Microsoft Ignite 2020

Microsoft Ignite 2020 – Our top favourite Azure sessions and announcements

The first ever all-digital Microsoft Ignite, Ignite 2020 took place last week, and it was packed with new product and feature announcements (as Ignites always are). We’ve had other Microsoft all-digital events this year – both Build and Inspire – Ignite followed pretty much the same process and format. As tricky as this year has been, a huge difference with these digital events this year has been that they don’t cost a bit (in travel time, money and schedule terms). This, while I generally preferred to tune in later to watch the recordings – I could follow almost the entire event this year live with some sessions being very friendly to Australian time zones, and the convenience of tuning in from our new workplaces in this brave new world (the living room? Balcony? Deck?).

While this was an event with pretty much never-ending set of streaming content, I was obviously tuned in with an Azure lens, and here is a summary of my top favourite Azure sessions and announcements. The Ignite book of news is a great resource to navigate it all (I like the new web format with inline videos as opposed to the old PDF one). As an ardent follower of ZDNet  and Mary Jo Foley’s All about Microsoft blog, I think their event summary was a decent one for a comprehensive coverage.

Anyway, on to my top sessions / announcements. In each section, I have called out my pick – if you have only time to watch 5 Azure focused sessions, these would be my recommendations.

  • 1 – Cloud Adoption Framework takes centre stage

The Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) for Microsoft Azure and Well-Architected Framework (WAF) are our favourite “tools of the trade” while helping clients navigate their cloud journey, and it was great to see it taking a pivotal position in the event. Microsoft has invested heavily in these and continued to do so – and it’s good to see the content getting out there across multiple sessions. Would definitely recommend these sessions –

Enable successful cloud adoption with Azure landing zones – I think Brian Blanchard did an awesome job explaining CAF and its relevance with governance / IT operating model / enterprise architecture considerations. This was one of my favourite sessions of the whole event, and certainly our pick of this segment.

Cloud AdoptionF Framework Operating Models

Cloud Governance Conversations – fantastic discussion about governance and capabilities that the cloud platform brings to the table (which is not always well-understood / interpreted)

Real World Azure Architecture – Loved seeing Enterprise-scale landing zone (ESLZ) being mentioned quite a few times in this  session(and others), as we happened to write about it just before the event.

  • 2 – Cloud Virtual Desktops – Azure powers the Secure, Modern Workplace

Windows Virtual Desktop – It was good to see detailed information on the Spring release on WVD. The learning paths on MS Learn have been updated to reflect the new release which is certainly useful. The key manageability feature for Spring release is full support for Azure Resource Manager (ARM) – which can help to automate deployments and provide management capabilities right inside the Azure portal. This session covered the WVD Quickstart project which is super useful for automating WVD deployments. Upcoming features such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager, as well as “Start VM on connect” (Cost savings!!) are exciting. Ability to use Azure monitor workbooks to manage and monitor WVD workloads much like the rest of Azure is definitely useful.

Cloud AdoptionF Framework Operating Models

Enable secure remote work quickly with Windows Virtual Desktop – Of specific note was the great case study at the end with H&R Block. WVD has helped them to respond to COVID-19 in the midst of busy tax time, helping them to migrate their apps to run on WVD powered desktops and help them leverage the benefits of a secure, modern workplace – effectively turning a challenge to a great transformation opportunity. I thought this was a nice testament to the opportunities afforded by the cloud.

VMware Horizon Cloud + WVD provided clarity on how Horizon based virtual desktop deployments can make use of Azure and WVD licensing constructs, while retaining Horizon’s user experience and management capabilities.

  • 3 – Azure Infrastructure Innovations

Azure Datacentre Architecture – Mark Russinovich’s session on Azure Datacentre has become a staple in these shows, and this was no exception. In his typical style, Mark condenses a lot of content in a (relatively) short session and I always find this a good watch. The mention of Project Bicep was good to see (more on this later). This would be my pick of the segment.

Azure Automanage – IaaS is always a relatively straight-forward route into the cloud (as most of your workloads are probably running on a VM somewhere). One of the (often) “aftermath considerations” of IaaS deployments is the life cycle – back-up, resiliency, security, monitoring, patching, etc. Now, any service provider or partner worth their salt with advise you on best practices and help you configure these. However, enter Azure Automanage – and you actually get a policy based “automagic” to take care of these things for you! Sounds too good to be true? Like any automation, this needs to be consumed responsibly – but done right, may help tremendously to reduce initial and ongoing administrative effort.

Zone to Zone disaster recovery – Once available only to UK South (London) and Singapore (Southeast Asia) regions, it seems like the ability to use Azure Site Recovery to use disaster recovery to a second Availability Zone (AZ) in the same Azure region is now being rolled out to other regions. As per our testing, we can do this on Australia East (Sydney) now – which has had AZs for a couple of months now, though they were officially announced in Ignite 2020 alongside Canada Central.

