Microsoft 2020 Partner of the Year

Applied Information Sciences (AIS) has been recognized as the Microsoft Partner of the Year (2020) for Power Apps and Power Automate! This is an exciting award for our company and one which we are honored to receive. AIS has a long history helping customers in large, global, and often regulated industries work through their cloud transformation. We know that this success is due in large part to the Power Platform community and the hard work of our business applications leaders like our Director of Cloud Applications Strategy Andrew Welch, and our Power Platform Solution Architects like Emily Cartner, Jeff Myers, Patrick O’Gorman, and Kevin Dowker as well as the countless other business applications specialists at AIS.

At AIS, we believe in investing in our people. We send our business applications experts to industry events and support their participation in community-driven efforts.

Early in 2019, AIS invested heavily in publishing and sharing the first edition Power Platform Adoption Framework. Since its initial publication, the framework has been globally accepted and vastly improved upon through ownership by the Power Platform community via GitHub at www.PowerPlatform.af. Today, AIS’ business applications specialists work alongside experts from Microsoft, business applications MVPs, and other Microsoft partners around the globe contributing to the ever-evolving set of best practices in the Power Platform Adoption Framework. We are incredibly proud to support the members of the Power Platform Community worldwide and thank them for their continued collaboration in expanding the framework and its capabilities.

One of the most important tenets of the Power Platform Adoption Framework, and consequently AIS’ implementation strategies for Power Platform, is the notion of “platform-focus”. The real value of the Power Platform is realized when business users are able to bring the “whiteboard to life” on their own, without large IT investments. The benefits of citizen development are immense, but they can introduce risks if not managed appropriately. This is one of the first concerns our IT owners typically come to us with. As a result, we place early emphasis on governance and focus on good platform stewardship.

AIS has many offerings to help organizations quickly adopt Power Platform. Our Power Platform Center of Excellence (CoE) is a turnkey offering that complements our customer’s in-house IT staff. It combines our expertise and our lessons learned with deployable tooling, patterns, and models for rapidly building solutions. We used this model first with Azure, then with Modern Workplace, and now with Power Platform for each of the verticals and customers we serve.

Recently, AIS launched our industry-focused Power Platform offerings for Financial Services.  The Financial Services Power Platform offerings support initial adoption and governance as well as best practices associated with scaling and development. These offerings aren’t just ideas, they represent ‘real-world’ lessons learned that we have taken from implementations for the world’s leading finance and insurance companies.

In addition to the private sector, AIS has succeeded in bringing Power Platform to the government and global humanitarian organizations.  In response to the COVID-19 crisis, AIS built a Power Platform-based digital clearinghouse designed to streamline the procurement of medical supplies (ex. Personal Protective Equipment, digital medical devices).  The digital clearinghouse allows medical equipment manufacturers to offer medical supplies for nations across the globe to quickly procure.  Whether in India, Europe, or the United States, our AIS business applications group is the finest in the world and we will continue our investment in the technology and our people.

AIS is a proud Microsoft partner and stands alongside the products, technology investments, and values of the organization. The team is humbled by another successful year of working together and excited for the many prosperous years ahead. We thank Microsoft for this honor.

The pandemic has changed the way Microsoft has had to deliver new product enhancements, but it hasn’t slowed down the respective productive teams from unveiling significant changes to Microsoft 365. Last week, the Microsoft Build conference became the showcase for several Microsoft 365 announcements, and now that it is complete, we can summarize and reflect on how these announcements will change the way we use the platform.

In this post we will look at the highlight announcements and discuss how these changes can impact your usage of Microsoft 365, whether you’re an administrator, user, or implementer.

Microsoft Lists

There is no doubt that one of the biggest announcements last week was Microsoft Lists. What this effectively continues is the trend of Microsoft taking the pieces of SharePoint and building them out across Microsoft 365.

The biggest change is that now Microsoft Lists are their own application inside of Microsoft 365 with its own landing page. It takes what we already had in modern SharePoint lists and made them available outside of just a SharePoint context. Now these lists, which are really small applications, can be outside of SharePoint or can be created inside of a Group connected SharePoint Team Site (but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be available to create in Communication sites, although you can still get much of the functionality as a SharePoint list in that site design).

