Microsoft is replacing Microsoft Teams Live Events with a new “Town Hall” in the experience. Users with Team Premium licenses will also gain exclusive access to new “advanced features”.
What is Teams Town Hall?
Town Halls is revamped experience for large-scale events in Teams called Town Halls, cv will replace Live Events. The new Town Halls experience is officially available for commercial customers from Thursday October 5, 2023.
What features does it offer over Live Events?
Teams Town Halls offers many new advanced production capabilities, a new experience offering a structured approach for attendee engagement, and a new unified experience for users. Some of these features will only be available to Teams Premium customers.
Teams Town Hall enables customers to host various types of internal and external events, such as company-wide town halls, all hands, global team meetings, internal broadcasts, fireside chats, and more. It gusto provides much better support for external presenters.
Teams Town Hall supports up to 10,000 attendees, and up to 20,000 attendees for Teams Premium customers. It also allows up to 15 town halls to run at the same time, and up to 50 for Teams Premium customers
Teams Town Hall features advanced production capabilities, such as a new meeting template, third-party eCDN support, green room functionality, control over what attendees can see, moderated Q&A sessions, and more.
Teams Town Hall provides a structured approach for attendee engagement, such as attendee reporting, live reactions, polls, surveys, and more.
Teams Town Hall features Email communications and advanced customisation (for Teams Premium users). Organisers will be able to send pre-configured email templates for the event invitation and the event recording emails instead of manually creating a separate email, copying the event link, and sending a calendar invite to attendees.
Teams Town Hall will (soon) support both RTMP-in (so events can be produced directly from an external encoder and integrate different external media feeds) and RTMP-out, allowing organizers to stream the event out to a custom app or different endpoint outside of Teams such as YouTube, LinkedIn, X, Meta Workplace, and others. Note, this functionality will be available next year.
Teams Town Hall will create a unified experience for users whether they are hosting a small meeting, customer-facing webinar, or company-wide town hall. The current live event platform is not a consistent experience with Teams.
Teams Town halls will (soon) be integrated with Viva Engage to allow attendees to view the event in Viva Engage, whether the event is produced directly in Teams or with an external app or device.
When will Teams Live Events be retired?
Retirement of the current Teams Live Event service will continue to be supported over the next 12 months and fully retire by September 30, 2024.
Existing recordings will be available until December 31, 2024, but the transition to town hall must be completed before the retirement date.
To set-up a new Town Hall event, users (unless disabled by policy) can create a new Town Hall directly from Teams as shown below.
Don’t forget Microsoft Mesh
Microsoft is also rolling out Microsoft Mesh to Teams users in public preview in this month (October 2023). Mesh is a virtual reality platform that will enable richer and more immersive events. It will work on PC and Meta Quest VR devices. You can read more here.
Microsoft and Meta have announced that they are expanded there AI partnership which will see Bing and Meta (who own Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) working together to create enhanced user experiences.
Microsoft say that Meta will extensively use Bing Search which it will integrate into their AI’s chat experiences, enabling more timely and up-to-date answers with access to real-time search information.
Bing’s integration will also extend to some of Meta’s other AIs, such as ChatGPT, that are available to message with in WhatsApp, FaceBook Messenger, and Instagram.
This announcement builds on the previous collaboration between Microsoft Bing and Meta to accelerate innovation in the era of AI.
Microsoft say that Bing aims to deliver powerful and useful AI experiences into the products people use most. If a request requires fresh information, Meta AI will automatically ask Bing to get the chat answer….
Benefits of the Bing and Meta Partnership
This partnership should benefits users in several ways, inluding allowing users to access the latest web data and information from Bing through Meta AI’s chat services, such as Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
For Microsoft this gives them more usage and reach of Bing in search, a service typically led by Google. Microsoft AI is extremely powerful and smart but often not exposed as users “default” to Google and “googling it”.
Yes, I thought Mesh was dead too – but it’s not! Today (Sept 26th), Microsoft announced that Microsoft Mesh will be going into Public Preview in October 2023.
What is Microsoft Mesh?
Microsoft Mesh is a new 3D immersive experience that will be surfaced through Microsoft Teams. It aims to help blur the lines between the physical and virtual space, “re-imagining the way employees come together” through three-dimensional (3D) immersive experience known as “digital spaces”. Backed up by information in Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index Report, “organisations need new ways for people to connect from different locations or geographies, using the tools they already have”.
People will be able to join these immersive spaces in Microsoft Teams, or via custom immersive space in Microsoft Mesh. Either way, this will transform the two-dimensional meeting into a 3D immersive experience.
These immersive spaces will each have unique attributes that create a perception of being physically together in a 3D digital space, including spatial audio interaction, co-presence, and immersion feedback.
Microsoft Mesh will be customisable
Microsoft say that organisations and teams will be able to customise these immersive spaces in Mesh using a “no-code” editor or by using a dedicated “Mesh toolkit”.
Secure and Inclusive
Microsoft Mesh is built on Microsoft 365 with the usual enterprise-grade security and privacy. It will support haptic feedback on supported devices and supports certified dedicated VR headsets such as Oculus Quest 2, and as well as on PC.
Getting Started with Mesh
Once available, IT will need to ensure users have a suitable base license (Teams Essentials, Microsoft 365 Business Basic, Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Microsoft 365 Business Premium, Microsoft 365 E3/E5, or Office 365 E1/E3/E5. and will also need to enable / authorise the use of the Mesh app for Teams once available. Teams Premium is also needed.
The new Immersive spaces will be available in the classic Teams app, followed shortly afterwards in the new Teams.
Users can also download the Mesh app for PC from the Microsoft Store or the Mesh app for Meta Quest devices from the App Lab.
Microsoft Teams Premium is needed to use Microsoft Mesh.
Microsoft hosted a live Surface and AI event on Thursday 21st September where they announced a lot of new and exciting features and products across its various platforms and services. In this blog post, I have tried to summarise the most notable ones and explain how they might benefit you and your organisation.
Disclaimer (and product plug) - Since this was an AI event in whole, I also want to state that other than some slight tweaks, this blog post was written by Bing Enterprise Chat - Microsoft Designer created the image. The whole thing took less that 10 minutes.
Copilot: Your AI Assistant at Work and Beyond
Copilot is a new feature that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help you with various tasks, such as drafting emails, summarizing texts, creating images, and more. You can access Copilot from Windows 11, Microsoft 365, Edge, and Bing, and chat with it in natural language. Copilot will understand your intent and provide relevant assistance based on the context and your data.
For example, you can ask Copilot to draft an email for you with a specific tone, or to generate a graphic art based on your description. You can also use Copilot to answer questions, troubleshoot your PC, control your settings, and access recommendations. Copilot is designed to save you time, reduce your cognitive load, and ignite your creativity.
Copilot will be generally available for enterprise customers on November 1st, and for a select group of consumers and small business customers as part of the Early Access Program (EAP). It will initially be limited to three hundred licenses and will cost $30 per user per month.
Windows 11: The Most Powerful and Personal Windows Ever
Windows 11 is the latest (and IMO best) version of the Microsoft’s desktop operating system that powers millions of devices around the world. Windows 11 offers a fresh and modern design, improved performance, and security, and a more personalised and connected experience. They announced the latest update coming next week (Sept 26th). Some of the new features in Windows 11 will include:
An updated Start menu that gives you quick access to your apps, documents, and settings.
An updated Taskbar that lets you easily switch between multiple instances of each app, hide the time and date, and end tasks with a right-click.
A new Dev Home that helps you set up your development environment by downloading apps, packages, or repositories, connecting to your developer accounts and tools, and accessing experimental features in WSL.
A new Dev Drive that provides a fast and secure storage volume for developers, with a file system that delivers both performance and security.
A new WinGet Configuration that simplifies the setup process for developers by reducing it to a single command.
New Gallery in File Explorer that makes it easy to access your photo collection across all your devices.
A new Snipping Tool that lets you record your screen with audio and mic support, copy and redact text from a screenshot, and edit your images with Paint.
A new Photos app that has new editing capabilities to achieve stylish background blur effects and makes it easier to find specific images backed up in OneDrive.
Updated Narrator that uses natural human voices in new languages, and lets you use voice access to log in to your PC and access other areas on the lock screen.
Refreshed Notepad app that automatically saves your session state, allowing you to close Notepad without any interrupting dialogs and then pick up where you left off when you return.
A new Instant Games feature that lets you play your favorite casual games directly from the Microsoft Store without the need to download and install them on your device.
Windows Copilot – Your Copilot for Windows.
