Blockchain technology is slowly making its way into the mainstream. It took a big step this week, when Microsoft certified a development environment for Ethereum, running on its own Azure cloud service.
Ethereum is a new kind of blockchain, building on concepts originally piloted by the bitcoin network. Bitcoin’s blockchain is a decentralized financial ledger, enabling everyone to record and see everyone else’s transactions. These transactions are cryptographically sealed, making them immutable.
The point of the bitcoin system was to enable people to exchange money with each other even when they didn’t trust or even know each other. The ledger is a single source of truth that stops anyone claiming they hadn’t sent money and trying to spend it again.
Previously, people relied on banks to maintain these ledgers, acting as a central hub for transactions. Bitcoin promised to do away with centralized transaction processing altogether and enable people to send each other money without the need for a central arbiter.
Bitcoin was designed just for transferring money, but Ethereum is a blockchain designed to run entire applications, which it calls smart contracts. These enable developers to build any application on the blockchain, and have it run on all computers in the Ethereum network simultaneously in the same decentralized way.
Examples of Ethereum applications could include an AirBnB-style rental service without the large, overvalued unicorn company in the middle running the whole thing and taking the commission. Or a decentralized exchange for property, or a crowdfunding service in which participants dealt directly with each other rather than needing a Kickstarter or Indiegogo in the middle. In these scenarios, the smart contracts themselves would manage payments according to executable rules. No one could tinker with those rules because they wouldn’t reside on any one server. And for the same reason, the application couldn’t go down just because one computer stopped working.
Ethereum was originally a public blockchain, designed, like bitcoin, for anyone to run. But organizations have created versions of it designed to be ‘permissioned’ – usable by participants in private groups.
Banks are already taking an interest in permissioned Ethereum blockchains, primarily because of their ability to run complex applications that could help to settle complex trades. Large software companies are also seeing value in the concept. IBM is developing its own blockchain technology, while Microsoft’s aim is to put many different types of blockchain technology on Azure.
Microsoft started down that road by putting Ethereum on Azure last November. This week, it certified BlockApps, which is a software development platform for Ethereum applications, giving companies a development sandbox to experiment with their own Ethereum blockchains. BlockApps was produced by software firm Consensys. The founder of that firm, Joe Lubin, was also a cofounder of Ethereum.
“Companies can build out solutions on Azure, and if they’re ready to deploy them they can deploy them on Azure too,” he said.
Decentralized blockchain-based applications are useful for situations where CIOs want multiple points of failure and resilience, because it allows them to replicate data across lots of different nodes that work together running the same applications, he added.
“Any time that you don’t want to be subject to an infrastructure that has central points of weakness or control, blockchain infrastructures are good for that. They can be massively decentralized or partly decentralized,” he said. “Any situation in which a rogue system administrator or corrupt CFO or a hacker can get in and mess with the system is absolutely right for the use of blockchains.”
Wouldn’t running a decentralized application framework on one company’s cloud computing platform simply recentralize it again? Lubin doesn’t believe so. Ethereum applications on Azure can still run on multiple different data centres around the world, he points out.
Ethereum is still currently in beta mode, but in a few weeks the community behind it will launch Homestead, the next version of the blockchain application platform, said to be the first version safe for commercial implementation.
Select Microsoft customers and partners can now use Azure cloud services and keep their data on native soil, Microsoft Canada announced on Monday.
Azure, the public cloud infrastructure service that Microsoft operates, is currently generally available to 22 of Microsoft’s cloud regions around the world. Microsoft’s rollout plans include six new data centres – which it calls regions – totalling $15 billion USD invested. Canada will be included in that roll out.
Canada should see general availability for Azure by the second quarter, Microsoft says. Shortly following that, Microsoft’s software as a service offerings running on Azure, such as Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365, will also be available from Canadian data centres.
The move will see Microsoft fire up new data centres in Canada. Those were announced last year at an event with Toronto Mayor John Tory (pictured above with Kennedy), with Toronto and Quebec City being selected as the hosting locations. At the time, Microsoft said Azure would be running in the data centres by the end of 2015.
