Judge halts Microsoft work on JEDI contract after AWS request

A sealed order from a judge today has halted the $10 billion, decade long JEDI project in its tracks until AWS’s protest of the contract award to Microsoft can be heard by the court.

The order signed by Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith of the US Court Federal Claims stated:

The United States, by and through the Department of Defense, its officers, agents, and employees, is hereby PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED from proceeding with contract activities under Contract No. HQ0034-20-D-0001, which was awarded under Solicitation No. HQ0034-18-R-0077, until further order of the court.

The judge was not taking this lightly, adding that Amazon would have to put up $42 million bond to cover costs should it prove that the motion was filed wrongfully. Given Amazon’s value as of today is $1.08 trillion, they can probably afford to put up the money, but they must provide it by February 20th, and the court gets to hold the funds until a final determination has been made.

At the end of last month, Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court could rule on its protest. In protests of this sort it is not unusual to stop work until a final decision on the award can be made.

This is all part of an ongoing drama that has gone for a couple of years since the DoD put this out to bid. After much wrangling, the DoD awarded the contract to Microsoft at the end of October. Amazon filed suit in November, claiming that the president had unduly influenced the process. Earlier this week, the company filed paperwork to depose the president and Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

More to come.


By Ron Miller

OpsRamp raises $37.5M for its hybrid IT operations platform

OpsRamp, a service that helps IT teams discover, monitor, manage and — maybe most importantly — automate their hybrid environments, today announced that it has closed a $37.5 million funding round led by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, with participation from existing investor Sapphire Ventures and new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

OpsRamp last raised funding in 2017, when Sapphire led its $20 million Series A round.

At the core of OpsRamp’s services is its AIOps platform. Using machine learning and other techniques, this service aims to help IT teams manage increasingly complex infrastructure deployments, provide intelligent alerting, and eventually automate more of their tasks. The company’s overall product portfolio also includes tools for cloud monitoring and incident management.

The company says its annual recurrent revenue increased by 300 percent in 2019 (though we obviously don’t know what number it started 2019 with). In total, OpsRamp says it now has 1,400 customers on its platform and alliances with AWS, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju

According to OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju, most of the company’s customers are mid to large enterprises. “These IT teams have large, complex, hybrid IT environments and need help to simplify and consolidate an incredibly fragmented, distributed and overwhelming technology and infrastructure stack,” he said. “The company is also seeing success in the ability of our partners to help us reach global enterprises and Fortune 5000 customers.”

Kunaparaju told me that the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts and product offerings. “The company will be using the money in a few different areas, including expanding our go-to-market motion and new pursuits in EMEA and APAC, in addition to expanding our North American presence,” he said. “We’ll also be doubling-down on product development on a variety of fronts.”

Given that hybrid clouds only increase the workload for IT organizations and introduce additional tools, it’s maybe no surprise that investors are now interested in companies that offer services that rein in this complexity. If anything, we’ll likely see more deals like this one in the coming months.

“As more of our customers transition to hybrid infrastructure, we find the OpsRamp platform to be a differentiated IT operations management offering that aligns well with the core strategies of HPE,” said Paul Glaser, Vice President and Head of Hewlett Packard Pathfinder. “With OpsRamp’s product vision and customer traction, we felt it was the right time to invest in the growth and scale of their business.”


By Frederic Lardinois

In latest JEDI contract drama, AWS files motion to stop work on project

When the Department of Defense finally made a decision in October on the decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it seemed that Microsoft had won. But nothing has been simple about this deal from the earliest days, so  it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court decides on its protest of the DoD’s decision.

The company announced on November 22nd that it had filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting the DoD’s decision to select Microsoft. Last night’s motion is an extension of that move to put the project on hold until the court decides on the merits of the case.

“It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed. AWS is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said in a statement last night.

As we previously reported, the statement echoes sentiments AWS CEO Andy Jassy made at a press event during AWS re:Invent in December:

“I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

This is just the latest turn in a contract procurement process for the ages. It will now be up to the court to decide if the project should stop or not, and beyond that if the decision process was carried out fairly.


By Ron Miller

Despite JEDI loss, AWS retains dominant market position

AWS took a hard blow last year when it lost the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract to rival Microsoft. Yet even without that mega deal for building out the nation’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, the company remains fully in control of the cloud infrastructure market — and it intends to fight that decision.

