5
Mar

Perhaps accurate metrics on the extent of cloud adoption are not important

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthA lot has been made over the last few weeks about a skew between Microsoft’s announcements about sales of cloud SaaS and PaaS subscriptions to enterprise business and the extent to which these subscriptions are actually used. For any readers unfamiliar with the current chatter about Microsoft on this topic, an article titled Microsoft’s Cloud Successes Based on Sales Not Usage? (http://windowsitpro NULL.com/azure/microsofts-cloud-successes-based-sales-not-usage) may provide a quick introduction to this tract of opinion.

But what if the question of adoption really does not matter? What if the more important metric, at least at present, meaning March 2015, are the actual statistics of big businesses signing onto Office 365 and/or Azure? After all, to what extent are businesses using all of the components in the Google Apps for Business set? I would argue not much.

In fact it may simply be too soon to expect high levels of enterprise business adoption of cloud computing services. If nothing else stands in the way, simply consider the current noise about the insecurity of data communications via public cloud options. Surely most readers will attest to a deafening volume, with some new, prominent business or US government agency pushed into the limelight almost on a daily basis. Why would 28K people at Merck (simply to name one very large organization) drop their other computing options to embrace Office in the cloud given the potential risks?

But according to what most readers will likely take to be a combination of a testimonial, and a customer success story, Merck has, nevertheless, purchased Office 365 and is using it. The Office blog on March 5, 2015 featured an article titled A new foundation for connected business processes at a German pharmaceutical and chemical company (http://blogs NULL.office NULL.com/2015/03/04/new-foundation-connected-business-processes-german-pharmaceutical-chemical-company-2/). This article is attributed to Dr. Matthias Geselle, who is introduced as “a Vice President, member of the IT leadership team at Merck.” The content describes a collaboration solution, named “Connect 15”, which is built on Microsoft components. “Connect 15” replaced a combination of Lotus Notes, “IBM Sametime”, and WebEx.

The Office blog includes a number of these articles. Perhaps some of the more vocal naysayers in this public discussion would benefit from reading them. Every one of the articles is written by a representative of the customer, meaning the enterprise business opting to purchase Microsoft’s cloud services. It is hard to argue with this type of testimonial.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

28
Feb

Microsoft takes three steps worth some thought by anyone following this mature ISV

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIn late February, 2015, Microsoft announced 3 changes in components of its business worth some thought by anyone with an interest in this mature ISV.

On February 20, 2015 Dan Kedmey wrote about Microsoft’s acquision of Acompli for the Time online magazine. He noted “Acompli is the best example of Microsoft’s new playbook: In a matter of weeks, Microsoft took Acompli’s popular email app and rebranded it as Outlook for iOS and Android, to rave reviews from the tech press.” (readers can view Kedmey’s complete article, titled This Is Microsoft’s New Plan to Invade Your Smartphone (http://time NULL.com/3716303/microsoft-acquisitions/) on the Time magazine web site). But this method of consuming acquisitions and spitting them back out as simply new examples of Microsoft branded products, contrasts with another famous acquisition, namely the Skype purchase. The Skype service has retained its own independent brand despite being a wholly owned component of the Microsoft revenue model. So why the change with Acompli? Further, does it make sense to try (I would argue for yet another time in a long string of unsuccessful attempts) to extend a well known enterprise computing brand name — the Outlook email client — into solidly, at best, BYOD territory? Acompli had a great app following among mobile computing consumers, many of which could likely care less about the email client they use at work.

Then there is the question of the “about face” Microsoft recently took on what looked to be a welcome change of direction towards “the norm” (meaning Chrome and Firefox) in web browser world. As Nathan Ingraham wrote on little more than a month ago on the Verge web site, in an article titled Microsoft officially announces Project Spartan, its new web browser for Windows 10 (http://www NULL.theverge NULL.com/2015/1/21/7863331/microsoft-project-spartan-new-web-browser), Redmond looked like it was going to change the web browser of choice for Windows 10 from Internet Explorer (IE) to something new and promising — the Spartan Browser. As any die hard IE user knows, the quirks and, perhaps, nonsensical differentiations built into Microsoft’s flagship web page browser, make little sense anymore. Market share is eroding day by day. So a change in a popular direction seemed to make a lot of sense.

But then on February 26, 2015, Microsoft back tracked. As Kurt Mackie wrote for the RedmondMag blog in an article titled Microsoft Blinks on Using Open Source Engine for Spartan Browser (http://redmondmag NULL.com/articles/2015/02/26/open-source-and-spartan-browser NULL.aspx), one of the reasons given for the decision amounted to “‘we felt it was important to counter movement towards a monoculture on the Web.'” (please click the link just provided to read Mackie’s complete article). But could “monoculture” be a good think? Even for Microsoft?

