Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Microsoft Releases System Center Operations Manager 2012 RC


Microsoft Releases System Center Operations Manager 2012 RC

Operations Manager 2012 helps monitor applications too, providing diagnostics on .NET and Java Enterprise Edition Web apps, including those supported by Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud.

Microsoft made a release candidate (RC) of System Center Operations Manager 2012 available to testers on Thursday.

New to Operations Manager 2012 RC is the ability to carry out network monitoring, according to a blog post by David Mills of the Microsoft Server and cloud platform team. He explained that it is "now possible to look at the underlying network topology that connects the servers."

This latest test version of Operations Manager 2012 can be downloaded here. It's part of Microsoft's overall System Center management solution portfolio for IT pros, with the 2012 solutions having been first unveiled in March. Operations Manager is designed to help users monitor the performance of services, operations and devices through a single monitoring pane.

Late last month, Microsoft rolled out other new System Center 2012 test versions, including App Controller, Server Manager, Orchestrator and System Center Configuration Manager. These beta and release candidate versions are being rolled out to get feedback before Microsoft's product release. The entire System Center 2012 product line is expected to start hitting the market in the first half of next year, according to Microsoft's STB news blog.

Operations Manager 2012 is considered by Microsoft to be an important tool for managing private clouds. It installs an agent on discovered devices to help monitor computing environments, including physical servers and virtual resources, plus private cloud resources in datacenters. The product incorporates various management packs that IT pros can import to add monitoring support for various features and third-party solutions.

Various management packs are available for Operations Manager, such as ones adding support for Apache Tomcat, IBM WebSphere, Java Enterprise Edition, Oracle WebLogic and Red Hat JBoss.

Operations Manager 2012 helps monitor applications, too, providing diagnostics on .NET and JEE Web apps, as well as apps supported by Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud. Microsoft claims that Operations Manager 2012 works across various operating systems, such as Windows, Linux and Unix.

A blog post by Kevin Holman of Microsoft lists some of the new features in Operations Manager 2012 and explains that it can now "discover and monitor network routers and switches, including the network interfaces and ports on those devices and the virtual LAN (VLAN) that they participate in."

Other highlights in the Operations Manager 2012 RC include the ability to use Windows PowerShell 2.0 to manage Linux and Unix machines. A UNIX/Linux Shell Command Template Management Pack lets users create "rules, tasks and monitors based on the execution of shell commands," according to Holman's post. System Center Operations Manager has its own specific set of PowerShell cmdlets, which can be identified by the use of letters, "SC," before the noun.

As described previously, Microsoft dispensed with the root management server approach in Operations Manager 2012, enabling all management servers to act as peers. Users can now organize management servers into a management group. Microsoft claims that this arrangement "provides high availability without requiring a cluster." Users can also create a resource pool representing multiple management servers as a way to help distribute workloads.

There are other improvements in Operations Manager 2012, such as changes to the operations console and a new Web console. A list of the new features can be found at this TechNet library page, with more resources listed here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Roadmap for Windows Embedded OS


Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Roadmap for Windows Embedded OS

The company announced plans to release Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs," which pushes its release date into 2013.

Microsoft on Monday outlined upcoming changes to its next-generation Windows Embedded operating system, which are largely based on Windows 8.

These changes, labeled "v.Next," are designed to bring Windows 8 capabilities into 2012 Windows Embedded products, according to the company. The next-generation Windows Embedded Compact, however, will be based on the current version, which supports Windows 7.

Roadmap Changes
Here are the changes, according to a Microsoft blog. Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "will be a customizable and componentized version of Windows 8." Meanwhile, Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next "will bring Windows 8 technologies to embedded devices." Finally, Windows Embedded Compact v.Next "will be based on the CE core but it will also bring support for native application development in the latest Visual Studio version."

A Microsoft spokesperson clarified that Windows Embedded Compact v.Next, when released, will be based on "the current version of Windows Embedded Compact." That current version is based on Windows 7. It was released in March, but Microsoft said in a press release that it was updated in October. Windows Embedded Compact v.Next is scheduled for release in "the second half of 2012."

Window Embedded Standard v.Next will be available for testing via a community technology preview version, which is expected to be released in "the first quarter of 2012," according to Microsoft. General availability of the product wasn't announced because it's tied to the release of Windows 8, which Microsoft has not disclosed. Some expect Windows 8 to appear in April 2012 (at earliest) or later in 2013. Microsoft said it plans to release Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs," which should push out its release date into 2013 at least.

Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next will be available "a quarter after Windows 8 general availability," according to the blog. The timing is confusing and suggests that Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next won't be based on Windows 8. Current Windows Embedded Enterprise 7 releases are based on upper-end editions of Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP. So, it's not really clear what Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next will be based on.

Windows Embedded Standard v.Next will have a new support capability for ARM-based chip architectures. Windows Embedded Compact v.Next presumably also will have ARM support because the current Windows Embedded Compact 7 version has that capability. Microsoft omitted any mention of Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next having ARM support, so it probably won't.

Other Windows Embedded Operations
Microsoft also has other Windows Embedded segments, but few details about their position in the roadmap were provided, except for a statement by Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded.

"Also, if you’re thinking about the future of Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Embedded POSReady and Windows Embedded Automotive, and our entire portfolio of products, know that we are investing in these to include the latest Microsoft technologies as well," Dallas said in a released statement.

A new Windows Embedded Handheld blog appeared at the end of October, revealing few details. It stated that Microsoft is working on the next generation of Windows Embedded Handheld but plans to continue its support for OEM partners by releasing updates to Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5. On the mobile side, Microsoft has two mobile segments: "Windows Embedded Business" and "Mobile Communications Business." The Business unit oversees Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Handheld OSes, which are aimed at the enterprise, industrial and ruggedized device markets. Mobile Communications oversees Windows Phone OS and the consumer market.

Windows Embedded and Intelligent Systems
On top of those changes, Microsoft is promoting an "intelligent systems" marketing position for Windows Embedded. Intelligent systems, according to this scheme, enhance organizational operations by tapping data streams. Examples include data sent via point-of-sale devices, digital signage and kiosks. These intelligent systems can also tap Microsoft's cloud-based services, such as Office 365, Windows Azure and SQL Azure, Microsoft claims.

As part of these intelligent systems efforts, Microsoft organized its Windows Embedded segment under the Management and Security Division of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business back in September 2010. One of the products overseen by Server and Tools Business is System Center, Microsoft's suite of management solutions. The reorganization appears to be designed to bring those management capabilities to Windows Embedded OSes.

For instance, earlier this year, Microsoft released Windows Embedded Device Manager 2011, which is an extension of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

"The release of Windows Embedded Device Manager 2011 in March helps OEMs take advantage of the extensive set of Microsoft technologies, while enabling enterprises to more effectively manage devices as part of enterprise IT infrastructures," the Microsoft spokesperson explained by e-mail.

The spokesperson had no information to share about whether such capabilities would be extended through System Center 2012 products, which are expected to start appearing on the market in the first half of next year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Confirm Online Advertising Partnership


Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Confirm Online Advertising Partnership

The deal between Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo came about, in part, because interoperability issues got solved.

Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo have agreed to a deal that offers customers access to online display ad inventories from AOL's, the Microsoft Media Network (which includes MSN and Fox Sports sites) and Yahoo Network Plus.

The deal will allow Microsoft to offer broader choice to its advertiser customers, according to Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president at the Microsoft Advertising Business Group.

"Similarly, Yahoo and AOL will now be able to offer Microsoft's O&O and third party inventory to their own advertising customers, and deliver commensurate value to their publisher partners, as well," he stated in a blog post.

Display ads occupy screen real estate and typically use static or animated graphics on Web sites. The other kind of Web advertising is search text ads, typically plain text returned with search results.

Google, the No. 1 search provider, makes most of its revenues through text ads and also has a display ad business. Still, Google wasn't part of this deal, and Google isn't the top display ad seller. In the U.S. market, of the 1.11 trillion display ads shown in the first quarter of this year, a third were delivered by Facebook, according to stats compiled by comScore. Yahoo is second in the U.S. market with about 10 percent, followed by Microsoft (4.8 percent) and AOL (3.0 percent). Google trails them all with 2.5 percent display ad impressions in the U.S. market.

The deal between Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo came about, in part, because interoperability issues got solved.

"Previously, our networks and exchanges didn't 'talk' to each other very well and were unable to effect inventory transactions between parties," van der Kooi explained. "Now they'll be able to do just that."

The display ads are priced via the Microsoft Advertising Exchange and the Yahoo Right Media Exchange, which use real-time bidding technologies. These inventories can then be resold to ad agencies and advertisers via partners. Under the deal, AOL will have an option to use its own exchange technology instead of those of Microsoft or Yahoo.

The partnership extends across sites in the United States. However, according to an announcement issued by Microsoft, "Yahoo and AOL will have an agreement that extends to Canada."

The Microsoft Advertising Exchange started to use a "real-time-bidded platform" from AppNexus in March 2011, according to van der Kooi. That technology has allowed the exchange to expand beyond U.S. and Canadian markets. The Microsoft Advertising Exchange now also supports the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, he explained.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Microsoft: Tens of Thousands of Customers Use Windows Azure Cloud


Microsoft: Tens of Thousands of Customers Use Windows Azure Cloud

General Manager of Microsoft Server and Tools says 75 percent of new server shipments use the Windows Server operating system for private cloud deployments.

Microsoft expects the future of its Windows Azure public cloud to be more in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) realm, offering support for multiple programming platforms besides .NET.