In fact, AWS still owns almost twice as much cloud infrastructure market share as Microsoft, its closest rival. While the two will battle over the next decade for big contracts like JEDI, for now, AWS doesn’t have much to worry about.

There was a lot more to AWS’s year than simply losing JEDI. Per usual, the news came out with a flurry of announcements and enhancements to its vast product set. Among the more interesting moves was a shift to the edge, the fact the company is getting more serious about the chip business and a big dose of machine learning product announcements.

The fact is that AWS has such market momentum now, it’s a legitimate question to ask if anyone, even Microsoft, can catch up. The market is continuing to expand though, and the next battle is for that remaining market share. AWS CEO Andy Jassy spent more time than in the past trashing Microsoft at 2019’s re:Invent customer conference in December, imploring customers to move to the cloud faster and showing that his company is preparing for a battle with its rivals in the years ahead.

Numbers, please

AWS closed 2019 on a $36 billion run rate, growing from $7.43 billion in in its first report in January to $9 billion in earnings for its most recent earnings report in October. Believe it or not, according to CNBC, that number failed to meet analysts expectations of $9.1 billion, but still accounted for 13% of Amazon’s revenue in the quarter.

Regardless, AWS is a juggernaut, which is fairly amazing when you consider that it started as a side project for Amazon .com in 2006. In fact, if AWS were a stand-alone company, it would be a substantial business. While growth slowed a bit last year, that’s inevitable when you get as large as AWS, says John Dinsdale, VP, chief analyst and general manager at Synergy Research, a firm that follows all aspects of the cloud market.

“This is just math and the law of large numbers. On average over the last four quarters, it has incremented its revenues by well over $500 million per quarter. So it has grown its quarterly revenues by well over $2 billion in a twelve-month period,” he said.

Dinsdale added, “To put that into context, this growth in quarterly revenue is bigger than Google’s total revenues in cloud infrastructure services. In a very large market that is growing at over 35% per year, AWS market share is holding steady.”

Dinsdale says the cloud infrastructure market didn’t quite break $100 billion last year, but even without full Q4 results, his firm’s models project a total of around $95 billion, up 37% over 2018. AWS has more than a third of that. Microsoft is way back at around 17% with Google in third with around 8 or 9%.

While this is from Q1, it illustrates the relative positions of companies in the cloud market. Chart: Synergy Research

JEDI disappointment

It would be hard to do any year-end review of AWS without discussing JEDI. From the moment the Department of Defense announced its decade-long, $10 billion cloud RFP, it has been one big controversy after another.


By Ron Miller

Making sense of a multi-cloud, hybrid world at KubeCon

More than 12,000 attendees gathered this week in San Diego to discuss all things containers, Kubernetes and cloud-native at KubeCon.

Kubernetes, the container orchestration tool, turned five this year, and the technology appears to be reaching a maturity phase where it accelerates beyond early adopters to reach a more mainstream group of larger business users.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done, or that most enterprise companies have completely bought in, but it’s clearly reached a point where containerization is on the table. If you think about it, the whole cloud-native ethos makes sense for the current state of computing and how large companies tend to operate.

If this week’s conference showed us anything, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s a multi-cloud, hybrid world. That means most companies are working with multiple public cloud vendors, while managing a hybrid environment that includes those vendors — as well as existing legacy tools that are probably still on-premises — and they want a single way to manage all of this.

The promise of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies, in general, is that it gives these companies a way to thread this particular needle, or at least that’s the theory.

Kubernetes to the rescue

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

If you were to look at the Kubernetes hype cycle, we are probably right about at the peak where many think Kubernetes can solve every computing problem they might have. That’s probably asking too much, but cloud-native approaches have a lot of promise.

Craig McLuckie, VP of R&D for cloud-native apps at VMware, was one of the original developers of Kubernetes at Google in 2014. VMware thought enough of the importance of cloud-native technologies that it bought his former company, Heptio, for $550 million last year.