Microsoft Lists

These lists have the functionality we are used to like custom formatting, integration with Power Apps/Power Automate, rich filtering, and editing experiences, and more. There are some good enhancements such as a gallery (or “card”) view, a modern monthly calendar view, conditional metadata show/hide based on criteria, a conversational notification creation interface, and a lot more. Also, there are now prebuilt templates for various list types, and all of this is seamlessly available to be surfaced inside of Microsoft Teams.

The richness of Microsoft Lists will allow users to build rather complex applications with a very straight forward yet powerful interface, and when you want to do something more complex, the Power Platform will allow you to enhance them even further.

Here are Microsoft resources explaining the announcement in greater detail:

Enhancements to Microsoft Teams

While Microsoft Lists may have been the biggest single addition to Microsoft 365 last week, there remains no mystery that Microsoft Teams continues to be the darling of Microsoft 365. To that end, there are several changes that make Teams an ever more compelling product, and that is especially true as the pandemic pushes more organizations to embrace distributed work.

ACCELERATED TEAMS ENABLEMENT
AIS' Accelerated Teams solution quickly deploys Microsoft Teams within days to support your remote workforce using Teams and staying productive.

There have been recent changes such as a new 3×3 video grid when in a call, “raise a hand” to ask a question and changes to the pre-join experience that allows you to set settings easier. These weren’t announced directly at BUILD, but these are important changes worth mentioning. To get an overview, see this video on Microsoft Mechanics: Microsoft Teams Updates | May 2020 and Beyond. One seemingly small but important change is that now when using the search box in Teams, it can now default to your current context such as a chat, which will have a very big discoverability improvement.

Regarding developer announcements at Build, several new changes were announced:

  • New interface inside of tenant administration to build Teams templates where you can set pre-defined channels and tabs/apps.
  • New Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code extensions to build apps for Teams.
  • Single-button deployment of Power Apps applications into Teams.
  • New Power Automate triggers for Teams.
  • Customizable application notifications using the Microsoft Graph.

The biggest takeaway from all these announcements is that Microsoft wants to provide as many avenues to quickly extend Teams whether that’s a more traditional programmatic solution using the Visual Studio family of products or using the Power Platform to enable a new class of power users that are familiar with those products.

Read more about these announcements at the Microsoft Teams blog: What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Build Edition 2020.

Project Cortex Release Date and Taxonomy APIs

While Project Cortex was announced at the Ignite Conference last year, we now know that Project Cortex will enter general availability in early summer this year, which may be no more than a month or two away. While the impact of Project Cortex will have on our Microsoft 365 implementations remains to be seen, it certainly has the promise to change the dynamic of how we do information management in Microsoft 365.

The interesting announcement that came out for developers were new APIs to complete CRUD operations on the Term Store through the Microsoft Graph. This has never been possible before, and it will be interesting to see how customers will integrate this functionality. What is clear is that if you have been ignoring either the Microsoft Graph or Managed Metadata, the time is to investigate how these opportunities can maximize your Microsoft 365 investment.

Microsoft Graph Connectors Entering Targeted Release

Like Project Cortex, this is not a new announcement, but the fact that these are now going to be more broadly available in the targeted release channel in the near future is an exciting development. Essentially, these connectors allow your organization to surface external data sources into search using the Microsoft Graph. If you’re interested in seeing the range of connectors available, check out the Microsoft Graph Connectors gallery.

Implement Today

If you are interested in more Microsoft 365 Announcements, Microsoft has released its Build conference book of news that summarizes all the announcements across all their product lines.

There are great announcements last week but digesting them can be daunting. Let AIS help you understand their impact on your organization and help ensure your investment in Microsoft 365 is being maximized. Contact us today to start the conversation.

Congratulations to the AIS USA and India teams who represented AIS this past weekend in the global Hack4Good Hackathon and took home first and second place! The two teams of AIS employees went up against some of the best in the world – 390 participants across 40 global teams – and we are very humbled to be able to share their success. Not only did they place globally, but each group took home first place in their regions. Check out the details of their solutions below.

Team BTD: Winner of India Region and Global Winner

The hackathon was focused on building solutions based on one’s location. As there are lockdowns and strict quarantining happening in India, we came up with a solution to centralize donations from people. State and Central Governments have been sanctioning rations and funds, but they are not entirely reaching those actually in need. Common people who have the capacity want to donate some rations and generic use material but are unable to due to the lockdown. And then there are NGO’s and organizations that have the appropriate Personal Protect Equipment for their staff who can pick up items from the donors and deliver those to the needful but they do not have enough material to distribute.

