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

An email from CEO Satya Nadella to Microsoft employees: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Satya 

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Author: Microsoft News Center

5 ways COVID-19 changed the data storage market

The past few months have forced the normally conservative data storage world to make on-the-spot adjustments to the ways people buy and use storage.

Recent earnings reports from leading storage companies provided a look at how they adapted to the changes. While they experienced mixed results, clear buying patterns and industry changes emerged in the data storage market. Storage leaders expect many of the changes will remain in place, even after the COVID-19 threat subsides.

The recent earnings calls showed some trends accelerated — such as a move from large data center arrays to hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and the cloud, and a shift from Capex to Opex spending. It also forced new selling strategies as face-to-face sales calls and conferences gave way to virtual events and virtual meetings between buyers and sellers working remotely.

One major storage CEO even experienced COVID-19 personally.

“I contracted COVID-19 in mid-March,” Pure Storage CEO Charlie Giancarlo said last week on the company’s earnings call. “And that experience has provided me with a deep personal appreciation for this virus and its impact. The changes in people’s lives and livelihoods are truly extraordinary. And our expectations of what is or will be normal are forever changed. Every day, each new report on the crisis brings an uneasy mixture of anxiety, uncertainty and hope about the future.”

Charles Giancarlo, CEO, Pure StorageCharlie Giancarlo

Storage vendors confronted this new normal over the last few months, with their business prospects also filled with uncertainty. Pure came out of it better than its larger direct competitors Dell EMC, NetApp and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Still, it joined Dell and HPE in declining to give a forecast for this quarter because of uncertainty. NetApp did not give a long-term forecast but predicts a 6% revenue drop this quarter.

The following are some ways the data storage market changed during the first quarter of COVID-19:

Arrays give way to cloud, HCI

Flash array vendor Pure’s revenues increased 12% over last year, to $367 million. Other array vendors didn’t fare so well, while HCI and services revenue grew as organizations shifted to remote work and bought storage remotely.

Dell EMC’s storage revenue fell 5% to $3.8 billion, while its Infrastructure Solutions Group fell 8% overall (servers and networking dropped 10%). But while storage, servers and networking dipped, Dell reported double-digit growth in its VxRail HCI platform that combines those IT infrastructure tiers.

NetApp revenue dropped 12% to $1.4 billion, including a 21% decline in product revenue. NetApp all-flash array revenue of $656 million dropped 3% since last year, while cloud data services of $111 million more than doubled. NetApp claims it has more than 3,500 cloud data services customers.

NetApp CEO George KurianGeorge Kurian

“I would tell you that as we think about the go-forward strategic roadmap, it’s much more tied to software and cloud services,” NetApp CEO George Kurian said.

HPE storage revenues declined 16% since last year.

Hyper-converged infrastructure specialist Nutanix reported an 11% revenue increase to $318.3 million. Dell-owned VMware also reported revenue from its vSAN HCI software increased more than 20%, as did its NSX software-defined networking product.

VDI encore

It’s no surprise that the VDI expansion would lead to HCI sales, because VDI was among the first common use cases for hyper-convergence. One change since the early days of HCI is that now many of those desktops are sold as a cloud service.

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj PandeyDheeraj Pandey

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said the increase for VDI and desktop as a service (DaaS) in March and April “brought us back to our roots, when a much larger piece of our business supported virtual desktop workloads.”

VDI also helped flash storage catch on, as a way to deal with boot storms and peak periods required for heavy volume of virtual desktops. Not all flash vendors benefited last quarter, but Pure did.

“Certainly, VDI was one of the major use cases out there,” Pure’s Giancarlo said.

In May, NetApp acquired VDI and DaaS startup CloudJumper to address that market.

Who’s buying? And how?

COVID-19’s impact on storage buying was far from uniform. The pandemic left some industries financially devastated, while others had to expand to keep up.

Dell COO Jeff Clarke said Dell saw demand drop among SMBs and industries such as retail, manufacturing, energy and transportation. But financial services, government, healthcare and life sciences increased spending.

Kurian said NetApp also saw an increase in healthcare spending, driven by the pandemic and a need for digital imaging.

Organizations spending on storage are increasingly going to a utility model, buying storage as a service. Pure’s subscription services jumped 37% year over year to $120 million, making up one-third of its overall revenue.

“What we saw in Q1 was that the urgency was to beef up what they currently had in, and that was largely on prem,” Giancarlo said. “But they wanted the option, they didn’t want to sign on to five years of more on prem or anything along those lines. They wanted the option of being able to move to the cloud at any point in time. And that’s exactly what our Pure as-a-Service is designed to do in several respects.”

While Dell’s overall revenue was flat from last year, its recurring revenue increased 16%, to around $6 billion. That recurring revenue includes utility and as-a-service pricing.

“We have a very, very modern way to consume and digest IT with the very best products in the marketplace,” Clarke said.

Virtualized sales become common

Remote work has changed the way vendors and customers interact. Like with user conferences, sales calls have become a virtual experience.

“Our teams had to be nimble and quickly embrace a new sales motion,” Dell’s Clarke said. “We successfully pivoted to all virtual engagements with hundreds of thousands of virtual customer interactions in the quarter.”

Clarke said there has been no negative impact, as he and his sales team can meet with more customers than in the past.

Nutanix, which shifted its 2020 .NEXT user conference to a virtual event and pushed it until Sept. 8, has also moved in-person regional shows and boot camps online. Pandey said Nutanix has seen no drop-off in qualified leads for its sales team from going virtual.

“We have gone completely virtual and are seeing comparable yield in terms of qualified leads and virtual meetings for our sales organization at less than half the cost,” he said.

Cost-saving: Furloughs, pay cuts, hiring freezes

Unsure of what the immediate future will look like, IT companies are enacting cost reduction plans and realigning their teams.

Dell is implementing a global hiring freeze, reduction in consulting and contractor costs, global travel restrictions and a suspension of its 401(k) match plan.

HPE said it would enact pay cuts across the board, with the executive team taking the biggest reductions. CEO Antonio Neri also said HPE would reduce and realign the workforce as part of a cost reduction plan save more than $1 billion over three years.

Nutanix implemented two nonconsecutive weeks of furloughs for a quarter of its employees and cut executive team members’ salaries by 10%.

Not all the vendors are reducing staff yet, though. NetApp CEO Kurian said the company reached its target goal of adding 200 primary sales reps, a quarter ahead of schedule.

