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Launching today: ‘NextGen Health,’ Microsoft’s new podcast on the future of healthcare

Doctor talking with patient while looking at information on a deviceDoctor talking with patient while looking at information on a device

What’s next in healthcare? We’ve got some ideas. In NextGen Health, a new podcast series launching today from Microsoft, we guide you through the future of healthcare through interviews with providers who have already begun to use groundbreaking technologies and Microsoft Healthcare industry experts. Listen to the first episode of NextGen Health podcast here, or keep reading for a sneak peek on some of the stories we cover.

Reimagining healthcare

You’re at your doctor’s office. You’re sitting casually in the exam room. Meanwhile, a surgeon is examining your brain. Thankfully, the slices and neural pathways your doctor can see from nearly every angle are on the OpenSight, a HoloLens mixed-reality headset calibrated and developed for surgical use by medical imaging company and Microsoft healthcare partner Novarad.

According to Novarad executive Chris Bijou, the OpenSight’s three-dimensional model—derived from patient scans and overlaid in real time onto the patient’s body—provides precision medicine that creates better outcomes for caregiver and patient alike.

“The biggest thing is, you’re not actually looking at the computer and then trying to calculate in your brain. ‘How far is that rib or how far is that heart where you’re trying to get into that ventricle,’” Bijou said. “You’re putting it right onto the patient, looking right down into it.”

That’s just one great example from our episode about reimagining healthcare.

Empowering care teams

It’s been a hard day. You’ve just spent a long shift as a nurse on the ER floor. You’re tired, your head’s just hit the pillow, and ding! There goes the phone. Then again. And again. How are you supposed to maintain good morale—not to mention stay in compliance with legal regulations—when you can’t sleep because your fellow caregivers are communicating via text?

“This is just not an environment that clinicians can do their best work in,” says Emma Williams, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft focused on modern workplace for healthcare.

But if all of those communiques, as well as images and information related to patients, were moved into an app like Microsoft Teams tailored specifically for healthcare organizations, you would remove the risk of privacy violations—plus you’d finally get some rest. And that makes you excited to show up for work on your next shift.

“To be able to deliver the right information, to the right people, at the right time will be a huge innovation,” Williams says. “We believe we can wrap those systems in a bubble of communication and collaboration that’s mobile first, that brings teams together, that allows them to be more highly effective.”

Listen to our podcast episode about empowering care teams to learn more.

Personalizing the Patient Experience

You’ve been experiencing some discomfort. It’s been a few weeks, so you get a referral and visit a specialist. What that doctor sees may not be a complete picture of your health, however. If all of the information about not just your illness, but your wellness, lives inside your electronic health record (EHR), your caregivers can have a much fuller picture of your needs. At the same time, clinicians can use your EHR to communicate with you in ways that work for you—like via text message—to remind you of an appointment, or to drink water, or to come in to take an A1C test because your bloodwork shows you may be at risk for diabetes, for example.

“It’s really a cultural shift and mind shift to think about, how do I offer medicine at a personal level using what I know about the consumer, all of the data I have inside my EHR,” says Andrea McGonigle, Managing Director for Microsoft’s US health and life sciences team.

That is just the start of what we cover in the third of the six episodes in the debut season of NextGen Health. Throughout the full series, we discuss genomic breakthroughs that can offer targeted, more effective cancer treatments, show how artificial intelligence in health providers’ back offices can reduce costs and increase efficiency—while continuing to put the patient first. And while these transformations are happening across the entire spectrum of healthcare organizations, learn what Microsoft, and our partners, are doing to ensure that patients’ and caregivers’ data remains secure and compliant.

This is the future of healthcare.

You can learn more about each episode on the NextGen Health website or download and listen to NextGen Health on Apple, Google or Spotify.

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Azure premium files now generally available

Highly performant, fully managed file service in the cloud!

Today, we are excited to announce the general availability of Azure premium files for customers optimizing their cloud-based file shares on Azure. Premium files offers a higher level of performance built on solid-state drives (SSD) for fully managed file services in Azure.

Premium tier is optimized to deliver consistent performance for IO-intensive workloads that require high-throughput and low latency. Premium file shares store data on the latest SSDs, making them suitable for a wide variety of workloads like databases, persistent volumes for containers, home directories, content and collaboration repositories, media and analytics, high variable and batch workloads, and enterprise applications that are performance sensitive. Our existing standard tier continues to provide reliable performance at a low cost for workloads less sensitive to performance variability, and is well-suited for general purpose file storage, development/test, backups, and applications that do not require low latency.

Through our initial introduction and preview journey, we’ve heard from hundreds of our customers from different industries about their unique experiences. They’ve shared their learnings and success stories with us and have helped make premium file shares even better.

“Working with clients that have large amounts of data that is under FDA or HIPAA regulations, we always struggled in locating a good cloud storage solution that provided SMB access and high bandwidth… until Azure Files premium tier. When it comes to a secure cloud-based storage that offers high upload and download speeds for cloud and on-premises VM clients, Azure premium files definitely stands out.”

– Christian Manasseh, Chief Executive Officer, Mobius Logic

“The speeds are excellent. The I/O intensive actuarial CloudMaster software tasks ran more than 10 times faster in the Azure Batch solution using Azure Files premium tier. Our application has been run by our clients using 1000’s of cores and the Azure premium files has greatly decreased our run times.”

– Scott Bright, Manager Client Data Services, PolySystems

Below are the key benefits of the premium tier. If you’re looking for more technical details, read the previous blog post “Premium files redefine limits for Azure Files.”

Performant, dynamic, and flexible

With premium tier, performance is what you define. Premium file shares’ performance can instantly scale up and down to fit your workload performance characteristics. Premium file shares can massively scale up to 100 TiB capacity and 100K IOPS with a target total throughput of 10 GiB/s. Not only do premium shares include the ability to dynamically tune performance, but also offer bursting capability to meet highly variable workload requirements with short peak periods of intense IOPS.

“We recently migrated our retail POS microservices to Azure Kubernetes Service with premium files. Our experience has been simply amazing – premium files permitted us to securely deploy our 1.2K performant Firebird databases. No problem with size or performance, just adapt the size of the premium file share to instantly scale. It improved our business agility, much needed to serve our rapidly growing customer base across multiple retail chains in France.”

– Arnaud Le Roy, Chief Technology Officer, Menlog

We partnered with our internal Azure SQL and Microsoft Power BI teams to build solutions on premium files. As a result, Azure Database for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for MySQL recently opened a preview of increased scale of 16 TiB databases with 20,000 IOPS powered by premium files. Microsoft Power BI announced a powerful 20 times faster enhanced dataflows compute engine preview built upon Azure Files premium tier.

Global availability with predictable cost

Azure Files premium tier is currently available in 19 Azure regions globally. We are continually expanding regional coverage. You can check the Azure region availability page for the latest information.

Premium tier provides the most cost-effective way to create highly-performant and highly-available file shares in Azure. Pricing is simple and cost is predictable–you only pay a single price per provisioned GiB. Refer to the pricing page for additional details.

Seamless Azure experience

Customers receive all features of Azure Files in this new offering, including snapshot/restore, Azure Kubernetes Service and Azure Backup integration, monitoring, hybrid support via Azure File Sync, Azure portal, PowerShell/CLI/Cloud Shell, AzCopy, Azure Storage Explorer support, and the list goes on. Developers can leverage their existing code and skills to migrate applications using familiar Azure Storage client libraries or Azure Files REST APIs. The opportunities for future integration are limitless. Reach out to us if you would like to see more.