Zone to Zone Disaster Recovery

Backup Centre – A very welcome addition to the existing Azure capabilities, where it provides a single pane of glass view into all backups in Azure. Definitely designed with scale in mind, and great to see the deep integration with Azure Policies. Would love to see some integration with third party (partner) backup solutions in Azure within the same management plane, such as Veeam and Commvault.

MySQL and PostgreSQL innovations – Its absolutely fantastic to see the open source managed databases getting some serious love, with the new Flexible server model. While there are quite a few new features to appreciate here, Availability Zone based redundancy and ability to Stop/start compute as well as burst compute on demand are some to be called out.

  • 4 – Azure Migration and Hybrid experience

Large scale datacentre migrations are a reality for most enterprises, and the tooling / compatibility seems to mature at a decent pace.

Migrate your datacentre with Azure tools – It was good to see a focus on Azure Migrate, which is Azure’s native tooling across many sessions. As a user of Azure Migrate from shortly after release, its good to see more features getting packed into the tool. GA for physical server discovery, enhanced dependency maps, and direct support for Azure VMware solutions are all very welcome capabilities. This is my pick from this segment.

Azure Migrate Power BI Visualisation

VMware on Azure – on the topic of migrations and hybrid computing, it was impossible to miss the abundant session on VMware and Microsoft solutions on Azure, primarily on Azure VMware Solutions, but also the other aspects of running a wide variety VMware technology, tools and solutions on Azure. Two of the most prominent mainstream tech vendors in enterprise landscapes, this alliance is definitely a significant one to closely follow.

Nutanix on Azure – the brand new capabilities of Azure running Nutanix clusters! An impressive sessions which affords clients new possibilities for migration and hybrid landscapes. On a personal note, the added benefit was watching my good friend Kalyan leading the session from Microsoft as the PM lead.

Azure Arc – Closely related with the topic of migration, Azure has always been a leader in the hybrid space, with early recognition of hybrid cloud deployment and managements. This year, we saw more details unfold about some of these capabilities. There were a whole host of sessions around Azure Arc, but suffices to say it is progressing at a fast pace and looking at uniform management beyond servers (IaaS) – data services, Kubernetes clusters. It was also nice to see the Windows Admin Centre experience being extended to Azure Windows servers as well.

  • 5 – DevOps, Infrastructure as Code and Developer Experience

App Development in Azure with Scott Hanselman and Friends – who better than the inimitable Scott Hanselman to provide us with a quick 30 mins view of all things Developers and Azure?  The Azure Friday host takes us through some cool demos and brings the tech to life with examples.

Modern Infrastructure as Code for Azure with PulumiWhile I have been playing with Terraform alongside ARM, I have always looked at Pulumi as “another good tool I should look at”. Thus, attending the Pulumi session at Ignite was the best thing that could happen to me! I discovered Pulumi’s distinct value proposition of using mainstream programming languages as opposed to domain specific languages, which the developer in me immediately fell in love with (this is what I loved about the CDK for Terraform a while back). The launch of Pulumi azure-nextgen provider seems significant as the SDK will come straight out of Azure API specs and hence will be able to provide 0-day support for new ARM capabilities, much like the native ARM tooling. This will be an interesting development to watch alongside the awesome HashiCorp Terraform and Microsoft’s own Project Bicep investments. This will definitely be the topic of a future blog post  –  our team will be sure to explore this.

Code, collaborate, and ship from anywhere: Meet the Microsoft Developer Cloud – Fantastic session showing the power of GitHub Codespaces (I also figured out that Visual Studio Online Redux version, which became Visual Studio Codespaces – is now being retired which reduces the great deal of confusion surrounding the products). This was all about developer productivity with real demos which Victoria and Leslie brought to life with their storytelling. One particular thing that caught my eyes was this particular feature!

Friends do let friends right-click publish

A long believer of “Friends don’t let friends right-click publish”, I was impressed to see this coming to Visual Studio, and seems like Damian Brady agreed that we might make an exception to the rule now! So this is my favourite one in this segment.

  • 5 – Focus on Australia

In any global event, it is always great to see our country represented and Australia had a decent presence, hosted by our favourite Cloud Advocate – Sonia Cuff.

Security and Risk – Lessons learned over the past 6 months – this was my pick with Microsoft Australia’s National Security Officer, Mark Anderson and Sonia discussing the specific challenges we have seen in the last six months, with a focus on Security and Risk – front of mind issues in these trying times. Mark’s thoughts on “legacy hangover” in how our thinking needs to evolve and assumptions challenged in the cloud-first world was absolutely spot on. Some of these thoughts were echoed in Microsoft Australia update.

Australian Community Connection showcased some really cool solutions and innovations made in Australia – using the Microsoft cloud platform. Full of inspiration and also, Llamas!!

Wow – I had set out for a short update and that was anything but short! I have only covered about 10% of the event above though, which simply goes to show how quickly the public cloud ecosystem is evolving and while fully keeping up may not be always possible, try we must! What were your favourite Ignite announcements?