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Steer clear of trouble while following the Office 365 roadmap

Microsoft will make several changes to the Office 365 platform this year that will affect enterprise users. Email client changes and new features in the Office suite and subscriptions can increase support calls, but administrators can help themselves through training and engagement.

Microsoft, which was once tolerant of customers on older products, is pushing customers to adopt the latest Windows 10 build and Office suite to take advantage of new Office 365 functionality and capabilities. At time of publication, the Office 365 roadmap shows nearly 250 features in development with nearly 150 rolling out. Some of the changes include:

  • After October 2020, only Office 2019 and Office Pro Plus will be allowed to connect to Office 365 services, such as email on Exchange Online and SharePoint Online;
  • Microsoft Outlook will receive several changes to its user interface throughout 2020;
  • Office Groups and Microsoft Teams will be the focus for collaboration tool development;
  • Office ProPlus is no longer supported in Windows 8.1, Windows 7 or older on the client operating system and Windows Server 2012, 2012 R2 and 2016 on the server side.

Given the number of updates in the works, many administrators realize that the wave of change will affect many of their users, especially if it requires upgrading any legacy Office suite products such as Office 2013, 2016 and even 2010. To ensure a smooth transition with many of the new Office 365 tools and expected changes, IT workers must take several steps to prepare.

Develop an Office 365 or Office 2019 adoption plan

One of the first steps for IT is to plot out a strategy that outlines the upcoming changes and what needs to be done to complete the adoption process. During this step, the IT team must detail the various software changes to implement — upgrades to the Office suite, introduction of Microsoft Teams and other similar items. The adoption plan can define the details around training material, schedules, resources and timelines needed.

Identify platform champions to help encourage adoption

To be more effective when it comes to gaining the trust of their end users and keeping them invested with the upcoming Office 365 roadmap features, administrators must identify a few platform champions within the business to help build support within the end-user groups and outside of IT.

Build excitement around the upcoming changes

Changes are generally met with some resistance from end users, and this is especially the case when it comes to changing tools that are heavily used such as Outlook, Word, Excel and certain online services. To motivate end users to embrace some of the new applications coming out in 2020, administrators must highlight the benefits such as global smart search, a new look and feel for the email client and several enhancements coming in Microsoft Teams.

Be flexible with training materials and methods

Everyone learns differently, so any training content that administrators provide to the end users must come in several formats. Some of the popular delivery mechanisms include short videos, one-page PDF guides with tips and tricks, blog postings and even podcasts. One other option is to outsource the training process by using a third-party vendor that can deliver training material, tests and other content through an online learning system. Some of the groups that offer this service include BrainStorm, Microsoft Learning and Global Knowledge Training.

Monitor progress and highlight success stories

Once IT begins to roll out the adoption plan and the training to the end users, it is important to monitor the progress by performing frequent checks to identify the users actively participating in the training and using the different tools available to them. One way for the administrators to monitor Office activation is through the Office 365 admin portal under the reports section. Some of the Office usage and activation reports will identify who is making full use of the platform and the ones lagging behind who might require extra assistance to build their skills.

Stay on top of the upcoming changes from Microsoft

End users are not the only ones who need training. Given the fast rate that the Office 365 platform changes, IT administrators have a full-time job in continuing to review the new additions and changes to the applications and services. Online resources like Microsoft 365 Roadmap and blog posts by Microsoft and general technology sites provide valuable insights into what is being rolled out and what upcoming changes to expect.

Share stories and keep the door open for continuous conversations

Microsoft Teams and Yammer are highly recommended for administrators to interact with their end users as they are adopting new Office 365 tools. This gives end users a way to share feedback and allows others to join the conversation to help IT gauge the overall sentiment around the changes in Office 365. They also provide IT with an avenue to make some announcements related to major future changes and evaluate how their end users respond.

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Long-delayed Dell EMC PowerStore midrange array makes debut

Enterprises can get a look at Dell EMC’s next-generation midrange storage, more than a year later than the array’s planned debut.

