IT

Lenovo Tech World Day 4

Day 4 arrived rather quickly – it was the second day of Lenovo Tech World and a day that focused on the consumer side of things, rather than business. All the gadgets!

Again we boarded the bus early, and sat for our 90 minute drive to the convention center.

Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing (aka YY) again introduced the day, tieing in what was presented yesterday in the world of business and SiOT, and how it came back to the devices Lenovo currently had, and were planning. It also tied into the technologies we’d seen at the Lenovo Future Center two days before, which helped explain their vision in a bit more detail.

The ‘deeep’ acronym was used a lot to explain this vision, which was:

smart device
Cross-device engine
Home Edge server
App/Service ecosystem
People-oriented smart experience

Lenovo recognised that people now want smart, stylish and personalised devices. They’re applying this to their Core Smart Devices, and extending out to Other Smart Devices

Then, with a slight hint of smugness, YY announced the was ‘One More Thing’… which ended up being two things; the world’s first foldable PC (The X1 ThinkPad Foldable) and the Motorola Razr. For the two days we’d been expecting this, as we’d spied a little Motorola circle hiding right up above the stage. We were right, it slowly descended for YY to take out the new device, and show off it’s folding ability as he proceeded to pop it into his top pocket.

Next up were more devices, and a demonstration of the Lenovo One software. This software allowed an Android phone’s screen to be duplicated and controlled on a laptop screen which was cool in itself, but also extend the Android’s screen to result in a second screen, running separately to the first. The Lenovo One solution also had file sharing capabilities, and tied back into the Home Edge Server aspect.

Home Edge Server was another interesting angle Lenovo was approaching things on – the idea of a home server isn’t something new, but it was tying all the devices and technologies for ease of use, to have the smarts and storage of a device in your home rather than in the cloud. They didn’t touch too much on the ‘why’ of this that I picked up, but I think it’s a bit more about giving the control and trust of this back to people, rather than relying on a central resource to do it. It seems Lenovo is playing it both ways (which is good to give people options) – bringing centralised cloud based smart systems to businesses, and bringing centralised home based smart systems to consumers.

Moving onto more devices and continuing the theme of ‘having it both ways’, Lenovo delved into two product lines; ThinkPad and ThinkBook. The former being the more conservative style, and the much newer brand ThinkBook being a more modern feel with customisations.

Some of the cool things coming to these devices:

ThinkPad was coming with ‘E-privacy guard’ where it would automatically detect someone looking over your shoulder, and blur out the screen.

ThinkVision M14 was brought up again as a useful standalone monitor, able to be plugged into a mobile or laptop ( I still really like this one!)

The ThinkPlus brand was brought up again, this time as a Smart Conference Solution. It was the reasonably standard video conferencing solution, but again trying to encompass the entire solution rather than bits and pieces – video camers, screens, devices, and real-time translation from one language to another. This seemed to resonate with several people I talked to later, around providing a much more inclusive solution when dealing with people in different languages – everyone could talk in their native language and be more confident.

The show wrapped up with the announcement Lenovo would be sponsoring the Chinese Women’s National Volleyball team, and had a chat to the captain – which was a nice moment to end on.

With the show over, we were rushed away to have a quick opportunity to get a hands-on with the Motorola Razr that everyone wanted to check out.

I was really interested to see how the screen folded for starters – and although this was a prototype and not the end product, it seemed quite robust. The screen actually moved up or down when opening/closing the device to prevent stress on the end-point, which makes sense when you’re told it, but it’s a strange thing to see the entire screen move a little!

The Razr was also thinner than I expected. I liked the take on making a phone smaller to carry around and use (and that front display screen is also touch, and able to do basic phone functions + photos without actually opening the phone), rather than trying to make the device size we’re used to have a bigger display again.

We then wandered around the convention centre a bit more, where I bought my thinkplus USB-C 13000mAh, 48W laptop battery pack that I later lost at the airport. I still have the empty box that haunts me, reminding me of my ignorance in battery-in-checked-luggage rules.

It was time to be a tourist again, so we hopped on the bus and headed to the Temple of Heaven. I learnt a little about all the sacrificial customs they obeyed at the time, and yet again was amazed at the effort, detail and age of all the constructions and artifacts on display.

Following that was another impressive dinner served on a lazy-susan and a good night’s sleep.

Again I tweeted as much as I could on the day, so have a read through my Twitter thread for a few more bits of information and photos I took along the way:

Lenovo TechWorld Day 3

Day 3 in China came pretty quickly. I’d already started to get used to what it looked, sounded and felt like being in Beijing – I’d acclimatised. I was still absorbing all the pieces of information I’d learnt from the Lenovo HQ trip, and figured another big day of learning was ahead.