Windows 11 also announced general availability of Windows 365 Boot and Windows 365 Switch, which allow you to log into your Windows 365 Cloud PC as the primary Windows experience on the device or easily switch between the Cloud PC and the local desktop. Windows 365 is a cloud PC service that lets you stream a full Windows experience from anywhere on any device and is fully managed from Intune.
This update will start rolling out as a free update on September 26th.
Surface: The Ultimate Devices for Work and Play
Surface is Microsoft’s line of devices that combine innovative design, powerful performance, and versatile functionality. Surface devices are built to work seamlessly with Windows 11 and Microsoft 365, offering the best productivity and creativity tools for work and play. I am a massive fan of Surface
The new / refreshed Surface devices include:
Surface Laptop Studio 2: The most powerful Surface ever built, with the latest Intel Core processors, NVIDIA Studio tools for creators, touchscreen display, and flexible design with three unique postures.
Surface Laptop Go 3: The lightest and most portable Surface Laptop, with touchscreen display, premium features like an incredible typing experience and a Fingerprint Power Button, and four stylish colours.
Surface Go 4: The baby Surface Pro is this time, available only for corporate and not consumer market (why??), the device is the same dimensions as before but is more repairable (the most repairable and sustainable device int he Surface Fleet). It ditches the 4GB RAM option (good) and brings a higher spec entry level processor. Pricing increases too which is a shame as is ditching consumer market. These are great for school kids.
Surface Hub 3: The ultimate collaboration device for teams, with a large interactive display that runs the Microsoft Teams Rooms experience. Surface Hub 3 pairs seamlessly with Teams-certified devices and supports Hub on day one. There was also an upgrade announced for Surface Hub 2S customers to upgrade to Surface Hub 3,
The new Surface devices are available for pre-ordering now.
Microsoft 365: The World’s Productivity Cloud
Microsoft 365 is a cloud-based subscription service that offers the best productivity apps for work and life. Microsoft 365 includes apps like Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, Teams, Stream, Loop, Clipchamp, and more.
Microsoft 365 Copilot (which will be available from 1st November) is an add-on service at $30 per user per month and provides in-built AI-powered features and services that help you get more done across all your Office 365 apps and services – with support also coming to Microsoft Designer, Loop and Clipchamp and more.
Some of the new features and services in Microsoft 365 include:
Copilot in Outlook, Excel, Word, Loop, OneNote, Stream, and OneDrive: Copilot is integrated into various Microsoft 365 apps to provide AI assistance for different tasks. For example, you can use Copilot in Outlook to draft emails, in Excel to create charts, in Word to summarize documents, in Loop to generate content blocks, in OneNote to take notes, in Stream to transcribe videos, and in OneDrive to find files.
Generative Expand, Fill, and Erase in Microsoft Designer: These features let you manipulate images in creative ways, such as expanding the canvas, filling in missing areas, or erasing unwanted objects. Generative Erase is generally available now, and Generative Fill and Expand are coming soon.
Copilot Lab: Copilot Lab is a feature that lets you learn how to use Copilot effectively, share your favorite prompts with coworkers, and get inspired by other users. Copilot Lab will be accessible to all Microsoft 365 Copilot users once it’s generally available in November.
Mobile Application Management (MAM) for Windows: This feature allows employees to access organisational resources through Microsoft Edge from an unmanaged device, while giving IT the ability to control the conditions under which the resources can be accessed.
Bing and Edge: The Smartest Way to Search and Browse
Bing and Edge are Microsoft’s search engine and web browser that offer a fast, secure, and personalized way to search and browse the web. Bing and Edge use AI to provide relevant information and assistance based on your needs and preferences.
Some of the new features and improvements in Bing and Edge include:
DALL-E 3 in Bing Image Creator and Microsoft Designer integration: Bing Image Creator is a feature that lets you create images from text descriptions using AI. Bing Image Creator is now powered by DALL-E 3, which produces more realistic and detailed images. You can also access Bing Image Creator directly from Microsoft Designer for further editing.
Content Credentials: Content Credentials is a feature that uses cryptographic methods to add an invisible digital watermark to all AI-generated images in Bing. This helps you verify the origin and authenticity of the images. Content Credentials will be supported in Bing Image Creator, Microsoft Designer, and Paint soon.
Bing Chat Enterprise: Bing Chat Enterprise is a feature that lets you chat with Copilot from the Edge mobile app. You can also use multimodal visual search and Image Creator from Bing Chat Enterprise.
Copilot in Microsoft Shopping: Copilot in Microsoft Shopping is a feature that helps you find what you’re looking for more quickly. You can ask for information on an item, and Bing will ask additional questions to learn more. Then, Bing will use that information to provide more tailored recommendations. This feature will be available soon on both PC and mobile.
Personalised Answers: Personalised Answers is a feature that uses your chat history to inform your results. For example, if you’ve used Bing to track your favorite soccer team, next time you’re planning a trip it can proactively tell you if the team is playing in your destination city. Personalized Answers will begin to roll out soon.
Microsoft Advertising: The Best Way to Reach Your Customers
Microsoft Advertising is a platform that helps businesses connect with their customers across the web. Microsoft Advertising offers various solutions and tools to create effective and engaging ads that reach the right audience at the right time.
Some of the new features and improvements in Microsoft Advertising include:
Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform: Copilot in the Microsoft Advertising Platform is a feature that simplifies and enhances every aspect of your experience with the platform. You can use Copilot to create campaigns, get content recommendations, optimize your performance, and more. This feature will be coming soon.
Compare & Decide Ads: Compare & Decide Ads are a new type of ads that pull relevant data of various products or services into a succinct table. This helps users easily evaluate different options based on their criteria. Compare & Decide Ads will be available for cars initially and will be brought to closed beta in early 2024.
These are just some of the highlights from the Microsoft September 2023 News. There are many more features and products that we didn’t cover here, but you can find them on the current web page context. I hope you are excited about these new developments, and I would love to hear what you are most excited about.
Microsoft have announced the Surface Hub 3 and along with a way to breathe new life into Surface Hub 2S with an upgrade module for the Surface Hub 2S.
Surface Hub 3 Transforms Meetings and Collaboration
Surface Hub 3 is the latest all-in-one hybrid meeting and collaboration device that combines the best of Microsoft Teams Rooms, Windows, and Surface Hub. It offers a consistent and seamless experience across all meeting spaces, from small huddle rooms to large conference rooms and brings new AI tools to enhance your hybrid meetings and collaboration sessions.
In this blog post, I will explore some of the key features and benefits of Surface Hub 3, and how it compares to its predecessor, the Surface Hub 2S as well as availability, pricing and how to upgrade from Hub 2S to Hub 3.
What is Surface Hub 3?
Surface Hub 3 is a device that combines the functionality of a digital whiteboard, a large touchscreen display, a video conferencing system, and a Windows 10 PC. It is designed to empower teams to work together more effectively, whether they are in the same room or across the globe.
Like the predecessor, Surface Hub comes in two sizes: fifty inches and eighty-five inches. Both models have a high-resolution, 4K PixelSense display with an anti-glare coating that makes content visible in any lighting condition. They also have two microphone arrays and speaker pairings that deliver clear audio and optimize sound based on device orientation. Additionally, they support active inking with up to two Surface Hub Pens Surface Slim pens, providing twenty points of multitouch for immersive on-device collaboration.
Surface Hub 3 runs on Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows, which means that it offers a consistent user interface and feature set with other Microsoft Teams Rooms devices. This makes it easy for users to transition from one meeting space to another, without having to learn different systems or adjust settings. Users can also pair Surface Hub 3 with Microsoft Teams Rooms certified peripherals in larger conference rooms, such as external microphones, speakers, cameras, and more.
Surface Hub 3 also supports some unique capabilities that set it apart from other devices. For example, it allows users to physically rotate the device between portrait or landscape mode at any time, to suit their needs and preferences. It also enables users to move the device around the building with a Steelcase Roam Stand and an APC Charge Mobile Battery (both sold separately), offering flexibility and mobility.
Existing Surface Hub 2S customers can also upgrade their existing Surface Hub 2S devices to Surface Hub 3 with the Surface Hub 3 Pack, which includes a new processor cartridge and a software license.
How does Surface Hub 3 improve over Surface Hub 2S?
Surface Hub 3 is an evolution of Surface Hub 2S, which was launched in 2019. While both devices share some similarities, such as the sleek design and the Windows 10 Team edition operating system, Surface Hub 3 offers several improvements over its predecessor.
Here are some of the main differences between Surface Hub 3 and Surface Hub 2S:
Performance: Surface Hub 3 has a faster processor and graphics card than Surface Hub 2S, resulting in a smoother and more responsive experience. It also has more memory and storage capacity, allowing it to handle more complex tasks and applications. In short, Microsoft say that Surface Hub 3 has a 60% CPU performance increase, and a 160% GPU graphics performance increase gen-on-gen. This helps its support more inclusive, media rich meetings, higher definition meetings and hardware powered AI features like background noise cancellation and studio video effects.
