As always, Microsoft Ignite 2020 delivered a gamut of new product and feature announcements. While Azure Orbital was one of the stranger news, among the most significant announcements were Azure Communication Services as a new service, general availability of Azure Arc, and the total rebranding of security services. Also many other cool new things were introduced for Azure and we have listed our highlights and top picks for Azure. For a complete list do not forget to check Microsoft Ignite 2020 Book of News.
DATA & AI (Artificial Intelligence)
Microsoft announced last year a modern approach to today's analytics needs in the form of Azure Synapse. That exemplifies their idea of enabling companies to build modern data estates, where data is ingested, stored, transformed, modelled, served, and visualized in various ways. Breaking down silos and bringing data closer to everyone. This year we saw continuity to that theme. More on what is on with Synapse can be found at "Building real-time enterprise analytics solutions with Azure Synapse Analytics" session.
Building on the solid foundation and idea that Synapse provides, this year, we saw announcements on the ingestion, modelling, and visualization part of the estate. At the ingestion level, we saw announcements for IoT services in the form of better security, changes to services that enable a wider array of partners to benefit from Azure IoT. Azure SQL Edge was announced as GA and demonstrated in a session. In the modelling part, we saw developments in citizen developer's tools for data and AI utilization. Better querying of data and easier utilization of AI capabilities. And in the visualization part, we saw better integration for Teams, a new pricing model for Power BI premium features, composite datasets, and general improvements for people working within Power BI toolset. Sessions to check out these are: "Enhance your BI solutions with AI", "Enterprise-grade ETL and data preparation using dataflows" and "Building systems of insights for enterprise-scale with Power BI and Azure".
Microsoft had some exciting announcements for Azure AI also. These include new capabilities added to Azure Cognitive Services. Metrics Advisor Preview is a new service built on the Anomaly Detector that proactively monitors metrics and diagnoses issues. Anomaly Detector is now generally available and helps businesses with advanced anomaly detection capabilities to foresee problems before they occur. Spatial Analysis capability has been added to Computer Vision. It can be used, for example, to count the number of people in a room or measure the distance between individuals. That helps companies create safe and optimal room layouts that support social distancing and other health measures. It will undoubtedly be useful to companies looking for new ways to reopen offices safely. Learn more about the new capabilities from the session "New to Cognitive Services: Spatial Analysis and Metrics Advisor".
Azure Cognitive Search now supports Managed Identities as a generally available feature. It enables a secure connection between indexer and data source by enabling the creation of a data source with a connection string that does not include credentials. Instead, access to the data source is granted through RBAC-roles. Another security layer, now in GA, is Private Endpoints, which indexers can use to connect data sources behind Azure virtual networks. Cognitive Search demonstration is available in "Building AI-powered applications with Azure Cognitive Search".
Azure Machine Learning (ML) Designer is now generally available. It provides users with no-code drag and drops experience for multiple tasks, like data preparation, model training, and evaluation. It is also worth mentioning that Microsoft wants to help customers in adopting and scaling machine learning more cost-effectively. For that, they give all Enterprise Edition capabilities in Basic Edition for no additional costs. ML Assisted Labelling, which enables customers in applying automated machine learning models to accelerating labeling tasks, is also now generally available.
Within Azure Bot Service, the Alexa channel which entered public preview at Build 2020, is now generally available. Also, in response to customer feedback, Microsoft has added support for WhatsApp in ABS. These will make developer life simpler by enabling them to build one bot and deploy it across multiple channels available via ABS. ABS has also introduced support for Azure Lockbox. Learn more about the subject in "Conversational AI powered Customer and Employee Virtual Assistants".
APP & INFRA
Azure Communication Services is now in preview. It delivers video, voice, chat, and text messaging in APIs to use across apps, websites, and mobile apps. The services can be scaled to meet demand and are available globally. Innovate with Azure Communication Services has the details.
The lives of specialists who are responsible for running Virtual Machines will become easier with Azure Automanage, which can be use to manage the life cycle of Windows centrally. Onboarding VMs automatically to such service as update and backup management while OS-level management can be done via Windows Admin Center, right from the Azure portal. Also, Azure Backup Center will provide a centralized management experience for all backup needs with cross-region restore support. Azure Resource Mover will help with moving resources such as managed disks and networking resources across regions.
Azure ARC enabled servers is now generally available for Windows and Linux workloads. You can control and monitor your whole server estate from the Azure portal along with implementing Azure Policies on those workloads. The session called "Building a Hybrid data platform with Azure Arc enabled data services" by the product manager will give you more details.
Windows Virtual Desktop will receive many interesting updates before the year is over. Such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager support for Windows 10 multisession, new integration capabilities to Azure Monitor, and the ability to add application layers via the Azure Portal. Azure Migrate will receive updates to supports Availability Zone and UEFI migrations. Sessions to tell you all about WVD are: Windows Virtual Desktop updates, Solving your remote workforce requirements in Azure: How to deploy a highly scalable, resilient WVD environment with ease, and Enable secure remote work quickly with Windows Virtual Desktop
It seems like no service was untouched. And about everything in Azure got some love and a smaller announcement, for example, Azure Load Balancer which can now support load balancing globally. Check out all Ignite updates at https://aka.ms/msigniteazureupdates.
SECURITY AND GOVERNANCE
Azure Security Centre, which has grown over the years to include a multitude of excellent security features, had few changes. Azure Defender was published to make threat protection more clearly defined. Whether you are looking at securing virtual machines, Kubernetes clusters, or SQL databases they have you covered. You can check these out at Introducing Azure Defender. Azure Defender for IoT now includes CyberX and works seamlessly with Azure Sentinel. There is a session about that: Azure Defender for IoT including CyberX. All other Azure Security Center news such as a new dashboard and secure score can be seen at What's new in Azure Security Center.
Microsoft's Cloud Adoption Framework team builds best practices and guidance that helps customers implement cloud adoption as well as Azure landing zones. Their take on how Azure landing zones within CAF enable successful cloud adoption is a good watch.
Finally, to find out tips on how to manage your Azure costs with Maersk. He had a session where they tell real-life experiences about controlling how they handle costs in the session "7 ways to optimize your Azure costs".
IGNITE IN THE SPRING 2021
Right after this year's virtual event, Microsoft announced that the second part of Ignite would be in March 2021. It remains to be seen what can be developed between now and then, but no doubt Microsoft will be busy like during the time between the last two Ignites. The cloud estate is developing quickly, and it is up to us to start benefiting from that.
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