Charles Di Bona, general manager of Microsoft Server and Tools, said Microsoft is the only company that offers public cloud, private cloud and hybrid solutions to its potential customers. He spoke in San Francisco at the CLSA Asia USA Forum for investors on Monday.

Microsoft's cloud position is not too new, but it's become a little more nuanced after about a year's time. The company's marketing term for this scenario used to be called "Software Plus Services." However, lately Microsoft just talks "cloud," and describes companies that deploy their own servers in datacenters as deploying "private clouds." Windows Azure, by contrast, is Microsoft's "public cloud." Microsoft went "all-in" for the cloud in March 2010, announcing a major business shift at that time. However, Di Bona admitted in his talk that new technologies, such as Windows Azure, never wholly supplant the old ones, such as Microsoft server technologies.

"The reality is that the cloud part of our business is much smaller than the server part of our business," Di Bona said, according to a Microsoft transcript (Word doc). "And that's going to continue to be the way it is for the foreseeable future here."

Microsoft has "tens of thousands of customers on Azure, and increasingly on Office 365," Di Bona said.

Microsoft's $17-billion Server and Tools business produces Windows Server, SQL Server and Windows Azure, all of which Di Bona described as "the infrastructure for data centers." That division doesn't include Office 365, which is organized under Microsoft Online Services.

Di Bona claimed that 75 percent of new server shipments use the Windows Server operating system for private cloud deployments. Microsoft sees its System Center management software products as a key component for private datacenters, whether they use Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware products for virtualization. He said that Microsoft's System Center financials were "up over 20 percent year over year."

Amazon Web Services is a more static infrastructure-as-a-service play, Di Bona contended, but he said that's changing.

"And we see Amazon trying to add now PAAS [platform as a service] componentry on top of what they do. So we think that where we ended up is the right place."

Microsoft is building infrastructure-as-a-service capabilities into Windows Azure, Di Bona said. He cited interoperability with other frameworks, such as the open source Apache Hadoop, as an example. Microsoft is partnering with Horton Works on Hadoop interoperability with Windows Azure and Windows Server. Hadoop, which supports big data-type projects, was originally fostered by Yahoo.

"So, it [Hadoop] is a new framework that is not ours," Di Bona said. "We're embracing it, because we understand that for a lot of big data solutions that is clearly the way a lot of developers and end-users and customers want to go, at least for that part of what they do."

Di Bona's talk at the CLSA Asia USA Forum can be accessed at Microsoft's investor relations page here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model


Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model

Licensing costs for SQL Server 2012 won't substantially change except for Client Access Licensing (CAL), which will be higher.

Microsoft unveiled a new licensing and pricing model for its upcoming SQL Server 2012 product family, which is expected in the first half of next year.

The new licensing model is based on an organization's computing power, number of users and use of virtualization. Licensing costs won't substantially change compared with SQL Server 2008 R2, except for Client Access Licensing (CAL) costs, which will be about 25 percent higher.

Microsoft SQL Server 2012(formerly code-named "Denali") promises self-service business intelligence features and other new capabilities when commercially launched. However, organizations still have to figure out complicated licensing considerations and costs. Microsoft attempted to kick-start that effort by publishing its "SQL Server 2012 Licensing Datasheet" document last week, which can be downloaded here.

The company expects to release SQL Server 2012 in the first half of next year. Rob Horwitz, research chair at the Directions on Microsoft independent consultancy, thinks the product may appear sometime in the second quarter.

Edition Changes
SQL Server 2012 will be available in three editions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard. The Enterprise edition is an all-inclusive product in terms of its features, and Microsoft is positioning it for "mission critical applications and large scale data warehousing" uses. The Business Intelligence edition is a new product offering. It adds BI features while also including all of the features in the Standard edition. Microsoft recommends the Standard edition for "basic database, reporting and analytics capabilities," according to its white paper.

Microsoft rolled much of the SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter edition licensing rights into the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition, so the old Datacenter edition will disappear as a top product-line offering. Microsoft will offer a Web edition of SQL Server 2012, but only to organizations signing a Service Provider License Agreement. Developer, Express and Compact editions will still be available after the SQL Server 2012 product is released, Microsoft indicated.

Licensing Changes
The biggest licensing change for SQL Server 2012 is Microsoft's shift from counting processors to counting cores (see table). The licensing describes four cores per physical processor as being the minimum licensing basis.

Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model

[Click on image for larger view.]  

SQL Server 2012 Licensing Options. "*Requires CALs, which are sold separately." 

Those organizations using virtualization with SQL Server 2012 have two licensing options. Organizations can license virtual machines based on core licenses or they can license virtual machines based on server plus CALs. Four cores per virtual machine is the minimum requirement on licensing. Maximum virtualization (that is, no limits on the number of virtual machines) is only available only with the Enterprise edition of SQL Server 2012, with Software Assurance being required.

Licensing Costs
The licensing costs stayed the same, decreased or increased. It all depends on how you look at it. Horwitz shared his views in an e-mail, where he laid out the changes in bullet points.

"The price of the SQL Server CAL does go up, about 25%. "The per-server license for Standard Edition remains the same price as before. "The per-server license for BI server is the same price as the server license for SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise…though this isn't an apples to apples comparison given the difference in SKU features. "The per-core price for SQL 2012 Standard and Enterprise edition is one quarter the price of per-proc licenses for equivalent editions of SQL 2008 R2. So effectively, if you have more than 4 cores per physical processor in the server, your licensing fee goes up."

Paul DeGroot, another Microsoft software licensing expert who now serves as principal consultant of the independent consultancy Pica Communications after working for Directions on Microsoft, offered other insights into Microsoft SQL Server 2012 licensing costs. DeGroot noted that the CAL price increased substantially from $164 to $209 and speculated that Microsoft felt that raising the price of the CALs would have less of an impact on customers than raising server licensing costs. Still, other price changes were somewhat neutral, he contended.

"Overall, I'd say they [the prices] stayed the same or went down, with the reservation that the change from per proc to per core is significant, but may not have a huge impact on a lot of customers, since quad-core procs are probably a common choice for running high-end editions of SQL Server," DeGroot said in an e-mail. He estimated that the price would remain much the same for organizations "so as long as you're using quad-core procs."

Cost considerations largely killed the Datacenter edition of SQL Server 2008 R2, DeGroot contended. "That cost $54,990 per proc, or twice the per proc price of SQL 2008 R2 Enterprise," DeGroot said, adding that "reading between the lines, I'd say that SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter sold poorly, and that's not surprising." With SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition "customers will get Datacenter power at half the price that Datacenter was," he explained.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Linux Community Counters Microsoft's Windows 8 Secure Boot Mandate


Linux Community Counters Microsoft's Windows 8 Secure Boot Mandate

While secure boot is optional to use as described in the UEFI spec, Microsoft will require system vendors to use it as the default as part of the Windows 8 logo program.

Microsoft's comments about embracing secure boot at its BUILD developer conference in September caused an open source Linux community backlash.

Now the Linux Foundation, along with Red Hat and Canonical, has staked out positions on how the secure boot procedure should be implemented in computer firmware. Their positions were described in two recently published white papers.

Secure boot is a procedure for firmware in devices that's part of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) specification. The UEFI standard is already used in all ARM-based processors. While BIOS still predominates in the firmware of new x86 PCs, Microsoft is looking to tap the potential security benefits of UEFI in future Windows 8 PCs and devices.

While secure boot is optional to use, as described in the UEFI spec, Microsoft wants it to be required by default in new PCs and devices sold that run Windows 8. It will be required of system vendors as part of the Windows 8 logo program.

If Microsoft's requirement stands, the Linux community fears that Linux might be prevented from running on such PCs or devices because the firmware won't recognize the Certificate Authority of the Linux OS. Secure boot potentially offers benefits to users by preventing "bootkits" or rootkits from cloaking system modifications, but the Linux Community feels that Microsoft's insistence on requiring it will cut them off. Firmware vendors will just produce for the bulk device market dominated by Windows, and will ignore support for Linux, they contend.

"Unfortunately, Microsoft's recommended implementation of secure boot removes control of the system from the hardware owner, and may prevent open source operating systems from functioning," according to the "UEFI Secure Boot Impact on Linux" white paper (PDF) by Red Hat and Canonical. "The Windows 8 requirement for secure boot will pressure OEMs to implement secure boot in this fashion."

Linux hobbyists will be less free to experiment and modify their Linux OSes with secure boot turned on by default, the Linux community has argued. Microsoft has countered this line of argument by pointing to a switch in the current Windows 8 developer preview that will let users turn off secure boot via the operating system, allowing Linux or any other OS to be run in a dual-boot scenario. However, this position was somewhat rejected in the Red Hat-Canonical white paper.

"If secure boot must be disabled before an alternate operating system can be booted, then those alternatives will become restricted to technically-minded users who are able to reconfigure their firmware to disable secure boot," the white paper argues. Moreover, the Linux base of nontechnical users might be diminished, it warned.

Red Hat and Canonical are recommending that secure boot "be easily disabled and enabled through a firmware configuration interface." They also want OEMs to disclose a standardized way of configuring keys in firmware. Finally, they propose shipping devices with a setup mode enabled, where the OS can install the keys and not just the firmware vendor.

The Linux Foundation's white paper, "Making UEFI Secure Boot Work With Open Platforms" (PDF), offers a similar argument to that of Red Hat and Canonical. Systems should ship with a setup mode that will enable the addition of keys to the firmware, the white paper argues.

In the future, the Linux Foundation wants an independent Certificate Authority created to issue key-exchange keys (KEKs). It also wants a firmware mechanism that would enable the booting of OSes on removable media, such as DVDs and CD ROMs.