Software: Surface Hub 3 runs on Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows – offering a true Teams experience whilst still providing leading edge Windows 11 capabilities which means that Surface Hub 3 can access more apps and services from the Microsoft Store, as well as use Windows Hello for biometric authentication. It also means that Surface Hub 3 can benefit from new features and updates that are released for Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows.
Features: Surface Hub 3 also has unique features that are not available on Surface Hub 2S. These include smart rotation, portrait mode, improved mobility options, persistent chat, Teams Front Row layout support, Cloud IntelliFrame (a smart video feed that separates participants into individual boxes), video segmentation (a feature that removes backgrounds and adjusts video sizes), and Copilot in Whiteboard (a feature that helps generate and organize ideas). Surface Hub 3 also works in portrait mode.
Why Surface Hub 3?
Surface Hub 3 is not just another collaboration device. It builds on 8 years of innovation, the power of Microsoft Team, AI, and Windows 11. Surface Hub 3 continues to offer versatile and inclusive solution that can transform huddle rooms, meeting rooms and collaborative spaces. Surface Hub brings:
Consistency: Surface Hub 3 brings a consistent experience across all meeting spaces, regardless of the size or configuration of the room. It runs a variant of Teams Rooms on Windows meaning the device can be be used for different purposes in different spaces and in multiple modes – bringing whiteboarding, presenting, hybrid meetings, or for co-creating in open spaces.
Simplicity: Surface Hub 3 brings simplified your meeting setup and management since it is powered by Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows platform. People can easily start or join a meeting with one touch, share content wirelessly, and control the device with voice commands. IT can also manage Surface Hub through the Microsoft Teams admin center and the Microsoft Teams Rooms Pro Management Portal.
Engagement: Surface Hub 3 enhances the meeting engagement and participation experience with new AI-powered features that Surface Hub 3, Teams and Copilot bring to life. This makes remote attendees feel more connected and visible, thanks to the Cloud IntelliFrame and video segmentation features. You can also make your brainstorming sessions more productive and creative, thanks to the Copilot in Whiteboard feature.
Innovation: With Surface Hub 3, you can unleash your team’s potential and foster a culture of innovation, thanks to the Surface Hub 3’s design and capabilities. You can experiment with different modes of interaction, such as touch, pen, voice, or gesture. You can also explore new ways of working, such as rotating the device, moving it around, or pairing it with other devices.
Upgrade your Surface Hub 2S to Surace Hub 3
Organisations with Surface Hub 2S devices can also upgrade their existing Surface Hub 2S devices to Surface Hub 3 with the Surface Hub 3 Pack, which includes a new processor cartridge and a software license. This brings Microsoft Teams Rooms – including the latest Teams Rooms layouts and management capabilities to existing Surface Hub 2S. It provides a power upgrade with faster performance, improved graphics and added storage and allows for Portrait mode on the Surface Hub 2S 50”.
Availability of Surface Hub 3
Surface Hub 3 is available for preorder now, and it will start shipping in early 2024. There are the same two models to choose from – fifty-inch or eighty-five-inch version.
Pricing for Surface Hub 3
Pricing for Surface Hub 3 is similar to the Hub2S and is listed at (RRP) being
Surface Hub 3 85” with 2x Surface Hub Pens and 1x Smart Camera. £24,649.00
Surface Hub 3 50” with 1x Surface Hub Pen and 1x) Smart Camera. £ 9,299.00
Surface Hub2S 50″ Upgrade Pack to Hub 3: £2749.00
Volume and sector discounts will be available as usual through your Microsoft Surface Hub Reseller.
Surface Hub 3 is the ultimate device for meetings and collaboration. It combines the best of Microsoft Teams Rooms and Surface Hub, offering a consistent and seamless experience across all meeting spaces. It also enables you to leverage AI to enhance hybrid meetings and collaboration sessions.
Cisco has announced that it will acquire Splunk, a cybersecurity and observability platform platform for $28 billion.
Cisco say that acquisition is expected to help them create the next generation of AI-enabled security and observability solutions, moving organisations from threat detection and response to threat prediction and prevention.
This will help build on the extensive full stack observability platforms Cisco have already including Thousand Eyes and Cisco App Dymanics.
This is the biggest acquisition in Cisco’s history and a massive push into software and artificial intelligence-powered data analysis. With three two complimentary services coming together it should help Cisco achieve it’s mission to “securely connect everything to make anything possible, and move from threat detection and response to threat prediction and prevention”.
Splunk President and CEO Gary Steele will join Cisco’s Executive Leadership Team reporting to Chuck Robbins.
What is Cisco’s Full Stack Observability offering?
Cisco’s Full-Stack Observability (FSO) solutions bring together performace and availability data from on-premises, cloud and SaaS applications allowing organisations to monitor traditional and modern applications, track performance of cloud-native applications, and correlate network metrics with application performance data and provide real-time insights and recommended actions for any performance related issues along with the potential. Impact to the business.
Cisco Full-Stack Observability is comprised of a single platform that brings together multiple solutions such including AppDynamics, ThousandEyes, and Cisco Secure Application. Splunk will soon be added to this!
The platform is open and extensible, API-driven, focused on OpenTelemetry, and anchored on Metrics, Events, Logs, and Traces (MELT).
You can find more information about Cisco Full-Stack Observability solutions on the Cisco website
Today (Thursday 21st September) at a live event in New York, Microsoft announced their “revised” vision, release date and confirmation of pricing for Copilot – a “digital companion for your whole life”. Microsoft have said this this Copilot will create a single Copilot user experience across Bing, Edge, Microsoft 365, and Windows (plus more services that will come later). There’s also a new logo!
The Copilot experience promises to be consistent across all platforms and products – Microsoft 365, Bing, and Windows 11.
This has been in preview with Windows Insiders for a while and is essentially the new and revamped “cortana” [ok its far more than that]. Microsoft describe this as “a digital companion for your whole life” and will be nested into Windows 11 from September 26, 2023.
Windows Copilot will be embedded into Windows 11 and will bring generative AI, search, and the ability to control apps and services within your desktop environment.
Currently in preview – will start rolling out starting from September 26 as part of 23H2.
Windows Copilot will also support third part app support like Spotify and Adobe.
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Described by Microsoft as “your AI assistant at work”, this was initially announced back in March as been in closed invite only Early Access Preview since June.
Microsoft 365 builds includes enterprise-grade security, privacy, compliance, and responsible AI to ensure all data processing happens inside your Microsoft 365 tenant—using which will be natively built into the Microsoft 365 apps and services everyone already uses like Teams, Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.
This will be available for enterprise customers for $30 per user per month
It requires a base license of Microsoft 365 E3, E5 or Business Standard or Premium
It will be available from November 1st to purchase
Includes the new Microsoft 365 Chat (formally Business Chat).
Rollout will be staggered – with release first to EA customers who were on the Early Access Programme and then will be available in phases there-after. Customers are advised to speak to their Microsoft Team for more information.
Note: Whilst this is great – IMO it is a little too soon (about 4 months sooner than most expected). Organisations do need to ensure their data lifecycle, governance, compliance, and security is in top shape to get the most from Copilot in Microsoft and there are strong recommendations about getting Copilot Ready – I have covered this here previously. This is an area I’m working a lot with organisation with at the moment – helping with use cases, data preparation, training, awareness, security, and governance.
Bing Chat Enterprise
This has been in public preview for a couple of months for Commercial and Education customers and is the same as Bing Chat for consumer (which is also free) but brings commercial data protection for AI
This is available free for Microsoft 365 E3 and E5, Business Standard, and Business Premium customers or at a cost of $5 as a standalone
Bing Chat Enterprise adds commercial data protection to Bing Chat, ensuring that sensitive business data is never seen by anyone, never stored, and never used to train the foundation models.
Support multimodal visual search and Image Creator and will also be available on Microsoft Edge and Bing mobile app
“Rival” tech giants Microsoft and Oracle have announced a deepening of their four-year cloud partnership in a move that will see Oracle physically locating their Exadata hardware in Microsoft’s data centers in order to speed up their apps and improve the customer experience.
Known as Oracle Database@Azure, this will result in Oracles’ customers having direct access to Oracle database services running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure but deployed physically into Azure data centers. Microsoft and Oracle said this this will mean their shared customers will be able to operate, monitor and manage their Oracle services directly from the Azure Cloud dashboard, instead of having to run a separate Oracle dashboard.
