In the Wake of Zoom: Microsoft Teams Phone

April 18, 2020

Google is emulating the Zoom interface. Microsoft is converting Teams into a phone system. Me too is alive and well. “How to Deploy Microsoft Phone System with Teams” is easy, according to the 24 minute instructional video. Lashing these two systems together requires a Microsoft 365 account. Just purchase a business voice plan for about $150 per year. Set up a Virtual User. Fill in personal details. Plug in payment data. Add users and provide more personal information. Review the licenses available. Now you can upgrade to Teams, and you are about 25 percent through the video lesson.

For comparison, Zoom’s phone is immediately available after receiving an invitation and joining the meeting.

People working at home with basic computer skills will find the procedure interesting. Good enough for today’s WFH professional. Oh, at the 11 minute mark the Teams Phone system was not responding. Call the company’s system administrator. Oh, snap, quarantine. Time to walk the dog.

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2020

Microsoft Azure: The Reoccurring Blues

March 30, 2020

On a call this weekend, a person mentioned this explanation: “Microsoft Details Impact of Coronavirus on Cloud Services Usage.” The main idea is that “A 775 percent increase in overall cloud services usage in those regions that have enforced social distancing or shelter in place orders.”

Short version: Microsoft’s cloud services do not scale seamlessly.

That “gee, Microsoft is good to me” explanation is interesting, just muffled by snuggling.

This morning (March 30, 2020), the DarkCyber news feed presented this interesting write up: “Microsoft Teams Not Working Again – Here’s What You Need to Know.” This write up reports:

Research from online outage watchdog Downdetector saw a huge spike in complaints concerning Microsoft Teams at 9am BST as much of the UK and Western European workforces came online.

Let’s assume that the snuggle report and the down again report are accurate. DarkCyber concludes:

  • Not even Microsoft’s influence can snuff out grousing about its online collaboration Teams service. (Skype? Ho, ho, ho)
  • Microsoft hopes to build the cloud centric services for the US Department of Defense. Sounds good, but will the outage and scaling blues color the deal. (An armed conflict? Sorry may not make the DoD comfortable.)
  • The yipyap about automatic scaling, failover, and redundancy is definitely marketing baloney. (Down means fail, doesn’t it?)

Net net: Microsoft’s cloud like the Amazon and Google clouds are billing machines. The complexity almost guarantees problems. Google’s follow through on stuff that does not work; Amazon’s magical invoices with mysterious line items; and now Microsoft’s magic.

Silver or azure bullets? Ho, ho, ho.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2020

Microsoft Azure: A Capacity Problem?

March 27, 2020

In a conversation earlier this week, an expert in Microsoft Azure pointed out that Azure, despite its technical challenges, was pretty good at billing.

There are other challenges at Microsoft too. How about those Windows 10 updates, bugs, and delays?

The Register reports that there is another Microsoft hitch in the gitalong. “Azure Appears to Be Full” states:

Customers of Microsoft’s Azure cloud are reporting capacity issues such as the inability to create resources and associated reliability issues.

And what about Microsoft Teams, which is another attempt by Microsoft to pile more utensils in its digital kitchen sink. The article includes this paragraph:

Is it possible that resource capacity allocated to Teams is affecting customers of other kinds of resource? We have asked Microsoft for any information it can share and will report back.

Is Microsoft up to the task of becoming the go to vendor for the US government? Sure, good enough technology may be what the procurement system is designed to deliver.

But the company’s billing system seems to be working just fine.

PS: The Register is offering free job ads. For information, send email to regjobs@sitpub.com.

Stephen E Arnold, March 28, 2020

Microsoft Teams: Demand-Centric Scaling a Problem?

March 16, 2020

Quick item. DarkCyber noted two separate write ups which seem to suggest that Microsoft Azure has some fascinating characteristics. “Microsoft Teams Goes Down Just as Europe Logs On to Work Remotely” says “Two hours of issues as many work from home during the cornonavirus pandemic.” VentureBeat says “Microsoft Teams Struggles As Coronavirus Pushes Millions to Work from Home.” DarkCyber looks forward to verification that an outage took place. Also, what happens if the proposed Microsoft JEDI solution demonstrates the same behavior in an even more critical situation?

Stephen E Arnold, March 16, 2020

Amazon Versus Microsoft: A Jedi Fight Development

March 13, 2020

DarkCyber spotted this story on the BBC Web site: “Pentagon to Reconsider Jedi $10bn Cloud Contract.” Since we are in rural Kentucky, the intrepid team does not know if the information in the Beeb’s write up is accurate. The factoids are definitely interesting. The story asserts:

The US Department of Defense is to “reconsider” its decision to award a multi-billion dollar cloud contract to Microsoft over Amazon.

