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Four steps to get involved in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship | | Microsoft EDU

Students around the world are using their Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification to show colleges and future employers that they have a true mastery of the Microsoft Office suite. In fact, some talented students even go on to compete in a world competition for Microsoft Office.

Each year, Certiport, a Pearson VUE business, and the leading provider of learning curriculum, practice tests and performance-based IT certification exams that accelerate academic and career opportunities, hosts the MOS World Championship. This event is a global competition, testing top students’ skills on Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Are you a hard-working student, looking to show the world your Microsoft Office skills? Check out these four easy steps below to find out how you can get involved in the Microsoft Office Specialist Championship.

  1. Learn. Before you’re ready to compete, make sure you’re a master of the Microsoft Office Suite. Certiport has collaborated with multiple learning partners to make preparation easy. You can learn the skills you need to earn a top score on your MOS exam.
  2. Practice. Now that you’ve expanded your knowledge, it’s time to apply it. You can hone your Microsoft Office skills using various practice exams. These performance-based assessment and test preparation tools will prepare you to earn your MOS certification by creating a true “live in the app” experience. You’ll be a master in no time, because you’ll be practicing skills as if in the Microsoft Office application.
  3. Certify. You’re ready to show your skills! Microsoft Office Specialist exams are only delivered in Certiport Authorized Testing Centers. However, with more than 14,000 testing centers worldwide, there’s bound to be one close by. Find a testing center near you, and don’t forget to reach out to the testing center to schedule an appointment. Make sure to push for a score over 700 to be eligible for the MOS World Championship!
  4. Compete. If you’ve earned a top score, then the MOS Championship is your next step. Qualification is simple. When you take a Microsoft Office Specialist exam in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, you’ll automatically enter the MOS Championship and could be chosen to represent your country.

To represent your country at the MOS World Championship, you’ll need to first be named your nation’s champion by competing in a regional competition hosted by Certiport’s network of Authorized Partners. You can see the full list of partners and nations that compete here. In addition, each country has its own selection process, so make sure to connect with your local Partner to find out how you can prepare to compete in the MOS World Championship in 2020.

Interested in learning more about the MOS World Championship? Connect with us at [email protected].

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Bluescape releases newest version of its mobile app

Bluescape has launched its newest mobile app to enable users to access their content on the go.

The app, available in the Apple App Store and Google Play store, connects to Bluescape workspaces from mobile devices, such as cellphones or tablets. According to the vendor, it enables users to give presentations without a laptop by launching a Bluescape session from the app onto larger touchscreens.

Users can also access their content and workspace anytime and from anywhere and search and view content. According to Bluescape, the app provides a visual collaboration workspace that integrates day-to-day applications, content and tools.

The Bluescape platform is cloud-based software, with applications designed for collaboration in the workplace. Available applications include mobile and personal workstations, huddle rooms, innovation centers, collaboration suites, conference rooms, training rooms, executive briefing centers, command centers and control centers. Search, messaging and file sharing are also built into the platform.

Bluescape lists professionals in jobs such as architecture, consulting, designing, filmmaking, marketing and product development as ideal users for its product, as these are often groups of people working collaboratively and visually.

Bluescape is among the vendors offering visual collaboration software, which works hand in hand with digital collaborative whiteboards. Vendor Mural provides separate workspaces for teams and enables scaling for companywide processes, with frameworks for Agile, Lean and Design Thinking methods. Custom frameworks are also available.

Competitor Miro touts its product development, user experience research and design, and Lean and Agile capabilities, as well as its enterprise-grade security. Available applications include Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Slack, OneDrive and Microsoft Teams.

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AWS expands its cloud cost optimization portfolio

AWS’ latest tool aims to help customers save money and optimize their workloads on the cloud platform, and also expand AWS’ cost management capabilities to a broader base.

As an opt-in feature, Amazon EC2 now scans customer usage over the previous two weeks and creates “resource optimization recommendations” for actions to address idle and underutilized instances. AWS defines idle instances as ones with less than 1% of their maximum CPU utilization active, and underutilized instances as CPU activity between 1% and 40% of capacity, according to a blog post.

The system recommends customers shut off idle instances entirely. For underutilized ones, AWS simulates that same level of usage applied to a smaller instance in the same service tier, and shows customers cost savings to bundle multiple instances into one. Customers get a summary of potential resource optimizations, which includes estimates of monthly savings, and can also download lists of recommendations.

