Microsoft Inspire 2018: Our Takeaways

Another year, another trip to the Microsoft Inspire conference—and another opportunity to discover new ways we can push the boundaries of the public and hybrid clouds! Here are our main takeaways from the event and insights into how technology will shift in the months to come:

Infrastructure and the modern workplace will be two big areas of focus for Microsoft in 2019

During his keynote speech, Judson Althoff, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Commercial Business for Microsoft, identified six core initiatives for the company next year:

  • Gaming
  • Modern life
  • Modern workplace
  • Applications
  • Infrastructure
  • Data and AI

In regards to infrastructure, Azure is the obvious focus. Microsoft continues to fine-tune their public cloud offering, making it increasingly agile enough to handle the lifting, shifting, and modernization of applications.

Microsoft’s vision for 2019, Althoff noted, is to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” More specifically, the company has several work-related initiatives, such as empowering employees, engaging customers, optimizing operations, and transforming products.

Office 365 is the major cornerstone of the company’s mission to empower employees and optimize operations. This is especially true for the Teams application, which Althoff says Microsoft is continuing to develop and tweak with new add-ons to improve collaboration.

Our takeaways: For years, Office 365 has helped organizations standardize their collaboration tools to streamline processes and reduce the use of shadow IT. Any developments that promise to simplify work processes are just icing on the cake; however, we firmly believe that the only way to truly get the most out of Office 365 is to implement it as a managed service.

Our team was most excited to learn more about where Microsoft is headed with Azure. We always like to hear that the public cloud is becoming more agile, but it’s still important to consider the nature of your applications. Not all workloads belong on the public cloud alone, and greater agility doesn’t always translate into cost-efficiency.

Support is shifting to cloud migrations

In a presentation by Senior Production Manager Srikanth Matcha and Senior Product Marketing Manager Justin Ross, it was noted that Microsoft would cease support for Windows Server and SQL Server 2008 in July 2019, with extended support ending in January 2020. Instead, the company will focus efforts into helping more organizations move into the cloud. This includes organizations that prefer Linux—Matcha and Ross say that Microsoft is embracing VM deployments within Linux, especially since the number of these deployments are growing at a faster rate than those occurring within Microsoft systems.

Later, in a presentation by Harish Iyer, it was noted that the key drivers for migrations are:

  • Mission-critical software ending support for an OS
  • Contracts or licenses coming up to a close
  • Data center consolidation, including CAPEX to OPEX
  • New business goals requiring different capabilities

Regardless of your reasons for moving into the cloud, Iyer noted that Microsoft has a number of Azure-related products that they have been making “tremendous improvements” to over the past year to help with migrations, such as Azure Site Recovery for business continuity as you lift and shift workloads and Azure Traffic Manager for switching IPs with minimal downtime.

Ultimately, Microsoft breaks down cloud migration into four basic steps:

  1. Create a strategy: Gather your key stakeholders together to agree on a formalized plan with common goals
  2. Assess your applications: Determine the best cloud computing model and recommend an optimization path for workloads
  3. Migrate workloads: Starting with your least complex applications, begin transitioning to your new environment
  4. Optimize and modernize workloads: Identify opportunities to improve operations and cut costs

Althoff suggests engaging with Microsoft Partners that can support many types of workloads to help with migration and managed your environment. During the closing presentation for enterprise businesses, Anand Eswaran, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Enterprise, echoed that sentiment, stating that deep partnerships are critical to solving and delivering the right solutions to complex problems.

Our takeaways: With more flexibility being shown by Microsoft in terms of OS and a newfound effort driving migration support, now is the time to move into the cloud—but don’t expect cost savings right off the bat. Unless you work with a partner to build an optimized infrastructure and migrate carefully, moving your company into the public cloud often involves a ramp-up in costs as you run each workload in parallel.

It’s important to carefully plan your migration with a dedicated team that takes the time to understand your business and discover the root of your challenges. Whether the solution is ultimately to transition your business into the public cloud, a private cloud, or a hybrid of both, your partner should have a toolkit of solutions at the ready to help you through your cloud journey.