With the availability of premium tier, we’re also enhancing the standard tier. To learn more, visit the onboarding instructions for the standard files 100 TiB preview.

Get started and share your experiences

It is simple and takes two minutes to get started with premium file shares. Please see detailed steps for how to create a premium file share.

Visit Azure Files premium tier documentation to learn more. As always, you can share your feedback and experiences on the Azure Storage forum or email us at azurefiles@microsoft.com. Post your ideas and suggestions about Azure Storage on our feedback forum.

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Podcast: The brave new world of cloud-scale systems and networking with Microsoft Research Asia’s Dr. Lidong Zhou

Dr. Lidong Zhou

Episode 82, June 26, 2019

If you’re like me, you’re no longer amazed by how all your technologies can work for you. Rather, you’ve begun to take for granted that they simply should work for you. Instantly. All together. All the time. The fact that you’re not amazed is a testimony to the work that people like Dr. Lidong Zhou, Assistant Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia, do every day. He oversees some of the cutting-edge systems and networking research that goes on behind the scenes to make sure you’re not amazed when your technologies work together seamlessly but rather, can continue to take it for granted that they will!

Today, Dr. Zhou talks about systems and networking research in an era of unprecedented systems complexity and what happens when old assumptions don’t apply to new systems, explains how projects like CloudBrain are taking aim at real-time troubleshooting to address cloud-scale, network-related problems like “gray failure,” and tells us why he believes now is the most exciting time to be a systems and networking researcher.

Related:


Transcript

Lidong Zhou: We have seen a lot of advances in, for example, machine learning and deep learning. So, one thing that we have been looking into is how we can leverage all those new technologies in machine learning and deep learning and apply it to deal with the complexity in systems.

Host: You’re listening to the Microsoft Research Podcast, a show that brings you closer to the cutting-edge of technology research and the scientists behind it. I’m your host, Gretchen Huizinga.

Host: If you’re like me, you’re no longer amazed by how all your technologies can work for you. Rather, you’ve begun to take for granted that they simply should work for you. Instantly. All together. All the time. The fact that you’re not amazed is a testimony to the work that people like Dr. Lidong Zhou, Assistant Managing Director of Microsoft Research Asia, do every day. He oversees some of the cutting-edge systems and networking research that goes on behind the scenes to make sure you’re not amazed when your technologies work together seamlessly but rather, can continue to take it for granted that they will!

Today, Dr. Zhou talks about systems and networking research in an era of unprecedented systems complexity and what happens when old assumptions don’t apply to new systems, explains how projects like CloudBrain are taking aim at real-time troubleshooting to address cloud-scale, network-related problems like “gray failure,” and tells us why he believes now is the most exciting time to be a systems and networking researcher. That and much more on this episode of the Microsoft Research Podcast.

Host: Lidong Zhou, welcome to the podcast.

Lidong Zhou: Yes. It’s great to be here.

Host: As the Assistant Managing Director of MSR Asia, you are, among other things, responsible for overseeing research in systems and networking, and I know you’ve done a lot of research in systems and networking over the course of your career as well. So, in broad strokes, what do you do and why do you do it? What gets you up in the morning?

Lidong Zhou: Yeah, I think, you know, this is one of the most exciting times to do research in systems and networking. And we already have seen advances of, you know, systems and networking have been pushing the envelopes in many technologies. We’ve seen the internet, the web, web search, big data, and all the way to the artificial intelligence and cloud computing that, you know, everybody kind of relies on these days.

Host: Yeah.

Lidong Zhou: All those advances have created challenges of unprecedented complexity, scale and a lot of dynamism. So, my understanding, you know, of systems is always, you know, a system is about bringing order to chaos, right? The chaotic situation. So, we are actually in a very chaotic situation where things change so fast and there are a lot of, you know, new technologies coming. And so, when we talk about systems research, it’s really about transforming all those unorganized pieces into a unified whole, right? That’s why, you know, we’re very excited about all those challenges. And also, we realized over the years that it’s actually not just the typical systems expertise – when we talk about distributed systems, operating systems or networking – that’s actually not enough to address the challenges we’re facing. Like, you have to actually also master other fields like, you know, database systems and programming languages, compilers, hardware, and also in artificial intelligence and machine learning and deep learning. And what I do at Microsoft Research Asia, is to put together a team with a diverse set of expertise and inspire the team to take on those big challenges together by, you know, working together, and, you know, that’s a very exciting job to have.

Host: I love the “order out of chaos” representation… if you’ve ever been involved in software code writing, you write this here and someone else is writing that there, and it has to work together, and you’ve got ten other people writing… and we all just take for granted, on my end, it’s going to work. And if it doesn’t, I curse my computer!

Lidong Zhou: Yes, that’s our problem!

Host: Well, I had Hsiao-Wuen Hon on the podcast in November for the 20th anniversary of the lab there, and he talked about the mission to, in essence, both advance the theory and practice of computing, in general. Your own nearly twenty-year career has been about advancing the theory and practice of distributed systems, particularly. So, talk about some of the initiatives you’ve been part of and technical contributions you’ve made to distributed systems over the years. You’ve just come off the heels of talking about the complexities. Now, how have you seen it evolve over those years?

Lidong Zhou: You know, I think we are getting into the year of distributed systems. Being a distributed systems person, we always believe, you know, what we’re working on is the most important piece. You know, I think Microsoft Research is really a great place to connect theory and practice, because we are constantly exposed to very difficult technical challenges from the product teams. They’re tackling very difficult problems, and we also have the luxury of stepping back and thinking deeply about the problems we’re facing and thinking about what kinds of new theories we want to develop, what new methodologies we can develop to address those problems. I remember, you know, in early 2000, when Microsoft started doing web search, and we had a meeting with the dev manager, who was actually in charge of architecting the web search system. And so, we had a, you know, very interesting discussion. We talked about, you know, how we were doing research in distributed systems, how we had to deal with, you know, a lot of problems when services fail. So, we have to make sure that the whole service actually stays correct in the face of all kinds of problems that you can see in a distributed system. I remember at that time, we had Roy Levin, Leslie Lamport, you know, a lot of colleagues, and we talked about protocols. And, at the beginning, the dev manager basically said, oh yeah, I know, you know, it’s complicated to deal with all these failures, but it’s actually under control. And a couple months later, he came back and said, oh, you know, there’s so many corner cases. It’s just beyond our capability of reasoning about the correctness. And we need the protocols that we were talking about. But it’s also interesting that, you know, in developing those protocols, we tend to make some assumptions. Say, okay, you know, we can tolerate a certain number of failures. And one question that the general manager asked was, you know, what happens if we have more than that number of failures in the system, right? And from a practical point of view, you have to deal with those kinds of situations. In theory, when you work on theory, then, you know, you can say, okay, let’s make an assumption and let’s just work under that assumption. So, we see that there’s a difference between theory and practice. The nice thing about working at Microsoft Research is you can actually get exposed to those real problems and keep you honest about what assumptions are reasonable, what assumptions are not reasonable. And then you think about, you know, what is the best way of solving those problems in a more general sense rather than just solving a particular problem?