It’s all about AI and Data
AI needs data and and Oracle is big in data! The reason for the deeper integration between Oracle and Microsoft is to leverage more value in each others services – linking Microsoft’s middleware, AI and software and services with Oracle’s Autonomous Database in a way that will reduce the latency which usually occurs when accessing and acting on data from muti cloud environments.
This extended partnership aims to bring together Oracle’s hardware and software with all the advanced functionality Microsoft brings in their extensive and global cloud services.
Accelerating Digital Transformation
Oracles’ Larry Ellison said that this is interesting for existing and new applications. He said that “Many customers have partially migrated to the cloud, but a lot of data is still on-prem… “
With further cooperation between Microsoft and Oracle, both claim this will help speed up and simplify the cloud migration and modernization process by making it easier for customers to get their data into the Cloud and to manage their Oracle and Microsoft cloud services from a single place.
Larry Ellison said at the end of the annoucement that hundreds of their customers are now using the interconnect between Microsoft and Oracle, but their customers still need faster, lower latency integration and this is what this will do. “We’ve made the network invisible and can now interconnect everything (Oracle) within Azure without realising you’re dealing with multiple stacks and multiple technologies”.
This level of partnership and collaboration demonstrates how technology and customer demand have driven more cooperation among software and cloud giants.
Microsoft has been recognized as a Leader in the inaugural Gartner Magic Quadrant™ for Desktop as a Service (DaaS). According to Gartner, DaaS is defined as “the provision of virtual desktops by a public cloud or service provider” and encompasses a variety of cloud solutions, such as Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop, which are described in a way that is familiar to customers of varying backgrounds and technical expertise.
Given the newness to the market of Microsoft’s two offerings in this space, it’s incredible to see Microsoft leading in this catagory (ahead of the golden players like Citrix and VMware).
Gartner stated in their report that “Microsoft is one of the few vendors with significant global presence,” and “Microsoft is in a unique position, as it owns the architecture for Windows, Intune, Microsoft 365 applications, Azure, Azure Virtual Desktop, and Windows 365.”
Microsoft have two offerings in this space which are both designed to provide organisations with secure and versatile cloud desktop solutions that support flexible work options.
Windows 365 – a fully managed DaaS solution that securely streams personalised Windows desktop, apps, settings, and content from the Microsoft Cloud to your Cloud PC which can be accessed from the device of your choice.
Azure Virtual Desktop, a full enterprise cloud virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform that delivers hosted remote desktops and apps with flexibility and control without compromising on security.
You u can check out my short user experience demo on Windows365 here.
As the telecommunications landscape continues to evolve, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is gradually being phased out in favor of modern communication technologies. It will be completely switched off by the end of December 2025, and new PSTN lines can no longer be bought or sold.
This transition presents both opportunities and challenges for organizations that rely on traditional phone systems. The future and replacement, of course, lie in Cloud Calling. However, achieving a smooth transition requires careful thought, planning, and migration.
Moving calling into the cloud also helps extend the functionality and reach of collaboration solutions like Teams, Zoom, and Webex, for example.
This blog discusses key considerations for businesses in preparation for the PSTN switch off next year and covers seven essential areas.
Assessing your existing calling infrastrucure.
Expore the different options.
Remember to carry out a network readiness assessment.
Consider all the Cloud Calling Options.
Ensure you have a solid testing plan.
Don’d forget security, compliance and privacy.
Adoption and Training are key.
Assess your current calling infrastrucutre
To prepare for the PSTN turn-off, you should first examine your current telephony infrastructure. Find out how many PSTN lines, hardware devices and related costs you have. Check if you have any legacy systems that depend on PSTN connectivity, such as fax machines or alarm systems that use analogue connections. This assessment will help you measure the impact and look for appropriate alternatives.
Action: Speak to your UC or voice partner. They will be able to carry this out for you and help you with costings and options.
Explore Different Cloud Calling Options
With traditional PSTN services becoming obsolete and being turn off, cloud-based communication solutions, such as Microsoft Teams not only offer more advantages but make lots of sense for organisations by having a singl platform for meetings, chat, calling and apps. Moving towards integrated solutions help you save costs, scale up and down as needed and provide a simpler unified and easier to use platform with everything in one place. It also is proven to improve adoption and make communication more “frictionless” as well as providing better integratation with other line of business applications.
The same applies to organisations who are already invested in wider UC platforms such as Webex or Zoom. To find the best solution for your organisation, you need to assess your needs and goals. You may also benefit from working with a trusted technology partner who can guide you through the migration process.
Remember to carry out a Network Readiness Assessment
Before implementing your chosen cloud voice solution, make sure your network infrastructure can support it. Unlike traditional PSTN or dedication “voice solutions”, putting cloud calling along side your collaboration and productivity solutions like Teams, Zoom or Webex typically means that IP routing, VLANs, bandwidth and QoS settings will need to change. You’ll need to check internet bandwidth, wired and wireless etworking, VLANs, VPNs and network security. You may also need to add or implment CoS and QoS to to ensure quality of service. Your cloud provider, IT or technology partner will be able to help – so will the chosen vendor you decide to work with and many will have “tools” to help you check connecivity health.
Not all Cloud Calling is the same so consider your options
To transition from PSTN to a different phone system, it is essential to carefully compare the various methods of connecting your calls. When considering the inclusion of cloud calling in your collaboration suite, such as Webex, Zoom, or Teams, multiple options are available. Whilst these vendors all provide their own native “calling plans,” which may be the simplest and most suitable choice in certain cases, . it is also important to explore alternative connectivity methods, such as Direct Routing (via SBCs managed by you or your partner) or Hosted Direct Routing (a managed service). Additionally, you may even consider utilising solutions that are not inherently integrated into your collaboration suite. Instead, these solutions involve an app that runs alongside or within the Teams, Webex, or Zoom app, providing calling capability.
For each of these options, it is crucial to thoroughly consider the advantages and disadvantages, such as cost, seamless communication, geographical coverage, SLAs, and level of integration with other line of business applications like Office 365, Contact Centre, and CRM. It is highly recommended to conduct tests whenever possible to evaluate the performance of each solution.
Have a solid test and rollout plan
An inclusive testing and migration plan must be formulated to ensure a seamless transition to the new environment. This plan should encompass pilot testing, deployment and migration milestones, specific timelines, and clearly defined responsibilities for each stage of the transition.
Prior to proceeding with a full-scale production rollout, it is strongly advised to conduct a network readiness assessment (as mentioned above) in conjunction with systems testing involving a select group of users based on a user acceptance test plan.
In order to aid employees in adapting to the new system and to facilitate their feedback, it is imperative to incorporate comprehensive training and change management activities. Regular communication with stakeholders and designated “champion groups” should be established and their expectations managed consistently throughout the transition process.
Security, Compliance and Privacy
For organisations operating in regulated industries, it is imperative to carefully consider and select an alternative communication solution that aligns with regulatory and compliance requirements. Factors such as data privacy, security measures, and industry-specific regulations should be taken into account when evaluating communication solutions. Additionally, the seamless integration of features like language translation, call recording, and transcription into your existing collaboration tools should be carefully considered.
A recent development worth noting is Microsoft’s announcement regarding the inclusion of Copilot functionality in Teams Phone. However, it is crucial to involve your legal and compliance teams in order to address any potential issues and adhere to relevant standards. If necessary, consult with your vendor or partner to ensure compliance and resolve any concerns.
Training and Adoption
As the deadline for switching off the PSTN approaches, organisations can benefit from adopting a modern and integrated cloud calling platform that offers better features, more flexibility, and greater affordability and future-proofing. They can also use this opportunity to streamline and simplify their communications by choosing solutions that integrate with their wider communication and collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Webex or Zoom.
Microsoft have announced that organisations with Microsoft 365 E5 subscriptions will soon be getting a new “service plan” called “Defender for IoT – Enterprise IoT Security – Enterprise IoT Security”.
As spotted in the Microsoft 365 Message [ID: MC673712] update over the weekend, this service plan will provide both Microsoft 365 E5 customers and those who have the Microsoft M365 E3 add-on [E5 Security] with real-time device discovery, continuous monitoring, and vulnerability management capabilities for up to 5x Enterprise IoT devices (such as printers, scanners, cameras, Smart TVs, VoIP phones) per user license [so an organisation with 2,500 devices will get support for cross the organisation. Additional per-per device licenses will also be available for purchase.
This will start to roll-out next month (October 2023) and provides tools and insights for protect enterprise IoT networks, including:
Tools and insights for protect enterprise IoT networks
Agentless IoT device monitoring
Support for cloud, on-premises, and hybrid OT networks
Support for modern and proprietary Operations technology (OT) protocols
Lightweight security micro-agents which allow IT to build security straight into IoT operations and innovations.