At present, the recommendations cover major EC2 instance families but not GPU-based ones, according to the blog.

AWS advances cloud cost optimization question

The new feature bears similarity at a glance to the likes of AWS Cost Explorer and AWS Trusted Advisor, but there are differences, and it should be welcomed by customers, analysts said.

Deepak Mohan, analyst at IDCDeepak Mohan

“This aligns with one of the top pain points customers highlight as they start scaling up their cloud usage, which is that optimal service selection and configuration are not easy, and suboptimal configuration results in high costs as usage increases,” said Deepak Mohan, an analyst with IDC.

This aligns with one of [cloud customers’] top pain points … optimal service selection and configuration are not easy, and suboptimal configuration results in high costs as usage increases.
Deepak MohanAnalyst, IDC

With resource optimization recommendations, AWS also presents cost management features to a broader set of customers, Mohan said.

Cost Explorer gives customers report-generation tools to examine their usage over time. It also includes forecasting capabilities, but Cost Explorer is more a means to examine the past.

Trusted Advisor has a broader remit, as it looks at not just cost issues but also security and governance, fault tolerance and performance improvements. The full feature set of Trusted Advisor is only available to customers with business and enterprise-level support plans, while the new capabilities are available to all customers at no charge, Mohan noted.

Moreover, Trusted Advisor alerts admins that an instance has a poor level of utilization, which might prompt them to investigate which instance might be better, said Owen Rogers, vice president of cloud transformation and digital economics at 451 Research. By comparison, these resource optimization recommendations tell admins which instance would be a better fit to keep the application performing well but also at a lower price point.

Owen Rogers, 451 ResearchOwen Rogers

“This is a nice free feature that I think many customers will take advantage of,” he said. “After all, if you can save money without impacting deliverables, why wouldn’t you?”

AWS has not achieved anything revolutionary here. Microsoft and Google have similar tools for cloud cost management, as well as third-party options from the likes of ParkMyCloud, VMWare CloudHealth and OpsRamp, Rogers added.

But AWS’ complexity with regard to prices and SKUs has long been a sore spot for customers. Its latest move ties generally into remarks Amazon CTO Werner Vogels made in a recent interview with TechTarget.

“I think there’s a big role for automation,” Vogels said. “I think helping customers make better choices there through automation and tools is definitely a path we are looking for.”

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Use PowerShell printer management for quicker setups

Even the most high-tech organizations still need printers for users to do their jobs.

While the electronic transition of business documents has greatly reduced the need to print most documents, networked printers and print servers remain important pieces of the infrastructure. For a Windows shop, the simplest approach is to use Windows Server as the foundation for printing services. Armed with PowerShell printer management know-how, administrators have an automation tool to configure and manage these print servers.

Install print services

The first step to set up a Windows print server is to add the feature to the server. We can use the Server Manager GUI, but it’s easily done with a PowerShell command:

Add-WindowsFeature -Name Print-Server

PowerShell printer command
A PowerShell cmdlet adds the print feature to the Windows Server system to manage printing jobs.

The True value under the Success Boolean indicates the feature installed and is ready for use without requiring a restart.

Add printer drivers

Starting with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, Microsoft added class printer drivers, also called v4 printer drivers, for various manufacturers. You can add these and other v3 print drivers to a print server with the Add-PrinterDriver cmdlet. Keep in mind to use the cmdlet requires the driver in the server’s DriverStore folder; you can use the PnPUtil command-line tool to add any missing drivers.

The following command installs all drivers in INF files from a folder on a local drive for an HP LaserJet M607 M608 M609 PCL 6:

pnputil.exe -i -a C:HP_LJM607-M608-M609HP_LJM607-M608-M609_V3*.inf
Microsoft PnP Utility

Processing inf : hpat6b2a_x64.inf
Successfully installed the driver on a device on the system.
Driver package added successfully.
Published name : oem10.inf

Processing inf : hpat6b2a_x86.inf
Successfully installed the driver on a device on the system.
Driver package added successfully.
Published name : oem12.inf

Total attempted: 2
Number successfully imported: 2

After a successful attempt, you can add the drivers to the print server with Add-PrinterDriver by specifying the name of the driver:

Add-PrinterDriver -Name 'HP LaserJet M607 M608 M609 PCL 6'

The command does not generate any output to let you know if it worked, but the Get-PrinterDriver will let you verify its availability:

Get-PrinterDriver -Name 'HP LaserJet M607 M608 M609 PCL 6'

Add a port for printers

Most organizations use networked printers on a Windows print server by adding a port that connects to the printer IP address. The following command adds a standard TCP/IP port for the IP address 172.16.26.8 with the port 9100 which uses the RAW printer protocol:

Add-PrinterPort -Name '172.16.26.8' -PrinterHostAddress '172.16.26.8' -PortNumber 9100

Add print queues

To combine all these commands, let’s add a new print queue to the print server with PowerShell.

