Archive for June, 2014

Microsoft Lync service out for some North America customers

Cause and extent of the outage not released.

Some North American Office 365 customers are without Lync service this afternoon due to an unexplained outage that started about 7a.m., Eastern time.

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The outage has been acknowledged by the Microsoft Office Twitter account, which had this to say: “We realize some Lync users in North America are experiencing issues, we are working to resolve.”

A Microsoft spokesperson issued the following statement: “Some users in North America are experiencing issues with Lync Online due to network routing infrastructure issues. In response, engineers have routed a portion of network traffic to an alternate datacenter which has restored service for some of our customers. We are committed to fixing this issue as quickly as possible and expect the service to be restored for all customers soon. Customers can get the latest Lync Online status through the admin Service Health Dashboard.”

It’s a black eye just as Lync is making dramatic gains against the major IP PBX vendors in North America.

Data released at the Enterprise Connect conference this year indicates Lync ranks 11th worldwide among IP PBX vendors, but comes in No.3 in North America among businesses with more than 100 phone extensions.

It’s a distant third, but given that the company didn’t register on a survey of corporate PBX customers three years ago, the status is impressive, says Peter Hale, principal analyst with MZA, who presented the results.

“It’s become a very significant player in a very short period of time.” says Jerry Caron, an analyst with Current Analysis who was familiar with the survey results.

Cisco sold 44 percent of the phone extensions with Avaya pulling down 20 percent. Microsoft landed 13 percent, according to the survey.

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8 technologies that are on the way out — and one that we’ll never be rid of

In the blink of an eye, a technology that’s on top today can be made obsolete by the next big thing. Six futurists predict which of today’s common technologies are headed for the scrap heap, and what will replace them.

Soon-to-be-obsolete technologies
If “change is the only constant” applies anywhere, it’s in the world of technology. One day you’re proud of knowing how to set your VCR, and the next your DVR is recording shows you didn’t even know were on. Few would have guessed in 1980 that vinyl records would be obsolete in 15 years; fewer still would have predicted that CDs would in turn be obsolete a mere 10 years after that.

We asked a panel of experts to peer into the future and identify some business and consumer technologies that are on their way out — and what will replace them. Here are eight technologies they say we’ll soon see the back of, plus one that it looks like we’ll be stuck with forever.

So long, smartphone
You saw this one coming: “The smartphone screen will disappear altogether due to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology,” predicts Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at marketing communications firm JWT Worldwide. Indeed, research firm IDC forecasts that shipments of wearable devices like smartwatches and smart glasses will surpass 19 million units in 2014, and that the global market will reach nearly 112 million units in 2018.

But today’s wearables will themselves be swept aside by more sophisticated devices, according to Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research. “Next, the top button on my shirt is actually a computer interface to my cloud,” he says. “Google Glass will end up a niche product like Segway.”

ery personal tech
Why stop with just wearing our tech, when we can have it embedded into our bodies? From implanted RFID chips being used to unlock doors to bionic ears and eyes, pioneers are already exploring the potential of “transhumanism.”

“In 20 years it’ll be hard to tell where the person ends and the computer begins,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. We’ll see smarter prosthetics and military applications well before then, he adds, but it’ll take a couple decades for embedded devices to become mainstream. “Health, religious and privacy concerns will slow its adoption.”

Mo’ betta mobile power
Batteries are ubiquitous in today’s device-ridden, mobile world. But we’re all familiar with their drawbacks: They’re heavy, take a long time to charge and provide a toxic disposal challenge.

“Batteries will be replaced by supercapacitors [a.k.a. ultracapacitors], most likely, or fuel cells as more efficient ways to store and provide energy,” says Enderle. Supercapacitors operate like regular capacitors but can store much more energy. They’re expensive and don’t (yet) hold as much energy per weight as standard batteries, but they charge almost instantly and can last through a million or more charge/discharge cycles.

“They’ll be supplements within 5 years, and mass replacements should occur within 10 years,” Enderle predicts. “The need is critical to many markets like consumer electronics, defense and automotive.”