The story points out that Microsoft is confident that its Azure system will prevail. Amazon, on the other hand, is allegedly pleased.

What’s at stake?

  • Money
  • A hunting license for other government contracts
  • Implicit endorsement of either AWS or Azure
  • Happy resellers, integrators, and consultants
  • Ego (maybe?)

When will JEDI be resolved? Possibly in the summer of 2020.

Stephen E Arnold, March 13, 2020

Factoids about the Cloud Battles

March 10, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Stress Test the Cloud: Alibaba Cloud, AWS, Azure, GCP.” The write up presents “factoids” and observations based on these factoids in a helpful way. Here are the points which captured DarkCyber’s attention:

The cloud will be the way of the future in computing. The meltdown of Robinhood’s trading platform was pegged on stress. When a cloud system is stressed, it may and will fail.

Amazon Web Services
  • “Amazon’s e-commerce business is the market leader in the U.S., Europe, and close to number 1 in India”
  • “AWS is very much battle-tested and constantly “stressed out” by its parent company’s core e-commerce operation. It has moved all of its businesses onto AWS, and off of other systems like Oracle, after a multi-year effort.”
  • Amazon’s businesses are generally not prone to unexpected spikes in traffic, which happens more to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo.”

Amazon’s system may not be optimal for surprise spikes.

Alibaba Cloud
  • “Alibaba’s core e-commerce business has many similarities to Amazon’s…”
  • “This accomplishment is well-deserved; Alibaba has basically created and survived the mother of all stress tests.” The reference is to the large volume of sales on Singles Day.
  • “Alibaba Cloud’s technical and operational expertise can certainly be applied in regions outside of China, but only until there’s customer demand and the data centers to serve it.”

Alibaba dumped American vendors as part of its journey.

Google Cloud
  • “Google has arguably the only, truly global infrastructure, because its services and users are global.”
  • “Google‘s services cannot anticipate traffic spikes, unlike a planned shopping holiday, and must be ready wherever, whenever it happens.”
  • “Google’s products do not naturally lead to processing many complex transactions, like online shopping orders, offline delivery, or payments.”

Google can accommodate stress, but it’s not so good in Amazon-style transaction complexity.

Microsoft Azure
  • “None of these [Microsoft] businesses have to be “always on”, in the same way that an e-commerce marketplace or a search engine needs to be on.”
  • “Azure is still doing amazingly well from a revenue and market share standpoint. This success has more to do with Microsoft’s years of experience in selling products into large enterprises and aggressively moving users of its non-cloud license-based products onto the same products that are now on-cloud and subscription-based. Microsoft is very good at being “enterprise ready”, but not that good at being “Internet ready”.”
  • “It [Microsoft]  has by far the most number of Single-AZ Regions, which has led to outages and issues that could’ve been avoided with a multi-AZ design. Multi-AZ Region is the default in AWS, GCP, and most of Alibaba Cloud.”

Microsoft is good at sales, not so good at the cloud.

Net Net

Alibaba is darned good. At any time the company can push into other markets and create some pain for the American companies it seems.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2020

Amazon Versus Microsoft: JEDI in Play?

March 7, 2020

DarkCyber spotted a story in Stars and Stripes titled “Judge Says Amazon Likely to Succeed on Key Argument in Pentagon Cloud Lawsuit.” The source appears to be the Bezos-owned Washington Post. That fact may provide some context for the story.

The main point in the write up seems to be:

A federal judge has concluded that a bid protest lawsuit brought by Amazon over President Donald Trump’s intervention in an important Pentagon cloud computing contract “is likely to succeed on the merits” of one of its central arguments, according to a court document made public Friday [March 6, 2020].

The article states:

In an opinion explaining her reasoning, Campbell-Smith sided with Amazon’s contention that the Pentagon had made a mistake in how it evaluated prices for competing proposals from Amazon and Microsoft. She also concluded that the mistake is likely to materially harm Amazon, an important qualifier for government contract bid protests.

What’s missing from this story? Detail for one thing.

Several observations:

  1. Planners for the JEDI program are likely to experience uncertainty
  2. Regardless of the ultimate decision, time to implement newer systems is being lost
  3. The cost of the procurement process for JEDI will climb and, at some point, may become larger than the program itself.

Net net: Government procurement remains an interesting and impactful process. Procurement just keeps grinding its procedural mechanisms, delivering “efficiency.”