Pure Storage’s Giancarlo said it’s his “personal mission” to avoid layoffs or furloughs through the rest of 2020, although the company did have layoffs — which he called a “rebalancing” — before COVID-19 hit. “We believe we’re going to be able to perform in such a way that we will not have layoffs or furloughs,” he said.

Despite the changes to the data storage market, one constant is data is growing in volume and important in business around the world.

“While we cannot predict when the world will return to normal, the enduring importance of data is clear,” Kurian said.

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Moogsoft AIOps platform taps WWT in partner initiative

Moogsoft Inc., an AIOps platform provider, is partnering with World Wide Technology Inc. as part of its plan to work with channel partners that can help transform customers’ network operations centers.

World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology solution provider based in St. Louis, will use Moogsoft’s technology within its AIOps practice. WWT joins other Moogsoft partners such as Windward Consulting Group, a Herndon, Va., company that recently rolled out managed services around the Moogsoft platform.

Terry Ramos, Moogsoft’s senior vice president of alliances and channel, joined the company in February 2020. Since then, the company’s channel program has aimed to recruit partners able to help customers through an AIOps transformation.

“We’re focusing on a small number of partners who understand the transformation of taking hundreds of thousands of events and narrowing that down to a set number of situations that a customer really needs to focus on and get resolved,” Ramos said.

IT service providers have recently become more active in AIOps and intelligent operations. Companies building practices in those areas assess customers’ environments, suggest strategies for building on what they have already and help them integrate new tools.

AIOps use cases chart

The Moogsoft AIOps platform integrates with monitoring tools to ingest event data, provides noise reduction and ties together similar alerts into what the company terms “situations.” Moogsoft’s machine learning technology identifies the probable root cause of a situation, which network operations center (NOC) or security operations center personnel can then resolve.

Regarding integrations, Moogsoft will operate alongside Cisco’s AppDynamics in WWT’s AIOps practice. “We have a partnership with AppDynamics, as well,” Ramos noted. Moogsoft ingests monitoring and observability data from AppDynamics, according to Moogsoft.

Moogsoft, meanwhile, is promoting the concept of the virtual NOC, which lets ITOps and DevOps groups collaborate outside of a physical facility. Moogsoft Enterprise 8.0, based on the Moogsoft AIOps Platform, includes a Situation Room that lets personnel collaborate remotely.

Wipro launches channel partner program

Wipro Ltd. will collaborate with channel partners as it looks to accelerate the adoption of its products and platforms, which span areas from AI to virtual desktops.

The company’s newly launched Global Channel Partner Program aims to facilitate relationships with IT services providers, products companies, consulting firms and resellers. Mandar Vanarse, general manager of the intellectual property unit at Wipro, said the company offers 60 industry-specific platforms and products as well as “industry-agnostic” technology offerings.

The company’s portfolio also includes the Wipro Holmes AI and automation platform, Wipro’s VirtuaDesk desktop-as-a-service offering and the Open Banking API platform.

“We are open to our partners selling … one or several of the products from our portfolio,” Vanarse said. He added channel partners can sell Wipro’s products “as is” or as a joint offering with their own products.

Wipro channel partner firms will target the enterprise market segment, which is also Wipro’s primary segment. Vanarse said Wipro will avoid channel conflict with a “well-defined approach, which will be based on market, segment and accounts, which will help align our efforts to expand coverage and deployment.”

Wipro will also offer deal registration through the program. “Channel partners will register their leads with Wipro,” Vanarse said. “Wipro, in turn, will validate the leads and qualify the partner to pursue the lead.”

According to Wipro, the company’s channel partner staff will receive training at the Wipro Product Academy and have access to “special pricing models, sales enablement support, benefit calculators, and other sales and marketing material.”

Other news

  • ServiceNow updated its partner initiative with a partner marketplace and an app monetization program. The company unveiled the ServiceNow Partner Industry Solutions marketplace, which features partner offerings that address joint customers’ industry-specific workflow and digital transformation needs. The initial group of partners offering the industry solutions includes Accenture, Atos, Deloitte, DXC Technology, Ernst & Young and KPMG. ServiceNow also launched the Built on Now program, which provides a framework for app monetization. The company said the framework lets partners build, test, certify, distribute and sell digital workflows on the Now Platform. A year ago, ServiceNow said it would heavily invest in its partners as it pursues its goal of becoming a $10 billion company.
  • UiPath, a robotic process automation software company, said it is offering new partner training, certification and marketing programs through its UiPath Services Network. The additions include an expanded set of materials such as product training and solution guides; new turnkey digital marketing programs; and new technology integrations with vendors such as Oracle, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workday. The company earlier this year launched UiPath Academy for Partners, a partner-specific training portal.
  • Omdia, a market research firm based in London, said the COVID-19 pandemic will boost SaaS market revenue in 2020 by 4 to 5 percentage points compared with earlier estimates. However, IT infrastructure service revenue will fall by 2 to 3 percentage points this year compared with previous forecasts. The company said the rise in remote working and e-learning is bolstering demand for SaaS, while business closures have reduced demand for IaaS and other infrastructure services.
  • MarketsandMarkets, a market researcher based in Pune, India, forecasted the global managed network services market size to grow from $52.7 billion in 2020 to $71.6 billion by 2025. The research firm said the main drivers behind the market expansion include organizations needing to lower capital and operating expenditures, growing interest in digital transformation and new demands for connectivity. MarketsandMarkets predicted that managed WAN will be the largest managed network service segment during the forecast period.
  • Mitel, a business communications firm based in Dallas, said its MiCloud Flex private cloud is now available on Google Cloud as a wholesale offering. Availability is in the U.S., United Kingdom and France. Mitel said MiCloud Flex on Google Cloud offers its channel partners the potential to create new recurring revenue streams.
  • Agosto, a Pythian company and cloud services and development firm, rolled out a Managed G Suite Administration Services practice. The practice offers administrative and engineering support around G Suite onboarding and off boarding processes; user moves/changes/adds/deletes; ticket escalation and incident management; license management; change management; continuous training; and an annual G Suite review with a remediation plan.
  • Peak-Ryzex, a digital supply chain and mobile workforce solutions provider based in Columbia, Md., has entered a partnership with ShipTrack, a cloud-based logistics management platform.
  • Niagara Networks, based in San Jose, Calif., has expanded its channel program in the Americas, having previously established its Niagara Networks Majestics Partner Program in other regions. The company said that program is now fully operational in North America, noting several dozen channel companies joined the program prior to its formal introduction.
  • Exabeam, a SIEM vendor in Foster City, Calif., launched a formal practice for managed security service providers (MSSPs) and managed detection and response (MDR) providers within its partner program. The addition will provide structure and support for MSSP and MDR provider business models, the company said. Separately, Exabeam disclosed a “significant investment” in its Asia-Pacific and Japan region to accommodate increasing demand for its cybersecurity offerings.
  • SADA, a business and technology consultancy based in Los Angeles, officially launched the National Response Portal, which provides data and analytics in support of COVID-19 recovery. SADA built the portal, collaborating with HCA Healthcare, which originated the idea, and Google Cloud.
  • Infoblox, a company that offers cloud-managed network services based in Santa Clara, Calif., said it now provides a dedicated team of business development specialists for channel partners. Other channel partner program investments include new sales incentives and the expansion of its Professional Services Program to EMEA and Asia-Pacific.
  • Pulseway, a remote monitoring and management vendor, rolled out a new software package for MSPs. The package is tailored for MSPs supporting remote working environments, the vendor said. The package includes its IT management platform, as well as several built-in features, including unlimited remote control concurrent sessions, remote user chat and file transfer, and automation workflows. The pricing starts from $1.04 per license, a Pulseway spokesperson said.
  • Veristor Systems, a business technology solutions provider based in Atlanta, has been named a strategic member of Respond Software’s partner program. Veristor will offer its customers Respond Analyst, a software automation offering for security operations.
  • High Wire Networks, a cybersecurity service firm that sells to MSPs, added cloud detection and response (CDR) capabilities to its Overwatch Managed Security Platform as a Service offering. The company said the CDR technology aims to safeguard SaaS apps and public cloud infrastructure with automated attack detection, manual and automated threat hunting, prebuilt compliance reports, and manual and automated response.
  • Cloud distributor Pax8 is hosting a webinar series in place of its Wingman2020 event, originally planned as an in-person event in Denver next month. The Wingman Webinar Series will cover a range of partner-related topics, Pax8 said.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Additional reporting by Spencer Smith.

