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Posts Tagged ‘azure’

The CIO’s Guide to Understanding Microsoft Cloud Services

Over the last few years, the software market has changed shape. According to Joanne Correia, research vice president at Gartner, the cloud is the main driver behind that change.

Given this, over the same time period, azureit makes sense to see Microsoft moving its core business functions to the cloud (and the other major software vendors doing the same). While this is hardly a revelation, if you haven’t yet taken a hard look at the cloud, and what it has to offer your business – now is probably a good time.

Perficient recently published a new white paper, “The CIO’s Guide to Understanding Microsoft Cloud Services,” for executives who are examining Microsoft’s cloud service offerings (Azure, Office 365, Project Online, TFS Online, Dynamics CRM Online) as a way to contain and scale back exploding IT costs and become more nimble.

The guide begins by reviewing some common terms and concepts before diving into deeper cloud-related concepts. It goes on to discuss the changing datacenter and then evaluates both Azure and Office 365, in terms of capabilities as well as security, privacy and compliance. Finally, the guide includes steps to get you started with Microsoft cloud services.

To learn more about Microsoft’s cloud-based services, and see how your organization can benefit from Azure and Office 365, download the new guide from our Microsoft cloud experts.

The Premise of On Premises

As a technical architect I am used to the rapid evolution of language to describe an accelerating technical world. Only a couple of years ago using the word Cloud would most likely conjure images of the cumulonimbus variety. Today I rarely join a conference call where The Cloud is not mentioned and we can be confident in technical circles that everybody understands the term.

The Cloud

According to Wikipedia, references to The Cloud began as early as 1996 when Compaq used the term in an internal document. Much later Amazon began to use it as part of their Elastic Compute Cloud terminology. We now use the term to describe great new services like Azure and Office 365.

I like The Cloud and feel it is a very fitting term for describing the way we now host services. My compliments to whomever actually first coined the term! It makes a lot of sense.

Now that we have The Cloud we have the premise of On Premises and need a term to clearly refer to services hosted on site (as opposed to in The Cloud).

So, do you say On Premises or On Premise?

On Premises

On Premises

Premises

“A house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context.”

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/premises

Premise

“(British also premiss) Logic A previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion.”

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/premise

Was it a Mistake?

It seems clear to me that On Premises is correct whereas On Premise is derived from a mistake made and copied many thousands (millions?) of times.

I find the discussion interesting because I think it highlights the rapid adoption of terminology, correct or otherwise. As technical professionals I think we should always strive to communicate better. Describing technology more accurately, clearly and concisely is important and will help us serve the needs of decision makers and users better. I think we should always question the terminology we use and improve upon it whenever possible.

Everything You Need to Know About Delve & Office Graph

Ok, I’ve got to admit I really meant to say “Almost everything you need to know in first Release.”

The more you share, the more you get. Believe in that? Office 365 community does and as a result , this week Microsoft hosted “Delve Yamjam” to coincide with the launch of the new Office 365 product called “Delve”. (If you are new to I highly recommend reading earlier articles here and here to get to know your new friend Delve). Look at a screenshot of Delve from my demo tenant, looks pretty cool, huh?

Delve Img1

Some great questions asked some great thoughts shared. I summarize here for the larger community. Microsoft responses were from Christophe Fiessinger, Kady Dundas, Josh Stickler, Mark Kashman, Cem Aykan and on the phone Ashok Kuppusamy, Stefan Debald, Fredrik Holm, John Toews, and Robin Miller.