View from my hotel room

We all loaded onto a bus for a 90 minute ride to the China National Convention Centre as Yanqi Lake, where we departed and immediately walked into some sort of security shouting about a drone being flown overhead, as apparently it wasn’t legal to fly anything on government land – I haven’t verified that claim, but civilian security seemed to be much more of a focus than what I’m used to in Australia – in fact, I felt a lot safer in Beijing due to the frequent presence of officers of some sort, but with a population of the city almost as much as the entire continent of Australia, I can imagine it’s needed.

The hall itself was a very well designed and clean setup, giant screens on the back, lots of lighting effects and a seat with my name on it, along with a transmitter. The event itself was to be communicated in Chinese, and interpreters would convert it to English on the fly for us to listen to. This experience of focusing on the noise coming from the headset vs watching the person on stage and listening to them took a few minutes to adjust to, but was fine after that. The interpreters did a good job of keeping up, and occasionally seamlessly swapped around.

The next two and a half hours, we heard from several executives of Lenovo including the CEO, Yang Yuanqing. What information this contained was all new to me – for all I knew, Lenovo made computer type hardware, and some accompanying software. Little did I know what their business integrations and aspirations were, and here’s my rundown on what I learnt:

Lenovo was heavily investing in SIoT (Smart Internet of Things), machine learning, and AI. Usually buzzwords, but they conveyed how this would be used in the real world. For example, they had a focus on smart transportation. Not just smart cars, but looking at the entire environment a car was in, and having all devices find out about what else was going on. Cars would be aware of other cars around them and their speeds, the status of traffic lights ahead and so on, with a goal of having safer and better driverless cars that used information they were fed from the other devices, rather than being a car in isolation relying on what the car could detect with cameras and sensors.

Similar logic was being applied to the Finance, Healthcare, and Manufcaturing industries – have all these parts talk back and and then drive what they do. The difference between IoT and SIoT seemed to be that the ‘smart’ was a two way thing, rather than IoT devices being purely reporting points to feed back data. Their way of putting this was: Data + Computing Power + Algoriths = Data Intelligence:

These changes Lenovo saw as leading to a few high level outcomes:
Intelligence creates disruption to industries around the world, and Quality of life would be improved.

Next we had a video from Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft who’d recorded a short message talking about how important the partnership between Microsoft and Lenovo was, and that both companies planned to continue to work together for the future.

Then, a big announcement. A partnership between Lenovo and Schneider Electric. This was around customer solutions that would use Schneider electric hardware and systems, but use Lenovo’s SIoT technology and infrastructure to help drive efficiencies on power usage – their combined goal was to use their synergised systems to reduce power consumption for their customers, knowing that global warming is a looming threat to all of us.

We then dove deeper into some of the areas the keynote speech had covered. Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations was one area, where they compared engineering staff going over log files to find a problem. It would take 2 Senior Engineer 2 days to identify a problem in their example (which I don’t have more details of sorry), vs 1 Engineer 2 hours using Lenovo’s AI driven solution.

I also found out that Lenovo already had a partnership with McDonalds China by having an Energy Management System installed that monitored electricity and water usage amonst other things. Again, these were areas I had no idea Lenovo even played in until this event!

I’m glossing over many details – but the event ended with all the speakers coming out and celebrating the day; puffs of snoke exploded with lots of clapping, and with that the first day’s main event was done!

Afterwards I headed around the 4 floor building exploring. Most of it was aimed at the business side of things that other businesses in particular industries would be interested in, but wasn’t for me personally.

There was something I did find interesting though – Lenovo had a big popup store selling items. There’s a whole product line I didn’t know about called ‘ThinkPlus’ and they sell a bunch of different techy/business items that seemed to be pretty good quality including laptops, air purifiers, suitcases, portable hard drives, chargers, robot vaccuums, scooters, and many, many more things:

The people running the store were very nice, and because I kept hassling them asking about things I was given two gifts! A Lenovo Kids Education Robot which wasn’t actually for sale, and only spoke Chinese, plus a makeup mirror with LED light and powerbank to charge a mobile phone! Quite rightly they said I should probably buy something since I was getting these gifts, so bought another powerbank , but this one had a games system built into it. That cost me about 160CNY so it was a good deal. (Later I would learn a harsh lesson – you’re not supposed to put batteries in your checked-in luggage. I lost the makeup mirror along with another battery I bought that actually charges laptops, but had the games powerbank in my carry-on so that made it through).

I’ve played with the robot a bit, and tried to use a Chinese language converter. I can’t get it onto wifi yet, but I know it talks using WeChat – one day I’ll have some time and work this out! Instead all it can do is sing Christmas songs in Chinese to me.

A tech demo I found was Lenovo’s current unnamed AR glasses. These were planned to be released in 2020 sometime, and gave the wearer 3 virtual desktops to use in a high resolution. They had them demoed on airplane seats, to show that you could use a keyboard/mouse and have these glasses as your screens, needing less space than trying to squish on the table tray with your laptop. You could also block the AR part and use them as pure VR, say if you wanted to watch a movie. I quite liked this one and look forward to seeing how it progresses.

Another thing I learnt was that it was Lenovo’s 35th anniversary!

We headed back from the first day, had yet another amazing dinner and got some rest for day 2 of Lenovo Tech World.

On the day itself I of course tweeted a bunch of things, and here’s a thread of it for anyone interested:

There’ll be a few more posts about my trip soon!

Service health dashboard email notifications GA

Email alerts for Microsoft 365 Service Health incidents is now Generally Available! (as fellow MVP Greig Sheridan pointed out, although it’s GA, it’s gradually rolling out from December 2019 to March 2020 – but I already have this in my live tenant) In case you missed this one, there’s now an easy way to configure email alerts to go out when there’s an outage of some sort in the Microsoft 365 space.

Personally I’m used to checking out the portal once I hear about a complaint and seeing what might be broken. Instead, I’ll now see emails to keep across what’s going on in the Microsoft world, as well as have a ticket raised via email to helpdesk, so any potential user affecting outages are identified earlier in the troubleshooting process.

The advisory is MC196504 for those who want to read about it in the ‘Microsoft 365 admin center Message center’, but all you need to do to enable it is:

From the new Microsoft 365 admin center, go to Health > Service Health. Under the All services tab, click the Preferences button:

This will pop out a side window:

From this page, you can enter up to 2 email addresses – so if you want it to go to more than 2 recipients, use a distribution group. You can choose the services you want to receive alerts about (all are ticked by default), and as it will advise when saving, it may take up to 8 hours to apply.

This one’s a pretty simple feature, but one I’m very glad to see. Set it up for yourself today!

Conditional Access Baseline Policies Out, Security Defaults In for Azure Active Directory

Something I stumbled across today – it appears that Microsoft has decided to abandon Baseline Protection Policies, and replace them with a single ‘on/off’ switch called ‘Security Defaults’

Baseline Protection policies (also called Baseline Policies, it seems both terms have been used) were in preview, and were a pre-canned set of policies based on Microsoft recommendations on standard security settings that should be in place – such as forcing any administrator account to use MFA at each sign in, and blocking legacy authentication.

Here’s what the Conditional Access page currently shows. There might be something wrong with the detection though, as I clearly have a Baseline Policy enabled:

It’s not difficult to recreate the Baseline policies, so I’d suggest migrating off of them now while they’re still functional – you don’t want to be left in a state where you didn’t realise MFA for admins was now not being forced.

The replacement Security Defaults option can be found by going to Azure Active Directory > Manage – Properties > Manage Security Defaults (it’s not in the Conditional Access area):

Before flipping this switch to ‘On’, you’ll need to have a really good read of the documentation. There’s a lot this option does, and may break many environments who aren’t ready for this – such as making sure you have no Legacy Authentication requirements, and that all users will register for MFA within 14 days or be blocked from sign-in until they register.

Although I can see this option being turned on by an uninformed administrator and causing some chaos, I like the idea of this. It means a new tenant can now have a single option to start with to implement several critical aspects to protect the tenant against attacks – right now there’s a lot you need to go through to lock it down, and especially for a small business who doesn’t have the time or resources to do this as well as a larger one, a single on/off switch solves a lot of security problems.

Security Defaults is also available to all customers on all tiers – Azure AD Free tier, which means those who have basic needs can now be protected in several ways they weren’t able to do via Conditional Access before.

Security Defaults isn’t listed as being in Preview as far as I can tell, so it may be an option that’s just rolled out and a ready to go. I am guessing there’ll be a bit of kickback around this being a single option that has no other configurable options in it, so we’ll have to wait and see if the product changes, or Microsoft’s vision of a security toggle stays as their goal.

Lenovo Tech World Day 2

After having the best sleep I’ve had in a long time, in a rather classy hotel room at Shangri-La;

…. I headed down for a buffet breakfast. An abundance of new foods lead me to choose a bowl full of bite sized samplers, many of which I don’t know what they’re called or contain – but all were quite tasty:

After filling up, we loaded onto the bus to visit Lenovo Headquarters in Beijing. I had no idea what to expect inside, apart from visiting the ‘Future Center’ and seeing some products:

At the Lenovo HQ Enterance

We were ushered through to the Future Center after using the fingerprint driven lockers (which seems like a much better idea than the old PIN style lockers), we had two volunteers have their face scanned in for a lot of the facial recognition systems we were about to see.

Those people’s faces were used to unlock a rather impressive silver ball structure, causing some of the balls to change colour. The faces were then used to get past security gates, again showing now accurate and quick facial recognition can be with real world use cases.

