This week has seen the annual Microsoft Ignite business and IT conference taking place in Orlando and, as expected, much of the emphasis was on the continuing evolution of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.
On Day 1, Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud & Enterprise, delivered a keynote speech detailing some of these advances.
Guthrie said: “One of the defining aspects of cloud computing is the ability to innovate and release new technology faster and at greater scale than ever before. There's a set of technology, things like IoT, AI, micro-services, serverless computing and more, this is all happening right now thanks in large part to cloud computing. And it's an incredibly exciting time to be in IT and the opportunities for new approaches and new technologies have never been greater.”
He added, however, that he understood that the pace of change in cloud computing could be “a little overwhelming”.
“The expectation to know all of these new technologies and be up to date with them all the time can sometimes leave you feeling like you're falling behind. And the expectations that companies have on you to quickly deliver breakthrough experiences with all this new technology is super high,” he said.
He later posted a blog detailing the four key areas in which Azure was focusing its innovation.
Enabling IT and developer cloud productivity
According to Guthrie, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the world are now running their businesses using Microsoft’s Azure services. The scalable, dynamic capacities of cloud computing can be just as valuable for SMEs and new start-ups of course, but the process of migrating existing and often exceptionally large and complex systems to the cloud brings its own particular challenges.
This needs the tooling required to build, deploy and manage applications efficiently across the entire enterprise. Azure’s integrated management tools are designed to provide end-to-end monitoring and can now also enable central policy management for virtual machines running within Azure.
Guthrie highlighted a number of recent infrastructure expansions including M series VMs for SAP HANA implementations, the new deep learning NVIDIA GPU-based VMs and the high-memory E series of VMs.
He also said that the cloud-based toolset of Visual Studio Team Services supported a DevOps approach. The presence of these tools in an integrated package meant developers did not need to patch together different tools as they might when working on other cloud platforms.
Providing consistent hybrid cloud services
Microsoft defines its hybrid cloud as “a computing environment that combines a public cloud and a private cloud by allowing data and applications to be shared between them”. As far as Azure is concerned, this is the most durable cloud model, as it gives organisations the power and flexibility of the public cloud for non-sensitive purposes while retaining business-critical or sensitive apps and data safely on-premises.
A number of announcements were made in this area on the first day of Ignite. Azure Stack started shipping, which essentially provides the management API, portal, and developer services available in Azure but running on-site, whether that site is a factory floor or a ship at sea. Dell EMC, Lenovo, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise all unveiled Stack solutions at the event.
The general availability of SQL Server 2017 – the first SQL Server running on Windows Server, Linux, and Docker - was announced. It also introduces a faster new adaptive query processing system and some built-in AI functionality.
AI and machine learning
Azure Cosmos DB is Microsoft's globally distributed, multi-model database, allowing fast scaling of throughput and storage in any of Azure’s global regions. New integration with Azure Functions was announced at Ignite that, Guthrie said, would enable developers “to use event-driven serverless computing at global scale”.
Guthrie also announced new Azure Machine Learning capabilities, including a Machine Learning Workbench. This allows data scientists and developers working on AI algorithms to greatly speed up ‘data wrangling’ – the arduous data preparation steps involving working with large datasets from multiple sources. The Machine Learning services can also be used to develop and deliver AI models on different scales, both within Azure and on-premises.
Security, privacy and cost controls
Finally, there were a number of announcements in the areas of security, privacy and cost control.
Azure will extend its existing global regions with new Availability Zones, providing a more robust infrastructure in terms of redundancy and site failover. Azure Security Center capabilities are being expanded, providing security recommendations and threat detection in all parts of the hybrid cloud model.
Guthrie also announced that new acquisition Cloudyn, a market leader in cloud cost management services, is now integrated into Azure and the new Azure Cost Management services are available free of charge to all customers.
There was more to come throughout the week, but Day 1 presented quite a lot of Azure news and announcements to be going on with.