“We’re making sure that the quality and service is right for our early adopters,” says Janet Kennedy, president of Microsoft Canada.
It’s encouraging businesses to work through the 10,000 certified Microsoft partners to access the services. With a Canadian-hosted cloud, Microsoft and its partners can court certain customers that it wasn’t able to previously. The healthcare industry and financial industry for example must maintain compliance by keeping client data within Canada’s borders.
“We did this for the government,” Kennedy says. “It was important to the government to have public cloud solutions where they could have data residency.”
Microsoft won’t disclose how many existing customers have asked to move to the new Canadian data centres, but “it’s exceeded our expectations,” Kennedy says. “The demand here in Canada is very high.”
Canadian customers interested in being hosted on the new Canadian data centres can get in touch with Microsoft or their service provider, she adds.
TD Bank is one example of a Canadian Microsoft customer that’s migrating to the cloud. Last year, it moved 98,000 employee email inboxes from on-premises to Office 365. That’s typical of a majority of Canadian customers of Microsoft that are already using the cloud for some aspect of its business, Kennedy says.
Microsoft says that Canadian customers can have their data replicated to both locations within the country. It has an uptime guarantee of 99.9 per cent availability. The tech giant is calling Azure’s arrival in Canada the first “enterprise-grade, hyper-scale, true hybrid platform certified to meet customers’ legal and compliance requirements.”
Asked to qualify that assertion, Kennedy points to Gartner’s rating of public cloud infrastructure services. Also, customers have the capability of running Azure’s stack on their private cloud and making use of the public cloud as well.
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, Worldwide report from May 2015 rates Microsoft alongside Amazon in the leaders space. It credits Microsoft’s strength in creating a cloud platform that feels holistic, while also rapidly rolling out new features and services. While in second place for market share behind Amazon, Azure is growing fast and has more than twice as much cloud compute capacity as the rest of the cloud vendors combined not including Amazon.
Azure’s weaknesses are found in meeting promised time frames to introducing crucial features for enterprise needs, Gartner reports. Past outages of Azure’s service mean that some customers require running a non-Azure disaster recovery solution. Also, the partner eco-system is early in development and doesn’t have a lot of experience with Azure. For shops not already in bed with Microsoft, Azure might not hold the same appeal as a cloud option.
Microsoft Canada today announced that its Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform is now generally available in data centre regions located in Toronto and Quebec City.
In addition, the company’s Office 365 platform is offering data residency for Canadian business customers. Microsoft also revealed that the Dynamics CRM Online platform for Canada is scheduled to go live by September of this year.
Today’s news marks a “historic day” for Microsoft’s cloud computing initiatives in Canada, Microsoft Canada president Janet Kennedy told ITWorldCanada.com. It’s been a seven year journey in terms of making an initial commitment to now having multiple data centres in the country, she added.
When it comes to the “Canadian Cloud for Business” platform, the Toronto and Quebec locations were chosen as ideal regional options in terms of network availability and capability and are in full compliance with federal and provincial government regulations, according to Kennedy. The “Made in Canada” cloud offering ensures local data residency, compliance and redundancy for business continuity, and the option of a fast and private connection to the cloud with Azure ExpressRoute.
The ExpressRoute offerings in Canada offer the ability to establish private connections to the Microsoft cloud with reduced data latency compared to standard internet connections.
“We had such demand when we opened in Preview with more than 300 customers signing up. Since we went live, we’ve already doubled (that),” said Kennedy.
Microsoft’s enterprise grade, hyper-scale cloud strategy has been about working towards offering local data centres in each global region it serves, said Redmond, Wash.-based Ron Markezich, corporate vice president, Office, at Microsoft. Microsoft has made a US$15 billion investment in global data centre infrastructure; today’s Canadian announcement brings the total number of generally available Azure regions to 24 worldwide.