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2020

Honeywell: The Quantum Computing Thermostat Company

March 5, 2020

Yeah, that’s a bit of rural Kentucky humor. Honeywell is in four businesses and a fifth apparently has been added: Quantum computing. If you think Honeywell and recall the user friendly thermostat in your home, you are not thinking about the future, government contracts, breaking computing barriers, and putting technology pretenders like IBM, Google, and dozens of other companies in their place.

image

The Honeywell he CommercialPRO 7000 Programmable Thermostat is fantastic, according to Honeywell. For an entertaining experience, ask a friend to set the temperature for 4 pm today. This is a TikTok viral video DarkCyber believes.

To refresh your memory, DarkCyber wants to point out that Honeywell was once based in Wabash, Indiana. The firm generates about $40 billion a year from:

  • Aerospace
  • Building technologies
  • Materials
  • Safety productivity systems.

Now Honeywell is in the quantum computing business, according to the Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2020, edition. You may be able to locate the story behind a paywall at this link.

Honeywell has enjoyed a number of government contracts, and the firm is one of the leaders in smart controls and weapons management technology. In 1955, Honeywell teamed with Raytheon in order to compete with IBM. By the mid 1960s, Honeywell was one of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of Computing. (Unfamiliar with this bit of digital history, Bing or Google may turn up some relevant hits, but I would recommend microfilm of the Minneapolis newspapers from this era. Don’t let your Bermuda shorts get in a bunch as you explore the innovations of Burroughs, Control Data Corp., GE, NCR, RCA, and my personal fave Univac.

Honeywell does a significant amount of computing and software/systems development. The firms owns a number of high technology business; for example, a radiation detection firm and has a stake in Zapata Computing.

Zapata says here:

We are the deepest bench of quantum scientists in the industry. Our founders helped create the field of near-term quantum algorithms including the invention of VQE, the progenitor of variational quantum algorithms.

The company’s approach relies on quantum charge coupled device (QCCD) architecture. The approach uses a technology called “trapped ions.” The idea is that useful work can be done due to leveraging mid circuit measurement. The idea is to insert a dynamic “if” based on the state of the calculation at a point in time. IonQ and Alpine Quantum Technologies also use the method. For some details, do a patent search for “trapped ion”. The background of US5793091A (assigned to IBM) provides some helpful information.

What business opportunities does Honeywell envision for its quantum computer? Here’s a selection gleaned from the PR blitz Honeywell launched a short time ago:

  • Landing more customers like JPMorgan, Chase, and Company
  • Speeding up financial calculations
  • Creating new trading strategies (high speed trading?)
  • Materials science applications (heat shields, stealth coatings?)
  • Run Monte Carlo simulations (nuclear fuel analyses, risk and fraud analyses?)

The Honeywell quantum computer will be bigger than IBM’s quantum computer.

Interesting business play because Honeywell has a deal with Microsoft to plug the Honeywell technology into the Azure cloud.

The coverage of Honeywell’s announcement reveals the hyperbole associated with quantum computing. DarkCyber interprets the assertions as the equivalent of an athlete’s pre-season exercise routine. Progress may be made, but the effort can only be judged when the “star” is on the field and in the game.

Until then, the buzzword sells expectations, not a solution to a here-and-now problem. One has to admire Honeywell’s PR generating capability.

Stephen E Arnold, March 5, 2020

Microsoft Azure: Search, Artificial Intelligence, and Some Mystical Magic

March 3, 2020

DarkCyber spotted “Microsoft Announcements on Azure Artificial Intelligence.” The article is a summary of assorted Microsoft Azure assertions. Note that the article did not offer any information about Cortana’s and Windows 10 search semi-failure to thrill its users. But Azure is different. Microsoft does Azure better than Windows 10 updates… sometimes.

There were several highlights in the article.

First, Azure has artificial intelligence. The approach is open, interoperable, workflow, and “easy adaptation.” Is this way certified Microsoft Azure professionals are buying new houses and fancier automobiles?

Second, Azure does machine learning. The idea is that there are agents, applications, a machine learning model engine, support for R, and an enterprise edition. DarkCyber does not know a single person running Azure to make life better, faster, and cheaper except Azure consultants. But the big assertion is that Azure’s ML “delivers a unified data science experience.” DarkCyber wonders, “Does this include Outlook attachments?”

Third, Azure has updated some of its “old” features. There’s nothing like constant improvement like the flow of Windows 10 updates, uninstalls, and reinstalls. Now Azure does better decision making. Sentiment analysis has more deep learning and natural language processing. The system can do image analysis, and its has some of that Cortana goodness which has been repositioned in Windows 10 because it was so darned wonderful.

