On 26-27 February, Microsoft held its London stop on the Ignite World Tour 2019 at the Excel Centre to spread some of the information shared at the annual Ignite conference. Ignite is one of Microsoft’s two major annual conferences (along with Build) that focusses across the Microsoft stack of technologies (compared with Build’s focus on development). I was lucky enough to be able to attend on the first day and hear first-hand from both key Microsoft staff as well as MVPs on the latest news and updates from Microsoft. Here are some of my thoughts.
A rapid and broad evolution without the revolution
My feeling from the Ignite World Tour as well as from watching the Ignite content online was that there is a huge amount of work going on and a massive number of updates but this year was more about the evolution of the platforms rather than introducing many brand-new services.
The pitch for many of the talks were that these services were ready, established and just waiting for developers and technology staff to get using them. While previous conferences have talked up the brand-new services, demonstrating Microsoft’s offerings in serverless (with Azure Functions, Cosmos DB, etc) and AI/Machine Learning (with Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning Studio, etc), showing how they could be used to change the world, this event focussed on the more pragmatic and how to really use the services in the real world.
Azure Resource Manager: tips and tricks
A great example of this was the first presentation I attended on Azure Resource Manager Tips and Tricks. Having used ARM for a while now, I knew the benefits of being able to spin up entire environments for an application with a single template but this talk focussed on the improvements that you can make to your templates through using custom functions and nested templates. Sam Cogan even covered how you can use Pester to test your templates which is a great sign that a service is becoming established. You can view many of the samples that Sam spoke about on his Github page.
Bye bye passwords
An intriguing talk at one of the stages off the main conference floor was around removing the need for passwords. There has been a big push away from passwords by many in security recently, with the focus on multifactor authentication removing passwords as one of the main factors used.
The talk covered the use of Windows Hello (using facial or finger biometrics to prove identify), the Microsoft Authenticator app for phones and FIDO2 security keys (such as Solo Key) instead of passwords. I was surprised to learn that around 6,500 organisations had already deployed Windows Hello and the speaker, Ian Parramore, demonstrated how you could use fingerprint to connect to a Remote Desktop without requiring a password.
The great news that I hadn’t heard before was that Azure AD would support the use of FIDO2 security keys meaning that for trusted machines, you could hold a push button USB key to access your Azure services, hugely reducing the number of passwords you need to maintain – this is already available for Microsoft accounts.
AI is still strong
There was a feeling among some that AI was a buzzword and would fade back until the next major advance. Thankfully that is not the case based on the talks at the Ignite World Tour, and instead the focus is on making use of AI.
Jim Bennett (Cloud Advocate at Microsoft with an incredible pair of flashing shoes) showed how easy it was to process data to summarise the contents, extracting text from images and using the ML studio to train sets of images in a way that can be loaded on a very low powered phone. Omar Shahine (Director of Program Management for OneDrive and SharePoint) showed how AI is powering new services in Office 365 with consistency checkers in PowerPoint picking up where you use mixtures of bullet points with full stops and without, scanning a receipt using Siri with it auto cropped and automatic transcription of videos uploaded to OneDrive.
All of these are commoditising the use of AI and people are benefitting even when they are not aware. It is becoming part of the natural fabric of the services.
The buzz from the conference floor
Aside from the talks and presentations, much of the feel came from the main conference floor. There was a mix of vendors highlighting their wares and Microsoft giving attendees the opportunities to ask questions and find out more. There was always a group of MVPs available to discuss what is coming, how things were being done or how they should be done. They were approachable and friendly and because they were MVPs for their passion for the technology, they weren’t just selling to you, they were sharing the passion. It was an opportunity to put a face to the many twitter handles that people follow and see some of the reality to their digital personas. And it was fantastic.
The vendors covered a range of services from migration, through analytics to hardware and consultancies. There was less glitz and glamour when compared with the similar ‘Future Decoded’ but far more focussed on technology people, more focussed on what they would want to see. Sadly, there was no sign of the HoloLens 2 recently announced or even the Surface Hub 2 but this was more than made up for by the content and the people there.
Summary of my views on the Ignite World Tour 2019
I sincerely hope that this becomes a regular event, as for many, the cost and time away from work to travel to the US for Ignite is just too much. To get the opportunity to meet the many digital faces that we see and engage with through social media in the flesh is great. Add in the chance to see the UK based MVPs and other community specialists like Penny Coventry and Pieter Veenstra discussing the Power Platform communities, and others, and you have the makings of a long–term event to ease the pain of those who can’t travel but want more than the online videos. Keep a close eye for details on next year’s tour once the Ignite World Tour 2019 finishes in November.
By Kevin McDonnell, Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers
About the author
Kevin McDonnell is a respected Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers. With a Master of Engineering (MEng), Engineering Science degree from the University of Oxford he specialises in .NET & Azure development and has a broad understanding of the wider Microsoft stack. He listens to what clients are looking to achieve and helps identify the best platform and solution to deliver on that. Kevin regularly blogs on Digital Workplace topics and is a regular contributor to the monthly #CollabTalk discussions on Twitter.