Microsoft Enhances Azure, Office 365

Microsoft sets the tone for its Worldwide Partner Conference with new Office 365 plans, Azure analytics, and storage announcements.
Cloud Contracts: 8 Questions To Ask
Cloud Contracts: 8 Questions To Ask
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Microsoft announced a raft of enhancements Wednesday to its cloud portfolio, including new storage and machine learning capabilities for Azure and a revamped set of Office 365 Business subscription plans. Intended to demonstrate the company's shift toward CEO Satya Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" strategy, the announcements set the stage for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), which starts Monday in Washington, DC.

The new products include Microsoft Azure StorSimple, a hybrid cloud storage offering that Microsoft claims will help companies to manage exploding data needs cost-effectively. Built around the premise that frequently accessed files can be stored locally while cold storage can be left in the cloud, Azure StorSimple includes two new arrays -- the Azure StorSimple 8100 and 8600 -- that will become available Aug. 1. They'll be joined by two related Azure services: Azure StorSimple Manager and Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance. In a blog post, Microsoft touted the announcement as an opportunity for its system integration partners to explore new storage packaging.

Microsoft also announced that the Azure Machine Learning service preview, announced in June, will expand to partners and customers July 14. In private preview for more than a year, the service aims to make it quicker and easier for Microsoft's partners to create sophisticated analytic cloud services for customers.

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Other news included the expansion of the preview of Microsoft's Azure government cloud, as well as a new Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online offering for government cloud customers. Like Microsoft's other government cloud services, Dynamics CRM Online for government data will be housed separately from public Azure services in its own multi-tenant cloud.

As for Office news, Microsoft tweaked its plans for Office 365 Business SMB customers. For $8.25 per user per month or $99 per user per year, Office 365 Business includes the full suite of installable Office applications on up to five PCs or Macs and five Windows tablets or iPads, as well as 1 TB of OneDrive for Business cloud storage for each user. For $5 monthly or $60 annually per user, Office 365 Business Essentials offers basic business cloud services, including email, calendaring, Office Online (but not the downloadable versions), online meetings, video conferencing, and 1 TB of OneDrive storage.

Office 365 Business Premium is the most complete package. For $12.50 per month or $150 per year, each user gets everything in the Office 365 Business Package, as well as online services: Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, and Yammer.

The new Office 365 Business plans will replace the current SMB lineup, but Enterprise plans remain the same. The new plans will become available Aug. 1. Most current customers can opt in.

Microsoft also announced that Codename Oslo, an upcoming Office 365 product previewed this year, will be officially branded "Delve." The company says Delve will use machine learning to become familiar with a user's needs and routines, which it will use to deliver real-time insights. Delve might recognize that the user constantly interfaces with a certain colleague, for example, and automatically surface relevant information about the contact, including why he or she is important, in a dashboard.

CEO Satya Nadella has earned mostly praise since taking over for Steve Ballmer this year. However, WPC attendees will still have questions for the new CEO, ranging from how the evolving Azure portfolio competes with those of Amazon and other cloud competitors, and how well Microsoft handled recent cloud service outages, to whether the company will, as rumored, demonstrate Windows 9.

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