Read more on Securing IoT devices for “Defender for IoT – Enterprise IoT Security“
Microsoft said yesterday in a blog post that they will “pay legal damages on behalf of customers using its artificial intelligence (AI) products if they are sued for copyright infringement for the output generated by such systems“.
In the post, Microsoft said that they will assume responsibility for the potential legal risks arising out of any claims raised by third parties for copyright infringement so long as their company’s customers use “the guardrails and content filters” built into their AI powered products which include Bing Enterprise Chat and Microsoft 365 Copilot. Microsoft said that this offers functionality that is designed to reduce the likelihood that their AI-powered services will return content that infringes copyrighted content.
Microsoft’s say that their Copilot Copyright Commitment will protect customers so long as they have “used the guardrails and content filters we have built into our products” said Hossein Nowbar, [CVP and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft] in their blog post yesterday. Microsoft also pledged to pay related fines or settlements and said it has taken steps to ensure its Copilots respect copyright.
Microsoft’s pledge comes are part of their ethical use of AI commitments and say that “We believe in standing behind our customers when they use our products – we are charging our commercial customers for our Copilots, and if their use creates legal issues, we should make this our problem rather than our customers’ problem“.
Generative AI is now everywhere
Generative AI applications leverage existing content such including news, images and artwork, and evening programming code and use it to generate new “AI generated” content which may use combinations of different data sources. Microsoft is embedding much of this technology, powered by their partnership with OpenAI Inc, into their core technology products like Windows 11 and Microsoft 365 which as a potential to put their customers in “legal jeopardy”.
With the proliferation and growing use of generative AI – people are using these tools to generate text, images, sounds, other data, and people have raised concerns over the technology’s ability to generate content without referencing it to its original authors. To address this Microsoft, said that “We are sensitive to the concerns of authors, and we believe that Microsoft rather than our customers should assume the responsibility to address them. Even where existing copyright law is clear, generative AI is raising new public policy issues and shining a light on multiple public goals. We believe the world needs AI to advance the spread of knowledge and help solve major societal challenges. Yet it is critical for authors to retain control of their rights under copyright law and earn a healthy return on their creations“.
Protecting and upholding Copyright Laws
Artists, writers, and software developers are already filing lawsuits or raising objections about their creations being used without their consent which has accelerated since the available of Generative AI tools exploded with the release of ChatGPT back in November 2022. This includes programmers, artists, and authors.
I cannot show you that, as it would be unethical and illegal to do so. AI breaching copyright is a genuine issue that affects many artists and creators who have their original works used without their permission or compensation.
Microsoft say that their Copilot Copyright Commitment extends their existing intellectual property indemnification coverage to copyright claims relating to the use of its AI-powered assistants called Copilots and through to their AI powered Bing Chat Enterprise.
Microsoft state in their blog that “we have built important guardrails into our Copilots to help respect authors’ copyrights. We have incorporated filters and other technologies that are designed to reduce the likelihood that Copilots return infringing content. These build on and complement our work to protect digital safety, security, and privacy, based on a broad range of guardrails such as classifiers, meta prompts, content filtering, and operational monitoring and abuse detection, including that which potentially infringes third-party content”.
You can already see evidence of this safety net in tools such as Bing Enterprise Chat where the tools will do what it can to avoid purposely breaching copyright.
I have run well over a dozen Business Briefing sessions with customers over the past month and whilst still not available to (most of) us yet, one thing is for certain – Microsoft 365 Copilot will be an absolute game-changer for any business that uses Microsoft 365 as their primary productivity and collaboration toolset.
If you are already leveraging Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, Office, and even apps like Forms, Loop and Viva, the way you work with these apps, with your teams and customers is about to be turbo charged – bringing huge benefits to every employee who has a Copilot license.
This blog covers the 5 key things I’ve been talking to business’ about in the run up to release of Microsoft 365 Copilot.
Recap – what is Microsoft 365 Copilot
Microsoft 365 Copilot will be as deep rooted into Office 365 as Windows is on moder desktop and will be as revolutionary and disruptive as the hype. Whilst we may have “heard this before”, my early experience of Microsoft 365 Copilot tells me that this goes beyond any form of productivity gains we’ve been promised or seen before.
Copilot won’t just be for IT and the techies either – in fact, IT may benefit the least!
Copilot will help increase the speed to get work done, improve the quality and help people get more from your tools and data. It should help increase profit by automating tasks, enhancing productivity, and improving skills.
Copilot will be accessible to users through natural language and starts with a prompt from you in the associated Office 365 App through an approach called “grounding”. Microsoft 365 Copilot will help with anything and everything. It can help you with tasks such as analysing data in Excel, summarising documents, creating presentations from scratch or content elsewhere in PowerPoint, automatically minuting meeting and assigning follow-up tasks and providing detailed responses to any clarifying questions.
There is so much excitement for Microsoft 365 Copilot but also many things’ organisations need to do to prepare to ensure they get the best return on their investment – yes, it’s an investment, at circa $30 per user per month.
Here’s my five key things to be excited about and to make sure you prepare for….
Whether you are a business leader, manager, or a member of team, you need to understand how Copilot works and how it can benefit your role and your organisation. Otherwise, you will find your competition are using it to their advantage.
#1 It’s still a waiting game….
Whilst Microsoft announced Microsoft 365 Copilot back in March 2023 and made it available to an extremely limited (twenty-six) US organisations, the sizzle videos Microsoft released, which dominated social media has sparked huge interest, questions, and speculation about what is coming.
Then, in June 2023, Microsoft expanded the availability of the product to an “invited” list of around six hundred customers. Microsoft said they also expect to release Microsoft 365 Copilot in the “coming months” but realistically I think that this is still nine to twelve months away, though I expect the private preview will be available to more organisations around the time of Microsoft Ignite at the back end of 2023.
Whilst we hate to wait – there is a lot of preparation that most organisations will need to do to plan, prepare (and pay) for Microsoft 365 Copilot to get the best value from it.
We also now know that Microsoft 365 Copilot will set you back around $30 pupm based on the pricing Microsoft announced back in June 2023.
#2 – Quality of your data will be critical to success of Copilot
Microsoft 365 Copilot is powered by a large language model (LLM) that can access and analyse information from the Internet (it’s built on ChatGPT-4) but most importantly (and the main differentiation of this and ChatGPT), your organisational data.
Microsoft 365 Copilot will be deep rooting into your Office 365 environment, giving it the ability to leverage your Outlook messages, Teams chat, calls and meetings, OneDrive and SharePoint documents, Loop components, CRM data (Dynamics 365), Azure Files, and other internal and external data (via plug-ins) that it is permitted to access – and act on this data (at your command) to provide you create new content (from multiple sources), analyse data, compare content or re-write work directly from within your Office applications and services.
The other thing that stands Microsoft 365 Copilot aside from other AI tools like ChatGPT is a new indexing tool coming to Microsoft 365 called Semantic Index for Copilot, which is a sophisticated map of all your user and company data. For example, when you ask Copilot about the “March Sales Report,” it doesn’t simply look for documents with those words in the file name or body, it instead understands that “sales reports are produced by Kelly on the finance team and created in Excel.” And it uses that conceptual understanding to determine your intent and help you find what you need.
Sounds incredible right? Yes, but Microsoft 365 Copilot’s performance will depend primarily on what you ask it to do (more on that later), and the quality and completeness of your data. If your data is inaccurate, has multiple conflicting versions, or the permissions/access control are not correct, it may not give you the best results or even be able access the information. There is also the danger that it will have access to things you think it shouldn’t if your data governance and protection need work!
Therefore, if you do nothing else while you wait patiently for it, you need to ensure that your data is clean, updated, and consistent. The quality and security of your data has never been so important.
This is something that will need addressing and it is something that Microsoft strongly recommend doing now (while you are waiting for Copilot to be available).
Teh success of Microsoft 365 Copilot within your organisation will not be Copilot itself - it will be your organisational data that Copilot relies upon to do its job.
#3The impact of Copilot will be huge for everyone.
We’ve all (most likely) used ChatGPT or Bing Chat Enterprise to help us write or summarise text, but with Microsoft 365 Copilot, employees will be able to get a jump start into whatever task they are starting or finishing.
This is because, with Copilot, Microsoft have not just added a tool that can access Generative Chat services (think Bing Chat Enterprise – which is powered by ChatGPT4).
Once you have your hands on Microsoft 365 Copilot, employees will be able to focus on the part of work that needs real human and skilled input, using the power of AI to get started quicker, improve quality of our work, and spend less time on mundane tasks. Microsoft 365 Copilot should be able to assist people in creating high-quality content in a a much shorter amount of time.
