In my previous post My thoughts on Microsoft Ignite 2018 – part 1 – I shared my thoughts on the Microsoft Ignite Vision Keynote, Microsoft Envision and as well the key announcements made during Microsoft Ignite surrounding Microsoft 365. If you missed my previous post, please take the time to go back and read it too. For now, please read on as I focus in on the announcements made for Azure and Dynamics 365 before sharing my final remarks on what was an awesome week at Microsoft Ignite 2018.
Returning for my fourth Microsoft Ignite I was ready for a huge week of learning, discovering and connecting with technologists and business leaders. My days were jammed packed with deep-dive sessions, workshop style sessions, meetings and expo hall wandering and not forgetting random conversations that can be had while grabbing a bite to eat or while moving between sessions. It’s really a fantastic week, and well worth the investment – both time and expense.
As I shared in my previous post there is so, much content to consume during and post Ignite but, I’ll focus on sharing some thoughts on some specific areas. Having already covered Microsoft 365 in my earlier post I’ll now move on and tackle some of the Azure, AI and Dynamics 365 announcements. Once again, I will be covering this from a high-level not looking to share each and every announcements but, rather focus on the key takeaways and areas that I feel were of interest and important to call out. So, sit back and enjoy the read.
Out of the gate Azure was front and center in Satya Nadella’s Vision Keynote where he spoke of “Tech Intensity” that is now as we no longer think of just the computers on our desk and the smartphones in our pockets but, rather the digitization of industries and all that it encompasses, which can be powered by Microsoft’s “Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge”. He spoke about how it is Microsoft’s goal is to ensure they give you the digital technology that you need to transform your company into a digital one. And of the importance of picking your partners is in itself a very smart strategic move for you and your company. It’s something I have spoken about in my own circles where many still talk of moving to the cloud as strategic when in fact what companies should be talking about and executing on is picking the right partner to transform their company into a digital one. That’s the smart move here! So, if you are still looking for your digital transformation partner make sure you are asking them to explain their mission – what do they stand for? – are they looking to empower you and your company though technology? Look for a true strategic partner.
OK so, that got a little deep. But, I think it’s important to understand that partnering for the cloud is critical to your company’s success. So, whether you’re leaning towards Microsoft or a competitor – cloud computing platforms are more than just compute, storage and networking. There services are changing how we approach building and deploying modern applications – finding new architectural patterns that will help transform your company’s application landscape for today and beyond.
With the Vision Keynote over it was time to get into the weeds on everything Azure. And with more than 500 sessions linked to Azure there was no shortage of content just tough decisions on where to devote your time. Fortunately for all of us most sessions were recorded and you can now go back and watch them on-demand. For me personally, I used the Technology Keynote – IT and developer success with Microsoft Azure from Julia White (Corporate Vice President, Microsoft) and Scott Guthrie’s (Executive Vice President, Cloud & Enterprise, Microsoft) to get a good overview before going deep on specific areas. Using their session agenda as a guide to everything Azure at Ignite 2018.
When Microsoft talks about the hybrid cloud it’s not being expressed as a trend or buzzword but, rather the reality for all of us who have built infrastructure on-premises and whom now are embracing the public cloud. Microsoft is the only technology partner out there that can truly deliver a complete hybrid solution and not just connecting your on-premises with your cloud provider but, rather providing “integration and consistency across your entire technology estate” – this includes but not limited too your identity system, your infrastructure and developer platform, your data estate, security and management too. It really is a powerful proposition for many companies out there today adopting public cloud services:
At this year’s Ignite, Microsoft announced continued investments across all areas of their hybrid cloud services and here are a few highlights:
- Azure Stack – an extension of Azure bringing a consistent management experience and rich set of capabilities to your on-premises estate. Only a year ago Microsoft announced the GA for Azure Stack and this year they spoke about how they have seen adoption across a number of industry sectors and from major companies including Airbus, EY and Chevron to name just a few. This year they have taken it a step further with a new ruggedized Azure Stack bringing AI and compute to the edge for a variety of different scenarios. Check out this video showing a ruggedized 1 tonne Suburban equipped with an Azure Stack an array of plug-in and drone sensors that can be used in a disconnected environment for a variety of different scenarios including disaster relief and coordination. Being able to apply AI in the field and in real-time unlocks immediate capabilities for bringing assistance to people in need and for ensuring services can navigate environmental disasters where roads and other infrastructure like bridges could be compromised. There are also commercial applications where data models built-in the cloud can be taken offline and used in remote locations where previously it was inconceivable that you could run these types of analytics in these environments and now Azure Stack is making it possible. This is a real game changer.
