particularly acute. While Gartner ranked Alteryx among the leading vendors in its 2018 Magic Quadrant report on data science and machine learning platforms, it faulted the company for reporting and visualization capabilities that “remain comparatively weak.”

An increased focus on visualization

Alteryx 2018.3 clearly aims to address the visualization gap by expanding an embedded collection of tools called Visualytics, which Alteryx introduced last August.

Putting in visuals that allow customers to explore data sets has particular positive connotations to us.
Ryan Peelerdirector of network analytics at Voxx Analytics

Following user requests for more, Alteryx has added a tool for building and sharing interactive charts and graphs that resulted from a 2017 partnership deal with visualization vendor Plotly. Alteryx users can now also combine multiple interactive charts together and share them with other users for collaborative analysis, said Greg Davoll, vice president of product marketing at the vendor, based in Irvine, Calif.

Meanwhile, the new caching tool enables users to create caching points in the analytics workflow process. If the process is stopped, it will be restarted from the caching point, without the need to completely start over. That can help reduce processing times, as it has done for Alteryx user Voxx Analytics.

A Garden Grove, Calif., company that provides what it calls influence analytics services to help companies hone their marketing outreach efforts, particularly in the pharmaceuticals and life sciences industries, Voxx  was an early adopter of Alteryx 2018.3 as part of the beta program for the new release.

Ryan Peeler, director of network analytics at Voxx, said his team uses the Alteryx software to automate much of the name disambiguation process in analyzing data from social networks. Peeler added that the new caching tool has already saved him “a ton of time” on analytics processing jobs.

“Once I’ve pulled data once for a use case, I don’t need to keep downloading it,” he said. All that data now gets cached, “so the next time I run it, it picks up right where I left off.”

Still room for more improvement

The Visualytics enhancements are also of interest to Peeler, who said they have made it easier for him to create data visualizations for Voxx customers. Still, while he likes where Alteryx has gone with Visualytics thus far, he noted that if he could make a change to Alteryx’s software, it would be to further the platform’s visualization capabilities even more.

For example, Peeler said he would like to be able to export data visualizations from Alteryx to other analytics and reporting platforms, so they could be shared with corporate clients more easily. “Putting in visuals that allow customers to explore data sets has particular positive connotations to us,” he said.

Donald Farmer, principal of analytics consulting firm TreeHive Strategy, said the Visualytics components of Alteryx 2018.3 are notable enhancements.

“Visualytics recognizes what is too often overlooked in the data analysis user experience: that data preparation and analysis are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “These are really not separate processes. You prepare data with an analysis in mind, and as you develop the visualization or interpretation, you discover ways in which the data must be further prepared or refined to improve the analysis.”

The integrated capabilities provided by Alteryx are particularly useful for “data artisans, who are working hands-on with the data and not visualizing at the end of some other process,” Farmer continued. He also described the caching feature as “a significant enhancement for advanced users,” saying it will help ease the hassles of developing complex data flows.

Pricing in question

However, Farmer negatively noted the Alteryx platform’s pricing model, which charges users of the Alteryx Designer desktop tool an extra $6,500 per year for a feature that allows them to schedule analytics workflows and automate the generation of reports. That’s on top of the $5,195 annual base cost per user for the Designer software.

“In the 21st century, that’s like selling a car with a hand crank and charging extra for an electric starter,” Farmer said.

As for what users might expect beyond the Alteryx 2018.3 update, Davoll said to look for more automation and smart analytics capabilities. While not announced yet, the 2018.4 release will likely become available to beta users in the next couple weeks, he added.

On the data preparation side, vendors that Alteryx competes with include Datawatch, Paxata and Trifacta. In addition, self-service BI vendor Tableau, whose software is often complemented by Alteryx’s technology in user deployments, released its own Tableau Prep tool last spring, enabling  users to do at least some basic data preparation tasks directly in their Tableau systems.

According to Farmer, Alteryx 2018.3 could be seen partly as a response to Tableau Prep that’s designed to raise Alteryx’s analytics and data visualization profile with users. Although, he said the Tableau tool “has been less impactful on Alteryx than many expected.”

Polycom VVX series adds four new desk phones

Polycom has expanded its VoIP endpoint portfolio with the release of four new open SIP phones. The vendor also launched a new cloud-based device management service to help partners provision and troubleshoot Polycom devices.