The Dell EMC PowerStore system that launched today marks the vendor’s first internally developed storage product since Dell bought EMC in 2015. Integration of Dell EMC-owned VMware is a key element, with an onboard ESXi hypervisor and capability to run applications on certain array models.

The base PowerStore is a 2U two-node enclosure for active-active failover and high availability. The chassis takes 25 NVMe SSDs, with support for Intel Optane persistent memory chips. Three 25-drive SAS expansion shelves can be added per chassis. Support for NVMe-f architecture is on Dell EMC’s roadmap.

The PowerStore midrange storage has been a strategic priority for several years. More than 1,000 engineers across Dell EMC storage and the wider Dell Technologies organization worked on the system, said Caitlin Gordon, senior vice president of Dell EMC storage marketing.

“Data has never been more diverse or more valuable, but customers have had to choose between prioritizing between service levels for performance and simplifying their operations. We know not every applications can be virtualized, and we engineered PowerStore so you can consolidate all workloads on a single platform,” Gordon said.

What’s next for Dell EMC midrange?

Dell EMC first scheduled the new midrange system to launch in 2019, but a series of delays pushed it back to now. The all-flash PowerStore adds to Dell EMC’s overlapping midrange storage, although the vendor said the new system would help streamline the portfolio. Dell EMC is the market leader in storage, with midrange platforms that include the Unity flagship all-flash and hybrid arrays that EMC brought to market. Other midrange systems include the SC Series and PS Series. Dell acquired Compellent and EqualLogic arrays years ago and renamed both products. Compellent is now known as SC Series and still sold and supported by Dell. The EqualLogic arrays were renamed PS Series, which Dell maintains but no longer sells. Dell EMC executives said the other systems will be phased out slowly with PowerStore’s arrival.

Dell EMC PowerStore midrange array
Dell EMC PowerStore midrange array

The PowerStoreOS operating system incorporates a Kubernetes framework to serve storage management from containers and includes a machine learning engine to automate rebalancing and other administrative tasks. Based on internal testing, Dell EMC claims PowerStore had seven times the performance and three times lower latency than Unity XT array.

The ground-up PowerStore design eventually will emerge as the dominant Dell EMC midrange storage, said Scott Sinclair, a storage analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

“This is a completely new architecture that’s based on a container framework. It’s designed to address a bunch of different workload needs on one array. That’s not the type of hard work you put into a product do just to add another midrange storage array,” Sinclair said.

A software capability called AppsOn allows data-intensive applications to access storage on PowerStore and use VMware vMotion to migrate it between core and cloud environments.

“The idea is you that can be within a VMware environment — let’s say VMware Cloud Foundation, or vSphere — and have different ways to move applications to various targets. AppsOn is a novel approach that gives you more flexibility to deploy apps, based on your resource needs,” Sinclair said

Beta customer tried to ‘blow up’ PowerStore

Dell EMC guarantees data reduction of 4-to-1 with always-on inline deduplication. Dell claims the inline data reduction does not degrade performance. Based on the ratio, a single Dell EMC PowerStore with three expansion enclosures is rated to provide 2.8 PB of usable storage per appliance. Effective capacity scales to 11.3 PB in a maximum eight-node cluster.

Five capacity models are available: PowerStore 1000 (384 TB), PowerStore 3000 (768 TB), PowerStore 5000 (1,152 TB), PowerStore 7000 (1,536 TB) and PowerStore 9000 (2,560 TB). PowerStore X models come with the VMware hypervisor and AppsOn, a software capability that allows data-intensive applications to access storage on the array across core and cloud environments. The Power T configuration does not include the latter features.

“I actually like the PowerStore X a lot more than I ever thought I would,” said Alan Hunt, the director of network operations for Detroit-based law firm Dickinson Wright. Hunt is running a PowerStore X and PowerStore T in beta to simulate live production. He said PowerStore will help Dickinson Wright to incorporate new storage with existing SC Series and retire PS Series arrays.

“We did a lot of testing and migrating of live workloads with the AppsOn feature, and that was excellent. We’re running simulate workloads and don’t have anything in production [on PowerStore], but I want to jump on it immediately. I take systems and try to blow them up, and this was definitely the most stable beta test I’ve ever done,” Hunt said.