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Enterprises should not neglect AI digital transformation

COVID-19 has wiped out budget extras for enterprises around the world, as organizations have seen their earnings hit by the economic downturn created by the virus pandemic.

Yet, enterprises should not give up on their AI digital transformation projects, even if they have to sideline them in the short term. For now, enterprises may want to consider turning to automation, or at least overhauling necessary projects, as the world quickly becomes more digital, according to machine learning vendors.

Importance of AI, even now

“AI is the single most important technology area that enterprises have to invest in,” said Ryohei Fujimaki, founder and CEO of DotData.

DotData sells an auto machine learning platform, so it’s not surprising that Fujimaki pushes AI. Still, much evidence supports his view — businesses are generating, and will continue to generate, huge amounts of data, too much to process with AI.

Enterprises, then, will need to turn to AI at some point. Yet, with limited budgets and workforces due to the economic downturn, they may not be able to complete their AI digital transformation projects in the near future.

Instead, at this stage, enterprises need to think about how to use existing people more efficiently, including augmenting them with automation, Fujimaki said.

“Automation is a really promising approach for maximizing the efficiency of an existing team,” he said.

Automation is a really promising approach for maximizing the efficiency of an existing team.
Ryohei FujimakiFounder and CEO, DotData

Automation tools, such as RPA platforms, are generally quick to set up and can automate repetitive tasks with ease. That’s important, as COVID-19 has decimated enterprise earnings as they have been forced to temporarily close and lay off or furlough employees.

Many enterprises, at least in the short term, likely have limited budgets to spend on major AI and digital transformation projects, even as such projects could prove more beneficial than ever given their now limited workforces.

“Many enterprises don’t even have data science teams,” and cannot hire them now, making AI digital transformation essentially impossible anyway, Fujimaki said. Automation tools, typically deployed on top of existing systems, rather than replacing or overhauling them, enables enterprises to cheaply augment their employees.

Nintex, a process automation vendor, for example, is doing fairly well even during this economic downturn, Nintex technical evangelist Chris Ellis said.

Digital transformation
Essential elements of digital transformation

Using automation

New and old customers are turning away from their large-scale digital transformation projects, Ellis said. Instead, they are focusing on individual, necessary projects they can get done quickly.

Financial institutions are buying and deploying process automation from Nintex to help simplify invoice handling, as they are turning to digital invoice processing as bank branches have temporarily closed. These institutions are also using automation to help navigate government legislation, tax forms, wage surplus reporting and other key tasks. 

“People are coming up with these use cases in the blink of an eye,” Ellis said.

“People are deviating from these big, big bang projects in digital transformation” to instead focus on smaller use cases that deal with worker productivity, he said.

As the world starts moving back to some kind of normality, however, enterprises will likely start broadening their digital transformation efforts.

Financial institutions will likely do more digital transformation projects in their back offices, while consumer goods companies will probably introduce more AI in their supply chain processes, said Traci Gusher, principal of data and analytics at KPMG in the U.S.

Many industries will also change how their call centers operate, introducing more AI and automation to offset remote or laid-off workers, she noted.

Don’t lose sight of AI

Monte Zweben, co-founder and CEO of data platform vendor Splice Machine, noted that as enterprises begin to recover economically, they will likely start or broaden their digital transformation efforts.

Splice Machine, which sells products and services to help enterprises modernize their cloud applications and databases, has already seen an uptick in customers over the past several weeks as enterprises begin to see the need for digital overhauls in their systems and are recovering enough financially to make those changes, Zweben said.

Those customers are looking to move things onto the cloud, as well as deploy and run AI and analytics at scale across the cloud, he said.

That’s important, because “almost every business interaction will be digital” following COVID-19, Zweben argued.

“Customers are definitely focused again,” he added.

For the many enterprises not yet at that stage, turning to automation and focusing on necessary projects will help them get through COVID-19 and its aftermath, Fujimaki said.

Yet, these enterprises should not lose sight of their overall AI digital transformation projects, he said.

“This isn’t eliminating the need for digital transformation, but it’s suppressing them in the short term,” Fujimaki said. “It’s very important that the customer continues their AI project.”

Once they stop completely, he added, it’s hard to get it started again.

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Try an Azure Site Recovery setup for DR needs

In today’s IT world, you can have workloads on premises and in the cloud. One common denominator for each location is a need to plan for disaster recovery. Azure Site Recovery is one option for administrators who need a way to cover every scenario.

Azure Site Recovery is a service used to protect physical and virtual Windows or Linux workloads outside of your primary data center and its traditional on-premises backup system. During the Azure Site Recovery setup process, you can choose either Azure or another data center for the replication target. In the event of a disaster, such as a power outage or hardware failure, your apps can continue to operate in the Azure cloud to minimize downtime. Azure Site Recovery also supports cloud failover of both VMware and Hyper-V virtual infrastructures.

One of the real advantages of this Azure service for a Windows shop is integration. All the functionality is built right into the admin portal and requires little effort to configure beyond the agent installation, which can be done automatically. Offerings from other vendors, such as Zerto and Veeam work the same way but require additional configuration using a management suite based outside the Azure portal.

Azure Site Recovery pricing

One of the big issues for any platform is cost. Each protected instance costs $25 per month with additional fees for the Azure Site Recovery license, storage in Azure, storage transactions and outbound data transfer. Organizations interested in testing the service can use it for free for the first 31 days.

As with most systems, there are caveats, including how replication and recovery are tied to specific Azure regions depending on the location of the cluster. There is a list of supported configurations on Microsoft’s documentation.

Azure includes the option to failover to an on-premises location, which reduces the cost to $16 per instance. However, this option requires meeting bandwidth requirements that are not a factor in an Azure-to-Azure failover scenario.

Azure Site Recovery uses vaults to store workload dependencies

Most disaster recovery (DR) environments utilize the concept of crash consistent applications, meaning the application fails over as a whole with all its dependencies. In Azure, you store the VM backups, their respective recovery points and the backup policies in a vault.

These vaults should contain all the servers that make up the services required for a successful failover. (You should test before an emergency occurs to make sure it functions expected.) It is possible to fail over individual VMs within a replication group if needed; this used to be an all-or-nothing scenario until recently.

How to create a Recovery Services vault

For this Azure Site Recovery setup tutorial, we’ll cover how to configure VMs for site-to-site replication between regions via the portal.azure.com link.

As with most Azure tools, the Disaster Recovery menu is on the left-hand side with the other Azure services. Under this menu is the Recovery Service vault option. Create one by filling in the fields as shown in Figure 1.

Recovery Services vault
Figure 1. Create the Recovery Services vault by filling in the project details.

When you have entered all your specifications, click Create to build the vault. The next step is to choose the purpose for the vault. The choice is either for backup or DR.

Next, add the VMs. To start, from the vault choices select Site Recovery.

From the on-premises option, click Replicate Application to open a wizard to add VMs. Next, click Review + Start replication to start the creation and replication process, which can take several minutes. For ease of access and experimentation purposes, I suggest pinning it to your dashboard. Opening the vault provides a health overview of the site and clicking on each item shows details about the replication status as shown in Figure 2.

Azure Site Recovery replication
Figure 2. The Azure Site Recovery setup process replicates the protected instances to the defined target, either an on-premises location or in Azure.

This completes the creation of a group with two protected VMs. Every VM added to that resource group automatically becomes a protected member of the vault. By default, the DR failover is set to a maximum duration of 24 hours. After the initial configuration, you can adjust the failover duration and snapshot frequency from the Site Recovery Policy – Retention policies page.

The last step is to create a recovery plan. From the vault, select Create recovery plan and then + Recovery plan and give it a name as shown in Figure 3 with our example called MyApplicationRecoveryPlan. You choose the source from either the on-premises location or Azure, and the Azure target.

Azure Site Recovery plans
Figure 3. The menu displays all your configured recovery plans in Azure Site Recovery. From here, you can execute a test failover to verify your settings.

When complete, opening the plan to verify it works properly by clicking Test for a nondisruptive assessment that checks the replication in an isolated environment. This process can detect any problems related to services and connectivity the application needs to function in a failover setting.

This tutorial covers some of the basic functionality of Azure Site Recovery. For more granular control, there are many more options available to provide advanced functionality.

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Machine health systems play critical role in age of disruption

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt operations around the world, manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges.

Some have seen facilities shut down, at least temporarily, as the outbreak has forced workers to stay home. Those deemed essential must keep production going with reduced or remote workforces. Others have had to scramble to change equipment and production lines as they shift from making one product to another.

All this has made machine maintenance strategies critical, as manufacturers need to optimize the output of their equipment. Machine health systems that capture industrial IoT data and analyze it using AI algorithms are a step beyond predictive maintenance, which are often focused on points of failure. They can play a big role in enabling manufacturers to keep production lines going in a quickly changing and disruptive environment.

Listening to machines

Augury Inc.’s machine health system does just that. It uses IIoT sensors to listen to machines as they operate, sends the data to Augury’s cloud where AI algorithms analyze the data in real time and provides steps to take to resolve potential problems. The system also includes the ability to collaborate with Augury’s machine health experts in real time to identify and troubleshoot issues, said Saar Yoskovitz, co-founder CEO of Augury, which was founded in Israel and is based in New York.

Saar Yoskovitz, co-founder and CEO, Augury Inc.Saar Yoskovitz

“We install a sensor on a machine, connect it, and from then on it’s purely remote,” Yoskovitz said. “You get real-time visibility into the health and performance of the machines and then you also have access to experts when needed to help advise you on the right course of actions.”

An automated machine health system is valuable when it’s business as usual, he said, but it is even more so as manufacturers deal with COVID-19 disruption.

“From a planning and management perspective, the first thing you typically do when you’re stretched for resources or uptime is remove all preventive maintenance tasks and scheduled downtime, but doing it while flying blind is like gambling ” Yoskovitz said. “This enables you to make better decisions. For example, can you run this machine for another week, or do you have to take it down tomorrow to replace a bearing or correct whatever that malfunction may be?”

This beverage production line uses the Augury machine health system to diagnose and resolve potential problems.
The Augury machine health system uses IIoT sensors to listen to machines and provides real-time insight on how to resolve potential problems.

Getting more out of existing equipment

The Augury machine health system is a major evolution in predictive maintenance technology and best practices, said Ed Ballina, a 40-year manufacturing industry veteran who ran facilities for PepsiCo Inc. and Scott Paper Co.

Ballina oversaw the implementation of the Augury machine health system at PepsiCo and has served as a board advisor for Augury after retiring from PepsiCo in 2018.

Ed Ballina, food and beverage board advisor, Augury Inc.Ed Ballina

“Now manufacturers are trying to increase their output — for example, changing production from soda to sanitizer,” Ballina said. “So, they’re looking for ways to get more out of their existing equipment, and machine health can be a huge enabler for that.”

