Microsoft Ahead of Amazon in Public Facing Web Site Hosting of Windows Computers

Netcraft has just issued an article based on their regular internet site analysis on the state of public facing web sites hosted on Windows servers.


Thanks to a 50% growth rate in Azure web sites since May 2013, Microsoft has overtaken Amazon specifically in the hosting of Windows based public facing web sites.

The crazy statistic is this one: this currently represents only 1% of the world’s Windows based public facing web sites.  Imagine the growth potential for Azure to dominate such a fragmented market…

Netcraft also published a breakdown of web sites per Azure region.  This shows where these web sites are located:


Read More

New Features in SharePoint 2013 SP1, Office 2013 SP1 and OneDrive for Business

Microsoft has released Service Pack 1 for Office 2013, Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013.  In addition, Microsoft has released OneDrive for Business, which is the replacement for SkyDrive Pro.

Here are some of the highlights in features and fixes released as part of the package.

  • Compatibility fixes for Windows 8.1 and IE 11
  • PowerMap is now available for Office 365 ProPlus customers
  • Data Loss Prevention improvements for Exchange
  • Improved text editor for OWA (see below)
  • Support for S/MIME in OWA
  • Various security updates and cumulative updates that have been previously available as separate patches
  • Lots of bug fixes – you can see the full list of fixes here.


Read More

Windows Azure Data Centers Now Available in Japan

Microsoft has just announced that new Windows Azure data centers are now live in Japan.  There are two data centers (East and West) that will provide local cloud services to service the increasing demand in the region.

Fujitsu as one of the key Azure partners will also provide 24 value-added services, including 24/7 Japanese-language support, Windows Azure-compatible software, application services that run on Windows Azure, data backup and operation-monitoring services.

Read More

Awesome New Features for Azure Just Released!

Microsoft has just released an update to Azure with some significant enhancements!  Here are some of the highlights.

Dedicated, Private Network Connectivity

One of the key scenarios that is of interest to enterprises is hybrid clouds where Azure and on premise data centers work together to find the right balance between public cloud scalability, private cloud control.  One of the key challenges has been the connectivity between Azure and your data center goes through the public Internet with no guarantee of performance, service levels, etc. 

Starting with partnerships in the US with Equinix, AT&T and Level3 Cloud Connect but presumably expanding to other partners around the world, Microsoft will support dedicated, private and high throughput network connections between these traditional hosting solutions and the Azure Cloud.


Backup and Restore for Web Sites

Last month, Azure Web Sites started supporting Staging Publishing whereby you can swap your changes made in a staging environment to your production environment for fast deployments of configuration changes.

Azure web sites will now support full backup and restore for both your web site and any dependent SQL or MySQL databases.  Backup and restore will be free for web sites running on the Standard tier.



Mobile Services: Support for ASP.NET as an Implementation Platform

Azure Mobile Services is an Azure platform for developing mobile backend by providing solutions for user authentication, cloud storage and sending of push notifications.  In the latest version, you can build mobile services using ASP.NET and Visual Studio.


Hadoop 2.2 Support

Hadoop 2.2 is the latest version of Hadoop and provides significantly improved performance and scaleability of both query and indexing times in comparison to the previous 1.0 version.  Hadoop 2.2 supports the new YARN architecture which provides significant increases in performance as well as new methods for processing data both in batch and in real time.


Increased Co-Administrator Limit

The number of co-administrators per subscription has been increased from 10 to 200 per subscription.

Windows Azure Directory Premium

Available in preview, the new Windows Azure Directory Premium service provides a set of capabilities for enterprise directory management including:

  • Self-service reset for end users
  • Group based provisioning to other SAAS Apps
  • Customizable access panels (e.g. so you can brand the login page)
  • Security monitoring

Read More

New Version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Just Announced

Microsoft has just announced a new set of features for Dynamics CRM focused on matching customers to the right products and services.