- Windows Server 2019 adds significant hybrid capabilities – in addition to moving to GA there were some major announcements that accompanied its release. For example with Windows 2019 you can leverage Azure Backup, Azure File Sync and Azure Site Recovery. This functionality both extends your data center and also simplifies your management of your on-premises estate. Unfortunately, for many of us we are still running large footprints of Windows Server 2012 and possibly 2008/2008R2, which will see a delay in realizing these features but, with the right priority and demand they can be employed in part too.
- New Windows Virtual Desktop in Azure – Some of you will no doubt remember running Windows Terminal Servers on-premises back in the day and possibly overlaying this with more advanced capabilities from providers like Citrix who really mastered the virtual desktop delivery solution. But, many of us had been asking Microsoft for a cloud-first solution to enable Windows Desktop applications to run in the cloud too. Well, at Ignite this year, Microsoft finally announced their own Windows Virtual Desktop in Azure solution (yep, a mouth full); Citrix and others were already offering solutions in this space so, not the first but, a very welcomed arrival all the same. On a technical note both Windows and Office 365 ProPlus have been optimized for running in VMs on Azure; they will not be released as separate SKUs but, at a code-level there has been specific enhancements made to ensure they can provide the best-in-class experience when virtualized. It’s also worth noting that they have not just simply injected a Windows image into Azure and said there you have it they have leveraged technology that has been developed as part of other initiatives including game streaming to build what is a full fidelity experience of Windows that can be consumed across any device. It really is an impressive solution and if you get a chance you really should check it out. It’s now my new remote Windows solution when on the go 🙂
- SAP on Azure – in a little over two years Microsoft has seen exponential growth in their SAP on Azure offering and it doesn’t appear to be slowing. On the back of successful bare-metal installations they are expecting to launch VMs for SAP HANA very soon, which will scale up to 12TB. While this will simplify adoption for many customers the real value proposition comes from the integration with Azure data services and the AI modelling that will drive insights and provide greater optimization opportunities for your business. . If you’re an enterprise customer running SAP HANA or about to make the shift – look no further, as running this on-premises is no longer your only option and in most cases will prove to save you significantly in infrastructure costs.
- New Azure Secure Score – will surface a uniquely calculated security score that is specific for your Azure workloads and resources that you have deployed. It will provide a numeric assessment of your security posture comparing you with other companies of similar size and adoption of Azure. The score will in turn provide security recommendations that will help you harden your security to ultimately make your Azure services, applications and solutions more secure. This is a really a very positive step by Microsoft who despite their efforts and focus on security still continue to be beaten down by many across the industry. By bringing this information to light and by providing prescriptive guidance they are empowering each and every customer to build secure and complaint solutions on Azure. Well done!
- New Azure Blueprints – makes it easy to rapidly provision new environments with the confidence that they will be compliant to your organizational standards, policies and architectural patterns. Of course some of you may already be using Resource Manager templates today and be thinking – what’s the big deal? With Resource Manager templates you can deploy “one or more Azure resources, but once those resources are deployed the connection and relationship to the template used is lost”. However, with Azure Blueprints the relationship between the definition and what was deployed remain bound to ensure that it can be tracked and audited. but, don’t throw out your Resource Manager templates just yet as they can be used with Azure Blueprints. Now, that’s a relief!
I’ve not managed to cover identity or some of the data enhancements that were announced at Ignite in this post but, rest assured there was a lot of content on both of these topics too. If you are interested in these topics I recommend you review some of the on-demand sessions from Ignite 2018 to get up to speed.
So, if hybrid is the reality for many of us than what we are all really striving for is to modernize our landscape and as we embrace the public cloud this centers around App Modernization. The story here hasn’t changed all that much over the past few years but, the capabilities have come along away and in a very short space of time. When you build on Azure you get “a coherent set of highly engineered services that enable you to build, deploy and scale your apps faster than ever before”. They have built-in high availability as well as managing automatic secure patching and updates of the underlying services, which enables you and your company to focus on building great experiences rather than managing infrastructure.