Microsoft has public sector entities such as Province of Nova Scotia, Province of New Brunswick, City of Regina, and the City of Brampton who are already taking advantage of Microsoft cloud services and have started the migration towards the Canadian cloud. In addition, there are already large and multinational companies — including Quebecor and PCL Construction — who are “very excited” about the prospects of having a local cloud option, according to Kennedy.
Canada has always been “super important” in terms of customer base, according to Markezich, and today’s announcement reflects this commitment to providing cloud services by way of geo-redundant data centres for midsize and larger enterprises across the country.
TORONTO – The Microsoft/Red Hat partnership became one of the more attention-grabbing alliances of 2015. The two became chummy after years of fierce rivalry when Red Hat solutions were made available on Microsoft Azure as well as colocation of support personnel. The partnership would also see Microsoft offering Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the first choice for enterprise Linux workloads on Microsoft Azure.
Keith Loo, Microsoft Canada’s open source lead, told the audience at the Red Hat Conference last week that the partnership was broader than just Red Hat Linux on Azure.
The partnership now includes Red Hat middleware and cloud management solutions along with OpenShift. OpenShift is Red Hat’s Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that enables developers and channel partners to create and host scalable apps in the cloud. OpenShift is also flexible to go online, on-premise and with other open source options.
“The Azure cloud can expand on Red Hat’s offering with Microsoft. This was a long time coming type of partnership that was based on customer demand,” Loo said.
Loo added that in the first 15 years of his career he was not a big fan of Microsoft and in an interesting twist of fate was asked to join the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. “I should be the last person to be asked to work for Microsoft. But I respected their open data and open government work and after meeting the team at Microsoft I became impressed with the company’s commitment to Open Source.”
Microsoft’s Open Source approach is not exactly what the marketplace thinks, according to Loo.
Most in the market tend to believe Microsoft’s stance on open source from five years ago. Loo said the vision today is to empower everyone to achieve more. This strategy is based on three pillars: the PC, Productivity and the Intelligent Cloud.
This strategy comes top down from CEO Satya Nadella. Loo relayed a comment from Nadella to the audience at the Red Hat Conference in Toronto: “Microsoft’s position on Open Source is there is no reason we cannot be the most open company in the world.”
Besides the Red Hat partnership, Loo cited new developments such as SQL Server on Linux, HD Insights PaaS on Linux, Windows Subsystem is on Linux and Microsoft joined the Eclipse Foundation.
The Eclipse Foundation is an Ottawa-based not-for-profit association for the open source community. Its most well-known project is called the Eclipse Platform, which is a multi-language software development environment.
The market opportunity for the channel is based on 91 per cent of companies in Canada yet to deploy hybrid cloud. Loo said that this stat was an important factor in forming the partnership with Red Hat.
“Customers wanted the partnership because it ensures the support of hybrid for Microsoft as well as research and development for a new generation of technology that is flexible and can be managed with choice and confidence,” Loo said.
Coming soon from this partnership Loo said is .Net with Red Hat.
For Red Hat, the Microsoft partnership is just one aspect of the company’s overall plan to reach $5 billion in revenue.
Red Hat Canada president Luc Villeneuve said it’s a five-year plan that will continue to leverage the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform, but will be built predominantly on customer demand.
Organizations that are pondering a move to Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint 2016 might see a lot that’s familiar to them, according a to recent webinar presented by Metalogix International.
“The five things you need to know before migrating to SharePoint 2016 are the things you need to know to migrate to SharePoint 2013,” said Ryan Patrick Tully, a product manager at Metalogix who has focused on SharePoint for the past four years. But while he notes the UI hasn’t changed much in its latest incarnation, SharePoint migration can still be a tricky proposition.
“There are a lot of the same options that we are used to seeing in Office,” Tully said of the latest UI. “There is a reason for that.” It’s not SharePoint 2013 with a slight overhaul. SharePoint 2016 represents Microsoft’s efforts to combine the best elements of previous cloud-based version and Office 365 into an on-premise iteration, he said, and there also benefits for a hybrid environment. “It cares about talking to the cloud for a lot of your business functions.”