To make this tutorial easier to read, the settings are in a hashtable $Settings to use splatting with the Add-Printer cmdlet. This example limits the Add-Printer parameters to include a comment, driver name, location, name, port name, print processor and make sure it’s a shared printer:

$Settings = @{
Comment = 'HP m607'
DriverName = 'HP LaserJet M607 M608 M609 PCL 6'
Location = 'My Office'
Name = 'HP M607'
PortName = '172.16.26.8'
PrintProcessor = 'winprint'
Shared = $True
}
Add-Printer @Settings -Verbose

Run the Get-Printer command with the name HP M 607 to see the printer’s settings:

Get-Printer 'HP M607' | Format-List

Name : HP M607
ComputerName :
Type : Local
ShareName : HP M607
PortName : 172.16.26.8
DriverName : HP LaserJet M607 M608 M609 PCL 6
Location : My Office
Comment : HP m607
SeparatorPageFile :
PrintProcessor : winprint

Printer settings
The Get-Printer command generates a detailed listing of a printer’s settings.

Perform bulk changes with PowerShell printer management

One of the advantages of PowerShell scripting is speed and efficiency. When you need to make multiple changes across your infrastructure, PowerShell will save you time with these types of tasks. For example, you can use PowerShell to change the driver for many printers at once. The command below takes any printer whose name starts with HP M and changes the print driver to the HP universal print driver.

Get-printer "HP M*" | Set-Printer -DriverName 'HP Universal Printing PCL 6'

Next, to make a printer port for every IP address in a subnet, in this case 172.16.26.1/24, start by creating an array for the last octet:

$Sub = 1..255

Use the $Sub variable and perform a loop with Add-PrinterPort, changing the last octet each time:

$Sub | ForEach-Object {Add-PrinterPort -Name "172.16.26.$_" -PrinterHostAddress "172.16.26.$_" -PortNumber 9100}
PowerShell loop
This PowerShell command sets up the multiple printer ports using a loop to automate the process.

PowerShell gives you a simpler way to handle printer configuration via the command line or with a script that you can save and modify for the next round of printer setups. While it’s still valid to use the Windows Server GUI to work with printers, it’s not as efficient as PowerShell.

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Employee activism challenges HR’s employee experience strategy

Employees are increasingly demanding a higher standard of conduct from their employers. They are going public to drive change, which could put pressure on HR departments to improve their employee experience strategy. 

Three recent high-profile protests illustrate this change in workplace attitude. Last month, employees at home goods retailer Wayfair protested a furniture order to a migrant detention center. In May, some 7,600 Amazon employees signed a letter pressing for action on climate change. Last fall, about 20,000 Google workers protested the company’s response to sexual harassment. Google employees didn’t stop there: In May, they staged office sit-ins to protest alleged retaliation against some employee protestors. 

The protests illustrate what experts see as a cultural shift in the workplace. The change is partly generational, said Martha Bird, lead anthropologist at HR software and services provider ADP LLC, based in Roseland, N.J. It comes from people who were raised to believe “that they had the capacity as individuals to actually affect change,” she said.

“Work and life are really becoming more blended,” Bird said.

But how the company manages such change may fall to HR leaders. Understanding and measuring employee attitudes is part of HR’s employee experience strategy. The risk for firms can be deeper than just a public protest. Experts see a direct link between employee hiring and retention

Values linked to retention

Forrester Research, in a forthcoming employee experience survey, linked corporate values to retention. It found 87% of employees who agree with their company values are likely to stay with their employer, said Anjali Lai, an analyst at Forrester. That’s compared with 76% for the average employee. The data comes from a global survey of more than 13,000 workers.

Wayfair employees protest sale of beds to migrant detention centers for children.
A participant of the Wayfair walkout holds a sign in Copley Square on June 26, 2019, in Boston. Wayfair sold more than $200,000 in bedroom furniture to a Texas detention facility for migrant children.