One thing that was very evident in the sessions I attended that focus or touched on App Modernization was the role of containers. In previous years and even as recent as //BUILD back in May when Microsoft spoke of containers it was seen as a cloud optimization technique providing both flexibility and density for your applications. However, at Ignite this year the message had evolved somewhat and more specifically that we should be adopting “this [containers] computing architecture for both existing and new applications”. This was often accompanied with using “Kubernetes Service (AKS)”, which makes sense when you consider you need an orchestration service to wrap your container solutions. So, throughout the conference whenever I saw a slide talking to App Modernization or serverless computing, Kubernetes Service was now very much present in the story as shown here:
I did get around to a few deep-dive sessions on App transformation but, I mainly focused on architectural patterns and customer stories so, I don’t have a lot of new call-outs in terms of major announcements in this space. That said, here are a couple I did record in my notes that are worth mentioning:
- Azure Functions v2 – moved to GA starting the week of Ignite (24 September). It’s built on .Net Core and providing twice the performance of its previous version. With an improved architecture and support for running Azure Functions locally on both Mac and Linux machines it is a powerful sever-less development experience that is sure to be embraced by developers immediately.
- Azure DevOps – announced prior to Ignite it is a family of tools that can work independently or collectively based on your company’s needs. I attended multiple sessions that touched on Azure DevOps and it’s positioned as the evolution of Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS). If your company is using VSTS you will be upgraded into Azure DevOps projects automatically without loss of data or functionality. One of the best sessions on Azure DevOps was presented by Microsoft’s Donovan Brown who is a real DevOps superstar Be sure to check out his Getting started with Azure DevOps if you get a chance.
To conclude on this topic I will share that application transformation is very high on my agenda right now as I think about what is important for company’s digital transformation plans. It’s a challenging area facing many (all) of us and after seeing some of the sessions at Ignite that focused on this area I am pleased to share that the architectural patterns that are starting to emerge are becoming more realistic and tangible for addressing the challenges we are facing as we look to transform our application landscapes. Exciting times ahead.
Data + AI
So, you are looking to re-host or possibly re-architect your app but, where should your data go and can you gain insights from building an AI model from your data? Well, once again Azure has you covered. It’s a highly competitive space with all of the big players vying for your business and your data but, look no further because is truly hitting this out of the park IMO.
For some company’s out there analytic data services and AI are their first venture into the public cloud. And this is for very good reason as on-premises solutions cannot compete with the increased data demands nor the rich AI capabilities that the cloud can bring. While this is not an area I focus on day-to-day it’s exciting space all the same and one that has certainly grabbed my attention after attending some great sessions at Ignite. Here are few of the announcements from the data and AI space:
- Azure SQL Database Managed Instance – moved to GA starting the week of Ignite (24 September). It’s 100% compatible with on-premises SQL Server providing the full feature-set making it easier to migrate existing data repositories without needing to modify your database or a single line of code in your application. This unblocks a lot of customers who had previously looked at Azure SQL Database and who quickly discovered it was missing many key features including SQL Agent, Database Mail, Service Broker, Common Language Runtime (CLR) and cross Database join just to name a few. This service is a great fit for customers looking to move workloads from on-premises to the cloud.
- Azure SQL Database: Hyperscale public preview – starting on 1st October this new highly scalable tier for single databases will provide auto-scale up to 100TB. This powerful service is built based on a new cloud-first architecture, which decouple compute, log and storage. This is an exciting offering in the hyperscale space and one worth a hard look if you are looking for a solution that needs to scale but, without being limited by storage size.
- Azure Cosmos DB : New multi-master write support – moved to GA starting the week of Ignite (24 September). With multi-master write support, Cosmos DB delivers a single digit millisecond write and read latency at the 99th percentile anywhere in the world. This is an incredible break-through and is the only DB solution on the planet that can deliver this type of capability.
- New Azure Data Explorer – This is a new data analytics service in Azure that is born from a Microsoft internal requirement where a team of developers needed to analyse very large data sets and get answers back almost instantly. This need has continued to grow at Microsoft where today they use this tool to help run “nearly” all of their cloud services, which sees them ingest and analyse more than 20 PB of log files every single day. It is optimized for data exploration handling both structured and unstructured data and includes support for querying and analyzing data that is being streamed in real-time. It is also worth noting that Azure Data Explorer is the back-end service that has been powering other Azure services such as Azure Log Analytics, Azure Application Insights, Azure Time Series Insights, as well as Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection. And today is now being offered up as a new PaaS service that can unlock near real-time analytics for your solutions too. If you are looking for more details on this powerful new service be sure to check out the Azure Data Explorer Technology 101 blog post.
