Last month I was lucky enough to attend Microsoft’s annual Ignite Conference in Atlanta with my colleagues Dominick Ciacciarelli, Joe Hoegler, and Chris Owens and 23,000 other technology architects, engineers, administrators, developers, and enthusiasts. Ignite was big, informative, and thought-provoking. Here are some thoughts on what we learned there.
Continued emphasis on the Cloud and Windows Server 2016 / System Center 2016
From the start of Ignite, Microsoft built excitement around its Office 365 Software-as-a-Service platform and Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform. The first keynote address emphasized the value of IT organizations embracing the cloud. This was the focus again of most of the technical break-out sessions, where new aspects of the various Microsoft software were announced specifically as “-Online” features, even if there are plans to roll these features out to on-premises installations via Cumulative Updates.
The release of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 was the biggest announcement of the conference. Both are currently available through your Volume Licensing Service Center. The list of features is both wide and deep, but most notable were:
- Security – A number of security enhancements were made to Windows Server 2016. Highlights include:
- Credential Guard stores cached user credentials in a space that is segmented from the host operating system. You also see this in Windows 10.
- Just-In-Time Administration and Just Enough Administration grant accounts the administrative permissions they need when they need them–and then take them away when you’re done.
- Shielded VMs deploy a “virtual TPM chip” to encrypt VMs and ensure they can’t be expatriated to another HyperV environment.
- Storage Spaces Direct scales out storage across a farm of physical servers into logical storage that Windows Servers can use.
- HyperV Virtual Machines will be able to have memory and NICs added while the VM remains on.
- Nano Server: a very small, very lightweight installation of Window Server. This will become the foundation for the next evolution of virtualization.
- Windows Server 2016 has support for Containers that is compatible with Docker (which will be made available for free). This will isolate processes running on the same operating system from each other, reducing the attack surface for each process and across the footprint of every server.
A few Azure features
One of the greatest fears people have about moving data to the cloud is security. Azure Key Vault is a cryptographic key store that enables you to create, manage, and audit the secrets that secure your data. By storing your secrets on FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certified hardware in the datacenter, your keys are created by you and not known by anyone else, including Microsoft. This is available today.
Azure Stack has shifted into its second preview and now supports deployments that span multiple physical servers to build your own private or hybrid cloud. It is expected to achieve general release sometime next year.
Skype for Business (Online)
One of my areas of expertise is Unified Communications, which includes IM, Presence, Conferencing and Telephony all in one software package. The Skype for Business product team announced a number of features and services at this year’s conference that I found interesting.
- The Skype for Business Room System was announced to much fanfare among the Skype community. This product is a complete redesign of the previous version. It focuses on modularity and using existing hardware (televisions, A/V equipment). The Room system, made by multiple vendors, including Polycom and Creston, are based around a Surface 4 Pro module that runs Windows 10. A custom Universal Windows Platform application controls connected audio and visual peripherals. Packages that reuse existing peripherals start at approximately $2,000.
- Polycom announced its Real Connect service for Skype for Business Online. The service is a bridgehead to selected Cisco video conferencing units. It allows existing Cisco hardware to join a Skype-hosted audio or video conference. This is often a blocker for firms who have previously invested in Cisco equipment but are looking to move to Skype for a Unified Communications experience that is more integrated to the Microsoft stack already on the desktop.
- A new MacOS client has been in a public beta for a while now. It was announced that this code would be packaged and made available for general release this month. As of the writing of this, the software has not been released, but we’re expecting it any day now.
- For those of you who use the mobile client on iPhones, Skype for Business will leverage Apple’s Call Kit UI to present a Skype for Business call in the same Apple UI as call to the phone over the cellular network.
- This is not new to this year’s Ignite, but Microsoft did announce several enhancements to the telephony service in E5 that narrow the feature gap between the Online service and the on-premises Skype for Business solution. Easier service stand-up, number allocation, and automated attendants (coming soon) all serve to make this service more interesting to organizations looking to add or change a telephony service.