  • Which Office 365 business plans includes Delve?
    • Delve is included in the Office 365 E1 – E4 subscription plans (and the corresponding A2 – A4 and G1 – G4 plans for Academic and Government customers respectively)
  • Can I protect data from ever being shown in others Delve results?
    • Yes, Delve only shows documents based on permissions set and inherit those from OneDrive and SharePoint online. Also each card will have a sharing control and “who can see this” option
    • If your folder and contents are not shared with anyone, they will not appear in Delve for anyone. It always respect the permissions set on the items.
  • Which kinds of data is considered “private data”?
    • There’s both the concept of private data (e.g. files that only you or you and a select few colleagues can see) and private signals (e.g. the fact that you have viewed a particular document, even if it’s public). Delve respects SharePoint and Search permissions, so only users who have access to read a document can see that document appear as a result in Delve. Furthermore, details like the documents you view or documents others view are private.
  • Any Android / iOS apps in the pipeline for Delve?
    • Yes but no timeline could be provided yet
  • Not all content (file types) is included in Delve. Any plans for extending the list of file types, and/or list of content sources?
    • PDF, excel, and word file types are included but there is absence of image files and Visio files.
    • Yep, we are planning to add more content sources and signals to the Office Graph on ongoing basis
    • We are working on increasing the content types supported by Delve. We started with an initial list of Office doc types, but we will expand this over time.
  • Delve site has default branding and does not incorporate our corporate branding that is available on Yammer, OneDrive and Sites menu options in top navigation bar?
    • The top Office 365 navigation is now theme able and your theme should be available in Delve as well. Broader theming is something we’ll be looking at in the future.
  • Delve was rolled out to our business tenant yesterday. So far it is showing us trending documents that our co-workers are viewing on SharePoint. Is there a way to block certain areas so we don’t see our co-workers trends in HR searches?
    • You can make those documents not shared using the SharePoint permissions UI, but right now, there’s no feature to exclude documents from Delve but still available to everyone.  read here for more details.
  • Will Outlook be leverage into Delve
    • Outlook as part of Office 365 is already leveraged in Delve.
    • We are considering adding email attachments to Delve.
    • Office Graph is driving scenario for OWA. So appointments and attendee information are only leveraged in delve if it’s in OWA. You can imagine Office Graph providing insights multiple scenarios in the future…if you haven’t already done so check the Office Graph on the blog post from Monday.
  • Does ‘signals from exchange’ refer to email relationships (i.e. who the recipients and senders are)?
    • Yes, and to elaborate, it analyzes the set of people with whom you correspond via email and use this data as a factor to weight your working relationships with your colleagues.
    • The org structure is another factor taken into consideration
  • The 5 people to the left – seems to be right for most people (in terms of the ones with most interactions), but I have seen colleagues, with strange people presented as top 5 people.
    • have a bug where it is showing groups/crawler accounts instead of just people
    • The people on the left aren’t related to them in any way. Known issues MSFT working with no ETA
  • Will Delve work in a hybrid scenario using my On-Premise systems?
    • This is place for partner opportunities! But MSFT is working on a solution to feed on-premises (like exchange on premise) content into Delve, but no timeline can be announced.
    • Plans to release hybrid connector capabilities so that the Office Graph can integrate signals and content from on prem.
  • Any federation plans across multiple tenants?
    • No plans today
  • Delve supports the most common screen readers, high-contrast mode etc aligned with Microsoft policies in this area.
  • Is there a way to limit #delve deployment to some user groups in the company? Just to help company to graduate deploy it
    • An individual user can turn off Delve. This will also control Office Graph as-well.
  • Are you adding Delve results to the search page, or can we see this as an UI opportunity
    • Not to SharePoint enterprise search center but we look at that as an opportunity
  • Item limit for Delve
    • Delve shows up to 36 items in a view. This is the same when you search in the search box.
  • Details to the API Roadmap?
    • Right now you can do graph queries through the SharePoint Search Rest API using “Graph Query Language” as described here: GQL
  • If a user has permission to access a document/list item but the library/list is excluded from search in list settings will the content still display in Delve?
    • Nope, Delve uses the same permissions for search..
  • Do you have plan to return Yammer conversations in any form as Delve results ?
    • It’s something MSFT is actively working on showing the Yammer conversations tied to documents in Delve.
  • Is Delve going to work with Office 365 Pro Plus client or only Office online, and the other question, is it only working based on files saved only in ODFB and SharePoint online?
    • Yes if the document is stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online then yes the Office Graph will index it
  • What is the best way to introduce Delve within an organization? Are there best practices and change management recommendations?
    • We are working on an email template that Office 365 admins can then send to their users that helps address exactly what you’re asking. It would have info about What, How, Why with links and first steps. This template will be made available to admins via the message center to raise awareness.
    • We, too, plan to incorporate Delve info and insight into the adoption website we currently maintain here: Discover SharePoint  (with near-term plans to focus on broader Office 365 scenarios).

Hope this provides some insights around how Office Graph captures and renders signals. Check back for more details as I dive more into Delve.

Delve Has Arrived

How long have you been patiently waiting for this amazing new search powered app called “Delve”? Days, weeks, months?
The wait is finally over with Microsoft announcing today that it is releasing Delve to office 365 subscribers!

What is Delve?
Delve is a new way to search and discover content with Office graph in the background doing all the heavy lifting.
I talk about it in detail here or Watch the video here.

Release ScheduleFinally Here
The Office blog says, “Delve will roll out to Office 365 customers in phases, first to customers that have elected to receive significant Office 365 service updates at first release, an opt-in program. Following that, Delve will roll out to all Office 365 customers over several months in standard release, the default option for Office 365 customers. We expect Delve to roll out to all eligible Office 365 customers by early 2015. For the Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium, and Midsize Business customers, first release rollout will begin in January 2015.”

Admin Get Started
If you are wondering how to avail this feature, check out the Delve for Admins here.

Advanced analytics in healthcare with Epic, SQL Server and Azure

Over the months we have released a lot of information on building analytic platforms in healthcare. Several members of my team have played key architectural roles in not only implementing the Cogito platform and performing readmission analysis with it, but also expanding the platform to include customer satisfaction data from Press Ganey.

These functions were deemed critical to the initial phases of these projects, but are largely ‘back-end’ architectural projects. They do not address the ad-hoc analysis needs of the business, the delivery technologies available or much less the predictive capabilities that can be added to the platforms.

Fortunately there are a lot of new technologies in the Microsoft stack to address these needs.

As part of our advisory services to help our clients understand what new capabilities they have with their new platforms we regularly build concept visualizations. The following videos are examples of out of the box capabilities we built for one of our clients utilizing:

Self-service analytics with Power Pivot and Power View

3D visualizations with Power Map

And finally natural language query processing in the cloud with Q&A in Power BI

These technologies are well known and are being leveraged within several of our large clients, but a couple of recent announcements from Microsoft introduces even more exciting capabilities.

Power View now supports forecasting. This is a great new add currently available in the HTML5 version of Power View in Power BI. It gives the user the ability to quickly forecast a trend line, account for seasonality and even adjust the confidence intervals of the calculation. Below is a screenshot of some readmission forecasting being performed on the dataset from the earlier videos.

Forecasting

Important to note is that you not only see the forecasted line (light blue lines which runs through the top chart gray box) but the second chart also shows the hindcasting feature which lets a user start a forecast in the past in order to see how accurate it would have been against real data. (light blue line to the left of the gray box in the second chart).

While valuable and easy to use, this technology doesn’t give us the ability to predict who is at risk of readmitting. For that, we need a more powerful tool.

Azure Machine Learning Services is a recently announced cloud service for the budding Data Scientist. Through a drag and drop interface you can now build experiments of predictive models, train and score the models and even evaluate the accuracy of different algorithms within your model.

The screenshot below shows an experiment that was built against the same readmission data used in the forecasting example (Epic Cogito dataset). The dataset was modified to flatten multiple patient admissions onto one record and included the following attributes as well as some others:

Attributes

The experiment was then created to compare two different classification algorithms, a boosted decision tree vs. a logistic regression. *Note that this blog is not intended to debate the accuracy or appropriate use of these particular algorithms. These were just the two I used.

Model

Once the experiment is complete and evaluated a simple visual inspection shows the accuracy gains one algorithm has over the other.

Results

After some tweaking (and this model still needs it) there is a simple process to create a web service with the associated API key which you can use to integrate the model into a readmission prediction application. One that accepts single record or batch inputs.

API

As you can see, there are a number of options for introducing advanced analytics into your healthcare environment. Feel free to contact me with questions on how these tools can be put to work in your new healthcare analytics platform.

Multi-Forest Identity Solution – Azure AD Sync

 

microsoft-azure-logo

Last week I wrote about strategic benefits with Microsoft Azure and included some market research of other big cloud competitors. Continuing on that and in part 2 of this series I will talk about the one of the most awaited multi-forest identity solutions – Azure Active Directory Sync Tool

In April this year, Microsoft announced set of great new identity synchronization features available in preview. Including password write back, Azure AD Sync (AAD Sync), and multi-forest support. Working with customers with multiple on-premises Active Directory forests and multiple on-premises Exchange organizations wanting to migrate to Exchange Online using a hybrid deployment it’s not been a trivial approach implementing Forefront Identity Manager (FIM). FIM provides self-service identity management for users and a framework to enforce security policies. FIM implementation isn’t trivial and cost effective for many Office 365 scenarios and as a result I experienced customers with complex multi forest environments turning their backs to Microsoft and going after other vendors.

Customers with single forest typically relied on DirSync which is really a downsized version of FIM. Although a clean and easy setup DirSync suffers from a number of limitations. The most painful for large companies being the fact that it only synchronizes identity data from one forest to Azure AD. The other drawbacks includes creating an Office 365 account  for all Active Directory users of a particular OU and minimal control over the user object.dirsync

Hence on the path to bridge gaps and prompted by the need for in-the-cloud password replication back to the on-premises AD( their users log on to every day), Microsoft released “DirSync with password reset write-back”. It’s part of the Azure AD Premium offering which allows users to reset their Azure AD user account password via the “MyApps” web portal. Now came the need to address multi-forest synchronization and greater control over configuration. This lead to the next big announcement from Microsoft – Azure Active Directory Sync (AAD Sync).

AADSync has its underpinnings from components of Microsoft’s Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) metadirectory service, so its architecture is similar to both DirSync and FIM. You connect your active directory forests to AADSync via a connector. Like FIM and other meta directory services, these connectors feed into an aggregated store that contains a consolidated view of all the inbound identities. It’s this view that AADSync replicates to Azure AD. With Microsoft making progress with AAD Sync preview versions, partners and customers are now anxiously waiting for a public release to help them address their multi-forest identity needs.

 

aadsync1                                                                                   (Fig: AADSync account resource forest scenario-image source: Microsoft)

Just today Microsoft announced another version – AAD Sync Beta 3 with investments in hybrid exchange and multi-forest configuration by adding the multi-forest password write-back capabilities. Check out the installation guide for more details http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/24057.aadsync-installation-guide.aspx.  AAD Sync will allow customers to

Onboard their multi-forest Active Directory deployment to AAD

  1. Advanced provisioning, mapping and filtering rules for objects and attributes, including support for syncing a very minimal set of user attributes
  2. Configuring multiple on-premises Exchange organizations to map to a single AAD tenant
  3. Selective synchronization which enables you to only sync attributes required for the services you want to enable.
  4. AD password reset with multi-forests.
  5. Exchange hybrid deployment in multi-forests environments which enables you to have mailboxes in Office 365 as well as in your on-premises exchange.

 

An integrated on-premises / cloud identity directory is a key piece of Microsoft’s Cloud OS vision and this goes to show their commitment to cloud first, mobile first strategy.

Watch Out Amazon-Microsoft Azure is Here to Rule

microsoft-azure-logo

With my job I end up doing some travel and with that comes the fun of meeting new people, hearing new stories, and traveling new places (possible). My last trip was to the east coast covering New York and Florida and it got me connected with some interesting folks. Waiting at the airport for our flight which eventually took off the next day (12 hours of mechanical trouble), I met some folks from cloud business’. One was a Google advocate and the other Amazon. With me being in the Microsoft world it was a perfect mix of expertise. By the time we were three drinks in, we laid down all aspects of cloud Iaas, Paas, and Saas. There was no winner (you certainly don’t want one in a bar) at the end but I like to think all of us came out wiser than before.

This made me think how little people know about Microsoft’s Cloud platform Azure. I am always amazed when people refer to Azure as only Infrastructure-as-a-service (Iaas). What many don’t know is that Azure has a wide variety of features in its Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering and Software-as-a-service. In fact Microsoft was one of two vendors described as leaders in Gartner’s application PaaS (which it calls aPaaS) Magic Quadrant. Azure as PaaS allows creation of scalable applications and services, supports multi-tier scenarios and automated deployments. As for SaaS, what would be a better example than Office 365?!

So here is my attempt to share my experience and knowledge about Microsoft Azure in the hopes that it will help you to make an informed decisions when selecting a cloud platform that best fits your business. In order to keep it engaging I will break this blog post in two parts.  The first one being more strategic and second one, tactical, involving Azure services and features.

In this Part 1 of 2 let’s start with the least common denominator among all cloud platforms – Storage.

Storage

storage-wars1

Now lately you might have experienced an influx of news around increased cloud storage and reduced costs. Storage wars between the three companies Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are at its best. Here is the latest cost analysis among these three leaders (Note: this is up to date as of this post publication).

Plans
Free(GB)
100 GB Cost
100 GB Cost
Microsoft OneDrive15 GB$1.99/month$3.99/month - 200 GB (1 TB is available with OneDrive for Business)
Google Drive15 GB$1.99/month$9.99/month - 1 TB
Amazon Cloud5 GB$4.17/month$41.67/month - 1 TB
WinnerMicrosoft & GoogleMicrosoft & GoogleN/A - similar plans do not exist in OneDrive

 

Now let’s take a peek at the enterprise storage pricing comparison. This is not comprehensive as there are too many factors in play and pricing will depend on egress, redundancy selected etc. and hence no clear winner

Plans
I TB
50 TB
100 TB
Microsoft Azure$40/month$2,000/month$4,000/month
Google Cloud Storage$26/month$1,300/month$2,600/month
Amazon AWS$30/month$1,475/month$2,926/month

 

Iaas Magic Quadrant

gartnermagic

During our talks we all agreed on one aspect – Amazon is the gorilla in the cloud business based on sheer revenue, but looking at statistics Microsoft is closing the gap at a rapid pace. In the May 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant  even though Amazon leads the space an interesting point to note (and one which isn’t easy to digest by the tech industry) is the inroads Microsoft has been making in strategic accounts. It is quite evident that Microsoft Azure IaaS is catching Amazon AWS in terms of functionality, automation and innovation. With late adopters Microsoft has been gaining traction and even though prospects consider their existing incumbent vendors, but this quadrant proves that Microsoft is overwhelmingly the top contender in that market.

Business Continuity

With the recent acquisition of InMage (which provides continuous data protection) Microsoft took another step towards business continuity solutions in the cloud. In a recent email Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO outlined his mission statement to the employees. He stated his goals and shared his vision for Microsoft in this 3,100 word email where he put forth the company as mobile first and cloud first. Staying true to his roots he invested in acquiring InMage, focusing on data protection and back up retention. Over time InMage will be rolled into the Microsoft Azure Site Recovery service to add scale to the company’s newly added disaster recovery and business continuity offering. Last month Microsoft also launched the StorSimple appliances which provides storage as a tier by integrating cloud services to on-premises storage.

Predictive Analysis

Microsoft recently launched preview of a new service called Azure Machine Learning. It is a public cloud-based service that lets developers embed predictive analytics into their applications. Think of the value this can provide you when you combine this with customer CRM and marketing systems,  generating scores predicting customer behavior. Another great new upcoming feature in Office 365 is Delve (formerly Oslo) and if you really put 2 and 2 together you’ll realize that horsepower behind Delve is nothing else but Azure Machine learning.

Security

Azure recently announced additional enhancements that honor their commitments to security and increased transparency. This includes stronger cryptography, including enhancements to the default Transport Layer Security (TLS)/Secure Socket Layer (SSL) cipher suites and enabling Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). PFS uses a different encryption key for every connection, making it more difficult for attackers to decrypt connections. This encryption work builds on the existing protections already in many Microsoft products and services, such as Microsoft Office 365, Skype and OneDrive. Customer content moving between customers and Microsoft will be encrypted by default. All of the key platforms, productivity and communications services will encrypt customer content as it moves between Microsoft data centers.  Data traveling between services (for e.g. one email provider to another) is protected and customer content stored in Azure is encrypted (there are also tools for developers to allow them to easily protect data).

I sincerely hope this provides you with valuable insights and enough to get you excited about Microsoft Azure. In case it does not then don’t forget to check back in a few days for Part 2 of this series which will contain information on more in-depth features of Azure like media services,  mobile devices, Azure web sites, Azure files and more.

 

Perficient wins Microsoft Partner Awards in all 3 US Regions!

The Perficient team is out in force in Washington DC this week attending Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC14).  At the conference the team was honored to receive Microsoft Partner of the Year awards in every Microsoft US region. This was a big honor, building on last year’s US Partner of the Year award and our US Healthcare Provider Partner of the Year awards. Thank you Microsoft, we appreciate the partnership and value the recognition!  From the news release

Member's of the Perficient team getting ready to accept Partner of the Year awards in every Microsoft US region

Member’s of the Perficient team getting ready to accept Partner of the Year awards in every Microsoft US region

For the second year in a row, Perficient was named both the East Region NSI Partner of the Year and the Central Region Enterprise Office 365 Partner of the Year. Additionally, the company was declared the West Region Compete Partner of the Year. These awards highlight Perficient’s capabilities in and successful implementations of Microsoft technology solutions including cloud computing technologies like Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Lync Online, Yammer, SharePoint Online, InTune and Dynamics CRM.

“Microsoft’s enterprise offerings have grown increasingly cloud-based as companies move to adopt this innovative, efficient and secure technology,” said Mike Gersten, vice president of Perficient’s Microsoft national business group. “Cloud computing lowers operating costs and provides agility and scalability options unavailable on limited legacy infrastructure. We are honored to receive these three Partner awards, which which reflect the strength of Perficient’s Microsoft cloud consultation and delivery expertise at work across the country.”

Perficient has helped clients across multiple industries implement cloud solutions like Office 365 and Microsoft Azure. The company has activated more than one million Office 365 seats, which is more than any other National Systems Integrator.

Highlights of recent Microsoft implementations include:

  • Working with a multinational firm to create a custom MVC application utilizing many Azure components, including SQL Azure, Web Roles, Worker Roles, and BLOB Storage. The solution replaces previous spreadsheet-style reporting with dashboards and data visualization, and is used to identify potential hazards and recognize exemplary employees.
  • Partnering with a leading transportation operator to plan and develop a global cloud-based employee portal solution utilizing Office 365 and, specifically, SharePoint Online. With a responsive design and support of multiple devices, the portal offers users improved search capabilities and better ease of use.
  • Collaborating with a large health plan provider to supply an integrated digital experience solution leveraging Sitecore and the Microsoft Server Stack. Basing all of the client’s sites on the same core set of components and a single framework, Perficient delivered a common user experience, independent of device, to all.

Through its partnerships with leading technology innovators, Perficient provides clients in all industries business-driven technology solutions and support in a wide range of practice areas. Perficient’s Microsoft consultants specialize in several practice areas including unified communications, social collaboration, business intelligence and cloud computing to provide digital marketing, portals, mobile and customer relationship management solutions to many of the most complex organizations in the country.

