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Rubber, Meet Road: Products Hitting GA at (or Around) Microsoft Ignite

Microsoft declared about two dozen products ready for general availability (GA) -- and thus production deployment -- this week during the Microsoft Ignite conference. The products ranged from elements of the high-profile Project Cortex to Azure SQL for edge deployments to major and minor components of Microsoft's three clouds.

A virtual event this year, Ignite kicked off on Tuesday morning with a keynote from CEO Satya Nadella and was scheduled to run through Thursday. Microsoft typically treats Ignite as a major launchpad for IT pro- and IT management-focused products and services across its enterprise portfolio with some developer, education and government tools and products thrown into the mix.

Delivering 'Content Management Superpowers' with SharePoint Syntex
One of the highest-profile announcements involved Project Cortex, a set of new services in Microsoft 365 involving the use of artificial intelligence. While Microsoft had said at Build in May that Project Cortex would be generally available in early summer, the project has been expanded with a first element now promised for purchase for Microsoft 365 commercial customers on Oct. 1. That Project Cortex-based product is called SharePoint Syntex.

What SharePoint Syntex is supposed to do is use AI to "automate the capture, ingestion and categorization of content to accelerate processes, improve compliance, and facilitate knowledge discovery and reuse," according to Microsoft documentation. Colorfully, the documentation describes SharePoint Syntex as giving SharePoint "content management superpowers."

Bringing SQL to IoT
Microsoft is pushing the SQL data engine to the edge with general availability of Azure SQL Edge. Designed for Internet of Things (IoT) gateways and edge devices, Azure SQL Edge is built on the same code base as Microsoft SQL Server and runs in a container of less than 500MB.

A Cloud for Health Care
Certain industries have specific regulatory requirements or privacy concerns that make the general-purpose public cloud a harder sell. With an eye to serving the specific needs of vertical industries, Microsoft plans to roll out several industry-specific clouds, and the company is starting with health care.

The Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare has been in public preview since May, but Microsoft now is promising a firm date for general availability within the month -- Oct. 20. At a high level, the cloud is architected to comply with regulatory frameworks like GDPR, HIPAA and HITRUST and includes capabilities from Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and the Microsoft Power Platform, as well as partner solutions.

Upgrading the Compliance Manager
Recognizing the complexity and volume of compliance considerations that IT organizations of all kinds must deal with, Microsoft is making generally available immediately a new Compliance Manager for Microsoft 365 customers.

The new Compliance Manager is a superset of its existing Compliance Manager and the Compliance Score. Microsoft's design goal for Compliance Manager is to turn complex regulatory requirements into specific controls and help organizations measure their progress through scores.

Putting Windows and Linux Servers Under Azure Arc
Customers managing Azure services use Azure Resource Manager. For those who like the model and want to use similar tools and capabilities to manage more of their infrastructure, there's Azure Arc, which extends the model to other clouds, Kubernetes clusters and on-premises servers.

As of Ignite, Microsoft made Azure Arc-enabled servers generally available for Windows and Linux servers. From a single control plane, customers can now manage their servers with Azure Policy and use Azure Security Center, Azure Monitor or Update Management on them.

Dynamics 365 Project Operations Goes Live
Microsoft spun off a new solution out of Dynamics 365, this time for services businesses. Now generally available is Dynamics 365 Project Operations. The solution is designed to integrate sales, project management and accounting teams and cover parts of the process from quotes to invoices to business intelligence.

Microsoft Teams Activity
All the remote work going on in the world has Microsoft Teams as a critical product for Microsoft in the near-term and potentially in the long-term, as well. Microsoft has a few big initiatives going on here. One of them is a new category of all-in-one dedicated Teams devices. In Microsoft videos, the devices are small desktop devices with screens that work as a complement to a PC and allow a user to do things like launch a meeting and see other participants on the device while controlling a screen share for the meeting from the PC.

While not quite ready as of Ignite, Microsoft now says to expect general availability for the devices in the "coming weeks." Initial hardware partners include Lenovo and Yealink. For the record, Microsoft is also working with AudioCodes, Poly and Yealink on less expensive Teams phones for common areas and has some Teams-related USB peripherals in the works.

Also for Teams, Microsoft announced that live captions with speaker attribution is now generally available. Also, the Teams displays will include Cortana voice assistance. The functionality is generally available but depends on delivery of the devices. Meanwhile, Cortana's Amazon peer Alexa also had GA news at Ignite: The Alexa channel is now generally available within the Azure Bot Service.

What's Your Productivity Score?
The novel coronavirus pandemic has also initiated a push by organizations to figure out how to track and improve worker productivity from remote locations. Microsoft is taking a crack at it with the Microsoft Productivity Score, which is partly about those questions and partly about monitoring how much employees and organizations are taking advantage of capabilities in Microsoft 365. While, again, not generally available immediately, Microsoft committed at Ignite to an end-of-October GA for Productivity Score. The score is broken into Employee Experience and Technology Experience.

Other GA Services and Products
Highlights of the other generally available services and products in Microsoft's Ignite announcements included:

  • Additional features for Azure Cognitive Search called Private Endpoints and Managed Identities.
  • An Anomaly Detector in Azure Cognitive Services, Metric Advisor.
  • A new Designer capability for Azure Machine Learning featuring drag-and-drop modules for things such as data prep, model training and evaluation.
  • New Azure Migrate features for datacenter-to-cloud migrations.
  • A next generation version of Azure VMware Solution (AVS) in US East, US West, West Europe and Australia.
  • Two new Azure Stack Edge appliances, including one designed to be carried in a backpack.
  • Azure Virtual Machines featuring Intel Cascade Lake processors.
  • Azure Disk Storage updates, including Azure Private Link integration and support for 512E on Azure Ultra Disks.
  • ServiceNow integration with Azure AD.
  • Microsoft Edge DevTools extension for Visual Studio Code.
  • An Azure Policy add-on for Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS).

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 22, 2020 at 9:42 AM


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