Host: Your work in networked computer systems is somewhat analogous to another passion of yours that I’m going to call “networked human systems.” In other words, your desire to build community among systems researchers. How are you going about that? I’m particularly interested in your Asia Pacific Systems workshop and the results you’ve seen come out of that.

Lidong Zhou: So, I moved to Microsoft Research Asia in late 2008, and, when I was in the United States, clearly there is a very strong systems community. And, over the years, we’ve also seen that community sort of expanding into Europe. So, the European systems community sort of started the systems workshop, and eventually it evolved into a conference called EuroSys, and very successfully. And you know we see a lot of people getting into systems and networking because of the community, because of the influence of those conferences. And the workshop has been very successful in gathering momentum in the region. And so, in 2010, I remember it was Chandu Thekkath and Rama Kotla who were my colleagues at Microsoft Research, and they basically had this idea that maybe we should start something also in the Asia Pacific region. At that time, I was already working in Beijing, and I thought, you know, this is also part of my obligation. So, in 2010, we started the first Asia Pacific systems workshop. And it was a humble beginning. We had probably about thirty submissions and accepted probably a dozen. It was a good workshop, but it was a very humble beginning, as I said. But what happened after that was really beyond our expectation. It’s like, you know, we just planted a seed, and the community sort of picked it up and grew with it. And, you know, it’s very satisfying to see that we’re actually going to have the tenth workshop in Hangzhou in August. If you look at the organizing committee, they are really you know all world-class researchers from all over the world. It’s not just from a particular region, but you know really, all the experts across the world contributed to the success of this workshop over the last, you know, almost ten years now. And the impact that this workshop has is actually pretty tremendous.

Host: What would you attribute it to?

Lidong Zhou: I think it’s really, first of all, this is the natural trend, right? You go from… the U.S. was leading in systems research and, and then expanded to Europe. And it’s just a natural trajectory to expand further to Asia Pacific given, you know, a lot of, you know, technological advances are happening in Asia. And the other, you know, reason is because the community really came together. There are a lot of top systems researchers that originally, just like me, came from the Asia Pacific region. So, we have a lot of incentives and commitment to give back.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: And all those enthusiasms, passion, or the willingness to help young researchers in the region, I mean those actually contributed to the success of the workshop, in my view.

Host: Well, you were recently involved in hosting another interesting workshop, or conference: The Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, right?

Lidong Zhou: Right.

Host: SOSP?

Lidong Zhou: SOSP.

Host: And this was in Shanghai in 2017. It’s the premier conference for computer systems technology. And as I understand, it’s about as hard to win the bid for as the Olympics!

Lidong Zhou: Yes, almost.

Host: So why was it important to host this conference for you, and how do you think it will help broaden the reach of the systems community worldwide?

Lidong Zhou: So, SOSP is one of the most important systems conferences and traditionally, it has been held in the U.S. and later on, they started rotating into Europe. And it was really a very interesting journey that we went through, along with Professor Haibo Chen who is from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. We started pitching for having SOSP in the Asia Pacific region in 2011. That was like six years before we actually succeeded! We pitched three times. But overall, even for the first time, the community was very supportive in many ways, so that we’d be very careful to make sure that the first one is going to be a success. And in 2017, when Haibo and I opened the conference, I was actually very happy that I didn’t have to be there to make another pitch! I was essentially opening the conference. And it was very successful in the sense that we had a record number of attendees, over eight hundred people…

Host: Wow.

Lidong Zhou: …and we had almost the same number, if not a little bit more, from the U.S. and Europe. And we had, you know, many more people from the region, which was what we intended.

Host: Mm-hmm.

Lidong Zhou: And having the conference in the Asia Pacific is actually very significant to the region. We’re seeing more and more high-quality work and papers in those top conferences from the Asia Pacific region, you know, from Korea, India, China, and many other countries.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: And I’d like to believe that what we have done sort of helped a little bit in those regards.

(music plays)

Host: Let’s talk about the broader topic of education for a minute. This is really, really important for the systems talent pipeline around the world. And perhaps the biggest challenge is expanding and improving university-level education for this talent pipeline. MSRA has been hosting a systems education workshop for the past three years. The fourth is coming up this summer, and none other than Turing Award winner John Hopcroft has praised it as “a step toward improving education and cultivating world-class talent.” And he also said a fifth of the world’s talent is in the Asia Pacific region, so we’d better get over there. Tell us about this ongoing workshop.

Lidong Zhou: Yeah, actually John really inspired us to get this started I think more than three years ago.

Host: Mm-hmm.

Lidong Zhou: And I think we’re seeing a need to improve, you know, systems education. But more importantly, I think, for MSR Asia, one of the things that we’re very proud of doing is connecting educators and researchers from all over the world, especially connecting people from, you know, the U.S. and Europe with those in the Asia Pacific region. And the other thing that we are also very proud of doing is cultivating the next generation of computer scientists. And certainly, as you said, you know, the most important thing is education. And during the process, what we found, is that there are a lot of professors who share the same passion. And we’re talking about, you know, a couple of professors, Lorenzo Alvisi from Cornell and Robbert van Renesse from Cornell and Geoff Voelker from UCSD… they actually came all the way from the U.S. just to be at the workshop, talking to all the systems professors from all over the country in China. And so, I attended those workshops myself. The first one was five days, and the next two were, like, three days. It’s a huge time commitment.

Host: Yeah.

Lidong Zhou: But you see all the passion from those professors. They’re really into improving teaching. They’re trying to figure out, you know, how to make students more engaged, how to get them excited about systems, even how to design experiments, all those aspects. And, you know, we’re really optimistic that with those passionate professors, we’re going to see a very strong new generation of systems researchers. And this is, you know, I think the kind of impact we really want to see from a perspective of, you know, Microsoft Research Asia. It’s not just about making the lab successful, but, if we can make an impact in the community in terms of talent, in terms of the quality of education, that’s much more satisfying.

Host: Before we get into specific work, I’d like you to talk about what you’d referred to as a fundamental shift in the way we need to design systems – and by we, I mean you – in the era of cloud computing and AI. You’ve suggested that things have changed enough that the older methodologies and principles aren’t valid anymore. So, unpack that for us. What’s changed and what needs to happen to build next-gen systems?

Lidong Zhou: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll continue with the story about building fault-tolerant systems. So, in the last thirty years, we have been working on systems reliability, and we have developed a lot of techniques, a lot of protocols, and we think it will solve all the problems. But if you look at how this thread of work started, it really started in the late seventies when we were looking at the reliability of airplanes, and so on. Of course, you know, there are assumptions we make about the kinds of failures in those kinds of systems. And we sort of generalize those protocols so that it can be applicable up until now. But if you look at the cloud, it’s much more complicated, in many dimensions. And the system also evolves very quickly. And a lot of assumptions we make actually start to break. And even though we have applied all these well-known techniques, that’s just not enough. So, that’s one aspect. The other aspect is, it used to be that, you know, the system we build, we can sort of understand how it works, right? And now, the complexity has already gone beyond our own understanding, you know. We can’t reason about how the system behaves. On the other hand, we have seen a lot of advances in, for example, machine learning and deep learning. So, one thing that we have been looking into is how we can leverage all those new technologies in machine learning and deep learning and apply it to deal with the complexity in systems. And that’s, you know, another very fascinating area that we’re looking into as well.