As we head into this phase of pushing Kubernetes and related tech into larger companies, McLuckie acknowledges it creates a set of new challenges. “We are at this crossing the chasm moment where you look at the way the world is — and you look at the opportunity of what the world might become — and a big part of what motivated me to join VMware is that it’s successfully proven its ability to help enterprise organizations navigate their way through these disruptive changes,” McLuckie told TechCrunch.

He says that Kubernetes does actually solve this fundamental management problem companies face in this multi-cloud, hybrid world. “At the end of the day, Kubernetes is an abstraction. It’s just a way of organizing your infrastructure and making it accessible to the people that need to consume it.

“And I think it’s a fundamentally better abstraction than we have access to today. It has some very nice properties. It is pretty consistent in every environment that you might want to operate, so it really makes your on-prem software feel like it’s operating in the public cloud,” he explained.

Simplifying a complex world

One of the reasons Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies are gaining in popularity is because the technology allows companies to think about hardware differently. There is a big difference between virtual machines and containers, says Joe Fernandes, VP of product for Red Hat cloud platform.

“Sometimes people conflate containers as another form of virtualization, but with virtualization, you’re virtualizing hardware, and the virtual machines that you’re creating are like an actual machine with its own operating system. With containers, you’re virtualizing the process,” he said.

He said that this means it’s not coupled with the hardware. The only thing it needs to worry about is making sure it can run Linux, and Linux runs everywhere, which explains how containers make it easier to manage across different types of infrastructure. “It’s more efficient, more affordable, and ultimately, cloud-native allows folks to drive more automation,” he said.

Bringing it into the enterprise

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

It’s one thing to convince early adopters to change the way they work, but as this technology enters the mainstream. Gabe Monroy, partner program manager at Microsoft says to carry this technology to the next level, we have to change the way we talk about it.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce announces it’s moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure

In the world of enterprise software, there are often strange bedfellows. Just yesterday, Salesforce announced a significant partnership with AWS around the Cloud Information Model. This morning, it announced it was moving its Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure. That’s the way that enterprise partnerships shimmy and shake sometimes.

The companies also announced they were partnering around Microsoft Teams, integrating Teams with Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.

Salesforce plans to move Marketing Cloud, which has been running in its own data centers, to Microsoft Azure in the coming months, although the exact migration plan timeline is not clear yet. This is a big deal for Microsoft, which competes fiercely with AWS for customers. AWS is the clear market leader in the space, but Microsoft has been a strong second for some time now, and bringing Salesforce on board as a customer is certainly a quality reference for the company.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, who has been watching the market for many years, says the partnership says a lot about Microsoft’s approach to business today, and that it’s willing to partner broadly to achieve its goals. “I think the bigger news is that Salesforce chose to go deeper with Microsoft over Amazon, and that Microsoft doesn’t fear strengthening Salesforce at the potential expense of Dynamics 365 (its CRM tool), mainly because their biggest growth driver is Azure,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Microsoft and Salesforce have always had a complex relationship. In the Steve Ballmer era, they traded dueling lawsuits over their CRM products. Later, Satya Nadella kindled a friendship of sorts by appearing at Dreamforce in 2015. The relationship has ebbed and flowed since, but with this announcement, it appears the frenemies are closer to friends than enemies again.

Let’s not forget though, that it was just yesterday that Salesforce announced a partnership with AWS around the Cloud Information Model, one that competes directly with a different partnership between Adobe, Microsoft and SAP; or that just last year AWS announced a significant partnership with AWS around data integration.

These kinds of conflicting deals are confusing, but they show that in today’s connected cloud world, that companies who will compete hard with one another in one part of the market, may still be willing to partner in other parts when it makes sense for both parties and for customers. That appears to be the case with today’s announcement from these companies.


By Ron Miller

How Microsoft is trying to become more innovative

Microsoft Research is a globally distributed playground for people interested in solving fundamental science problems.

These projects often focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and since Microsoft is on a mission to infuse all of its products with more AI smarts, it’s no surprise that it’s also seeking ways to integrate Microsoft Research’s innovations into the rest of the company.

Across the board, the company is trying to find ways to become more innovative, especially around its work in AI, and it’s putting processes in place to do so. Microsoft is unusually open about this process, too, and actually made it somewhat of a focus this week at Ignite, a yearly conference that typically focuses more on technical IT management topics.