The solution is comprised of 4 parts:

  1. Front for Donors to add their donations: We created three mediums for people to list the items that they want to donate. These forms collect information from the user such as Items, Items best before date, Preferred date and time slot for the pickup and their address. Donors can use a Power Apps Portal App and register to add multiple donations (maybe helping their neighbors who are not so tech-enabled) or use an MS Forms form that can be filled from a Phone or through a Power Virtual Agent bot. The information is all stored on the CDS. Using the chatbot the donors can track or cancel their donation requests as well (one of the innovative parts of the solutions is generating an OTP code for the user to authenticate in the chatbot).
  2. For the Pick-Up personnel: These folks are on the ground enabled with PPE’s and permissions from the local authorities and can pick up items from the donors. We created a canvas app that the Pick-Up executives can use. Once the app is loaded on the mobile phone, the current location of the Pick-Up executive is used to calculate Donor addresses within a 5km radius (donor location is calculated from their address and the Bing Maps API). Once the user can see the donor requests they can select one and that renders a Bing map with a route to guide the pickup executive from their current location to the donor address. The pickup executive can then select “Going for pickup” that notifies the donor of the Pickup executive’s information. Once the pickup executive is within 100 meters of the donor’s address, they can mark the items as picked up on the app and click a picture to be sent to the backend.
  3. Power BI reports: These reports are visible to the NGO team and the main component is a map that displays the location points of the donor addresses and based on that, the team can focus more and get active in areas where most donations are coming from. The reports also show the number of items that will be perishing in the next 7 days so that they can be immediately distributed.
  4. Model-Driven App: Once the items are picked up and the picture is sent, the team on the backend marks the donation as validated and creates inventory that can further be used for distribution management.

We came up with this idea and chose to work on it such that it does not die after the pandemic situation ends and has longevity as donations can be made anytime and NGO’s, organizations can better track those with the above solution (after some more tweaks and completion).

Check out the first place winner, TeamBTD’s full solution demo: https://youtu.be/FjOgiUudGLw

Team BTD:

Yash Agarwal – Microsoft Business Apps MVP, Software Developer (@yashagarwal1651)
Ritika Agarwal – Cloud Specialist (@agarwal_ritika)
Shivi Agarwal – studying Computer Sciences
Vansh Agarwal – studying Business Administration for Big data and Analytics

Team Fighting Faucis: Winner of Americas Region and Global Runner Up

Unlike past hackathons, this global Hack4Good didn’t provide teams with problems to solve. Instead, they encouraged us to think of COVID-19 related problems that we’ve witnessed or experience firsthand and try to solve them with the Power Platform – in 24 hours.  As a team, we discussed many of the ways COVID-19 has affected us directly or indirectly, but one image resonated with us the most: the image of a truck dumping potatoes in a Walmart parking lot because the farmer couldn’t sell them to restaurants.   We also, like so many, had seen stories of people needing help from local food banks due to sudden unemployment and closure of schools that often provided free meals to low-income families. We decided to create Farm to Spoon – a solution to connect that farmer with local food banks to get his excess inventory to the people who need it before it is wasted.

The solution has 5 parts:

  1. Farmer’s Administration App: We used CDS to create store the farmer’s data about what types of produce he grows, how much is available for donation, and when it expires.  This data is visible in a Model-Driven App that also allows him to look at all reservations for food made by local foodbanks
  2. Farm to Spoon Website: We used Power Apps Portals to create a website for local foodbanks to check what food the farmer has available and make reservations to pick up the food.
  3. Notifications and Reminders: We used Power Automate to confirm the food bank’s reservation, to let the farmer know when a new reservation has been made and to send out reminder notifications to the food bank to pick up their food before the expiration date
  4. Reservation Checker App: Finally, we created a Power Apps canvas app designed for the farmer’s phone.  The farmer asks the person picking up the food for their phone number, then it looks up all reservations associate with that app and provides a signature field for them to sign for the pick-up, and then the app updates CDS so the farmer has a record of all transactions.
  5. Farmer’s Metrics Report: We used Power BI to give the farmer insight into the supply and demand for his food.  What food is currently available for donation and what food has been reserved (and by whom).