Iyer noted that a successful transition can take up to 60 months, depending on the skills of your team, the size of your environment, and a number of other factors, such as tooling, integration and compensation models. With a managed migration, you can ensure the entire process is optimized and that you have a well-trained team to ensure all your boxes are checked.

Finally, if your company is dead-set on sticking with Windows Server or SQL Server 2008, you’ll need to find a managed service provider for support since Microsoft will soon be of little help.

Hybrid enables customers to maintain data sovereignty and address local regulatory requirements

During Eswaran’s keynote, he brought up an amazing piece of research from Microsoft: 84% of customers have a hybrid cloud strategy and 91% say hybrid is the long-term objective. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella drove this point home further when he revealed during his own keynote speech that 17 million people are employed by the Microsoft ecosystem, with the broader cloud division of the company’s business accounting for 7X greater revenue share than when Nadella took over in 2014.

Nadella went on to explain that this ecosystem in its entirety is meant to empower people to innovate, but reminded attendees that there are still challenges. He warned against privacy issues, bias being embedded within AI, and a lack of a digital “Geneva Convention” when it comes to cyberwarfare.

In a separate presentation, however, a number of areas where Microsoft has taken steps to fix some of these issues on a smaller scale were highlighted. For instance, they’ve incorporated changes within Azure Stack to address data sovereignty and help organizations meet legislative challenges. The company has also optimized their hybrid offerings to enable DevOps teams to meet global compliance standards.

Our takeaways: Privacy and security are two big concerns for many of our customers, especially when you factor in new regulations around the globe, such as the GDPR—so it’s encouraging to see Microsoft taking the steps to make compliance easier. It’s important to note, however, that maintaining compliance involves a lot of moving parts, and no two business are alike when it comes to finding the right compliance solution. When in doubt, call in a third-party to make sure your cloud environment is up to par.

Automation and AI are reinventing every industry

Mark Rice, General Manager of Managed Services Partners at Microsoft, presented a number of case studies where automation played an important role in optimizing the cloud architecture process to cut costs and improve outcomes.

Using automation to inform infrastructure is not without challenges, however. During a later presentation with Beyondsoft, it was noted that humans sometimes have a hard time accepting the quality of data that comes from automation, especially when that data that challenges prior, pre-conceived notions. For instance, one company used AI and automation to predict how much customers would be willing to spend on a cruise. To do so, they created profiles based on the customers’ propensity to buy discount tickets or sign up for loyalty cards. The plan was to present customers who fit this profile with strategically-placed deals and offers to encourage certain purchasing behaviors; however, as the company watched their data roll in and allowed the automation process to take its course, the actions chosen by the program conflicted with the company’s own homegrown data analysis.

Source: Forbes, 2017.

On the last day of Inspire, the opportunities and challenges introduced by AI and automation were reiterated, with Eswaran stating that if it hasn’t happened already, every industry is going to be disrupted by technological advantages at some point. And this disruption doesn’t just occur within the boundaries of each industry—industries have begun to disrupt each other using technology. For example, online job recruitment sites like ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn, which use data to automatically match users to ideal job opportunities and allow them to apply with the click of a button, have cut into newspaper profits by all but eliminating the need for printed classified ads.

Eswaran dubbed this next wave of computing the Intelligent Edge and Intelligent Cloud, and he went on to point out that the entire point of the intelligent cloud, automation, AI, machine learning, and similar technologies is to enable more personal experiences between brands and customers. By allowing you to react in real-time to customers, you can connect on a whole new level. And because AI has become more mainstream, implementation and integration has only become more affordable.

Our takeaways: For most growing companies, migrating to the cloud is a must—but you should have your eye on automation as a future goal. Whether you’re integrating AI and/or automation into your products and services, or using it to optimize your environment, using data to provide adaptive responses to any given situation is the next wave of modernization.

We suggest focusing on moving your workloads first, then using automation to fine tune along the way. The tools you use will depend on your business needs and the goals you’re trying to achieve by moving to the cloud. The right managed services provider will help you identify areas where you can automate, then set KPIs to measure success as you evolve your infrastructure over time.

Ready to apply these learnings and move into the cloud? We can help! Hostway is a Microsoft Gold Partner—contact us for a free migration assessment today.


Unless otherwise provided, all data sourced from Microsoft Inspire 2018 presentations.

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