It doesn’t mean you have to be on the cloud, said Tully, or use Office 365. For example, there’s lots of benefits to using Microsoft OneDrive, which is also available on-premise, although he emphasized the storage advantages of having it the cloud. In the meantime, administration for the latest SharePoint isn’t a dramatic departure from its predecessor.
The five things Tully outlines are good advice for moving to other content and collaboration tools including Office 365. The first is making sure there is a collaboration and content strategy in place. “A lot of people start out with SharePoint being a document repository.” Documents are placed in SharePoint because it’s better than a file share, he said. “If that’s your strategy around SharePoint, great.” However, if the organization is looking to do more with SharePoint and using it as key part of its collaboration infrastructure, than there needs to be a strategy in place that is aligned with current and future business goals. “Does it represent our current organizational strategy?”
The second thing organizations need to do is create inventories around current SharePoint content infrastructures, said Tully. “The content is what end users care about.” The infrastructure is more around what impacts administration of the SharePoint deployment, such as having the correct hierarchy design. “Is there sprawl going down in my environment and do I need to lock that down?” Migration could be an opportunity to address that sprawl, he said, including a clean-up of content that is no longer needed. “If you clean it up first, your life will be so much easier.”
The third thing to keep in mind is understanding what features and functionality are available in SharePoint 2016, said Tully. “Understand what your plan is around that new functionality.” That includes whether you are going to going hybrid, which leads into the fourth thing: developing an information architecture, which takes content, context and users and deciding how you are going to use SharePoint 2016, said Tully, including workflows and business processes.
Finally, there is optimization, which Tully said has five pillars: architecture, network, database, customization and add-ins/ applications. “There is more to take into consideration than what my site, my sub-site and library infrastructure is going to look like.” He advised that branded pages will have to be rebuilt in 2016.
And if there are custom solutions in the existing SharePoint environment, Tully said organizations should look to convert their code to the app model. “If you go the app model, you can push it over to the Office 365 model too and really get that true hybrid approach that you are looking for.”
SharePoint 2016 is not your dad’s SharePoint, according to Microsoft Corp., which wants to provide more flexible deployment operations for its stalwart collaboration tool and acknowledges industry trends regarding how organizations distribute corporate information and collaborate.
Bill Baer, senior product marketing manager in the software giant’s SharePoint product group, described SharePoint Server 2016 as an important release for the company in a recent webinar.
Released to manufacturing in mid-March, SharePoint 2016 bears in mind three core pillars, he said – infrastructure, compliance and experiences.
“SharePoint 2016 is not only our on-premises server release, it’s an on-premises server release that’s derived from our Office 365 innovations and SharePoint Online,” said Baer.
It’s the most comprehensively tested version of SharePoint, he added, because it was drawn from Microsoft’s cloud offering.
“We also gain all of the experience we have running SharePoint at scale and Office 365 through SharePoint Server,” said Baer, and many of those investments enable customers to handle more data more efficiently at a lower cost. More flexible deployment is possible as well, either in the cloud, on-premise or in between. “It also allows you to maximize your existing infrastructure.”
SharePoint 2016 is also influenced by how Microsoft was seeing how customers were using Office 365 and SharePoint Online, said Baer, and bringing those investments over to the server version. This includes improving mobile access to content and more people-centric document storage and collaboration features. “A great example is a new simple control command menu that sits just above document libraries that provides quick access to the most commonly used tasks, such as sharing documents, uploading documents, and moving documents throughout your SharePoint infrastructure.”
From compliance perspective, Microsoft has added a lot of new capabilities to help drive data loss prevention including e-discovery and policy management. Compliance has become part of the user experience as they create content, he said, while pages of content from Technet describing best practices for SharePoint have been baked into the code instead.