Fourth, Azure does knowledge mining. Azure does cognitive search. Azure recognizes forms.

The showcase client is a publishing company. The Atlantic has gone all in on the Azure systems. Another happy camper is AutoTrader.ca. Plus Archive 360 is tickled with the ability to use Azure cognitive search quickly and cost effectively. Yep, DarkCyber believes this was a smooth, easy implementation.

If you doubt that Microsoft is number one, read the article. If not, you will enjoy some of the ironies. How many search systems does Microsoft offer? How many of them are super? Who remembers Fast Search & Transfer?

Yep, super search the Azure way. It’s just like using Word’s numbering feature or figuring out PowerPoint backgrounds.

Stephen E Arnold, March 3, 2020

Google: Feeling the Competitive Heat

February 28, 2020

Google, DarkCyber assumes, thought that Microsoft’s decision to convert the Chrome browser into Credge was a victory. “Google Is Now Warning Millions Of Microsoft Edge Users To Switch To Chrome: Here’s Why” tries to explain Googley thinking.

We learn from the capitalist tool:

Google has been found “abusing user agents,” the identifying code that enables websites to identify the browser type and version, to detect and warn Microsoft Edge users visiting the Chrome web store that when it comes to extensions they should switch to Chrome. The reason for the warning is that Microsoft Edge doesn’t integrate with the Safe Browsing protections Google uses to remove threats—so when an extension presents a risk, Google can’t act in the same way to protect users.

Is this the only reason?

DarkCyber thinks a bit of context will explain some of the Googley thinking.

Consider Google and Amazon.

Google does not like Amazon, especially when Amazon stepped away from solely being a retailer to offering software services to customers. Google wants some of Amazon’s cloud business, so they are telling retailers to chuck Amazon and check out their tools. ZDNet rolls out the gossip in the article, “Google’s Pitch To Retailers: We’ll Help You, From Search To Supply Chain.”

At the National Retail Federation, Google introduced retailers to a new line of tools available via its cloud. The tools range from product discovery, supply chain optimization, and hybrid application management. Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud CEO, explained that the retailers who innovate with their business plans are the most successful. Google wants to grab these forward thinking retailers with new tools like:

“Among the new offerings for retailers is a new tool called Google Cloud Search for Retail, which Google is piloting now and will introduce to the broader market throughout the year. The tool helps retailers improve search results for their own websites and mobile apps using cloud AI and Google Search algorithms.

Kurian’s blog post also served as a reminder to retailers that they can buy Google Ads to surface their products when customers use Google’s many consumer tools like Search, YouTube, Shopping, Google Assistant or Maps.

We noted:

Google also announced Google Cloud 1:1 Engagement for Retail, a set of best practices that can help retailers build data-driven strategies for personalized customer services. This should make it easier for customers to use Google’s BigQuery data analytics platform to build personalization and recommendation models.

That is just the beginning! Google is also developing a Buy Optimization and Demand Forecasting service that assisted retailers plan and manage supply changes. There is also a new retail version of Anthos, Google’s platform for managing services on site or the cloud environment. It will allow retailers to roll our and manage applications across all stores.

What happens if we try to add 1 + 1. DarkCyber thinks that the task reveals several facets of Googley thinking:

  1. Microsoft has lots of Windows 10 users who just use Credge. The browser works, is there, and why hunt for a different way to look at Web pages. But what if Credge gets traction on a mobile phone? What if Microsoft, the long time drone target of the Google, gets eyeballs on Android devices? Yep, those victory cheers are likely to become verbal and physical tics.
  2. Amazon is selling ads. Selling lots of ads is not good for the Google, a company for more than 20 years has had one revenue stream of significance. The Google wants to put some sand in the fuel tank of Bezos bulldozer. Thus, Googley behavior dictates action.
  3. Google itself faces a problem few companies have: Indexing the Web and changes to Web pages is expensive. How does one cut costs when Microsoft may blindly wreck havoc in the browser revenue flow or put a dent in the quite robust mobile ad business? How does Google protect existing ad revenue and possibly cause the Bezos bulldozer to go down for an engine overhaul? Aggressive actions seems to be the order of the day.

If DarkCyber steps back or in the lingo of a University of Chicago philosopher “go up a meta lever”, the actions of today’s Googlers reflect some changes which may give pause. Marketing has never been a Googley strength. Now it has to be competitive marketing. Is Google’s marketing elegant? Yeah, not too elegant.

Can Google control costs without further compromising its search service, its wonky innovations, and its increasingly contentious employee-management interactions?

DarkCyber finds the Credge and Bezos bulldozer “plays” interesting and entertaining.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2020

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