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Main article: Azure

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Couchbase launches a fully managed database service

20:45 | 4 February

Couchbase, the popular NoSQL database, today announced the launch of Couchbase Cloud, a fully managed database-as-a-service (DBaaS) offering for enterprises. Once the service is generally available later this summer, users will be able to spin it up on AWS and Microsoft Azure, with support for Google Cloud coming a bit later this year. This, the company claims, makes it the first “SQL-on-NoSQL DBaaS that supports multiple cloud providers.”

What’s probably more important for its customers, though, is that Couchbase Cloud will allow them to retain full control of their data inside their own Virtual Private Cloud. Couchbase promises that deploying the service only takes a few clicks and, as you would expect from a fully managed service, the company will handle managing and upgrading the database service.

The underlying infrastructure stack uses open-source technologies like Kubernetes, Prometheus and Grafana, but as a fully managed service, that’s not something the users will actually have to worry about all that much. Indeed, Couchbase stresses how its service decouples the underlying infrastructure from its database solution. That includes pricing. Couchbase doesn’t charge its users for the infrastructure they consume. Instead, they’ll continue to pay their cloud provider as usual, which also means they can take advantage of cost savings from reserved instances and other discounts that the various cloud providers make available to their customers. The Couchbase Cloud service itself offers multiple pricing options, including hourly and volume-based pricing.

Traditionally, Couchbase’s focus was on its server and mobile offerings. Adding a fully managed service to this line-up makes a lot of sense, though, as not every company has the expertise to manage its database servers itself.

 

 


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Alphabet earnings show Google Cloud on $10B run rate

01:10 | 4 February

Today after the bell, Alphabet reported its fourth-quarter and full-year financial results. The company’s revenue grew from $39.3 billion in 2018 to $46.1 billion in 2019. The firm’s net income also expanded from $8.9 billion to $10.7 billion over the same time frame.

The figures, when compared to expectations, were mixed. Alphabet beat analyst estimates on profit, but missed on revenue. Shares of the company are off around 4% in after-hours trading, following its disclosure.

Why do we care?

The company’s reported Q4 and full-year 2019 results are notable for several reasons. First, Alphabet broke out the value of YouTube’s advertising empire. And, the company disclosed discrete “Google Cloud” revenues. Both are new.

YouTube’s advertising heft was made clear today, with the video platform bringing in $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue, up from $11.2 billion in 2018.

The firm’s new “Google Cloud” line item appears to include all of the company’s cloud computing efforts. YouTube’s advertising haul will grab the most headlines, but the cloud revenue figure is what we’d like to drill into.

Cloud, Google-style

Google announced an impressive $2.6 billion round for all cloud revenue, which includes G Suite, the enterprise version of GMail/Docs/Drive/Hangouts, and Google’s cloud infrastructure revenue. At $2.61 billion, that puts it on run rate over $10 billion. In the year-ago Q4, the company’s Cloud revenue came to just $1.71 billion, a run rate of $6.84 billion.

Google’s Cloud run-rate, then, grew by 53.6% in the last year.

In February of 2018, then-Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene was happy to report $1 billion quarterly revenue for the group. Last July the company’s Cloud revenue crossed $2 billion for that quarter, putting on an $8 billion run rate, double the previous report.

Former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian took over after Greene stepped down last year, and he brought on a number of industry veterans from Oracle and SAP to help sell Google Cloud to the enterprise. So far the results are certainly encouraging in a short amount of time.

In comparison

While Google is making some gains in the cloud, its chief competitors have been doing well at the same time.

To pick one example, Amazon’s cloud revenue totaled just under $10 billion in the same calendar quarter. In a direct comparison Google is far smaller, but the search giant is working to make up ground and the results appear encouraging. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s comparable cloud figures are more focused on infrastructure than Google’s, which includes SaaS revenue as well.

Turning to Microsoft, it reported a combined cloud revenue, which includes SaaS (Office 365, Dynamics, etc.) and cloud computing (Azure), of $12.5 billion for the quarter. All of this shows that while Google still has a long way to grow to match its rivals for scale, it’s at least picking up the pace.

 


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Even as Microsoft Azure revenue grows, AWS’s market share lead stays strong

19:12 | 31 January

When analyzing the cloud market, there are many ways to look at the numbers; revenue, year-over-year or quarter-over-quarter growth — or lack of it — or market share. Each of these numbers tells a story, but in the cloud market, where aggregate growth remains high and Azure’s healthy expansions continues, it’s still struggling to gain meaningful ground on AWS’s lead.

This has to be frustrating to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who has managed to take his company from cloud wannabe to a strong second place in the IaaS/PaaS market, yet still finds his company miles behind the cloud leader. He’s done everything right to get his company to this point, but sometimes the math just isn’t in your favor.

Numbers don’t lie

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research, says Microsoft’s growth rate is higher overall than Amazon’s, but AWS still has a big lead in market share. “In absolute dollar terms, it usually has larger increments in revenue numbers and that makes Amazon hard to catch,” he says, adding “what I can say is that this is a very tough gap to close and mathematically it could not happen any time soon, whatever the quarterly performance of Microsoft and AWS.”

The thing to remember with the cloud market is that it’s not even close to being a fixed pie. In fact, it’s growing rapidly and there’s still plenty of market share left to win. As of today, before Amazon has reported, it has a substantial lead, no matter how you choose to measure it.

 


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Salesforce wants to bring voice to the workplace

16:00 | 19 November

At its annual Dreamforce mega-conference in San Francisco, Salesforce today introduced the next steps in its Einstein Voice project, which it first announced last year. Einstein Voice is the company’s AI voice assistant. You can think of it as Salesforce’s Alexa or Google Assistant, but with a more focused mission.

During a briefing ahead of the event, Salesforce Chief Product Officer Bret Taylor showed off an Einstein and Alexa enabled Einstein speaker (Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff was supposed to be at the meeting, too, but for unknown reasons, he didn’t show) — and yes, it looked like Salesforce’s Einstein cartoon figure and its voluminous white hair lit up when it responded to queries. The company isn’t planning on making these devices available to the public, but it does show off the work the company has done with Amazon to integrate the service (though is by no means an Amazon -exclusive since the company is also working to bring Einstein to Google devices).

The theory here, as Taylor explained, is that having access to Salesforce data through voice will enable salespeople to quickly enter data into Salesforce when they are on the go and to ask the system questions about their data. The company argues that while voice assistants have found a place in the home, there are a lot of upsides to bringing it to businesses as well. That means a system has to account for the security needs of enterprises, too, as well as the fact that there is a wide range of different user personas it has to account for.

“We’re really excited about the idea of voice in businesses — the idea that every business can have an AI guide to their business decisions,” Taylor said. “I view it as part of this progression of technology. Computers and software started in the terminal with a keyboard, thanks to Xerox Parc moved to a mouse and graphic user interface, and then thanks to Steve Jobs, moved to a touchscreen, which I think is probably the dominant form factor for computers nowadays. And voice is really that next step.”

This next step, Taylor argues, will allow companies to rethink how people interact with software and data. With voice, Einstein, which is Salesforce’s catch-all name for its AI products, has a “seat at the table,” he noted because you can simply as the system a question if you need additional data during a conversation. But the real mission here is to bring these tools to every business — not just to Salesforce’s executive meetings.

To enable this, Salesforce is launching a tool that will allow anybody within a company to quickly build basic Einstein skills to pull up data from Salesforce. These skills focus on data input and relatively basic queries, for now. During a demo ahead of the event, the team showed off how easy it would be to enable a manager to ask about the current sales performance of his team, for example. By now means, though, is this tool as rich as products like Google’s DialogFlow or Microsoft’s Azure Bot Service. It’s nowhere near as flexible yet, but the team notes that it’s still early days and that it is working on enabling the ability to have more complex dialogs with Einstein in the future, for example.

To be honest, it’s hard not to look at this as a bit of a gimmick. There are probably real use cases here, that every company will have to define for itself. Maybe there are salespeople who indeed want to use a voice interface to update their CRM system after a customer meeting, for example. Or they may want to ask about the value of an account while they are in the car. In many ways, though, this feels like a technology looking for a problem, despite Salesforce’s protestations that customers are asking for this.