After some impressive visual displays, we were taken into Lenovo’s vision of what AI tech at home could look like. Some of the concepts were:

In the lounge, having a system that would give recommendations driven by AI and machine learning from news, weather, holiday destinations, movie and TV selections and shopping to display to you what you want without needing to select it in the first place – e.g. sitting down in the evening after dinner usually means you want a movie selection, so it will display that information first.

In the bedroom, monitoring your sleep and keeping a perfectly climatised environment, along with opening the blinds in the morning for natural sunlight.

In the kitchen, interfaces which can guide you through a cooking process from beginning to end – knowing what food you have and ordering more if needed, telling you what ingredients to add and how exactly to do each step.

And in the garage (ok it’s car related but I’m keeping the ‘home’ theme going) a car that unlocks with an app rather than a key, and more importantly, is connected to a network that controls the entire road experience – from finding the best route based on traffic, to knowing when pedestrians are crossing the road from intersection cameras and reporting back to the car rather than expecting onboard cameras to see all risks.

None of this is mind-blowing in itself and in isolation, but together this all builds a picture of what our lives could be in the very near future. AI and machine learning are buzzwords constantly thrown around these days, but seeing and understanding how these high level concepts can be applied in particular situations, and Lenovo’s vision of how they see it working is worth understanding. Of course Lenovo is not the only company working towards these goals, but one of the messages that came across is that Lenovo is working hard to build relationships with other vendors to achieve those goals – Lenovo are trying to build upon their specialities, and partner with other companies who have different specialities that can come together for an all encompassing solution.

After the eye-opening Future Center experience, we then entered through the next several rooms containing Lenovo hardware. First up was several office desk setups including Ultrawide screens, stand-up and sit down desks, and artist peripherals.

Next we entered an area containing gaming devices – from a gaming computer in a Star Trek USS Enterprise NCC-1701 case, to a water cooled computer in a bubble known as ‘Winbot’. There were several Legion branded laptops and desktops too.

The Virtual Reality units Lenovo is involved in were also on display; Star Wars and Marvel AR headsets, the Lenovo Mirage, and the Oculus Rift.

Then we had a look at the mobile options – both Lenovo branded phones which aren’t globally available, and Motorola which are (and Lenovo now owns). Some of the other less known products were shown here too – like electronic door locks, robot vaccuums and air humidifiers.

We then saw some of my favorite product line devices – the ‘Think’ series. The Thinkvision P44w – a 43.4″ ultrawide monitor caught my eye first, as it’s on my ‘love to have’ list. The small ThinkPlus Mini 45w power adapters were also there, which really looks like a great travel accessory to replace the standard laptop power brick we’re all used to. Of course all the latest ThinkPads, Yogas and other Lenovo laptops were on display too, as well as the ThinkVision M14 – a portable USB-C monitor that can be a secondary monitor for your laptop or tablet/mobile phone.

The tour kept going, and if you can’t tell already, this was probably the main highlight of the entire trip and I wish we’d had more time there. The next area was more server focused, with again a bunch more hardware laid out to look at. This included an enclosed datacentre amongst server hardware:

Finally for the Future Center we were able to see some of Lenovo’s ideas in action – an area that showcased how their technology can and is being used in the real world. Focuses included a learning environment where students could be monitored to see if they were sitting/standing, reading/listening, happy/neutral etc – things a teacher does already, but can glance at a screen to quickly identify what the entire room is doing rather than relying on their own visual check of everyone. Lenovo also have their foot in the door for medical solutions, and 3D rendering/virtual reality/engineering. It was good to see where Lenovo had found use cases for the ideas they had.

Next up was the ‘Unmanned Store’ – an actual working store in Lenovo, that lets staff use facial recognition paired with reading NFC (I assume) chips attached to supermarket supplies, letting someone go into the store, load up on what they want, and self check-out the items. It worked a heck of a lot better than I’ve seen the local supermarkets trying to let customers self-service, and I even got someone to buy me a warm Ovaltine drink :)

Even more stuff! We then went over to the Lenovo Reliability Labs where we saw staff working away on several things – vibration tests, sound tests (and going into a room with next to no echo is a great way to unnerve yourself), radio wave interference tests, and environmental tests. The environmental tests are performed by putting a device into a large oven like system, and they showed what happened to a screen at 150oC.

After lunch, even more tech treats were in store for us. We spoke to a few Lenovo employees who were talking about the product lines they looked after, which included William (who owns over 300 different ThinkPads – world record holder!) who brought in some nostalgic and weird devices from the history of ThinkPads. We also had a hands on with the new Legion laptops, and the Yoga S940 amongst others.

If that wasn’t enough for one day, we then visited the Summer Palace, and had another great dinner which as always, was presented on a Lazy Susan as we politely fought for access to the plates we wanted the most.

Here’s what I tweeted for this day of the trip – click through to see a bunch of observations and photos: