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The adventures of an in-person Microsoft Ignite '22 attendee!

Scott Hermes
Microsoft Ignite recap

Clouds! Clouds! Clouds!

For the first time since March 2020, I was in-person at a tech conference and boy was it fun! There were lots of exciting announcements and interesting tech deep dives, but most of all it was just great to meet people and talk to them. I had a long and interesting discussion about the unique difficulties that an organization like the Veterans Administration has in managing data that is covered by multiple compliance regulations, shared (or not) across multiple agencies, and critical to the well-being of our veterans. Tough problems are the most interesting!

Microsoft made so many announcements that it makes your head spin. It is overwhelming to stay on top of the new features, and, at the conference, it was overwhelming to pick and choose what to go see. I forgot that at a conference in the real world, rooms fill up, and then you can’t get in. I missed what looked like an interesting session on Microsoft Purview because of that rookie mistake, and after that I showed up early for sessions.

Because my focus is Azure, those are the announcements that I will be focusing on. Or to paraphrase Steve Ballmer: Clouds! Clouds! Clouds!

Sorry, Gopakumar S.
Microsoft Ignite 22 recap
(An actual comment in the Teams chat during the keynote session)

Top Five Takeaways

  1. Always watch the keynote
  2. AI is coming for you!
  3. Power Platform powers up!
  4. The new new things
  5. The next big things
Microsoft Ignite 22 recap

1. Always watch the keynote

Satya Nadella started off by acknowledging that we are going through some tough times globally that will most likely continue. He used those challenges as opportunities to demonstrate how technology, and specifically the Microsoft Cloud, can help you succeed. There are approximately one million announcements embedded in the keynote, which is why you should watch it.

The biggest theme for me is #2 on Satya’s list: “Deliver efficiency with automation and AI.” Microsoft is embedding its AI technology into all its platforms and is creating or improving tools to make your life easier. I cover those big announcements in the following section.

The next on my personal list is #3, Innovate with a cloud developer platform. From the use of Codespaces on GitHub (enabling the same developer experience everywhere) to improved coding quality and speed through GitHub Copilot (automated paired programming) to Azure Deployment Environments (templated Azure environments on-demand) there is plenty to help developers innovate.

2. AI is coming for you

It is probably quicker to list out those products that aren’t getting improved with AI than those that are:

1. Notepad

I’m pretty sure that Notepad is not going to be improved any time soon by the addition of AI. Especially because you can play Doom on it.

Microsoft Ignite 22 recap

Microsoft Designer

Powered by DALL-E2, an AI image generator from Open AI, Designer will be able to generate images based on the text you type in. While it will not replace a professional designer for a major website, it will certainly be leveraged by many small businesses and bored people.
Microsoft Ignite 22 recap

This same technology will be added to Bing and Edge to allow you to search for an image that does not exist. That’s right. I can finally find an image of me without a beard. It was an uncomfortable delivery for my mom.

Microsoft Ignite 22 recap

Power Automate

It makes sense that AI is being used to supercharge Microsoft’s low-code/no-code platform. You will be able to describe your process in natural language and Power Automate will create that flow. You can also use AI to generate expressions that shape data by providing samples of how you want it formatted.
Microsoft ignite recap

AI Builder, which is part of Power Automate and includes the ability to extract data from documents, can now be used to extract data from unstructured documents. This is huge because most data in documents are not structured. You can also give feedback on the results that will help improve the model that is used for data extraction. Congratulations! You can add data scientist to your list of LinkedIn skills!

GitHub Copilot

Copilot is Microsoft’s automated AI for paired programming. It suggests code for you to write as you are typing. According to Microsoft, people using Copilot wrote programs in which 40 percent of the code was created by Copilot. This is amazing.

Copilot runs on an engine called Codex that was created by OpenAI. Watch this very cool demo of Codex that starts with a problem statement, creates code to solve the problem, runs the code one million times, checks the answer, fixes the problem, and runs the solution. Damn. I may need to find a new line of work.
Microsoft ignite recap Microsoft ignite recap
Microsoft ignite recap

Satya also mentioned a new feature from GitHub Copilot Labs that explains code for you. Finally, a way to understand the code I wrote last year! Seriously, what a nice way to document legacy systems.

Microsoft Syntex

Last but not least, Microsoft announced the release of Syntex, “a new set of content apps and services that use AI to index and organize large quantities of unstructured content so it can be easily searched and analyzed.” It also includes the ability to search and discover content as well as manage document lifecycles. It looks like they have combined Cognitive Search, Cognitive Services, Power Automate, and Purview into a nice package that integrates into your Microsoft 365 suite. This looks promising.
Microsoft ignite recap

3. Power Platform powers up

Microsoft is doing everything it can to make Power Automate and Power Apps full players in the software development lifecycle. These tools can be used by a tech-savvy businessperson to automate workflows and build small task-focused applications using out-of-the-box connectors and can be extended by professional developers to integrate with backend APIs and other Azure resources. The latest set of enhancements improves deployment, environment management, and debuggability.

Microsoft ignite recap

Dev Tunnels

While Dev Tunnels are technically a Visual Studio feature that allows developers to expose their locally running APIs through a custom URL that can be accessed via the internet (how cool is that), you can access the URL via a custom connector that you can call from Power Automate or Power Apps.
Microsoft Ignite recap

Power Pipelines

Microsoft is embedding DevOps functionality into the Power App experience. Admins can create specific pipelines and flows that makers must use to promote their code. This brings control and repeatability to the process.
Microsoft Ignite recap

Managed environments

One of the strengths of Power Platform is also one of its major problems: it is easy to get started. While this is perfect for getting working software rapidly to end users, it can lead to maintenance nightmares for the IT department.

Managed Environments allows you to add lightweight governance to the Power Platform. Now in general availability, Managed Environments allows admins to get a weekly digest of usage so they can see which applications are not being used (to schedule them for retirement), set limits on how apps can be shared, and view which data loss protection (DLP) policies have been applied per environment. DLPs control how connectors access and move data and can prevent accidental extraction of data to social media sites, for example.

Power up program

To help nontechnical professionals become Power Platform “makers,” Microsoft is offering a free three-month training program on Power Platform. WHAT. Three months of free training on an amazing productivity platform? Where do I sign up? Oh. Here.

Definitely watch Microsoft Ignite Into Focus: Innovating with Power Apps and Azure for an overview, but you can see all of the Power Platform Sessions at Ignite.

4. New new things

The best thing about attending a conference is hearing about all the new and exciting technology that you had no idea even existed. The best session to watch for that is “Inside Azure Innovations with Mark Russinovich.” Mark Russinovich is chief technology officer and technical fellow for Microsoft Azure and is well known for co-creating the Windows utilities Sysinternals and having great hair. Here are my highlights from his session.
Microsoft Ignite recap

All about the hardware

The Cloud has been called “someone else’s servers” and while that is not entirely accurate, Azure does indeed have to run on actual hardware using an actual operating system. Who knew? If you are interested in that, and you should be, this session has lots of details about improvements to the underlying infrastructure, using liquid immersion for cooling to reduce cost and storage space, reducing downtime of VMs due to patching, and creating “warm” pools of Azure Container Instances based on demand to reduce the time it takes to scale out.
Microsoft ignite recap

Confidential computing

“The future of computing is confidential computing” says Mark Russinovich, and he is much smarter, taller, and better looking than I am, so he must be right.

Much like all web traffic is encrypted by default, in the future we can expect all computing to be secured in the processor at the hardware level. This feature has been available in Azure for CPUs and is available for GPUs and is being rolled out across VMs, SQL on Confidential VMs, Azure Virtual Desktops, and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) clusters.
Microsoft ignite recap

Quantum computing

In quantum computing you use quantum mechanics to solve real-world problems. The processors have qubits instead of bits. While a bit can only be 0 or 1, a qubit can be put in a state where it has a probability of being 0 or 1. Current quantum processors have tens or at best a couple of hundred qubits, and we will need millions to solve the really interesting problems where quantum computing will outperform classic computing. The most promising areas are modeling molecules and encryption. This is very much a nascent technology and has been described as a “physicist’s dream and an engineer’s nightmare.” It will be interesting to see whether the topological qubits described can deliver on their promise. In the meantime, I would encourage you to read up on the field and find out how it will affect your business.
Microsoft ignite recap

Bonus new new thing - Azure Deployment Environments

OK, this was not part of Mark’s session but is definitely new and definitely worth taking a look at. Azure Deployments allows Azure administrators to create templates complete with subscriptions, permissions, and identities that can be used to spin up environments on demand for developers. This ensures consistent and secure environments with limited administrative overhead. This is good news for custom development shops like ours where we are constantly fielding requests from developers to spin up new environments for either exploring or creating applications for our clients.

5. The next big things 

The sessions in this category aren’t necessarily earth-shaking, but it does show that Microsoft is continuing to invest in and improve these tools. If you haven’t looked at them yet, now would be a good time to do it.

Azure Arc

I was happy to see Azure Arc get a shout-out during the keynote presentation! Azure Arc is Microsoft’s platform for managing your hybrid and multi-cloud environments. On the one hand, it allows you to view and manage a VM or Kubernetes cluster that is deployed on-prem or in another cloud as if it were in Azure. This means one control plane for all your assets. You can monitor and govern your resources as if they were deployed in Azure. You can deploy an Azure policy that controls your VM in AWS!

On the other hand, there are the Azure Arc-enabled resources, an ever-growing subset of Azure resources, that you can deploy on-prem or in other clouds. For instance, you can deploy a SQL managed instance in GCP! Almost every single client that we work with has, either by design or by accident, a mixture of compute and storage that is on-prem or in multiple clouds. You need to look at Azure Arc and see how it will help you manage your environments.
Microsoft ignite recap

I highly recommend “Secure, Monitor, and Govern Server Workloads across Hybrid, Multi-Cloud and Azure Infrastructure” with Aurnov Chattopadhyay and Lior Kamrat. You should also take a look at the helpful Jumpstarts and Landing Zones that Lior and his team have put together.

Microsoft Purview

This spring, Microsoft combined Azure Purview with the Microsoft 365 Compliance portfolio into a new product called Microsoft Purview. Here is an overview of the product. At a high level, Azure Purview was a data governance and discovery tool that allowed you to find and classify data in your data estate and then create controls around it. Microsoft 365 compliance covered such features as Insider Risk Management, Data Loss Prevention, Information Protection, and eDiscovery. Two great tools that go great together! It is difficult to protect your data if you can’t find it or don’t know what it contains. Now you have one tool that allows you to manage and protect your data estate.

There were many announcements that covered both data governance and data mapping (formerly known as Azure Purview) as well as compliance (formerly known as Microsoft 365 compliance). For data governance, machine learning-based classifications will make the detection of human names and addresses simple and scalable in user data, and for compliance, you can now customize Microsoft Purview Data Lifecycle Management.

Check out “Get started with discovering, protecting, and governing sensitive data” to learn more about the compliance features.
Microsoft ignite recap

Azure container apps

Azure Container Apps, which became generally available on March 2022, is a collection of cloud-native technologies that make it easier for you to take advantage of Kubernetes without worrying about all the plumbing. It packages up open-source technology using cloud-native projects like KEDA and Dapr and deploys it on Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). There were no new announcements, but a deep tech session was offered with Scott Hunter, Brady Gaster, and Kendall Roden called “Making Cloud Native Easier: Architecting the Next-Gen Azure PaaS,” which is a live demo that shows features in .NET, Azure Developer CLI, Dapr, and Azure Container apps that will help you rapidly build, deploy, scale, and monitor applications on Azure.
Microsoft ignite recap

Dapr - Distributed Application Runtime

How can you not love software that comes with its own top hat and tie? However, as Mr. B the gentleman rhymer says “With great grooming comes great responsibility.”

Dapr allows you to easily abstract away services that your application needs (such as secret management, pub/sub, and observability) so you can run the same code locally, on Azure, or on another cloud by merely changing the configuration. There were no new announcements for Dapr, but it was featured in the previous demo and covered in depth in “Deep dive into and Cloud Native Architectures” by the one and only Donovan Brown who is a fantastic presenter: definitely a quick way to get introduced to and get excited about the possibilities of Dapr.
Microsoft ignite recap

And the rest...

Microsoft puts out the 'Book of News' after every conference, covering all the major announcements. I highly recommend you go there to find more details about those products that interest you. You can also browse all the recorded sessions.

Go live!

Overall, I had a fantastic experience. I got to chat with many fellow architects and developers and tech nerds. I got to chat with and be schooled by developers on the Power Platform team at the after-hours “Sips. Bytes. Peers.” session. I got to chat with Donovan Brown and Lior Kamrat in person (swoon) and eat some delicious food and drink. What could be wrong with that?

Last but not least, I encourage you to attend an event in person! The joy of seeing people geeking out in person over tech cannot be replicated online. While you may enjoy looking at pictures of two guys playing catch with a fish in front of the men’s room or Bigfoot dancing with a drumline, I guaran-damn-tee you that it is far more fun watching it live.
Microsoft ignite recap Microsoft ignite recap

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