This week is Microsoft Ignite, and, for me, the most important part of this show is that they announced the release date for Chromium Edge. It is a signature product for Satya Nadella’s Microsoft. I still think that somehow, I’ve slipped into a parallel universe where vendors do the right thing regardless of how it makes them look or the number of internal folks the product pisses off. What users wanted is a browser with IE’s compliance and Chrome’s compatibility, and Microsoft got there partnering with their primary competitor Google. I’m still struggling to find another example of any vendor in any segment that did this.
This announcement formed the backdrop of Satya’s keynote, so let’s chat about what else was interesting in his keynote.
Tech intensity = (Tech adoption x Tech capability)trust
Satya’s opening comment was on tech intensity, and he started with a video from universal studios using one of the more interesting VR variants where you place a screen in a doorframe and make it look like a doorway into another world. The result is very realistic, and in this implementation, a frightening experience that doesn’t need a head-mounted display or any user held accessories. It is incredibly innovating, and, having seen this demonstrated by Marvell years ago, I still think it is one of the best ways to do person to person video conferencing that no one does.
He spoke to Tech Intensity, and the calculation is above, which focuses on the effectiveness of the technology implementation. He is one of the few presenters who puts Trust in its appropriate place. Trust is a huge force multiplier. If you trust the solution, you will more aggressively learn and use it, and if you don’t trust the solution, it was a waste of money because you won’t use it.
He spoke to his drive to make Microsoft’s solutions have superior Tech Intensity. The Azure stack is open at all levels and used by both Microsoft partners and competitors with great success. One of the interesting things about Azure is that across all 54 Azure regions, sustainability is of paramount, and their latest Azure data center is 100% renewable energy and zero-waste. Installed in Sweden, the design is the new benchmark for Azure data centers and will not only be the standard for design going forward but retro-fitted to the existing data centers.
Azure Intelligent Edge
He shifted to the show floor to cover some of the announced products. Now, this is an unusual step, and I think a good one. Typically in an event like these, new products are showcased on stage, but that doesn’t pull people to the show floor very well because the connection to the floor is weak (often comment in passing). By going to the floor with a video feed, the audience sees the products as if they were on the floor potentially driving them to the display for questions and further engagement.
The Acure Intelligent Edge portfolio had some interesting offerings. The Azure Stack Hub was an on-premise Azure server which could be connected or air-gapped depending on security needs. This server is a fully-featured offering directly addressing those implementations that aren’t appropriate for the public cloud. Azure Stack HCI enables high-performance point hyper-converged solutions tied back to Azure. Azure Stack Edge provides compute, storage, and intelligence (inferencing) now using GPUs in several formats, including rugged and portable systems (one implementation is less than 10 lbs, including the battery). They highlighted specific solutions now used in stock exchanges, health care, and by Johnson Controls for security.
The next announcement was for Azure ARC. This offering provides a multi-cloud muli-edge solution for sites that want and need diversity in the technology they deploy but want common management and security over the deployment. Again they went to the show floor (I think this could be a best practice) to showcase specifics. They demonstrated how relatively easy it would be to use Azure ARC to manage a diverse environment centrally using this offering across multiple sites and geographies. The demonstration was on the deployment of a database, and they demonstrated how easy it was to identify and address vulnerabilities and bring the solution into compliance with security and operational policies (this compliance includes updates and patches). Azure ARC can scale to over 3K nodes. The demonstration moved to Kubernetes clusters and showcased it could manage large numbers of them with minimal effort. They could even apply the policy to AWS showcasing Microsoft’s now decades-old strategy to lead in interoperability. (You can thank the European Commission for this as they convinced Microsoft it was better to lead in interoperability rather than fighting it, and the company stands out as an interoperability leader today).
Microsoft is attempting to change the game in terms of analytics. Azure Synapse is another announcement that blends Big Data and Data Warehousing, also bringing together structured and unstructured data to provide a level of analytic capability the market has needed but, until now, hasn’t been able to deploy. Azure Synapse is a potential game-changer in analytics. This product provides end-to-end analytics at cloud scale. Then, once again, the on the show floor demonstration showcased a fake game company who needed to do real-time user analysis to measure users. They ran a complex query against the Petabyte test data set and got a detailed result in 9 seconds substantially faster, according to the presenter, of the more typical non-integrated solutions.
To showcase this against Google’s solution, and it took 11 minutes, which showcased a 75x performance advantage over Google. This result is huge because of competitive advantages against a vendor in Google’s class that would typically be in the sub 10% range. I think this is showcasing that we are still in the infancy of analytics because this kind of advantage could only result from rethinking the solution, not by just correcting point inefficiencies. Typical TPCH benchmarks stop at 30 terabytes; Azure Synapse can run these benchmarks at a Petabyte. They then showcased that for small numbers of concurrent queries (50) Synapse was 3x faster than Amazon and 5x faster than Google, at 150 concurrent users both AWS Redshift and Google’s BigQuery hit rate limits at around 80 concurrent users and queued the excess users while Synapse fully scaled and all users remained real-time. Interesting to note that unlike Amazon, which queued the excess users, Google failed the excess queries, and failing a query tends to piss off users a lot. At 10K users, Synapse continued to scale while both Amazon and Google services failed. (Some of the comments coming from others watching this pitch real-time included “RIP AWS and Google,” and I can see how they got there).
They also showcased how Synapse integrates with Azure’s ML (Machine Learning) capability. They showcased near-instant predictive capability critical for timely correct executive decisions and representing a potential monetary benefit that could be record-setting, given the potential to assure future decisions. This effort is part of Microsoft's effort to democratize AI so that anyone can get access to the AI tools they need to learn and use this game-changing technology to significant effect. Satya showcased use cases where you could edit podcasts could like a document using text to speech and how Spotify, The Atlantic, Nationwide, and ASOS were using this technology to great advantage. This showcase ranged from recommendation engines to enhanced search.
Microsoft’s goal is to create autonomous systems that cross industries from automotive to manufacturing. Like Microsoft does in other areas, much of the focus is to teach engineers how to build autonomous systems. Microsoft has created a new term called Machine Teaching. Showcasing this was a DARPA effort that was won by Carnegie Mellon University and Oregon State to navigate a mine and find objects autonomously. It was an interesting implementation with practical uses, including automated inventories. Other demonstrations included Delta using systems to track bags, MathWorks using technology to create more efficient wind turbines, Fresh using the technology to build autonomous construction equipment, and 3DR using the technology for autonomous drones used for monitoring and security.
Project Silica: Storage
Warner Brothers are the test case that inspired this solution because they have a massive storage problem with legacy film content. The solution was to etch the movie into a small plate of glass. Then they tried to damage the glass using tests that would destroy hard drives or tape-like heat, vibration, cold, and steel wool (abrasion), and the glass held up while the traditional alternatives would have failed. The movie only took up less than half of the glass real estate, suggesting they could either shrink the solution or use a single medium for multiple video files.
Microsoft, like Google and IBM, is in the hunt for a general-purpose Quantum Computer. Honeywell, IonQ, and qci are partnered with Microsoft to create a platform Quantum solution in Azure. Microsoft is creating a development platform anticipating the Quantum revolution and has Q#, QDK, Simulation, Resource Estimation, and 1QBit on the platform as part of their effort to build a complete tool kit. Current tools can be used to emulate Quantum computers and build real solutions that run on classical computers. They showcased Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, which is using this technology for MRIs. This solution reduces the scan time and improves the quality of the result using Quantum Fingerprinting. They are seeing diseases earlier and are better able to quantify the results.
Microsoft Endpoint Manager Addressing Cybercrime
Microsoft highlighted that our cost for Cybercrime has reached $1T and predominantly affects small to medium businesses that can’t adequately defend against the problem. As a result, Microsoft’s efforts to create an end-to-end security solution is such a high focus now at Microsoft. Microsoft is working on one integrated open architecture that is relatively easy to implement but also extremely robust. This security focus is now where Microsoft Endpoint Manager is making strides to address this problem regardless of company size. Satya then spoke about attacks to the Pharma industry and a firm called Rapid Deploy that received protection through the variety of tools Microsoft has provided to mitigate this massive security exposure.
Developer Tools: Power Automate & Power Virtual Agents
Microsoft’s core is a tool and platform company, and no presentation would be complete without them talking about their tools. Satya highlighted Visual Studio, Azure DevOps, and GitHub as their complete toolchain for developers. He spoke about Visual Studion Online, which he uses himself, and how incredibly easy it is for a weekend code warrior to provision and complete a programing task using this very popular tool using anything that will run a browser. He spoke about Visual Studio IntelliCode, which uses what it has learned from others to help you properly complete your project. Stripe, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Cargill, and Comcast were all referenced users of this toolset. Comcast went into some detail on how this toolset was improving collaboration and productivity.
Microsoft recognizes that citizen programmers are growing rapidly into the millions, and Microsoft realizes that they are one of the few firms that could empower these folks to continue to create amazing things. To better drive this, Microsoft announced Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. One, Power Automate, brings automation while the other brings full language understanding to create more powerful virtual agents. This solution is programing by those that don’t know how to code turning the average person into a developer. The American Red Cross uses this tool and volunteers to operate, and it is critical to their ability to both do and improve disaster response. These programmers aren’t IT pros but volunteers who are using their time to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross.
Satya then shifted to Business Process and its Dynamics 365 tool. Satya highlighted that 73% of the data collected isn’t analyzed, and it is that analysis that brings a competitive advantage. Microsoft wants customers to be able to use all their data to effect. They want to show customers how to take all of the data they collect and turn it into actionable insights. He is talking about using operational data, and AI, at scale. To do this you have to bridge what is physical with what is virtual.
The reference account here was AEP Energy who is a supplier of energy to 400K customers (gas and electricity), and they needed a holistic view of their customers but couldn’t because the data was in siloes. They used Dynamics 365 to solve this problem with impressive results. They used prebuilt connectors to interconnect these data sets and create actionable insights that significantly improved operations and helped them provide solutions that helped their customers conserve energy and use alternative energy options more effectively.
Personal Productivity: Project Cortex
It takes 25 minutes to get back on task when you are interrupted, resulting in a 40% adverse impact on productivity. Satya has moved to the show floor and is talking about the improvements in Office 365, Microsoft Teams, and Surface hardware; all focused on improving personal productivity. He is highlighting that many, if not all, the new tools and improvements were user-driven. Much of the effort now is going into helping users become more productive and less frustrated. He is announcing now Project Cortex that focuses on converting the massive amount of unused data users are creating into productivity enhancements. My old friend Melissa Grant did a nice job of taking something that looked very complex and making it look very easy largely through the application of AI and already existing organizational information. What is fascinating is that AI is working in the background to connect the dots.
Showcasing both the new Surface X, Microsoft’s newest and thinnest Surface Tablet forward 2-in-1 design, and the collaboration enabled Surface Hub. One interesting feature of the Surface X is that it uses AI to change where the eyes are in the remote viewer, so the person using the laptop looks like they are looking at you rather than at the device. They also showcased complex searches using Cortana voice response on Outlook and AI-driven chart creation in Excell. They announced Fluid Framework, which previews in a few weeks. Fluid Framework which breaks down documents into accessible components that can enhance live collaboration. They moved back to hardware again, showcasing the coming dual-screen phone the Surface Duo and the dual-screen tablet the Surface Neo (I’m dying to try the Surface Duo, which is Android-based and represents Microsoft’s return to the business Smartphone space). St. Lukes hospital was the organization showcased talking about how teams and Microsoft 365 improve productivity across 15K people and ten hospitals. This implementation improves the speed, quality, and outcome of the result, and no doubt saves lives. Executives can see performance information and improve operations real-time while remaining HIPPA compliant.
One fascinating implementation was the ability to obscure the background in a Doctor’s office to prevent any unintentional violation of patent privacy.
Chromium Edge, Bing and Internal Data Access
Yusuf Mehdi spoke about the new Chromium Edge browser. This browser, which will be available on iOS, Android, Windows 10, and Windows 7 is a huge step for Microsoft as it both builds on the Google Chromium Engine, and it ships independently of the OS. This independence means it will be updated every 4 to 6 weeks, allowing it to adjust at Internet speeds to changing needs and threats. The new Chromium Edge Browser is over twice as fast as the old Edge browser and now competitive again with Google Chrome and equally compatible with external sites.
I’ve been using this browser for months, as noted at the start, and now am a huge fan as it runs IE legacy sites and modern sites with equal alacrity. Privacy and Security are significantly improved. For instance, this new browser aggressively blocks tracking and more aggressively protects search history. You can more easily copy and past web site data into Excell for analysis. And now, Bing Search aggregates sources both inside and outside the company, and it can look at unstructured data as well. For instance you can search on the policy your firm has with regards to jury duty and time off or whether your firm allows you to bring your pets to work. You can search for people using a complex query (I’m terrible with names, and this could be a godsend). For instance you can search for Sofia, the engineer in London, and it will find the folks in the company that match that search, and it provides their details and pictures.
Empowering Every Person and Organization to Achieve More
Much of Microsoft’s historical problem, before Satya Nadella, was an excessive focus on competition, regulation, revenue, and profit that overshadowed any focus on the customer experience. If I were to point to big things that Satya has accomplished is that he changed the priority to put users first and, ironically, that did more for competitive performance, profitability, and revenue than that prior focus did.
There is an old saying that went something like “do what you love, and the rest will come.” It is always far more fun to focus on users' needs, particularly in a company like Microsoft because every employee is a user and by focusing on this class they raise all boats including their own.
Now that is something to noodle on this week.