Alignment in values pays off in productivity, as well, Lai said. The survey found 85% of today’s employees who agree with company values say they’re very productive at work, compared with the benchmark average of 72%. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding to do business with companies that stand for certain social, moral, political values that the customers agree with,” Lai said. These consumers demand the same standards of their employers. “Values-driven consumers are also employees,” she said.

Prospective employees are taking a similar tact. They are interested in a firm’s values, as well as the job itself, as they look for the “right fit for themselves,” Bird said.

“They’re really interviewing the potential employer as much as they’re being interviewed or maybe even perhaps more,” Bird said.

HR may be falling short

The employee experience strategy has become an increasing HR focus. But Deloitte, in its recent annual report on human capital trends, said employee experience often “falls short” in understanding what workers want. It argued that employees want “to connect work back to the impact it has on not only the organization, but society as a whole.”

Values-driven consumers are also employees.
Anjali LaiAnalyst, Forrester

HR’s employee experience strategy typically highlights improving processes, such as onboarding. Bad onboarding processes have been linked to retention problems. The strategy may also include more frequent surveys, sometimes as often as once a quarter, to track employee sentiment and engagement.

But the rise of employee activism might prompt employers to dig deeper.

“I think it’s important for employers to see what their employees are posting [on public social media] and not necessarily in a nefarious way,” said Michael Elkins, a labor and employment attorney at MLE Law, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “You should know who you’re working with, know what they like, what they don’t like.”

Elkins, who counsels employers on how to prevent employee claims, said a firm’s culture is important.

“Modern technology has given employees easy access to the behavior of companies,” Elkins said. “Whether one agrees or disagrees” with a particular protest action, “the fact is employees know they’re able to garner attention for causes,” he said. They’ll try to “effectuate change.”

Employees are also consumers

“You almost have to think of your employees like they’re consumers,” said Greg Barnett, senior vice president of science at Predictive Index, a behavioral and cognitive assessment firm in Westwood, Mass. If consumers perceive a misstep by a firm, it may generate a social media backlash. Something similar is happening with employees, and “this is the new normal,” he said.

Barnett said giving employees the voice to raise social issues may be a positive thing to do.

“Can we find a safe and productive way to let employees feel empowered, to voice their opinions on what the business is doing?” Barnett said. Allowing employees to organize “to show passion behind a topic” may help build a stronger workplace culture. 

But Barnett said it’s possible that some of these protests, such as the one at Wayfair, might have been prevented “had there been louder voices” at the “leadership level about some of the business practices and more transparency about where the business was doing business.”

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How to deal with the on-premises vs. cloud challenge

For some administrators, the cloud is not a novelty. It’s critical to their organization. Then, there’s you, the lone on-premises holdout.

With all the hype about cloud and Microsoft’s strong push to get IT to use Azure for services and workloads, it might seem like you are the only one in favor of remaining in the data center in the great on-premises vs. cloud debate. The truth is the cloud isn’t meant for everything. While it’s difficult to find a workload not supported by the cloud, that doesn’t mean everything needs to move there.

Few people like change, and a move to the cloud is a big adjustment. You can’t stop your primary vendors from switching their allegiance to the cloud, so you will need to be flexible to face this new reality. Take a look around at your options as more vendors narrow their focus away from the data center and on-premises management.

Is the cloud a good fit for your organization?

The question is: Should it be done? All too often, it’s a matter of money. For example, it’s possible to take a large-capacity file server in the hundreds of terabytes and place it in Azure. Microsoft’s cloud can easily support this workload, but can your wallet?

Once you get over the sticker shock, think about it. If you’re storing frequently used data, it might make business sense to put that file server in Azure. However, if this is a traditional file server with mostly stale data, then is it really worth the price tag as opposed to using on-premises hardware?

Azure file server
When you run the numbers on what it takes to put a file server in Azure, the costs can add up.

Part of the on-premises vs. cloud dilemma is you have to weigh the financial costs, as well as the tangible benefits and drawbacks. Part of the calculation in determining what makes sense in an operational budget structure, as opposed to a capital expense, is the people factor. Too often, admins find themselves in a situation where management sees one side of this formula and wants to make that cloud leap, while the admins must look at the reality and explain both the pros and cons — the latter of which no one wants to hear.

Part of the on-premises vs. cloud dilemma is you have to weigh the financial costs, as well as the tangible benefits and drawbacks.