When Microsoft talks about AI, and it was part of almost every Ignite session in some shape or form, it’s described as being the most important technology that is being worked on at this time. As an organization, Microsoft is investing heavily in their people to be skilled in AI and to advance the technology in ways we are yet to imagine. They have also tasked themselves to enable every organization to easily add AI to their own applications so, that they can make their solutions even smarter. Already today you can leverage Azure Cognitive Services where you can easily call pre-built AI models that Microsoft exposes through API services – examples include speech to text, image detection and language services. But, they also know that for many of us we want to be able to build our own AI models. This generally consists of three (3) main phases:
The first phase of this process is often where data scientists and AI specialists spend most of the their time; it’s said to be upwards of 80% of their time as they fix and massage the data for their model(s). Microsoft, recognizing this have been working to accelerate this activity by providing more powerful tool sets one of which is Azure Databricks. An Apache Spark based analytics platform that has been optimized for Azure it provides a rick interactive workspace with seamless integration with Azure data services. Once you have prepared your data you can now call upon Azure Machine Learning (ML) to build & train your model. This is a scalable service that will allow you to use a single server all the way up to thousands depending on your needs (and how deep your pockets are). They also provide extensive support for all the popular data science and AI frameworks out there today including TensorFlow, Cognitive, Caffe2 etc. But, to simply this step even further they are also now providing automated ML support that enables you to identify the best algorithm faster without needing to try them all out manually. They will be able to look at your data-set and recommend the right algorithm(s) for you. So, once you have your model up and running you can literally package it up into a container and deploy it anywhere – Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Azure IoT Edge or any other container host. This really does give you maximum flexibility to use AI anywhere.
We are seeing huge advancements with AI across all industries but, what I am most pleased to see is the efforts that are being made to make it more accessible too. This includes taking it to the edge in the form of deploying AI models to Azure Stack and also on Azure IoT Edge but, as well simplifying the technology so, that non-AI specialists can begin to work with this technology too. Of course, more will need to be done to improve here but, it’s clear that Microsoft is certainly recognizing the need and are taking steps to make it easier for us all.
Internet of Things (IoT)
While PC sales continue to decline the real rise in device numbers is in the IoT space. During one of the sessions at Ignite Microsoft described how this space is seeing exponential growth today and that by 2020, just two years from now, they expect there to be “>20 Billion connected devices”. This is a massive figure when you consider that there is ~7 Billion people in the world today. Microsoft also shared that they have “1000’s of Azure IoT certified devices from hundreds of partners”, which means you can easily build IoT based solutions leveraging their Azure IoT based services:
Throughout the week of Ignite there were numerous demonstrations for IoT showcasing end to end scenarios from both customers and partners. There were Shell fuel pumps equipped with cameras that were equipped with Azure IoT Edge data models assessing risk parameters for when people are filling up their gas tanks to supporting people in the field through Hololens all of which are happening across different industries today. With IoT you are not just seeing a discrete technology come to life we are also seeing the application of many other technologies too, especially when you consider the AI possibilities that IoT also unlocks. Another very exciting space.
I only attended two IoT sessions during the week but, here are a couple of announcements I did pick up on:
- Azure IoT Central – moved to GA starting the week of Ignite (24 September). Microsoft describes Azure IoT Central as a complete SaaS based management solution for IoT that is designed to make IoT simple for customers who are not able to or even interested in writing custom code. The service is built on top of the Azure IoT platform so you get all the rich capabilities it provides but, through a simplified servicing solution, which enables customers to connect their devices, set monitoring rules on the devices, and get immediate results by leveraging this new fully managed solution with built-in analytics for quick insights. It’s built with scale in mind so, whether you’re connecting 10s, 100s or even 1000s of devices Azure IoT Central is certainly the way to go.
- Azure Digital Twins public preview – was announced at Ignite with great interest after it appeared in a number of the keynotes during the week. It’s a new platform that enables customers to build digital models and spatially aware solutions for any physical environment. This takes IoT to the next level by going beyond just connecting sensors and devices to actually understanding environmental factors and as well how spaces are utilized. Microsoft shared that already a number of facilities management and interior space companies are already utilizing this technology today and expect this to grown considerably moving forward. I can also see applications in manufacturing, hospitality just to name a few. I expect to see this really take off.