The two white papers don't seem to be wholly on the same page. For instance, the white paper by Red Hat and Canonical expressed additional fears about lockdowns that will compel people to buy hardware or software.

"Controlling the boot environment may make it possible for software to be reliably tied to a specific piece of hardware," the white paper states. "This creates the opportunity for a 'forced obsolescence' scenario, where hardware upgrades are necessary to install future versions of system software, or vice versa."

Red Hat and Canonical also expressed fears about firmware validation being tied to applications sold through approved app stores. It could be used to ensure "recurring revenue from all end user purchases."

Time will tell whether these concerns will play out as described in the white papers. However, most computer users likely will be glad to have secure boot enabled by default given the prevalence of malware attacks against Windows systems. They also likely would favor a vetting process for applications if the end result is that the applications they use are more secure.

The Linux Foundation appears to be taking a more subdued position compared with early Red Hat arguments.

"Some observers have expressed concerns that secure boot could be used to exclude open systems from the market, but, as we have shown above, there is no need for things to be that way," the Linux Foundation's white paper concludes. "If vendors ship their systems in the setup mode and provide a means to add new KEKs to the firmware, those systems will fully support open operating systems while maintaining compliance with the Windows 8 logo requirements."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Microsoft Submits Patch to Samba Core Under Open Source License


Microsoft Submits Patch to Samba Core Under Open Source License

The relationship between Microsoft and Samba has certainly changed. Microsoft was forced by a European antitrust action to open its network protocols to Samba in 2007.

Microsoft marked another open source milestone last month.

The company's Oct. 10 patch improved the Samba core code and was submitted under the open source GNU General Public License. Samba is a free interoperability solution for Unix/Linux servers and Windows-based clients. It supports file and print services on clients using Microsoft's Server Message Block/Common Internet File System (SMB/CIFS) protocols.

Chris Hertel of Samba said in a post that two Microsoft developers got permission from Microsoft to issue the patch code under the GPL open source license. It marked a "milestone" of sorts for open source relations and Microsoft, according to Hertel.

"A few years back, a patch submission from coders at Microsoft would have been amazing to the point of unthinkable, but the battles are mostly over and times have changed," Hertel wrote in the post. "We still disagree on some things such as the role of software patents in preventing the creation of innovative software; but Microsoft is now at the forefront of efforts to build a stronger community and improve interoperability in the SMB [Server Message Block] world."

The relationship between Microsoft and Samba has certainly changed. A ZDNet blog claims that Samba is "an old Microsoft enemy" and that Microsoft was forced by a European antitrust action to "open its network protocols to Samba in 2007."

A history published by the Free Software Foundation Europe cites a 2004 European Commission decision that involved a server interoperability complaint by Sun Microsystems. However, the FSFE's history also noted that Samba had presented before the EC in a 2003 hearing on the case.

Microsoft now has a team devoted to open source interoperability led by Jean Paoli and Gianugo Rabellino. Following antitrust regulatory actions in Europe and in the United States, Microsoft rolled out an "interoperability pledge" in February of 2008 that opened up some of its documentation and APIs for product interoperability. The documentation part of this interoperability effort was overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, but this DoJ final judgment scrutiny ended on May 12.

Microsoft struck a controversial Windows interoperability and licensing deal with Novell over its SuSE Linux Enterprise operating system in November 2006, and that deal has was renewed in July of this year after Attachmate acquired Novell. These deals took place even after Microsoft claimed that open source software violated 235 of Microsoft patents. In recent years, Microsoft's legal team has mostly attempted to prove that claim by suing hardware vendors using the open source Linux-based Android mobile operating system.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Microsoft System Center 2012 Previews Released


Microsoft System Center 2012 Previews Released

On the cloud management side, Microsoft released betas of App Controller and Service Manager, as well as a release candidate of Orchestrator, which are all within the System Center 2012 product family.

Microsoft announced a product name change and integration that beefs up its System Center 2012 suite.

The announcements were made in conjunction with three new previews of System Center 2012 network management applications, which are available for download.

Many System Center 2012 applications were unveiled in March as betas, with Microsoft aiming for final product releases before the end of the year.

The recent name change pertains to Forefront Endpoint Protection 2012, which is now called "System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection." Forefront is Microsoft's enterprise-class suite of software security products, and it looks like Microsoft is just trying to rebrand Endpoint Protection under System Center. However, there also may be some sort of code and integration changes involved. According to a Microsoft blog, System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection "is built on [System Center] Configuration Manager," and that may represent a new architecture for the product. No real explanation was provided for the name change.

Private Cloud Management
On the cloud management side, Microsoft released betas of App Controller and Service Manager, as well as a release candidate of Orchestrator, which are all within the System Center 2012 product family.

The App Controller beta, which runs on Virtual Machine Manager infrastructure, can be used to provide a management view of applications running in private or public clouds. It lets users "configure, deploy, visualize and update multitier application components," according to an announcement by Anant Sundaram, a System Center product manager. The views can be role based, allowing self-servicing by users; at the same time, administrator controls can be maintained.

The Service Manager beta appears mostly aimed at service providers to help them standardize how services are delivered to an organization. Microsoft plans to release a System Center Services Process Pack that will help set up self-service capabilities for end users tapping private clouds. Service Manager works with a configuration management database that contains setup data from "virtual machine templates, service templates, runbook automations and user roles from Active Directory," Sundaram explained.

The Orchestrator release candidate is a process automation solution for datacenters or private clouds. It's based on technology that Microsoft acquired from Opalis Software in December of 2009. Microsoft had released a beta of Orchestrator in July of this year. Orchestrator can be used by service providers "to integrate and extend their existing toolsets and build flexible workflows (or runbooks) that can span across multiple organizational silos and IT systems," Sundaram stated. Standardization and self-service experiences can be enabled when Orchestrator is used with Service Manager, Sundaram added.

Client Management
On the client management side of things, Microsoft issued a release candidate version of System Center 2012 Configuration Manager. This release integrates with the System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection solution to enable better reporting, Microsoft claims. The application catalog was designed to be more responsive. Support for embedded devices was added, such as "Windows Embedded 7 SP1, POSReady 7, Windows 7 Think PC, and Windows Embedded Compact 7," according to a blog post by Adwait Joshi, senior technical product manager on the Microsoft management and security team. Compliance enforcement and tracking were also improved with this release, Joshi claims.

System Center Configuration Manager 2012 release candidate provides management support for Nokia Symbian Belle mobile devices. However, this capability appears to depend on Nokia's timing.

"Pending a platform update by Nokia later this calendar year for these devices, customers will be able to try out the management of these Nokia devices with ConfigMgr," Joshi wrote in the blog.

Microsoft also rolled out a utility-type of solution aimed at helping System Center Configuration Manager 2007 users who want to manage their applications using the new 2012 version of the product. The solution is called "System Center Package Conversion Manager," which is available as a release candidate from the Microsoft Connect portal here.

System Center 2012 solutions are currently available in various test versions. For a broad list, see this Microsoft blog page, which includes download links. Microsoft has not specified a date when the new System Center 2012 suite will be generally available.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Citrix Unleashes Product Blitz at Synergy Partner Conference


Citrix Unleashes Product Blitz at Synergy Partner Conference
Citrix Systems unleashed a torrent of desktop virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) announcements at its Synergy event in Barcelona on Wednesday. The announcements largely centered on the company's Desktop Transformation Model, which rolled out earlier this month.

The product blitz came with ambitious plans for replacing traditional PC environments with virtual desktops and bridging enterprise datacenters with the cloud. The company claimed advancements toward that goal, with the aim of delivering lower cost virtualized client devices and desktop virtualization solutions. Citrix also announced personal cloud technologies and advancements to link datacenters to private and public clouds.

"We do believe the industry is in the midst of a profound transition from the PC era to the cloud era," said Wes Wasson, Citrix's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, who spoke with reporters via a conference call.

Desktop Virtualization
Citrix takes the view that it can simplify desktop virtualization deployments for organizations and make them more cost effective, and the Desktop Transformation Model is a big part of accomplishing that through tools, best practices and a dedicated partner ecosystem.

"We believe we have now seen that crossover point with our customers this year, where the upfront first-year capital costs of virtual desktops for the first time ever are the same as physical desktops," Wasson said.

Citrix announced a number of product improvements, with some of them based on technologies from recent acquisitions. Citrix seems to have been quite busy this year in adding new capabilities by purchasing other companies.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based App-DNA will be the newest acquisition, pending regulatory approvals. Those approvals are expected to close sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Citrix's announcement. App-DNA is a Citrix partner and best known for its migration solutions, such as its AppTitude product, which can help assess IT organizational readiness to move from Windows XP to Windows 7. AppTitude can also be used for assessing application virtualization or VDI deployments.

"They [App-DNA] have a phenomenal technology that lets you take all of your existing applications, put them through this tool and quickly determine what those applications are ready for," Wasson explained. "It's really focused on migration. If you're changing operating systems or initiative virtual environments, it lets you get a very quick snapshot of what percentage of your apps will move over very seamlessly into these new environments."

AppTitude, which is currently available via App-DNA's sales channels, assesses potential installation and runtime issues and provides some remediation for compatibility issues. It also lets IT pros package their apps using different formats, such as the Microsoft Windows Installer (MSI), XenApp, or Microsoft App-V.

Citrix claims it has enhanced the cost aspects of desktop virtualization through three improvements. First, its FlexCast delivery solution in XenDesktop uses personalization technology that Citrix acquired when it bought RingCube in August. The RingCube technology creates "personal vDisks" that store apps, data and settings for each user. Common applications are stored separately in the datacenter. This arrangement allows IT pros to manage "a single instance of Windows and each corporate application for all users," according to Citrix's announcement, while also enabling personalization.

A second cost enhancement claimed by Citrix is a new HDX Ready System-on-Chip program, which may lead to low-cost devices, as described below. Third, Citrix is claiming overall desktop virtualization cost savings via innovations from its partners, especially at the hardware level.

HDX Ready System on Chip
Citrix unveiled a system-on-chip (SoC) design, called "HDX Ready System on Chip," that promises to extend virtualization technology to various devices -- not just to desktop computers. The company's High Definition User Experience (HDX) technology, which supports low-bandwidth connections and wide area connections with high latency, is being incorporated into silicon by hardware partners using the ARM architecture. Citrix is also planning future support for x86-based silicon. Citrix worked with Texas Instruments and NComputing on the reference architecture, which uses "off-the-shelf components," according to the company's announcement.

Wasson claimed that the Citrix's SoC design will lead to "the worlds' first truly high-definition zero client that breaks the $100 cost barrier," which is expected to happen next year. Products may start appearing on the market in "early 2012."

The HDX Ready System on Chip will support thin clients for PCs, smartphones and tablets. However, it may also enable thin-client support on nontraditional devices, such as keyboards, set-top boxes and monitors.

"Why not just put an HDX chip in the monitor and it effectively becomes a PC?" Wasson asked. "Why not do it in a phone [or put] them into smart keyboards? We also think there will be new classes of devices that perhaps we haven't thought of as well."

The SoC has support from a number of vendors, including Dell, Devon IT, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Huawei, LG, VXL and Wyse Technology.

VDI-in-a-Box 5
Citrix announced a new version of its desktop virtualization product for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs). VDI-in-a-Box 5 includes technology incorporated from Citrix's acquisition of Kaviza. Citrix closed its Kaviza acquisition back in May. The VDI-in-a-Box solution is considered by Citrix to be complementary to its flagship XenDesktop desktop virtualization solution, which is designed more for enterprises.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blackberry Business Cloud Services To Support Office 365


Blackberry Business Cloud Services To Support Office 365

No service charge: Blackberry Business Cloud Services will be free for Microsoft Exchange Online and Office 365 customers.

Research In Motion is launching a public beta trial this week of a new BlackBerry Business Cloud Services that works with Microsoft Office 365.

The service, which is slated to roll out in January, enables access to e-mail, contacts and calendar applications utilizing Microsoft's cloud.

For now, those wanting to test the service can enroll at RIM's beta page here, with some nuances described at this page. RIM notifies applicants when the beta is available. The beta is currently launching in 30 countries.

IT pros wanting to test the beta service can activate it through their Office 365 account after being accepted into RIM's beta test program. The beta signup page states that the service is currently just available to Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise Plan subscribers.

When launched, BlackBerry Business Cloud Services will be available for free to "Office 365 Midsized Businesses and Enterprise plan subscribers," according to RIM's announcement. Microsoft claims that it also will be free to "standalone Exchange Online" customers.

The BlackBerry Enterprise service used to be priced at $10 per user per month. Back in March, Microsoft had first explained that this service would be free for Microsoft Business Productivity Online Service (BPOS) customers using Exchange Online, as well as Office 365 customers.

The cost rollback for BlackBerry users appears in keeping with a general trend. Such connections to Microsoft's cloud were already free of charge for other mobile customers using Microsoft Online Services. The phones just needed to be capable of leveraging Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync technology. Phones capable of doing that include the Apple iPhone, Nokia E Series or Windows Phone, Microsoft has stated.

Of course, the actually telephony connection enabled by mobile service providers or carriers isn't free. However, BlackBerry Business Cloud Services will work with either consumer or business carrier data plans.

IT pros get access to a console that enables control of BlackBerry devices remotely. The console allows tasks such as provisioning, managing and securing devices, wherever those devices may be located.

Users have self-service online controls. They will be able to reset their device's password, lock the device or even wipe it should their BlackBerry become lost.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Microsoft Updates Mac Lync Client for Office 365


Microsoft Updates Mac Lync Client for Office 365

Lync for Mac 2011, released last month, experienced problems on the latest Mac OSX Lion operating system.

Microsoft issued an update on Friday that enables Macintosh users to connect to the company's Office 365 service.

Office 365 supports connections with Microsoft Lync 2011 for Mac released last month, but users running Lync for Mac 2011 on the latest Mac OS X 10.7.2 "Lion" operating system had been experiencing problems in which the application would inexplicably shut down. Lync is Microsoft's integrated client combining instant messaging, voice, conferencing and presence.

On Friday, Microsoft released an update to fix that problem, and included a fix for an Office 365 log-in problem.

The update is also available via the Microsoft AutoUpdate for Mac feature in the client application. It's accessed via the "check for updates" option under the Help menu in Lync for Mac 2011.

The problem with Lync for Mac 2011 got a little extra attention after Neil Johnson, a senior consultant with Microsoft Services, published Microsoft's documentation on connecting Lync for Mac 2011 with Office 365 in a September blog post. Readers of that post indicated that the setup steps did not work. Johnson later acknowledged in an October blog post that "pretty much everyone that tried this was unable to connect Lync 2011 on Mac to Office 365."

Fortunately, the blunder got filtered through Johnson on the Microsoft Services team, perhaps inadvertently helping to deliver a fix. Johnson had also discussed in his September post how to connect the Outlook Web App and Outlook 2011 for Mac clients to Office 365. He contends that Mac users connecting to Office 365 get the same benefits as Windows 7 OS users.

Microsoft has a laundry list of requirements to fulfill in order to connect a Mac OS X-based machine to Office 365, as described in Johnson's September post or at this Microsoft help page. Those wanting to connect using Outlook on the Mac need to deploy Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 Service Pack 1 or greater. The reason why the latest version is required has to do with the use of WebDAV in older Outlook for Mac versions. WebDAV is not supported in Exchange Server 2010 nor in Office 365.

Lync for Mac 2011, which typically might be used by enterprise customers, is available from Microsoft via its Office for Mac 2011 volume licensing. However, it can also be purchased as a separate product, also via Microsoft's volume licensing.

Subscribers to Microsoft's Office 365 service can opt to get access to Office Professional Plus for Windows, which is a premises-installed productivity suite. Contrary to common assumptions, Office Professional Plus is not hosted by Microsoft and delivered as a service. Microsoft doesn't offer Office for Mac 2011 as part of Office 365 subscriptions. It has to be purchased separately.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Microsoft Q1 Results Strong Despite Flat PC Sales


Microsoft Q1 Results Strong Despite Flat PC Sales

Office sales remained strong, but Online Services continued to show weakness caused in part by Microsoft's Bing search initiatives.

Microsoft met analysts' expectations in its fiscal first quarter, delivering $0.68 per share, despite flat PC sales, according to financial results reported by the company on Thursday.Revenue for the quarter, which ended on Sept. 30, 2011, was $17.4 billion, up 7% year over year. Net revenue was $5.7 billion, up 6% from the year ago period.

The Microsoft Business Division produced the most revenue for the quarter, at $5.6 billion, up 8% over last year. The division derives 90% of its revenue from Office, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync, with additional revenue from Microsoft Dynamics products, according to Microsoft's Form 10-Q.

Microsoft credited the 8% division revenue increase to volume licensing, Office licensing and Dynamics revenue. Dynamics revenue increased 17% over last year's quarter. Lync, SharePoint and Exchange grew double digits during the quarter, according to Bill Koefoed, general manager of investment relations, during Microsoft's audio presentation.

The next most profitable division was the Windows and Windows Live Division. It delivered $4.9 billion for the quarter, up 2% over the previous year's quarter. Microsoft claims it has sold more than 450 million licenses of Windows 7 since its launch in Oct. 2009. About three quarters of the division's revenue derive from Windows purchases by original equipment manufacturers, according to Form 10-Q, with the remainder attributed to retail sales. Microsoft's estimate is that PC sales to businesses increased about 5%, with consumer PC sales staying flat due to declining netbook sales. Microsoft is seeing PC sales growth in "emerging markets," but selling prices there are lower.

Server and Tools delivered $4.2 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 10% over last year's Q1 result. Product revenue was driven by sales of "SQL Server, Windows Server, Enterprise CAL Suites, and System Center," according to Form 10-Q. Microsoft's Enterprise Services, which delivers product support services to organizations, showed a revenue growth of 17% for the quarter. SQL Server Premium licensing revenue grew 20% during this quarter, according to Koefoed.

The Online Services Division produced $625 million in revenue for the quarter, up 19% year over year. However, it was beset by an operating loss of $494 million, largely attributed to Bing and Microsoft's efforts to catch up with market leader Google. Microsoft has lost about $5.5 billion on Bing since it launched in June 2009, according to a CNNMoney story . Microsoft's 10-Q cited a Bing U.S. market share of about 15% for this quarter, but with Yahoo portal support added, Bing U.S. market share for the quarter grew to about 27%. Microsoft is still working on improving revenue per search for Yahoo as generated by Microsoft's AdCenter platform. Peter Klein, Microsoft chief financial officer, said that AdCenter performance was "below expectations."

Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division generated almost $2 billion in revenue for the quarter, up 9% over last year's Q1 result. Xbox 360 console shipments (2.3 million) were down compared with last year's first quarter (2.8 million), but Xbox Live revenue increased.

Microsoft didn't break out a revenue figure for Windows Phone 7 in its published reports. The product is about one year old now as Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 in Oct. 2010. In the second-quarter of this calendar year, Windows Phone 7 had a 1.6% market share, way behind leader Google Android at 43.4% market share, according to Gartner stats.

The Skype voice-over-IP acquisition was closed last week and Klein said that Microsoft is starting integration with Microsoft's products, including Lync, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Phone and the Xbox gaming platform. Skype represents access to about 170 million VoIP users for Microsoft.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" Is Widely Released


Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" Is Widely Released

It appears that only a few service providers have issues with the Mango release.

Microsoft announced on Wednesday that most of its mobile service providers are in the process of delivering the Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" update to customers, after a phased rollout that began last month.

It appears that only a few service providers have issues with the Mango release, described as "Build 7720."

The carrier Orange in Europe is still working on technical issues that are delaying Mango updates, explained Eric Hautala, general manager of customer experience engineering at Microsoft. He added that Telefónica in Spain is just starting to schedule updates for LG Optimus 7 phones. Operator update schedules for the United States and abroad can be accessed at this Windows phone update page.

Some Windows Phone 7 users will also get additional firmware updates on top of the Mango release. Whether or not a firmware update is coming depends on the user's mobile phone carrier, device model and country location, Hautala explained.

The actual update is accomplished by plugging a cable into the phone and a primary update PC or Mac after receiving an update message, according to Microsoft's "Update Central." Users need to have Zune software installed for Windows PCs or Windows Phone 7 Connector for Apple Macs. The software establishes a primary synchronization connection between the phone and the computer. The primary update computer holds all of the phone's update history, so Microsoft recommends using that machine for Windows Phone updates.

A trick to get Windows Phone 7.5 right now will work for those who are patient enough to try it. However, it's not necessary now that Mango is broadly released.

Some users apparently have experienced issues with disappearing keyboards after the Mango update, according to this developer forum thread. However, it's hard to find that complaint listed at the Microsoft Answers forum for Windows Phone.

For those users experiencing update issues and getting specific error messages, Microsoft offers a tool to fix the situation, which is described in this Microsoft Knowledge Base

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Microsoft Updates Windows Intune Cloud Service


Microsoft Updates Windows Intune Cloud Service

Software distribution across a network of PCs via the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud is now available with Windows Intune.

Microsoft released a major update to Windows Intune, a PC management and security service aimed at mid-size organizations, that became publicly available in March.

Software distribution is among the new Windows Intune features. Users can upload .EXE, .MSI or .MSP files of any managed software product to Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud with the aim of installing software across a network of PCs. Testers using the free trial version of Windows Intune get 2 GB of storage space for software distribution uploads. Subscribers to Windows Intune get 20 GB of storage space, and Microsoft leases additional space in 1-GB increments, according to this TechNet library article.

Existing Windows Intune customers will start to get alerts about the service update two weeks before its arrival. Microsoft expects that all updates will be completed before the end of this year.

The beta version of the Windows Intune service will end on November 17, which is when Microsoft will delete accounts. Trial version users who subscribe to the service will be able to carry over their configurations and data.

Windows Intune provides screens for IT personnel to manage and secure a network of PCs. The service features the use of the System Center Online Desktop Manager, as well as the same engine that powers the Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection system for anti-malware protection and firewall security. In addition, users get upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise edition.

This release, called "wave 2," adds some new features to Microsoft's hosted PC management and security solution for organizations. Microsoft has big plans for the service, according to Eric Main, director for Windows Intune product marketing.

"Eventually, Windows Intune will deliver more management capabilities than the on-premises solutions but with less cost and higher productivity," Main claimed in a blog post.

New Features
The remote tasks addition to Windows Intune lets users run malware scans and update malware definitions on individual PCs. Users can also remotely restart those PCs. The function can be accessed by simply right clicking on a PC in a screen.

Microsoft improved reporting in Windows Intune by adding new filters for hardware. It now has filters for CPU speed, disk space, chassis type, manufacturer and memory. In addition, alerts were improved to display when certain thresholds are reached, such as hard drive space. Administrators can now set rights on their accounts for sharing with others, such as specifying "read-only" rights to share the administration console.

Users can now enable the installation of Windows Intune on PCs even when they are not online. Installation takes place when the PC establishes an Internet connection.

Useability has been improved with right-click access to commands and greater customization of screen views. There's also drag and drop capability. For instance, to move a PC to a different group, just select it and drag it to that group. Group Policy isn't needed for Windows Intune, but if it's already in use, the Group Policy settings take precedence. Windows Intune also does not rely on Active Directory.

A few other features were introduced in the July beta of wave 2, including the ability to manage the licenses of Microsoft's software, as well as the software of other vendors. However, Microsoft added a caveat in its FAQ, saying that this feature is a convenience only. Users "should not rely on it to confirm compliance with Microsoft volume licensing agreements."

Windows Intune's Scope
Microsoft conceives of Windows Intune for two basic customer scenarios. One scenario might be for smaller organizations lacking a PC management structure, according to Main, in a phone interview. The second use case is for organizations that have a robust infrastructure for on-premises machines but have issues supporting mobile users. These organizations could use the DirectAccess feature, available in some editions of Windows 7, to maintain mobile connections, but they'd also need licenses for Windows Server 2008 R2 to use DirectAccess, he noted.

Another rationale for using Windows Intune is obtaining upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise edition, especially given the impending end of Windows XP support, which terminates in April 2014. However, Microsoft doesn't install Windows 7 with Windows Intune. Organizations just get the upgrade rights. So, the machines targeted for an upgrade have to meet Windows 7's hardware requirements and there also needs to be a license for an earlier Windows version on that machine supporting the Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate editions.

Windows Intune can scale to 20,000 PCs. After that amount, a new account needs to be opened with Microsoft to manage any additional PCs. The cost of Windows Intune is $11 per person monthly, but it's still offered on an annual basis, so customers commit to a full year's payment.

If subscribers stop paying, they don't get to keep their Windows 7 upgrade licensing, although Main said that Microsoft has some sort of buyout arrangement available. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, "there is a buyout option for the Windows license if a customer cancels after 12 months; the buyout option is not available during the first year." Software Assurance licensees get a discount if they sign up for Windows Intune because there are Software assurance benefits associated with that service.

For $1 per month per person extra, Windows Intune subscribers get access to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). MDOP is a set of tools that enables desktop virtualization and application virtualization, as well as diagnostics and recovery, among other solutions. MDOP is a perk typically reserved for Software Assurance licensees or those who opt for Microsoft's Windows Virtual Desktop Access licensing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Data Updates to SQL Azure Cloud Service Expected in Q4


Big Data Updates to SQL Azure Cloud Service Expected in Q4

The long awaited SQL Azure Federation v1 for scaling out databases using a sharding pattern, is among the expected features.

Microsoft is rolling out a major update of its SQL Azure cloud database service sometime in the fourth quarter.

The updated service will increase the maximum size of SQL Azure databases from 50 GB to 150 GB, according to Microsoft. The company highlighted the upcoming SQL Azure features at the SQL PASS Summit in Seattle last week.

The long awaited SQL Azure Federation v1 for scaling out databases using a sharding pattern, is among the expected features. Microsoft announced Federation for SQL Azure in November 2010 at the Professional Developers Conference. 

The company is also planning to add a cloud backup capability to SQL Server 2012, formerly codenamed "Denali." SQL Server 2012 users will be able to back up data to Microsoft's Windows Azure platform. The cost details, if any, associated with this feature weren't described.

Microsoft plans to improve some management capabilities in the next SQL Azure service release. For instance, improvements to the Management Portal in SQL Azure will make it easier to "monitor databases" and "drill-down into schemas," Microsoft contends. Query capabilities will be improved for "plans, spatial data, indexes/keys and query performance statistics."

New CTPs
Two community test previews (CTPs) showcasing new features, both of which had been available for private testing, were rolled out today for all SQL Azure users to try. However, it's not clear if they will be fully baked into the product in time for Microsoft's fourth-quarter SQL Azure service release.

One of those CTPs is an updated release of the SQL Azure Reporting capability, which can be accessed via the Windows Azure Management Portal here (requires signup). SQL Azure Reporting allows organizations to present business intelligence-type reports while tapping Microsoft's cloud database. This feature may be of interest to organizations that lack the in-house licensing to carry out such reporting tasks or organizations that need to generate reports on a seasonal basis, according to Microsoft's description.

SQL Azure Reporting shares aspects with Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services. Developers can use tools such as the Business Intelligence Design Studio and SQL Server Data Tools (formerly code-named "Juneau"). A table showing the nuances of the two reporting features can be found here.

The second CTP available today is SQL Azure Data Sync. This CTP works with Microsoft's new Management Portal to configure and manage the synchronization of databases, both on-premises and in the cloud. The synchronization works bidirectionally, according to this Microsoft blog. Microsoft added improved filtering at the column and row levels with this CTP release. Moreover, users can now configure the synchronization for "conflict resolution as well as sync direction per group member," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Other PASS News
Microsoft indicated a roadmap shift in September favoring the use of the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) approach for SQL Server APIs, with a gradual phase out of its Object Linking and Embedding Database (OLE DB) approach. Today, Microsoft tracked back to its ODBC emphasis by announcing it will release a "Microsoft SQL Server ODBC Driver for Linux." The CTP of the new driver is expected in mid-November. The final release of the ODBC Linux driver is planned for the release of SQL Server 2012 next year, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Finally, Microsoft's partner Hewlett-Packard plans to release a database migration solution for virtualized environments in November. The migration product, consisting of HP's hardware and Microsoft's software, is called the "HP Enterprise Database Consolidation Appliance." Microsoft claims that HP's appliance speeds up database deployments to minutes rather than weeks and requires "no application or database changes" for such migrations. The product appears aimed at SQL Server 2008 R2, based on a white paper available here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI


Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI
The future of the Windows user interface is app-based rather than file-based, according to Microsoft. But many people have already expressed concerns about the new app tiles that make up the Start Screen of the Windows 8 Metro user interface.

Microsoft is responding to that feedback in a series of "building Windows 8" blog posts issued this month. In the blogs, the company details how it utilized a great swath of data voluntarily contributed by users, which largely guided the company's design decisions with Windows 8.

First off, the Start Button had to go. In a post by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager lead on the Microsoft core experience evolved team, Microsoft explained that people were using the Start Button in Windows less and less, based on statistical data. Instead, people preferred to launch apps that were pinned to the taskbar.

"The message is clear that the majority of people want most of their apps on the taskbar rather than having to dig into Start," Sareen explained.

Microsoft went a step further than that with the Windows 8 design and laid all of the programs out in a single view on the Start Screen, dropping the taskbar altogether from the Metro UI. That layout, in Microsoft's view, represents "the evolution of the Start menu." In this case, "evolution" means a collection of square and rectangular colored tiles, representing programs, all sitting right on the desktop screen.

Microsoft Regroups Apps on Windows 8 Metro UI

[Click on image for larger view.]  

Windows 8 Metro Start Screen. 

Next, Alice Steinglass, group program manager for the core experience evolved team, took up the cause of explaining the Start Screen's design in Windows 8. Her main point is that the Windows 8 Start Screen functions as a sort of "dashboard that helps you stay up to date and connected in a high quality experience substantially improved over the notification tray." The notification tray on the taskbar was simply dropped in the Metro UI because it just added clutter to the desktop. Similarly, Microsoft dropped the folder approach in the start menu because "folders are a way of burying things, not organizing them."

Metro has "live tiles" that update in near real time using the Windows Notification Service for Metro-style apps. The effect, according to Steinglass, is to provide a "heads-up display" of activity for users. That arrangement can save time for consumer users, who may not even have to launch an app to see an update, as in a stock-ticker app. It can benefit office workers too.

"We expect corporate applications to be developed that display Live tiles for important internal systems and processes too," Steinglass explained.

Metro looks a lot like the consumer UI seen in Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft is serious about it for office desktop workers. It works with keyboard, mouse and stylus in addition to touch. Users can move the tiles around to customize the Start Screen, but Microsoft hasn't neglected IT pros who manage corporate desktops. Windows 8 will enable "the managed lockdown of customization of the Start screen so that it is consistent across the corporation," explained a post by Marina Dukhon, a senior program manager lead on the Microsoft core experience team. She noted that IT pros will be able to remove items from the Start Screen, such as the Games app tile, in Windows 8.

Microsoft is also working to optimize Windows 8 for those who work with larger screens or multiple screens. The larger the screen real estate, the more app tiles can be displayed, although Microsoft currently has configured the Windows 8 Start Screen to display 20 apps on the screen before users have to scroll. The screen scrolls from right to left if there are more program tiles to see. Dukhon said that Microsoft will be "increasing the number of rows of tiles that you can see on large monitors" to fit more apps on the Start Screen.

Dukhon addressed a number of critical comments from Windows 8 reviewers in the blog post. In response to one comment, she announced that Microsoft's latest Windows 8 design restores the "all programs" folder structure that was used in previous Windows versions. The all-programs structure arranges lists of applications under their suite names (such as "Microsoft Office"). Users who got the developer preview of Windows 8 were somewhat shocked to see apps listed in plain alphabetical order, and the team appears to be responding to that feedback.

Microsoft has largely gone quiet on Windows 8 since the conclusion of its Build event in September. The exception appears to be the Metro UI. While the classic Desktop approach will coexist with the Metro UI in Windows 8, Microsoft apparently sees the squared-off Metro approach as "your new home base" in years to come.

If Microsoft keeps to expectations, Windows 8 may begin arriving as soon as April 2012 or sometime in 2013, when the OS is released as a final product.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SQL Server 2012 Expected in First Half of Next Year


SQL Server 2012 Expected in First Half of Next Year

Microsoft announced Data Explorer, a new cloud capability for businesses to share data in SQL Server 2012

At the PASS Summit 2011 in Seattle this week, Microsoft officially announced SQL Server 2012 (formerly codenamed "Denali") and expanded its product support for open source Apache Hadoop technology.

The third community technology preview of SQL Server "Denali" was released in July. The technology has advanced to "the final production stages," the company said on Wednesday. The final SQL Server 2012 product is expected sometime in the first half of 2012, Microsoft announced at the event, which is sponsored by the Professional Association for SQL Server.

SQL Server 2012 Features
Other code names associated with the Denali CTP release also were dropped, Microsoft announced. For instance, Microsoft's "Crescent" code-named feature, which offers a simplified way for information workers to create data mashups, is now called "Power View." Microsoft also announced that it has added a new touch capability to Power View, which will allow users to drill down into data via touch-screens.

SQL Server Denali developers who were used to the old "Juneau" code name for Microsoft's integrated development environment can now say hello to Microsoft's new, more descriptive name, "SQL Server Data Tools."

Microsoft announced a new capability for businesses to share data in SQL Server 2012, and so introduced another code name, "Data Explorer." This feature, which will be available via SQL Azure Labs in November, will eventually leverage the Windows Azure Marketplace, although the details were lacking in Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft describes Data Explorer as providing "capabilities for data curation, collaboration, classification and mashup, opening new capabilities and opportunities around the data that you own or want to work with."

Hadoop Interoperability
Microsoft's ongoing relationship in supporting the open source Hadoop technology continues apace as interoperability is being opened up for Windows Server and Windows Azure. Microsoft is partnering with Apache Hadoop core contributor Hortonworks on the effort. Hortonworks was founded by Yahoo and Benchmark Capital. SQL Server Certified Microsoft Master Brent Ozar joked in a Twitter feed that "It'd be hilarious if Microsoft ends up buying Yahoo just for the Hadoop expertise."

Hadoop is more than just clustering technology, according to James Kobielus, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, who described it as "the nucleus of the next-generation enterprise data warehouse in the cloud." He called Hadoop an evolutionary path. It has storage layer as well as an aggregation and query layer called "Hive." It also has an in-database analytics layer through Map Reduce.

"Hadoop is a petabyte-scalable complex data and analytics staging layer sitting behind an enterprise data warehouse or it can be a standalone data warehouse to some degree," Kobielus said in a phone call. He added that Hadoop is used by early adopters for things like social media analytics. It's used by AOL and Yahoo for ad analytics, for instance.

"Hadoop is an 'in-database analytics' approach, under which complex analytics -- including multivariate statistical analysis, data mining, predictive modeling, sentiment analysis, and content analytics -- are executed in parallel across MPP [massively parallel processing] clusters of distinct processing and storage nodes," Kobielus explained via e-mail. "Hadoop's power enables these functions to be executed with linear scaling across clouds that hold hundreds of petabytes of data and may distribute processing within individual data centers or even wide-area networks."

Kobielus described Microsoft's collaboration with Hortonworks as a key partnership, since that company has been pushing the vision for next-generation Hadoop.

"The Microsoft partnership,…I believe,…is providing professional services and consulting to ISVs and data warehousing companies and others that want to go down the road of Hadoop for big data," Kobielus said. "Hortonworks is very very principled in their commitment to the open source process. All of their development work is contributed back to the Apache open source community. Microsoft has indicated to me that that's a big reason why they're going with Hortonworks."

In the near future, Hadoop distributions will work with Microsoft's PowerPivot business intelligence tools on Windows Server and Windows Azure. Microsoft plans to release a CTP of the Hadoop service for Windows Azure at the end of this year, while the CTP of the Hadoop service for Windows Server is planned for sometime next year. Microsoft will offer code contributions to Hadoop, which is an open source project initiated by the Apache Software Foundation.

Kobielus described the Hadoop work with Windows Server and Windows Server as an "exciting" development.

"Hadoop then becomes the common technology, bridging the parallel data warehouse architecture with the Azure architecture, which are two entirely separate databases for big data," he said. "This is great. I look forward to seeing where they are going in terms of using Hadoop as the catalyzing converge layer between those two Microsoft initiatives."

Microsoft previously released CTPs of Hadoop connectors for SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse back in August. The one for SQL Server 2008 R2 has now advanced to "release-to-Web" status and can be downloaded here. Hadoop is typically used to run "big data" business intelligence-type operations for applications such as supply-chain management, sales analytics, call-center record analysis, Web event analysis and financial reporting.

Those looking for more information on Hadoop may do well to track Kobielus' work. Yesterday, Forrester published his study, "Enterprise Hadoop Best Practices: Concrete Guidelines From Early Adopters In Online Services." Kobielus also is finishing up two more studies for publication this month, including one on Yahoo's use of Hadoop and a study on enterprise use of Hadoop for big data applications. Those wanting more can look for a future Forrester Wave study from Kobielus on data warehousing players.

Hadoop currently is being embraced by Oracle, NoSQL, IBM, Netezza, Teradata and EMC Greenplum, in addition to Microsoft.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Microsoft: Linux Dual-Boot Configurations Still "Possible" on Windows 8 PCs


Microsoft: Linux Dual-Boot Configurations Still "Possible" on Windows 8 PCs

Is the whole dual-boot argument associated with Linux much ado about nothing? Even Windows 7 is not slated to have support for a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8.

Microsoft debunked claims that dual-boot configurations with Linux OSes are not possible on Windows 8. However, users must first turn off a "secure boot" security feature in the firmware, which is not recommended by the software company.

On Thursday Microsoft addressed widespread reports that Windows 8 may not allow Linux operating systems to coexist in a dual-boot configuration on PCs, based on the use of new firmware, specifically the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) "secure boot" protocol.

Tony Mangefeste, a member of the Microsoft Ecosystem team, explained in a Build Windows 8 blog post that dual boot with Linux OSes can be supported on Windows 8, even Linux OSes that lack trusted certificates.

Mangefeste noted that a setting exists in the Samsung tablets running Windows 8 that were released at Microsoft's Build conference earlier this month where users can make this change. However, these Windows 8 "developer preview" machines aren't necessarily reflective of final product products. Microsoft would be expected to add or remove features at will at this point, since code-named "Windows 8" is still at the prebeta stage.

The controversy was spurred, in part, by a blog post by Matthew Garrett, a Red Hat developer focused on power management and mobile Linux technologies. Garrett subsequently wrote that Mangefeste's explanations do not contradict his assertions. Garrett claims, among other points, that "Windows 8 certification does not require that the user be able to disable UEFI secure boot, and we've already been informed by hardware vendors that some hardware will not have this option."

Microsoft is requiring that certified systems ship with secure boot by default. Whether it will let the user disable that feature in the final build of Windows 8 remains to be seen.

Secure Boot Not Supported on Linux
Windows 8 can run using BIOS system firmware or it can run on UEFI firmware. Microsoft's OEM firmware partners can make the choice on which to use. Possibly, firmware vendors will simply opt to meet Microsoft's requirements, shipping machines with secure boot turned on, since the vast majority of PCs run Windows, Garrett pointed out. Linux apparently has some technical issues, perhaps mostly affecting hobbyists, that might make using unsigned certificates a necessity. Garrett says that Linux doesn't support secure boot now, but he also shrugs off the limitation, saying it's "about a week's worth of effort" to add that support.

The whole dual-boot argument associated with Linux seems to be "much ado about nothing" since even Windows 7 presently is not slated to have support for a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8. That point was underscored in a panel session at Microsoft's Build conference, "Delivering a Secure and Fast Boot Experience With UEFI." Speaker Arie van der Hoeven, a Microsoft principal lead program manager, was asked directly about the dual-boot capability and secure boot protection in Windows 8.

"If you are dual booting, it depends on whether you are booting into another trusted operating system, van der Hoeven said. One discussion we are having is…[with] this first firmware OK boot manager OK handshake, you can't have a version of that that works with Windows 7. Windows 7 doesn't have the ability to check firmware. The firmware can check and make sure it is assigned a Windows 7 boot loader. Truly, right now today, if you want to have secure boot and you want to dual boot Windows 8 and Windows 7, you need to turn secure boot off in firmware. We are thinking about having a way that you can go ahead and make that work, but that's not POR [plan of record] today."

Microsoft is moving to support UEFI standards for booting the OS, while the BIOS system is seen as more of a legacy approach. However, right now, Microsoft is testing Windows 8 on machines that are about 90 percent BIOS based, van der Hoeven explained.

BIOS systems, which stem from the 1980s, only work with x86 and x64 hardware. The spec was not designed to work with Itanium hardware. UEFI arose, in part, to address that Itanium shortcoming, van der Hoeven explained. BIOS systems are further limited to a boot disk size of 2.2 TB, and UEFI expands on that size. BIOS systems still use "ugly" screen menus because they are based on VGA graphics.

Moreover, all ARM-based processors use the UEFI model, van der Hoeven said.

A little bit of UEFI already runs in the background of current BIOS systems, van der Hoeven said. However, the element that Microsoft has focused on with UEFI for Windows 8 is the ability to expose UEFI to the operating system through UEFI runtime services. This runtime allows the OS and firmware to communicate about white-listed and black-listed certificates. It can help ward off rootkits and "bootkits" that may shield the presence of malware. Van der Hoeven said that Microsoft can add untrusted certificates to a blacklist via Windows Update under this UEFI scheme. All firmware and software in the boot process must be signed by a trusted Certificate Authority, he added.

Windows 8 To Require Secure Boot
Secure boot is not Microsoft's proprietary firmware validation procedure but is specified in UEFI 2.3.1 in Chapter 27. It's optional to use according to the spec, but Microsoft is requiring secure boot in certified Windows 8 systems. Secure boot operates in the boot path to ensure that only verified loaders will boot Windows 8, and it prevents malware from switching the boot loaders. Today's PCs do not have this protection, according to Mangefeste.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Microsoft: October Security Update Patches .NET and Silverlight


Microsoft: October Security Update Patches .NET and Silverlight

The October security update provides patches for two "critical" and six "important" items covering a range of products including Microsoft .NET Windows, Internet Explorer, Forefront and Microsoft Host Integration Server.

Microsoft released its October Security Bulletin alerting users to eight patches, including a critical fix for .NET and Silverlight. The October Security Update is slated for release on Tuesday, October 11.

The security update provides patches for  two "critical" and six "important" items covering a range of products including Microsoft .NET Windows, Internet Explorer, Forefront and Microsoft Host Integration Server.

Remote code execution dominates the risk profile for all but two of the items on the patch slate. The remaining two are denial-of-service and elevation-of-privilege considerations.

The first critical bulletin affects .NET and Silverlight.

Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7, opines that this patch, along with all critical items, needs to be examined closely.

"This bulletin looks very close to MS11-039, which was patched in August. When exploit developers look for bugs disclosed in products, they usually find similar bugs which result in the same type of vulnerabilities," he said.

As for the other, an often-patched Internet Explorer once again will be receiving a fix.

Speaking on the Internet Explorer item, Carey said attackers will continue to get users to click on links to malicious Web sites. He says to expect the attackers to continue to explore these browsers and plug-in weaknesses, which have been the bane of Microsoft's browser for some time.

Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst for Lumension, called October's predicted batch of fixes a "trick and treat" patch.

The Treat is that there are less critical items and more Windows fixes, he said. The trick is in the operational challenges of rebooting systems.

"Nearly all require a restart, which will cause widespread disruptions across both Internet-connected servers and user community desktops."

As usual, consult Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 894199 for more information.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Microsoft Receives EU Approval for Skype Deal


Microsoft Receives EU Approval for Skype Deal

When the acquistion is finalized, Microsoft will gain access to 170 million Skype subscribers, although it's likely that most are consumers who use the free version of the product.

The European Commission approved Microsoft's $8.5 billion bid for Skype on friday, paving the way for Microsoft to integrate Skype's voice-over-IP technologies and services into Windows and other products.

U.S. regulatory approvals were completed in June, one month after Microsoft announced the Skype deal.

Microsoft's relations with the European Commission have been bumpy in recent years, especially when Microsoft racked up fines in anticompetition cases. Microsoft was found to have used its Windows monopoly to distribute Internet Explorer unfairly in EU countries in a case that echoed past U.S. antitrust litigation against the company. However, this time with Skype, there appeared to be no objections from the European Commission. The Commission surprisingly dismissed the possibility that bundling Skype with Windows could prove anticompetitive.

"As regards the risk of tying or bundling, the Commission noted that the vast majority of consumers who acquire a PC with Skype already installed are registered Skype users and that most of them subsequently download a version different from the pre-installed one. Therefore, the proposed transaction will not change the current situation," the European Commission explained in a press release.

With the European Union approvals completed, Microsoft can now begin implementing its business plans.

"We look forward to completing soon the final steps needed to close the acquisition, bringing together the employees of Microsoft and Skype, and creating new opportunities for people to communicate and collaborate around the world," said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president at Microsoft.

Skype, in terms of dollars, represents Microsoft's biggest acquisition yet, at $8.5 billion. In May, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested how Skype might be used. He said that Skype technologies could be extended into Microsoft Outlook, Xbox, Kinect, Messenger, Hotmail and Lync. Skype will operate in a new division at Microsoft, led by Tony Bates, Skype's CEO.

Skype is considered to be a consumer product that overlaps somewhat with Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger product and Google Voice, according to the European Commission. However, the Commission indicated it had no competition concerns since the market has "numerous players." Similarly, it did not expect that Microsoft would degrade interoperability with competing services. Ballmer promised back in May that Skype would continue to support other platforms, such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

The Commission also dismissed the possibility that Microsoft would use Skype unfairly in the enterprise market.

"As regards enterprise communications services, the Commission found that Skype is currently not an enterprise product, therefore its interoperability is not decisive for competitors and a bundle or a tie between Skype and Microsoft's products will not be a must have product for enterprises," the Commission explained in the press release. "Furthermore Lync faces competition from other strong players in enterprise communications, such as Cisco."

Microsoft will gain access to 170 million Skype subscribers, although it's likely that most are consumers who use the free version of the product. Skype also offers paid services that allows low-cost calling to phones and mobile devices, on top of its free peer-to-peer computer VoIP connections. The paid services also enable SMS text messaging, the ability to connect via Wi-Fi hotspots and group video calling, among other features.

Forrester analyst Ted Schadler commented back in May that Microsoft will be able to leverage a popular consumer brand while preventing Cisco and Google from acquiring Skype. Microsoft will have the capital to develop services such as "local phone numbers, three-way video conferencing, business administration, and making calls to real phone numbers" that Skype lacked the means to pull off. He also suggested that a future Lync-to-Skype integration might enable a better way to connect with people outside an organization, such as video calls to customers and partners.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Microsoft Previews PowerShell 3.0


Microsoft Previews PowerShell 3.0

The company released a preview of the scripting technology for Windows 8, and the latest Windows 7 technologies, as part of its Windows Management Framework 3.0 Community Technology Preview.

Microsoft highlighted the upcoming release of Windows PowerShell 3.0 for Windows 8 during several sessions at its Build conference for developers last week.

The company released a preview of the scripting technology, which also supports Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, as part of its Windows Management Framework 3.0 Community Technology Preview. In addition to PowerShell, the framework offers Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows Remote Management (WinRM). The CTP requires the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 CLR.

The main purpose of downloading and installing this CTP is to test new capabilities in PowerShell 3.0, Microsoft's scripting language that's designed to help automate server management processes. The use of PowerShell, in conjunction with Windows Server Core, has emerged as a favored approach among experts at Microsoft to enable multiserver management while also addressing scalability.

Microsoft added some new features in PowerShell 3.0, including an improvement in how workflows can be used to manage tasks, per Microsoft's blog description. PowerShell 3.0 also adds "robust sessions" support to recover from network interruptions. Users can delegate their credentials to other users to run critical jobs via a new "delegated administration" feature. A new "cmdlet discovery" feature helps users find and run scripts. The "show-command" feature will display the parameters of a cmdlet via a forms-based dialog box. Scheduled jobs can now run based on events. Microsoft also adapted a more "natural language" feel to the scripting, according to the blog.

Microsoft improved WMI in this CTP release. Microsoft defines WMI as Windows' "infrastructure for management data and operations." IT pros typically write scripts that leverage WMI to automate tasks on remote computers. One of the improvements in WMI is its new provider model that "removes the dependency" on the Component Object Model (COM), according to the blog.

Microsoft also added support for more robust connections with WinRM in this CTP release, especially for managing long-running tasks. WinRM is Microsoft's version of the WS-Management standard, which is a SOAP-based protocol for exchanging management information across disparate systems.

While the Windows Management Framework 3.0 CTP is designed for testing on present-day Windows operating systems, much of the PowerPoint 3.0 improvements are described and illustrated in Build conference sessions held last week. The "Make Your Product Manageable" Build session (available on demand via Microsoft's Channel 9) shows some of PowerPoint 3.0's improvements relative to "Windows 8" and "Windows Server 8."

In that Build talk, Jeffrey Snover and Refaat Issa described some improvements in PowerShell 3.0, which now has more than 2,300 cmdlets on Windows 8. Snover, a Microsoft distinguished engineer and lead architect of Windows Server, is considered to be the "father" of PowerShell. Issa is a senior program manager on the Windows PowerShell team.

A new PowerShell 3.0 feature in Windows 8 is the ability to write a WMI v2 providers, Snover said. He added that there are also new ways to write PowerShell cmdlets. In Windows 8, users can write cmdlets in .NET, PowerShell, Windows Workflow, or CIM in WMI. He also explained that REST APIs can now be configured using PowerShell and OData.

Microsoft uses a Managed Object Format (MOF) based on the Distributed Management Taskforce (DMTF) standard. Using a schema based on MOF, it is easier to write WMI providers by "an order of magnitude," according to Snover.

Snover noted in the session that nearly everyone has been taking PowerShell and workflows and making them work together. He said that using them together has an additive positive effect for IT pros, which is like combining peanut butter and chocolate.

Microsoft has developed its own version of a portable Common Information Model (CIM) server, called "NanoWBEM," that makes use of CIM and WS-Management standards to support non-Windows systems. Snover compared it to OpenPegasus, but said that NanoWBEM is 76 times faster.

Snover emphasized that manageability is the differentiation point for products, and that IT pros should strive to use automation to minimize errors and server downtime. It's especially important for addressing scaleability issues, which are being driven by virtualization, he said.

"If products aren't manageable, it just causes [IT pros] exceeding pain," he said during the presentation. "A small problem times a large frequency, like you get with virtualization, in turn can just drive you crazy. So you've got to have great manageability."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Microsoft Previews Hadoop Connectors for SQL Server


Microsoft Previews Hadoop Connectors for SQL Server

The company hinted that more tooling is on the way for big data integrations.

Microsoft is previewing test versions of its Hadoop connectors, designed to enable the transfer of structured and unstructured data with SQL Server and SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse in heterogeneous environments.

Hadoop is an Apache open source framework for running applications on clusters using commodity hardware.Both connectors are designed to enable two-way movement of data between the systems. The SQL to Hadoop (SQOOP) command-line tool is used by the connector to transfer data from the Hadoop File System to SQL Server. The connector also uses the bulk load/extract tool in PDW to quickly import or export data.

One Hadoop connector is designed to work with SQL Server 2008 R2 and is available for download as a CTP test release. Microsoft's PDW customers can get a copy of the Hadoop connector CTP release for PDW by requesting it through Microsoft's customer support service, according to Microsoft's announcement.

The Hadoop connector for SQL Server 2008 R2 is also compatible for use with SQL Server code-named "Denali," Microsoft's next-generation relational database management system. Denali is currently available as a CTP3 release.

Microsoft had signaled its planned rollout of the two Hadoop connector CTP releases earlier this month. Organizations use Hadoop to run "big data" business intelligence-type operations. Practical applications include supply-chain management, sales analytics, call-center record analysis, Web event analysis and financial reporting.

Microsoft's announcement hinted that there will more to come next year on such big data integrations. The company already offers two other connector solutions: The Microsoft Informatica connector for SQL Server PDW and the Microsoft SAP Business Objects DI connector for SQL Server PDW. Both of those connectors are currently available by contacting Microsoft's customer support services.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SharePoint Online To Add Business Connectivity Services


SharePoint Online To Add Business Connectivity Services

By year-end, SharePoint Online will offer Business Connectivity Services to make it easier for developers to build cloud-based applications that front-end their data.

Microsoft highlighted an update to SharePoint Online during the Day 1 keynote at its SharePoint 2011 conference in Anaheim, Calif. The major update will offer Business Connectivity Services, among other features, enabling developers to have read-write access to Web services for building cloud-based front-ends to data sources.

According to the SharePoint Team Blog, "BCS lets customers use and search data from other systems as if it lives in SharePoint -- in both read and write modes." With BCS included, the forthcoming SharePoint Online update will let users "connect to data sources via Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) Web Services endpoints."

A component of the cloud-based Office 365 suite that Microsoft launched in June, the SharePoint Online update will be coming by year's end, revealed Microsoft's Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of the Office Business Platform at Microsoft, during his keynote presentation.

Teper also said the SharePoint team is working on "the next major release," presumably referring to the customer premises product, but did not give details on a timetable. He did say that "this is the biggest release of SharePoint we've ever done, [with] the largest engineering team."

"We're investing big in this technology," Teper said.

Teper's talk comprised the bulk of Monday morning's keynote. Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft, preceded Teper with a string of statistics to underline SharePoint's rapid growth. According to Spataro, SharePoint is the fastest Microsoft product to generate $1 billion in revenue, making it one of the largest products in the company's portfolio. In fact, Spataro said, if SharePoint were a standalone business, it would rank as one of the top 50 software firms in the world.

In all, Spataro said there have been over 125 million SharePoint licenses sold to over 65,000 customers worldwide, including 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Teper followed Spataro onstage to give the audience of roughly 7,500 people an overview of the SharePoint development team's three main goals: redefine the nature of collaboration, "unleash the ecosystem" and build a world-class platform.

He also revealed that there are "thousands of partners building apps on SharePoint," many of whom have requested a way to move those apps to the cloud.

In addition to announcing the SharePoint Online update, Teper unveiled a new certification program: Microsoft Certified Architects (MCA) for SharePoint. Those who achieve the MCA SharePoint certification "have a level of depth, training and certification that is unmatched on complex SharePoint enterprise deployments and application development," Teper said.

This Microsoft Learning page indicates that the beta period for the MCA SharePoint exam will end sometime during the duration of the SharePoint Conference, with Board exams scheduled for Feb. 6, 2012.

One of the highlights of the keynote was a demo by Richard Riley, a director on the Microsoft SharePoint team. He demonstrated SharePoint's scalability, FAST search capability and ability to quickly recover from a network failure. Onstage were two server clusters, one from EMC and one from NEC, housing 14.4 TB of data pulled from Wikipedia. The demo by Riley used SQL Server code-named "Denali" CTP 3 as the database management system.

The load test simulated 7,000 users on the network accessing the 14.4 TB of data. Riley was able to use Microsoft FAST search to pull up 100 million items in 2.3 seconds. Next, Riley used the Windows Cluster Manager to show a failover happening live on stage. One of the server clusters was unplugged on stage resulting in a 14.4-TB failover to the next server. The other server cluster reconnected the data after the failure in 40 seconds, bringing back the entire SharePoint farm.

Kurt DelBene, the president of Microsoft's Office Division who took the stage after Teper, emphasized that the capabilities of this demo are all being made available to customers through the cloud with Office 365, and that Microsoft's cloud takes away the need for organizations to have failover and clustering expertise in-house when running SharePoint. He described Microsoft's earlier Business Productivity Online Service as "not so friendly" compared with Office 365. DelBene didn't elaborate, but BPOS is Microsoft's first-generation cloud technology, which had been been based on Office 2007, whereas Office 365 is based on SharePoint 2010 technology. If users want a private cloud, Microsoft supports that too, DelBene said.

Kurt Mackie contributed to this article.