Dell EMC initially said it would converge features of its multiple midrange arrays in 2019. The product launch was slated for Dell Tech World in Las Vegas in May, but that event was cancelled due to the coronavirus. Dell said it will have a virtual show later this year but has not specified dates.

Gordon said  PowerStore systems started shipping in April.

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Oracle’s GraalVM finds its place in Java app ecosystem

One year after its initial release for production use, Oracle’s GraalVM universal virtual machine has found validation in the market, evidenced by industry-driven integrations with cloud-native development projects such as Quarkus, Micronaut, Helidon and Spring Boot.

GraalVM supports applications written in Java, JavaScript and other programming languages and execution modes. But it means different things to different people, said Bradley Shimmin, an analyst with Omdia in Longmeadow, Mass.

First, it’s a runtime that can support a wide array of non-Java languages such as JavaScript, Ruby, Python, R, WebAssembly and C/C++, he said. And it can do the same for Java Virtual Machine (JVM) languages as well, namely Java, Scala and Kotlin.

Secondly, GraalVM is a native code generator capable of doing things like ahead-of-time compiling — the act of compiling a higher-level programming language such as C or C++ into a native machine code so that the resulting binary file can execute natively.

“GraalVM is really quite a flexible ecosystem of capabilities,” Shimmin said. “For example, it can run on its own or be embedded as a part of the OpenJDK. In short, it allows Java developers to tackle some specific problems such as the need for fast app startup times, and it allows non-Java developers to enjoy some of the benefits of a JVM such as portability.”

GraalVM came out of Oracle Labs, which used to be Sun Labs. “Basically, it is the answer to the question, ‘What would it look like if we could write the Java native compiler in Java itself?'” said Cameron Purdy, former senior vice president of development at Oracle and current CEO of Xqiz.it, a stealth startup in Lexington, Mass., that is working to deliver a platform for building cloud-native applications.

“The hypothesis behind the Graal implementation is that a compiler built in Java would be more easily maintained over time, and eventually would be compiling itself or ‘bootstrapped’ in compiler parlance,” Purdy added.

The GraalVM project’s overall mission was to build a universal virtual machine that can run any programming language.

The big idea was that a compiler didn’t have to have built-in knowledge of the semantics of any of the supported languages. The common belief of VM architects had been that a language VM needed to understand those semantics in order to achieve optimal performance.

“GraalVM has disproved this notion by demonstrating that a multilingual VM with competitive performance is possible and that the best way to do it isn’t through a language-specific bytecode like Java or Microsoft CLR [Common Language Runtime],” said Eric Sedlar, vice president and technical director of Oracle Labs.

To achieve this, the team developed a new high-performance optimizing compiler and a language implementation framework that makes it possible to add new languages to the platform quickly, Sedlar said. The GraalVM compiler provides significant performance improvements for Java applications without any code changes, according to Sedlar. Embeddability is another goal. For example, GraalVM can be plugged into system components such as a database.

GraalVM joins broader ecosystem

One of the higher-profile integrations for GraalVM is with Red Hat’s Quarkus, a web application framework with related extensions for Java applications. In essence, Quarkus tailors applications for Oracle’s GraalVM and HotSpot compiler, which means that applications written in it can benefit from using GraalVM native image technology to achieve near instantaneous startup and significantly lower memory consumption compared to what one can expect from a typical Java application at runtime.

“GraalVM is interesting to me as it potentially speeds up Java execution and reduces the footprint – both of which are useful for modern Java applications running on the cloud or at the edge,” said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research. “In particular, I’m watching the combination of Graal and Quarkus as together they look really fast and really small — just the kind of thing needed for microservices on Java running in a FaaS environment.”

In particular, I’m watching the combination of Graal and Quarkus as together they look really fast and really small — just the kind of thing needed for microservices on Java running in a FaaS environment.
Jeffrey HammondAnalyst, Forrester

Jeffrey HammondJeffrey Hammond

Quarkus uses the open source, upstream GraalVM project and not the commercial products — Oracle GraalVM or Oracle GraalVM Enterprise Edition.