Host: Yeah. Well, let’s get specific now. Another super interesting area of research deals with exceptions and failures in the cloud-scale era and how you’re dealing with what you call “gray failure.” And you’ve also called it the gray swan (which I want you to explain) or the Achilles heel of cloud-scale systems. So how did you handle exceptions and failures in a somewhat less complex, pre-cloud era and what new methodologies are you trying to implement now?

Lidong Zhou: Right. So, as I mentioned, in the older days, we are targeting those systems with assumptions about failures, right? Like crash failures, you know, a component can fail… when it fails, it crashes. It stops working. And nowadays, we realize, you know, this kind of assumption no longer holds. So, this is why we define a new type of failures called gray failures. So, thinking about what kind of name to give to this very interesting new line of research that we’re starting so we called it gray swan. People already know about black swan or gray rhino. So first of all, because we’re talking about the cloud, we want something not as heavy as a rhino!

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: We want something that can fly. And the reason we call it gray is because, you know a systems component is no longer just black or white. It could be in a weird state where, from some of the observers it’s actually behaving correctly, but from the others, it’s actually not. And that turns out to be behind many of the issues that major problems that we’re seeing in the cloud. And it has sort of some components of black swan in the sense that some of the assumptions we’re making break. So that’s why everything we build on top of that assumption starts to break down. So, for example, I mentioned the assumption about failure, right? If you think that it either crashed or it’s correct, then it’s a very simple kind of world, right? But if it’s not the case, then all the protocols that will work under that assumption will cease to work. It also has this connection with gray rhino because gray rhino is this problem that everybody sort of sees coming, and it’s a very major problem, but people tend to ignore it for the wrong reason. And in our case, we know that, for the cloud, all those service disruptions happen all the time, and there are actually failures all over the place. It’s just very hard to figure out which ones are important. But we know something big is going to happen at some point, right? So, we try to use this notion of gray swan to describe this new line of thinking where, you know, we really think about failures that are not just crash failures or not even, you know, Byzantine failures where it’s essentially arbitrary failures. But there’s something in between that we should reason about, and then using those to reason about the correctness of the whole service.

Host: So, does the word catastrophic enter into this at all? Or is it…

Lidong Zhou: Yes! That could be catastrophic. Eventually.

Host: How does that kind of thinking playing into what you’re doing?

Lidong Zhou: If you look at the cloud system, it’s like in a rhino sort of charging towards you, and before it hits you, there are a lot of dusts, and you know noise and other things. But you just don’t know when and how something bad is going to happen, right? And it could be catastrophic. It happens actually a couple times already. And so, one of the things we try to do is to try to figure out when and how bad things could happen to prevent catastrophic failures…

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: …from all the dust and maybe, you know, other signals we have in the system. There are signals. It’s just we don’t know how to leverage them.

Host: Part of your approach to coping with gray failures is a line of research you call CloudBrain.

Lidong Zhou: Right.

Host: And it’s all about automatic troubleshooting for the cloud. It’s actually a huge issue because of the remarkable complexity of the systems. So, tell us how CloudBrain, and what you call DeepView, is actually helping operators – the people that have to deal with it on the ground – simplify how they write troubleshooting algorithms.

Lidong Zhou: Mm-hmm. So, I think CloudBrain is one of the efforts that we have to deal with gray failures. And remember, you know, we talked about the challenges that come from the complexity of the system or the scale of the system. It would really have, you know, a huge number of components interacting with each other. But on the other hand, we can really leverage the scale of the system to help us in terms of, you know, diagnosis and all, detecting problems, even figuring out where the problem is. And this is the premise of the CloudBrain project. So, it has actually three components, three ideas. The first one is really the notion of near, real-time monitoring. And so instead of trying to look at the logs after the fact and then analyze what happened, we try to have a pulse on what the system is doing, how it’s doing, and so on. So that’s the first component. And the second component is we really want to form a global view. So, it’s not just one observation we make about a system, but really observations for all over the systems combined, so we can actually understand how a system is behaving and which part is actually having a problem. And then, the third part is, once you have, you know, all these global observations that come in real time, then we can use statistical methods to really reason about, you know, what’s abnormal and so on. So, this is where we really leverage the scale, the huge amount of data…

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: …that used to be a challenge and now it becomes an opportunity for us to actually come up with new solutions to handle the complexity of the system.

Host: So how does that help an operator simplify writing an algorithm?

Lidong Zhou: Right, so now, the operator actually has all the data in near real time. And, you know, you can write this very simple algorithm that operates on the data sort of like a SQL query.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: Right? And then it can emit signals and you know tell people that something’s wrong or something’s correct, or maybe we have to pay attention to part of the system that seems to have some problems.

Host: So where is this gray failure research, with all its pieces and parts, in the pipeline for production?

Lidong Zhou: Overall, we are not at the stage where we solve all the problems, but we have pieces of the technology we developed to solve some specific problems like DeepView and CloudBrain are, you know, the two projects that have already been incorporated in Azure to deal with network-related problems, for example.

Host: Mm-hmm.

Lidong Zhou: But, you know, we are far from solving the problem. It’s really sort of a research agenda that we set out probably for years to come. And one idea that we have been working on, which is actually very interesting, is that we really have to change how we view programs. In the past, for defensive programming, we have been trained to handle exceptions, and it turns out that handling exceptions in a large, complex system is not enough. So, one of the ideas that we’ve been thinking about is changing exception handling into exception or error reporting. So, you start to collect all those signals. We talked about, you know, the dust when the…

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: …rhino comes charging at you. So, you have to really collect those dusts towards one place so that you can actually reason about the behavior of the system. And that’s, you know, one of those major shifts…

Host: Yeah.

Lidong Zhou: …that, you know, we see coming even in how we develop systems.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: Not just, you know, after the fact, we already have this beast and now we need to understand what’s going on.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: So those methodologies, I think, is where we’re pushing. You know, it’s not just solving a specific problem. We have an incident; we try to solve this problem. Yeah, we can do that. But more importantly… this goes back to the theory meets practice…

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: …so, we need to come out of looking at the specific instances, but think about, you know, what methodologies we should adopt to change the status completely.

Host: So how do you implement, then, a brand-new thing? I mean, we talked about the beast that already exists, and is growing. What are you proposing with your research?

Lidong Zhou: Right, so, this is always a hard problem. We already have something running, and it has to keep running, and now it has a lot of problems we need to solve. So, one of the ways we deal with those challenges is trying to solve the current problems. You know, like CloudBrain and DeepView sort of try to fit into the current practice. But for some other projects, what we do is like, you know, what I talked about, changing from exception handling to error reporting – that actually is a system we build that we can transform automatically a piece of code that does error handling in the traditional way into a piece of code that actually does error reporting in the way that we desire.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: And that helps because we don’t want everybody to rewrite the whole code base.

Host: No.

Lidong Zhou: It’s just not possible. So, we have to find ways to help developers to sort of do the transformation and also live with the current boundaries of the system. And we hopefully, gradually, we’ll move towards the right direction.

Host: Yeah, I think you see that in just about every place software exists is there’s a legacy system. You’ve got to retrofit some stuff that added complexity to it.

Lidong Zhou: That’s right.

Host: But you can’t just make everyone throw out what they’re already using. So, this is a big challenge. I’m glad you’re on the job.

