Cloud and mobile are the key pillars of Microsoft’s strategy going forward promising “A cloud for everyone, on every device”, and as a part of the new strategy Microsoft launch Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, made his first big speech last night and true to his background has firmly put cloud as one of the keys pillars for Microsoft’s future success. On the 52nd day of his tenure as replacement for Steve Ballmer, CEO, Nadella said he was “seeing things through new eyes, and a fresh perspective”
Nadella started with a quote from TS Elliot. “You should never cease from exploration, and at the end of all exploring you arrive where you started, and know the place for the very first time” and added that for him, “that has been more true than ever before. Today marks that beginning of exploration for us.”
A mobile first, cloud first world
In his speech Nadella identified three different key constituents; end-users, developers, and IT professionals, and explained how Microsoft are bringing those together in a “mobile first, cloud first world” as part of their “pursuit, and innovation agenda.” Nadella identified that the key challenges for developers as “tackling the hard problems that exist in supporting multiple platforms” and scaling their “business seamlessly, as they have more customers.” Additionally, the challenge for IT professionals was “empowering the end-user to do what they want to do, and at the same time protecting the corporate asset.”
Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium
To help solve the problems that the developers and IT professionals have Microsoft are launching new updates to InTune to do mobile device management and more importantly a new single-sign on solution, to help businesses to manage software as a service solutions with the new Azure Active Directory Premium.
Azure Active Directory Premium was described by Nadella as “the Facebook for enterprise“ and is an acknowledgement that, while the cloud is easy to use, having to sign in to tens of different sites to do anything useful, is not a good or secure experience. The new AADP is intended to allow single sign-on to over 1,000 software as a service (SaaS) applications, and offers cloud-based identity and access management, by extending on premise Active Directory out to the cloud through Azure.
Microsoft a new dawn?
It seems like Microsoft has finally started to rise to the occasion on Cloud, after what seems like years of sleep. However last time they did this was when Gates finally cottoned on to the internet and launched Internet Explorer, and while that was a success it didn’t really put Microsoft at the forefront. However there seems to be more to it this time. Talking to Microsoft people and Microsoft customers like Jon Robinson at blinkbox you get the feeling that at last they’re starting to listen to their audience, and open up to the wider world and embrace the competition, which can only be a good thing.
Nadella began his speech in San Francisco by saying the new strategy of, a “cloud for everyone and every device,” was the “first step on a journey of making this a great innovation vector for all of Microsoft.” and ended by saying that there were more new launches on the way, starting at the BUILD developer conference next week, and carrying on over the next three to four weeks, where we’d get “a better picture.” It looks like April will be an interesting couple of weeks.
Box announces developer-ready versions of its Box View visualisation and Metadata file information tools, and API pricing for developers creating third-part apps on the Box platform.
Enterprise storage business Box launched two new products, Box View and Metadata at their Box Dev 2014 conference in San Francisco. Additionally Box also complemented its free developer offering, with platform pricing for enterprises that want to build on Box’s APIs.
The announcements were made by Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO at Box, and cover two technologies previewed at their annual conference at the BoxWorks 2013 conference at the back-end of last year.
Box View is a neat piece of technology – bought in last year from Crocodoc – that allows users to seamlessly preview content stored on Box without needing the original programs. The technology converts PDF and Office documents into very high-quality easily embeddable HTML, and visible on a wide range of platforms and devices.
To enable the use the full power of the technology in third-party apps Box has also open-sourced viewer.js, a client-side library for rendering and interacting with Box View documents. As well as displaying the files viewer.js also gives developers the ability to can create visually stunning animations and collect valuable usage and data analytics.
View will be an extra service and priced according to the number of uploads made to the service, the first 1000 per month are free and each 2500 per month after priced at £150 ($250).
Introduced as a private beta at BoxWorks 2013, Metadata allows users to associate keywords and a raft of customisable file info with the files saved on Box, and it’s now available to all developers as a beta and is integrated with Box’s iOS, Android, and Windows SDKs. Part of the Box Content API,
Metadata is also now integrated with Box’s search functionality so searches can be done for things like “all files created by..” “all files containing Chris created by Aaron” etc.
Box has also introduced new pricing plans for its API use. This is the first time that Box has offered a way for customers to purchase Box as a platform, and there’s a simple three tier pricing structure. Build is free and is for users with up to 25,000 API actions per month, Scale which is for those using over 25,000 APIs per month and is priced at £300 ($500) per month/per 25,000 API Actions, and Transform and customisable plan aimed at large users. API access for third party developers will continue to be free of charge.
According to Box more than 35,000 developers are building services on the Box platform, with over one billion third-party API calls made to the Box platform every month, and usage of third-party apps by Box customers has increased by 292% over the year.
Third parties are a big growth area for Box its OneCloud program just passed 1,000 platform partners and interestingly it’s where businesses like Salesforce got their stellar growth from. In the mid-noughties SalesForce saw their APIs from third-parties surge past the 60% of all API calls and have never looked back. Likewise if Apple hadn’t created an eco-system and a store for third-parties to create apps and get paid for the apps they made for the iPhone, then the mobile market would probably still be dominated by Nokia. It’s an IT case of “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Creating an ecosystem should be a no-brainer and while Box was quick to build their own, it was being held back by a lack of clarity on returns. It’s good to see that Box have finally worked out a payment structure and it will be interesting to see how the developers take to the new pricing.
Nuno Godinho, Director of Cloud Services, Europe for Aditi Technologies discusses how cloud technologies can enable business analytics and big data.
Ever heard of data scientists? Well the Harvard Business Review named it the sexiest job of the 21st Century and it is has quickly risen to prominence in a number of industries including retail, oil and gas, telecommunications and financial services. So what has this got to do with cloud? Should we all be packing up our RESTful APIs and retraining? Not at all. Before looking at what the cloud has to offer the data scientist and IT departments that work with them, lets have a quick dash through history and give an explanation of the role.
Analysing data with computers has gone through a number of significant changes over the years, from looking at raw numbers by hand, to spreadsheets, Business Intelligence and, more recently, visualisations and complex real-time predictive analytics. One thing that has largely been consistent throughout that period has been the data and analysis taking place on-premise. For a long time this was down to technical reasons, but now that has been overcome with many vendors offering PaaS and SaaS versions of their tools and platforms, which means most of the barrier can be put down to the commercial sensitivity of data and it going outside the firewall. Will the service be reliable, safe from hackers, and adequately protected with encryption etc?
In terms of the data scientists themselves, in truth this role has been around for a long time. Essentially it boils down to extracting deep meaning from data. However, the key to doing it is understanding the data itself – not just the results – the raw data, its sources, formats and relationships and then combining this with strategies to analyse the data, from descriptive and prescriptive to predictive perspectives. The data scientist has to have a mind that combines analytic, business and IT skills. Previously representatives from these departments would (read might) have worked to generate the required analysis normally leveraging some kind of data warehouse tool.
Traditional business intelligence, reviews and presents historic data, whether that is two-seconds or two-years old. For years analysts have been taking those same datasets and using them to built prescriptive models that describe the relationships between the data elements and how the numbers interact together. But the latest frontier is real-time predictive analytics: using those models to predict (for example) an action, value or preference. Usually an event, such as an attempted credit card transaction, triggers a model to be run against the transaction details to determine the chances of whether it could be fraudulent, or to make recommendations for other products an online shopper might like. In financial services trading floor systems make thousands of these predictions a second to assess stock movements.
So where can the cloud fit into all this, and should it? The answer is, the cloud can be of benefit throughout the process of collecting and getting data to the point that it can be used in predictive analytics. Firstly, it can be an aggregation point. If your data sources are sensors distributed across an oil field, or even mobile such as truck geo-location data, the cloud can be the point where all those resources are brought together into a single data source for further processing.
Raw compute power from the cloud can also be used to process the big data associated with predictive analytics. Creating models can be an intensive task depending on the size of the data sets, if you don’t actually need to do this often, why make the capital investment when you can just buy the machine time?
The cloud can also be used to enrich your data sets, by providing additional data sources for your models. There are hundreds if not thousands of sources that can enhance your data, whether you need traffic data, government information, or simply temperature data. These sources are validated, reliable and can substantially improve the quality of your models, whilst reducing the costs.
The cloud can of course be responsible for the predictive analysis itself and it is at this point more than any other that you have to consider how quickly you need the results and whether speed and reliability demand you have the infrastructure on-site. For example if you are making thousands of transactions a second that rely on predictive analytics, and the internet connection to your cloud provider is lost – what happens? You may be able to switch to a back-up line, but how long does it take and what is the impact?
Data Scientists and IT departments alike should not ignore the role that the cloud can play in any analytics scenario. That is not to say that it right for all of them, but as we have explained above, there are a number of ways that cloud computing can play a role, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can enhance models, lower costs and give smaller companies access to intelligence that they would otherwise not be able to afford. Basically in order to do these kinds of activities and analysis we require huge amounts of compute power and storage space. This is why the cloud is the perfect partner for big data.
So, to say ‘No’ outright is to deny yourself the possibility of improving or simplifying the way in which analytics is executed in your company.
He has been an MVP for the last six years, first as an MVP in ASP.NET and the last three years as a Windows Azure MVP. His is also a speaker at some of Microsoft's key events such as TechEd North America, TechEd Europe, Tech Days Worldwide Online, TechDays Netherlands and at other community events such as GASP - Grupo de Arquitectura de Software Português, Windows Azure UK User Group, Azure BE UG and so on. He is a prolific blogger and community creator.