Check out the solution demo for Fighting Faucis here: https://youtu.be/hkFC_mN0ADE

Team Fighting Faucis:
Maxwell Bloch – Senior Software Engineer
Jonathan Eckman – Solutions Architect
Benyamin Famili – Solutions Specialist (OCTO)
Nick Gill  – Power Platform Developer
Andrea Pinillos – Solutions Specialist
Uday Virk – Software Engineer
Jamie Willis-Rose  – Power Platform Developer

Even before COVID-19, work from home/anywhere was a growing trend across many industries. Being mutually beneficial –  employers could recruit and retain top talent due to the convenience of remote work, flexibility around time, domestic responsibilities, and geographic flexibility – which is all very appealing to employees, not to mention the lack of a commute. For companies, it not only lowers organizational costs but also boosts employee productivity, according to the recent research at Harvard Business School. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has given a big push to work from home and it has caused almost all firms to deploy the work from home practices for employees, and quickly. Companies with a distributed workforce are already in a better position to keep operations running. For employees who have become accustomed to working from home, there is nothing new. However, those who are doing it for the first time may feel disconnected, distracted, and uncertain about the future of their job. There are many potential challenges employees may face while working from home requiring ground rules to stay motivated, organized, and productive.

Working From Home

Your Work Items

When you work from home there is no clear delineation between work and home. When work and home are in the same place, it’s hard to make the shift from professional to personal. You may start work from sun up to sundown or get distracted because you feel you have too much time. You may find yourselves working more hours and logging in work time in the evening and weekends. As Parkinson’s law states, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This results in anxiousness and you may become frustrated with yourself.

Set up a routine, it is not necessary to follow nine-to-five, you may be in control and have flexible working hours, which may be good in many cases e.g., some people are not made for the morning even if some are physically there at 9 AM they don’t start being productive until later in the day. Studies have shown by allowing for this, productivity is greatly increased. It’s a company investment. No matter what your working hours are, set reasonable limits to work hours and determine how to meet work requirements and still preserve personal time.

Create a daily ritual e.g., begin your morning with exercise, read a newspaper, or actually enjoy your tea or coffee. Prepare for the day! You may also like to get dressed before starting work. Many find it very useful as it helps to switch from personal to professional. Similarly, after long work hours when you switch back to personal life you may take a shower, as a signal that your workday is over.

Your Work Area

Unfortunately, home life comes with distractions. It’s easy to become distracted by the TV, what’s happening on social media or visitors popping over! If you have children or pets at home setting up limits can be especially tough. In addition, there are always other household errands that need doing, but you are best to put these interruptions off until after your structured working hours as if you were not at home.

Ideally, you will work in a room by yourself behind a closed door, but not everyone has a designated home office. However, it’s critical to have a separate space that you use just for work and not for other activities. Working from home can greatly affect your mind, but creating a workspace of some kind allows you to simulate your brain to recognize it. When you walk into that space, you subconsciously know I am turning on work. When you end for the day, you can say, “I have finished working and now into my evening.” Desk clutter and digital clutter can also be distracting. Having a clean space will result in a clean mind. Ensure family members understand that although you are at home, you are working. You must set working boundaries, if possible. If you have frequent phone or video meetings, you may need a closed-door policy. If you do allow children in your office, make some simple (but fun) rules to follow like knock before entering or never enter when you are on the phone or to remember to use quiet voices.

Your Goals

One of the hardest aspects of working from home is concentrating on the task at hand. Although you set up a workspace and time schedule, you need to set goals for what you will accomplish during that time. You should plan your work before you start the day. Create a task list and keep it in front of you, cut those completed tasks, it will give you a sense of accomplishment. Prioritize your tasks and schedule time slots including extra time in between to cater for contingencies like unforeseen work calls and new tasks, etc. When you begin a task, try to continue it until the end. Do not switch between tasks or get pulled away by your need to respond to a new email. Multi-tasking is a productivity killer, but we all have to multi-task sometimes, the trick is to do it effectively in a limited way.

Your Communication Tools

Today we can work effectively from home, if not more because of the communication tools. There are tons of tools to create more productivity around your communication with your team like email, group chat/call tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. Good communication is an essential part of any successful home working arrangement. Besides textual exchanges, we should use multiple forms of communication to avoid any misunderstanding. We need to understand that phone calls, emails, and meetings are still part of our workday just as they are in the company offices. Without open communication, collaboration becomes difficult.

