Microsoft Ignite 2021: Best picks for Azure
The March 2021 edition of Ignite left us with lots to digest and get excited for this year.
It has only been about half a year since the last virtual Ignite and the world is in a slightly weird place for development so there were no huge earthshattering announcements but plenty of nice features and additions to what Azure has to offer. Microsoft released the Book of News for Ignite. It collects all the major new features Microsoft published and talked about during the event and is worth checking out.
Microsoft Ignite kicked off traditionally with the keynotes and first up was the CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella. Satya outlined Microsoft’s vision for the cloud for the next decade with five key attributes that are needed for it and that every organization should use. These are:
- Ubiquitous and decentralized computing
- Sovereign data and ambient intelligence
- Empowered creators and communities everywhere
- Economic opportunity for the global workforce
- Trust by design
Microsoft’s cloud vision is that with these attributes everyone can be more productive, competitive, effective, and efficient and it will create a better and more democratic world. This vision is the evolution of the transformation that the cloud has been driving for a while. The future is driven by data where we must learn to use it intelligently and gain the insight to develop better solutions for a better tomorrow. This is very much the same thing we have been talking about with our Makers of Tomorrow vision at Cybercom.
Following Satya’s speech, Microsoft kicked the show into the very high-flying Futurist mode and unveiled their mixed reality platform with Microsoft Mesh, a new Azure-powered mixed-reality platform that offers holographic collaboration to everyone. Microsoft Mesh allows people located in various locations to join virtual design sessions and meetups as avatars. Microsoft also announced that they have planned to integrate Mesh into Teams. In this current remote work preferred world, it will be exciting to wait and see how Microsoft takes us beyond and over the current way we collaborate in Teams meetings.
In the Modern Workplace Keynote, it was no surprise that the solution we all have probably used the most for the past year to communicate with other people received the most love. Teams has seen huge growth and received hundreds of updates in the past years. These included features like Large Gallery, Together Mode, Dynamic View, and Virtual Breakout Rooms, just to mention a few.
Microsoft shared some insights that over 80 percent of managers expect more flexible work from home policies post-pandemic and that more than 70 percent of employees expect to take advantage of it. This means going into the future we will see more flexible work even when the world is returning to normal, and Microsoft is already building new solutions, with this change in mind. The meetings in the future will be designed for everyone whether they are in the same room or across the world.
Security in the ever-evolving world is not getting any easier and the effort to secure our assets goes on every day. Microsoft is dedicated to helping with and advancing security in all organizations so everyone can build safer solutions and a safer world. Microsoft’s model in security has its bedrock in the concepts of having a truly integrated end-to-end approach, coupled together with class-leading AI and automation.
The Solar-winds breach was an obvious mention as it also affected Microsoft and it was one of the biggest breaches in recent years. The affected organizations were private companies and governments and it showed that the threats are becoming more sophisticated, in this case breaching the build process of the application, and that nation-states are also becoming more involved in the attacks. There is an interesting interview with Tom Burt the Corporate Vice President of Customer Security & Trust at the end of the session on this theme that might be interesting to the security-minded of you.
Due to this recent rise and complexity in ransomware, data breaches, and sophisticated cyber-attacks, Microsoft once again promoted the Zero Trust mindset in Ignite. If you are not familiar with the Zero Trust principles, they are:
- Verify explicitly
- Provide least privilege, and
- Always assume breach
In the last keynote, we had AI and Innovation, and presentations on how Microsoft’s researchers look at innovation for the future. There was for example how Microsoft’s Turing NLR model could understand the scenes and the essence of the movie Avengers: End Game. The main point is that the Turing model can be customized and used in Retail, Manufacturing, Finance, or any other industry. And by the way, Microsoft Turing is already powering Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Search.
But it’s not all good in the AI world. The advancements in AI enable the distribution of misinformation at scale. This includes manipulation and deep fake videos. To fight against fake news and disinformation needs collaboration. A coalition called Project Origin has been set up to do just that.
One of Microsoft’s visions of using AI is to use AI to dramatically increase the speed in creating new treatments and scale them to more diseases. While the platform itself won’t cure any disease, it empowers the medical professionals in their quest for discovery.
All the demonstrations were indeed about how machines combined with human ingenuity will make the world a better place. A few years ago, many of the AI and ML ideas were pipe dreams and maybe unbelievable. But now we are entering the age where those visions are coming reality and those companies that can realize this vision will be the ones changing it.
Collected below are some other highlights from the event.
Apps & Infra
Moving into the cloud is an ongoing topic and it seems Microsoft wants to develop Azure Migrate into a “one-stop-shop” for all your migration needs as now you can assess SQL workload migrations with it. Azure Migration Program now supports web apps (.NET, Java, and LAMP) with new compute choices of Azure AKS or App Services. Azure Migrate has a new tool for app containerization (ASP.NET and JAVA) to AKS.
Azure Infrastructure has been given some tender care with many interesting new services and features. Msv2 is the new VM SKU for running your memory-intensive workloads in Azure and Azure hybrid benefit lets you leverage existing Red Hat and SUSE Linux subscriptions.
Azure Automanage has been extended to help you implement best practices for your Linux VM lifecycle. New orchestration mode in preview for Virtual Machine Scale Sets provides full control of the VMs while retaining the high availability capability. Also in preview is the new Premium SSD feature to change the performance tier without any downtime.
Azure Networking has also received new goodies with Azure Virtual WAN integration with VMware SD-WAN and Azure Route Server helps with dynamic routing between NVAs and Azure virtual networks. Also, Azure Firewall and Azure Frontdoor have new premium SKUs with extended security capabilities.
Also, generally available became services like Azure Resource Mover that helps you complete large-scale moves between Azure regions, Azure ARC-enabled Kubernetes, and Azure Backup center.
Last but in our opinion, not least, our choice in virtualization, the Azure Windows Virtual Desktop received new monitoring features as well as smart card authentication as a preview for Windows clients.
Data & AI
Azure AI services have also seen great growth since last year, with over 100%-300% percent increases across various services so obviously, we also see some new feature announcements.
New services to Azure Data include Azure Percept to help developing, training, and deploying edge AI solutions. After the success of Azure SQL Managed Instance, we are now offered the new Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra. Azure Synapse seems to also be picking up popularity, and new tools to help you migrate have been announced, such as Azure Synapse Pathway.
Azure Synapse Link is also now GA. Synapse Link is a capability that allows you to run analytics OLAP workloads on operational OLTP data. If you build your operational applications on Cosmos DB, this enables NO ETL analytical processing of that app's data. Greatly simplifies your data architecture and provides near real-time analytical access to your operational data. This is one of the great and unique value-promises of Synapse.
Did you also know that Power BI and Synapse performance acceleration relationship? Microsoft has built automatic materialization using usage patterns from Power BI to increase query performance. This has traditionally been a manual operation that is now handled automatically with Power BI and Synapse. Just put the database tuner on.
Semantic search is a new capability within Cognitive search that earns a special keynote highlight. Companies utilizing Cognitive search can now benefit from advanced AI-based search familiar from Bing and other search engines to really take their content search capabilities to a new level.
Like we mentioned above moving to the cloud is a hot topic and Microsoft announced new capabilities for assessing SQL workload migrations with Azure Migrate to make it easier to start your journey for data modernization.
All in all, it was a good event and even though there were no huge earthshattering announcements we did see a plenty of nice features and additions to what Azure has to offer.
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