Some of the other uses cases here, which the company didn’t really highlight all that much in its briefing, seem far more compelling. It’s using Einstein Voice to coach call center agents by analyzing calls to pull out insights and trends from sales call transcripts. It’s also launching Service Cloud Voice, which integrates telephony inside the company’s Service Cloud. Using a built-in transcription service, Einstein can listen to the call in real time and proactively provide sales teams and call center agents with relevant information. Those use cases may not be quite as exciting, but in the end, they may generate for more value for companies than having yet another voice assistant for which they have to build their own skills, using what is, at least for the time being, a rather limited tool.

 


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Salesforce announces it’s moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure

18:12 | 14 November

In the world of enterprise software, there are often strange bedfellows. Just yesterday, Salesforce announced a significant partnership with AWS around the Cloud Information Model. This morning, it announced it was moving its Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure. That’s the way that enterprise partnerships shimmy and shake sometimes.

The companies also announced they were partnering around Microsoft Teams, integrating Teams with Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud.

Salesforce plans to move Marketing Cloud, which has been running in its own data centers, to Microsoft Azure in the coming months, although the exact migration plan timeline is not clear yet. This is a big deal for Microsoft, which competes fiercely with AWS for customers. AWS is the clear market leader in the space, but Microsoft has been a strong second for some time now, and bringing Salesforce on board as a customer is certainly a quality reference for the company.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, who has been watching the market for many years, says the partnership says a lot about Microsoft’s approach to business today, and that it’s willing to partner broadly to achieve its goals. “I think the bigger news is that Salesforce chose to go deeper with Microsoft over Amazon, and that Microsoft doesn’t fear strengthening Salesforce at the potential expense of Dynamics 365 (its CRM tool), mainly because their biggest growth driver is Azure,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Microsoft and Salesforce have always had a complex relationship. In the Steve Ballmer era, they traded dueling lawsuits over their CRM products. Later, Satya Nadella kindled a friendship of sorts by appearing at Dreamforce in 2015. The relationship has ebbed and flowed since, but with this announcement, it appears the frenemies are closer to friends than enemies again.

Let’s not forget though, that it was just yesterday that Salesforce announced a partnership with AWS around the Cloud Information Model, one that competes directly with a different partnership between Adobe, Microsoft and SAP; or that just last year AWS announced a significant partnership with AWS around data integration.

These kinds of conflicting deals are confusing, but they show that in today’s connected cloud world, that companies, who will compete fiercely with one another in one part of the market, may still be willing to partner in other parts when it makes sense for both parties and for customers. That appears to be the case with today’s announcement from these companies.

 


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Microsoft’s Azure Synapse Analytics bridges the gap between data lakes and warehouses

17:00 | 4 November

At its annual Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft today announced a major new Azure service for enterprises: Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft describes it as “the next evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse.” Like SQL Data Warehouse, it aims to bridge the gap between data warehouses and data lakes, which are often completely separate. Synapse also taps into a wide variety of other Microsoft services, including Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, as well as a partner ecosystem that includes Databricks, Informatica, Accenture, Talend, Attunity, Pragmatic Works, and Adatis. It’s also integrated with Apache Spark.

The idea here is that Synapse allows anybody working with data in those disparate places can manage and analyze it from within a single service. It can be used to analyze relational and unstructured data, using standard SQL.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 10.11.48 AM

Microsoft also highlights Synapse’s integration with Power BI, its easy to use business intelligence and reporting tool, as well as Azure Machine Learning for building models.

With the Azure Synapse studio, the service provides data professionals with a single workspace for prepping and managing their data, as well as for their big data and AI tasks. There’s also a code-free environment for managing data pipelines.

As Microsoft stresses, businesses that want to adopt Synapse can continue to use their existing workloads in production with Synapse and will automatically get all of the benefits of the service. “Businesses can put their data to work much more quickly, productively, and securely, pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses, and big data analytics systems,” writes Microsoft CVP of Azure Data, Rohan Kumar.

 


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You can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

17:00 | 4 November

With the preview of Azure Arc, Microsoft today announced a major step in the evolution of its hybrid cloud story. Azure Arc takes the work the company has done on projects like Azure Stack, throws in containers and Kubernetes, as well as new infrastructure management features, and then allows its users to use Azure’s management tools and data services like Azure SQL Database and Azure Database for PostgreSQL Hyperscale on virtually any platform — including that of its competitors. As long as there is a Kubernetes cluster, you’ll be able to deploy applications to them and manage them using the Azure portal. Arc also supports any Windows and Linux servers.