You will have seen from the demos that every Office app will have a Copilot button, which once clicked will call your Copilot assistant’s chat box right from within your application.
In Excel – Copilot can help analyse data and generate charts, creating formulas from free text input, visualise information better or look for trends across different cells, sheets, or workbooks. It will also be able to help with data management by suggesting content and formatting options for your spreadsheets
In Word it will help you write documents, curate executive summaries, create proposals or summarise from emails, presentations, or meeting notes. It will be able to write, edit, summarise, and creates right alongside you with only a brief prompt. Copilot will help you create a first draft of document, bringing in information from across your organisation and the internet as needed. Copilot can add content to existing documents, summarize text, and rewrite sections or the entire document to make it more concise.
In PowerPoint – Copilot can help you turn your ideas into stunning presentations. Copilot will be able to transform existing written documents into decks complete with speaker notes and sources or start a new presentation from a simple prompt. It will be able to condense lengthy presentations at the click of a button and let you use natural language commands to adjust layouts, reformat text, and perfectly time animations. Microsoft call it your “storytelling partner”
In Outlook – According to a report by McKinsey, the average employees spend 28% of their time reading and responding to emails. Copilot will help you triage your inbox, summarise long email threads, and generate replies for you. Copilot will also help you with tasks such as scheduling meetings, creating tasks, and setting reminders and can also help with email management by suggesting content and formatting options for your messages.
In Teams – Copilot will help you summarise and prepare for meetings by combing through all your documents, emails, meetings, files, and resources to get you information you need that is highly relevant. It can streamline tasks such as scheduling meetings, creating agendas, and taking notes during meetings. It can also help you with tasks such as creating tasks, setting reminders, and managing your to-do list. Copilot can also help you with team collaboration by suggesting content and formatting options for your messages.
Copilot won't be limited to Microsoft 365 either. Copilot is coming to Dynamics 365, Teams, Viva and of course Power Platform. Copilot is also coming to Windows 11, Bing and of course their developer tools GitHub. There's even a Security Copilot for your Microsoft 365 Admins and SOC.
#4 Copilot “should” pay for itself.
Watch the sizzle video again – Microsoft 365 Copilot will be able to do all the things shown here just by chatting to the Copilot chat bot. it and will also suggest things proactively.
At $30 per user per month, this can add a lot of cost to your cloud subscriptions, but rest assured, Copilot will save vast amounts of wasted time, which will increase productivity (letting people work on other things). Copilot is there to aid every person do almost any task in any app.
While you may not be able to test this until you have your hand on a pilot yourselves, most of the organisations I have spoken to know that eventually investment in AI has the potential to more than pay for itself. With Microsoft 365 Copilot, this $30 (£25) pupm, should improve output and productivity, save time (which saves money) and enabled people to get more done quickly (which saves money) depending on how you look at it to more than £25 pupm in investment.
So, £25 a month is around 75p per day. If you have someone earning £50,000 a year, and they work ~250 working days then this is about £200 a day or £25 an hour.
Now, say they host/run TWO meetings a month and spend 30 mins writing up minutes and action plans after the meeting – then that’s about one hour @ £25 cost.
If, instead of doing this themselves, Microsoft 365 Copilot could write up the minutes and take actions just for that one meeting then we have technically saved that £25 for an investment of £25 (per month) – so we have already broken even after one Copilot run meeting!
Once you’ve run a pilot and tested this out, I am pretty certain almost every person or role would benefit from Copilot and even if not everyone, you’ll want to look at a time and motion study (or mini assessment anyway) and look at the ways Copilot can squeeze an additional 30 mins a day in time back or revenue generating tasks.
#5 – It won’t be perfect so make sure you “check it’s work”
Like all transformative technologies, there are tasks that AI is not well suited for, so it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks.
AI-produced content and outputs may contain inaccuracies, biases, or sensitive materials because they were trained on information from the internet, as well as other sources. AI may not know about recent events yet, and struggles to understand and interpret sarcasm, irony, or humor. Please remember that it’s not a person.
Microsoft advise that “It’s important that you review any content the AI generates for you to make sure it has accurately produced what you wanted.” – this means you are responsible for the content and checking its sources!!
Remember again, that Copilot’s ability to do the best job will be reliant on what you ask and where the data comes from that it uses, so remember – rubbish in, rubbish out. Your pilot and testing of Copilot are critical in making sure users get the best experience.
New devices? More AI? What is coming to Windows 11 andSurface?
Microsoft has announced that they are holding what they describe as a “special event” on September 21st in New York City. Whilst no formal details have yet been shared (or leaked on social media), the expectation is that this will focus on the unveiling of new Surface products (this usually happens around this time), and we expect there to also be an AI-Infused theme to the announcements.
What will Microsoft announce on the 21st of September?
We don’t know officially, however what I expect is that they will use to announce a refresh of several of their existing Surface devices which didn’t get the “refresh love” last October. As such, I would expect Microsoft to formally announce.
Surface Laptop Studio 2 – since V1 has now been discontinued.
Surface Laptop Go 3– there is lots of hope this will have an ARM variant though from what have heard they are sticking to Intel.
Surface Go 4 – again hoping for an ARM variant this year but think I’ll be disappointed.
I’m not expecting a Surface Pro 10 or Surface Laptop 6 to be annouced at this event and have heard this is more likely in the Spring 2024.
There will no doubt be a big focus on AI this year. Last year, with the announcement of Surface Pro 9 5G (which is ARM powered and I am using today), was the first of its kind to feature on chip AI capabilities which in turn enable a bunch of AI enhanced video and audio enhancements known as Windows Studio Effects. Surface Pro 9 5G’s front-facing camera it’s enhanced and assisted by a Neural Process Unit (NPU), that powers feature such as automatic framing, hardware-based background blurring and sustained eye contact during video calls all of which work much better than the native teams (software) experience – the automatic framing super smooth.
I expect all devices announced from this point forward to leverage this on-chip NPU technology.
Sustainability will be front a centre
I also think that the new devices will be even more sustainable – lower power, longer battery life, lower carbon and more repairable. Microsoft are committed to Surface being 100% recyclable by 2030.
AI will be everywhere
I am also confident that Microsoft will use this opportunity to highlight the recent advancements in AI.
Windows 11 will very soon get Copilot and will leverage unique capabilities in the new Surface portfolio and upcoming updates to Windows 11, Bing Chat Enterprise which leverages the deep integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 chatbot technology into Microsoft’s Enterprise Search and Bing.
I aslo hear will see demos of third party integration into Windows Copilot from the likes of Spotify, Adobe and others. For Windows Copilot to really make an impact, third-party plugins will be a key part of the Windows Copilot System.
Cisco has added ransomware detection and recovery support to its recently unveiled Extended Detection and Response (XDR) system.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts the end user’s device and data and demands a ransom for its decryption. Ransomware attacks can cause considerable damage to businesses and organisations, disrupting their operations and compromising their data. To combat this threat, Cisco has now introduced a new solution that integrates with their new Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solution with Cohesity’s DataProtect and DataHawk offerings.
Cisco’s XDR system is a cloud-based platform that combines multiple security products and telemetry sources to detect, analyse, and respond to threats across the network and endpoints. As Cisco announced the General Availability of their XDR platform, they also announce that they have added ransomware detection and recovery support to their XDR system, enabling Security Operations Center (SOC) teams to automatically protect and restore business-critical data in the event of a ransomware attack.
This feature is made possible by integrating Cisco’s XDR system with Cohesity’s DataProtect and DataHawk offerings, which are well established and trusted, infrastructure and enterprise data backup and recovery solutions. These provide configurable recovery points and mass recovery for systems assigned to a protection plan and can preserve potentially infected virtual machines for forensic investigation and protect enterprise workloads from future attacks.
Cisco said that the exponential growth of ransomware and cyber extortion has made a platform approach crucial to effectively counter adversaries. It also noted that during the second quarter of 2023, the Cisco Talos Incident Response team responded to the highest number of ransomware engagements in more than a year.
The integration of Cisco’s XDR system and Cohesity’s solutions is designed to help Security Operations Centre (SOC) teams and IT to automatically detect, snapshot, and restore business-critical data at the very first signs of a ransomware outbreak; often before it has had a chance to move laterally through the network to reach the high–value assets.
In the announcement, Cisco and Cohesity said that they already have a long-standing partnership, with over 460 joint customers. Cisco have said that the Cohesity Cloud Services package will also be able to be sold by their Cisco channel partners like Cisilionlater in 2023. The Cohesity Cloud Services include data security and management as well as threat defense, data isolation and backup/recovery. Cisco have also said that the software can be deployed and hosted on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) via their marketplaces.
