More than 23,000 technology professionals are assembling in Chicago's McCormack Place this week for Microsoft Ignite: the software giant's biggest, baddest conference yet for the IT professional community. This conference covers the entire spectrum of Microsoft's Enterprise and education product offerings, replacing separate events for Exchange, Lync, Sharepoint and TechEd.
"In this time of change and opportunity, it was important to bring all our IT communities together," said Satya Nadella in his opening keynote, "because to seize this opportunity, it is going to take all of our collective skills and ingenuity."
The opportunity Nadella referred to is the transformation of IT from a technology delivery channel within our organizations to the agent actually driving innovation and business transformation.
“That in fact, is the driver of our company strategy,” Nadella continued. “We want to be the productivity and platform company that will thrive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world.”
Nadella explained that when Microsoft talks about “mobility first,” they’re not referring to the mobility of a single device, but the experience across all of the computing devices in your users’ lives and the cloud that enables them.
“When we talk about cloud first, it is the cloud backend for all of your devices, all of your applications, all of your data, and in fact it's about adding intelligence to your experiences. So we want to have a broad sense of what a distributed cloud infrastructure is that supports the variety of workloads that we're going to create -- not today, not tomorrow, but over the coming years,” Nadella said.
Features of the Mobile-First, Cloud-First world of the near future:
- Every layer of our IT stack is going to be profoundly impacted.
- We're going to have a proliferation of devices.
- More devices than people on the planet – plus sensors that are going to be running general purpose compute.
There will be a need to deploy applications to all of these computing end points, all of which will be both generating and consuming data at unprecedented levels – and that will require the support of a distributed cloud infrastructure.
“It’s not just these tiers of technology,” Nadella said. “They live within a landscape, a context where things like security, privacy, regulation, data sovereignty will all matter… So this sets up our context - even the tension that we have as we look to manage this changing IT landscape.”
The Opportunity for IT
Nadella said that Microsoft’s new strategy is to be considered THE productivity and platform company in a mobile-first world, and they are getting there with a focus on three interlocking ambitions:
- Create more personal computing
- Reinvent productivity and business processes
- Build the intelligent cloud backend for these applications
Reinventing the Nature of Work with Windows 10 and New Business Collaboration Tools
Nadella pointed out that by definition, personal computing means the use of personal data, which is why he emphasized Microsoft’s mission to build trust into the core of the operating system, insuring that data being used is of benefit to both user and organization. His team demonstrated some nifty new features of Windows 10, including (hello, etc – facial recognition and other tools that authenticate and authorize personal information).
Nadella also announced the release of Windows Update for Business, which will help reduce management costs, provide control over update deployment, offer faster access to security updates and critical fixes, and deliver the latest innovation from Microsoft on an ongoing basis. The Windows Store for Business offers additional manageability, enabling company decision-makers to acquire trusted software or content for entire teams and companies.
New PC categories such as 2-in-1’s like the Surface,have become a business mainstay Nadella said before unveiling a preview of the new Surface Hub big screen touchscreen for videoconferencing and a video demonstrating what used to be science fiction: Microsoft's new holographic computer.
Reinventing Business Productivity
Nadella also pointed to Microsoft advances in communications and collaboration, where IT can give end users secure, Enterprise versions of the apps they utilize in their personal computing – with business processes built in, and talked about how the company is designing their applications for dual use.
“People don't want that schism between what they use at work and what they use in their life, and this is the reason behind OneDrive and OneDrive for business; Skype and Skype for Business,” he said.
Nadella pointed out that in the last 12 months, Microsoft has been innovating in many new categories - not just Word, Excel and PowerPoint - although they've brought in new collaborative features there, too in the preview available today of Office 2016. Other innovations announced today include:
- Skype for Business broadcasting, enabling customers to broadcast meetings to up to 10,000 people. The service uses Azure Media Services for streaming audio, video and PowerPoint presentations, and offers built-in interoperability with Bing Pulse for sentiment tracking and Yammer for audience conversations. Extensibility enables third parties to add audience polling, formal Q&A and other functionality.
- Organizational analytics in Office Delve, introduced and demonstrated today, is powered by the Office Graph, expanding upon personalized insights from Office Delve to provide organizational insights to individuals and teams from Office 365 data. A rich dashboard measures, tracks and identifies key trends such as engagement, reach and work-life balance across individuals’ interactions within their organization and with external teams.
- SharePoint Server 2016, in preview later this year, will deliver enhancements and new capabilities across new user experiences, compliance and reporting. The new version gives on-premises SharePoint customers access to new capabilities in the cloud through hybrid deployments with Office 365.
- Exchange Server 2016, also in preview later this year, delivers new features first delivered in Office 365, such as a new approach to document collaboration, faster and more intelligent search, improved eDiscovery, and developer extensibility for mail, calendar and contacts.
The Intelligent Cloud Backend
The core of the intelligent cloud is the backend infrastrucutre that drives all of your enterprise mobility needs, and Nadella said that Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite gives you that control plane.
Intelligent Cloud products demonstrated during today's keynote included:
- Microsoft Azure Stack, the next generation hybrid cloud which goes into preview this summer. With Azure Stack IT teams can easily blend enterprise applications with modern, distributed applications and services while maintaining centralized oversight. Built on the same core technology as Azure, Azure Stack extends Microsoft’s investments in secure, more flexible software-defined infrastructure.
- Available today, Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS) is a cloud-based solution that extends System Center capabilities for management across almost any hybrid cloud, including Azure, third-party clouds such as Amazon Web Services, Windows Server, Linux, VMware or OpenStack. OMS extendsSystem Center 2016, which is also available in preview this week.
- SQL Server 2016, in preview this summer, takes a major leap forward with a database and analytics platform that provides breakthrough performance for mission-critical applications and deeper insights on any data across on-premises and cloud. Key capabilities include enhanced in-memory technologies with real-time operational analytics, new security and encryption technologies, built-in advanced analytics with the R language, and mobile BI for on-premises data. The new Stretch Database capability is an industry first that allows for cost-effective access to historical data by dynamically stretching data to Microsoft Azure.
- Microsoft Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA), technology based on the recent acquisition of Aorato, is available in preview. ATA helps IT security professionals identify security breaches and threats, using behavioral analysis and machine learning to provide clear, actionable information.
- Office 365 transparency and control enhancements, highlighted at Ignite, give customers enhanced visibility and security of their data residing within Office 365, including Customer Lockbox that provides customers with explicit approval rights for Microsoft interaction with their data. Office 365 is the only productivity service to provide this level of customer control.
"All of this technology is about business transformation," Nadella concluded. "Technology is not just adding capability but changing business models...the most important thing for me is this is only going to happen as this community of it professionals brings it together to transform your businesses.