(music plays)

Host: Well, we talked about what gets you up in the morning and all the work you’re doing to make sure that everything goes right… that is basically what you’re doing, is trying to make everything go right…

Lidong Zhou: Right.

Host: …but as we know – as you know more than I know – something always goes wrong!

Lidong Zhou: Right, unfortunately.

Host: The rhino… So, given what you see in your work every day, is there anything that keeps you up at night?

Lidong Zhou: Yes, I think we’re realizing that the kinds of distributed systems we’re designing, or building, are becoming more and more important. They’re becoming part of the sort of critical infrastructure of our society. And that puts a lot of burden on us to make sure that whatever we’re building can be mission critical.

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: And you know we have a lot of researchers working on formal methods, verification, just to make sure that the core of the system can be verifiable, will give some assurance that it’s actually working correctly. And, you know, we talked about applying machine learning and deep learning mechanisms, but it’s statistical. So sometimes – actually, naturally – there are cases where it breaks. So how we can safeguard this kind of system from what you call catastrophic issues, and this is also another thing that we have been putting a lot of thought into. And we’re not short of challenges, especially on making the cloud infrastructure really, you know, mission critical!

Host: Lidong, tell us your story. How did you end up at Microsoft Research, and how did you develop your path to the positions you hold right now?

Lidong Zhou: Yeah, looking back, I remember when I finished my PhD, I started job hunting and I got, you know, a couple of offers, and I talked to my advisor. Of course, that’s what you do when you’re a graduate student. And he basically gave me a very simple piece of advice. He basically said, well, just go where you can find the best colleagues, the colleagues with maybe, you know, Turing-Award caliber. So, I ended up going to Microsoft Research Lab where, at that time, we didn’t have a Turing Award winner, but within ten years, we had two! So that was how things started. Looking back, what’s really important is the quality of colleagues you have, especially in the early stages of my career. I learned how to do research in some sense. It’s not about getting papers published. It’s internal passion that drives research and I think the first phase of my career is more on personal development. I remember being pushed by my manager at the time, Roy Levin, to get out of my comfort zone. We started as a sort of technical contributor, but then, I was pushed to lead a project and there are always new challenges that you face. And you get a lot of support from your colleagues to get to the next stage, and that’s very satisfying. And then I went to MSR Asia, where I later became a manager of a research group, and I think that’s sort of the second phase of my career, where it’s not about my personal career development. It’s also about building a team and how you can contribute to other people’s success. And that turns out to be even more satisfying to see the impact you can have on other people’s careers and their success. And also, during that period of time, I also realized that it’s not just about your own team. You know, we can build the best systems research team in Asia Pacific, but it’s more satisfying if you can contribute to the community. And we talked about starting the workshop and getting the conference into Asia Pacific, and, you know, a lot of other things that we do to contribute to society, including, you know, the talent fostering and many other things. And those, in my mind, are becoming even more critical as we move on in our career.

Host: Yeah.

Lidong Zhou: So, I view this as sort of the three stages of my career. It started with personal development, learning, you know, what it means to love what you do and do what you love. And then you think about how you can contribute to other people’s success and increase your ability to influence others and impact others, and positively. And finally, in what you can contribute to the society, to the community. And I’ve been very fortunate to have been working with a lot of great, you know, leaders and colleagues, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. And I remember you know I worked with a lot of product teams as well. And they also offered a lot of career advice and support. So, this is just, you know, my story, I guess.

Host: You know, it sounds to me like almost a metaphor. You know, you start with yourself, you grow and mature outwards to others, and then the broader community impact that ultimately a mature person wants to see happen, right?

Lidong Zhou: I hope so!

Host: I get the sense that it is!

Lidong Zhou: It’s just about seeking the truth. It’s not about, you know, getting papers published. It’s not about, you know, chasing fame or, you know, all those things that we start to lose sight of, you know, what the true meaning of research is. It’s not about all these results that we try to get, but truly, it’s about finding the truth and enjoying the process along the way.

Host: At the end of each podcast, I ask my guests to give some parting advice to our listeners. What big, unsolved problems do you see on the horizon for researchers who may just be getting their feet wet with systems and networking research?

Lidong Zhou: Well, I think they are very fortunate to be a young researcher in systems and networking now. I remember I was talking to But[ler] Lampson when I started my career in 2003, and he said, you know, he was feeling lucky that he was doing all the work in the late seventies and early eighties because it was the right time to see a paradigm shift. And I think, now, we are at the point that we’re going to see another major paradigm shift, just like, you know, folks in Xerox PARC. What they did was, essentially, to define computing for the next thirty years. Even now, we’re sort of living in the world that they defined, looking at the PC, even with the phone. I mean, that’s just a different form factor, right? They sort of defined the mouse, the laser printer, all the things that we know about, and the user interface. And the reason that happened at that time was because the computing was becoming, you know, more powerful from supercomputers now to personal computing, because…

Host: Right.

Lidong Zhou: …you know, we can pack so much computation power into a small machine. And now, I think, you know, the computation power has reached another milestone where computing capability is going to be everywhere. And we’re going to have intelligence everywhere around us. The boundary between sort of the virtual world in computers and our physical world will disappear. And that will lead to really paradigm-shifting opportunities where we figure out, you know, what computing really means in the next, you know, ten years, twenty years. And this is what I would encourage everyone focus on rather than just incremental improvements to the protocols and so on. Because we are really seeing a lot of assumptions being invalidated. And we really have to look at the world in a very different view and from, you know, how we interact with sort of the computing capability and how we expose computing capability to do what we need to do. And it’s not just doing computing in front of a computer but, you know, doing everything with sort of the computing capability around us. And that’s just exciting to imagine. And I can’t even describe what the future will look like, but it’s up to our young researchers to really make it a reality.

Host: Lidong Zhou, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for joining us in the booth today.

Lidong Zhou: Thank you, Gretchen. Really a pleasure.

(music plays)

To learn more about Dr. Lidong Zhou and how researchers are working to bring order out of systems and networking chaos, visit Microsoft.com/research

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Inspiring the girls of today to become the programmers of tomorrow – how 15-year-old Lili Názer became a developer

At just 15-years-old, Lili Názer can already be described as a veteran developer, having created several smartphone applications and games. Originally wanting to be a doctor, she found her calling in programming, and is now mentoring other girls that are interested in IT, during occasions such as Microsoft’s DigiGirlz events.

The purpose of the DigiGirlz initiative is to introduce young girls to the world of programming and software development, while inspiring them to pursue their passion for technology. This is particularly crucial, given that research has shown that young girls in Europe tend to disengage from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects by the age of 15, due to numerous factors such as the lack of role models in these fields.

We were fortunate enough to chat to Lili before the DigiGirlz event kicked off, to see what inspires her, drives her forward, and what her future will hold.   

When did your interest in programming begin?
It happened accidentally. A few years ago, I couldn’t register for any summer camps for numerous reasons. Then, at the beginning of summer, most camps were already full up, so the only one I could still go to was a robotics camp. Before that I hadn’t even heard about such a thing, so that was the first time I came into contact with programming.

It looks like you enjoyed it!
Yes I did. After it was over, I looked for similar opportunities, so in 2016 I attended the first session of the coding training Skool program, where I met my current mentor. At that time I had been preparing for a completely different career, and wanted to be a surgeon or medical researcher. Then I started to get interested in languages, and I thought I wanted to work as an interpreter. Programming opened my eyes. I realised that through it, I could become involved in practically any industry or profession. This opened up a whole range of new fields and opportunities for me.

