Thoughts From Microsoft Ignite 2016

Thoughts After Microsoft Ignite 2016

Last week I attended Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta (Sept. 26-30, 2016). Aside from making my normal commute even worse (I am from Atlanta), this conference was incredible. It's been a while since I attended a Microsoft conference and I forgot just how much there is to absorb and attend at a conference this size.

Since the conference covers more than just development topics (taking the place of TechEd, the SharePoint conference and others, this conference packed more than 138 pages of keynotes, sessions and breakouts. It was impossible to attend them all and try to network, but I wanted to capture some of my thoughts about the conference in general.

SharePoint is Back!

SharePoint is back, if it ever went away in the first place. John white (@diverdown1964) posted some Power BI images to Twitter that spoke loudly about SharePoint's representation at the conference.
SharePoint Twitter Topics

The last time SharePoint made this much noise at a conference it was for all the wrong reasons. People wondering what the future held, people shouting "SharePoint is Dead". I think I actually remember someone having a funeral for a certain product!

That was not the case this year! The messaging I got in the sessions was "Groups, Groups, Groups!". Groups will now be created with an Exchange Group, a SharePoint Site (which will no longer be hidden), Planner, Yammer and more. This looks like Microsoft is finally fulfilling a vision across products and workloads. I am very excited to see what happens here.

In addition to features like the new modern UI for lists and libraries, a command line PnP toolset that will enable NodeJS CLI provisioning and management of SharePoint, updates to the new SharePoint Framework, SharePoint Server 2016 Feature Packs, hybrid Microsoft Graph access and so much more, it is obvious that SharePoint is not dead yet.

ECM Functionality - Where's the Love?

One thing that seemed to be missing from the SharePoint buzz, was information or guidance around enterprise content management (ECM) features, specifically in Office 365. With all of the talk of the SharePoint Framework, groups integration, the Microsoft Graph, and so much new and shiny, the messaging around some of the most compelling reasons that SharePoint enjoys such popularity in enterprises was glaringly omitted - or maybe I just missed it completely (leave a comment if I did!). For instance, the future of content types, workflow, and managed metadata did not seem to get much air time at Ignite. I am sure there are some changes in store for these ECM features, but in my opinion the messaging for the future of these features, both in Office 365 and in SharePoint Server 2016 could use some attention.

Power BI Embedded

One of the most intriguing announcements to me was Power BI Embedded and the forthcoming Power BI web part (based on the new SharePoint Framework). This has huge potential to enable organizational groups to begin managing based on data.

The demos showed the ability to secure content using object and row level security on reports. This is something some of our customers will certainly be interested in. Can't wait to kick the tires on this one.

Power BI Embedded

Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Containers?

Most of the sessions I attended centered on SharePoint and Office 365, but some of the sessions were Azure focused. My intention was to get an understanding of how Azure services can be used to provide better solutions that integrate with Office 365 and SharePoint Server 2016. In reality, the announcement of Windows Server 2016 and the container support had my mind spinning about the path forward for using Azure PaaS for implementing client solutions or using containers.

While I know what a container is, and have installed and fired up a container, I am by no means proficient with them yet. However, I am now a bit conflicted in regard to how PaaS offerings like Azure Functions, Logic Apps, API Apps, API Management, Azure Search (and more) are impacted by the use of containers in the future. The release .NET Core, ASP.NET Core, SQL Server being ported to run on Linux and in a container, and the potential (this is my opinion, anyone know if this is true?) to run SharePoint in a container, means there is a whole new set of design options to consider when designing solutions to customers in the future.

Microsoft is Serious about this Cloud Thing

The big news that had me excited about Microsoft's future in general was
the announcement of the FPGA's (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) . If you haven't heard of this, then I highly recommend reading the WIRED article. While not a specific Ignite announcement, this coincided nicely with the Keynotes from Scott Guthrie and Satya Nadella.

Microsoft is innovating at an incredibly fast rate in almost every area of technology. The announcement of the FPGA's provided an explanation as to how the scale, rate of innovation, and ability to execute on the vision from Satya Nadella is even possible. All of the new innovations and services, PaaS offerings, Microsoft Graph, Machine Learning, Cortana, Bots... all require processing capabilities that the FPGA's enable.

It Really is a New Microsoft

Finally, the most refreshing and common theme was a real sense of empathy and a Win-Win attitude throughout all of the sessions, booth conversations, and every interaction I had with anyone from Microsoft. In my opinion, Microsoft isn't just moving to open source because it is cool (I know, gross over-simplification), it seems that from the top, the culture now realizes that there can be great strength in looking for Win-Win opportunities instead of always looking for Win-Lose strategies. OSS very often enables Win-Win simply by crowd sourcing the best technology. Microsoft seems to be realizing that it is not just the best technology, but the best services and execution on a vision using the technology, that will sustain them as a market leader and innovator.

In my career, I have worked for what I consider to be two great companies. The first company was more than 125,000 people yet the company culture (when I was there) was always looking to enable and empower people. The founders understood that there was a way to think win-win and not always win-lose in business. The company I currently work for has that same mentality, always looking for the Win-Win with clients, partners and employees. Microsoft, under Satya Nadella's leadership, seems to have made an incredible cultural shift in a very short time-frame and it shows. The change is obvious when speaking with people from any product group in Microsoft.

Final Thoughts

It is always energizing for me to attend a conference like this, and Ignite 2016 was no exception to that rule. After a week of walking an average of more than 14k steps a day, long hours, ridiculous Atlanta traffic, and some late nights I somehow feel renewed and invigorated about the technologies available to me, the opportunities we have as an industry and I am truly excited about the direction that Microsoft is headed.

Suffice to say, and pardon the phrase, Ignite 2016 lit a fire under my ass!

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My name is Pete Skelly. I write this blog. I am the VP of Technology at ThreeWill, LLC in Alpharetta, GA.

ignite powerbi cloud opinion sharepoint office365
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