The release builds upon the Polycom VVX series of IP desk phones. The more advanced models include color LCD displays and gigabit Ethernet ports, unlike any of the previous phones in the Polycom VVX series.

The VVX 150 is the most basic of the new devices. Designed for home offices or common areas, the VVX 150 supports two lines and does not have a USB port or a color display.

The VVX 250 is targeted at small and midsize businesses, with a 2.8-inch color LCD display, HD audio, one USB port and support for up to four lines.

The VVX 350 is for cubicle workers, call centers and small businesses. It has a 3.5-inch color LCD display, two USB ports and support for six lines.

The most advanced of the four new models, the VVX 450, can host 12 lines and comes with a 4.3-inch color LCD display. Polycom said the phones are meant for front-line staff in small and midsize businesses.

The new phones rely on the same unified communications software as the rest of the Polycom VVX series, which should simplify the certification process for service providers, Polycom said. 8×8, Nextiva and The Voice Factory were the first voice providers to certify the devices.

Unlike traditional propriety phones, open SIP phones can connect to the IP telephony services of a wide range of vendors. This simplifies interoperability for businesses that get UC services from multiple vendors.

Polycom embraces cloud to help sell hardware

Polycom has launched two new cloud services in an attempt to make its hardware more attractive to enterprises and service providers.

Polycom Device Management Service for Service Providers, released this week, gives partners a web-based application for managing Polycom devices. This should help service providers improve uptimes and enhance end-user control panels. Polycom launched a similar service for enterprises earlier this year.

Polycom’s new cloud offering aligns well with the cloud management platform for headsets offered by Plantronics, which acquired Polycom in a $2 billion deal that closed last month. Polycom first announced the cloud services in May, prior to the acquisition being made final.

Eventually, Plantronics may look to combine its cloud management platform with Polycom’s, allowing partners to control phones and headsets from the same application, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. This would give Plantronics and Polycom an advantage over competitors such as Yealink and AudioCodes.

“The endpoint market is fairly competitive, so wrapping management capabilities around the devices is an attractive means to provide a differentiated offering,” Lazar said.

Bringing Device Support to Windows Server Containers

When we introduced containers to Windows with the release of Windows Server 2016, our primary goal was to support traditional server-oriented applications and workloads. As time has gone on, we’ve heard feedback from our users about how certain workloads need access to peripheral devices—a problem when you try to wrap those workloads in a container. We’re introducing support for select host device access from Windows Server containers, beginning in Insider Build 17735 (see table below).

We’ve contributed these changes back to the Open Containers Initiative (OCI) specification for Windows. We will be submitting changes to Docker to enable this functionality soon. Watch the video below for a simple example of this work in action (hint: maximize the video).

What’s Happening

To provide a simple demonstration of the workflow, we have a simple client application that listens on a COM port and reports incoming integer values (powershell console on the right). We did not have any devices on hand to speak over physical COM, so we ran the application inside of a VM and assigned the VM’s virtual COM port to the container. To mimic a COM device, an application was created to generate random integer values and send it over a named pipe to the VM’s virtual COM port (this is the powershell console on the left).

As we see in the video at the beginning, if we do not assign COM ports to our container, when the application runs in the container and tries to open a handle to the COM port, it fails with an IOException (because as far as the container knew, the COM port didn’t exist!). On our second run of the container, we assign the COM port to the container and the application successfully gets and prints out the incoming random ints generated by our app running on the host.

How It Works

Let’s look at how it will work in Docker. From a shell, a user will type:

docker run --device="/"

For example, if you wanted to pass a COM port to your container:

docker run --device="class/86E0D1E0-8089-11D0-9CE4-08003E301F73" mcr.microsoft.com/windowsservercore-insider:latest

The value we’re passing to the device argument is simple: it looks for an IdType and an Id. For this coming release of Windows , we only support an IdType of “class”. For Id, this is  a device interface class GUID. The values are delimited by a slash, “/”.  Whereas  in Linux a user assigns individual devices by specifying a file path in the “/dev/” namespace, in Windows we’re adding support for a user to specify an interface class, and all devices which identify as implementing this class   will be plumbed into the container.

If a user wants to specify multiple classes to assign to a container:

docker run --device="class/86E0D1E0-8089-11D0-9CE4-08003E301F73" --device="class/DCDE6AF9-6610-4285-828F-CAAF78C424CC" --device="…" mcr.microsoft.com/windowsservercore-insider:latest

What are the Limitations?