What were some of your first creations?
I developed my first simple game when I was 11, and then I wrote my first application for the UPC Future Makers competition, about two years ago. That’s the Daily Take Me application, a family organiser that helps you plan your schedule, where family members can see where they have to go and when – who is picking up the children from school and other similar things.

Studies show that girls of your age are generally not in STEM careers, perhaps because they feel, or are told, it’s not the right choice. Have you come across these attitudes at all?
I have, but luckily people didn’t try to talk me out of it. On the other hand, it was precisely in connection with the Daily Take Me app that media articles kept referring to me as some kind of ‘wonder girl’ who develops apps. But I don’t really identify with that, because there’s nothing so special about it. My little sister collects erasers, and I develop apps – that’s all there is to it. There’s nothing about it that would make it unsuitable for girls.

There is a misconception about programming though: many people think that it’s only something for maths geniuses. This just isn’t true. Of course, there are parts where you need maths, but it’s really just another kind of language, so if you are creative with languages and have a sensitivity for them, programming won’t be a problem either. I go to special maths classes at school, but now I am also planning to specialise in languages. It needs a lot of organising, but I like it when I have a lot to do. The only problem is that we don’t have enough IT classes.

Girls looking at laptop screen

What programming languages do you work with?
At first I used a system called Scratch, which lets you put command blocks next to each other in a fun way. Now, however, I write code, and develop in Python, but I would also like to learn Javascript and C++.

You said you are competitive. Have entered competitions?
Yes, I won the Future Makers competition in my age group in Hungary, and qualified to the international finals in Dublin. After that I developed an app called Granny’s Pills, a virtual medicine box which I submitted to the Technovation competition for girls. I got to the semifinals, but I wasn’t able to reach the finals in America unfortunately, but that didn’t discourage me. I’m in a team that’s competing this year too, and we are now putting the finishing touches to SmilingTooth, the app we’re submitting there. Two years later I was actually asked to be a jury member in the Future Makers contest, and it was very interesting to see things from the other side.

Tell us a little about these two apps.
Granny’s Pill helps if grandma or grandpa forgets to take their medicine. You can set the types and number of medicines you have to take, and the app sends a reminder, which also includes a photo of the medicine, so you can avoid accidentally taking the wrong tablet. You can also set the contact information of a family member who receives a message too, even if they have taken their medicine and forgotten about it. SmilingTooth is an application that helps small children brush their teeth in a playful way.

Girl standing, talking to an audience

There’s a pattern in the functionality of these apps. Was this a conscious thing?
Yes, absolutely. I usually look for solutions to community or social problems. I have a soft spot for aiding the elderly and solving the problems that affect them, but I also feel that it’s important to take action against food waste. We even deal with subjects like selective waste collection and climate change, because these will be my generation’s problems entirely. We will be living in it.

SmilingTooth is still under development, but Granny’s Pills is already available. What happened to this app in the end?
Thanks to a Microsoft project last summer, I took part in a week-long event in Athens where everything was about artificial intelligence. There were 100 girls there, from 10 countries. During the day we went to lectures and workshops, but we also had time to network and make friends. It was a great experience. There was a challenge on the last day – we had to program things such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition software and a chat robot. We all then became Microsoft Artificial Intelligence Ambassadors.

What does that entail?
For starters, I talked about my experiences at DigiGirlz in April, and also helped the participants. I have also mentored Technical University students at Prezi.

You’re mentoring technical university students?
Yes, they were a bit surprised, but they were open too, they asked lots of questions, even about things that I hadn’t done yet, but we solved problems together. I have even been shadowing at Prezi, which lets me observe the specialists there at work.

Artificial intelligence is a very active field. Would you like to work with it in future?
Yes, it is really interesting. I’ve read a lot about it, and I’ve even listened to several podcasts. I think we are only scratching the surface of the possibilities that lie within artificial intelligence, but this is what makes so exciting. It is a constantly developing field, so I may be doing something that does not even exist yet today. I also want to keep on developing apps, and I think mixed reality is also very interesting. However, I find AI extremely exciting, mainly because a few years ago we didn’t even know that it would exist, and it is now opening doors to things that are completely astounding. For example, I heard about an AI in a podcast that collects information from brain cells.

Girls standing in front of classroom

Have you received offers from IT companies?
I’ve had a couple of offers. For example, people from Oracle Young Talent contacted as a result of an article in NLCafé, saying they would support me, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. I was also once able to meet the Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, when he was visiting Hungary.

What was that like?
An event was organised for the Skool participants at the Technical University. We were developing a small game, and he simply walked in and sat down next to me. I was able to talk to him, but I was still shy! I told him about the Daily Take Me app, which really caught his attention. He is an amazingly charismatic person.

Would you like to work for Microsoft?
Of course, if things go that way, but I am not there yet! I would like to try myself out in companies here in Hungary, and I hope I’ll be able to gain experience abroad too. It would be really good to attend more workshops and events so that I can develop more.

How much time do you spend in front of the computer?
It depends on what time I get home. I am an official competitor in the UTE fencing division where I compete with the foil. This means several hours of practice a day. I owe my coach Gábor Kreiss a lot for his supportive attitude, and he accepts that programming is also a part of my life. It is difficult for people in competitive sports to get balance their lives. After training, I usually spend one or two hours coding every day, and all of my other activities take about four hours. This includes studying, and we have to write and submit a lot of things online.

What advice would you give to girls who are interested in the STEM subjects, but have possibly come up against negative stereotypes and rejections?
I know many girls who, if they are told something is “not for them”, would make it theirs just to prove people wrong. The point is that you should believe in yourself, believe that you are capable, irrespective of gender, and you shouldn’t let other people’s opinion have a negative effect on it. But it is important to hear the positive messages, which the incubator programs can help a lot with, just like Skool, company events, and DigiGirlz too. I also think that balance is very important. I don’t stay in my room all the time – I try to make sure that my everyday life is balanced.

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Toy Story Mash-Up pack now available in the Minecraft Marketplace

Explore some of the places you love (Andy’s bedroom!) and maybe are a little afraid of (I still have nightmares about Sid’s bedroom), from the teeny perspective of the toys. Yes, you are indeed tiny, which means you’ll have to climb, jump, and solve puzzles to find your way through an enormous, yet familiar world!

The Toy Story Mash-Up pack is available in the Minecraft Marketplace now. Go play!

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How TV white space is helping bridge the digital divide

As technology advances, it is important not to leave anyone behind. Fast, reliable internet access is now one of life’s necessities, critical to accessing telehealth solutions, pursuing an online education, using precision agriculture, or operating a small business. And while the FCC’s most recent report found that more than 21 million Americans lack broadband access, Microsoft’s data suggest that more than 162 million are not using the internet at broadband speeds.

Wireless technologies, such as TV white spaces — unused broadcasting frequencies — are critical to closing the digital divide. According to Pew Research, wired technologies such as phone landlines, cable or broadband take longer to adopt. In contrast, wireless technologies, such as radio and color broadcast television, achieved near-universal adoption within 25 years. Waiting on the deployment and adoption of wired technologies, like fiber-optic connections, to close the digital divide is not an option when so many people across the county lack access.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative is forging partnerships focused on closing the connectivity gap. It works towards providing broadband internet coverage to unserved rural Americans through work with our partners and with a mixture of innovative technologies. By July 2022, our goal is to extend broadband access to 3 million Americans across unserved rural parts of the country.