Because the latest SharePoint has been running in the cloud, it has been tested to be even more reliable, said Baer, but it’s also “cloud accelerated to take advantage of features first developed in Office 365. “It’s more intuitive to the extent that throughout Office 365, we can better understand how users use features. We’ve been able to take that experience and bring it back to the server product.”
Compared with its predecessor, SharePoint Server 2016 has been able to increased its search capabilities twofold, Baer noted, supporting 500 million items per Search Server Application, which provides greater horizontal scale. Boundaries and limits for sites have been increased fivefold, he said, and content databases can now be measured in terabytes, rather than gigabytes. “That reduces the sprawl.”
While Microsoft is pushing how different its latest SharePoint is, many things are the same, according to a recent webinar presented by MetaLogix, including preparation for migration and much of the back-end administration.
Despite the growth of cloud computing and the availability of online collaboration tools, SharePoint continues to be a widely-used information tool thanks its existing large footprint, as organizations tend to leave it in place unless they encounter any major challenges.
Microsoft Corp. has announced that the latest iteration of its Dynamics AX enterprise resource planning software is designed to make the migration path to the cloud a bit easier for organizations. Microsoft Dynamics AX, built on and for the Microsoft Azure platform is now available.
The enterprise-class software features a browser-based portal along with an updated interface that is touch-enabled for desktop PC, tablets and smartphone devices.
Microsoft customers can sign up for the service today; the new Dynamics AX release is available as a monthly subscription in three simple versions that include a self-serve user, a task user and an enterprise user.
The on-premises version of the suite will be released at a later date, according to the Redmond, Wash.-based company.
San Francisco, CA – There’s nothing quite like a Microsoft Corp. conference.
At Build 2016, the software giant unveiled its vision for the next evolution in computing, one that it hopes will use context and intelligence to make machines more personal.
Arguably, it’s a goal that IBM set out to accomplish years ago with the Watson platform. And while Big Blue had a head start in marketing its cognitive solution, Microsoft is backed by Windows 10, which the company claims is the quickest-adopted operating system to date, including within the enterprise.
In this capacity, Microsoft was firing on all cylinders.
With Cortana Intelligence Suite (formerly known as the Cortana Analytics Suite), Microsoft finally has an answer to IBM Watson.
Where Watson seems to be overwhelmingly geared towards enterprise scenarios, Cortana Intelligence was demoed primarily in consumer-facing use cases.
Microsoft Cognitive Services, one of Cortana Intelligence Suite’s two components, is a collection of intelligence APIs that look at vision, speech, language, knowledge and search.
The second half of the suite is called Microsoft Bot Framework, meant to be used by developers to create – in any programming language – “bots” as Microsoft calls them, which use natural language to accomplish tasks for customers – think Tay, Microsoft’s hapless chatbot A.I., except with a clearly defined purpose and hopefully less hilarious results.
In one example, Microsoft showed off an app in partnership with Dominos Pizza that allowed customers on various devices and messaging platforms to order a pizza using natural language. A phrase such as “Can I get a large pepperoni pizza delivered to my place for lunch” can be interpreted by APIs that can fill out forms behind-the-scenes such as location, size of the pizza, toppings, time, etc. Integration with Cortana would further allow information such as address to be automatically called up.
With Microsoft pushing for integration between all platforms and devices, bots like these would work on browsers, as a desktop or mobile app, in Skype, Slack, Office 365 and supposedly even works on non-smart cellphones through SMS.
All of this is, of course, built on Microsoft Azure. Speaking of Skype, bots will help bring the communications platform into the “next generation” as well.
Microsoft’s messaging and video conferencing application is set to receive its own dedicated bots via the Skype Bot Platform, which will include the SDK, API and Workflows.
Skype will even see integration with Cortana, which will highlight and interact with key information in conversations to call up relevant apps such as calendar, but even converse with the user in her own conversation and broker with third party bots for deliveries, bookings, or call up contacts as they become relevant.
For now, the Cortana Intelligence Suite, is in preview.
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