“Quarkus applications can either be run efficiently in JVM mode or compiled and optimized further to run in Native mode, ensuring developers have the best runtime environment for their particular application,” said Rich Sharples, senior director of product management at Red Hat.

Red Hat officials believe Quarkus will be an important technology for two of its most important constituents — developers who are choosing Kubernetes and OpenShift as their strategic application development and production platform and enterprise developers with deep roots in Java.

“That intersection is pretty huge and growing and represents a key target market for Red Hat and IBM,” Sharples said. “It represents organizations across all industries who are building out the next generation of business-critical applications that will provide those organizations with a competitive advantage.”

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For Sale – MacBook Air 2019 Rose Gold 1.5Hz i5 8GB 128GB

Bought it for myself beginning of the year to give Mac a go. But turns out there are quite a lot of little things that I can’t get used to it, so going back to windows. Bought it as a refurb from Apple directly, so they put a new body and battery. Only used it lightly and still in very good condition. This is a rose gold base model and will come with the power cable in original box.

Insured postage with Royal Mail is included.

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Commvault storage story expands with Hedvig for primary data

Of all the changes data protection vendor Commvault made in the last year, perhaps the most striking was its acquisition of primary storage software startup Hedvig.

The $225 million deal in October 2019 — eight months into Sanjay Mirchandani’s tenure as CEO — marked Commvault’s first major acquisition. It also brought the backup specialist into primary storage as it tries to adapt to meet demand for analytics on data everywhere.

Hedvig gives Commvault a distributed storage platform that spans traditional and cloud-hosted workloads. The Hedvig software runs primary storage on commodity hardware and is already been integrated in the Commvault storage software stack, including the new Commvault Metallic SaaS-based backup.

Don Foster, a vice president of storage solutions at Commvault, said data centers want to centralize all their data, from creation to retention, without adding third-party endpoints.

“We envision Hedvig as a way to ensure that your storage and backup will work in a symbiotic fashion,” Foster said.

Hedvig provides unified storage that allows Commvault to tackle new cloud-application use cases. The storage software run on clustered commodity nodes as distributed architecture for cloud and scale-out file and object storage across multiple hypervisors.

Commvault plans to use Hedvig to converge storage and data management and enhance Commvault HyperScale purpose-built backup appliances. Revenue from Commvault HyperScale appliances was up 10% year over year last quarter, and the vendor said six of its top 10 customers have deployed HyperScale appliances.

Commvault has expanded Hedvig into more primary workloads with the addition of support for the Container Storage Interface and erasure coding. In the near term, Hedvig will also remain available for purchase as primary storage and existing Hedvig customers with in-force contracts will be supported. The larger plan is to integrate Hedvig as a feature in the Commvault Complete suite of backup and data management tools, Foster said.

Integrating technology and integrating culture

Mirchandani replaced retired CEO Bob Hammer, who led Commvault for 20 years. The change at the top also brought about a raft of executive changes and the launch of the Metallic SaaS offering under a brand outside of Commvault. But the Hedvig deal was most significant in moving the Commvault storage strategy from data protection to data management — a shift backup vendors have talked about for years.

Because Hedvig didn’t have a large installed base, the key for Commvault was gaining access to Hedvig’s engineering IP, said Steven Hill, a senior analyst of applied infrastructure and storage technologies at 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Hedvig gives Commvault a software-defined storage platform that combines block, file and object storage services, along with cloud-level automation and support for containers.
Steven HillSenior analyst of applied infrastructure and storage technologies, 451 Research

“Growing adoption of hybrid cloud infrastructure and scale-out secondary storage has changed the business model for backup vendors. Hedvig gives Commvault a software-defined storage platform that combines block, file and object storage services, along with cloud-level automation and support for containers. It checks a lot of boxes for the next generation of storage buyers,” Hill said.

“The future of hybrid secondary storage lies in the management of data based on the business value of its content, and makes the need for broader, cloud-optimized information management a major factor in future storage buying decisions,” Hill added. He said Cohesity and Rubrik “discovered this [idea] a while ago” and other backup vendors now are keying in on secondary storage to support AI and analytics.