Finally, there are a couple of realities about the present IE 11 browser on Windows 7 and the same browser on Windows 8.1 worth some consideration. In keeping with the point Microsoft just made about “monoculture”, and its determination to “counter” movement towards it, the feature sets of these two browsers are, in my opinion, radically dissimilar from Chrome and/or Firefox. These differences, once again in my opinion, are, perhaps, not for the best. Perhaps more worrisome is how my first thoughts about these features take me back to my original opinion about Windows 8 and touch computing on desktop machines in the first place — a big big stretch I did not care to make.

I kind of like the new Microsoft. The Microsoft looking to partner with everybody else. The one not trying so hard to stand out from the crowd. What about you?

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

23
Feb

Apps for SharePoint 2013 carry their own set of implementation risks

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthLarge organizations with an instance of Microsoft SharePoint running on premises may be thinking about migrating their customization process over from full trust solutions to a combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Microsoft refers to this combination as the “SharePoint App Model”. A similar combination called the “Office App Model” is also being promoted for requirements to modify the components of Microsoft’s Office suite (“Office”) to meet the unique requirements of specific organizations.

Despite what I refer to as a near “binary” presentation, where the strengths of these app models (the “pluses”) are presented in direct comparison with the weaknesses of their full trust solution ancestors (the “zeroes”), readers with similar interests will benefit if they include a governance plan for customization along with the other migration components. Here is why:

jQuery is a popular function library for JavaScript. Since jQuery is actively supported in the user community, the library continues to evolve. Hence there are many different versions of the library. But not all features of all libraries are the same. So conflicts can arise from customizations built with earlier versions of the jQuery library. Especially when these customizations are actively used alongside other customizations built with other versions of the library.

The negative impact of these conflicts is greater when a central IT organization steps back and opts to empower line of business (LoB) units to build their own customizations for an on-premises complex computing platform like SharePoint 2013. On the surface this approach may look to be the correct one to take, especially if this stance has evolved after several years of an active BYOD policy.

Some proponents of Dev/Ops may recommend this kind of flexible posture on the part of enterprise IT. But if there is no central control over how jQuery libraries are to be implemented, then the risks of a breakdown in computer processing take on a more palpable shape. A far better policy calls for enterprise IT to directly arbitrate with LoBs on the question of how customizations are to be managed. In fact, enterprise IT ought to publish a set of standards for how customizations are to be built with SharePoint and/or Office apps. Finally, a set of tools should be implemented (and developed if they are not found to be available given the unique needs of a specific organization) capable of detecting processes running on internal on-premises computing systems to ensure any/all examples of app customizations are in conformance with this policy.

Without this kind of governance plan, larger organizations will face much the same odds of poor return on development investment from app model efforts, as would be the case if they simply proceeded with “legacy” customization techniques.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

20
Feb

Enterprise tech ISVs should recommend hybrid computing platform scenarios to their customers

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthEnterprise technology consumers have made their reluctance clear. In most cases they will not agree to incur the expense and effort required to migrate on-premises computing platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint, to public cloud tenancy. So the ISVs owning the IP supporting these platforms, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, IBM, EMC, etc, should promote hybrid computing scenarios to these customers.

Anyone reading an article written by Jeffrey Schwartz, and published to the RedmondMag web site on February 20, 2015, will get this dose of reality. The article is titled SharePoint MVPs: ‘On-Prem is Very Much Alive and Well’ (http://redmondmag NULL.com/blogs/the-schwartz-report/2015/02/sharepoint-mvps NULL.aspx), and is composed of a set of quotes from participants in a TweetJam, including Asif Rehmani, who is a client of ours. Rehmani is the CEO of VisualSP (http://www NULL.visualsp NULL.com). VisualSP is also the name of Rehmani’s leading product, which, in my opinion, should be a core component in any adoption strategy for SharePoint for a large community of users. VisualSP provides SharePoint users with access to high powered technical tips, in video format, directly within the SharePoint workspace — in other words, “in-context”. This writer serves as Vice President for Business Development for Rehmani’s company.

The TweetJam was organized by Christian Buckley who also served as its moderator. Buckley, himself, is a SharePoint MVP and a familiar spokesperson on SharePoint topics.

The specific challenge platforms represent to stakeholders thinking about migrating enterprise applications to public cloud alternatives, is the opportunity users have, more often than not, seized to customize them. An ERP system built on SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft components, for example, usually includes an extensive set of features either provided by third parties, or built, from the ground up, with custom code. As the MVPs quoted in Schwartz’s article make clear, from their quotes, the effort required to migrate these “computing realms” entirely over to a public cloud PaaS like Office 365 is a non-starter.

