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Azure stacks, Office packs – and VR flacks: Here's Microsoft's Inspire news dump

Your quick guide to today's Redmond info blurt

Microsoft did more than just mash up Office and Windows on Monday at its Inspire conference in the US.

The Redmond colossus has also, after years of waiting, announced the first shipments of its on-premises Azure-in-a-box technology, plus a set of Office 365 services aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses, and a program to bring more developers and marketers into its HoloLens partner group.

On-prem Azure heads into the wild

Leading the way is the announcement that Azure Stack has been released to hardware vendors like HPE and Dell EMC, which can now begin accepting orders for the first servers that will run Microsoft's cloud platform as an on-premises system. The first orders are due to ship to customers in September.

Microsoft hopes Azure Stack will help its cloud platform separate from the likes of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud by giving customers an option to run Azure apps as on-premises and private cloud systems, making Azure a hybrid cloud model for those who want it and a public cloud for those who don't.

Hours before the news went live, Microsoft executive VP of cloud, Scott Guthrie, told The Register that Redmond is also trying to avoid the mistakes it saw other on-premises cloud groups making:

"The thing that we heard from customers, and the reason why we pivoted Azure Stack to support pre-certified hardware, was some of the experiences people had had with OpenStack and other technologies, where they really struggle to deploy and run solutions in a production environment."

Office 365 reaches out to SMBs

In addition to being smooshed in with Windows 10, Office 365 will get a new set of offerings aimed at small- and mid-sized companies that subscribe to Office Premium.

The Business Premium package includes four new apps largely aimed at handling marketing and billing:

  • Connections – lets companies create and send out email marketing messages.
  • Listings – allows businesses to submit their information to directories, apps, and social networks.
  • Invoicing – as its name suggests, this app creates and manages billing invoices.
  • MileIQ – tracks mileage expenses for companies.

Microsoft is also launching a management portal called Business Center to let customers manage all four apps.

VR looks to partner up

The partner program that sought to enlist companies to both make and market services for HoloLens is going to rebrand from the HoloLens Agency Readiness Partner Program to the Mixed Reality Partner Program.

The program asks developers and marketing agencies to make and show off proof-of-concept projects that run with HoloLens. This includes things like virtual show floors and exhibits that utilize HoloLens for augmented reality.

The program will pair up agencies and systems integrators with customers to install and support the hardware needed to run HoloLens, as well as the actual software for the system itself.

Enterprise app developer tools

The ISV Cloud Embed package will give developers integration tools to tie their applications into services like Dynamics 365, PowerApps, Flow, and PowerBI.

"We have over 35,000 partners already using Azure IaaS and PaaS services for their apps," writes James Phillips, corporate VP of Microsoft Business Applications.

"Increasingly we're being asked by these partners to make our higher-level cloud services – particularly those that make up our business applications platform – available as embeddable building blocks."

Developers will need to sign up to Microsoft's ISV program to use the service. ®

PS: It's fun seeing Microsoft throwing itself headlong into the cloud, especially with the Windows and Office 365 mash up. A few years ago, the software giant admitted that competing with Google on price in the cloud was proving to be commercial suicide.

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