A research note by IDC said the Hedvig deal signals “orthogonal and expansionary thinking” by Commvault that paves a path to primary storage and multi-cloud data management. Commvault is a top five backup vendor in revenue; its revenue has declined year over year for each of the last four quarters. Commvault reported $176.3 million in revenue last quarter, down 4.3% from the same period a year ago.

IDC researchers note the difference between traditional Commvault storage and the Hedvig product. Namely, that Commvault is a 20-year-old public company in an entrenched market, while Hedvig launched in 2018. The companies share only a few mutual business partners and resellers.

“Market motion matters here, as each company is selling into different buyer bases.  … Melding a unified company and finding synergies between different buying centers may be more difficult than the technical integration,” IDC analysts wrote in a report on the Commvault-Hedvig acquisition.

‘Belts and suspenders’ approach

Pittsburg State University (PSU) in Kansas has deployed Hedvig primary storage and Commvault backup for several years. Tim Pearson, the university’s assistant director of IT infrastructure and security, said he was not surprised to hear about the Hedvig deal.

“I knew Hedvig was looking for a way to grow the company,” Pearson said, adding that he spoke with Commvault representatives in the run-up to the transaction.

PSU runs Hedvig storage software on Hewlett Packard Enterprise ProLiant servers as frontline storage for its VMware farm and protects data with Commvault backup. Pearson said the “belts and suspenders” approach designed by Hedvig engineers enables Commvault to bridge production storage and secondary use cases.

“What I hope to gain out of this is a unified pane of glass to manage not only my traditional Commvault backups, but also point-in-time recovery by scheduling Hedvig storage-level snapshots,” Pearson said.

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Coronavirus impact: Businesses forced to rely on video conferencing

In January, life sciences technology vendor Veeva held a new year kickoff for its North American employees in Orlando, Fla. A few weeks later, the company held a similar event for its Asia-based employees — except instead of everyone meeting in Tokyo as planned, the coronavirus outbreak forced workers to dial into Zoom.

The differences between the two events were stark.

The would-be Tokyo attendees sat alone on their computers. In Orlando, colleagues shared meals and dance floors. They visited an amusement park one evening. And by gathering more than 1,000 people in the same place, the company generated a palpable enthusiasm for its vision and goals.

“There is a little bit lost, for sure, in a remote meeting compared to a face-to-face meeting,” said Paul Shawah, Veeva’s senior vice president for commercial cloud strategy.

Businesses like Veeva are increasingly turning to video conferencing services like Zoom and Cisco Webex to avoid travel in response to the growing threat of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. The disease had sickened nearly 100,000 people worldwide as of March 5, including more than 200 people in the United States, where 14 have died.

Video conferencing apps are providing a convenient alternative to face-to-face meetings during the outbreak. But companies are also missing chances to connect on a more personal level with customers, partners and employees.

Theory Studios, a boutique entertainment company, generates most of its business by attending conferences. The studio scrambled to schedule Zoom meetings after the last-minute cancellation of Google I/O and the postponement of the Game Developers Conference.

“At the end of the day, nothing beats in-person [meetings],” said David Andrade, co-founder of Theory Studios. “It’s the joy of sharing a meal — or maybe the client wanting to tour you around their office — that turns a regular meeting into a personal, long-lasting connection.” At the same time, Andrade has used Zoom to build meaningful relationships long before meeting in person, he said.

Similarly, salespeople for electronics manufacturer ViewSonic are watching closely as premier sponsors begin to withdraw from Enterprise Connect, a trade show scheduled for late March. Some of ViewSonic’s customers have also temporarily banned salespeople from their campuses.

“As a sales leader … I would always like to think that travel is essential to business,” said Chris Graefe, ViewSonic’s director of enterprise sales. “A face-to-face meeting is preferred, obviously.” Video conferencing, however, will help maintain relationships amid the travel restrictions, he said.

For Veeva, holding its Asia kickoff on Zoom was “the next best thing,” Shawah said. The format even brought some benefits. For example, everything was recorded, allowing those who missed the meeting to catch up. Also, Zoom’s chat feature facilitated a robust Q&A session, Shawah said.