Process isolation only: We only support passing devices to containers running in process isolation; Hyper-V isolation is not supported, nor do we support host device access for Linux Containers on Windows (LCOW).

We support a distinct list of devices: In this release, we targeted enabling a specific set of features and a specific set of host device classes. We’re starting with simple buses. The complete list that we currently support  is  below.

Device Type Interface Class  GUID
GPIO 916EF1CB-8426-468D-A6F7-9AE8076881B3
I2C Bus A11EE3C6-8421-4202-A3E7-B91FF90188E4
COM Port 86E0D1E0-8089-11D0-9CE4-08003E301F73
SPI Bus DCDE6AF9-6610-4285-828F-CAAF78C424CC

Stay tuned for a Part 2 of this blog that explores the architectural decisions we chose to make in Windows to add this support.

What’s Next?

We’re eager to get your feedback. What specific devices are most interesting for you and what workload would you hope to accomplish with them? Are there other ways you’d like to be able to access devices in containers? Leave a comment below or feel free to tweet at me.

Cheers,

Craig Wilhite (@CraigWilhite)

Windstream SD-WAN gets help connecting to the cloud

Network service provider Windstream Communications plans to release in August a service for connecting the Windstream SD-WAN to applications running on Microsoft Azure. The product, called SD-WAN Cloud Connect, is designed to provide a reliable connection to public clouds.

Windstream introduced the service in July, with initial support limited to Amazon Web Services. Windstream plans to add support for other cloud providers over time.

Connecting corporate employees to application services running in a public cloud is not a trivial matter. Corporate IT has to know the performance requirements of cloud-based applications and the expected usage patterns to estimate network bandwidth capacity. Engineers also have to identify potential bottlenecks and plan for monitoring network traffic and network connection endpoints after deploying applications in the cloud.

Windstream’s virtual edge device

Windstream’s latest Cloud Connect service is designed to eliminate some of the hassles of connecting to the public cloud. The service connects through a virtual edge device that communicates with the Windstream SD-WAN Concierge offering, which is a premise-based version of VMware’s VeloCloud.

Windstream can deploy the edge device in its data center or on a customer’s virtualized server. After installing the software, Windstream activates it and handles all management chores as part of the customer’s Windstream SD-WAN service.

Windstream provides an online portal for creating, deploying and managing SD-WAN routing and security policies. The site includes a console for accessing real-time intelligence on link performance.

Windstream’s partnership with an SD-WAN vendor is not unique. Many service providers have announced such deals to compete for a share of the fast-growing market. Other alliances include Comcast Business and CenturyLink with Versa Networks; Verizon with Viptela, which is owned by Cisco; and AT&T and Sprint with VeloCloud.

Windstream, which serves mostly small and midsize enterprises, has grown its network service business through acquisition. In January, Windstream announced it would acquire Mass Communications, a New York-based competitive local exchange carrier. In 2017, Windstream completed the acquisitions of Broadview and EarthLink.

Private Slack shared channels look to boost security, admin controls

Slack is expanding support for external collaboration with a beta release of private shared channels, which should allow separate organizations to communicate more securely across Slack workspaces. Slack announced a beta of public shared channels in September, and earlier this month introduced private Slack shared channels for conversations that could include sensitive or classified information.

The shared channels feature will become more important as large enterprises look to improve the adoption of social tools, Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky wrote in a blog post. Lepofsky said private shared channels will be a more common use case than public shared channels because most cross-organizational communications are better suited to a limited audience.

To access private Slack shared channels, users need to be invited to view or join the channel, and any content shared in the channel won’t appear in search results to non-members.

Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said his firm’s upcoming unified communications and collaboration study found that nearly 20% of organizations plan to use or are already using team collaboration apps for external communication with partners, suppliers and customers — an increase from last year’s study.

“There are still issues to overcome, like whether or not the external participant needs to archive the conversations,” Lazar said.

Slack private shared channels support more secure external collaboration
Slack’s private shared channels allow organizations to collaborate with external users.

Management options for secure Slack shared channels

Private Slack shared channels offer IT management options to protect information. Admins can choose whether a specific shared channel is private or public in their respective workspace. Channels can also be designated private or public on both ends or private on one end and public on the other.

Admins can view the external workspaces their organization is connected to, create new shared channels, view pending shared channel invites and stop sharing any or all shared channels. However, admins cannot view names or content of any private shared channel of which they are not a member.

The private shared channel beta is currently available to teams on the standard and plus plans. Support for Enterprise Grid is expected soon, Slack said.

External collaboration still in a silo

While the beta boosts external collaboration for Slack users, it doesn’t address the need for interoperability among team collaboration apps.

“Until social networking supports cross-product communication, communication with people that use different products will remain a challenge,” Lepofsky said.

Lazar said IT leaders have expressed concern over app overload. Because of the lack of interoperability, users often juggle multiple team collaboration apps to meet their external collaboration needs.

“This is common in the consumer space, where people routinely use multiple text and social apps for communication, but it creates governance and compliance headaches within enterprises,” Lazar said.

Drive Australia’s Open Roads in Native 4K with Forza Horizon 3 Xbox One X Enhanced

Since its release in 2016, millions of players have been exploring the world of Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, the highest-rated Xbox One exclusive. We are pleased to announce that, today, Xbox One X enhancements arrive for Forza Horizon 3, as a free download for players with an Xbox One X.

Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox One X is powered by the same state-of-the art ForzaTech engine at the heart of the Forza franchise, also used to develop Forza Motorsport 7 for Xbox One X which brought native 4K resolution racing to the new platform. Forza Horizon 3 enhancements let players experience the game in native 4K along with a host of additional visual updates, including improved car reflections and shadow resolutions, improved texture detail for road and terrain surfaces, and more. In addition, 4K resolution enhancements will be fully compatible with both Blizzard Mountain and Hot Wheels expansions for Forza Horizon 3. Whether you’re careening across the dunes of the Outback in your favorite off-roader or building up a legion of fans with death-defying stunt driving in the rainforest, the 4K-enhanced version of Forza Horizon 3 is a thrilling blend of fantastic gameplay and cutting-edge visuals.

Xbox One X Forza Horizon 3 Battlecard

As part of Xbox’s ongoing Inside Xbox One X Enhanced series, I chatted with Playground Games’ creative director and co-founder Ralph Fulton for insight into the studio’s work on the enhancements. Enjoy!

What specifically has your team done to enhance Forza Horizon 3 for Xbox One X?

First and foremost, this update enables Forza Horizon 3 to run in native 4K (3840×2160) on a console for the very first time. Forza Horizon 3 has always been a fantastic-looking game but the clarity and detail of native 4K resolution really brings the vast playground of Australia to life like never before. In addition, we’ve made a number of graphical improvements to the game, such as increased shadow resolution, improved visual effects and increased LOD and draw distances, which take advantage of the power of the Xbox One X.

How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience?

These enhancements are all about the visuals.  We know that our fans really value great image quality, so we’ve taken this opportunity to deliver that to them with this update on Xbox One X. On top of the obvious enhancement to native 4K, there are a number of other improvements we’ve made which really take advantage of the added definition 4K brings. Reflections are sharper and clearer, environment shadows are crisper and better defined, the quality of motion blur has been increased to make the driving experience significantly smoother, and better anisotropic filtering improves the detail visible in environment textures, particularly on the roads themselves. For me, the biggest improvement is in the combination of 4K and HDR though, especially in Forza Horizon 3‘s dynamic time-lapse skies. The sky is such a huge part of nearly every scene in the game that it affects the feel of the game a great deal, and the improvements we’ve made to reflections and shadows really complement it.

Why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?

We’ve been positively overwhelmed by the positive feedback we’ve had from the community over the last year about the quality of the gameplay in Forza Horizon 3 and the amount of fun they have with it, and we feel really proud that we’ve been able to keep that going with the high-quality Blizzard Mountain and Hot Wheels expansions, car packs and weekly Forzathon events. This was our opportunity to bring the game to native 4K on console for the first time and make a great-looking game look even better.

How do you expect Forza Horizon 3 fans will respond to seeing and playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?

I feel like we’re at the crest of a wave in the transition to 4K – more and more people are trading up to 4K TVs and want native 4K experiences to show what their new TV can do. That was exactly my experience when I upgraded recently and I’ve really enjoyed getting back into some of my favourite games, like the The Witcher 3 for example, as they’ve released their enhanced versions. I hope that will be the case for Forza Horizon 3 fans as well. When I’ve been playing with the update in the studio, I’ve been really blown away by the beauty of the world, like I’m seeing it for the first time and I hope Horizon fans feel the same way too. One of my favourite things about Forza is the incredible photography which comes out of the community.  I follow a bunch of Forza photography accounts on Twitter, where the creativity of Forza fans always blows me away, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the community photographs which come out of the enhanced version.

How has the process been to get the game up and running on Xbox One X?

It’s been incredibly straightforward. It took us less than a day from receiving our first Xbox One X kit to get Forza Horizon 3 up and running in 4K, and when we did we still had a lot of spare headroom on both the CPU and the GPU. The Xbox One Development Kit for the Xbox One X is by far the most developer-friendly and powerful dev kit we’ve ever worked with, which makes it a pleasure to develop for.

What enhancement were you most excited about to explore leveraging for Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox One X?

Our goal with this update was to bring Forza Horizon 3 in 4K to console for the first time, and that’s what we’ve delivered. As I mentioned earlier, as one of the first titles which featured HDR on the Xbox One S, we’ve been really excited by the visual combination of native and HDR technology – it is a real, evolutionary leap in graphics.

What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?

We know our players value incredible visuals, effects and image quality, and we put a huge amount of effort into delivering them with every title. Native 4K resolution, especially when combined with HDR, is a huge step forward in visual fidelity and as mass adoption of 4K displays continues it will become the standard by which game visuals are judged. For us, as a studio, the power of the Xbox One X, as well as its ease of development and straightforward compatibility across the Xbox One family of devices, has made it the lead development platform for the new title we’re currently working on. This means a couple of things. First, it means we’re developing from the ground up to take advantage of the Xbox One X’s enormous graphical horsepower, an approach which will continue to yield massive advances in visual quality. Secondly, though, it also means you’ll see improvements on Xbox One and Xbox One S as a result – we find that there’s a trickle-down effect when you develop for the most powerful hardware which brings improvements even on the less powerful machines.

Make sure to join us on the official Forza Motorsport channel on Mixer to watch as we show off the Xbox One X version of the game, starting on January 16 at 1 p.m. PST. Stay tuned to ForzaMotorsport.net for updates.

SwiftStack object storage integrates file protocol support

SwiftStack Inc.’s new 6.0 product release adds Universal Access capabilities to enable customers to read and write files to object storage in private or public clouds without a gateway.

The San Francisco-based software vendor originally gained a following through its commercially supported version of open source OpenStack Swift object storage. But SwiftStack object storage has steadily added capabilities and, with the version 6 release, the startup now refers to its product as “multi-cloud data management” that provides a “cloud-native” single namespace for unstructured data.

SwiftStack object storage always supported the OpenStack Swift and Amazon S3 APIs. With its 2.0 product release, SwiftStack added a gateway to enable users to put file data into an object storage system via API and take it out via file, or vice versa, noted Mario Blandini, the company’s vice president of marketing.

“The reality is, no one used our file system gateway because what they really wanted is it to be as fast as their NAS and as cool as their NAS but then cheap as in object storage,” Blandini said. “Architecturally, a gateway could not delight our customers.”

Diagram of SwiftStack storage
SwiftStack storage with file access

Integrated support for SMB/NFS file protocols

SwiftStack’s Universal Access now enables users or applications to access unstructured data from any private or public cloud location through the SMB and NFS file protocols and Amazon S3 and Swift object interfaces. The system can read and write data to a cloud-based single namespace in both formats. For instance, it can ingest data via file and read via object, or vice versa.

“Any workflow comprised of any number of parts works, as long as the file interfaces are SMB or NFS, and the object interfaces are Swift or S3,” Blandini said.

Try not to label us as an object storage company … because at the end of the day, no one cares about object storage.
Mario Blandinivice president of marketing, SwiftStack

Combining Universal Access with SwiftStack’s previously released Cloud Sync capabilities enables IT managers to control the placement of data in private or public clouds based on policies tailored to specific application workloads and facilitate multiprotocol access to the information. Blandini said the true benefit is being able to “put the right stuff in the right place at the right time without having your users do it — having your IT governance control where the data is placed.”

He said the new capabilities would enable SwiftStack, for the first time, to “ask people to please stop thinking of us as an open source company,” and “while you’re at it, if you could try not to label us as an object storage company, that’d be even better, because at the end of the day, no one cares about object storage.”

“When people write to a public cloud, they don’t care that it’s object storage,” Blandini said. “One of the things that’s made object storage elusive for most users is the fact that it’s been made up to be way more complicated than it needs to be. With cloud-first initiatives coming from CIOs and the mandate to provide DR and site recovery for a lot of businesses who can’t afford a second data center, we’re seeing a lot more momentum going to these things because it’s practical to do now.”

George Crump, founder and president of Storage Switzerland LLC, said SwiftStack’s Universal Access provides “some feature uniqueness that nobody else at least at this point has delivered.” But he said it’s probably not the one feature by itself that could push SwiftStack over the edge to significant market share.

“They have really good technology. Now it comes down to can they market,” Crump said. “I’d say the jury is out at this point.”

Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage LLC, said SwiftStack’s pioneering work to have a single system that facilitates access to the same data via file and object APIs means developers won’t have to rewrite file-based applications for object storage paradigms and can write new applications to the S3 object API without having to worry about support for file APIs.

“It certainly opens  up a new market” for SwiftStack, Marks said. “Their market before had been people building object storage for cloud-type applications. They open it up to the people who have applications using files now that want to make the transition to object and use that as their transition to a cloud strategy.”

Stiff competition for SwiftStack object storage

Marks noted that SwiftStack object storage faces stiff competition in a busy market populated with well-established vendors, startups and open source options such as Ceph. He said the company is taking the right approach in de-emphasizing its OpenStack Swift roots.

“The general-purpose object market is way bigger than OpenStack, and they don’t want to be ghettoized,” Marks said. “OpenStack is starting to get the smell of failure on it. People are starting to look down on OpenStack.”

Torsten Volk, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, said SwiftStack version 6 could serve as a complement to traditional NAS. “For latency-sensitive use cases, traditional NAS can stay in place. However, you could use SwiftStack to get more mileage out of existing filers by moving off the less demanding data,” Volk wrote in an email.

Volk said SwiftStack’s software could also be helpful for container users. “Containers notoriously are fighting with data mapping. SwiftStack gives them API access so that you don’t have to worry about Kubernetes storage drives or plug-ins,” he wrote.

Understanding the Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel

Microsoft has made major changes to the way that they build and release their operating systems. The new Windows Server “Semi-Annual Channel” (SAC) marks a substantial departure from the familiar release pattern that Microsoft has established. The change has pleased some people, upset many, and confused even more. With all the flash of new features, it’s easy to miss the finer points — specifically, how you, your organization, and your issues fit into the new model.

The Traditional Microsoft OS Release Model

Traditionally, Microsoft would work on pre-release builds internally and with a small group of customers, partners, and other interested stakeholders (such as MVPs). Then, they would finesse the builds with open betas (usually called “Release Candidates”). Then, there would be an RTM (release-to-manufacturing) event followed by GA (general availability). The release would then be considered “current”. It would enjoy regular updates including service packs and feature upgrades for a few years, then it would go into “extended support” where it would only get stability and security updates. While customers purchased and worked with the “current” version, work on the next version would begin in parallel.

Not every version followed this model exactly, but all of them were similar. The most recent Windows Server operating system to employ this model is Windows Server 2016.

Changes to the Model with Windows 10/Server 2016

The “Windows Insider Program” was the first major change to Microsoft’s OS build and release model. Initially, it was most similar to the “release candidate” phase of earlier versions. Anyone could get in and gain access to Windows 10 builds before Windows 10 could even be purchased. However, it deviated from the RC program in two major ways:

  • The Windows Insider Program includes an entire community.
  • The Windows Insider Program continues to provide builds after Windows 10 GA

The Windows Insider Community

Most of us probably began our journey to Windows Insider by clicking an option in the Windows 10 update interface. However, you can also sign up using the dedicated Windows Insider web page. You get access to a dedicated forum. And, of course, you’ll get e-mail notifications from the program team. You can tell Microsoft what you think about your build using the Feedback Hub. That applet is not exclusive to Insiders, but they’ll know if you’re talking about an Insider build or a GA build.

Ongoing Windows Insider Builds

I expect that most Insiders prize access to new builds of Windows 10 above the other perks of the program. The Windows 10 Insider Program allows you to join one of multiple “rings” (one per joined Windows 10 installation). The ring that an installation belongs to dictates how close it will be to the “cutting edge”. You can read up on these rings and what they mean on the Insider site.