The cloud question also goes deeper than the Capex vs. Opex argument for the admins. With so much focus on the cloud, what happens to those environments that simply don’t or can’t move? It’s not only a question of what this means today, but also what’s in store for them tomorrow.

As vendors move on, the walls close in

With the focus for most software vendors on cloud and cloud-related technology, the move away from the data center should be a warning sign for admins that can’t move to the cloud. The applications and tools you use will change to focus on the organizations working in the cloud with less development on features that would benefit the on-premises data center.

One of the most critical aspects of this shift will be your monitoring tools. As cloud gains prominence, it will get harder to find tools that will continue to support local Windows Server installations over cloud-based ones. We already see this trend with log aggregation tools that used to be available as on-site installs that are now almost all SaaS-based offerings. This is just the start.

If a tool moves from on premises to the cloud but retains the ability to monitor data center resources, that is an important distinction to remember. That means you might have a workable option to keep production workloads on the ground and work with the cloud as needed or as your tools make that transition.

As time goes on, an evaluation process might be in order. If your familiar tools are moving to the cloud without support for on-premises workloads, the options might be limited. Should you pick up new tools and then invest the time to install and train the staff how to use them? It can be done, but do you really want to?

While not ideal, another viable option is to take no action; the install you have works, and as long as you don’t upgrade, everything will be fine. The problem with remaining static is getting left behind. The base OSes will change, and the applications will get updated. But, if your tools can no longer monitor them, what good are they? You also introduce a significant security risk when you don’t update software. Staying put isn’t a good long-term strategy.

With the cloud migration will come other choices

The same challenges you face with your tools also apply to your traditional on-premises applications. Longtime stalwarts, such as Exchange Server, still offer a local installation, but it’s clear that Microsoft’s focus for messaging and collaboration is its Office 365 suite.

The harsh reality is more software vendors will continue on the cloud path, which they see as the new profit centers. Offerings for on-premises applications will continue to dwindle. However, there is some hope. As the larger vendors move to the cloud, it opens up an opportunity in the market for third-party tools and applications that might not have been on your radar until now. These products might not be as feature-rich as an offering from the larger vendors, but they might tick most of the checkboxes for your requirements.

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Try these PowerShell networking commands to stay connected

While it would be nice if they did, servers don’t magically stay online on their own.

Servers go offline for a lot of reasons; it’s your job to find a way to determine network connectivity to these servers quickly and easily. You can use PowerShell networking commands, such as the Test-Connection and Test-NetConnection cmdlets to help.

The problem with ping

For quite some time, system administrators used ping to test network connectivity. This little utility sends an Internet Control Message Protocol message request to an endpoint and listens for an ICMP reply.

ping test
The ping utility runs a fairly simple test to check for a response from a host.

Because ping only tests ICMP, this limits its effectiveness to fully test a connection. Another caveat: The Windows firewall blocks ICMP requests by default. If the ICMP request doesn’t reach the server in question, you’ll get a false negative which makes ping results irrelevant.

The Test-Connection cmdlet offers a deeper look

We need a better way to test server network connectivity, so let’s use PowerShell instead of ping. The Test-Connection cmdlet also sends ICMP packets but it uses Windows Management Instrumentation which gives us more granular results. While ping returns text-based output, the Test-Connection cmdlet returns a Win32_PingStatus object which contains a lot of useful information.

The Test-Connection command has a few different parameters you can use to tailor your query to your liking, such as changing the buffer size and defining the number of seconds between the pings. The output is the same but the request is a little different.

Test-Connection www.google.com -Count 2 -BufferSize 128 -Delay 3

You can use Test-Connection to check on remote computers and ping a remote computer as well, provided you have access to those machines. The command below connects to the SRV1 and SRV2 computers and sends ICMP requests from those computers to www.google.com:

Test-Connection -Source 'SRV2', 'SRV1' -ComputerName 'www.google.com'

Source Destination IPV4Address IPV6Address
Bytes Time(ms)

------ ----------- ----------- -----------
----- --------

SRV2 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV2 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV2 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 6

SRV2 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV1 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV1 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV1 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

SRV1 google.com 172.217.7.174
32 5

If the output is too verbose, and you just want a simple result, use the Quiet parameter.

Test-Connection -ComputerName google.com -Quiet
True

For more advanced network checks, try the Test-NetConnection cmdlet

If simple ICMP requests aren’t enough to test network connectivity, PowerShell also provides the Test-NetConnection cmdlet. This cmdlet is the successor to Test-Connection and goes beyond ICMP to check network connectivity.