Key New Features

The new version of Dynamics CRM includes integration of three acquisitions Microsoft has made – Parature, MarketingPilot and NetBreeze to create “Dynamics Marketing” as well as some additional features to Dynamics CRM.  These features include:

  • Visual campaign designer to allow marketers to design campaigns
  • New lead management and scoring capabilities
  • Improved email scalability for sending out millions of emails per day
  • Deep analytics for measuring effectiveness of campaigns
  • A new Unified Service Desk designed specifically for call centers that allows agents to handle multiple customer interactions
  • Integrated self-service via support portals, Facebook, Twitter and web chat all based on a shared knowledge base


The Microsoft Social Listening Service

Microsoft is also unveiling its new Microsoft Social Listening Service.  Similar to tools already provided by, the new service allows marketers to analyze and act on sentiment analysis from a variety of social networks. 

crm social listening network

Cloud First

As another cloud first initiative, Microsoft will provide an updated version of Dynamics CRM Online first with the on premise version receiving its update later on in the year.

Microsoft will offer access to this tool free for online subscribers while those on premise will need to pay an incremental cost. In addition, Dynamics Marketing will only be available as a cloud service.

Read More

Microsoft’s Minecraft: Project Spark Beta is Here

Microsoft has released a new “visual programming language” focused on user designed and shared video games.  Project Spark is now available in Beta for Windows 8.1

Project Spark Trailer

My children play Minecraft – this seems like Microsoft’s Minecraft platform but with much better graphics, pseudo programming concepts and the ability to share levels through an online community.  In a bid to help cross-promote their eco-system of platforms (Windows, XBOX 360, XBOX One, Surface) you will be able to create video games and play them using any of these devices.  Depending on the device you are using, the controller can be your mouse and keyboard, controller or touch.

There is an hour demo of how video games can be created in Project Spark from the Microsoft team.

Project Spark Demo


Very cool…

Read More

Azure SQL vs. Traditional SQL Clusters: Massive Price Differences for Small Databases

In the “old days” (e.g. pre-cloud), the minimum high availability SQL cluster in “Active-Passive” mode.  The minimum license for SQL you need is for the active node and is typically charged per processor (unless you have a specific number of users and you buy per CAL).  If you need SQL Enterprise, the only available option is by processor.

SQL Standard is $1,793 per Core and SQL Enterprise is $6,874 per core, using American list prices.  Organizations can negotiate for cheaper prices in some cases (for example, if they are in government or education) but let’s use list prices for our comparison.

At a minimum, you must license 4 cores for each physical processor in the server.  For virtual machines, you need the same minimum 4 core licenses per VM.   However, if you license the physical server, you can then deploy multiple VMs on top of the fully licensed physical server.


In addition, if I want to keep getting access to upgrades, I need SQL Software Assurance which is 25% of the original cost annually.

For a basic SQL cluster, I need a minimum of 4 cores but probably typically 8-12 cores.  If I want to run in Active/Active mode, the number of cores doubles with two servers running concurrently.

A basic SQL cluster running 8 cores is $14,344 + $3,586 in Software Assurance annually, assuming SQL Standard.  For the same cluster, SQL Enterprise is $54,992 + $13,748 in Software Assurance annually.

The key idea here is this is the minimum configuration – whether I have 1 gigabyte of data or multiple terabytes, I’m still required to have this basic configuration just to run a SQL Cluster.  This is the minimum cost of entry for a high availability SQL cluster.

This also doesn’t include the hosting costs, backup/restore costs, hardware costs, etc. which of course you need to account for in a traditional hosting model.

Comparing with Traditional SQL Running in IAAS

Running a SQL Cluster in Azure as Infrastructure as a Service is possible, but the license model is essentially the same.  The only real difference is the hosting model – the license model remains the same other than its now calculated as a operational monthly cost instead of requiring an up front capital spend on licenses.

The cost for a Large VM with 4 cores running SQL Standard is $714 / month and running SQL Enterprise is $1,930 per month.  In addition, you need to pay for storage costs depending on how much storage your VM requires. 