The most important thing about Windows Insider builds — and the reason that I brought them up at all in this article — is that they are not considered production-ready. The fast ring builds will definitely have problems. The preview release builds will likely have problems. You’re not going to get help for those problems outside of the Insider community, and any fix will almost certainly include the term “wait for the next build” (or the next… or the one after… or some indeterminate future build). I suspect that most software vendors will be… reluctant… to officially support any of their products on an Insider build.

Windows Server Insider Program

The Windows Server Insider Program serves essentially the same purpose as the Windows 10 Insider Program, but for the server operating system. The sign-up process is a bit different, as it goes through the Windows Insider Program for Business site. The major difference is the absence of any “rings”. Only one current Windows Server Insider build exists at any given time.

Introducing the Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel

I have no idea what you’ve already read, so I’m going to assume that you haven’t read anything. But, I want to start off with some very important points that I think others gloss over or miss entirely:

  • Releases in the Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel are not Windows Server 2016! Windows Server 2016 belongs to the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC). The current SAC is simply titled “Windows Server, version 1709”.
  • You cannot upgrade from Windows Server 2016 to the Semi-Annual Channel. For all I know, that might change at some point. Today, you can only switch between LTSC and SAC via a complete wipe-and-reinstall.
  • On-premises Semi-Annual Channel builds require Software Assurance (I’d like to take this opportunity to point out: so does Nano). I haven’t been in the reseller business for a while so I don’t know the current status, but I was never able to get Software Assurance added to an existing license. It was always necessary to purchase it at the same time as its base volume Windows Server license. I don’t know of any way to get Software Assurance with an OEM build. All of these things may have changed. Talk to your reseller. Ask questions. Do your research. Do not blindly assume that you are eligible to use an SAC build.
  • The license for Windows Server is interchangeable between LTSC and SAC. Meaning that, if you are a Software Assurance customer, you’ll be able to download/use either product per license count (but not both; 1 license count = 1 license for LTSC or 1 license for SAC).
  • The keys for Windows Server are not interchangeable between LTSC and SAC. I’m not yet sure how this will work out for Automatic Virtual Machine Activation. I did try adding the WS2016 AVMA key to a WS1709 guest and it did not like that one bit.
  • SAC does not offer the Desktop Experience. Meaning, there is no GUI. There is no way to install a GUI. You don’t get a GUI. You get only Core.
  • Any given SAC build might or might not have the same available roles and features as the previous SAC build. Case in point: Windows Server, version 1709 does not support Storage Spaces Direct.
  • SAC builds are available in Azure.
  • SAC builds are supported for production workloads. SAC follows the Windows Server Insider builds, but SAC is not an Insider build.
  • SAC builds will only be supported for 18 months. You can continue using a specific SAC build after that period, but you can’t get support for it.
  • SAC builds should release roughly every six months.
  • SAC builds will be numbered for their build month. Ex: 1709 = “2017 September (09)”.
  • SAC ships in Standard and Datacenter flavors only.

what is the windows server semi-annual channel

The Semi-Annual Channel is Not for Everyone

Lots of people have lots of complaints about the Windows Server Semi-annual Channel. I won’t judge the reasonableness or validity of any of them. However, I think that many of these complaints are based on a misconception. People have become accustomed to a particular release behavior, so they expected SAC to serve as vNext of Windows Server 2016. Looking at Microsoft’s various messages on the topic. I don’t feel like they did a very good job explaining the divergence. So, if that’s how you look at it, then it’s completely understandable that you’d feel like WS1709 slapped you in the face.

However, it looks different when you realize that WS1709 is not intended as a linear continuation. vNext of Windows Server 2016 will be another release in the LTSC cycle. It will presumably arrive sometime late next year or early the following year, and it will presumably be named Windows Server 2018 or Windows Server 2019. Unless there are other big changes in our future, it will have the Desktop Experience and at least the non-deprecated roles and features that you currently have available in WS2016. Basically, if you just follow the traditional release model, you can ignore the existence of the SAC releases.

Some feature updates in SAC will also appear in LTSC updates. As an example, both WS1709 and concurrent WS2016 patches introduce the ability for containers to use persistent data volumes on Cluster Shared Volumes.

Who Benefits from the Semi-Annual Channel?

If SAC is not meant for everyone, then who should use it? Let’s get one thing out of the way: no organization will use SAC for everything. The LTSC will always have a place. Do not feel like you’re going to be left behind if you stick with the LTSC.

