Takeaways from Microsoft Ignite

By Neil Thurston 

Another Microsoft Ignite has been and gone again and there was a ton of content crammed into a few days. I thought I’d share the pick of my takeaways for those who were not able to virtually attend. As with everything, what I find interesting will be subjective – but I will try give some context for each announcement on why I think it is important. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get stuck into it…

At Logicalis in the UK, Microsoft predominantly fits into 3 of our core solution areas – Hybrid Cloud, Data Management and Workforce Transformation. With that in mind, I’ve picked my top announcements that relate to each of these solution spaces.

For Hybrid Cloud, the obvious set of significant announcements come from Azure Arc services. Azure Arc enables Azure’s control plane (management tools and services in old money) to be extended to customer data centres and non-Azure public clouds – commonly termed as ‘outside Azure’. This centralises tools and processes to Azure, with the benefits of reducing the number of tools needed to manage multiple environments and simplifying operational processes in hybrid scenarios, while transitioning to a modernised toolchain. Azure Arc essentially opens up the sweet shop to external environments as it enables a multitude of hybrid Azure services to manage them – from the more obvious services like backup and disaster recovery to more advanced services including security, policy-based compliance and automation.

To date, Azure Arc enabled Windows and Linux virtual machine lifecycle management outside Azure, plus Arc-enabled data services. Data services are effectively Azure PaaS services that enable Managed SQL Instances and Azure PostgreSQL Hyperscale to run outside Azure in customer data centres.

The latest announcements add Kubernetes cluster support and Azure Machine Learning deployments to the list of Arc-enabled services. Arc-enabled Kubernetes enables any CNCF-certified Kubernetes cluster to be centrally managed - such as Red Hat OpenShift or VMware Tanzu. This allows centralised inventory, policy management and monitoring of 3rd party Kubernetes clusters via Azure but also the deployment of apps to those Kubernetes clusters from Azure. Arc-enabled Azure Machine Learning means that the process of building, training and deploying machine learning models can be pushed out to wherever the data resides - whether that’s in data centres, at the edge or in other clouds – but keep everything centrally managed for simplicity and consistency.

As organisations adopt hybrid multi-cloud deployments, Logicalis sees solutions like Azure Arc being pivotal in simplifying the basics of operations, security and governance across disparate environments. The latest Azure Arc announcements will broaden its appeal to developers and data scientists too.

Data Management is a huge topic covering the basics of how you store, manage and secure your data, all the way through to democratising your data for analytics to derive new insights from and to fuel AI and intelligent decision making. What caught my eye in this space was Azure Purview, which is a service to manage and govern on-premises, Azure, multi-cloud and SaaS data. It’s basically there to discover, classify and visualise all your data across files, databases and platforms from any source at any location. With this you can govern your data and track sensitive data across a hybrid landscape, while on the flipside you can empower data consumers with the ability to search trustworthy data and quickly find data that matches their need, evaluate if it’s fit-for-purpose and open it in their tool of choice. It solves a vast array of multi-cloud data challenges for data producers, security administrators and data consumers.

The latest updates include automatic discovery and scanning for more data sources including data residing in Amazon AWS S3 object storage, SAP ECC, SAP S4/HANA and Oracle databases – giving better visibility for data security and compliance managers about what data resides across their hybrid estate. The updates to Azure Purview empower organisations with centralised data management capabilities to better understand what data they have where, to better manage and govern their data, and to enable consumers to find the right data more easily and derive value from it faster.

Finally, there was a vast array of announcements under the Workforce Transformation headline. I’m going to hone-in on Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), which is Microsoft’s desktop and app virtualisation service in Azure. It supports virtualisation of Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows Server and Microsoft 365 Apps in a flexible service that can be scaled up or down as required. The updates I made particular note of here include Teams, Microsoft Defender and Azure Monitor integrations.

Teams updates include improving video call quality and performance, plus the support for special characters when collaborating – these will both greatly improve Teams on WVD user experience. Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is now fully integrated with WVD, yielding the same investigation experience as local Windows 10 machines, even when using Windows 10 Enterprise multi-sessions – great news for security admins. Finally, Azure Monitor for WVD provides full pre-built observability across your virtual desktop estate to show overall status, health and performance, troubleshoot issues, see per user data and understand utilisation data to drive scaling and optimisation decisions – all very welcome additions for IT operations. The updates to WVD further drive its mantle as the modernised desktop-as-a-service of choice for its flexibility, user experience, security and observability.

That concludes my whistle-stop tour of what I found exciting from the latest Ignite event. If you are interested in finding out more about any of the announcements covered here or during the event then please contact us at Logicalis and we’ll be happy to take you through them and how they could benefit your organisation. If you want to review all of the announcements made at this month’s Ignite for yourself then take a look at Microsoft Ignite 2021 Book of News.