No more clicking or typing
Say goodbye to your mouse and keyboard. They will yield to “an intelligent interface that uses voice, gestures and other commands,” says William Halal, Professor Emeritus of Management, Technology & Innovation at George Washington University. “Touch and other inputs may be included, of course. But the mouse and keyboard will likely be used only by techies and those doing serious computing, and the old GUI is likely to yield to these more natural interfaces.”

But Enderle thinks there will be some resistance to this change. “We really don’t like learning new ways of doing things,” he says, “and something like this will likely be driven by the youth market. Ten years is the likely time frame, but it could take 20.”

Devices that talk — to each other
Traditional buttons and switches are already disappearing from our gadgets and appliances, with everything from clock radios to multiroom music systems now controlled by smartphone apps. Future IoT-connected devices will require less of even that kind of interaction.

“Devices will be connected but also self-diagnosing and correcting,” says Campbell. “If there’s a problem with the dishwasher, the repair person can remotely fix the issue without ever contacting me.”

We’re not ready psychologically or legally to turn over that control, cautions Enderle. “Liability concerns will keep most of this from happening until you can get localized artificial intelligence to monitor the equipment,” he says. “Otherwise, there’s too much chance for a hacker to burn down the house. This’ll take more than 15 years.”

Big data meets security
Traditionally, security measures have tended to be reactive: IT modified the company’s firewall settings after an intrusion, and anti-malware vendors updated their threat definitions after a threat had been identified.

“This approach will be replaced by predictive security,” which uses data mining and analysis to track and anticipate cyber threats, says Jai Menon, vice president and chief research officer with Dell’s Research division. Tools such as OpenDNS’ Umbrella Security Graph are already helping researchers get out in front of attacks as they’re unfolding.

Soon, Menon says, “we will start to develop countermeasures in advance, based on the prediction of new exploits.” That approach will apply not just to external threats, but also to identifying and shutting down insider threats, he adds.

Big-picture security
Access to corporate systems is usually determined by defined roles, such as administrator, business user or guest. But future systems will take into account not only a person’s role but “the device they’re using, the current threat level, the security of the location from which access is requested and so on,” says Menon. “Heuristics will monitor patterns of use, and if a user begins to do things ‘out of character,’ it will set off alerts.”

Campbell from Nucleus Research predicts that a persistent, personal identity will also be part of the new security framework. “People will have a single identity for school, personal, corporate, etc. You won’t add a new user to the corporate network but rather authorize someone’s identity.”

Mix ‘n’ match software
Many IT departments still develop custom applications for their users, but Menon says the practice will become largely extinct as application programming interfaces and packaged software services proliferate: “Salesforce provides 200,000 APIs; ProgrammableWeb is currently tracking more than 11,000 APIs; Google and Bitnami and Amazon Web Services provide hundreds. If you can’t find a service that does what you want, you probably aren’t looking hard enough.” Companies will need developers who are expert at orchestrating APIs and packaged services, he adds.

“Application development has always gotten more containerized and off-the-shelf,” agrees Campbell. “Code gave way to procedures which led to modules and then DLLs… but you’ll still need to be clever to arrange those building blocks into something useful.”

Technology’s cockroach
When it comes to email, JWT’s Mack speaks for many when she says, “There has to be a better way.”

The problem comes when you try to replace it. It’s easy to imagine a messaging service in a wearable or embedded device, but what about sending attachments? What about archiving? If you design an electronic messaging system that can send files, address multiple recipients and establish a permanent record, you end up with something a lot like email.

“Email will live on forever,” says Campbell. “I’m willing to call it the cockroach of software. We may hate it, but it will be around until the end of time.”

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What Is Going Wrong With BYOD?

For the past couple of years, tech pundits have been pounding the Bring Your Own Device drumbeat to such a fast and lively rhythm that you’d think just about everyone was dancing to it.

Some industry watchers have even predicted the coming of a BYOD mandate, whereby employers would require employees to provide their own smartphones and perhaps tablets as a condition of employment.

But is reality matching the hype? Not really.
CompTIA’s spring survey of 400 IT and business executives shed light on what it calls the sorry state of BYOD: Depending on the size of the company, anywhere from 39 percent to 51 percent of respondents are not doing BYOD at all. Nada. Zip.

“BYOD is popular, but there are still a lot of companies at least attempting to control all mobile device deployment and management,” says Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at CompTIA. “The number of companies not doing BYOD is a lot higher than you’d think given all the hype around the term.”

Sure, the tech industry’s hype cycle often runs ahead of reality, but a slowdown in BYOD adoption seems especially startling. Gartner, for instance, gave BYOD its stamp of approval by predicting that half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes by 2017.

Tech pros with BYOD-related skills are in hot demand. BYOD resonates with coveted millennial workers and their blended work-life lifestyle. And a swath of CIOs told that they’re jumping on the BYOD bandwagon.

Moreover, BYOD has spawned high-value companies in the hot mobile device management space, such as MobileIron, which raised $100 million in its initial public offering this week, and Airwatch, which was acquired by VMware earlier this year for $1.54 billion. The MDM market is expected to hit nearly $4 billion by 2019.l

BYOD Reality Check From CompTIA
Then there’s the CompTIA survey that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, not to mention billions of dollars and lofty predictions, showing BYOD shunned by one out of two companies.

What’s behind this harsh BYOD reality check? If you stop and think about all the troubles early BYOD adopters have faced over the last couple of years, the CompTIA survey findings begin to make sense. Companies watching these early adopters stumble along are no doubt thinking twice about BYOD.

Let us count the BYOD blunders:
With so many loaded guns leveled at BYOD — myriad complexities, hidden costs, security risk, privacy concerns and so few benefits — it’s no wonder companies are balking. So where does BYOD go from here? Are we nearing a high-water mark for BYOD adoption?

“I don’t know if we’re going to see the numbers move dramatically over the next few years,” CompTIA’s Robinson says.


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Microsoft should grab Apple’s ‘Handoff’ for Office

Rival’s ‘Continuity’ feature would make a useful addition to Office on iOS and OS X, says analyst

There’s no good reason why Microsoft can’t adopt Apple’s “Handoff” technology in its iOS and OS X Office apps, an analyst said today.

“Office would be more useful if they did,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “I don’t see a good reason not to.”

Handoff, part of “Continuity,” a term that describes several new features slated to ship in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite this fall, lets users begin an activity — writing an email, browsing the Web, creating a document — and then resume it on another device. The feature relies on Bluetooth-powered proximity awareness to recognize Apple devices registered to the same iCloud account. Once that ad hoc recognition takes place, users can hand off in-progress tasks.

Apple will support Handoff on many of its own iOS apps and OS X applications bundled with iOS 8 and Yosemite, including the iWork troika of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. But it will also open up Handoff to third-party developers via several APIs (application programming interfaces), giving them a chance to bake the feature into their own software.

If Microsoft were to add Handoff support to its iOS apps — Office Mobile on the iPhone, Office for iPad on Apple’s tablet — and its desktop edition for OS X, a document begun on the iPad could be picked up on a MacBook Air at the point it was left when the two devices neared each other.

But Microsoft already has its own solution to the multi-device problem in Office, said Miller. “With OneDrive, Microsoft has ‘document continuity,” Miller said. “You can step away from one device and the document is saved in the background. Then you can open it on another device from OneDrive.”

There are differences: When Computerworld opened a Word 2013 document on the iPad — the document was last edited on a Windows 8.1 notebook — it was positioned with the cursor at the top, not at the location of the last edit. And neither OneDrive nor Office spawned an on-screen alert that pointed the user to the document-in-progress, as does Apple’s Handoff.

Microsoft’s desire to support Handoff in Office will largely depend on how the Redmond, Wash. company perceives its rival’s requirements. To use Handoff, an Apple device owner must have an iCloud ID, and be signed into that account on all hardware meant for content forwarding. (That’s how Handoff recognizes the devices owned by an individual.)

Naturally, Microsoft pushes its own identity system for accessing its services, ranging from Office 365 and OneDrive to and Skype.

There should be no concern in Redmond about document storage, even though Apple makes it much easier for developers who use iCloud as their apps’ document repositories. iCloud is not a requirement — as Microsoft’s own Office for iPad demonstrated — and Microsoft can continue to rely on OneDrive as Office’s default online storage service. There were no other obvious barriers in the limited amount of documentation that Apple’s published on the technology.

Microsoft would likely benefit in the public perception arena — or the subset composed of Mac, iPhone and iPad owners — said Miller. When Microsoft took nine months after Apple debuted a full-screen mode to add the feature to Office’s applications, some customers criticized the firm for not putting its shoulder behind the OS X wheel. By jumping on Handoff, Microsoft would shut up those critics.

The move would also let the company again demonstrate that it’s in the game with all players, not just those inside its own ecosystem, a point CEO Satya Nadella has made numerous times — notably when he introduced Office for iPad — since his February promotion. “They’re more open to being open,” said Miller, citing the new regime’s viewpoint as another factor that could tip the debate.

Miller expected Handoff to debut in Office, if it does at all, when Microsoft launches the next edition for the Mac. “I’d expect Office 365 to pick it up automatically, but I wouldn’t expect it on the Mac side until the back-to-school timeframe,” said Miller.

Microsoft would also have to revise Office for iPad and the iPhone version of Office Mobile, and if it decided to support Handoff between native and Web-based apps, modify the free online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.


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Mesosphere aims Twitter clustering tool at the enterprise

Mesosphere has closed new funding to help it bring the open-source Mesos software to a wider audience

Apache Mesos, a software package for managing large compute clusters that’s been credited with helping Twitter to kill its Fail Whale, is being primed for use in the enterprise.

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One of its main backers, a startup called Mesosphere, announced Monday it has closed an additional $10.5 million round of funding and will use the money to develop new tools and support offerings to make Mesos more appealing to large businesses.

Mesos is open-source software originally developed at the University of California at Berkeley. It sits between the application layer and the operating system and makes it easier to deploy and manage applications in large-scale clustered environments.

Twitter adopted Mesos several years ago and contributes to the open-source project. The software helped Twitter overcome its scaling problems and make the Fail Whale — the cartoon symbol of its frequent outages — a thing of the past.

Mesosphere’s CEO, Florian Leibert, was an engineer at Twitter who pushed for its use there. He left Twitter a few years ago to implement Mesos at AirBnB, and last year he left AirBnB to cofound Mesosphere, which distributes Mesos along with documentation and tools.

On Monday Mesosphere said it had secured a new round of funding led by Silicon Valley investment firm Andreessen Horowitz. It will use the money to expand its commercial support team and develop Mesos plug-ins that it plans to license to businesses.

Mesos has several advantages in a clustered environment, according to Leibert. In a similar way that a PC OS manages access to the resources on a desktop computer, he said, Mesos ensures applications have access to the resources they need in a cluster. It also reduces a lot of the manual steps in deploying applications and can shift workloads around automatically to provide fault tolerance and keep utilization rates high.

A lot of modern workloads and frameworks can run on Mesos, including Hadoop, Memecached, Ruby on Rails and Node.js, as well as various Web servers, databases and application servers.

For developers, Mesos takes care of the base layer of “plumbing” required to build distributed applications, and it makes applications portable so they can run in different types of cluster environments, including on both virtualized hardware and bare metal.

It improves utilization by allowing operations staff to move beyond “static partitioning,” where workloads are assigned to a fixed set of resources, and build more elastic cluster environments.

The software is used today mostly by online firms like Netflix, Groupon, HubSpot and Vimeo, but Mesosphere will target large enterprises — “the Global 2,000,” Leibert said — that are wrestling with large volumes of data and struggling to manage it all at scale.

That includes customer data collected at busy websites and operational data gathered in the field. “A lot of organizations are under pressure to do things at scale, they’re running a lot of diverse applications and the wheels are coming off,” said Matt Trifiro, a senior vice president at Mesosphere.

Mesos can manage clusters in both private and public clouds, and in December Mesosphere released a tool for deploying Mesos to Amazon Web Services. Both AirBnB and HubSpot manage their Amazon infrastructures with Mesos.

Mesosphere will continue to provide its Mesos distribution for free, including tools it developed such as Marathon. On Monday it released an update to the core Mesos distribution, version 0.19, along with new documentation.

