Cloud Platform Release Announcements for December 16, 2015

This is a blog post of a new ongoing series of consolidated updates from the Cloud Platform team.

In today’s mobile first, cloud first world, Microsoft provides the technologies and tools to enable enterprises to embrace a cloud culture. Our differentiated innovations, comprehensive mobile solutions and developer tools help all of our customers realize the true potential of the cloud first era.

You expect cloud-speed innovation from us, and we’re delivering across the breadth of our Cloud Platform product portfolio. Below is a consolidated list of our latest releases to help you stay current, with links to additional details if you’d like more information. In this update:

  • StorSimple 8000 Series
  • StorSimple Local Volumes General Availability
  • StorSimple Cloud Appliance 8020 using Azure Premium Storage General Availability
  • On-premises StorSimple Virtual Array Public Preview
  • Power BI Desktop December Update
  • Power BI Content Packs: Bing Social, Office365Mon and VMob General Availability
  • System Center Configuration Manager General Availability
  • General Availability of Excel Add-in for Azure Machine Learning
  • Azure Machine Learning with Azure Stream Analytics Public Preview
  • ExpressRoute + CRM Online General Availability
  • Reservations for Instance Level Public IP General Availability

StorSimple 8000 Series

Microsoft Azure StorSimple 8000 Series Update 2 is a software-only update that will be available via Microsoft Update and on shipping units. The Update will be rolled out across geographies in stages. It includes multiple new features for the StorSimple Hybrid Cloud Storage solution, as well as incremental software improvements. Update 2 includes two key enhancements that expand the use cases and workloads that can be addressed by StorSimple: Local volumes and the StorSimple Cloud Appliance 8020 (using Azure Premium Storage).

StorSimple Local Volumes General Availability

Local volumes ensure that primary data stays local to the device, in the customer environment, and does not tier to the cloud. This allows customers to run workloads that are sensitive to cloud latency, such as SQL and Virtual Machines, on local volumes, while continuing to reap the benefits of the cloud for backup and disaster recovery. Customers can host multiple workloads on StorSimple that require either the performance of locally available data or scale of the cloud or a combination of the two thereof. This capability broadens the range of enterprise environments, that customers can transition to a hybrid cloud storage strategy, meeting the requirements of their on-premises applications with all the benefits of the cloud.

StorSimple Cloud Appliance 8020 using Azure Premium Storage General Availability

The StorSimple Cloud Appliance 8020 is a new version of the StorSimple Cloud Appliance product offering. The Cloud Appliance is a software-only version of the StorSimple solution that runs on a Virtual Machine in Azure. This new model offers an increased maximum provisioned capacity of 64TB, and increased performance by using Azure Premium Storage as the local tier. Premium Storage will allow customers to increase their use of the StorSimple Cloud Appliance, by enabling scenarios that required larger volume sizes and higher throughputs in Azure. The 8020 will have the same pricing policy as the previous version, where you are only charged for the VM and storage components of the underlying VM and disks. Azure Compute pricing is based on DS3 Virtual Machine pricing and disk pricing will be based on Premium Storage disk pricing.

In addition, customers can now protect entire workloads hosted on StorSimple devices with Azure Site Recovery. By integrating StorSimple specific scripts released with this update (in the Azure Automation Gallery) into recovery plans of Azure Site Recovery, disaster recovery is vastly simplified. Planned, unplanned and the testing of disaster recovery workflows can be orchestrated with a single click.

On-premises StorSimple Virtual Array Public Preview

Microsoft Azure StorSimple is announcing the Public Preview of the on-premises StorSimple Virtual Array. This is a version of the StorSimple solution in a virtual machine form installed in a customer’s remote or branch office. This provides a cost-effective, light-weight solution for remote and branch office environments while still delivering the fundamental value of the StorSimple Hybrid Cloud Storage solution:

  • Seamless cloud integration with automated tiering to manage data growth
  • Simplified data protection with cloud-based snapshots
  • Location independent recovery of data from the cloud

The StorSimple Virtual Array can be downloaded from the StorSimple Manager, on the Azure Portal, and installed on a Virtual Machine configured on a Hyper-V or VMware hypervisor. The StorSimple Virtual Array can be configurable as a NAS (using SMB) or a SAN (using iSCSI) device. It will initially be targeted for File Sharing, for information worker and collaboration scenarios, and small database workloads using a combination of local and tiered volumes. The StorSimple Virtual Array will be managed from the StorSimple Manager Service, in the Azure Portal.

The on-premises StorSimple Virtual Array is billed against the same meters as the StorSimple 8000 Series, the StorSimple meter and the Azure Blob Storage meter.

For more information, check out the StorSimple Hybrid Cloud Storage site.

Power BI Desktop December Update

We are excited to announce the Power BI Desktop December Update is now available, delivering additional features and enhancements to help the business analysts get more insights quickly. This December Update includes a number of new features including:

  • Enabling R visuals in Power BI Dashboard through R scripts (Preview in Power BI Desktop)
  • Visuals enhancements like stacked area chart, reference line/region in Cartesian visual, and the ability to accurately size/position/align visuals
  • New Stripe connector, improved ODBC connector, and Direct Query improvements

Visit the Power BI blog for more information and to download the latest Power BI Desktop.

Power BI Content Packs: Bing Social, Office365Mon and VMob General Availability

Power BI continues to make it easier for users to connect to their data, providing pre-built solutions for popular services as part of the experience. This month we added content packs for Bing, Office365Mon and VMob.

Bing helps you turn information into action, making it faster and easier to go from searching to doing. The Power BI content pack for Bing allows you to view analytics around Internet search activity for a term of your choice.

Office365Mon allows you to track the availability of your Office 365 environment. Analyzing your Office 365 outage and health performance data is easy with Power BI. With the Office365Mon content pack, your data is retrieved, including outages and health probes, and provided in out-of-box dashboards and reports based on that data.

VMob uses real-time contextual analytics to give retailers the ability to create highly personalized marketing campaigns which reach customers at the right time and place. Power BI’s VMob content pack retrieves your data, including User Statistics, Retail KPI and Campaign Performance, and then builds an out-of-box dashboard and reports based on that data. Tracking and exploring your VMob data is easy with Power BI.

Subscribers to these supported services can now quickly connect to their account from Power BI and see their data through live dashboards and interactive reports that have been pre-built for them. Getting started with data visualization and analysis has never been easier, for additional information visit the Power BI blog.

System Center Configuration Manager General Availability

System Center Configuration Manager is now generally available. There are a number of key elements included in this release:

  • Comprehensive support for Windows 10: Windows 10 is the best Windows ever and has been designed with the enterprise in mind. System Center Configuration Manager was designed to work with Windows 10 and gives you multiple options to deploy, update, and manage Windows 10 in the way that makes sense for your business.
  • Deploy/upgrade/provision Windows 10: ConfigMgr supports a variety of fast, efficient ways to deploy or upgrade devices to Windows 10. ConfigMgr enables “in-place upgrade” to move systems from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 directly to Windows 10 much faster than before. New Windows 10 devices can be quickly made enterprise-ready with provisioning packages and profiles.
  • Keep Windows 10 up-to-date: Once devices are running Windows 10, enterprises must keep them up-to-date to ensure they are properly secured. ConfigMgr enables IT to keep Windows 10 devices up-to-date and get a better insight into the Windows 10 deployments with new configurable deployment rings and the servicing dashboard as well as identify devices that are managed via Windows Update for Business.
  • More frequent and easier to install updates: ConfigMgr is now designed to make it easier to update without going through complex individual upgrades. Moving forward you will see updates several times a year – to support new Windows, Configuration Manager, and mobile device management capabilities, at a much faster pace. In fact, we are already working on the next update and can’t wait to share some of the functionality with you in upcoming technical previews.
  • Manage Windows 10: ConfigMgr enables more choice for managing Windows devices. You can manage devices using the traditional ConfigMgr agent and, when integrated with Microsoft Intune, also via cloud or on-premises MDM. Now, you can use ConfigMgr to manage Windows 10 devices via MDM directly, without needing to store data in the cloud.
  • Improved unified device management: ConfigMgr provides an improved unified device management platform for customers using System Center Configuration Manager integrated with Microsoft Intune to manage PCs, servers, and mobile devices. This release enables faster updates to bring new Intune features to your hybrid deployments. Some of the new hybrid features that you can expect to see in this release are support for Mac OS X MDM, Windows 10 Edition Upgrade, customized terms of use, and more.

General Availability of Excel Add-in for Azure Machine Learning

Today, we are excited to announce the General Availability of the Azure ML Excel add-in: this free add-in can be used with web services published from Azure Machine Learning. Thanks to the Excel Add-in for Azure ML, you can add your own web-service for request/response predictions, batch predictions, work in Windows or the browser, share workbooks with your co-workers, and call multiple web services all within a single spreadsheet.

Since the announcement of the Public Preview version, we’ve also added new features as a direct result of feedback from our customers, such as getting real sample data, interacting by using auto-predict functionality, jumping among multiple web services, masking parameters and supporting multiple web service inputs with header options.

Customers and partners such as Neal Analytics are already using these capabilities in their analytics activities. David McClellan, principal consultant at Neal Analytics had this to say:

One of the critical drivers of the success we’ve had working with customers in bringing Azure Machine Learning to businesses at all levels is making Machine Learning real and tangible. The Excel add-in for Azure ML allows an intuitive and simple way to bring Machine Learning into Excel, where the C suite is comfortable digesting information. As a Microsoft partner, we have found this capability to be invaluable in proving the return on investment for Data Science projects.

For more information about the add-in, check out the recent post on the Machine Learning blog.

Azure Machine Learning with Azure Stream Analytics Public Preview

Several Azure customers have asked to combine the real time analytics capabilities in Azure Stream Analytics with the power of Azure ML in quickly building and operationalizing any machine learning model as a web service.

We are very excited to announce this feature is now in public preview and you can apply Azure ML models as a function on top of streaming data to get real time insights.

This release allows you to score individual events of streaming data, leveraging an ML model hosted in Azure. This lets you easily build applications for scenarios such as real-time Twitter sentiment analytics.

Here are a couple examples:

  • Providing real time product recommendations on your website in order to drive more revenue. Recommendations get served in real time based on website click data, user profile and other contextual information that is being scored against an Azure ML product recommendation model.
  • Extracting, in real time, the topics and sentiment associated with conversations happening between customers and support staff. Support managers can use this information to become aware of any critical customer issues in a timely manner, which helps with customer satisfaction and retention.

For more information please read the recent Machine Learning blog post. Follow this tutorial to get started by analyzing sentiment on streaming text data.

ExpressRoute + CRM Online General Availability

To help some of our customers who need increased control, predictable performance and security over their network connections, we’re pleased to announce that starting today, Dynamics CRM Online customers will be able to use Azure ExpressRoute to establish a private, managed connection to CRM Online. Currently, ExpressRoute provides customers with dedicated network connectivity through a private connection from their network to Microsoft Azure, and we’re excited to extend the same option for connectivity to CRM Online.

With network performance as predictable as your own on-premises environments, ExpressRoute for CRM Online is like having the full CRM Online productivity solution in your own datacenter. ExpressRoute will offer CRM Online customers more predictable network performance, the ability to better manage network availability and the reliability that comes with dedicated connectivity. In addition, with ExpressRoute most CRM Online network traffic can avoid the public Internet, providing additional data privacy.

Reservations for Instance Level Public IP General Availability

Today we are announcing general availability of the “Reserved IP” feature, enabling customers to assign static public IP’s to VMs. This will aid customer scenarios with IP dependencies, like frontend/backend, user specific LOB apps and services which require predictable endpoints, along with offerings depending on static ACLs and similar.