By David J. Rosenthal
Ignite is Microsoft’s annual conference for IT professionals, developers, vendors, and general superfans of one of the world’s leading technology companies. This year’s event, like 2020, was hosted virtually and offered several days of presentations, demos, whiteboard sessions, and networking opportunities.
Running from November 2-4, the highlight of the event was the huge slate of announcements of new features, products, and partnerships coming to Microsoft’s platforms in the coming weeks and months, as well as a look back at how their technologies served a vital role in helping organizations adapt to changes in the workplace brought on by the pandemic and the rise of hybrid and remote work.
Digital Transformation Accelerates
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in his keynote address, discussed how artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, workplace collaboration, and the burgeoning metaverse (the convergence of online and offline realities) will take on growing importance in the year to come.
Digital transformation, according to Nadella, is unambiguously becoming a business necessity for competing in the modern marketplace, one that will only see accelerating adoption. “We are moving from a mobile and cloud era to an era of ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence — an era which will experience more digitization over the next ten years than the last 40,” he explained.
Businesses of all sizes, from enterprises to SMBs, are leveraging digitization to enhance productivity and collaboration and develop better products and services at a faster pace. Of course, given the equally fast moving world of cybersecurity and the growing list of threats that connected businesses face, much advancement will be needed in that arena to protect those gains.
Here are the key areas that were discussed:
The number one issue facing adoption of cloud technologies today is trust. Businesses need to know that their critical workflows and applications will be available and secure around the clock. Customers and users, likewise, want assurances that their sensitive data won’t fall into the wrong hands. Hence, it’s no surprise that Microsoft is positioning its cloud as built on “Trust and Security.”
They have other priorities for their cloud services and technologies as well, and a new one is sustainability. Microsoft announced at Ignite 2021 that they will be rolling out a carbon footprint calculator so that businesses can estimate and visualize the resources required to run their cloud operations. It follows a similar move by Alphabet, which offers insights into the Google Cloud Carbon Footprint.
Defender for Business
Perhaps the biggest headline of the event was that Microsoft is drastically upgrading its already industry-leading security platform specifically to address the unique challenges of businesses with less than 300 employees. Defender for Business will be a comprehensive, end-to-end solution that covers all the clouds and platforms that SMBs rely on.
- Threat and Vulnerability Management: Spot weak points in a defensive posture as well as security misconfigurations
- Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): Identify persistent threats with behavioral-based analysis
- Attack Surface Reduction: Mitigate ransomware attacks and protects websites and networks
- Automated Investigation and Remediation: Prioritize certain actions which will be immediately initiated upon detection without human intervention
Defender for Business will also feature robust APIs for fast integration across a variety of first and third party platforms. It’s simply a more modern way of adapting to the fast changing cybersecurity landscape without unduly burdening IT workflows.
“Small and medium businesses will be empowered to elevate their security by moving from traditional antivirus to next-gen protection, endpoint detection and response, and threat and vulnerability management — all while taking advantage of simplified setup and management,” according to Microsoft.
We learned at Ignite that Microsoft 365 is getting a new, real-time collaboration platform called Loop. According to Nadella it is an AI-powered tool for organizing, interpreting, and sharing all the communications that go on in a digital work environment as they happen.
“We are composing people’s content, comments, chats, reactions, and live business process data even together into a new collaborative canvas. And we are reimagining how anyone can contribute directly in the flow of their work, whether it is from a chat, email meeting or a document,” Nadella told Ignite attendees.
Customer Experience Platform
Microsoft Viva is an employee experience platform that brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights in the flow of work. Powered by Microsoft 365 and experienced through Microsoft Teams, Viva fosters a culture that empowers people and teams to be their best from anywhere. Learn more here: Employee Experience and Engagement | Microsoft Viva
The amount of customer data businesses have to manage in 2021 dwarfs that of even just a few years ago. Microsoft understands the challenges that poses and revealed at Ignite that a major new platform is being developed to streamline the process of collecting, sharing, leveraging, and, most importantly, securing the customer data that is necessary for optimizing CX.
Microsoft’s hybrid and multi-cloud management tool is getting upgraded with a new control panel that adds features from Azure Security Governance to multi-cloud frameworks. It will also be gaining more support for VMware vSphere and new integrations with Azure Stack HCI (a hyperconverged infrastructure operating system delivered as an Azure service).
Intelligent digital systems are behind the success of many growing companies today, and Microsoft said at Ignite that they intend to be a crucial facilitator of that development with new tools that will accelerate the speed and efficacy of systems that extract business insights from ERP data as well as CRM guidance from customer data.
Additionally, they are using AI to take the lead in Natural Language Processing (NLP), the ability for digital systems to intercept language not just as a series of identified keywords but actually understand context and make human-like predictions about it. The big news at Ignite in this field was a new partnership with GPU giant NVIDIA called the Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation (MT-NLG) model, which is being trained on 530 billion NLP parameters.
The fruits of that alliance will be seen in improved speech transcription, language translation, and predictive editing and authoring, which will see integrations directly in Microsoft 365 apps like Word and PowerPoint.
The latest and greatest operating system from Microsoft, which launched on October 5th, was showcased at Ignite. Several sessions touted its improvements, such as better security, easier update management, and performance upgrades.
The last piece of big news to emerge from Ignite was that Microsoft, like Facebook which recently rebranded as Meta, is a believer in the metaverse model predicting the future of human interaction that transcends digital and physical reality.
The first product from Microsoft to address this new awareness is a virtual meeting space for Microsoft Teams called Mesh. “… human presence is the ultimate connection,” argued Nadella in his address. “Mesh for Microsoft Teams will allow you to connect with presence and have a shared immersive experience directly in teams,” he added.
Razor Technology is an elite Microsoft Partner and experienced IT solutions provider. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you accelerate and secure your digital transformation. Learn more: Microsoft Ignite Book of News