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My Microsoft wish list for 2019

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From a business perspective, Microsoft had a pretty good 2018. That’s especially true when you examine the company’s revenue, profits, stock price, and momentum against other giant tech companies, especially Apple, Google, and especially Facebook. Those three stalwarts of the once-mighty FAANG displayed rare weakness in 2018, while Microsoft looks poised to end the year with the largest market cap of any publicly traded company in the world.

That’s pretty good for a company that has been written off as a dinosaur multiple times since the turn of the 21st Century.

But 2019 is a new year, with new challenges and opportunities. In that spirit, I offer congratulations to CEO Satya Nadella on an excellent year, along with some suggestions for how to keep that momentum going.

My wish list might not pass muster with Redmond’s legions of MBAs intent on squeezing every last dime from the pockets of Microsoft customers. Instead, my suggestions are designed to earn the enduring loyalty of those customers. As Facebook proved this year, you can’t take that loyalty for granted.

On privacy, move to the high ground and stay there.

Privacy is the defining issue in technology today. Just ask Facebook, whose reputation is in tatters after a year of devastating revelations about its alternately incompetent and malevolent (and occasionally both) treatment of its customers’ data. Google has so far avoided the public tarring-and-feathering that Zuckerberg and Co. have earned, but their business model, tied to zealous collection of personal information, makes them a constant target.

That creates a rare opportunity to do the right thing, morally and legally, and reap long-term economic benefit from it.

Apple discovered this year that privacy is a winning argument, with CEO Tim Cook arguing that “[o]ur own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.” It’s an argument that Apple has been making for years, but in 2018 it finally hit home, especially after Facebook’s “dire” privacy blunders.

Microsoft’s history on privacy issues is checkered, to say the least. A decade ago, Microsoft’s developers were ready to implement an anti-tracking feature in Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, that feature never shipped; instead, it was killed by a competing faction that was convinced it could make billions from online advertising: Bad Microsoft defeated Good Microsoft.

And don’t get me started on the painful, self-destructive “Scroogled” campaign.

But this is a new era and a new Microsoft, and a genuine commitment to protecting the personal and business data of its customers across the board would be welcome. The company’s decision to extend the rights available under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation to customers worldwide is an excellent start. Please keep it up.

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Make Windows 10 updates less painful.

After more than four years of development, Microsoft has settled into a rhythm with its Windows 10 development process. Alas, it’s not a “smooth jazz” rhythm but instead has all the aesthetic appeal of a jackhammer ripping up concrete outside your office window.

This year’s October 2018 Update was the definite low point, forcing Microsoft to take the unprecedented step of pulling the feature update from its servers and finally re-releasing the October update more than a month later.

There’s no question that the entire episode was an embarrassment, and Microsoft will no doubt learn some serious lessons from the entire affair. But as far as I am concerned the first and most important step is to eliminate mandatory twice-a-year feature updates.

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Stop with the shovelware already.

Beginning with the release of Windows 10 in July 2015, every SEC-mandated 10-Q and 10-K report filed by Microsoft Corporation included this boilerplate statement: “[W]e anticipate that Windows 10 will enable new post-license monetization opportunities beyond initial license revenues.”

The first salvo included piles of crappy apps splattered onto your Start menu whether you want them or not, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, and March of Empires. That infestation even includes PCs sold with Windows 10 Pro, which seems to be a lousy way to treat your best customers.

When I wrote about Microsoft’s plans to milk more profits out of its Windows 10 cash cow early in 2018, I predicted that more details about those “monetization opportunities” would arrive soon. Sure enough, with its July 2018 annual report, that vague text became significantly more concrete:

Our ambition for Windows 10 is to broaden our economic opportunity through three key levers: an original equipment manufacturer (“OEM”) ecosystem that creates exciting new hardware designs for Windows 10; our commitment to our first-party premium device portfolio; and monetization opportunities such as gaming, services, subscriptions, and search advertising.

You know what’s not in that list? Stupid games like Candy Crush. Also not on the list are any kind of ads in Windows itself, outside of search-based functions.

That’s a good call. The appeal of advertising inevitably leads to temptations to weaken privacy settings, so reducing projections of ad revenue is a very good thing. And even in those places where ads are expected, there should be an easy ad-free option available.

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Don’t repeat the XP mess with Windows 7.

The year 2019 will officially end on New Year’s Day, 2020. But Microsoft’s product planners are no doubt looking two weeks further into the future, to January 14, 2020. That’s when Windows 7 officially reaches its end-of-support date.

If you’re the glass-half-full type, that’s a good problem to have. After all, it means your customers are so loyal that they’ll stick with your products for a decade or more.

Unfortunately, out in the real world, the glass is at least half empty. The last time this happened was when Windows XP reached its end-of-life date in 2014. The number of laggards was painfully large, especially in the public sector, and they remained in the refusenik camp for years. The result, as every security professional remembers, was a massive worldwide ransomware outbreak that forced Microsoft to release an XP patch in May 2017.

In interviews, Microsoft’s executives have assured me that the migration from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is going swimmingly. But those assurances belie the inconvenient reality that when that end-of-support date rolls around a little more than a year from now, the percentage of PCs running Windows 7 will continue to be significantly higher than a few percent.

The good news for enterprise customers is that Microsoft has already announced it will offer continuing access to Windows 7 security updates (for a fee, of course) through January 2023, with access through partners and Microsoft corporate account specialists. The real question is how the company will cover small and medium-sized businesses, who are least likely to have partner arrangements and are thus most at risk.

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Simplify licensing.

When I was a little boy, every year I asked Santa for a pony. He never brought one. This suggestion’s probably in the same not-gonna-happen bucket, but I throw it in just because it never hurts to ask.

When Windows 10 was released, I noted that the lineup of editions was refreshingly simple. That, unfortunately, didn’t last long. There was Windows 10 S, which was a brand new edition and then turned into a feature. Three lineups of Microsoft 365 are making the decision matrix even more confusing for IT pros. And with a consumer edition of Microsoft 365 on the calendar for 2019, things are going to get more complicated, not less.

So, for my final wish, I ask Microsoft, please: Keep it simple.

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Cloud Data Security

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Data security has become an immutable part of the technology stack for modern applications. Protecting application assets and data against cybercriminal activities, insider threats, and basic human negligence is no longer an afterthought. It must be addressed early and often, both in the application development cycle and the data analytics stack.

The requirements have grown well beyond the simplistic features provided by data platforms, and as a result a competitive industry has emerged to address the security layer. The capabilities of this layer must be more than thorough, they must also be usable and streamlined, adding a minimum of overhead to existing processes.

To measure the policy management burden, we designed a reproducible test that included a standardized, publicly available dataset and a number of access control policy management scenarios based on real world use cases we have observed for cloud data workloads. We tested two options: Apache Ranger with Apache Atlas and Immuta. This study contrasts the differences between a largely role-based access control model with object tagging (OT-RBAC) to a pure attribute-based access control (ABAC) model using these respective technologies.

This study captures the time and effort involved in managing the ever-evolving access control policies at a modern data-driven enterprise. With this study, we show the impacts of data access control policy management in terms of:

  • Dynamic versus static
  • Scalability
  • Evolvability

In our scenarios, Ranger alone took 76x more policy changes than Immuta to accomplish the same data security objectives, while Ranger with Apache Atlas took 63x more policy changes. For our advanced use cases, Immuta only required one policy change each, while Ranger was not able to fulfill the data security requirement at all.

This study exposed the limitations of extending legacy Hadoop security components into cloud use cases. Apache Ranger uses static policies in an OT-RBAC model for the Hadoop ecosystem with very limited support for attributes. The difference between it and Immuta’s attribute-based access control model (ABAC) became clear. By leveraging dynamic variables, nested attributes, and global row-level policies and row-level security, Immuta can be quickly implemented and updated in comparison with Ranger.

Using Ranger as a data security mechanism creates a high policy-management burden compared to Immuta, as organizations migrate and expand cloud data use—which is shown here to provide scalability, clarity, and evolvability in a complex enterprise’s data security and governance needs.

The chart in Figure 1 reveals the difference in cumulative policy changes required for each platform configuration.

Figure 1. Difference in Cumulative Policy Changes

The assessment and scoring rubric and methodology is detailed in the report. We leave the issue of fairness for the reader to determine. We strongly encourage you, as the reader, to discern for yourself what is of value. We hope this report is informative and helpful in uncovering some of the challenges and nuances of data governance platform selection. You are encouraged to compile your own representative use cases and workflows and review these platforms in a way that is applicable to your requirements.

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GigaOm Radar for Data Loss Prevention

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Data is at the core of modern business: It is our intellectual property, the lifeblood of our interactions with our employees, partners, and customers, and a true business asset. But in a world of increasingly distributed workforces, a growing threat from cybercriminals and bad actors, and ever more stringent regulation, our data is at risk and the impact of losing it, or losing access to it, can be catastrophic.

With this in mind, ensuring a strong data management and security strategy must be high on the agenda of any modern enterprise. Security of our data has to be a primary concern. Ensuring we know how, why, and where our data is used is crucial, as is the need to be sure that data does not leave the organization without appropriate checks and balances.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. People and processes are key, as, of course, is technology in any data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

This has led to a reevaluation of both technology and approach to DLP; a recognition that we must evolve an approach that is holistic, intelligent, and able to apply context to our data usage. DLP must form part of a broader risk management strategy.

Within this report, we evaluate the leading vendors who are offering solutions that can form part of your DLP strategy—tools that understand data as well as evaluate insider risk to help mitigate the threat of data loss. This report aims to give enterprise decision-makers an overview of how these offerings can be a part of a wider data security approach.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Data Loss Prevention Platforms

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Data is a crucial asset for modern businesses and has to be protected in the same way as any other corporate asset, with diligence and care. Loss of data can have catastrophic effects, from reputational damage to significant fines for breaking increasingly stringent regulations.

While the risk of data loss is not new, the landscape we operate in is evolving rapidly. Data can leave data centers in many ways, whether accidental or malicious. The routes for exfiltration also continue to grow, ranging from email, USB sticks, and laptops to ever-more-widely-adopted cloud applications, collaboration tools, and mobile devices. This is driving a resurgence in the enterprise’s need to ensure that no data leaves the organization without appropriate checks and balances in place.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. Policy, people, and technology are critical components in a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

As with any information security strategy, technology plays a significant role. DLP technology has traditionally played a part in helping organizations to mitigate some of the risks of uncontrolled data exfiltration. However, both the technology and threat landscape have shifted significantly, which has led to a reevaluation of DLP tools and strategy.

The modern approach to the challenge needs to be holistic and intelligent, capable of applying context to data usage by building a broader understanding of what the data is, who is using it, and why. Systems in place must also be able to learn when user activity should be classified as unusual so they can better interpret signs of a potential breach.

This advanced approach is also driving new ways of defining the discipline of data loss prevention. Dealing with these risks cannot be viewed in isolation; rather, it must be part of a wider insider risk-management strategy.

Stopping the loss of data, accidental or otherwise, is no small task. This GigaOM Key Criteria Report details DLP solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products in this sector that excel. Together, these reports will give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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