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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.

See also:

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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Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

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It seems like every day the news brings new stories of cyberattacks. Whether ransomware, malware, crippling viruses, or more frequently of late—distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. According to Infosec magazine, in the first half of 2020, there was a 151% increase in the number of DDoS attacks compared to the same period the previous year. That same report states experts predict as many as 15.4 million DDoS attacks within the next two years.

These attacks can be difficult to detect until it’s too late, and then they can be challenging to defend against. There are solutions available, but there is no one magic bullet. As Alastair Cooke points out in his recent “GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection” report, there are different categories of DDoS attacks.

And different types of attacks require different types of defenses. You’ll want to adopt each of these three defense strategies against DDoS attacks to a certain degree, as attackers are never going to limit themselves to a single attack vector:

Network Defense: Attacks targeting the OS and network operate at either Layer 3 or Layer 4 of the OSI stack. These attacks don’t flood the servers with application requests but attempt to exhaust TCP/IP resources on the supporting infrastructure. DDoS protection solutions defending against network attacks identify the attack behavior and absorb it into the platform.

Application Defense: Other DDoS attacks target the actual website itself or the web server application by overwhelming the site with random data and wasting resources. DDoS protection against these attacks might handle SSL decryption with hardware-based cryptography and prevent invalid data from reaching web servers.

Defense by Scale: There have been massive DDoS attacks, and they show no signs of stopping. The key to successfully defending against a DDoS attack is to have a scalable platform capable of deflecting an attack led by a million bots with hundreds of gigabits per second of network throughput.

Table 1. Impact of Features on Metrics
[chart id=”1001387″ show=”table”]

DDoS attacks are growing more frequent and more powerful and sophisticated. Amazon reports mitigating a massive DDoS attack a couple of years ago in which peak traffic volume reached 2.3 Tbps. Deploying DDoS protection across the spectrum of attack vectors is no longer a “nice to have,” but a necessity.

In his report, Cooke concludes that “Any DDoS protection product is only part of an overall strategy, not a silver bullet for denial-of-service hazards.” Evaluate your organization and your needs, read more about each solution evaluated in the Radar report, and carefully match the right DDoS solutions to best suit your needs.

Learn More About the Reports: Gigaom Key Criteria for DDoS, and Gigaom Radar for DDoS

The post Defeating Distributed Denial of Service Attacks appeared first on GigaOm.

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Assessing Providers of Low-Power Wide Area Networks

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Blog Title: Assessing Providers of Low-Power Wide Area Network Technology

Companies are taking note of how Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) can provide long-distance communications for certain use cases. While its slow data transfer rates and high latency aren’t going to be driving any high intensity video streaming or other bandwidth-hungry situations, it can provide inexpensive, low power, long-distance communication.

According to Chris Grundemann and Logan Andrew Green’s recent report “GigaOm Radar for LPWAN Technology Providers (Unlicensed Spectrum) v1.0,” this growing communications technology is suitable for use cases with the following characteristics:

  • Requirement for long-distance transmission—10 km/6 miles or more wireless connectivity from sensor to gateway
  • Low power consumption, with battery life lasting up to 10 years
  • Terrain and building penetration to circumvent line-of-sight issues
  • Low operational costs (device management or connection subscription cost)
  • Low data transfer rate of roughly 20kbps

These use cases could include large-scale IoT deployments within heavy industry, manufacturing, government, and retail. The LPWAN technology providers evaluated in this Radar report are currently filling a gap in the IoT market. They are certainly poised to benefit from the anticipated rapid adoption of LPWAN solutions.

Depending on the use case you’re looking to fulfill, you can select from four basic deployment models from these LPWAN providers:

  • Physical Appliance: This option would require a network server on-premises to receive sensor data from gateways.
  • Virtual Appliance: Network servers could also be deployed as virtual appliances, running either on-premises or in the cloud.
  • Network Stack as a Service: With this option, the LPWAN provider fully manages your network stack and provides you with the service. You only need devices and gateways to satisfy your requirements.
  • Network as a Service: This option is provided by mobile network operators, with the provider operating the network stack and gateways. You would only need to connect to the LPWAN provider.

Figure 1. LPWAN Connectivity

The LPWAN providers evaluated in this report are well-positioned from both a business and technical perspective, as they can function as a single point of contact for building IoT solutions. Instead of cobbling together other solutions to satisfy connectivity protocols, these providers can set up your organization with a packaged IoT solution, reducing time to market and virtually eliminating any compatibility issues.

The unlicensed spectrum aspect is also significant. The LPWAN technology providers evaluated in this Radar report use at least one protocol in the unlicensed electromagnetic spectrum bands. There’s no need to buy FCC licenses for specific frequency bands, which also lowers costs.

Learn More: Gigaom Enterprise Radar for LPWAN

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The Benefits of a Price Benchmark for Data Storage

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Why Price Benchmark Data Storage?

Customers, understandably, are highly driven by budget when it comes to data storage solutions. The cost of switching, upkeep and upgrades are high risk factors for businesses, and therefore, decision makers need to look for longevity in their chosen solution. Many factors influence how data needs to be handled within storage, including data that is frequently accessed, or storing rarely-accessed legacy data. 

Storage performance may also be shaped by geographic location, from remote work or global enterprises that need to access and share data instantly, or by the necessity of automation. Each element presents a new price-point that needs to be considered, by customers and by vendors.

A benchmark gives a comparison of system performance based on a key performance indicator, such as latency, capacity, or throughput. Competitor systems are analyzed in like-for-like situations that optimize the solution, allowing a clear representation of the performance. Price benchmarks for data storage are ideal for marketing, showing customers exactly how much value for money a solution has against competitor vendors.

Benchmark tests reinforce marketing collateral and tenders with verifiable evidence of performance capabilities and how the transactional costs relate to them. Customers are more likely to invest in long-term solutions with demonstrable evidence that can be corroborated. Fully disclosed testing environments, processes, and results, give customers the proof they need and help vendors stand out from the crowd.

The Difficulty in Choosing

Storage solutions vary greatly, from cloud options to those that utilize on-premises software. Data warehouses have different focuses which impact the overall performance, and they can vary in their pricing and licensing models. Customers find it difficult to compare vendors when the basic data storage configurations differ and price plans vary. With so many storage structures available, it’s hard to explain to customers how output relates to price, appeal to their budget, and maintain integrity, all at the same time.

Switching storage solutions is also a costly, high-risk decision that requires careful consideration. Vendors need to create compelling and honest arguments that provide reassurance of ROI and high quality performance.

Vendors should begin by pitching their costs at the right level; they need to be profitable but also appealing to the customer. Benchmarking can give an indication of how competitor cost models are calculated, allowing vendors to make judgements on their own price plans to keep ahead of the competition. 

Outshining the Competition

Benchmark testing gives an authentic overview of storage transaction-based price-performance, carrying out the test in environments that imitate real-life. Customers can gain a higher understanding of how the product works in terms of transactions per second, and how competitors process storage data in comparison.

The industry-standard for benchmarking is the TPC Benchmark E (TPC-E), a recognized standard for storage vendors. Tests need to be performed in credible environments; by giving full transparency on their construction, vendors and customers can understand how the results are derived. This can also prove systems have been configured to offer the best performance of each platform.

A step-by-step account allows tests to be recreated by external parties given the information provided. This transparency in reporting provides more trustworthy and reliable outcomes that offer a higher level of insight to vendors. Readers can also examine the testing and results themselves, to draw independent conclusions.

Next Steps

Price is the driving factor for business decisions and the selection for data storage is no different. Businesses often look towards low-cost solutions that offer high capacity, and current trends have pushed customers towards cloud solutions which are often cheaper and flexible. The marketplace is full in regard to options: new start-ups are continually emerging, and long serving vendors are needing to reinvent and upgrade their systems to keep pace. 

Vendors need evidence of price-performance, so customers can be reassured that their choice will offer longevity and functionality at an affordable price point. Industry-standard benchmarking identifies how performance is impacted by price and which vendors are best in the market – the confirmation customers need to invest.

 

The post The Benefits of a Price Benchmark for Data Storage appeared first on GigaOm.

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