Apparently Microsoft (the clear leader in this effort. Microsoft has used its “Mobile First, Cloud First” campaign to help its enterprise computing customers decide to migrate to Office 365 and Azure. The start of this campaign coincided with Satya Nadella’s ascendance to the position of CEO of the company in 2014. Nadella was the first to articulate this slogan of the Microsoft brand) has gotten this message. Several articles were published over the last two days about an event freshly added to the Microsoft Ignite schedule for May, 2014 — an early peek at SharePoint Server 2016.

This change is a healthy transformation of a campaign which appears to have been too brittle for its targeted audience to adopt. Hybrid computing scenarios, with a public cloud component supporting appropriately chosen computing requirements, operating, in tandem, with an on-premises data center, is the solution the enterprise computing market appears to favor. After all, no one likes ultimatums — least of all one’s core customers.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

18
Feb

Microsoft and its partners continue efforts to take down obstacles to wider cloud adoption by enterprise business

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthRackspace, a leading provider of managed services to enterprise businesses, reported earnings on February 17, 2015. Some remarks from its CEO, Taylor Rhodes, point to what maybe a promising indicator of enterprise business moving towards increased use of cloud IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS services. Microsoft also previewed the coming release of an Active Directory tool, which should ease the difficulty of synchronizing on-premises AD and Azure cloud AD.

Rhodes’ remarks were quoted in an interview titled Rackspace CEO Rhodes: Price Cut Curve is Flattening Out (http://blogs NULL.barrons NULL.com/techtraderdaily/2015/02/17/rackspace-ceo-rhodes-price-cut-curve-is-flattening-out/). The interview was published on the Barrons web site and was conducted by Tiernan Ray.

The heartening indicators for anyone looking for signs of more movement by enterprise business communities of computing users towards cloud offers amounted to:

  • “The mainstream market has two problems: They have legacy apps that won’t go multi-tenant automatically; they want single-tenant versions along the way; and the second problem they have is this skills set gap. Cheap infrastructure is just pouring gas on the fire. There is a need for software and tools development. Companies are saying, I don’t have access to people who know how to run all those things”
  • and Ray’s summary of some other comments appears to have made during the interview: ” . . . the company [sees] more and more deals of $100,000 or more, some of it coming from competitors such as the telcos; rising organic revenue growth (it was 16.4% last quarter, excluding currency effects); and rising operating profit margin.”

The type of enterprise software Rhodes calls “legacy apps”, in my opinion includes the “customizations” of big server applications like SharePoint, which Microsoft has found so difficult for its customers to work with as they consider migrating some on-premises processes to the cloud. The recommended methods of dealing with palpable inconsistencies between what can be accomplished with these processes, on-premises, vs the same for cloud, whether via SharePoint Online/Office 365, or Azure IaaS/PaaS/SaaS, have been reduced from tightly woven “hybrid computing” to today’s “hybrid scenarios”, where almost wholly separate processes run locally and remotely, but in service to the same communities of users.

So Rhodes’ remarks about how Rackspace has captured some of this headache as tangible business and, even better, big ticket business (presumably with attractive margin) is a heartening note and, perhaps an indicator of better news to come.

The second breathe of fresh air on this challenge is to be found in a post to the RedmondMag website authored by Kurt Mackie. The post is titled Upcoming Perks of Azure Active Directory Connect Tool (http://redmondmag NULL.com/articles/2015/02/17/azure-active-directory-connect NULL.aspx).

Anyone familiar with the kind of hybrid cloud computing requirements detailed by Microsoft SharePoint MVP Fabian Williams in a video tutorial set from VisualSP titled SharePoint 2013: Hybrid Cloud (http://sharepoint-videos NULL.com/implementing-sharepoint-2013-hybrid-for-search-business-connectivity-services-onedrive-for-business-and-yammer-downloadable-dvd/) should understand the critical role Active Directory must play in any serious attempt to bolt a cloud component like Office 365 or some service, infrastructure or even platform running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. The tool is certainly promising. Should the results produce a reliable directory of users for on-premises and cloud computing venues, increased enterprise adoption of the cloud component should become more of a realistic expectation for stakeholders.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

17
Feb

Microsoft lowers the volume on its Mobile First Cloud First clarion call at least for SharePoint

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIn the aftermath of SPTechCon Austin, and a number of announcements from Microsoft, not the least of which being the planned debut of SharePoint 2016 (http://www NULL.zdnet NULL.com/article/microsoft-reconfirms-it-will-deliver-an-on-premises-sharepoint-2016-release/), later this year, it is safe to say the volume on “mobile first, cloud first” has been turned down by Redmond.