It plans to make money by developing and licensing plug-ins for Mesos for tasks like dashboard management, debugging, monitoring and security, and by selling professional services.

It has 25 full-time employees today, spread between Germany and San Francisco. “We’re building out our services operation as we speak,” Trifiro said.




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What to avoid in Dropbox-related phishing attack

Cybercriminals have been sending out emails with malicious links pointing to a ZIP file on Dropbox that contains a screensaver that is actually ransomware similar to one known as CryptoLocker, security vendor PhishMe reported Friday.

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The attackers try to trick the recipients into clicking on the link through a variety of ploys, including disguising the email, so that the link appears to point to an invoice or a fax report or message.

If someone receives the email at work, “they may think that they’re receiving a fax and it’s something they need to look at, which makes them inclined to go ahead and open it,” Ronnie Tokazowski, senior researcher at PhishMe, said.

Clicking on the link to the ZIP file and then the screensaver file inside launches the malware that encrypts files on the victim’s hard drive. PhishMe estimates that victims have had as many as 20,000 files encrypted. Files typically affected by such ransomware include documents, archive files, executables and JPEGs.

Once executed, the malware launches a page on the victim’s default browser, demanding that $500 in Bitcoins be deposited in the criminals’ electronic wallet. Failing to do so after a certain amount of time leads to the ransom doubling to $1,000.

Based on an examination of three of the attackers’ wallets, the scammers have collected at least $62,000, Tokazowski estimates. The ransom demand and payment transactions are conducted over the Tor anonymity network.

The attack does not exploit a vulnerability on Dropbox. PhishMe had not discussed the phishing campaign with Dropbox, which did not respond to a request for comment.

PhishMe discovered the scam after its own employees received the phishing emails, Tokazowski said. Almost 20 of the company’s 50 employees received the messages.

PhishMe does not believe it was directly targeted in the campaign, but was just one of many companies whose employees might have received the emails.

“There’s been no evidence that they (the attackers) have been specifically going after us,” Tokazowski said.

To avoid becoming a victim, companies should advise employees to be wary of downloading ZIP files and emails like the ones described above that have no recognizable sender.


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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 will be the only option for some regions

Some countries that can’t get Surface Pro 2 yet never will, Microsoft says.

Microsoft says that in some countries where its Surface Pro 2 tablet is not yet available, it never will be; the Surface Pro 3 will have to do.

Rather than introduce the device then end-of-life it within months, the company will skip the earlier version of the device altogether in those countries and go with the newer model announced last week, says Cyril Belikoff, the director of Surface marketing at Microsoft.
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That still means at least months of waiting for those countries that don’t yet have access to Surface Pro 2 despite its being available in the U.S. since last October. The newer Surface Pro 3 ships first in the U.S. and Canada June 20, and then to 31 other regions into which Microsoft divides the world. But that won’t be for two or three months at the earliest, Belikoff says.

The unavailability of the device rankles some in countries where it’s not sold. For example, a participant in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session this week, Deniz Yakamoz wanted to know when Surface would be available in her country, Turkey. The answer, written by the Surface Team in Turkish and translated by another AMA participant, was, “Since our plans aren’t finalized, I definitely can’t answer your question, but be certain it’s at the top of my list.”

Belikoff says that demand for Surface Pro 2 in countries where it is already available is strong enough that Microsoft will continue selling it and not relegate it to end-of-life.

Surface Pro 3 is larger (12-inch screen v. 10.5-inch) and has more processor options. Surface Pro 2 comes with Intel Core i5, while Surface Pro 3 has options for i3, i5 and i7 processors.

Meanwhile the company has put Surface Pro 2 on sale in the U.K., according to a ZDNet report by dropping the price of the 64GB version from 771 pounds to 569 pounds, although it’s unclear whether that’s to reduce inventory in anticipation of Surface Pro 3 demand.

Belikoff says in the Surface Blog that corporate customers Avande, BMW Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy and Seattle Children’s Hospital have chosen Surface Pro 3 as one of the devices their organizations issue. Despite the devices being unavailable for a month, they have committed to deploying between hundreds and thousands of them to select groups within the companies, he says.

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