Can anyone in your business have the bright idea that becomes your next big thing? Can they find out what’s going on and get enough detail to understand why and then decide what to do to fix the problem or take advantage of the opportunity? Can they do that without drowning in the stream of tweets and emails and reports? Oh, and can they do it without having to turn into a data scientist who can spin up a Hadoop cluster over lunch?
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about getting insights out of the “data exhaust,” which is apt given how easy it is getting to choke on information; big data is no help when it’s too big to keep up with.
What Nadella calls “ambient intelligence” is about being able to use all the data in your environment, but it has to be easy to work with if it’s going to be accessible. When he talks about “everyone in the organisation having curiosity and trying to get insight and take action” he talks about it in terms of Office rather than MapReduce queries and SQL Server stored procedures and data warehouses; the information has to come from there and half a dozen more places besides, but the people who need to ask questions aren’t the ones who know how to use all the different data services where information lives today.
Microsoft’s Power BI service and even Excel are great interfaces for data. Today Excel is a BI tool as much as it’s a calculation tool; you can build a formula and then colour-code the results with conditional formatting that makes it obvious that one building is using a lot more power than the rest of your offices.
The Q and A feature in Power BI turns that into asking questions in everyday English so you can check if that building uses more power because it has twice as many people in as your other buildings or because the heating has been on even when the sun is shining. Is it bad that your travel costs are going up or good that your sales team is travelling to meetings where they sell more products? At least when the information is in an interactive set of charts rather than buried in hundreds of pages of Excel and PowerPoint slides, you can realize you need to ask that question.
At last week’s BUILD developer conference in San Francisco, Microsoft announced major changes to their cloud computing platform, Windows Azure. These changes included added support for foreign languages and third-party tools, and the introduction of the Azure Preview Portal, which allows developers to build and manage instances while they are running. These improvements will go a long way to helping Microsoft compete with other cloud computing giants like Google and Amazon.
When Satya Nadella was appointed CEO of Microsoft in February 2014, the company was stagnant in terms of product innovation. The man Nadella replaced, Steve Ballmer, does deserve credit for raking in enormous profits for the company. But under Ballmer’s tenure Microsoft lagged behind the technology developments of its competitors, especially in the realm of cloud computing.
Nadella is steering the company into a new direction. In an interview released just hours after he was named CEO, Nadella stated that his primary objective was to make Microsoft a “mobile first, cloud first” company. Then is not surprising when you look at Nadella’s experience and see he was previously the Head of the Cloud and Enterprise department at Microsoft.
In his few weeks as acting CEO, Nadella has taken many big steps towards his “cloud first” objective. He resurrected Microsoft Office for iPad, a program that was killed two years ago by Ballmer. Microsoft has also released OneNote on the Mac. His willingness to work with the competition for mutual benefit reflects Nadella’s pragmatic side, while the products being offered here over Apple systems highlight his devotion to the proliferation of cloud-based apps.
Before we get too carried away, it is important to remember that Nadella hasn’t even been CEO for 100 days yet. There is still plenty of time for him to make mistakes. But if the past few weeks are a true indicator of the decisions Nadella will make in the future, Microsoft is well on its way to being a top innovator and competitor in the cloud computing market.
Satya Nadella’s Microsoft is all about “mobile and the cloud,” a more nuanced view of what it means to be a devices and services business. So if day one of its BUILD developer conference was all about the mobile, it’s not surprising that day two was all about the cloud — with Cloud and Server chief Scott Guthrie making 44 separate announcements about Azure in the course of his keynote.
Microsoft’s Azure cloud service has been the driver for much of the company’s recent innovation, with its mix of infrastructure and platform features. Working with Azure has meant working with its web portal every time you wanted to create new virtual machines. Microsoft is streamlining the process for developers, so you can now create a virtual machine straight from Visual Studio. You can also manage your existing VMs, and even remotely debug apps running across devices and the cloud.
Increased automation makes Azure, and the cloud as a whole, more palatable to IT departments. With support for Puppet and Chef, you’re now able to automate configuration management across a flexible fabric of virtual servers. By adding open configuration management tooling to Azure Microsoft is making its cloud surprisingly portable — you can take those configurations and use the same tools to deploy them on other, competing, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds. Microsoft is also using its own tooling to simplify defining and provisioning virtual servers, with its PowerShell scripting environment now supporting a JSON-based template language that can be used to deploy not just servers and applications, but also the low level connections that form the foundations of a cloud application.