But not without a fight. Anyone reading a post to the Office blog titled Evolution of SharePoint (http://blogs NULL.office NULL.com/2015/02/02/evolution-sharepoint/) will not find a section dedicated to “SharePoint Server 2016” in this roadmap. Nevertheless, the impact of the following acknowledgement: “But, we realize many customers continue to run their businesses on-premises, within the firewall or with hybrid deployments. That’s why we are committed to making the next version of SharePoint server the most secure, stable and reliable version to date—allowing organizations to take advantage of cloud innovation on their terms” cannot be missed.

Somewhere at Microsoft, a Kubler-Ross level of acceptance (stage 3 of her “On Death and Dying” presentation) has developed about the likelihood of enterprise business and comparably sized organizations in the public and private sector deciding to drop their on-premises SharePoint servers for SharePoint Online/Office 365. Wholesale migration to Office 365 cloud SaaS services will not happen any time soon for this market segment. But a hybrid computing scenario of on-premises computing PLUS a cloud component may work.

I attended SPTechCon Austin along with Asif Rehmani (Asif Rehmani has maintained a position as a SharePoint MVP for each of the last 8 years, and is the CEO of VisualSP (http://www NULL.visualsp NULL.com)). We were exhibitors at the conference. Asif Rehmani also delivered two well attended presentations on no-code approaches to custom process development for SharePoint.

I spoke with representatives from some of the larger companies based in the US (top 5 businesses in the energy sector, global financial firms, and manufacturers of heavy equipment), as well as with representatives from US government agencies at state and federal levels. With the exception of one of these conversations, the others were either entirely focused on SharePoint Server, on-premises, or on a hybrid computing scenario, where SharePoint Online, Office 365 would be implemented in parallel to on-premises servers.

The unique problem represented by SharePoint server, on-premises, in my opinion, is its historical role as a computing platform for the organizations opting to implement it. When applications are customized to enhance their usefulness within a computing platform (like an intranet, or an extranet), it becomes a monumental task to de-couple them from the platform, itself. Microsoft apparently recognized this back in December of 2014 and devoted over 6 hours of its Microsoft Virtual Academy training offer to a presentation on Transform SharePoint Customizations to SharePoint App Model (http://www NULL.microsoftvirtualacademy NULL.com/training-courses/transform-sharepoint-customizations-to-sharepoint-app-model).

Ironically, with a more appropriate perspective squarely in place, in my opinion many more of the larger communities of SharePoint users will be likely to decide to implement SharePoint Online, Office 365 than would otherwise have been the case. At the same time, Microsoft will likely benefit from a popular new on-premises server offer in the form of SharePoint server 2016.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

29
Jan

Personal agents, and artificial intelligence may transform enormous amounts of information into manageable resources

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthPeter Holley of the Washington Post captured some thoughts Bill Gates articulated during a Reddit “Ask me Anything” session on the topic of a Microsoft project “called the Personal Agent”. Holley’s clips appear in an article titled Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’ (http://www NULL.washingtonpost NULL.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2015/01/28/bill-gates-on-dangers-of-artificial-intelligence-dont-understand-why-some-people-are-not-concerned/). Holley writes: “He went on to highlight a Microsoft project known as the “Personal Agent,” which is being designed to help people manage their memory, attention and focus.”

But Holley doesn’t note the project has been discussed before, this time by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Nadella touched on the very same theme on July 10, 2014, in his letter to Microsoft Employees, titled Bold Ambition & Our Core (http://news NULL.microsoft NULL.com/ceo/index NULL.html). Here is the quote from Nadella: “Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.”.

I wrote earlier in this blog on these comments of Nadella’s. My formal education includes a Master’s degree in English Literature. I spent a lot of time working on the poems of Samuel Coleridge and couldn’t help noting Coleridge’s prescience when he wrote in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: “Water, water everywhere, but nary a drop to drink”.

I think, in 2015, a lot of us are parched mariners, dying of thirst in a world flooded with too much information to be manageable. So, where Holley reads Gates’ comments as a portrayal of some of the features of Microsoft’s personal agent as a kind of personal tune up, I read them as depicting a set of components of a solution packed with artificial intelligence. The solution will be designed to sort, and prioritize information into useful, digestible chunks, which can provide the user with a reliable basis of beneficial activity.