Standard predictive maintenance practices were based on outdated methods that typically required machines or production lines to be shut down, he said. The analysis can be limited and often finds problems only at the point of failure.

Constant monitoring

“The beauty of Augury is that it can monitor constantly,” Ballina said. “Previously, if you ran into problems you could call someone in to do vibration monitoring, but the problem with that is you’re only taking a snapshot, so you don’t have any kind of trending, don’t have the ‘movie’ of where you’ve been and project where you’re going.”

Manufacturers are now trying to get more hours out of their machines, and one way to do this is to cut down the number of times equipment is shut down. Machine health systems can help determine which machines are at greatest risk, making shutdowns more targeted.

The COVID-19 crisis has also forced manufacturers to work with reduced staffs, making remote monitoring vital, Ballina said.

“Some facilities may be down 30% to 40% in staffing, so you have the ability to monitor equipment without being there and to potentially engage support staff to help you determine what readings mean,” he said. “If you can’t get people into your plants — and a lot of OEMs won’t bring their people in now [to examine equipment] — having machine health data that is shareable is incredibly valuable.”

No batteries included

Another approach to machine health is now available from Everactive, a technology startup based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Everactive recently launched its Machine Health Monitoring system, which delivers real-time data on machine health, primarily for rotating equipment, such as motors, pumps, fans and compressors, to avoid overuse, according to the company.

This motor uses the Everactive Machine Health Monitoring system sensors to measure and report on machine performance in real time.
The Everactive Machine Health Monitoring system uses a batteryless IoT sensor to provide real-time data on machine operations.

Everactive’s Machine Health Monitoring system uses proprietary sensors that run continually and transmit vibration, temperature and magnetic field data to the cloud. There, the data is analyzed to detect machine faults before they are evident by other means, such as through routine maintenance or part failure.

Brian Alessi, Everactive director of product marketing and corporate communicationsBrian Alessi

The sensors operate without battery power, but instead are powered by “ambiently harvested energy” that comes from environmental conditions, such as light, thermal differences and machine vibrations, said Brian Alessi, Everactive director of product marketing.

These “batteryless sensors” can run continually without maintenance, Alessi said.

“This can’t power your iPhone without a battery, but if you’re looking to take temperature measurements, vibration measurements, humidity and pressure, those are all things that this can do, because the data packet is very small,” he said.

The sensors transmit data every minute to the Everactive cloud-based analytics platform, which can then provide machine health analysis and trend data. If issues are detected, the system can send out alerts based on the specific machine profile or user-selected thresholds via email or SMS, according to the company.

One particular use for Machine Health Monitoring is for stream traps used in industrial settings that have a failure rate of 20% to 30% but are hard to inspect because there are often hundreds in difficult-to-reach locations, Alessi said.

“Even if you put a wireless device in there with a battery, you’re still going to have to eventually change the battery,” he said. “This is an asset case that’s super high volume, very high value, but unmonitored due to the pain points of batteries.”

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COVID-19 has only intensified the broadband gap – Microsoft on the Issues

We are living in a new world, a world racing online as social distancing forces many of us to work, communicate and connect in new ways. In the United States alone, state and local directives have urged 316 million Americans to stay in and, when possible, work from home. As communities around the world adapt to a world with COVID-19, broadband connectivity and access are more critical to our lives and livelihoods than ever before.

Broadband already powers much of our modern lives, but COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant, a fuel of sorts that has driven many essential activities online. All learning, services, commerce, most workplaces and daily interactions online require a high-speed connection to the internet. Those without access to this online world – more than 18 million Americans with 14 million living in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission – risk falling farther behind. While 18 million is a big number – more than the entire populations of Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee combined – a new study has found that the actual number of people lacking access to broadband in the US is closer to 42 million.

We will eventually come out the other end of the COVID-19 crisis, but the future that emerges will look different from the world we left when this crisis began. The future of commerce, work, medicine, education and services will have changed – and, in some instances, permanently.

A problem intensified by COVID-19

Lack of broadband for rural populations, both in the United States and in the developing world, just can’t be ignored. That’s why, in the last three months, we’ve doubled down on our Microsoft Airband Initiative to expand the number of people reached. As of March 31, we’ve helped provide 1.2 million people with access to broadband in rural, previously unserved areas of the United States. This is almost double our total from December 31, 2019, and up from 24,000 people in the whole of 2018. We’re doing the most recent work by donating hotspots and wireless connectivity equipment, and expanding our digital skills offerings by developing COVID-19-specific digital skills offerings for rural communities.

We’re undertaking this work in tandem with ISPs, state and local governments, non-profits such as the National 4-H Council, and other mission-aligned public- and private-sector entities. Eight out of 12 of our commercial ISP partners have taken the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, committing to maintaining connectivity to customers who are economically impacted by the crisis. Even those partners that have not formally signed on to the FCC’s pledge have committed to serving their communities by maintaining connectivity for existing customers and connecting new subscribers. The Airband Team has published a customer-ready Airband US COVID-19 Response Summary outlining our programmatic and policy responses to COVID-19 in the US.

We’re not the only ones trying to make a difference. Companies across the country are stepping up to the plate, including tech companies such as Google and T-Mobile. But it isn’t just tech that’s helping – companies such as Land O’Lakes are also working to close the broadband gap. We need the government to step up and meet us halfway.

Policy principles and new federal funding to accelerate much-needed changes

The most significant way to move the dial for Americans without broadband is by changing policy at the federal, state and local level, not only for more funding but to remove roadblocks so that broadband can reach rural and underserved Americans faster. In short, there’s a critical need for Congress to do three things.

First, Congressional action is needed to address the immediate broadband connectivity needs that are having a heightened impact on individuals and communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Funding is needed in the next stimulus bill so that students and teachers have access to remote learning, people have access to their doctors and other telehealth options, and to help people work from home, file and maintain their unemployment benefits, and apply for jobs online.

Second, there’s an urgent need to provide funding to the FCC so it can implement recently enacted broadband-mapping legislation. As we’ve said before, we can’t solve a problem we don’t understand.

Third, additional action is needed to permanently close the broadband gap. With accurate data on broadband availability, we recommend Congress provides funds based on seven important principles. Namely, these funds should be:

  1. Targeted: Any broadband funding mechanism should be designed to address a known market need; for example, the need to deliver broadband access to unserved rural areas and connect students without broadband access before schools start in the fall.
  1. Technology neutral: Broadband funding should be made available on a technology neutral basis.
  1. Broadband-capable: Networks should be required to meet at least the FCC-defined speed for broadband.
  1. Least costly: To minimize costs, funding amounts should be determined through a competitive bidding process (the FCC’s use of reverse auctions is an example of such a mechanism).
  1. Non-distortionary: Any program should aim to minimize market distortions in how funds are collected and how they are distributed.
  1. Deployed quickly: Preference should be given to broadband providers that commit to rapid deployment of broadband networks and services.
  1. Avoid administrative burdens: Programs should minimize red tape and only impose requirements on recipients that are necessary to ensure the integrity of the programs.