“Hundreds of millions of Azure resources are organized, governed and secured daily by customers using Azure management,” writes Julia White, Microsoft’s CVP of Azure, in today’s announcement. “Azure Arc extends these proven Azure management capabilities to Linux and Windows servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters on any infrastructure across on-premises, multi-cloud and edge. Customers can now have a consistent and unified approach to managing their different environments using robust, established capabilities such as Azure Resource Manager, Azure Shell, Azure Portal, API, and Azure Policy.”

On these platforms, Azure looks and feels just like on Microsoft’s own. It provides admins a unified way to handle auditing, compliance and role-based access controls across environments and allows developers to build their containerized apps and deploy them across infrastructures.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 10.30.53 AM

“Azure Arc enables customers to have a central, unified, and self-service approach to manage their Windows and Linux Servers, Kubernetes clusters, and Azure data services wherever they are,” writes Jeremy Winter, Director of Program Management for Microsoft Azure. “Azure Arc also extends adoption of cloud practices like DevOps and Azure security across on-premises, multi-cloud and edge.”

If this sounds a bit like Google Cloud’s Anthos, that’s probably because it is. Both projects use Kubernetes to enable their customers to build hybrid cloud deployments across platforms.

For now, it looks like Azure SQL Database and Azure Database for PostgreSQL Hyperscale are the only two Azure services you can take with you to these other infrastructure providers. I would be very surprised if Microsoft didn’t extend this to other Azure services over time.

In a related announcement, Microsoft also today launched new features and form factors for Azure Stack Edge, hardware appliance with built-in GPU and FPGA support for AI-enabled edge applications. Azure Stack Edge will get a new ruggedized form factor for harsh environments for users in the defense and energy sector, for example, as well as virtual machine support for edge compute, support for Kubernetes clustering and automatic fail-over when you lose a server in a cluster of machines.

 


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Microsoft Azure gets into agtech with the preview of FarmBeats

17:00 | 4 November

At its annual Ignite event in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft today announced that  AzureFarmBeats, a project that until now was mostly a research effort, will be available as a public preview and in the Azure Marketplace, starting today. FarmBeats is Microsoft’s project that combines IoT sensors, data analysis and machine learning.

The goal of FarmBeats is to augment farmers’ knowledge and intuition about their own farm with data and data-driven insights,” Microsoft explained in today’s announcement. The idea behind FarmBeats is to take in data from a wide variety of sources, including sensors, satellites, drones and weather stations, and then turn that into actionable intelligence for farmers, using AI and machine learning. 

In addition, FarmBeats also wants to be somewhat of a platform for developers who can then build their own applications on top of this data that the platform aggregates and evaluates.

As Microsoft noted during the development process, having satellite imagery is one thing, but that can’t capture all of the data on a farm. For that, you need in-field sensors and other data — yet all of this heterogeneous data then has to be merged and analyzed somehow. Farms, also often don’t have great internet connectivity. Because of this, the FarmBeats team was among the first to leverage Microsoft’s efforts in using TV white space for connectivity and, of course, Azure IoT Edge for collecting all of the data.

 


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Microsoft reports a strong fiscal first quarter, but Azure’s growth rate continues to decline

06:32 | 24 October

Microsoft posted quarterly results today that were well ahead of analysts’ expectations, but Azure’s growth rate continues to decline as it competes with AWS.

The company’s revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year rose 14% year-over-year to $33.1 billion. Net income increased 21% to $10.7 billion, or $1.38 per share.

Revenue from Microsoft’s Productivity and Business Processes segment, which includes its Office products and LinkedIn, grew 13% to $11.1 billion. LinkedIn’s revenue increased by 25%.

Meanwhile, its Intelligent Cloud segment’s revenue increased 27% to $10.8 billion, with revenue from server products and cloud services growing 30%. The company said Azure’s revenue grew by 59%, but that represents a decline in growth rate that began a year ago, when Azure clocked quarterly growth of 76%. The rate has fallen more since then, with today’s report representing a drop from the 64% growth reported in the previous quarter.

Revenue from Microsoft’s personal computing segment grew 4% to $11.1 billion.

The company said it expects second-quarter revenue to be in the range of $35.15 billion to $35.95 billion.

 


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Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

11:43 | 22 October

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.

 


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