For basic use, Test-NetConnection just needs a value for the ComputerName parameter and will mimic Test-Connection‘s behavior.

Test-NetConnection -ComputerName www.google.com

ComputerName : www.google.com
RemoteAddress : 172.217.9.68
InterfaceAlias : Ethernet 2
SourceAddress : X.X.X.X
PingSucceeded : True
PingReplyDetails (RTT) : 34 ms

Test-NetConnection has advanced capabilities and can test for open ports. The example below will check to see if port 80 is open:

Test-NetConnection -ComputerName www.google.com -Port 80

ComputerName : google.com
RemoteAddress : 172.217.5.238
RemotePort : 80
InterfaceAlias : Ethernet 2
SourceAddress : X.X.X.X
TcpTestSucceeded : True

The boolean TcpTestSucceeded returns True to indicate port 80 is open.

We can also use the TraceRoute parameter with the Test-NetConnection cmdlet to check the progress of packets to the destination address.

Test-NetConnection -ComputerName google.com -TraceRoute

ComputerName : google.com
RemoteAddress : 172.217.5.238
InterfaceAlias : Ethernet 2
SourceAddress : X.X.X.X
PingSucceeded : True
PingReplyDetails (RTT) : 44 ms
TraceRoute : 192.168.86.1
192.168.0.1
142.254.146.117
74.128.4.113
65.29.30.36
65.189.140.166
66.109.6.66
66.109.6.30
107.14.17.204
216.6.87.149
72.14.198.28
108.170.240.97
216.239.54.125
172.217.5.238

If you dig into the help for the Test-NetConnection cmdlet, you’ll find it has quite a few parameters to test many different situations.

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Nuage Networks, Talari SD-WAN tack on multi-cloud connectivity

Software-defined WAN vendors are rushing to enhance their SD-WAN platforms with multi-cloud support, as more enterprises and service providers migrate their workloads to the cloud. This week, both Nuage Networks and Talari made multi-cloud connectivity announcements of their own.

Nuage Networks, a Nokia company, updated its SD-WAN platform — Virtualized Network Services — to better support SaaS and multi-cloud connectivity.

The platform enhancement moves to address three specific pain points among customers, according to Hussein Khazaal, Nuage’s vice president of marketing and partnerships. The three points, multi-cloud connectivity, value-added services and end-to-end security, are already available to customers.

“It’s a single platform that you can deploy today and get connectivity to software as a service,” Khazaal said. “We support customers as they send traffic directly from the branch to the SaaS application.”

In addition to multi-cloud connectivity, Nuage VNS offers customers the option to add value-added services — or virtual network functions (VNFs) — that can be embedded within the SD-WAN platform, hosted in x86 customer premises equipment (CPE) or through service chaining (a set of network services interconnected through the network to support an application). These VNFs are available from more than 40 third-party partners and can include services like next-generation firewalls, voice over IP and WAN optimization, Khazaal said.

While many service providers are leaning toward the VNF and virtual CPE approach, the process isn’t simple, according to Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research.

“Many service providers are finding the vCPE and VNF approach side to be challenging,” Doyle said. “Those with the resources can, and will, pursue it, and that’s where Nuage could be a piece of the puzzle.”

When it comes to enterprise customers, however, the VNF approach is less attainable, both Doyle and Khazaal noted.

“Nuage is one piece of the puzzle that a customer might add if they’re able to do it themselves,” Doyle said. “But most customers don’t want to piece together different elements.”

For smaller enterprise customers, Khazaal recommended using the option with embedded features, like stateful firewall and URL filtering, built into the SD-WAN platform.

Although Nuage has more than 400 enterprise customers, according to a company statement, its primary market is among service providers. Nuage counts more than 50 service providers as partners that offer managed SD-WAN services — including BT, Cogeco Peer 1, Telefónica and Vertel — and has been a proven partner for service providers over the years, Doyle said.

“Nuage is a popular element of service providers’ managed services strategies, including SD-WAN,” he said. “These enhancements will be attractive mainly to the service providers.”

Nuage VNS is available now with perpetual and subscription-based licenses, and varies based on desired features and capabilities.

Talari launches Cloud Connect for SaaS, multi-cloud connectivity

In an additional multi-cloud move, Talari updated its own SD-WAN offering with Talari Cloud Connect, a platform that supports access to cloud-based and SaaS applications.