With this approach, the country can finally provide the funding needed for ISPs to close the broadband gap. In addition, we support efforts by the FCC, USDA and other federal and state agencies to release funds under new and existing programs to address the needs of vulnerable healthcare workers and patients, educators and learners, and remote workers. This is especially important because, in times of economic downturn, states are more cash-strapped than usual and don’t have resources necessary to make these critical investments.

The COVID-19 virus has created a national crisis. But it has also created an important opportunity. It’s time to galvanize the nation and recognize the obvious. Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century. Well before the end of the 20th century, we recognized that no American should live without electricity. As we embark on the third decade of the 21st century, every American deserves the opportunity to access broadband.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

How a synthetic data approach is helping COVID-19 research

As medical researchers around the world race to find answers to the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to gather as much clinical data as possible for analysis.

A key challenge many researchers face with clinical data is privacy and the mandate to protect confidential patient information. One way to overcome that privacy challenge is by using synthetic data, an approach that creates data that is not linked to personally identifiable information. Rather than encrypting or attempting to anonymize data to protect privacy, synthetic data represents a different approach that can be useful for medical researchers.

With synthetic data there are no real people, rather the data is a synthetic copy that is statistically comparable, but entirely composed of fictional patients, explained Ziv Ofek, founder and CEO of health IT vendor MDClone, based in Beer Sheba, Israel.

Other popular methods of protecting patient privacy, such as anonymization and encryption, aim to balance patient privacy and data utility. However, a privacy risk still remains because embedded within the data, even after diligent attempts to protect privacy, are real people, Ofek argued.

“There are no real people embedded within the synthetic data,” Ofek said. “Instead, the data is a statistical representation of the original and the risk of reidentification is no longer relevant, even though it may appear as real people and can be analyzed as if it were and yielding the same conclusions.”

Synthetic Data Engine from MDClone
MDClone Synthetic Data Engine creates anonymous data statistically identical to the original.

Synthetic data in the real world

MDClone’s synthetic data technology is being used by Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv as part of its COVID-19 research.

Synthetic data provides an opportunity to get quick answers to data-related questions … [and] allows users to work on the data in their own environment, something we do not allow with real data.
Eyal Zimlichman, M.D.Deputy director general, Sheba Medical Center

The MDClone system is critical to his organization’s data efforts to gain more insights into COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, said Eyal Zimlichman, M.D., deputy director general, chief medical officer and chief innovation officer at Sheba Medical.

By regulation, synthetic data is not considered patient data and therefore is not subject to the IRB process. As opposed to real patient data, Ofek noted that synthetic data can be accessed freely by researchers, so long as the institution agrees to provide access.

“Synthetic data provides an opportunity to get quick answers to data-related questions without the need for an IRB approval,”Zimlichman said. “It also allows users to work on the data in their own environment, something we do not allow with real data.”

Zimlichman added that data science groups both within and outside the hospital are using the MDClone system to help predict COVID-19 patient outcomes, as well as to aid in determining a course of action for therapy.

Synthetic data accelerates time to insight

The MDClone platform includes a data engine for collecting and organizing patient data, the discovery studio for analysis and the Synthetic Data Engine for creating data. The vendor on April 14 released the MDClone Pandemic Response Package, which includes a predefined set of visualizations and analyses that are COVID-19-specific. The engine enables clients and networks to ask questions of COVID-19-related data and generate meaningful analysis, including cohort and population-level insights.

In the event a client wants to use their data to share, compare and collaborate with others, they can convert their original data into a synthetic copy for shared review and insight development.

“A synthetic collaboration model allows for that conversation to take place with data flows and analysis performed across both systems without patient privacy and security risks,” Ofek said.

Ofek added that the synthetic model and platform access capability enables clients to invite research and collaboration partners into their data environment rather than simply sharing files on demand. With MDClone, the client’s research and collaboration partners are able to log in to the MDClone data lake and then get access to the data and exploration tools with synthetic output.

“In the context of the pandemic, organizations leveraging the platform can offer partners unfettered synthetic access to accelerate exploration into new avenues for treatment,” Ofek said. “Idea generation and data reviews that enable real-world analysis is our pathway to finding and broadcasting the best healthcare professionals can offer as we combat the disease.”

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38 Things Added to Sea of Thieves Since Launch You Have to Try – Xbox Wire

A lot has changed in Sea of Thieves since Rare’s shared world pirate fantasy first set sail in March 2018. Thanks to a series of major content updates in the first year – including the game-changing Anniversary Update – and a recent commitment to regular monthly updates, the game has grown and evolved at a scale that few other service-based games can match. Even better, all content has been added for free!

To celebrate the game’s second anniversary, here are 38 of the biggest things that have been added over the past two years. If you’re yet to try the game or haven’t played for a while, be sure to jump in by trying it out with Xbox Game Pass or buying the game on the Microsoft Store or your local retailer. Sea of Thieves’ uniquely horizontal progression system means that you can set sail again at any time and not be at a disadvantage against other players.

1) Tall Tales
Tall Tales are Sea of Thieves’ unique take on a story-driven campaign, offering cinematic quests within the game’s emergent shared world. The first collection of stories, Shores of Gold, take players on an epic adventure in search of a lost island and magical treasure, while recent additions ‘The Seabound Soul’ and ‘Heart of Fire’ tell a whole new story. Available to solo players or crews of any size, there are eleven Tall Tales in total which should keep you occupied for up to 30 hours.

2) The Arena
Added as part of 2019’s mega Anniversary Update, The Arena is a standalone competitive game mode that lets crews battle it out in fixed-length contests described by Eurogamer as “glorious, consequence-free PvP carnage”. The Arena also features its own Trading Company – the Sea Dogs – with which you can earn reputation and rise in rank, together with its own social space and cosmetic rewards.

3) The Megalodon
The game’s first Megalodon – think Jaws on steroids – was added to the game in its first major content update, The Hungering Deep. This fearsome giant shark was an emergent threat that could attack ships at any time, with rewards for crews who could defeat it. It was later followed to the Sea of Thieves by many dangerous Megalodon variants, including rare species like the legendary Shrouded Ghost.