Your Time with your Loved Ones

Many of us love to work in solitude but after some time we may start to feel lonely. If you don’t have anything to look forward to, it may be difficult to keep yourself motivated. So, it is important that you schedule (virtual) time with family and friends. Reward yourself with a book, time with your family, or loved ones.

With freedom comes added responsibilities, it is not easier to work from home, just different location. Happy WFH!

The current approach of mass quarantining is to “flatten the curve.” However, learning about how the virus has spread and how it can return with the eventual restoration of our economy is something that is still blurry. Recent work by Abbott Labs (among others) shows that shortening testing times and mass-producing testing kits at affordable prices look promising.

However, despite the advancements by Abbott Labs, it is unattainable to test everyone in America. As of today, April 5th, we have tested, on average, one in every two hundred Americans. This can be compared to a test rate like South Korea. The ramp-up in testing has not allowed moving closer to reopening our economy.

Some have proposed the idea of checking for antibodies. This test would suggest immunity to the virus because of a prior infection. The logic behind this is that people that have these antibodies can safely return to work and take on the critical tasks needed to restart the economy. Nonetheless, recent news from across Asia warns us that patients previously diagnosed with COVID-19 are being readmitted to hospitals after testing positive for the virus again.

So as it stands, our current approach to mass quarantining from what the media outlets have predicted to be up to twelve-months is not only slow but is also pushing us down a path of economic damage. If that continues, this may be difficult to recover from. Scaling up and developing new methods of testing that check for antibodies, while advantageous, will not be by itself enough to reopen our economy.

An Aggressive Data-Vision Approach is Needed

An aggressive data-driven approach to understand how COVID-19 is spreading should be suggested. Based on these insights, we can demarcate safe zones where seminal economic activity can be reinstituted with minimal risk. There are two aspects of this approach:

  1. We can develop more in-depth insights into how the virus is spreading. We must acknowledge that mass quarantining alone is not the best approach.
  2. Based on the insights we develop, we may be able to open parts of our country once again, with a measure of confidence based on the data.

Ultimately, the solution boils down to data and computation problems. Imagine if we took the phone numbers of everyone infected with COVID-19 (of course, using an anonymized identifier rather than the actual phone numbers for protecting the privacy of folks involved). Then, using cell tower data to gather movement of those individuals based on their smart-phones, we will perform location and time-based searches. This would determine who might have come in contact with infected persons in the last forty-five days. Then, we will algorithmically place the search results dataset into bands based on the degree of overlap (time and location). This algorithm will be able to eliminate instances of location proximity where there is minimal chance of spread for example, at a traffic intersection. Conversely, this algorithm will accord a higher weight to location proximity based on where there is a bigger chance of the virus spreading. For example, at a coffee shop or workplace. All these factors will lead to the calculation of a risk factor. Individuals that meet the high-risk criteria will be notified. Any individual who receives the notification will be instructed to self-quarantine immediately. We can go further and penalize them if they don’t follow the suggestion, using the cell phone data. These individuals should be sent a self-test kit on a priority basis.

If these individuals test positive, their immediate family would then receive instant notification to also self-quarantine. The location in which this individual came into contact with the COVID-19 infected patient that initiated this search will be notified as well. If they test negative, we will still learn a vital data point is how the virus is spreading. These learnings, including the test results, will be fed into a continuously retraining machine learning algorithm. This algorithm will keep track of the trajectory of an infected person and common intersection locations. Additionally, this algorithm will also be able to account for an infected person being quarantined, thus neutralizing a virus carrier from the mix. In summary, this algorithm is akin to performing deep automated contact tracing at a level that cannot be matched by armies of volunteers.

Another important byproduct of the trained algorithm is the automatic extraction of “features”. In machine learning, a feature is an individual measurable property or characteristic of a phenomenon being observed [1]. For example, the algorithm will observe that many people are becoming infected, without coming in direct contact with an already infected person. Based on observing millions of such data points, it can, on its own, identify discriminating features such as an infected mailman route and common meeting areas that include certain surfaces like metals where coronavirus can remain active for days.

Using a continuously retraining algorithm, we can start to open parts of the country where the threat of spread is low. Any discovery of a COVID-19 case in a low-risk area will trigger the actions mentioned above and will flow back as input to training. It should be evident that the dataset and algorithm described above is computationally challenging. We are talking about recursive data searches through a dataset comprised of millions of citizens and a continuously learning algorithm with potentially billions of hyperparameters.