Azure’s web platform is perhaps the most visible element of its Platform as a Service (Paas) aspect. It’s now able to autoscale web sites, helping your apps keep online as loads fluctuate. There’s also support for a new Webjobs role, which offloads work to background threads running in any supported language, and tools for handling traffic across Azure’s global network of data centers. You can now also use Azure as a development platform for web applications, with private staging sites that can be swapped for live sites at a click of a button.
After last week’s launch of Office for iPad, the announcement of the Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite, and the news from the company’s BUILD conference this week, it seems that Microsoft has finally gotten to the enterprise mobility party in terms of devices and in terms of infrastructure.
With Windows Phone 8.1, the company is finally building a range of enterprise security and management capabilities into its mobile platform. Microsoft is also making it easier for developers to write code that crosses all of its platforms, something that’s useful for consumer, business, and enterprise app development.
While most of the focus this week has been on devices and developer resources, Microsoft is also making some powerful plays in terms of enterprise mobility infrastructure. When I spoke with Microsoft vice president Brad Anderson back in January, it was clear that Microsoft had high aspirations in terms of entering the enterprise mobility space. At the time, Intune’s mobile management capabilities were far from complete – and, for iOS and Android, they still are below the benchmarks of many EMM vendors at this point. But it was clear that Microsoft was going to be making rapid improvements and expanding the scope of its capabilities.
The scale of that strategy came into focus as Satya Nadella announced Office for iPad alongside a new vision of Microsoft as a “mobile-first and cloud-first company.”
The Enterprise Mobility Suite builds together a range of technologies that are likely to add up to being more than the sum of their parts.
The suite builds on the multi-platform mobile management capabilities that Microsoft began implementing last year and advanced in January. Those capabilities, part of the company’s Intune cloud-based device management solution, included support for managing iOS and Android devices in addition to devices running various flavors of Windows.
In a demo, Microsoft executive Julia White showed off the new app offering a glimpse at the work Microsoft has done to make its Office apps touch friendly. “It’s unmistakably Word but it’s natural on the iPad,” she said.
The apps will be free for anyone to use to read and “present” Office content, she said. Users who have an Office 365 subscription will be able to create and edit Office files on their iPads, she said.
In an interesting twist, this touch friendly version of Office comes to iPad before Microsoft’s own products. White said that a touch-friendly version of Office would come to Windows next.
In one of his first big public appearances since taking over the helm, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company’s goal is to be mobile first and cloud first, and to offer apps that people can use no matter what device they’re using.
Adobe and Microsoft today each released software updates to fix serious security flaws in their products. Adobe pushed an update that plugs a pair of holes in its Flash Player software. Microsoft issued five updates, including one that addresses a zero-day vulnerability inInternet Explorer that attackers have been exploiting of late.
Microsoft’s five bulletins address 23 distinct security weaknesses in Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer and Silverlight. The Internet Explorer patch is rated critical for virtually all supported versions of IE, and plugs at least 18 security holes, including a severe weakness in IE 9 and 10 that is already being exploited in targeted attacks.
Microsoft notes that the exploits targeting the IE bug seen so far appear to perform a check for the presence of Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET); according to Microsoft, the exploits fail to proceed if EMET is detected. I’ve recommended EMET on several occasions, and would encourage any Windows users who haven’t yet deployed this tool to spend a few minutes reading this post and consider taking advantage of it to further harden their systems. The latest version — 4.1 — is available at this link and requires Microsoft’s .NET Framework 4 platform. For those of you who don’t mind beta-testing software, Microsoft has released a preview version of the next generation of EMET — EMET 5.0 Technical Preview.
Cloud platforms are a big investment. Giving them that credit card number is the start of what could be a long relationship and many tens of thousands of dollars. So it’s a good idea to try before you buy, and if you’re using the cloud as a departmental developmental solution, it’s an even better idea to find a service that won’t cost you a penny while you get your applications and services up to speed.
That makes it well worth your time to use the various trial, test, and low-volume cloud services out there. They’ve been available for some time — especially Google’s free tier for its App Engine platform-as-a-service — and Amazon has now joined the club with a free tier for test and development. Low cost and free services like these make particular sense for individuals and teams wanting to try building their own apps.
You might still need a credit card to get started, but it won’t get billed if you stay within the services limits; so don’t use too many resources, or forget about any time limits. And if it does get billed, you can quickly cancel the service and move on.
In this White Paper, Rod Trent, IT Community Manager for Windows IT Pro, examines the current landscape for XP, explains the implications for failing to migrate to a new operating system, and discusses the key steps in the migration process.