4) The Devil’s Roar
The Devil’s Roar is a wild and dangerous world region that was added to the game with the Forsaken Shores content update (wonderfully brought to life by actor and comedian Matt Berry). This world region is full of natural perils including volcanoes, lava, geysers and superheated water. So dangerous is The Devil’s Roar that its Ashen treasures deliver sizeable gold and reputation gains when cashed in.

5) Skeleton Ships
The introduction of Skeleton Ships in July 2018 changed the game by allowing players to engage in ship-to-ship combat outside of PvP. These fearsome sea-based threats can be found sailing beneath the ship-shaped cloud, and can burst from beneath the waves without warning to ambush unsuspecting pirates. Sink them and take their treasure!

6) Fog Providing the ‘Shrouded’ bit of November 2018’s Shrouded Spoils content update, fog brought both atmosphere and gameplay depth. Exploring islands in thick fog adds an additional layer of threat and complexity, while clever captains can use the swirling mists to hide their ships from other crews…

7) Maiden Voyage
The Maiden Voyage is a tutorial that goes the extra mile. Set just outside Sea of Thieves’ shared world, the Maiden Voyage is the perfect opportunity for new pirates to find their sea legs in a safe space. And while it’s perfect for new players wanting to learn how to play, it also offers plenty for more experienced players including a chance to meet the Pirate Lord himself and earn some exclusive cosmetics.

8) Fire
The addition of fire turned up the heat on players when it was added to the game last November. Fires can be started by firebombs, angry Chests of Rage or through less aggressive means, such as leaving food on the ship’s stove unattended. One thing’s for sure, fire had a huge impact on the game and proved that Alfred Pennyworth was right when he observed: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

9) Lots of lovely emergent loot
Back at launch, finding treasure could be a difficult business. But these days the Sea of Thieves is positively awash with loot, with Barrels of Plenty (floating barrels of bonus treasure), emergent Skeleton Captains, increased shipwreck loot, Mermaid Statues and their valuable gems, treasure maps in barrels, more washed-up treasure and rewards for defeating the Megalodon, Kraken and Skeleton Ships.

10) Fishing
People asked. And asked. And asked some more. So as part of the Anniversary Update, Rare added a huge fishing mechanic to the game that offers hours of distraction from epic adventuring. There are 10 main types of fish, each with their own variants, some of which can only be caught in specific world regions with the right bait and conditions. You can cook and eat fish to restore health, or cash them in with The Hunter’s Call Trading Company found at any Seapost. Sea of Thieves’ fishing was the highest-rated experience in PC Gamer’s article ‘Which PC game has the best fishing?’.

11) The Hunter’s Call Trading Company
Headed by the lovable Merrick (of The Hungering Deep fame), The Hunter’s Call is a Trading Company that rewards players for catching and cooking fish or meat. Unique among Trading Companies in that its representatives are located at Seaposts rather than Outposts, The Hunter’s Call offers a more leisurely path to Pirate Legend status.

12) Cargo Runs
Introduced to the game back in the Forsaken Shores update, Cargo Runs are a twist on the standard Merchant Alliance quest. Collect and deliver valuable cargo to various locations across the Sea of Thieves, both on time and in good condition, for a handsome payday.

13) Legends of the Sea
Sea of Thieves’ world has always contained Easter eggs that celebrate the stories of our most legendary players. Umbra’s sidequests, introduced in January 2020’s Legends of the Sea update, offer players the chance to earn Commendations and Doubloons for tracking down the stories behind these inspiring and entertaining player immortalisations.

14) Fort of the Damned
Raiding Skeleton Forts has always been an essential part of the Sea of Thieves experience, but the Fort of the Damned is a standout encounter. Released in time for Halloween 2019, this spooky Fort represents a major upgrade on the raid experience, both in terms of challenge and reward. Unlike other Forts, the Fort of the Damned can be activated on demand by crews who want to unlock its treasures again and again.

15) Gunpowder Skeletons
First came skeletons. Then skeletons with weapons (including snipers and cannoneers). But things got serious once the skeletons of the Sea of Thieves discovered that Gunpowder Barrels also make very effective weapons. Boom!

16) Stronghold Kegs
Available through raiding Forts, Stronghold Kegs are Gunpowder Barrels that make a really big bang (colloquially known as “mega-kegs”). These rare items command a high price from the Merchant Alliance, or they can be used as devastating weapons against all manner of enemies…

17) Reaper’s Chests
Reaper’s Chests are high-value chests found emergently in shipwrecks across the Sea of Thieves, and reveal their location through a mysterious beacon that rises up to the sky. But beware – once a Reaper’s Chest is recovered, other crews will be able to see on the map that you have this valuable reward and can hunt you down.

18) Pets
Every pirate needs an animal companion. The Pirate Emporium, added to the game in September 2019, brought with it a range of lovable pet parrots and monkeys, with more types still to come. Available in various breeds and colours, pets can also be dressed up in costumes for added hilarity. These furry and feathered sidekicks are an essential addition to any crew.

19) More than 100 new emotes
Emotes have always been a popular way for players to express themselves, but the addition of the Pirate Emporium has seen more than 100 new emotes added to the game. From the classic “we’re flying” emote inspired by a certain sea-based movie to the infamous “Crab Dab”, there’s something for every pirate and every situation.

20) Cursed Cannonballs
Introduced to the game as part of July 2018’s Cursed Sails update, Cursed Cannonballs are powerful weapons that can be found emergently in the world. Each of the eleven types of Cursed Cannonballs imparts a powerful, time-limited effect on an enemy, from making them dance to rendering their cannons impotent.

21) Cooking
Not only did the Anniversary Update bring fishing and hunting to the game, it brought cooking to legions of hungry pirates. Food can be cooked using the stove aboard every ship or at campfires. Once perfectly prepared, cooked food can be eaten to restore health or sold to The Hunter’s Call for a premium.

22) The Bilge Rats
The Bilge Rats are an unofficial Trading Company who arrived in Sea of Thieves in summer 2018. Dedicated to celebrating a pirate’s life of adventure outside the traditional Trading Companies, Duke and his motley crew give players a range of regular sidequests which can unlock additional rewards and cosmetics.

23) Alliances
Sometimes it can be Sea of Friends, thanks to the Alliance feature that lets two or more crews team up to improve the odds and share the rewards. Perfect for pirates looking to earn loot in a hurry, and a great way to meet other players and make friends.