This brings more features to Cisco’s XDR service (a competitive landscape where they compete against the likes of Microsoft, Sentinel One and Palo Alto) and brings together a myriad first-party Cisco, and third-party security products to control network access, analyse incidents, remediate threats, and automate response all from a single cloud-based interface. The offering gathers six telemetry sources that SOC operators say are critical for an XDR solution: endpoint, network, firewall, email, identity, and DNS, Cisco stated in the announcement.
Part of Cisco’s growing Security Portfolio
The Cisco Security portfolio is a comprehensive set of solutions that work together to provide seamless interoperability with your security infrastructure, including third-party technologies. Their growing portfolio covers various aspects of security, such as network security, user and endpoint protection, cloud edge, advanced malware protection, email security, web security and workload security. The Cisco XDR system is part of this portfolio and integrates with other Cisco products and services to detect, analyse, and respond to threats across the network and endpoints.
Cisco XDR system can leverage the threat intelligence from Cisco Talos – the cloud-based platform known as Cisco SecureX, as well as the backup and recovery solutions from Cohesity to provide a powerful and proactive defense against ransomware and other advanced threats. Cisco XDR system also supports third-party integrations with other security vendors, including Microsoft, Splunk and many others.
Cisco have, and continue to invest heavily in their end-to-end security portfolio and their XDR solution (as of December 2022) is on the cusp of moving into the Leaders Quadrant in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Endpoint Protection.
Cisco's XDR play competes against other industry leading XDR vendors including Sentinel One Microsoft Defender, Crowdstrike Falcon, Palo Alto Cortex XDR and Trend Micro Vision One.
Cisco are on the verge of become a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Endpoint Protection.
Ransomware is a serious threat that requires a comprehensive and proactive solution. Cisco’s XDR system, integrated with Cohesity’s DataProtect and DataHawk offerings, provides a powerful way to detect, prevent, and recover from ransomware attacks.
For organisations with a fragmented security portfolio and those heavily invested in Cisco infrastructure, Cisco’s XDR can be an excellent choice for organisations that need to increase visibility and simplify the detection and remediation time with the integration of XDR with the rest of their Cisco Security portfolio – enhancing the visibility, automation, and effectiveness of security operations.
Cisco has just published their 2023 Global Networking Trends Report. This report covers some of the emerging networking trends in the multi-cloud world, and how they affect the IT operations and security of organisations. The report is twenty-one pages long and covers some interesting trends and observations from more than 2,500 IT leaders in 13 countries across North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Western Europe (including the UK).
My key take aways from the report
Hybrid work and multi-cloud adoption are driving the need for innovative approaches to securely connect remote workers to corporate data and assets distributed across multi-cloud environments with a huge need (40% of respondents) to de-silo operations and bring together network and security controls and visibility.
Cisco says that “providingsecure access to applicationsdistributed across multiple cloud platforms” is the top challenge cited by 41% of networking professionals, followed by gaining end-to-end visibility into network performance and security (37%).
Growth and demand for SASE. SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) is a convergence architecture that delivers simplified and consistent security and performance for multi-cloud access and hybrid work. Cisco are a leading vendor in the SASE space which combines SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) and SSE (Security Service Edge) into a single, integrated SaaS security offering.
In the report, Cisco highlighted that 47% of respondents expect to connect their branches and remote clients using a SASE model by mid 2025, while 59% said that they will be prioritising centralising and consolidating cloud security over the same period.
Extending SD-WAN connectivity consistently across multiple clouds can automate cloud-agnostic connectivity and optimize the application experience. 53% of respondents prioritise integration with cloud service providers for this purpose5.
End-to-end network visibility and predictive analytics are essential for ensuring a consistent user experience across the complex digital service delivery chain, especially around SaaS apps with 51% of respondents prioritising end-to-end network telemetry and visibility. 47% of respondents said they will be prioritising predictive network analytics.
More organisations are multi-cloud than ever before with 92% of organisations reporting that they use more than one public cloud service (includes SaaS, IaaS and PaaS).
How Cisco Technology can help address these challenges
Cisco provide a comprehensive portfolio of products that can help organisations address many of the challenges of multi-cloud networking and security which fall into the SASE and SD-WAN categories. These include:
Cisco SD-WAN with edge security stack or SD-WAN with Umbrella Cloud Security (SASE) both leverage the Cisco Identity Service Engine’s Security Group Access Control Lists for segmentation policy management and enforcement across the WAN.
Cisco SD-WAN integrated with Cisco Umbrella SIG for a cloud-delivered SASE model that seamlessly secures access wherever users and applications reside.
Cisco Cloudlock, – Cisco’s cloud-native cloud access security broker (CASB) that helps secure your use of SaaS applications
The Cisco SD-WAN and these SSE collaborations provide a range of SASE deployment options for our Partners and Managed Service Providers (MSPs), allowing them to utilize a mix of networking and cloud security solutions to offer multiple managed options to enterprises at various stages of their SASE journey 3.
Cisco Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a cloud-native platform that combines SD-WAN, SWG (Secure Web Gateway), ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access), DNS-layer security, CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker).
The table below shows the key challenges discussed in the report and the corresponding solutions from Cisco that can help address them:
Providing secure access to applications distributed across multiple clouds
SASE (Secure Access Service Edge), a convergence architecture that delivers simplified and consistent security and performance for multi-cloud access and hybrid work. SASE It combines SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) and SSE (Security Service Edge) within Cisco’s cloud platform
Gaining end-to-end visibility into network performance and security
Cloud-based network detection and response solutions, such as Cisco Secure Cloud Analytics, which provides visibility and threat detection for an organisations’ network across public, private, and hybrid cloud environments.
Extending SD-WAN connectivity consistently across multiple clouds
SD-WAN multi-cloud integrations, which allow networking and cloud teams to accelerate and automate extensions from enterprise sites to various cloud providers and other enterprise sites through Internet, interconnect, or colocation and cloud provider networks.
Siloed cloud, network, and security operations
Cloud-centric operating model, which brings cloud operating model principles to the network and across the entire cloud/network IT stack, enabling more integrated workflows and better collaboration between network, security, and cloud operations.
Visibility into end user experience and performance of multiple Cloud SaaS apps
Cisco ThousandEyes provides real-time and historic view into the availability of thousands of different SaaS apps. It allows IT to monitor all employee’s user’s digital experience against software as a service and on-prem applications, regardless of where users are, through the essential elements of your SASE architecture. With ThousandEyes, organisations can gain back visibility and control over SaaS applications and ensure that they are performing optimally.
Table 1 – How Cisco technology addresses the challenges of securing and managing Networking and Security across multi-cloud environments,
Cloud is the new data center, Internet is the new network, and cloud offerings dominate applications. By gaining a view of global Internet health and the performance of top SaaS applications, IT teams can proactively detect and remediate major unexpected network or application issues affecting them as soon as they happen.
Based on the report, Cisco say that organisations can mitigate against many of the challenges discussed by adopting a cloud-centric operating model that brings cloud operating model principles to the network and across their entire cloud/network IT stack. This can enable more integrated workflows and better collaboration between network, security, and cloud operations.
Microsoft Loop is a newish Microsoft 365 app designed to help people collaborate and organise content from various Microsoft 365 apps into different collaborative workspaces and pages. Loop can be used as its own app for simple and group collaboration, or for keeping, organising and consolidating your content from your different ‘loops’ in a central place.
What is Loop?
Microsoft launched Loop (in preview) back in March this year and (whilst still officially in preview), now has its own dedicated app in the Microsoft Store (as well as being available in iOS and Android).
Microsoft Loop is now available through the Microsoft Store though it’s really just a progressive web app.
Loop consists of workspaces, pages, and components that stay up to date across different applications.
Microsoft Loop is designed to enhance Co authoring and editing of “components” across Microsoft 365 apps.
Loop components, pages and spaces can be created directly from within the Loop App (which is essentially a progressive web app) ontent within a project can be converted into a Microsoft Loop component. Those components can then be shared with a group of people or any individual. Importantly, you can share part of a project or a specific component with someone rather than having to share an entire workspace or project.
Loop is now in the Microsoft Store
You can now get the Loop app from the UK Microsoft Store – there are also apps for iOS and Android. You can also use Edge and pin it as an app (which essentially has the same effect).
“Microsoft Loop is a transformative co-creation experience that brings together teams, content, and tasks across your tools and devices. Loop enables you to organize your thoughts, content, and resources as your project evolves. Loop’s portable pieces of content (components) synchronize across apps and stay up to date wherever they are shared across Microsoft 365.”
Microsoft Loop works for both personal and work accounts.
What else can Loop Do?