In terms of high availability, it is still up to you to manage your cluster and to configure it properly for high availability:

When running SQL Server in Windows Azure VMs, it is up to you as the database administrator to ensure that your database system possesses the HADR capabilities that the service-level agreement requires. The fact that Windows Azure provides high availability mechanisms, such as service healing for cloud services and failure recovery detection for the Virtual Machines, does not itself guarantee the desired HADR capabilities of SQL Server. These mechanisms protect the high availability of the VMs and not SQL Server, which runs on the VMs. It is possible for the SQL Server instance to fail while the VM is online and healthy. Moreover, even the high availability mechanisms provided by Windows Azure allow for occasional and possibly lengthy downtime of the VMs due to events such as recovery from software or hardware failures or operating system upgrades.

In most scenarios, you would need to replicate data from one primary SQL server to a secondary mirror, so this could imply a secondary VM running SQL Server based on the same pricing above.

If we compare the virtual machine price with the on premise price, assuming a 3 year cycle for the SQL licenses, there is still a significant advantage running in Azure compared to buying traditional licenses:

Edition On Premise Pricing (per year) Azure Pricing (per Year) – 2 VMs for High Availability
Standard $8367 $8568 x 2 = $17,136
Enterprise $32079 $23160 x 2 = $46,320


Again, keep in mind that we’re comparing apples to oranges here – the Azure pricing includes hardware, monitoring, VM failover, VM backup-recovery, etc. where the On Premise pricing only includes the basic SQL license.  At a minimum, you would also need to add Windows licenses to your on premise servers as well which are included in the Azure pricing.

Comparing with Azure SQL

Let’s imagine that I have a 10 gigabyte database which requires high availability.  I write my application to use Azure SQL instead of traditional SQL.  What is the cost?

A 10 gigabyte database running in Azure SQL is $48.46 per month, fully redundant, backed up and highly available! 

If I was designing a new application which needed a SQL backend, why would I choose the traditional SQL running in a virtual machine method?  There are a few good reasons such as Azure SQL doesn’t currently support Analysis Services, but if I just need a core transactional DB, it’s clearly a cheaper model. 

Read More

PowerView vs. PowerPivot vs. Power BI

With Power BI being announced for general availability on Office 365, we have a customers who are seeing the various Microsoft business intelligence products that have been evolving over the past few years.  Microsoft is marketing the entire suite of them as “Power BI” as they promote their latest version.  However, Power BI is actually a specific set of add-on products to existing technologies that have been around in some cases since Excel and SharePoint 2010.

This means that even if you don’t have the latest versions of everything (Excel, SharePoint, etc.) you can still leverages specific versions of these tools.  Here is the breakdown on the differences between PowerView, PowerPivot and Power BI.

Excel 2010 and SharePoint 2010: The Introduction of PowerPivot

The first tool that was added to the Microsoft BI suite was PowerPivot.  PowerPivot was introduced with Excel 2010 and SharePoint 2010.  It is a free add-on that provides Excel with a dynamic, in memory database for developing business intelligence models based on multiple data sources.  It supports KPIs, calculated columns and millions of rows of data.

PowerPivot workbooks (e.g. Excel workbooks with PowerPivot data included) can be deployed to SharePoint 2010 and visualized using Excel Services which renders Excel workbooks as web pages.  Visualizations are provided through Excel PivotTables and PivotCharts

Excel 2013 PowerPivot Improvements

In Excel 2013, there is a new more advanced PowerPivot add-on that provides additional functionality compared to Excel 2010:

  • Filter data when importing. You can import data in both Excel and Power Pivot, but when importing data in Power Pivot, you can filter out unnecessary data to import just a subset.
  • Rename tables and columns as you import data in Power Pivot.
  • Manage the model and create relationships using drag and drop in the Diagram View.
  • Apply formatting (to be used in Power View and PivotTable reports).
  • Define your own calculated fields to use throughout a workbook.
  • Define key performance indicators (KPIs) to use in PivotTables.
  • Create user-defined hierarchies to use throughout a workbook.
  • Define perspectives.
  • Author your own calculations by writing advanced formulas that use the Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) expression language.
  • Use other more advanced data and modeling operations.