24) Creator Crew
With its emphasis on player freedom and creativity, Sea of Thieves is a hugely watchable game. The Creator Crew is a programme which helps budding streamers and YouTubers get noticed, offering asset packs, opportunities to have work shared across official channels and ‘How To’ tutorials for improving content. What’s more, there’s also the chance to unlock exclusive cosmetic items by completing creator challenges. Go create and share your pirate stories!

25) Brigantines
Another feature that was introduced in the Cursed Sails update, the Brigantine is a ship type made for three players. More agile than a Galleon but boasting significantly more firepower than a Sloop, Brigantines soon became a player favourite.

26) Rowboats
Originally introduced in the Forsaken Shores update as a tool to deal with the superheated waters of the volcanic Devil’s Roar region, Rowboats are perfect for pirates looking to move around more loot than they can carry or sneak up on larger ships undetected. Racing them can also be fun!

27) The Harpoon
Every ship – and even some Rowboats – now come equipped with harpoon guns. These handy tools can be used in lots of ways, from plucking resources out of the water to making a sharp turn around an island. They can also be used to steal treasure from unsuspecting pirates in what has become known within the community as a ‘zoink’.

28) Doubloons and the Black Market
The arrival of the Bilge Rats on the Sea of Thieves also introduced a brand new currency which could be earned for completing time-limited events, a range of sidequests or by unlocking certain Commendations. Once earned, valuable Doubloons can be exchanged for rare cosmetics through the Black Market, or used to buy favour with the main Trading Companies and level up faster.

29) Seaposts
Dotted around the Sea of Thieves, Seaposts are mini-Outposts. They offer crews a great opportunity to stock up on resources, plus you’ll find traders who’ll sell a variety of cosmetics at a discount. Seaposts are also home to The Hunter’s Call, so they’re where you need to go to sell fish and meat.

30) Chest of Rage
Added recently in February 2020, the Chest of Rage is the latest Cursed Chest to be found within the game. These rare and valuable chests are filled with fury which vents itself regularly if not kept cool, making this a high-risk (but high-return) item which can also double up as a powerful weapon…

31) Collector’s Chests
Originally introduced as part of Tall Tales: Shores of Gold, Collector’s Chests – chests that can be opened and will hold whatever treasure you put in – have recently been added as rewards for solving riddle quests. What does that mean? More loot!

32). Tucking
Tucking, you say? What on earth is that? Let us explain. Pioneered by several high-profile streamers, ‘tucking’ in Sea of Thieves involves using emotes such as sleeping and sitting to hide aboard other players’ ships (the emote hides the gamertag above a player). Opening up a stealthy – not to mention hilarious – new way to play the game, tucking was officially recognised by the addition of a number of hide emotes to the Pirate Emporium (one of which is available to players for free).

33) Expanded ship customization
Having a cool-looking ship is one of the best parts of Sea of Thieves. Every pirate takes pride in how their vessel looks, plus a ship’s visibility from distance means that it’s your calling card in the world. Since the Shrouded Spoils expansion, players can now determine all elements of how their ship looks including the sails, figurehead, hull, capstan, cannons, wheel and flag. Get customising!

34) Skeleton variety
While the principal threat on land for pirates remains skeletal in nature, the threat has expanded through the addition of a number of skeleton variants – such as Gold, Plant, Shadow and Ashen – that each pose a different challenge. What’s more, you’ll also run into Skeleton Captains (and their crews) around the world, and may even encounter a fearsome Skeleton Lord…

35) Speaking Trumpet
The Speaking Trumpet is a handy tool for anyone looking to communicate with another crew. Kind of like a pirate-themed megaphone, the Speaking Trumpet amplifies the distance over which voice and text chat can be heard by other crews. Perfect for communicating with other ships without getting too close (just in case).

36) Throwable weapons
Throwable weapons offer more combat variety and come in two main flavours. Firebombs, as the name suggests, explode on impact and set fire to anything and anyone in the vicinity. Blunderbombs are closer in style to a grenade, dealing damage to (and knocking back) anyone in their blast radius.

37) Chainshot
Another new game feature added just this March, chainshot is a new ammo type that can be loaded into cannons and used to take down another ship’s mast. Bringing more tactical depth to ship-to-ship combat, there’s nothing more satisfying than felling another ship’s mast in a single shot.

38) Another 1200 gamerscore
Last but not least, the ever-expanding quantity of content in Sea of Thieves has also meant the addition of hundreds of new achievements and another 1200 gamerscore to play for (making a total of 2200 in all).

And there’s more! We haven’t even mentioned combat improvements, new musical instruments and more shanties to enjoy, hundreds of extra cosmetic items, a wealth of new Commendations or the countless ongoing quality of life improvements across all areas of the game. Visit the official Sea of Thieves website to see more about the latest updates, and for the latest on all things Xbox stay tuned to Xbox Wire.

See you on the seas!

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Keeping your cloud deployments secure during challenging times

As the world comes together to combat COVID-19, and remote work becomes a critical capability for many companies, customers have asked us how to best maintain the security posture of their cloud assets while enabling more remote workers to access them.

Misconfiguration of cloud security controls has been at the root of several recent data breaches, so it’s extremely important to continue monitoring your security posture as usage of cloud assets increases.

To help you prioritize the actions that you need to take, we are listing three common scenarios for remote workers and how to leverage Azure Security Center security controls to prioritize relevant recommendations for these scenarios:

1. As more users need to access resources remotely, you need to ensure that Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is enabled to enhance their identity protection.

  • Azure Security Center has a security control called Enable MFA, ideally you should remediate all recommendations that are part of this security control, as shown below:

image

2. Some users might need remote access via RDP or SSH to servers that are in your Azure infrastructure.

  • Instead of allowing full 24 x 7 access to those servers, ensure that you are using Just-In-Time (JIT) VM access to those servers. Make sure to review the Secure management ports control in Azure Security Center and remediate the recommendations that are relevant for this scenario.

image

3. Some of the workloads (servers, containers, databases) that will be accessed remotely by users might be missing critical security updates.

  • Review the Remediate vulnerabilities control in Azure Security Center to prioritize the updates that must be installed. Make sure to review the result of all recommendations in built-in vulnerability assessment and remediate those items.

image

Security posture management is an ongoing process. Review your secure score to understand your progress towards a fully compliant environment.

Users of Azure are likely just a portion of your user base. Below is additional guidance on enabling and securing remote work for the rest of your organization:

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Author: Microsoft News Center