Talari also named five accompanying Cloud Connect partners: RingCentral, Pure IP, Evolve IP, Meta Networks and Mode. These partners will run Talari’s Cloud Connect point of presence (POP) technology in their own infrastructure, creating a tunnel from the customer’s Talari software into the cloud or SaaS service, according to Andy Gottlieb, Talari’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.

“The technology at the service provider is multi-tenant, so they only have to stand up one instance to support multiple customers,” Gottlieb said. Meantime, enterprises can use the Cloud Connect tunnel without having to worry about building infrastructure in the cloud, which reduces costs and complexity, he added.

Talari’s partner list reflects the demands of both customers and service providers, he said. Unified communications vendors like RingCentral, for example, require reliable connectivity and low latency for their applications. Meta Networks, on the other hand, offers cloud-based security capabilities, which enterprises are increasingly adding to their networks. Talari SD-WAN already supports multi-cloud connectivity to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Talari Cloud Connect will be available at the end of October. The software comes at no additional charge for Talari customers with maintenance contracts or with subscriptions, Gottlieb said. Also, Cloud Connect partners can use the Cloud Connect POP software free of charge to connect to Talari SD-WAN customers, he added.

Data guru living with ALS modernizes industries by typing with his eyes – Stories

The couple remodeled their two-story townhouse near Guatemala City so he had everything he needed on the first floor and didn’t have to navigate stairs. Otto learned to use a trackball mouse with his foot to type with an on-screen keyboard. But it was cumbersome, and he needed Pamela nearby to move the cursor from one corner of his two 32-inch screens to another as he navigated Excel spreadsheets and Power BI dashboards.

A tracheotomy was put in his throat to help him breathe, taking away his limited speech and increasing his isolation. But when Knoke, who spends two hours a day reading blogs and researching, saw his friend Juan Alvarado’s post about the new Eye Control feature in Windows 10, he let loose with his version of a shout and immediately ordered the Tobii Eye Tracker hardware to use with the software.

A man sits in a wheelchair while four women and two men crouch around him, touching his shoulders and arms and smiling.
Otto Knoke with his wife, daughters and sons-in-law. Photo provided by Pamela Knoke.

Alvarado, who met Knoke as a database consultant working on the ATM system Knoke had implemented, hadn’t known about Knoke’s condition until he suddenly saw him in a wheelchair one day. And fittingly, Eye Control itself began with a wheelchair.

Microsoft employees, inspired by former pro football player Steve Gleason, who had lost the use of his limbs to ALS, outfitted a wheelchair with  electronic gadgets to help him drive with his eyes during the company’s first Hackathon, in 2014. The project was so popular that a new Microsoft Research team was formed to explore the potential of eye-tracking technology to help people with disabilities, leading to last year’s release of Eye Control for Windows 10.

Knoke said it was “a joy” to learn how to type with his eyes, getting the feel of having sensors track his eye movements as he navigated around the screen and rested his gaze on the elements he wanted to click. Using Eye Control and the on-screen keyboard, he now can type 12 words a minute and creates spreadsheets, Power BI dashboards and even PowerPoint presentations. Combined with his foot-operated mouse, his productivity has doubled. He plans to expand his services to the U.S., where he spent six years studying and working in the 1970s. He no longer relies on his wife’s voice, because Eye Control offers a text-to-speech function as well.

“It was frustrating trying to be understood,” Knoke said in the email interview. “After a few days of using Eye Control I became so independent that I did not need someone to interact with clients when there were questions or I needed to explain something. We have a remote session to the client’s computer, and we open Notepad and interact with each other that way.”

His wife and his nurse had learned to understand the sounds he was able to make, even with the tracheotomy restricting his vocal chords. But now he can communicate with his three grown daughters, his friends and all his customers.

A man lies in a reclining chair, while a younger woman sits in a chair next to him. Both are smiling and looking at a computer screen with a Spanish phrase typed on it.
Using a foot-operated mouse, Eye Control for Windows 10 and the text-to-speech function, Otto Knoke is able to communicate with his family — including his daughter, seen here — as well as with clients.

“Now when our children visit, he can be not just nodding at what they say, but he can be inside the conversation, too,” Pamela Knoke said. “He always has a big smile on his face, because he’s got his independence back.”

He’s also started texting jokes to friends again.

“It’s kind of like it brought my friend back, and it’s amazing,” Alvarado said. “Otto told me that for him, it was like eye tracking meant his arms can move again.”

Being able to text message with Eye Control has helped his business as well.

