At its annual conference last week for its customers, partners and analysts, Microsoft made clear that it doesn’t see the world returning to anything resembling its 2019 state. Leaders made the case repeatedly that the cloud and the network edge are the places where businesses will do most of their computing in the future — and that is where the company is placing its emphasis and making its most important strides.
Here are three takeaways from Microsoft Ignite 2021, which concluded fewer than six months after the 2020 edition:
1. Microsoft Is Moving Aggressively on the Meetings of the Future
The company made news with its eye-popping demonstration of Microsoft Mesh, a mixed-reality environment “like Second Life on steroids,” as CIO.com put it. Microsoft Mesh allows users wearing the company’s HoloLens 2 headset to transport themselves into virtual environments together and interact there. Mesh integrates naturally with Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration platform.
“Mesh allows you to interact holographically with others, with true presence, in a natural way,” explained Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the conference. “For example, I can join a birthday celebration with my extended family in India, interacting as if we were physically together without any screens between us. Or I can meet my colleagues on the other side of the world, collaborating as if we were in the same room. It’s pretty mind-boggling to imagine, but this is the future we’re building.”
For companies not ready to make the hardware investment necessary to support such experiences for staff meetings, Microsoft introduced more than 100 updates to its standard Teams and Microsoft 365 platforms, including virtual breakout rooms, which enable the creation of subgroups, and Microsoft Connect, which allows businesses to create Teams channels for people outside the organization.
It also announced new integrations with Teams Rooms, including an array of physical hardware — from Microsoft partners Lenovo, Crestron, Poly, Logitech and others, plus some of its own gear — that works with its Teams software features to create state-of-the-art meeting experiences for those in the room and those outside of it.
2. Microsoft’s Future Is in the Cloud
Microsoft has been working aggressively to make its cloud business a market leader since Nadella became CEO seven years ago, and today its Azure platform is highly competitive with Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. Azure’s seamless integration with Microsoft’s comprehensive suite of business applications, including Microsoft Dynamics, Teams, 365 and others, is a key differentiator.
“Over a decade ago, we declared we were all-in on the cloud, because we understood its transformational promise and the opportunity would create for every organization,” Nadella said.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to move more aggressively into the cloud to support remote work environments. Nadella said he’s confident the trend will continue into the decade to come. Businesses “will require much more from technology, and the cloud in particular,” in coming years, especially as businesses seek to decentralize their computing resources in order to handle ever-greater workloads. “Cloud and edge computing will evolve to meet all these real-world needs,” he said.
3. Microsoft Released Dozens of Updates and New Features
Microsoft used its showcase to announce updates to existing products, as well as brand-new ones. In addition to Microsoft Mesh, some of the more notable updates include:
- PowerPoint Live in Teams allows presenters to share their presentation decks within Teams without having to share their screens. It provides a unique presenting experience — for example, allowing presenters to see their notes without those notes being shared. Audiences will also have a unique experience. For example, they can move through the slides at their own pace, independent of the speaker.
- Dynamic View allows users to control how meeting elements are arranged. Want the participant gallery at the top of the meetings window so it’s closer to the computer camera, allowing for an approximation of eye contact with attendees? No problem.
- Large Gallery view and Together mode allow even more customization of how people experience meetings by allowing users to include as many as 49 video feeds on a screen for big meetings and by placing participants’ faces in a virtual shared space, such as an auditorium.
- Azure Sentinel, Microsoft’s security information and event management (SIEM) service, is newly updated with security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) playbooks, improved analytics and more.
- Passwordless authentication is now supported in Azure Active Directory. Users can sign in with the biometrics-powered Windows Hello, the Microsoft Authenticator app or compatible FIDO2 security keys.
Follow BizTech’s full coverage of Microsoft Ignite here.