Microsoft’s WPC14 continues through Thursday.

Surprise! Microsoft Future Is Dependent on Data

In his July 10th email to employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella mentions the word “data” no fewer than 15 times.   This simple fact serves to highlight how dealing with data is a foundational part of Microsoft’s future strategy.   When he describes a “mobile-first and cloud-first world”, Mr. Nadella is describing a world where data is ubiquitous in “the background of our lives”.   He wants to position Microsoft at the twin apexes of both producing and consuming all that data.

Surprise! Microsoft Future is Dependent on DataThe keystone to that strategy is Microsoft’s hyper-scale public cloud platform, Azure. Azure is positioned to serve as a cloud data storage hub, offering NoSQL style BLOB storage as well as traditional relational storage with Azure SQL Database.   The HDInsight service leverages Azure BLOB storage to offer a Big Data option in the form of a full-blown Hadoop installation in the cloud. And virtualized SQL Servers can also be spun up for purposes including cloud-based BI and analytics.

Beyond even the cloud, the newly re-branded Microsoft Analytics Platform System is combination of SQL Server PDW (Parallel Data Warehouse) appliance with a local installation of HDInsight. Microsoft’s breakthrough Polybase technology allows integration between the two, allowing SQL users to query Big Data directly. And of course SQL Server 2014 joins the In-Memory database market, and still provides traditional SQL Server value and power in the on-premises market.

So, that sums up the Producing side. But what about Consuming?

Working from a position of some strength — and frankly also trying to ignore a traditional weakness — Microsoft has ordained that Excel is really the ultimate front-end for their BI platform. Power BI is the branding for this collection of services, and the so-called “Power Tools” themselves (Power Pivot, Power View, and Power Query) are the baseline components, available as plugins for desktop Excel and natively in Office 365 Excel.

Office 365 is truly the focus of most of the evolution of the BI delivery platform right now. In addition to the 3 basic Power Tools mentioned above, Office 365 also provides the geospatial analytics tool Power Map (currently also available in Preview for desktop users). And the coup de grâce comes in the form of Power BI Sites — an app available for SharePoint Online that provides collaboration, mobile, and natural language query functionality to the table.

All of these options combine to form Microsoft’s platform for pervasive data. As this strategy matures, I think we can expect to see tools merge and even go away to be replaced by others. But the fact remains that Microsoft is positioning their data platform to serve both cloud and on-premises, to be scalable, and to support goal, to “reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.”

Microsoft, the productivity & platform company for a mobile world

This morning, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent his employees an email, and a pretty important one at that (Read it here). July marks the beginning of FY15 for Microsoft, and it’s a time to reflect on the previous year and plan for the future. For Nadella, this means determining where the focus lies as the company forges ahead in an industry deeply rooted in innovation.

Nadella is the third Microsoft CEO, leading the company since February, and has been with the company for over two decades. It’s safe to say, he’s seen a lot change at Microsoft during that time, and has held a variety of roles and positions – most recently, as the executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group.

With his background, running the division responsible for the technology powering Microsoft’s cloud-centric services, and the fact that Microsoft has led with the cloud for several years now, the choice to make Nadella chief executive fits right in with Microsoft’s transition. This cloud focus has been evident in recent partnerships with Oracle and Salesforce, both of which serve as a way to grow Azure, Microsoft’s cloud hosting platform, by providing popular application choices to use with Azure.

In today’s email, Nadella wrote:

We live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines.Microsoft core

He goes on to describe how the many devices, combined with cloud services, create a unique opportunity for Microsoft. And Microsoft’s passion? Well, it’s to allow people to thrive in our mobile-first, cloud-first world. And, while officially announced today, the company’s been heading in a more multi platform supportive direction for some time now (even releasing Office for iPad a few months ago).

It seems Microsoft is saying what so many have been looking for – the device doesn’t matter. Read the rest of this post »