One of the key differences in performance is size limitations – in Excel 2010, the maximum size is 2 gigabytes in memory and 4 gigabytes on disk.  In Excel 2013, there is no limitation.

SQL 2012 and SharePoint 2010: Introducing PowerView

SQL Server 2012 introduced a new product called PowerView.  PowerView is a SQL Server Reporting Services add-on that can be deployed to SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition or SharePoint 2013.

The PowerView in this version is entirely SharePoint driven and you create PowerViews directly in SharePoint 2010 against existing PowerPivot models as well as other datasources (SQL Server, DB2, Oracle, etc.) 

Excel 2013: Incorporating PowerView

Excel 2013 introduced PowerView directly into Excel.  PowerView is a very easy to use dashboarding tool that allows self-service business intelligence.  While in Excel 2010, you used PivotTables and PivotCharts (which have been around for ages) to visualize and explore your data, PowerView is an entirely new visualization experience.

In addition, the Excel 2013 version of PowerView introduced some improvements over the original SharePoint 2010 PowerView version including:

  • Pie Charts
  • Maps
  • KPIs
  • Hierarchies
  • Drill Up and Drill Down
  • Format Reports with Styling, Themes, and Text Resizing
  • Background Color and Background Images
  • Hyperlinks
  • Printing
  • Support for Right to Left Languages

Excel 2013 PowerViews need SharePoint 2013 to be deployed – you cannot deploy them back to SharePoint 2010.

Microsoft’s New Business Intelligence Add-On – Power BI

Microsoft has just released its new BI add-on – Power BI.  Where it becomes confusing is that Power BI leverages existing Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013 PowerPivot and PowerView functionality and adds on a few cool new features.

Power BI introduction


As described above, you do not need Power BI to leverage PowerPivot, PowerView, Excel 2013 and SharePoint 2013.  You can continue to use all the features above as they were defined when these features were released.

Power Map

Power BI is only available on Office 365 and Excel 2013.  There is no Power BI for SharePoint on premise at the current time.  You can use the Power BI Features with Excel 2013 on the desktop and then deploy Excel 2013 workbooks to Office 365 to share your creations with other users.

Power BI introduces several key features that build on the existing PowerPivot and PowerView tools and provides more capabilities:

  • Power Query is a new tool that allows for dynamic querying of more data sources than was available in PowerPivot.  Some of these new data sources include Azure Blob Storage, Azure Table Storage, Hadoop, Azure HDInsight, Folders, etc.
  • Power Map provides a new 3D geo-location based mapping tool based on Bing Maps.  It provides the ability to create tours of your maps for story telling purposes.
  • Natural Language Search allows users to ask questions against your Excel workbooks using natural language queries. 
  • Power BI sites allow for better sharing of reports and data views.  They also increase the limits for the sizes of workbooks that can be successfully rendered by SharePoint in the browser.
  • Power BI introduces the concept of a data catalogue where PowerPivot models can be published to SharePoint and shared through a centralized catalogue.
  • Mobile Access is provided through Windows 8 and HTML 5.

Power BI Pricing

As mentioned above, Power BI is only available through Office 365.  It is sold either as as an add-on to your existing E3/E4 subscription or as a standalone subscription.

Read More

New Feature Coming to Outlook Web App: People View

Microsoft is developing a new “People View” feature for the Outlook Web App.   The view will display emails based on “people who matter”.  People View keeps track of your communications and brings the people who you interact with the most to the top of the priority list. 

People whose messages you haven’t yet read appear higher in your list, and people whose messages you’ve already read appear lower in your list, so it’s easy to keep track of whom you still need to respond to.

The feature is coming to Office 365 and the Outlook web app over the next several months.  No word yet on when it will be available in the desktop Outlook client.

Read More