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Which direction is Microsoft taking for the coming years? Reflections from Ignite 2020

At this year's Microsoft Ignite conference, Microsoft showcased a lot of the new features including some brand-new services as part of their platforms.

Marius Sandbu / October 15, 2020
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Looking at the announcements and Satya Nadella’s (Microsoft CEO) keynote, it gave us a glimpse of which direction Microsoft is taking in terms of service development and strategy for the coming years.

I will here share with you some of the biggest announcements made during this year's conference and, why it is important to incorporate processes to ensure your organization is up to date on the latest innovation that the cloud providers are developing.

Every year all the major cloud vendors are pushing out new services. As an example, Gartner found that last year Amazon Web Services alone announced close to 1900 new services, and Microsoft close to 1200 updates for Microsoft Azure and almost the same for Microsoft 365.  This development has just increased from year to year.

While the impact of the cloud vendors introducing new services might be small for most customers, it is important to understand what value it can provide. An example of this is when the cloud vendors introduce new hardware for their underlying infrastructure, which provides better performance and can reduce the cost of overall customer IaaS based platform with 20%. Switching from older instances to new ones is not something that is done automatically but needs to be initiated from the customer side.

The second aspect is that new services or updates can also introduce better performance for existing services. Like in this example. Or provide you with a higher level of security, as seen in this one.

With all that in mind it is important to understand that, when adopting cloud services it requires a more proactive business in terms of understanding the new functionality that the cloud providers are offering since this can:

1: Reduce cost of your services 
2: Provide better flexibility and performance  
3: Provide a higher level of security

Now looking back at Ignite, the focus from Microsoft’s announcements this year was aimed at 

  • Hybrid and Multi-Cloud (Providing Azure Services in your datacenter and other cloud providers and integration of other services) 
  • End-user experience (Providing better tools for working from anywhere but also automation tools for business processes)
  • Security (Providing better support for the scenarios above with working from anywhere and better integration of multi-cloud support)

Find the extensive list of all the announcements made at Ignite here 

There were some other big announcements such as Azure Orbital, which provides Ground Station As-a-Service for communication and control of satellites. Azure Communication Services, which provides video, voice, chat, and text messaging experiences integrated into your applications, websites, and mobile platforms was another one.

But, let’s dive back into the main topics.

In terms of Hybrid the biggest focus was on Azure Arc, which is Microsoft’s hybrid platform, where they aim to provide Azure services anywhere. As of now Azure Arc provides some key functionality, one is Azure Arc for Servers which provides management of Windows and Linux based machines and integrates them with Microsoft Azure. This provides management of machines such as monitoring, security & threat detection and desired state configuration using Azure Policies.

Another service is Azure Arc data services which provides Microsoft SQL and PostgreSQL as managed services on top of a Kubernetes environment. This is also a key trend we are see that Microsoft will be pushing new hybrid services delivered as a set of containers on top of a Kubernetes platform 

Then we also have Multi-Cloud and Security integrations, where Microsoft is pushing heavily from a security perspective. One new announcement is extended DLP functionality (built on Microsoft Information Protection) for Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS).  This provides DLP policies for 3. party SaaS applications which MCAS supports. Microsoft is now also integrating with Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services to collect security logs and alerts from the security features they offer to provide a unified view of the overall security state from within Microsoft Azure.

In addition, Microsoft has also extended their coverage on mobile devices with support for Defender ATP on Android and iOS devices which provides threat detection. They now also provide a new VPN service called Microsoft Tunnel to provide App based VPN capabilities for iOS and Android protected with Azure Active Directory based authentication.  

From an end-user perspective there was a lot of announcements regarding Microsoft Teams improvements such as providing better SSO capabilities to native Azure AD application, built-in PowerBI application and integrated document signing capabilities. There was also a lot on Windows Virtual Desktop and providing better end-user experience with better protocol supports, and better management capabilities with Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

A big change also was in the automation ecosystem with Power Desktop Automate where Microsoft is now providing Desktop RPA features as part of their automation framework as the other RPA providers have. This Automation framework can also be part of Microsoft Virtual Agents which is a bot platform essentially which can be easily integrated into Microsoft teams essentially making Microsoft Teams the main workspace for the end-users to initiate automated requests. Lastly Endpoint Analytics which is a cloud service that collects telemetry data from your endpoint to provide insights into the user experience. 

Looking back at all the announcements I believe that Microsoft like the other cloud providers has adopted and changed their focus on development of new services based upon the current pandemic we are facing and therefore focused on providing customers and end-users with new features and enhancements making it easier to work from anywhere. 

At the same time Microsoft is also seeing more COVID-19-themed attacks (Which can be seen here at the Microsoft Digital Defense Report, September 2020) and therefore, Microsoft are also extending their security portfolio across new platforms both cloud and mobile platforms to provide a unified view of the environment to more easily secure user access to services and data.


Marius Sandbu
Tietoevry alumni
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