In-Depth

Ignite 2019 Keynote Recap: Nadella Unveils Azure Arc, Azure Synapse and More Cloud Developments

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described the new boundaries Microsoft is breaking in its Azure cloud.

Microsoft kicked off its 2019 Ignite conference on Monday at Orlando, Fla., with a keynote from CEO Satya Nadella that was built around the theme of "tech intensity," which he defined with this formula:

(tech adoption*tech  capability)^Trust

Nadella's keynote highlighted Microsoft's efforts around the Azure Data Platform, which are becoming more critical given that the world's data volumes are expected to reach 175 zettabytes by 2025, according to Nadella. I still remember when I got a 1GB hard drive and it was a big deal.

Nadella highlighted the new Azure datacenter model, being prototyped in Sweden, that will have zero-carbon operations. He also focused on the Azure Stack Edge devices, which are designed to offer an Azure experience whether in a connected, disconnected or partially connected environment. Organizations like Johnson Controls and the Hong Kong stock exchange are already using Azure Stack edge.

Game-Changer: Azure Arc
Nadella also introduced Azure Arc, which allows Azure data services anywhere. Now in preview, Azure Arc lets you run Azure data services (think Azure SQL Database, Managed Instance, or Postgres or MySQL) on any platform. This means if you are running Azure Arc, you can run Azure SQL Database in your datacenter, or even that of another cloud provider. This enables you to have a true hybrid experience with a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering. Azure Arc also allows administrators to manage on-premises Kubernetes services and supports Azure Active Directory for security.

Azure Arc is a really big deal, in my opinion. I'll give you an example using a customer of mine. This customer built a data-as-a-service offering that runs on Azure SQL Database. We've developed a lot of automation and processes that are dependent on the Azure platform, using PowerShell -- specifically, Azure PowerShell. However, this customer has users who would prefer to be on Amazon Web Services (AWS). We looked at expanding our deployment model to AWS, but it involved a lot of code, and the relational database service from Microsoft isn't really the same thing as Azure SQL Database. With Azure Arc, this customer can deploy directly to AWS, but on an Azure platform. This is really game-changing. (Read more about Azure Arc here.)

Azure SQL Data Warehouse Is Now Azure Synapse
Nadella also discussed the "limitless data estate" and introduced Azure Synapse Analytics, which is a re-engineered Azure SQL Data Warehouse. Microsoft has introduced a number of new features into this space, allowing higher query concurrency and offering the ability to connect with Apache Spark, as well as adding a new experience for administrators and developers to interact and load data called "Azure Synapse Studio." A bottleneck for Azure SQL Data Warehouse was query concurrency (it only allowed 128 concurrent queries). Azure Synapse breaks through those concurrency problems by allowing multimaster clusters that act as one.

One of Microsoft's goals is to make it easier for small organizations to get started with Azure Synapse, which has been a challenge on the Azure SQL Data Warehouse platform. "Most companies can't afford to hire teams of 20 people to drive data projects and wire together multiple systems. There aren't even enough skilled people out there to do all that work," said Daniel Yu, Microsoft's director of product marketing for Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence, in a Monday blog post describing Azure Synapse.

New Frontiers in Azure Storage
An emerging storage capability that Nadella discussed is the use of 3-D etching to enable higher densities in Azure archival storage. He used the Warner Bros. film studio as a use case example. Currently, Nadella noted, Warner Bros. stores the original copies of its most "iconic" movies inside film canisters in temperature-controlled rooms. "And that means it's fragile," he said. In looking for a more tenacious storage alternative, Nadella said Microsoft used lasers to etch the entire "Superman" movie onto a piece of quartz glass. The company then tried all sorts of ways to destroy the glass, including boiling it and scratching it with steel wool, to no avail -- the movie was still able to be "read" from the glass.

Nadella said 3-D etching on glass is a potential alternative to traditional Azure archival storage, which currently uses magnetic tape. Glass is a very stable platform, costs less and has a lower environmental footprint because it doesn't need to be cooled or moisture-controlled.

Security, Power Platform and More
Cybercrime and security were the next topics. The most impacted customers in cyberattacks are small and medium-sized business, according to Nadella, adding that the total cost of cybercrime in 2018 was over $1 trillion. One incident he discussed was a phishing attack that hit "10 smaller pharma companies." The Microsoft Threat Protection service was able to capture the attack to protect these pharmaceutical companies, Nadella said. Microsoft offers defense-in-depth -- and this, to me, is an example of where small organizations can leverage the cloud to give them enterprise-level offerings that they otherwise wouldn't have.

Pivoting to the development side of the business, Nadella noted that over 500 million business applications are expected to be developed in the next five years. He discussed how Microsoft's Power Platform -- made up of Power BI, PowerApps and Power Automate, which was previously called Flow -- can enable "citizen developers" to build applications. A citizen developer is someone who may be an expert in business process but is not a full-time developer. Nadella showed a demo of how a Q&A application was built for lawn-care vendor TruGreen using Power Virtual Agent, a new intelligent bot service, and Power Automate. These solutions allow for minimal code development of complex business workflows. Power Automate also includes a user interface recording tool, which can automate actions in Win32 applications without using an API. This will allow organizations to easily automate processes that may have required a great deal of code in the past.

Finally, the Microsoft 365 team showed some of the intelligent features in Office and the new Surface devices. Here, the biggest highlight to me is that you can pop a chat window out of Microsoft Teams, allowing you to easily chat while being in a Teams meeting.

Final Thoughts
One of the most interesting things from Monday's keynote to me was how seamlessly on-premises offerings can be integrated with Azure services. Whether it's Azure Arc or Power Automate, these services use Azure as a back-end, but they don't necessarily rely on a company having all of its data resources within Azure; they can take full advantage of the power of cloud computing.

This model, in my opinion, will benefit a lot of organizations that can quickly adopt new technology without doing a complete migration to Azure. After all, Azure Arc offers a way to deploy Azure services to your own datacenter, on your own hardware or even to another cloud provider like AWS or Google Cloud.

About the Author

Joseph D'Antoni is an Architect and SQL Server MVP with over a decade of experience working in both Fortune 500 and smaller firms. He is currently Principal Consultant for Denny Cherry and Associates Consulting. He holds a BS in Computer Information Systems from Louisiana Tech University and an MBA from North Carolina State University. Joey is the co-president of the Philadelphia SQL Server Users Group . He is a frequent speaker at PASS Summit, TechEd, Code Camps, and SQLSaturday events.

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