Tech vendors capitalize on coronavirus outbreak

Video conferencing providers have responded to the increased need for their services by extending the capabilities of their free offerings.

Cisco is now allowing meetings of unlimited length for up to 100 participants on the free version of Webex. Microsoft is giving out six-month licenses to Office 365 that provide access to a more robust version of Microsoft Teams than is usually available for free. Zoom has lifted the 40-minute cap on free meetings in China.

The vendors hope the uptick in usage will continue even after fears about the virus subside. Free offerings can be an effective way to generate paying customers.

In a conference call with investors Wednesday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan predicted the outbreak would demonstrate the benefits of Zoom and lead to higher usage among companies. “This will dramatically change the landscape.”

Zoom’s stock is up more than 50% since late January. Video conferencing vendors, including hardware makers, are expected to rake in $13.8 billion in revenue by 2023, up from $7.8 billion in 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan.

Because so many employees are temporarily working from home, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro has begun hosting company-wide Zoom calls twice a week. Some hope the practice will continue even after people return to the company’s offices around the world.

“With this concern happening, and people increasing their use of collaboration tools, I do think it’s going to have a lasting effect,” said Leah MacMillan, Trend Micro’s chief marketing officer.

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Microsoft Airband: An annual update on connecting rural America – Microsoft on the Issues

Last year, a team of Amish-owned horses dragged a load up a ridge near Essex, New York. It was a normal scene for rural America – straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting – except that they were bearing telecommunications equipment to connect the local community to the internet.  

Essex is barely 12 miles across the lake from Burlington, Vermont, but broadband is scarce. In our increasingly digital and interconnected world, broadband is as important as electricity or water. Rural communities without broadband face higher unemployment rates and see fewer educational and economic opportunities. For the woman overseeing the horses, Beth Schiller, CEO of CvWireless LLC, this is a solvable problem. Together with Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, she’s bringing connectivity to her community. 

In the summer of 2017, we launched the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which brings broadband connectivity to people living in underserved rural areas. To eliminate the rural broadband gap, we bring together privatesector capital investment in new technologies and rural broadband deployments with publicsector financial and regulatory support. We set an ambitious goal: to provide access to broadband to three million people in unserved rural areas of the United States by July 4, 2022At two and a half years since launch, we are at the halfway point of the time we gave ourselves to meet this goal and we feel good about the steady progress we’ve made and how much we have learned. But one thing we have learned is that the problem is even bigger than we imagined. 

The broadband gap is wide but solvable 

Beth’s horse-borne approach to connectivity may be unique, but the problem is not: According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 broadband report, more than 21 million people in America, nearly 17 million of whom live in rural communities, don’t have access to broadband.  

A recent study by BroadbandNow found that the number of unserved people is nearly double the current reported amount and more than 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband especially in rural areas. Our own data shows that some 157.3 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speedsAnd while we are making progress and the reported number is down by six million people from last year, that’s still more than the populations of our eight biggest states – California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia – combined. More must be done. 

As we’ve said from the start of the initiativewithout accurate data we cannot fully understand the broadband gap. You cannot solve a problem you don’t understand. More accurate data will help deploy broadband in the places its neededBecause the government makes many funding decisions based on federal data, communities that lack broadband – but, according to FCC data, have access to broadband – have less access to resources needed to actually secure broadband connectivity. This is certainly a Catch-22, but it can be solved. We’re encouraged that the FCC has adopted new policies that should result in broadband providers reporting more accurate data and that Congress has worked on legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband dataIt’s imperative that these policy changes are quickly and fully implemented so that people without broadband will get access to it 

Data Chart

Steady progress to close the broadband gap

But the country can’t wait on perfect data. We’re moving full steam ahead in the areas where we know we can help and making steady progress against our 3-million-person goal. We’re now in 25 states and one territory, and staging pilot programs in two additional states. We’ve already reached a total of 633,000 previously unserved people, up from 24,000 people in 2018, and as our partners’ network deployments accelerate over the coming months, we will be reaching many more.