The video tells the story of how the need for reliable internet in Essex County, New York, led to a business that services the local community with help from the Microsoft Airband Initiative and solutions like TV white spaces.

Read more on the Microsoft Airband Initiative. And follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter. 

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OneDrive strengthens security with Personal Vault, boosts standalone storage plan to 100 GB with no additional charge

With the growing presence and sophistication of online threats, it’s increasingly important to have the right protection and tools to help safeguard your devices, personal information, and files from being compromised. Today, we’re excited to announce OneDrive Personal Vault—a new layer of security coming to your OneDrive personal account to further protect your most sensitive and important files.

We’re also increasing the OneDrive standalone storage plan from 50 GB to 100 GB at no additional charge, and we’re giving Office 365 subscribers a new option to add more storage as they need it.

OneDrive Personal Vault

OneDrive runs on the trusted Microsoft cloud, which has many security measures in place to keep your files safe. But we understand that some people want more protection for their most important and sensitive files, which is why we’re introducing Personal Vault.

Personal Vault is a protected area in OneDrive that you can only access with a strong authentication method or a second step of identity verification, such as your fingerprint, face, PIN, or a code sent to you via email or SMS.1 Your locked files in Personal Vault have an extra layer of security, keeping them more secured in the event that someone gains access to your account or your device.

Plus, this added security doesn’t mean added inconvenience. All your documents, photos, and videos in Personal Vault are easy to access on Onedrive.com, your PC, or capable devices.2

Image of files on a mobile device, in OneDrive Personal Vault.

Personal Vault adds to the robust privacy and security that OneDrive currently offers, including file encryption at rest and in transit, suspicious activity monitoring, ransomware detection and recovery, mass file deletion notification and recovery, virus scanning on download for known threats, and version history for all file types.

Easy to use

Just enter a PIN, or use your fingerprint, face, or a code delivered by email or SMS1 to unlock and access your files—no need to remember multiple passwords. Additionally, Personal Vault can be unlocked with the Microsoft Authenticator app. Whichever way you choose, unlocking is quick, convenient, and helps secure your data.

Scan and shoot directly into Personal Vault

You can use the OneDrive for mobile app to scan documents, take pictures, or shoot video directly into your Personal Vault, keeping them off less secure areas of your device—such as your camera roll. It’s easy to scan important travel, identification, vehicle, home, insurance documents, and more directly into your Personal Vault. And you’ll have access to these documents wherever you go, across your capable devices.2

Image showing OneDrive Personal Vault's scan option for uploaded files.

Extra protection on and off your PC

Personal Vault uses more than just two-step verification to help keep your files safe and private. On Windows 10 PCs, OneDrive syncs your Personal Vault files to a BitLocker-encrypted area of your local hard drive. And like all files in OneDrive, the contents of your Personal Vault are encrypted at-rest in the Microsoft cloud and in-transit to your device. For further protection on mobile devices, we recommend that you enable encryption on your iOS or Android device. Together, these measures help keep your files protected even if your Windows 10 PC or mobile device is lost, stolen, or someone gains access to it.

Automatic locking after a short period of inactivity

Personal Vault automatically relocks on your PC, device, or online after a short period of inactivity. Once locked, any files you were using will also lock and require reauthentication to access. There’s no need to worry about whether you left your Personal Vault or your file open—both will close and lock automatically after inactivity.3

Screenshot of the OneDrive Personal Vault homepage dash.

Available soon

We’re excited to provide these new capabilities to people who use OneDrive on the web, with our mobile app, or on a Windows 10 PC. Personal Vault will begin rolling out soon in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and will be available to everyone by the end of the year.

If you already have OneDrive, Personal Vault will appear as a feature update when it launches later this year in your region. And if you aren’t yet a OneDrive customer, you can download the app or go to www.onedrive.com to start using it on your PC or on the web. If you are using OneDrive’s free or standalone 100 GB plan, you can try Personal Vault with a limited number of files. Office 365 subscribers can store as many files as they want in Personal Vault, up to their storage limit.

OneDrive gets additional storage

Today, we’re also excited to share two storage plan updates.

Store more with OneDrive 100 GB plan—We’re increasing the amount of storage in the OneDrive standalone plan from 50 GB to 100 GB4 for the same $1.99 per month. That’s enough space to store over 50,000 pictures (at 2 MB per photo). This new plan is perfect for automatically backing up your phone’s camera roll and scanning and saving documents, receipts, and more right from your phone. You can also use it to back up your files and share and collaborate on documents. This new plan will roll out soon. If you’re currently using our 50 GB plan, you’ll automatically get 50 GB more storage added to your account at no additional cost. For more information, see OneDrive plans.

Get additional OneDrive storage as you need it—Your Office 365 subscription starts with 1 TB of OneDrive storage, and many people have asked for even more storage. Today, we’re announcing OneDrive additional storage, which lets you add more storage—as you need it—to your existing Office 365 subscription. You can add storage in 200 GB increments starting at $1.99 per month, going up to 1 TB of additional storage for $9.99 per month.

If you need 2 TB of storage, we now have an option for you. Pay only for what you need and increase, decrease, or cancel your additional storage plan anytime. OneDrive additional storage will be available in the coming months wherever Office 365 is available.

Graph showing the additional storage plans for OneDrive.

Let us know what you think

To let us know what you think or share your thoughts and ideas, visit OneDrive UserVoice. To learn more about all the advanced protection features included in Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal subscriptions, see our support page.

Notes
1 Face and fingerprint verification requires specialized hardware including a Windows Hello capable device, fingerprint reader, illuminated IR sensor, or other biometric sensors and capable devices.

2 The OneDrive for mobile app on Android and iOS requires either Android 6.0 or above or iOS 11.3 and above.
3 Automatic locking interval varies by device and can be set by the user.
4 100 GB plan offers 102,400 MB of storage.

New biodiversity lesson pack and world coming to Minecraft: Education Edition in partnership with World Wildlife Fund

We share our planet with millions of different species. This huge variety of animals and plants, and the places they live, is called biodiversity.  The connections between these species form an intricate network that helps to protect us all. Unfortunately, in large part because of human impact, many of these species are at risk of extinction.

In partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we bring you a new interactive curriculum launching this summer: Extinction! A Biodiversity Crisis. This content pack includes three standards-aligned lesson plans and a purpose-built Minecraft world from the creative minds of Naturebytes, a UK-based collective of technologists and conservation scientists.

Ride a rollercoaster through different eras, meet scientists and conservationists, conduct research about climate change and ecosystems using WWF educational resources, and work collaboratively to build creative solutions to counteract threats to biodiversity.

Tour through time from the Ice Age to present day

The immersive world presented as part of Extinction! A Biodiversity Crisis is designed so that even teachers new to using Minecraft: Education Edition can get started quickly and easily. Take a rollercoaster journey through time to visit charismatic extinct species, investigate the causes of their extinction, learn about the importance of biodiversity and how it has shaped the world in which we live.