There were also some announcements on developer tooling improvements for Azure IoT Edge, which I also suggest you check out if this is your space. This includes new extensions for both Visual Studio and VS Code as well a new CLI that’s worth checking out too.
Digital Transformation is happening across all parts of our business and business applications is no exception. With Dynamics 365, Microsoft is providing a new approach to business applications by putting data + intelligence at the core and disrupting the traditional model of separate systems for operations and customer management. Dynamics 365 is at the core of providing much of this data but, they also talk to how data can also come from the edge in the form of IoT devices, or from LinkedIn if you think of candidates and skills acquisition, Office 365 in the form of meeting scheduling and connections you have as part of your daily interactions. The data can than be used and consumed by AI models that can help unlock insights for your business so that they can act upon it. These insights could be to route the best technician for a specific job and marry this with data from Dynamics that would show the parts that are necessary in order to fix the problem. This is where data + intelligence really starts to transform your operations.
At Ignite, Microsoft spoke of customers who are already transforming their business application landscape and benefiting from these types of experiences where data + intelligence is really transforming their business. But, they also recognize that it’s not always possible to disrupt your entire business in one go and so, with recent updates to Dynamics 365 they have worked hard to ensure that customers can select the one area where they would like to start their digital transformation journey. Whether it Sales, Marketing, Sales, Fiance, Talent etc. – the customer can pick the one that lines up with the one they want to transform and deploy and implement just that one. Of course, the story gets better as you deploy and implement the other process areas.
For many of us, our company’s have already sunk huge investments into business application landscapes whether it SAP, Oracle or other so, this type of change is not something that happens at a whim or drop of that hat. These tend to be strategic discussions that happen over months and years before finally pulling the trigger. But, the model that Microsoft is painting here is certainly one that makes sense and in some cases is already happening with their competitors. That said, I wonder if they can really do it as well given they don’t have the connected data sources that Microsoft has at their finger tips. Only time will tell.
Also under the umbrella of Dynamics 365 and the Business Application Platform is the Power platform product set, which includes Power Bi, Flow and PowerApps. These tools can be used independent of Dynamics 365 but, together bring a wealth of capabilities. Sadly, I didn’t get to any sessions on Power Bi or PowerApps this year and only one for Flow. I am an active user of all three products and will definitely be binge watching the on-demand sessions for these products before too long. But, if you are not familiar with these products open up a tab and go and get started with them today – you will not be disappointed.
So, that concludes my recap of Microsoft Ignite with specific focus on Azure and Dynamics 365. I do have some final remarks below on Microsoft Ignite 2019 and The Tour – so, do read on.
Microsoft Ignite | The Tour
Announced towards the back-end of last week Microsoft is taking Ignite on the road. Visiting 17 different cities and jamming in over 100 deep-dive sessions and hands-on workshops into two days. So, if you missed Ignite in Orlando last week you definitely need to check out the Microsoft Ignite | The Tour and find a city near you to ensure you don’t miss out.
Microsoft Ignite 2019
Microsoft has already announced that Ignite is returning in 2019 to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. However, it’s more than a month later than the previous two years and is scheduled for November 4-8, 2019. There is not a lot being said right now why it has been pushed back but, it’s possible the venue wasn’t available for the September dates. Alternatively, it’s something that Microsoft has chosen as it works better from a spacing between events – Build, Inspire etc. or perhaps a future product announcement that works better with these dates. Whatever the reason if you missed Ignite this year because it sold out before you could register then you may want to consider pre-registering. To pre-register go to the Microsoft Ignite site and secure your spot today.
Microsoft Ignite is the premier IT show on the calendar. Some still say “IT Pro” but, I do not see that way myself. There are 100s of sessions at Ignite that cover not just IT infrastructure and services but, also include architectural patterns in Azure, data and AI topics, not to forget development – Windows, SharePoint and on Azure. So, it’s really something that needs attendance by not just one person from your organization but, multiple in order to truly maximize the learning and connecting experience that Ignite offers.
That’s my thoughts on this year’s Ignite. Please feel free to share feedback below on your experience or ask a question you may have on what I have shared. Thanks for reading.