At Ignite, Microsoft will for the first time present these projects externally at a dedicated keynote. That feels similar to what Google used to do with its ATAP group at its I/O events and is obviously meant to showcase the cutting-edge innovation that happens inside of Microsoft (outside of making Excel smarter).

To manage its AI innovation efforts, Microsoft created the Microsoft AI group led by VP Mitra Azizirad, who’s tasked with establishing thought leadership in this space internally and externally, and helping the company itself innovate faster (Microsoft’s AI for Good projects also fall under this group’s purview). I sat down with Azizirad to get a better idea of what her team is doing and how she approaches getting companies to innovate around AI and bring research projects out of the lab.

“We began to put together a narrative for the company of what it really means to be in an AI-driven world and what we look at from a differentiated perspective,” Azizirad said. “What we’ve done in this area is something that has resonated and landed well. And now we’re including AI, but we’re expanding beyond it to other paradigm shifts like human-machine interaction, future of computing and digital responsibility, as more than just a set of principles and practices but an area of innovation in and of itself.”

Currently, Microsoft is doing a very good job at talking and thinking about horizon one opportunities, as well as horizon three projects that are still years out, she said. “Horizon two, we need to get better at, and that’s what we’re doing.”

It’s worth stressing that Microsoft AI, which launched about two years ago, marks the first time there’s a business, marketing and product management team associated with Microsoft Research, so the team does get a lot of insights into upcoming technologies. Just in the last couple of years, Microsoft has published more than 6,000 research papers on AI, some of which clearly have a future in the company’s products.


By Frederic Lardinois

The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

00000IMG 00000 BURST20180924124819267 COVER 1

Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

hero.44d446c9

You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

GettyImages 482028705 1

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Azure gets into ag tech with the preview of FarmBeats

At its annual Ignite event in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced that  Azure FarmBeats, a project that until now was mostly a research effort, will be available as a public preview and in the Azure Marketplace, starting today. FarmBeats is Microsoft’s project that combines IoT sensors, data analysis and machine learning.

The goal of FarmBeats is to augment farmers’ knowledge and intuition about their own farm with data and data-driven insights,” Microsoft explained in today’s announcement. The idea behind FarmBeats is to take in data from a wide variety of sources, including sensors, satellites, drones and weather stations, and then turn that into actionable intelligence for farmers, using AI and machine learning. 

In addition, FarmBeats also wants to be somewhat of a platform for developers who can then build their own applications on top of this data that the platform aggregates and evaluates.

As Microsoft noted during the development process, having satellite imagery is one thing, but that can’t capture all of the data on a farm. For that, you need in-field sensors and other data — yet all of this heterogeneous data then has to be merged and analyzed somehow. Farms also often don’t have great internet connectivity. Because of this, the FarmBeats team was among the first to leverage Microsoft’s efforts in using TV white space for connectivity and, of course, Azure IoT Edge for collecting all of the data.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

Microsoft today announced that its Chromium-based Edge browser will be generally available on January 15 and that the release candidate for Windows and macOS is now available for download (and that it features a new icon).

The development of the new Edge has progressed pretty rapidly and the latest build has been very stable, even as Microsoft started building more differentiated features like Collections into its more experimental builds.

With today’s release, Microsoft also is announcing new privacy features. The marquee feature here is probably the new InPrivate browsing mode that now, in combination with Bing, will keep your online searches and identities private. InPrivate, as the name implies, already deleted any information about your browsing session on your local machine when you closed the window. But now, when you search with Bing, Microsoft’s search engine you’ve probably forgotten about, your search history on Bing and any personally identifiable data will also not be saved or associated back to you.

By default, Edge will also now enable tracking prevention. “One of the things that’s hard on the web is how to balance the desire for privacy and the protection of your data — and yet you still want the web to be personalized,” said Yusuf Mehdi, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Modern Life, Search and Devices Group, in a pre-recorded briefing ahead of today’s announcement. “The problem today is, nobody has really nailed it. You’ve got some good companies doing some really innovative work to try and have super-strict privacy controls. The problem is, they break the web. And then you’ve got other ones who say, ‘hey, don’t worry about it, we’re just going to make it all work for you.’ But in the background, your data is getting tracked.” Mehdi, of course, thinks that Microsoft’s approach is the better one here — and more balanced.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft’s Azure Synapse Analytics bridges the gap between data lakes and warehouses

At its annual Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced a major new Azure service for enterprises: Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft describes as “the next evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse.” Like SQL Data Warehouse, it aims to bridge the gap between data warehouses and data lakes, which are often completely separate. Synapse also taps into a wide variety of other Microsoft services, including Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, as well as a partner ecosystem that includes Databricks, Informatica, Accenture, Talend, Attunity, Pragmatic Works and Adatis. It’s also integrated with Apache Spark.

The idea here is that Synapse allows anybody working with data in those disparate places to manage and analyze it from within a single service. It can be used to analyze relational and unstructured data, using standard SQL.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 10.11.48 AM

Microsoft also highlights Synapse’s integration with Power BI, its easy to use business intelligence and reporting tool, as well as Azure Machine Learning for building models.

With the Azure Synapse studio, the service provides data professionals with a single workspace for prepping and managing their data, as well as for their big data and AI tasks. There’s also a code-free environment for managing data pipelines.

As Microsoft stresses, businesses that want to adopt Synapse can continue to use their existing workloads in production with Synapse and automatically get all of the benefits of the service. “Businesses can put their data to work much more quickly, productively, and securely, pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses, and big data analytics systems,” writes Microsoft CVP of Azure Data, Rohan Kumar.

In a demo at Ignite, Kumar also benchmarked Synapse against Google’s BigQuery. Synapse ran the same query over a petabyte of data in 75% less time. He also noted that Synapse can handle thousands of concurrent users — unlike some of Microsoft’s competitors.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft launches managed meeting rooms as a service

Whether you love them or hate them (and you probably hate them), meetings are a fact of corporate life. And how many meetings have you attended that didn’t start on time because of technical difficulties? Microsoft wants to change that by managing your meeting rooms for you — starting at $50 per room. Managed Meeting Rooms, as the company calls the service, is now in private preview, but ahead of today’s announcement, Microsoft already quietly worked with more than 100 customers to manage more than 1,500 meetings rooms for them.

As Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me, the Teams team did a lot of work to optimize its software to make starting video and audio-based meetings easy.

“But when you think about a room for a minute, there’s a bunch of hardware in the room, in addition to the software that’s operating Teams. There’s the device on the table, you’ve got screens, you got microphones, you’ve got cameras, you’ve got projectors, you’ve got all the cabling,” Anderson said. “And in order for a meeting to be seamless and great, all that hardware also has to be functional. So what we have done with the managed meeting room solution is we have now instrumented all the hardware.”

The solution supports Microsoft Teams Rooms and Skype for Business room systems, but Microsoft also can help companies select the right tools to set up a meeting room. With all of that in place, the company can then monitor all of that through a cloud service and ensure that everything is up and running. When there are issues — at least issues that can be fixed remotely — the team can also fix those and the meeting can start on time.

“Very few organizations have enough rooms to actually get proficient in meeting room management,” Anderson explained. “So it’s one of these things where organizations have to make that choice: do I go and actually try to build up the expertise when it sounds like Microsoft has a solution, which is actually very affordable […] If we just avoid one meeting from going south for 10 minutes, you actually make your money back.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

Ever since the days of Windows NT, the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (better known as ConfigMgr) has allowed companies to manage the increasingly large number of devices they issue to their employees. Then, back in 2011, the company also launched Intune, its cloud-based endpoint management system for corporate and BYOD devices. These days, most enterprises that use Microsoft’s tools use ConfigMgr to manage their PCs and then opt for Intune for mobile devices — and that’s a complex system to manage, even for sophisticated IT departments. So today, at its annual Ignite conference for IT professionals, Microsoft is announcing a way forward for these users to modernize their systems with the launch of the unified Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

As Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me, he takes some blame for this. “A lot of this falls on my shoulders because we just allowed everything to get complex. So we’re just simplifying everything,” he said. “So really at the core, what we think modern management is that modern management is it’s management that is driven by cloud intelligence.”

The general idea here, Anderson explained, is that in earlier eras of IT management, Microsoft and its partners didn’t have the tools to collect and analyze all of the signals it received from these management tools. That’s obviously not a problem anymore today and see the company can use the telemetry it gets from a company’s PC deployments, for example, to figure out where there are problems.

“One of the things that we’re able to do is be learned as cloud-scale as we can help organizations improve their end-user experience,” Anderson noted. Common issues with that experience could be extremely long boot times, which slow down and frustrate employees, or issues with the delivery of important security patches. Today, all of this is often still managed by spreadsheets and complex security policies that are administrated manually — and Anderson argues that these days, you always have to think about security and management together anyway.

To quantify this user experience, Microsoft is also introducing what it calls the Microsoft Productivity Score, which looks at both how employees are working and using their tools, as well as how their technology is enabling them (or not) to do so. “The Productivity Score is all about helping an organization understand the experience their users are having — and then giving them the insights and the actions on what they can do to improve that,” explained Anderson.

Over the course of the last few months, Microsoft actually worked with some large customers and took over the management of their Windows 365 and Office deployments, meaning those machines ran nothing but Microsoft 365 agents (and a control group that was managed in a more traditional way). The devices with the modern management system saw an 85 percent reduction in boot time and an 85 percent reduction in crashes and a doubling of battery life. Unsurprisingly, the employees that used the devices were also far happier.

As far as the device management experience goes, the new Endpoint Manager and the licensing changes that come with that are meant to not just simplify the branding but also the experience. And Microsoft definitely wants people to move to this modern system, so it’s giving everybody who has ConfigMgr licenses Intune licenses, too, so that they can co-manage their PCs with both tools and get access to the cloud-based features of Intune. The Microsoft Endpoint Manager console will show a single view of all devices managed by either product. “It’s all about simplifying — and we’re taking that simplifying deep and broad from a branding, licensing and product perspective,” said Anderson.

Today, ConfigMgr and Intune manage well over 190 million Windows, iOS and Android devices. Yet Microsoft knows that not every company is ready to move to this modern device management system just yet. That’s why it’s making these licensing changes to help get people on board, but also leaving the existing systems in place and giving them an onramp to move to provisioning new machines to be cloud-managed, for example.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

At its annual Ignite IT conference in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft today announced Project Cortex, its first new commercial product since the launch of Teams. The general idea here is to allow employees to quickly find information that’s spread out across documents in Microsoft’s various services and make it available both through searches and, when its algorithms deem it appropriate, in the form of hover-links inside of Microsoft products like the Office apps, Outlook and Teams.

“As we have thought about people getting work done together, as we have thought about productivity — really broadly defined — for more than 10 years we have had this vision of being able to not only help people transactionally get things done but also allowing them to take a step back and capture what the organization knows and put that to use, put that to work,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of its Microsoft 365 business, in a pre-recorded press briefing the company made available to the media ahead of today’s announcement.

So with Project Cortex, which Microsoft referred to simply as “Knowledge Network” in earlier materials it provided to the press, the company built a system that can ingest all of these artifacts, including all of the Office documents, email, chat logs and transcripts from meeting recordings that a company generates, and that then uses machine learning to classify all of this information into topics and topics collections to form this network.

“The whole idea here is that it’s kind of a spelunker that’s going down into all your content repositories, whether they’re in Microsoft 365, on-prem and file shares and other systems,” explained Spataro. “And it’s searching these things out and putting them together and saying, ‘hey, you have a project here,’ for instance a project or something you’re working on. I can put documents and videos and meetings together, calendar appointments. I can pull people and I can tell you what the organization knows in a 360-degree view about this topic.”

All of this data can then be surfaced inside Microsoft’s products. If you’re writing and email and Microsoft detects that it’s about a project that the Knowledge Network knows about, it’ll link that term so that you can hover over the words and see additional information about it. It’ll show you who is working on this, when the work started, and a map that shows you this project or topic in relation to others. Ideally, this helps you identify the experts about a given topic inside your organization and make connections you would otherwise miss.

All of these are lofty ideas and we’ve heard some of these promises before, in relation to the Microsoft Graph, which is a slightly different project but which was also meant to make all of the data inside an organization more accessible, though mostly by developers.

Project Cortex is now in private preview. It’ll be generally available in the first half of 2020.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels, and more

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer, Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite realtime, chat application was dead. But it’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company- and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 2.36.27 PM

Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multiwindow chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one todo app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Room, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.


By Frederic Lardinois