Learn about extinction, climate change, and ecosystems

Explore core concepts related to biodiversity, then apply knowledge to five threatened species biomes from around the world including the Philippine Eagle, Bison, Hawksbill Turtle, Snow Leopard, and Orangutan.

Teach students the importance of biodiversity and build towards a better future

Learn about the value, threats, and sustainable species management before building an Orangutan reserve to benefit the people, profit and planet. Players will also learn about the threats to biodiversity currently contributing to its global decline and experience how their decisions today can have an important impact on the world.

This content pack will be available for free on the Minecraft: Education Edition website later this summer. Stay tuned for updates by following us on TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTube and signing up for our monthly newsletter.

For more information on teaching biodiversity, explore WWF’s Biodiversity Toolkit: https://www.worldwildlife.org/teaching-resources/toolkits/biodiversity-toolkit

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Sneak peek of ‘My World’ — new TV series and curriculum from BBC Learning and Microsoft

As technology facilitates the rapid and seamless dissemination of information, the critical requirements for success for the future workforce have been identified as social perceptiveness, deductive reasoning, complex problem solving, judgment and decision making.* These are also the skills which active and critical consumers of information need to make judgments about the validity, purpose, bias and trustworthiness of news.

Earlier this year, we announced a partnership with BBC Learning and BBC World Service to bring a new television series, My World, to classrooms around the world to support educators and students in gaining critical media literacy skills and the ability to navigate the news. And today, we’re excited to share that the series will be available in time for the new school year, and you can register today!

My World, executive-produced by Angelina Jolie and BBC World Service, will feature 10 episodes, each accompanied with learning materials for the classroom. This initiative will teach students about global news and encourage them to become engaged critical thinkers about what they see and hear in the news. Watch the video above for a sneak peek!

As students watch the weekly episodes, they will be asked to participate in exercises that build their media awareness, apply critical thinking to evaluate a story’s accuracy and help them build an understanding of global affairs while differentiating fact from fiction. The program will help students with the following core curriculum skills:

  • Evaluating the argument and specific claims in a text while distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
  • Following and evaluating the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognizing when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
  • Integrating and evaluating multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem

Media literacy is becoming an increasingly important skill for the next generation of leaders, creators, innovators and citizens to master, and we’re excited to share this pilot series with your classrooms this fall.

To learn more and sign up to use this film series with your students, visit aka.ms/myworld.

*Pearson Future of Skills: Employment in 2030

Click here for free STEM resourcesExplore tools for student-centered learning

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System Center Configuration Manager and Microsoft Intune now managing 175 million Windows, Mac, A­­ndroid and iOS devices

Over the weekend, we achieved a significant milestone that I wanted to share with this community because you made it happen: Microsoft endpoint management (as I like to refer to System Center Configuration Manager and Microsoft Intune working together) is now managing more than 175 million Windows, Mac, A­­ndroid, and iOS devices.

175 million is an incredibly big number. The chart below provides a view of how fast this ramp has happened. I am not aware of any commercial cloud service that has ramped up this quickly. The only commercial customer cloud service that I believe is bigger than ConfigMgr and Intune together is Office 365.

To put a number like 175 million in perspective: your odds of winning the Powerball Lottery are about 175 million to one. When it comes to the lotto, anyone holding a ticket is on the wrong side of that math problem—the odds are just stacked completely against you. But with ConfigMgr, the value of that 175 million is flipped—now you are the beneficiary of that giant number because all the insight we gather from so many endpoints is constantly being used to improve the features and functionality of your product.

Let me provide a little more insight into the data

For the majority of the time being measured in the graph, ConfigMgr has dominated the growth and usage. If you looked at the mix of ConfigMgr-managed devices vs. Intune-managed devices a year ago, the mix would have been three to one. Over the last couple of months, however, that mix has flipped. In the last month, for example, for every ConfigMgr managed device that has hit the server, three Intune-managed devices have come in. Don’t get me wrong, we are definitely not forcing anyone to move from ConfigMgr to Intune, but what I’ve noticed from our customers is a shift towards full-cloud solutions with Intune—and this is represented in the data where we see Intune managing millions of Windows 10 devices. The reasoning behind this is simple: the market has concluded that Microsoft has built the best management tools for Windows.

To better understand our long-term commitment to ConfigMgr, as well as how it works with Intune moving forward, check out this quick section of last week’s Endpoint Zone episode:

What 175 million means for you

This milestone isn’t just about a big number; it’s about the way it impacts how you use the technology.

Right now, there’s a lot of talk in our community about “modern management” and how it impacts the work you’re doing now and how you’ll plan for the future of work. “Modern management” is not a product but a perspective about how to manage and secure devices, and this discussion sometimes leads to the conclusion that Intune is modern and ConfigMgr is not modern. In terms of how my team builds and operates these tools, as well as how we invest in and prioritize them, nothing could be further from the truth. “Modern management” is a way to go about managing your endpoints—a great example of this is the perspective that using Windows Autopilot for PC provisioning is a modern approach, whereas traditional imaging is not.

In my mind, the most significant element that makes a management tool “modern” is that insights and intelligence from the cloud are used to automate and improve that tool in ways that were not possible in the past.

For any organization to provide insights/intelligence that you can confidently rely on to automate and amplify your efforts, that provider first has to be operating a data set that is both rich and broad. Having something like this to learn from is not just important—it’s mandatory. These 175 million endpoints provide by far the largest and broadest data set available—and then add to this what we learn from over 800 million PCs in active use, over 180 million monthly active users of Office 365, and the 640 billion monthly authentications through Azure Active Directory. Once again, the math tells a compelling story.

This big number is also a safety net for the community of people responsible for endpoint management in companies all over the world. When it comes to managing Windows devices, for example, the things we learn from running a global service allows us to anticipate the emerging needs of a specific industry, or it shows us places where we can continue to refine useful features. The depth of these types of insights simply wouldn’t be possible if we were managing a global network of devices that was dramatically smaller. It takes tens of millions of Windows 10 endpoints to get the breadth necessary to provide the holistic insights you need, as the breadth of the PC ecosystem is enormous—an incredible diversity of hardware, drivers, peripherals, agents, apps, etc.

The things learned from this type of scale is at the core of every modern management ideal: ConfigMgr and Intune are constantly refined and improved by what is learned here, and the security and management of each endpoint improves accordingly.

A couple of examples of how this benefits you

  • Automate compatibility testing—For nearly every IT team, the single largest cost and expenditure of time during an upgrade to a new version of Windows is compatibility testing. When we release Desktop Analytics soon, we will be able to automate your compatibility testing because of what we learn from the data sets noted above.
  • Zero Trust environments—The ongoing movement of data and apps to the cloud, as well as the constant use/growth of mobile devices, means that it is more important than ever to ensure only trusted users using trusted devices access your company’s apps/data. This is another area in which the size of our data sets can help you in ways that were not possible in the past—for example, human hands and human minds can no longer keep up with the speed and sophistication of many attacks. But now there’s intelligent assistance from the cloud.

There is so much more coming! We are learning and iterating quickly. Microsoft Ignite in November is going to be a really fun week as we will roll out a number of new modern management scenarios based on our learning from this incredible scale. If you have not registered—do it today!

Thank you for your willingness to partner with us, and for your trust in us and the tools we’re building. My team and I cannot express enough how sincerely we appreciate working with you. We are honored to partner with you as you work to deploy and manage your modern workplace.