We haven’t made this progress alone. We have made it through building partnerships throughout the United States, learning more about local solutions that will close the broadband gap. Partners such as Wisper Internet will work to bring broadband access to almost 1 million people in rural unserved areas in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. In Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, our partner Watch Communications will bring high-speed internet access to more than 860,000 people living in unserved rural areas. Our partnerships also bring connectivity to historically underserved communities, including those residing on tribal lands. Sacred Wind Communications will help approximately 47,000 people on and off Navajo lands in New Mexico reap the benefits that come with access to the internet. Moreover, we have forged strategic partnerships with American Tower Corporation, Tilson, and Zayo Group over the last year that will further bring down the end-to-end network deployment costs for rural ISPs. We have also established a broad-based Airband ISP Program that provides ISPs in 47 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico with access to critical assets, helping them connect rural communities.

There’s good news about the cost of connectivity. The price of TV white spaces devices (TVWS) – a new connectivity technology that’s particularly useful in rural areas where laying cable simply isn’t an option – continues to drop. In the last year, the cost of customer equipment has plummeted by 50%, all while achievable speeds have increased tenfold.

At the same time, we’re pleased to see our partners in government make important, steady progress to enable these new technologies. We applaud Chairman Pai and the FCC for their vote last week to propose positive and necessary changes to TVWS regulations. Reducing red tape will enable ISPs to accelerate their progress in rural broadband deployment and help bridge the digital divide in rural America. We are also pleased that the FCC has announced plans to make up to $20 billion available in Rural Digital Opportunity funding to help ISPs bring high-speed broadband access to high-cost unserved rural areas. At the state level, we’re pleased that several state governments have created their own funding programs to support new broadband infrastructure, including Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and South Dakota.

What comes after connectivity?

As we’ve connected communities across the country, we’ve kept asking ourselves a central, key question: What comes after connectivity?

Broadband connections aren’t a panacea for all that ails rural America. Simply plugging in an ethernet cable doesn’t create jobs, increase farmers’ yields or provide a veteran with healthcare. Rural communities need resources beyond infrastructure to rebuild and lift themselves up. That’s why much of our work goes well beyond connectivity.

From education, agriculture, veterans to healthcare, we are working with local and national organizations to take the next step. For example, we are partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support their telehealth initiative. We are working with Airband partners to offer discounted broadband service to veterans as well as provide vital digital skills and employability training. Our work on Airband is enabling other Microsoft efforts – such as our TechSpark program, digital skills initiatives and even environmental sustainability – to flourish in areas we’d never be able to reach otherwise.

Take for example, agriculture. The family farm is the embodiment of rural America. Unfortunately, many American farmers have struggled in recent years, whether because of policy, extreme weather events and climate change, or falling crop prices. Farmers need help, and many have turned to new technologies to compete in the global marketplace. Our FarmBeats platform is one such technology that can give farmers a real-time view of their land using ground-based sensors and “internet of things” technology to track everything from soil temperature to pH levels to moisture data. This can create a modern “Farmers’ Almanac” to chart out the farm’s future, helping farmers predict what they should plant and where, increase yields, better utilize fertilizer and irrigate more efficiently. But a farm that lacks access to high-speed internet will be left in the past, unable to use these new technologies. That’s where Airband comes in: connecting rural communities to transformative technologies.

The effort to electrify rural America in the 1930s enabled new technologies to transform those areas, empowering farms, ranches and other rural places and improving quality of life and economic opportunity. Now, nearly 90 years later, broadband can similarly provide the infrastructure to lift up rural America, but we’re losing the race against time. While our investments and those of our partners are taking seed and we are beginning to see advances, technological progress doesn’t wait. If we don’t move faster, rural America will be left further behind. We can’t let that happen.

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For Sale – 15″ Macbook Pro Retina (Mid 2014), i7, 1TB, 16GB Ram

Selling my 15 inch Macbook Pro. Bought from here a year ago, so one previous owner (bought by them from the Apple store). Since changed jobs and been given a work laptop so this hasn’t been touched for a couple of months.

