Microsoft conducted their annual partner conference, Inspire, this year on July 21 and 22. Amid the pandemic, the event was digital-only and free for everyone, but it was no less inspiring than any of the previous years. Perhaps, the attendees who fly to the event every year might have missed the energy of the crowd that they experience during keynotes from Microsoft leaders Satya Nadella and Gavriella Schuster, as well as the warmth of meeting old Microsoft pals in person and the excitement of making new business connections. Nothing can replace in-person meetings and events. However, the compromise is worth it if digital technology, creativity, and inspiring success stories can bridge the excitement gap, which is precisely what Microsoft did with this year’s Inspire.
I have never attended Inspire in person, but for the last four years I have watched all the keynotes and other digital sessions. This year, I attended so many sessions on various topics—it was intense. I was awestruck by the kickoff session in which Judson Althoff jumped between VR simulations. They showed the splendid possibilities of a digital event. Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, addressed the attendees from a kayak and an aquarium. A lot of sessions had from-home background themes. Satya Nadella’s key session featured a bookshelf behind him with souvenirs from customer partnerships stories that he mentioned in the session. I thought it was very clever. I think Microsoft did a fantastic job of converting a very large live event to a very intense digital event, and I was more inspired than ever before.
A More Partner-centered Microsoft Every Year
The core message of the event was Microsoft’s continued commitment to support partner ecosystems and help partners deliver partner-centered solutions using Microsoft technology. If you are a customer reading this, you may wonder how this “help partners deliver centered partner solutions using Microsoft technology” would benefit you. Well, in Microsoft world, partners play an important role in driving Microsoft’s vision more inclusively. In other words, partners are the extended arms of Microsoft.
Consider our Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, for example. With CSP, we can provide direct 24×7 support to our customers, no matter how small they are. This is something you don’t get directly from Microsoft unless you are an enterprise-level large customer. The benefit of partners also comes through unique added services that they bring to you and Microsoft technology. The diverse skill sets of partners can take customer experience to the next level. A value partner initiative that resonates with me on that regard is our Microsoft education training programs. Through our professional development program for education, we train K–12 teachers and students how to use technologies within Microsoft Teams to run effective remote learning programs. These programs are now especially helpful during the pandemic as schools adapt to remote learning.
The Effect of the Pandemic on Partners and Customers
In his session, Satya Nadella shared a framework for society navigating the changes brought about by COVID-19 that consisted of three phases: response, recovery, and reimagine. I thought this new framework and its implications on a partner like us was the most important takeaway from the event.
We have witnessed the essentiality of the cloud and Microsoft technology during the response phase. Curating and designing solutions for organizations that are responding to the challenges of COVID-19 was a responsibility for partners like Connection. As an essential business, we were able to act quickly to help the organizations at the forefront of this fight—whether it was by assisting companies move their workforce to remote work with Microsoft Teams and Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure or by helping healthcare organizations to quickly transfer their data under the security of Azure. Our Account Managers and our Microsoft solution consultants have emerged as the digital first responders helping organizations stay afloat.
The response phase has led to rapid tech adoption and a shift in how organizations perceive their future using technology. As Satya Nadella said, “89% of the CIOs say that they will now accelerate their public cloud investments from 54% prior to the pandemic.” This shift in perspective of organizational leaders has huge implications for the recovery and the reimagine phase of the world economy. Microsoft president Brad Smith said in one of his recent blog posts, “With continued consumer and employee reliance on almost ‘remote everything,’ we can expect digitization of the economy to continue to advance at an accelerated speed. And as companies respond to a recession by increasing efficiency, this need for digital transformation will increase even further.”
As Microsoft reimagines the recovery and reimagine phase, the increased use of technology will make companies more resilient in the face of upcoming challenges. Microsoft calls this “tech intensity.” Driving tech intensity in the recovery and reimagine phase of this transition gives partners like Connection a refined purpose and an even bigger responsibility.
Our next step is to derive our priorities out of that refined purpose. The goal is to help you reimagine workspaces, schools, and hospital patient interactions, using the capabilities in Microsoft Teams and related technologies. We also want to provide education so you can take advantage of the full security benefits of Microsoft 365 in relation to Teams and the modern workplace. Adopting the Desktop as a Service model powered by Microsoft 365’s offering free WVD on Azure can also help your company grow and adapt in the coming year.
Inspire has left us with many new Azure tools that we can use as we sit side-by-side with customers to design solutions. Reimagining customer outcomes with Azure has been one of Connection’s top priorities this year. Our AZLO (Azure Landscape Optimization) service, our Azure Services, and our Azure Managed Services offering together will help you make those changes in the coming year. Check out our Azure page to learn more about our Azure initiatives.
Top Azure and Teams Announcements from Inspire
At Inspire, Microsoft launched the next generation of Azure Stack HCI. Azure already allows you to bring Azure-enabled solutions to your data center or a partner data center. The new Azure Stack HCI gives you the latest security, performance, and hybrid enhancements. A new deployment wizard and the ability to monitor multiple clusters and manage Virtual Machines using Azure Arc are also included with the new offering. Currently, Azure Stack is approved for hardware from partners Dell EMC, HPE, and Lenovo. Microsoft has added more flexibility to hardware choice by allowing you to run Azure Stack HCI on existing hardware if it matches your validated node solution. Microsoft is also bringing free Extended Security Updates (ESU) for Windows Server 2008 VMs on the new Azure Stack HCI.
Microsoft also announced third-party connectors for Microsoft Azure Sentinel, the scalable, cloud-native, security information and event management (SIEM) and security orchestration automated response (SOAR) solutions. Enhancements were announced for Azure Lighthouse, Azure Blob Storage, Azure Migrate as well.
There were many announcements just around Microsoft Teams, which demonstrated how significant a tool it has become in helping many organizations stay connected during these remote work times. Microsoft announced together mode in Teams, an AI-based technology that digitally places meeting participants in the same room, giving you a feeling that all attendees are together. The research behind this enhancement is fascinating. Microsoft is claiming that they can lower video meeting fatigue if you can interact with people in a natural setting during online meetings. I think technology like that will be especially beneficial in a digital classroom. Microsoft also announced a new meeting experience in Teams. Upon turning on the new meeting experiences, any calls and meetings will pop out into its own window.
Now that Teams is so popular, they’ve announced Teams Rooms Premium, a Microsoft-managed version of the Teams Rooms service. Team Rooms Premium will cost $50 per device/month. In conjunction with this, Microsoft renamed Meeting Room to Microsoft Teams Rooms Standard, priced at $15 per device/month.
There were numerous other Teams related enhancements announced:
- Microsoft Lists new smart information tracking app in Microsoft 365 that will have its app version in Teams
- New Power Platform experience in Teams with Microsoft Dataflex, a low code data platform that’s built into Teams
- New Power BI app for Teams that allows better Power BI experience in Teams
In the week following Inspire, Microsoft announced the general availability of A/V redirects for Microsoft Teams. This capability solves the latency issues of video conferences on virtual desktops.
As you can see, Microsoft had a lot to share this year, and we have a lot to learn and be excited about.