Grupo Tir, a real-estate development and telecommunications business in Guatemala, hired Knoke for several projects, including streamlining its sales team’s tracking of travel expenses with Power BI.

“Working with Otto has been amazing,” said Grupo Tir Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martinez. “We can’t really meet with him, so we usually work with texts, and it’s like a normal conversation.

“He really has no limitations, and he always is looking for new ways to improve and to help companies.”

HR chatbots from Google, IBM to be in the spotlight at HR Tech 2018

The role of big vendors, such as Google and IBM, in HR technology is expanding as their expertise in conversational robotic intelligence powers some of the chatbots used in HR applications. That observation will be evident this week at the HR Technology Conference & Expo in Las Vegas where HR chatbots will be in the spotlight.

The tech giants’ relationship to HR chatbots is analogous to Intel’s role with PC makers that slap “Intel Inside” stickers on their laptops. The machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) technologies developed by large technology sellers give chatbots conversational capabilities.

“A chatbot stands and falls with the quality of the dialogue,” said Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research. “Users will drop and not use [a chatbot] if the answers don’t make sense,” he said.

Conference attendees assessing HR chatbots, in effect, make two bets on any one application. They not only evaluate the HR application but also the capabilities of the vendor that built the underlying, AI-related chatbot technology, whether it’s from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google or some other provider. This technology is key “for the whole solution to work,” Mueller said.

Google’s new Dialogflow powers conversational recruiting

A chatbot stands and falls with the quality of the dialogue.
Holger MuellerPrincipal analyst, Constellation Research

Earlier this year, Google, for instance, announced general availability of its Dialogflow Enterprise Edition. This is Google’s platform for creating voice and text conversation and is based on its machine learning and NLP development.

Google’s technology was adopted by Brazen Technologies, which provides online hiring chat events and a recruiting platform. In late August, Brazen announced a “conversational recruiting” capability based on Google’s system, which provides the underlying chatbot intelligence.

The chatbot conversational capability is assisted by human recruiters who prewrite answers to expected questions that a candidate might ask. The system also conducts an initial screening to try to find qualified people, said Joe Matar, director of marketing at Brazen. He expects the capabilities of conversational HR chatbots to improve rapidly, but it will be a long time before they replace a recruiter’s core skills, such as relationship building, he said.

IBM Watson powers management coaching

LEADx, which is announcing its learning platform at the start of the HR Technology Conference, is using IBM Watson in its product, Coach Amanda.

Coach Amanda aims to improve managerial skills with the help of a virtual trainer. The system uses the Watson Personality Insights module, as well as its natural language conversational capabilities. The Insights program diagnoses personality to help shape the chatbot response, as well the answers and learning materials it delivers to the manager, said Kevin Kruse, founder and CEO of the firm.

Kruse said it works like this: A user can type or speak to the chatbot and ask, for instance, “What is the definition of employee engagement?” The manager may follow with a question about seeking tips on employee engagement. The chatbot answers these questions with material from a resource library based on what it knows about the manager.

The underlying IBM NLP technology has to figure out what the manager is asking about. Is the question about an employee problem? Is the manager seeking advice? Or, said Kruse, is the manager seeking a resource?

But not all firms use big vendor chatbot platforms to power HR chatbots.

HR chatbots at 2018 HR Technology Conference & Expo
HR chatbots will be in the spotlight at this year’s HR Technology Conference & Expo.

In-house and open source seen as superior by some

Jane.ai is designed to make all of a company’s information available, whether it is in a PDF or spreadsheet or resides in applications such as ServiceNow, Workday, Salesforce or among team members. HR is one of the major uses of the application, and that’s why this firm will be at the 2018 HR Technology Conference. SearchHRSoftware is the media partner for the conference.

David Karandish, founder and CEO of Jane.ai, said the system was developed in-house but also used some open source tools, such as software in Stanford CoreNLP, which provides a suite of language tools. Jane.ai developed proprietary algorithms to make matches and mine documents, he said.

An employee can use the chat system, for instance, to check vacation time or ask a question about HR policies. It can put in an IT ticket or schedule a meeting with staff.

The firm is up against the large IT vendors in AI-related development, but Karandish said the big vendor HR chatbots weren’t necessarily designed to solve a business problem. That’s why Jane.ai went with the in-house approach, he said.

“A lot of companies are coming out with cool tech, but they haven’t figured out how to actually go solve real problems with it,” Karandish said.