Great running order with one mark on the screen, some sort of scratch from the previous owner. Visible when on & off but quickly vanishes from view when the laptop is in use. Otherwise in very good condition, a couple of much lighter scratches on the base.

Specs: i7 2.5GHz, 16GB, 1TB SSD, Nvidia 750m graphics
Manufactured date: 2015-02-02

Comes with unofficial charger, official box, and official charger brick (without magsafe end) if desired. Happy to post, or can offer collection in Bristol

Attached one photo as proof of ownership, will post further & detail shots up tomorrow

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New themed Amazon pop-up stores built on consumer data

After closing some 90 pop-up stores over the course of last year, Amazon appears ready to take another stab at the concept with plans to open a chain of themed Amazon pop-up stores with inventory in each store being regularly swapped out as part of rotating themes.

The company has established, or is in the process of establishing, five Amazon pop-up stores this year in or around major metropolitan areas including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston and Chicago. The sixth location will be in Seattle, next door to Amazon’s corporate headquarters and an Amazon 4-star store, as the company continues its experiment to find the right mix of physical locations. According to Amazon’s website, the new retail stores will serve as “physical extensions of Amazon.com.”

One example of a theme in the Las Vegas store is a focus on cameras. Other themes that have been explored in Amazon pop-up stores include Barbie’s 50th anniversary, Marvel’s Avengers, an Audible reading room, the Food Network and a holiday toy list.

Amazon stores built on consumer data

Amazon’s themed physical stores add to the 26 Amazon Go locations in place or being renovated, 22 Amazon Books stores, 18 Amazon 4-star stores, two AmazonFresh Pickup stores and hundreds of Whole Foods stores. In the next month or two Amazon is set to debut a new chain of grocery stores in the Los Angeles area.

“Amazon is continually iterating with its physical locations, so it will be interesting to see where they end up landing with these different formats,” said Thomas O’Connor, a senior director with Gartner. “They can leverage all the data collected in these stores to more clearly see where there is an opportunity [to] further scale out.  Also, it is another opportunity to go after shoppers who don’t yet have Amazon Prime memberships.”

Another analyst agreed that data, again, will play an integral role in the potential success of the latest Amazon pop-up stores. Not only can Amazon collect more specific data on what customers prefer in certain locations, but the company can apply data it already has in hand about what customers might prefer in a certain zip codes with data collected as part of its 4-star store launches.

This fits the method of operation Jeff Bezos has of taking data and not being afraid to experiment. That’s what these themed pop-up stores say to me.
Guy CourtinFormer vice president of industry strategy, Infor

“This fits the method of operation [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos has of taking data and not being afraid to experiment; that’s what these themed pop-up stores says to me,” said Guy Courtin, a former vice president of industry strategy at Infor. “He’ll use the demographic data in those areas he wants to put in (a pop-up store), and if it does well then great, he’ll milk those revenues. If it doesn’t do well, he will pull the plug quickly. It’s a bit like the Halloween stores that pop up for Halloween season and then they’re gone,” he said.

The new pop-up stores remind Courtin of the kiosks companies such as AT&T and Verizon set up in malls to sign up random customers for their respective cellular services, only Amazon is looking to sign up customers for Prime memberships, products and services.

“Once they get you in the store, they are looking to sell you on [Amazon] Prime giving you access to their streaming video and music services, along with whatever themed products they have in a particular store,” Courtin said. “They [Amazon] are masters at locating and capturing new revenue streams.”

Amazon’s themed pop-ups give malls hope

With many mall management companies desperate for revenues from renters, Courtin and other analysts believe Amazon’s pop-up stores will be welcome additions — even if they only stay for a few months at a time and continually swap out inventories with every “theme” change.

“Mall management companies are losing their big anchor tenants like a Sears and others,” Courtin said. “If I’m a mall management company and can get Amazon in there for even two or three months, not only will Amazon benefit, but a dozen other stores right next to the Amazon stores will benefit. Also, it gives mall management companies the opportunity to look more modern to have a giant retailer in their location,” he said.

According to the company’s latest earnings report, physical stores account for about 6% of Amazon’s $70 billion in revenue.

Amazon officials declined to provide comment for this story.

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