But Hasn’t This Approach Already Been Used in Other Countries like Taiwan and Singapore?

There is no question that location tracking capabilities have been highly effective in controlling the spread of coronavirus. In Taiwan and Singapore, location tracking technologies were used very early in the outbreak and mainly used for surveillance. In Korea, officials routinely send text messages to people’s phones alerting them on newly confirmed infections in their neighborhood — in some cases, alongside details of where the unnamed person had traveled before entering quarantine. Based on my research, these countries did not rely on big data and deep learning techniques to derive insights from the data. In the case of Taiwan and Singapore, the dataset of infected persons is not large enough for such an analysis.

Summary

The U.S. Government has broad authority to request personal data in the case of a national emergency like the Coronavirus. In the United States, phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon have extensive records on their customer’s movements. However, it does not appear that we are leveraging the large body of people’s movement data to combat coronavirus. According to a recent Washington Post story, “AT&T said it has not had talks with any government agencies about sharing this data for purposes of combating coronavirus. Verizon did not respond to requests for comment.”

The goal of this post is to engender a collaborative discussion with experts in big data, ML and medicine. Hopefully, there are efforts already underway based on a similar or better idea. Please send your comments via twitter @vlele.

Late last Friday, the news of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract award to Microsoft Azure sent seismic waves through the software industry, government, and commercial IT circles alike.

Even as the dust settles on this contract award, including the inevitable requests for reconsideration and protest, DoD’s objectives from the solicitation are apparent.

DOD’s JEDI Objectives

Public Cloud is the Future DoD IT Backbone

A quick look at the JEDI statement of objectives illustrates the government’s comprehensive enterprise expectations with this procurement:

  • Fix fragmented, largely on-premises computing and storage solutions – This fragmentation is making it impossible to make data-driven decisions at “mission-speed”, negatively impacting outcomes. Not to mention that the rise in the level of cyber-attacks requires a comprehensive, repeatable, verifiable, and measurable security posture.
  • Commercial parity with cloud offerings for all classification levels – A cordoned off dedicated government cloud that lags in features is no longer acceptable. Furthermore, it is acceptable for the unclassified data center locations to not be dedicated to a cloud exclusive to the government.
  • Globally accessible and highly available, resilient infrastructure – The need for infrastructure that is reliable, durable, and can continue to operate despite catastrophic failure of pieces of infrastructure is crucial. The infrastructure must be capable of supporting geographically dispersed users at all classification levels, including in closed-loop networks.
  • Centralized management and distributed control – Apply security policies; monitor security compliance and service usage across the network; and accredit standardized service configurations.
  • Fortified Security that enables enhanced cyber defenses from the root level – These cyber defenses are enabled through the application layer and down to the data layer with improved capabilities including continuous monitoring, auditing, and automated threat identification.
  • Edge computing and storage capabilities – These capabilities must be able to function totally disconnected, including provisioning IaaS and PaaS services and running containerized applications, data analytics, and processing data locally. These capabilities must also provide for automated bidirectional synchronization of data storage with the cloud environment when a connection is re-established.
  • Advanced data analytics – An environment that securely enables timely, data-driven decision making and supports advanced data analytics capabilities such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Key Considerations: Agility and Faster Time to Market

From its inception, with the Sep 2017 memo announcing the formation of Cloud Executive Steering Group that culminated with the release of RFP in July 2018, DoD has been clear – They wanted a single cloud contract. They deemed a multi-cloud approach to be too slow and costly. Pentagon’s Chief Management officer defended a single cloud approach by suggesting that multi-cloud contract “could prevent DoD from rapidly delivering new capabilities and improved effectiveness to the warfighter that enterprise-level cloud computing can enable”, resulting in “additional costs and technical complexity on the Department in adopting enterprise-scale cloud technologies under a multiple-award contract. Requiring multiple vendors to provide cloud capabilities to the global tactical edge would require investment from each vendor to scale up their capabilities, adding expense without commensurate increase in capabilities”

A Single, Unified Cloud Platform Was Required

The JEDI solicitation expected a unified cloud platform that supports a broad set of workloads, with detailed requirements for scale and long-term price projections.

  1. Unclassified webserver with a peak load of 400,000 requests per minute
  2. High volume ERP system – ~30,000 active users
  3. IoT + Tactical Edge – A set of sensors that captures 12 GB of High Definition Audio and Video data per hour
  4. Large data set analysis – 200 GB of storage per day, 4.5 TB of online result data, 4.5 TB of nearline result data, and 72 TB of offline result data
  5. Small form-factor data center – 100 PB of storage with 2000 cores that is deliverable within 30 days of request and be able to fit inside a U.S. military cargo aircraft

Massive Validation for the Azure Platform

The fact that the Azure platform is the “last cloud standing” at the end of the long and arduous selection process is massive validation from our perspective.

As other bidders have discovered, much to their chagrin, the capabilities described above are not developed overnight. It’s a testament to Microsoft’s sustained commitment to meeting the wide-ranging requirements of the JEDI solicitation.

Lately, almost every major cloud provider has invested in bringing the latest innovations in compute (GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs), storage (very high IOPS, HPC), and network (VMs with 25 Gbps bandwidth) to their respective platforms. In the end, what I believe differentiates Azure is a long-standing focus on understanding and investing in enterprise IT needs. Here are a few examples:

  • Investments in Azure Stack started 2010 with the announcement of Azure Appliance. It took over seven years of learnings to finally run Azure completely in an isolated mode. Since then, the investments in Data Box Edge, Azure Sphere and commitment to hybrid solutions have been a key differentiator for Azure.
  • With 54 Azure regions worldwide that ( available in 140 countries) including dedicated Azure government regions – US DoD Central, US DoD East, US Gov Arizona, US Gov Iowa, US Gov Texas, US Gov Virginia, US Sec East, US Sec West – Azure team has accorded the highest priority on establishing a global footprint. Additionally, having a common team that builds, manages, and secures Azure’s cloud infrastructure has meant that even the public Azure services have DoD CC SRG IL 2, FedRAMP moderate and high designations.
  • Whether it is embracing Linux or Docker, providing the highest number of contributions to GitHub projects, or open-sourcing the majority of  Azure SDKs and services, Microsoft has demonstrated a leading commitment to open source solutions.
  • Decades of investment in Microsoft Research, including the core Microsoft Research Labs and Microsoft Research AI, has meant that they have the most well-rounded story for advanced data analytics and AI.
  • Documentation and ease of use have been accorded the highest engineering priorities. Case in point, rebuilding Azure docs entirely on Github. This has allowed an open feedback mechanism powered by Github issues.

In this episode of the Azure Government video series, Steve Michelotti sits down with AIS’ very own Vishwas Lele to discuss migrating and modernizing with Kubernetes on Azure Government. You’ll learn about the traditional approaches for migrating workloads to the cloud, including:

1. Rehost
2. Refactor
3. Reimagine

You will also learn how Kubernetes provides an opportunity to fundamentally rethink these traditional approaches to cloud migration by leveraging Kubernetes in order to get the “best of all worlds” in the migration journey. If you’re looking to migrate your existing legacy workloads to the cloud, while minimizing code changes and taking advantage of innovative cloud-native technologies, this is the video you should watch!

WORK WITH THE BRIGHTEST LEADERS IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

It started off as a small idea – a donation drive to support a local organization – and quickly expanded into multiple drives across the country.   

The AIS Women’s Network began in October 2018 as a small group of 10 individuals and quickly grew to 54 members strong.  To support part of our mission, we set out to lead an effort to help a local charitable organization. But it quickly became apparent that the logistics of multiple offices across the country supporting one organization wasn’t an easy task. But through these challenges grew an even better idea: Why not support multiple organizations? 

This month, the AIS Women’s Network launched the AIS Community Drives. Thanks to the hard work and creativity of each local office lead, AIS was able to support five worthy organizations across Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Each organization received non-perishable foods, household, paper, baby and personal hygiene products, plus gift cards, monetary donations, and many more items! 

AIS Community Drives

“Everyone got extremely creative in finding ways to gain participation in their offices – from Pi Day in Dayton [Ohio], to an ice cream social in Reston [Virginia] to soliciting User Group members in Raleigh [North Carolina]!  It is this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that made this event a great success!” 

 -AIS Women’s Network Member

The donations collected went to five worthy organizations, each one local to an AIS office, including:

  • Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, a multi-service crisis intervention center in Columbia, Maryland that provides 24-hour crisis intervention services, emergency, and transitional shelter, and community education. (You can read more about our work with Grassroots here and here.)
  • LINK, Inc., a nonprofit charity that provides emergency food to people in need in the Herndon, Sterling, and Ashburn communities in Virginia.
  • Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, a nonprofit organization that has provided food for people at risk of hunger in a 34-county service area for over 35 years.
  • Feed the Creek, an organization that provides food for children in the Beavercreek, Ohio area in order to reduce childhood hunger and promote healthier bodies, minds, relationships, and grades.
  • Austin SAFE Alliance, a human service agency in Austin, Texas serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.

“Thanks for your support! You are now classified as a go-to donor. 

  -Monteith Mitchell, Grassroots 

 “It’s just what we neededthank you, thank you, thank you! 

 – Joe Kruse, Grassroots

Please visit the links above to learn more about the incredible work these organizations do across our AIS communities! 

The mission of the AIS Women’s Network is to unify and organize those who are interested in empowering the women of AIS, by way of creating a nurturing community in which they can develop and foster their leadership, technical, and professional skills. 

We’re proud to announce that AIS has successfully renewed all six of our Microsoft Gold Partner competencies for 2019. AIS has been consistently recognized as a Microsoft Gold Partner for many years now, and we’re currently distinguished at the Gold level for:

    • DevOps
    • Cloud Platform
    • Cloud Productivity
    • Application Development
    • Application Integration
    • Collaboration and Content

Microsoft Gold Partner Logo

The Microsoft Partner Program: Defining the Levels of Excellence

Each of these achievements is an important benchmark in the competitive world of Microsoft technology partners. Every year, Microsoft evaluates our staff, our project history, and our customer references. A single Gold competency requires employees to hold multiple Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certifications, five in-depth customer references, numerous developer exams, and other objectives.

We’re proud that over 70% of our staff maintains relevant certifications, validating our knowledge and expertise and allowing us to reach the Gold level across so many areas of our business. Congrats to the entire AIS team for once again bringing home the Gold!

Interested in learning more about our involvement as a certified Microsoft Gold Partner? Click here to get in touch with a solutions executive or give us a call today at 703-860-7800.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention logoAs I was nearing retirement from the Air Force, I received briefings reminding me that the world outside of the military is nothing like the one inside of it. It’s a dog eat dog world out there; companies only care about their bottom line; companies won’t help anyone else unless it’s beneficial for them, etc.

When I came onboard with AIS, however, I was told that our Managed Services practice provides pro-bono support for the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. I was taken aback to learn that AIS is the total opposite of what I’d been taught. This company really cares for the community — and doesn’t just say it, but proves it.

About Grassroots

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is the only homeless shelter in Columbia, Maryland that provides beds and round-the-clock support for those in need of professional crisis intervention, suicide prevention, or outreach services for personal, situational, mental health, and domestic violence crises. In 2018, they fielded 38,914 calls on their 24-Hour Crisis Intervention Hotline, served 2,028 clients in their various shelters, and ensuring the safety of 262 children. While Grassroots is a private non-profit agency and receives funding from grants, private foundations, community donations, and local businesses, it’s simply not enough to ensure their IT is ready to handle the day-to-day demands Grassroots volunteers endure.

Grassroots was lucky to have a volunteer donate their time to providing IT support. Unfortunately, there’s only so much one person can do for an organization like Grassroots. They continue to grow and face new IT challenges each day.

Providing 24/7 Support for a 24/7 Organization

AIS offered to help Grassroots’ volunteer IT person manage their needs and growth at no cost. Our Managed Services team worked with them to define their needs and bottlenecks so we could best support them. The result was an arrangement where the Grassroots volunteer IT staff handle onsite demands, while AIS Managed Services support any IT needs that can be handled remotely, 24/7/365.

In the past year, we’ve helped resolve over 100 different issues ranging from account creation/deletion and email connectivity problems to agency-wide network outages. Managed Services resolved each one of these tickets with a 100% satisfaction rate. Along with resolving tickets, the Managed Services team also provides basic IT training to Grassroots counselors to help increase their understanding of the system… so that they can quickly get back to the important work of helping people.

Service Before Self

In the Air Force, one of our core values was service before self. It’s refreshing to see that AIS is a company that puts community service ahead of self. It makes this veteran honored to work with this company and their support of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.