Cortana, Siri, and Google Now are three very early stage examples of this type of effort, with, respectively, very limited results. But perhaps these tools will become useful in time.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

27
Jan

Lessons learned from Microsoft’s Q2 2015 Earnings Report

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIn the aftermath of Microsoft’s Q2 FY 2015 earnings conference call and webcast, it is clear a number of well respected Wall Street Analysts–including Rick Sherlund of Nomura Securities–have re-calibrated their future earnings expectations for the company. Sherlund now has a “hold” on the stock. Walter H. Pritchard of Citi changed his rating to sell; readers can read about Pritchard’s opinion in an article published on the StreetInsider.com web site titled UPDATE: Citi Downgrades Microsoft (MSFT) to Sell.

The important points, for me, from the webcast include the following. These points lead me to change my own opinion as to the near term future performance of the business:

  1. Microsoft management (Satya Nadella) presented the Hololens in the context of Windows 10, “Universal Apps” and the consumer market for PC operating systems
  2. Satya Nadella also reported on serious obstacles to further growth for Microsoft for the China and Japan markets
  3. Big improvements in the subscriber numbers for Microsoft’s cloud, IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS businesses (Azure, Office 365) did not translate into big revenue numbers
  4. Management was sanguine about the near term future potential for the business, contributing to the downward revision of earning forecasts
  5. Lots of opinions have been voiced about just what the earnings statistics portend for the company. A writer for the Geekwire website identified weaknesses in the devices market. Pritchard’s rating, which I mentioned above, made references to the cost of new product launches (coming this year) as a big drag on revenue. There are many more, which I do not need to summarize here

These 5 points, when considered alongside Microsoft’s ability to still hit the earnings estimate and actually exceed the expected revenue performance for the quarter, lead me to surmise we are all watching a business do what it needs to do to hit its numbers in whatever manner it can. Blackberry is another example of this type of performance. The method may not please the analysts, but the achievement remains the same.

One comment on the drop in OEM revenue for hardware devices: perhaps a contributor to this drop was management’s decision not to charge for licensing the Windows O/S to hardware OEMs building devices with screens 8 inches in size, and smaller. Unfortunately I did not hear this question asked during the webcast. But if this is the case, the tactic still makes a lot of sense, in my opinion, to protect the low end of the market from further incursion by Google’s Chrome O/S.

On the topic of the target market for the Hololens: I was disappointed to hear Satya Nadella affirm a consumer market target, short term, for the device.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

26
Jan

Microsoft’s Q2 FY 15 webcast adds some form to the target market for Hololens and word of a formal end to the Windows XP refresh cycle

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthDuring Microsoft’s Q2 FY 15 webcast (http://www NULL.media-server NULL.com/m/p/kfhzc7oc), Satya Nadella alluded to Windows 10 Universal Apps, and their usefulness for average consumers of Microsoft’s recently debuted Hololens “alternative reality/AR” headset computer.

So Microsoft clearly intends to promote the Hololens to the consumer market. But as to whether or not the consumer market will jump at the opportunity, or not, is another question, which was not addressed during the webcast. It is more likely the early adopters for the device will be organization like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was mentioned during the January 20th event. As well, a post on the Hololens was published on the official JPL blog.

Another business with an entry in the headset computer business, Oculus also made news the same day Microsoft held its webcast. In an article titled Oculus CEO on its new VR filmmaking venture Story Studio and Microsoft’s HoloLens (http://blogs NULL.ft NULL.com/tech-blog/2015/01/oculus-ceo-on-its-new-vr-filmmaking-venture-story-studio-and-microsofts-hololens/), Tim Bradshaw summarizes a comment made by Brendan Iribe, the CEO of Oculus about Microsoft’s Hololens, likely target markets and the pace of introducing the technology: “AR [alternative reality] may be further away than Microsoft made it seem last week[. He] suggested the software giant should be “careful” about setting unrealistic expectations.” This opinion seems sensible to me, and, perhaps, one at least the Marketing Communications team at Microsoft might want to adopt.

The rationale behind my recommendation is an article by David Carr, of the New York Times, which appeared on the same day. Carr’s article brings up the whole personal information notion, complete with some thoughts on the level of behavioral re-engineering average consumers will have to go through to adjust to regular use of the Hololens. Of course this type of conjecture hovered around Google Glass for most of its product life. But, nevertheless, stimulating writers like David Carr to voice these opinions so early in the cycle of introducing a product like the Hololens may have been a mistake.

On the question of why the quarter failed to hit all of the analyst estimate targets, it may help readers to note the emphasis Amy Hood, CFO placed on the end of the Windows XP refresh cycle as a reason for these misses. A lot of the commentary already published on the quarterly results have posited notions of serious declines in sales of Windows, Microsoft’s enterprise products, etc. But little mention has been made of the end of the refresh cycle, which may actually make more sense.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved