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Tire-Kickers Have a Lot of Previews To Test from Microsoft Ignite

Microsoft introduced a plethora of new technologies for customers and partners to test and evaluate this week in the form of significant previews for a new version of its flagship database, several big advances in the Azure public cloud, and a number of more targeted cloud enhancements and tools.

The batch of preview releases came during the Microsoft Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Fla. While the preview technologies aren't yet supported or touted as production-ready, their delivery marks the key milestone when a product goes from slideware to something concrete. (For coverage of technologies hitting general availability at Ignite, see this roundup.)

SQL Server 2019
The highest-profile public preview at Ignite is SQL Server 2019, the latest release of one of Microsoft's most significant server platform products. The preview is classified as a community technology preview (CTP). Getting the most attention in the new version of the database server is SQL Server Big Data clusters. Other enhancements include database performance enhancements, encryption improvements to protect data in use and significant indexing improvements.

See related coverage for details of the new features and a Q&A about SQL Server Big Data clusters here and here.

Big Azure Advances
A key Microsoft initiative for securing the Internet of Things (IoT) also reached the public preview stage. Microsoft first unveiled Azure Sphere in April, but at Ignite, Microsoft announced the preview for the solution, which includes a microcontroller unit known as the Azure Sphere MCU, a Linux-based Azure Sphere OS and an Azure Sphere Security Service. An Azure Sphere development kit is immediately available for prototyping from seeed for $85. Inspired by the explosion of IoT devices, their increasing connectivity to the Internet and other networks, and the emergence of IoT botnets like Mirai, Azure Sphere is Microsoft's attempt to be a principal provider of a framework for helping device makers and users secure IoT.

Another significant security enhancement effort in Azure is a public preview coming on Monday, Oct. 1, for an encryption-in-use solution called Azure confidential computing. Data is commonly encrypted at rest (by encrypting the files or disks on which it is stored) and in motion (via protocols such as HTTPS, SSL, TLS and FTPS). The trickier challenge is to protect data during processing, known as encryption in use. Microsoft at Ignite announced the public preview of a new Azure virtual machine family, which it calls the DC series and is based on Intel SGX technology.

Another public preview that is less than a month away is Azure Digital Twins, which is expected on Oct. 15. The big idea is a service for creating a virtual representation of a physical environment. Part of the IoT platform, an Azure Digital Twin will give partners and customers a platform to create comprehensive digital models and spatially aware solutions, Bert Van Hoof, partner group manager for Azure IoT, explained in a blog post: "Most IoT projects today start from a things-centric approach, but we've flipped that around. We've found that customers realize huge benefits by first modeling the physical environment and then connecting (existing or new) devices to that model."

The concept has been associated with industrial equipment, such as machines and engines, but Microsoft's new vision has more to do with creating smarter spaces out of offices, schools, hospitals, banks, stadiums, warehouses, factories, parking lots, streets, intersections, parks and plazas.

Azure Stack, Microsoft's private cloud version of its Azure public cloud that is sold by certified hardware partners, will become more container-friendly with a public preview of Kubernetes support. Kubernetes is the popular, open-source system for automated deployment, scaling and management of applications in containers. Azure Stack customers will now be able to install Kubernetes using Azure Resource Manager templates.

Targeted Updates
Microsoft declared a handful of other technologies as public previews at Ignite.

  • Ad-hoc data exploration is the focus of Azure Data Explorer, a speed-optimized indexing and querying service for analyzing event data from apps, servers and edge devices.

  • A preview will be available Oct. 1 for Azure SQL Database Hyperscale for single databases, with an auto-scaling capacity of a whopping 100TB per database.

  • Seven months after making Azure DataBricks generally available, Microsoft unveiled several updates to the Apache Spark-based analytics platform for building collaborative Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions. Among those is a preview of Azure DataBricks Delta, a transactional storage layer atop Spark to improve data consistency and read access.

  • A new Azure Managed Disks offering known as Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks is designed for latency-sensitive workloads through the use of solid state drives.

  • Azure Files is being updated with a high-performance, SSD-backed storage tier known as Azure Premium Files.

  • Storage capacity for Azure Managed Disks is being expanded in certain regions to now cover 8, 16 and 32TB capacities. Those storage sizes will apply to Premium SSD, Standard SSD and Standard HDD.

  • An application acceleration platform used internally for Bing, Office 365 and Xbox will be available as the Azure Front Door Service (AFD). It is designed for delivery, control and monitoring of global microservice-based Web applications.

  • A solution for adding governance capabilities called Azure Blueprints is available in preview and will be included in the Azure platform at no additional cost once it is generally available.
  • The Azure Resource Graph brings the ability to explore Azure resources through the Azure Portal, PowerShell or CLI for efficient inventory management.

  • Supporting DevOps teams efforts to ship more quickly with better compliance and auditing is a new Azure Policy tool, with additional features that are unlocked when it's used in combination with Azure App Insights and Azure Monitoring.

  • The constant imperative to predict, monitor and contain Azure usage costs gets a native tool as Microsoft previews Azure Cost Management as a component of the Azure Portal for Enterprise Agreement customers. The capabilities were previously available as a standalone platform from Cloudyn.

Posted by Scott Bekker on September 27, 2018