I covered Loop in more detail in a previous post which you can access here
My friend Darrell (Modern Work Mentor) also has a series of awesome videos and articles on Loop which you can access below.
Microsoft have unveiled another way for employers to empower their workforce with the announcement and preview availability of Bing Chat Enterprise by giving them better answers, greater efficiency, and new ways to be creative. Microsoft say it’s “Secure AI-powered chat for work.”
Secured with Microsoft Entra – Conditional Access
Bing Chat brings the power of generative AI to work, however, consumer Generative AI services like ChatGPT and Bing Chat (consumer), are helping people get answers, generate code, content and find things, but using these consumer servers for work, inadvertently puts corporate data at risk since it’s being shared with public AI services which use your data and your searches to train and teach their language models.
This is where Bing Chat Enterprise comes in! With Bing Chat Enterprise, organisations gets all the goodness of “AI-powered chat for work” with the commercial data protection organisations demand. “What goes in—and comes out—remains protected”, Microsoft say, which means employees get secure and managed access to better answers, greater efficiency, and new ways to be creative. User and business data is protected and will not leak outside the organisation, and chat data is not saved, viewed or accessible by Microsoft or used to train their language models.
What’s more, access to Microsoft Bing Chat Enterprise is secured and governed for seamless, managed access to using Microsoft Entra ID (Azure Active Directory) and organisations can also customise “Microsoft Search” to build out and map business answers within the Microsoft 365 Admin Centre.
How do you enable Bing Chat Enterprise?
To enable this, you need to ensure that Microsoft Search has not been disabled in your tenant and then go to https://aka.ms/TurnOnBCE as a Tenant Admin in Microsoft 365 and then enable the Bing Enterprise Chat feature as shown below ⬇️. The settings can take up to 4 hours to apply….
How does Bing Chat Enterprise Work?
Privacy and Data Protection
Because workplace chats might contain sensitive data, Bing Chat Enterprise is designed with commercial data protection in place to keep organisational data safe.
Chat: When users ask questions in chat, it’s called a prompt. Those prompts can send generated searches (also known as queries) to Bing, and the resulting answer is called a response. User and business data is protected and won’t leak outside the organization. What goes in—and comes out—remains protected. Chat data isn’t saved, and Microsoft has no eyes-on access to it—no one sees it. And your data isn’t used to train the underlying models.
Search: Any searches generated by Bing Chat have workplace identities removed before they’re sent to Bing. The searches aren’t linked to users or business by Bing and any searches sent to Bing are under the terms of the Microsoft Services Agreement and covered by the privacy statement.
Organisational data: Bing Chat Enterprise doesn’t have access to organisational resources or content within Microsoft 365, such as Word documents or PowerPoint presentations. Only content provided in the chat by users is accessible to Bing Chat Enterprise.
Plugins: Importantly, Bing Chat Enterprise doesn’t have plugin support to prevent any commercial data from being sent to any external providers.
Chat history: Bing Chat Enterprise doesn’t retain chat prompts or responses. With Bing Chat history disabled for Bing Chat Enterprise users, no previous chats are maintained or available to users.
Back in March, Microsoft announced the upcoming availability of Microsoft 365 Copilot, an AI powered service that would bring generative AI features into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, and the rest of the Microsoft Cloud which has the potential to fundamentally change the way we work with apps, data and services and ever…
CoPilot will work alongside your Microsoft 365 apps and services and leverages the same built in security and privacy in mind so that data is always safe. It respects existing Microsoft 365 security and privacy settings as well as respects individual and group permission policies. This means that you can use it to generate reports, summaries, or other documents without worrying about data leaks or unauthorised access.
How much will Microsoft 365 Copilot cost?
Until now, there has been no indication as to pricing or available (Microsoft 365 Copilot is currently in a closed private preview), but this week, Microsoft used their global partner conference to announced pricing.
Microsoft 365 Copilot for commercial customers will cost an extra $30 per user per month on top of what organisations pay for their Microsoft 365 licenses. There is also minimum base license requirement (for the add on) of Microsoft 365 E3, E5, or Business Standard or Professional, though I expect that large enterprise organisations will be able to get a cheaper rate on Enterprise Agreements.
What about other Sectors?
Pricing for Public Sector, Healthcare/NHS, Edu and Not for Profit has not yet been announced.
Cheaper than “expectations“?
Rumours of what organisations in the Early Access Program (EAP) had been paying led to speculations that costs could be closer to $40 per use per month so this price is actually lower that what some thought, though other rumours suggested Microsoft “might” bundle it in Microsoft 365 E5.
What do you think – how much were you expecting Microsoft 365 Copilot to cost?
When will Microsoft 365 Copilot be available?
No dates have yet been annouced for wider preview, public preview or General Availability (which is the cycle Microsoft usually follows for new products and services.
Microsoft 365 Copilot is still currently early access preview testing (EAP) with 600 paying enterprise customers.
Bing Chat Enterprise
Microsoft also yesterday announced Bing Chat Enterprise, a new version of the ChatGPT-4 powered Bing Chat service that is now built into their Edge browser and Windows 11 (currently in preview). Bing Chat Enterprise’s main difference will be its privacy model which will ensure user and business data are protected and will not leak outside the boundaries of the organisation.
“Bing Chat Enterprise gives your organization AI-powered chat for work with commercial data protection,”
Yusaf Mehdi and Jared Spataro |Microsoft
Microsoft said that unlike it’s AI rivals “Chat data is not saved, and Microsoft has no eyes-on access, which means no one can view your data. And your data is not used to train the models.”
Bing Chat Enterprise will be “free”
Unlike Copilot, Bing Chat Enterprise will be available to existing Microsoft 365 customers at no additional cost, and Microsoft also said that they also plan to offer a standalone version for $5 per user per month.
Data privacy has been a major concern for many companies, who are putting in contols to stop employees using generative AI chat tools. Global organisations including Samsung, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs are all among the companies that restricted or banned the use of public verisons of Bing Chat, ChatGPT, Google Bard etc. Bing Chat Enterprise’s privacy guard is designed to enable organisation to leverage these AI tools with peace of mind.
When will Bing Chat Enterprise be available?
Bing Chat Enterprise is currently available in preview and is accessible from within Microsoft Edge or bing.com/chat.
When Windows Copilot (not to be confused with Microsoft 365 Copilot) is released to the public in a Windows update later this year, Bing Chat Enterprise will also be available from within Windows 11. You can test out Windows Copilot today as a Windows Insider.
Today, Microsoft have announced the next milestone in their expanded vision for the unified secure access with some huge changes to their unified access and security offering Entra which has now become the brand name for all things identity and access management. Along with that is a name change to Azure Active Directory to Entra ID.
Is Azure AD discontinued?
No… This is a name change that is a result of the shift to a truly end to end multi cloud identity and access solution that spans beyond simply Microsoft 365 and Azure. The name change is designed to reflect it’s new and enhanced capabilities.
With this they have announced they are expanding their Microsoft Entra suite into the Security Service Edge (SSE) category with the launch of two new products.
Microsoft Entra Internet Access and
Microsoft Entra Private Access.
Microsoft Entra Internet Access is an identity-centric Secure Web Gateway that protects access to internet, software as a service (SaaS), and Microsoft 365 apps and resources. It extends Conditional Access policies with network conditions to protect against malicious internet traffic and other threats from the open internet.
Microsoft Entra Private Access is an identity centric Zero Trust Network Access that secures access to private apps and resources. Designed to reduce operational complexity and cost by replacing legacy VPNs with simple yet granular security to ensure that any user can quickly and seamlessly connect to private apps across hybrid and multi cloud environments, private networks, and data centers from any device, from any location and from any network.
The goal and vision of Microsoft here is to help organisations secure access to any app or resource, from anywhere. Microsoft say in their security blog that the flexible work arrangements we have become accustomed too, along with continued increase cloud adoption continue to put strain on traditional and legacy corporate networks and network security approaches. Using VPNs to backhaul traffic to the legacy network security stack weakens security posture and damages the user experience while using siloed solutions and access policies leaves security gaps.
Both are now in preview….
The renaming of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) to Microsoft Entra ID was also announced which Microsoft say has been done as Microsoft to simplify the product naming conventions and to unify their expanded product family. The change was made as Azure AD now supports multi-cloud meaning the name Azure AD no longer represented the breadth of its offerings.
Personally not a fan of the name change even though their reasoning makes sense… Everyone knows what Azure AD is (or maybe that’s the problem… they think they do!)… Even Microsoft Teams wasn’t sure about it.!
Microsoft say that that the currently capabilities and licensing plans, sign-in URLs, and APIs will remain unchanged, and all existing deployments, configurations, and integrations will continue to work as before.
You can read more about these recent changes and announcements here.