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Microsoft Ignite 2019: Top 5 things cloud gurus need to know

Stephen Sennett and Ned Jamieson
Stephen Sennett and Ned Jamieson

At Microsoft Ignite 2019, Microsoft made one thing crystal clear: they’re going all-in on their efforts for cloud space domination. The Big M’s annual conference for the enterprise IT crowd just wrapped in Orlando, Florida, and the majority of announcements directly related to cloud. 

As CEO Satya Nadella put it, Microsoft sees Azure as “the world’s computer.” Microsoft is eager to bring Azure to the masses and help cloud-reluctant organizations put the cloud to work for them, and this week’s announcements are a testament to that. 

There are so many cool announcements to dig into (Azure Quantum goes to private preview soon and Project Silica will attempt to push the boundaries of cold storage with quartz glass and ultrafast lasers), but what are the big takeaways for Azure cloud gurus? Here’s our rundown of the biggest cloud news from Microsoft Ignite 2019.

1. Microsoft doubles down on hybrid cloud with Azure Arc

What is it?

Azure Arc lets you use Azure services anywhere and extends Azure management to any infrastructure for unified management, governance, and control across clouds, data centers, and edge. Everything looks and feels just like Azure resources, and you get unified auditing, compliance, and role-based access control across multiple environments and at scale.

Why’s this awesome?

Azure Arc is Microsoft doubling down on hybrid cloud as the future of tech. 

Previously, we had Azure Stack (which has updates too!) capable of bringing Azure on-site, but Azure Arc takes it a step further. Azure Arc allows you to extend Azure’s management capabilities over your existing hardware, instead of forking out tens of thousands of dollars. With this, Azure can manage your on-prem virtual machines and Kubernetes clusters. Additionally, you can now deploy Azure SQL Database and PostgreSQL Hyperscale to any Kubernetes cluster, anywhere you need it, including on-prem and other clouds.

Microsoft recognizes customers may not be able to get everything that they need from Azure alone. In true Microsoft spirit in the Nadella era, rather than fighting back tooth and nail, they’re taking this as an opportunity to extend their influence across the whole sector with a revolutionary new solution. (Cast back a few years to the Ballmer era, and we’d be laughing at the other clouds while announcing the release of Vista on Windows Phone with an always-on camera.)

Some enterprises aren’t yet able or willing to make the jump, and Microsoft is embracing this. Google Anthos is a strong competitor in this space, but VMs are second-rate to containers. AWS Outposts is so far only capable of running EC2 instances, and their offering is falling far behind its two titanic rivals. But with re:Invent 2019 just a month away (and AWS’s tendency to push innovation) this could change very quickly.

2. Azure Stack seeks to end “we can’t use cloud” arguments

What is it?

Azure has announced the rebranding of two services that now form part of the Azure Stack family.

Microsoft Azure Stack Hub (formerly Azure Stack) is an extension that lets customers deliver Azure services from their data center or consume them directly from a service provider. Azure Stack Hub is sold as an integrated system of software and validated hardware.

Azure Stack Edge (formerly Data Box Edge) is an AI-enabled edge-computing device with network data transfer capabilities. This hardware-as-a-service cloud-managed device comes with a built-in FPGA that enables accelerated AI-inferencing and has all the capabilities of a storage gateway.

Why’s this awesome?

Microsoft is expanding the name “Azure Stack” to describe their services “that extend Azure services and capabilities to your environment of choice.” Even as we count down the last few weeks to 2020 (I know, right?), there are still plenty of organizations unable to leverage cloud solutions for their workloads. Where data sovereignty, security, specialized hardware, or extremely remote locations exist, the cloud is still a distant reality for many.

Enter Azure Stack, bringing the cloud to you. Where Azure Stack Hub has been available for a while at high costs, Azure Stack Edge bridges that gap further by dropping the price. This allows companies to bring machine learning into their workloads, whether they’re incredibly secure (for example, analysis of highly classified information), or extremely remote (like, say, analyzing the systems on a cargo ship in real-time).

The days of “we can’t use the cloud” are rapidly coming to a close. With more features and functions like these being made available every day, we’ll become more hard-pressed to find places that can’t leverage the cloud to boost value somewhere in their organization.

3. Microsoft unveils a new Azure certification

What is it?

The Microsoft Certified: Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty is a new certification for people in the weeds of planning and administering SAP workloads to be hosted in Microsoft Azure. This certification is in line with the recent partnership announcement between Microsoft and SAP to help customers migrate to the SAP S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform on Azure. 

The new exam, the AZ-120, is now out in the wild as a beta. The first 300 people who register can take it (and offer their feedback) for an 80% discount. You can check out the full details over here.

Why’s this awesome?

This is an exciting new cert for gurus involved in (or soon to be involved in) migrating SAP solutions to the cloud. This gives us a peek at how Microsoft plans to continue Azure adoption – unsurprisingly, it’s through migrating existing customers and workloads to the cloud. Considering the number of businesses out there relying on SAP, this certification should be a welcome addition to many. 

Moving forward, expect to see more specialty certifications focused on the pain points of moving on-premises solutions to Azure. Color us intrigued. Keep an eye on this space!

4. Azure VMs get modernized for a new generation

What is it?

Azure Virtual Machines allows users to build virtual servers in the cloud, running on Azure global infrastructure.

Why’s it awesome?

For those who live and breathe VMs, Generation 2 Azure VMs are now generally available. These use a new modern boot architecture (UEFI rather than BIOS) which allows for larger VM sizes (up to 12 TBs) and larger OS disk sizes (more than 2 TBs). These benefits may only impact a small subset of users, but this change could mean exciting performance improvements in the future due to modern architecture change.

Microsoft also announced additional features for Azure VM scale sets designed to improve scaling up and down are now in public preview. With these, you’ll be able to create empty VM scale sets and then later provision VMs from different series. You’ll also be able to set the order that VMs will be scaled in or out, and new termination notifications can provide 15-minutes notice to perform cleanup tasks before de-provisioning. VMs that take time to scale-in will also be able to be protected to prevent them from being de-provisioned. All in all, these feel like evolutionary quality-of-life updates that will improve the experience for people using scale sets.

5. Azure Bastion simplifies the security nitty-gritty

What is it?

Azure Bastion is a fully managed PaaS service that provides more secure SSH and RDP access to VMs within a customer’s virtual network, reducing exposure to the public internet.

Why’s it awesome?

For the security-conscious Azure administrators of the world (which should be all of them), Azure Bastion is now in general availability. Since being released as a preview feature in June, Azure Bastion has found eager users across the world, and there are plenty of exciting features on its roadmap.

Azure Bastion simplifies the process of using Bastion Hosts (or “Jump Boxes” for our fellow Aussies out there). Rather than being yet another VM you have to manage and defend at your network perimeter, it becomes effortless to set up this service so you don’t need to be concerned about that as part of your patching schedule. While they’re not particularly hard to set up, this is just another way Microsoft is trying to take care of the nitty-gritty details for you, freeing you to focus on more important work. 

Azure Bastion has been received positively when in public preview, so we’re sure many gurus will be thrilled to see it’s now generally available.

Stay up to speed on all things Azure 

Following the updates from Ignite and last month’s news of Microsoft scoring a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon, 2020 is looking to be a massive year for Microsoft and Azure. 

Looking to keep up with everything going on around Azure? Check out our original series Azure This Week for the latest news and Azure Fireside Chats for deep-dives into the minds of cloud gurus on Azure awesomeness.


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