I’ll start by simplifying some of Microsoft’s marketing-speak about targeted users:

  • Organizations with cloud-style deployments
  • Systems developers

Basically, you need to have something akin to a mission-critical level of interest in one or more of these topics:

  • Containers and related technologies (Docker, Kubernetes, etc.)
  • Software-defined networking
  • High-performance networking. I’m not talking about the “my test file copy only goes 45Mbps” flavor of “high performance” networking, but the “processing TCP packets between the real-time interface and its OLTP database causes discernible delays for my 150,000 users” flavor.
  • Multiple large Hyper-V clusters

Read the “What’s New” article for yourself. If you can’t find any must-have-yesterdays in that list, then don’t worry that you might have to wait twelve to eighteen months for vNext of LTSC to get them.

Who Benefits from the Long-Term Servicing Channel?

As I said, the LTSC isn’t going anywhere. Not only that, we will all continue to use more LTSC deployments than SAC deployments.

Choose LTSC for:

  • Stability. Even though SAC will be production-ready, the lead time between initial conception and first deployment will be much shorter. The wheel for new SAC features will be blocky.
  • Predictability: The absence of S2D in WS1709 caught almost everyone by surprise. That sort of thing won’t happen with LTSC. They’ll deprecate features first to give you at least one version’s worth of fair warning. (Note: S2D will return; it’s not going away).
  • Third-party applications: We all have vendors that are still unsure about WS2008. They’re certainly not going to sign off on SAC builds.
  • Line-of-business applications: Whether third-party or Microsoft, the big app server that holds your organization up doesn’t need to be upgraded twice each year.
  • The GUI.

What Does SAC Mean for Hyper-V?

The above deals with Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel in a general sense. Since this is a Hyper-V blog, I can’t leave without talking about what SAC means for Hyper-V.

For one thing, SAC does not have a Hyper-V Server distribution. I haven’t heard of any long-term plans, so the safest bet is to assume that future releases of Hyper-V Server will coincide with LTSC releases.

As far the Hyper-V role, it perfectly fits almost everything that SAC targets. Just look at the new Hyper-V-related features in 1709:

  • Enhanced VM load-balancing
  • Storage of VMs in storage-class memory (non-volatile RAM)
  • vPMEM
  • Splitting of “guest state” information out of the .vmrs file into its own .vmgs file
  • Support for running the host guardian service as a virtual machine
  • Support for Shielded Linux VMs
  • Virtual network encryption

Looking at that list, “Shielded Linux VMs” seems to have the most appeal to a small- or medium-sized organization. As I understand it, that’s not a feature so much as a support statement. Either way, I can shield a Linux VM on my fully-patched Windows Server 2016 build 1607 (LTSC) system.

As for the rest of the features, they will find the widest adoption in larger, more involved Hyper-V installations. I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but it seems to me that anyone that needs those features today won’t have any problems accepting the terms that go along with the switch to SAC.

For the rest of us, Hyper-V in LTSC has plenty to offer.

What to Watch Out For

Even though I don’t see any serious problems that will result from sticking with the LTSC, I don’t think this SKU split will be entirely painless.

For one thing, the general confusion over “Windows Server 2016” vs. “Windows Server, version 1703” includes a lot of technology authors. I see a great many articles with titles that include “Windows Server 2016 build 1703”. So, when you’re looking for help, you’re going to need to be on your toes. I think the limited appeal of the new features will help to mitigate that somewhat. Still, if you’re going to be writing, please keep the distinction in mind.

For another, a lot of technology writers (including those responsible for documentation) work only with the newest, hottest tech. They might not even think to point out that one feature or another belongs only to SAC. I think that the smaller target audience for the new features will keep this problem under control, as well.

The Future of LTSC/SAC

All things change. Microsoft might rethink one or both of these release models. Personally, I think they’ve made a good decision with these changes. Larger customers will be able to sit out on the bleeding edge and absorb all the problems that come with early adoption. By the time these features roll into LTSC, they’ll have undergone solid vetting cycles on someone else’s production systems. Customers in LTSC will benefit from the pain of others. That might even entice them to adopt newer releases earlier.

Most importantly, effectively nothing changes for anyone that sticks with the traditional regular release cycle. Windows Server Semi-Annual Channel offers an alternative option, not a required replacement.