Microsoft has just wrapped up its MS Ignite conference in Atlanta. MS Ignite, which morphed from Microsoft’s TechEd conference, is the conference at which Microsoft traditionally announces and GAs its newest products and delivers its technical strategy announcements. The latest conference has not been a disappointment. This year, as expected for a tech conference, it is all about cloud, cloud, and more cloud, with a smattering of AI thrown in.
As expected, the general availability of Windows Server 2016 was announced. This is a milestone release for the company and arguably as important for it as the introduction of Active Directory in 2000. The release is filled with new features including Storage Spaces Direct (think VSAN); Nano Server (think ESXi); containers, including the commercial Docker Engine at no extra cost; PowerShell 5.0; and enhancements to Hyper-V and generation 2 virtual machines. My only lament is that Azure Stack is not in the initial release, having been given a second Technical Preview release. More on this in a later post. Microsoft also GA’d System Center 2016, again with a slew of new features.
Azure is growing, and it is the only global cloud that is licensed to run in China. It has announced a partnership with Adobe. This is interesting, as Adobe is a wide user of multiple cloud vendors. Personally, I feel that Adobe’s adoption of Azure as a platform is a better move for Adobe than for Microsoft. Adobe gets a globally accessible platform, with points of access in all major regions and the majority of first-world countries. MS does get a tier-one customer to shout about, though. Google has its Dropbox; Amazon has its Netflix. MS now has Adobe to add to iCloud, amongst others. Microsoft offers a compelling cloud story. It is one of the few major players that will be able to offer an on-premises solution when Azure Stack is fully available; hybrid, again when Azure Stack is fully available; and public cloud: pure Azure. VMware is currently the only other major vendor that can offer these, although there are rumors that AWS and Google Cloud are looking to move from a pure public play to providing hybrid and on-premises capabilities. Microsoft’s offerings are coupled with a management interface that is easy to understand for the thousands of Microsoft-trained infrastructure engineers and the ready base of Office 365 and OneDrive users.
The conference also included a smattering of announcements about updates to products. Exchange 2016 is getting a revamp, with new features to bring it to parity with Office 365’s version: things like Groups, SharePoint integration, and better inbox management. OneDrive is being updated with encryption, RMS, DLP, auditing and tracking, compliance, and remediation, making it a real player in the file synchronization market space.
What is more interesting is where Nadella thinks Microsoft’s future is. In his keynote, he focused on AI, talking about using neural nets to help products like Cortana make better decisions based on verbal input. OneNote is becoming more intelligent at reading handwriting, he said. It was demoed on a surface device, reading a math formula and correctly solving it. That said, I will be impressed if OneNote can read my spider scrawl. Nadella concentrated on the ability of machines to better enable our capacity to understand the ever-growing plethora of information that is being stored across the world, gathered from an increasing number of sources. His keynotes impress me in the same way that Steve Jobs’s keynotes did, and in a way that Balmer never managed to pull off.
Now, I have said this before, but it needs to be reiterated. What impresses me about Microsoft is how much the behemoth of a company has turned itself around under the leadership of Nadella. In just over two years, the Microsoft of Balmer has become almost unrecognizable. Azure has become a true cloud player and not the joke it used to be, and the company develops new operating systems that actually improve and give value rather than confusing everybody with an interface that no one can understand. What is most surprising is the embracing of open source, SQL on Linux, PowerShell on Linux and MacOS, and Bash on Windows.
These are the things that make Microsoft exciting again. These are what has turned the ship away from the iceberg it was sailing toward. Even renaming the conference from TechEd to MS Ignite was inspirational. It has allowed the conference to morph into a more encompassing one. Yes, the messaging was Microsoft, but there was an openness that is refreshing. I think the future is bright for Microsoft again.