Microsoft recently held their Build conference, an annual conference aimed at software engineers and web developers using Windows, Microsoft Azure and other Microsoft technologies.
I’ve been fortunate to attend this in person a few times, the first being in 2011 when it was known as the Professional Developers Conference (PDC). With this year being a virtual event, it was impressive how the Microsoft team managed to maintain the ‘Build excitement’ while delivering content to a much wider audience. Build is a fantastic event for Developers (and now Citizen Developers), giving them the opportunity to and see what’s next and helping technologists in the Microsoft ecosystem stay ahead of the curve. It allows the community to focus RnD efforts and push the envelope. This year was no different, with hundreds of mini announcements to take away as well as much larger far-reaching notes. If you haven’t been to the site, most of the content is available here for review: https://news.microsoft.com/build2020/
Here is my take on some of the major themes and take-aways:
Remote Enablement: Many sessions in the 365 space focused on how using Teams, supported by the Power Platform now supports the traditional developer toolchain front and centre. This Gives developers and makers the opportunity to easily extend the platform for their scenarios.
Automation of Everything: The integrated development experiences and unification of frameworks, coupled with the advancements in: IoT, Power Platform, Visual Studio Codespaces, Integrated office environment, BI, and AI is prime to enable the automation of business process and toolchains.
Microsoft announced a slew of new capabilities aimed un-ashamedly at developers, from the simplification of one-click PowerApp deployment to the inclusion of Team’s projects into Visual Studio. Its clear that Microsoft’s message is that Teams is an Apps platform. Developers traditionally target the raw web, native mobile and less frequently these days, the desktop. Now, Teams looks to become the next platform to target for enterprise businesses by making it a lot easier for professional developers to build out native Teams interfaces (through visual studio extensions) coupled with the expansion of GraphAPI, and now Project Coretex. Developers can build out hyper integrated experiences that will feel like a part of the platform combining relevant 365 data in their Apps delivery. Combining these capabilities with the acquisition of Softomotive provides a shot in the arm for Microsoft RPA capabilities in the Power Platform, making the offering even more compelling.
Data Intelligence at speed
The announcement of Synapse Link was one of the most exciting. Not only because it is an impressive bit of engineering, but because it promises to change the way we connect operational (current view) and warehouse (historical view) data in the cloud as we deliver the combined business intelligence of the past and the now. Currently, Synapse Link is focused on CosmosDB but connectivity to relational data stores (Azure SQL) is expected soon. In short – it provides the means to retrieve intelligence directly from the transactional source without the complexity of ETL in the middle and without affecting transactional performance in the source. It does this by having changes pushed from the CosmosDB as they occur, so when data is queried in Synapse, it is independent of the source and is seen in real time.
Microsoft has approached this thoughtfully and there is already substance to the notions in the provided toolkits and components. Microsoft has focused its efforts on the 3 core tiers:
First, that we understand how models get to answers – this way, bias can be understood and models trained more efficiently.
Second, traceability, the introduction of what is essentially a chain of custody, means when it does go wrong, we can traceback who and how the data, the model and the result came into being.
Third and finally, privacy. The use of differential privacy techniques means we can gain insights from data with the assurance that we are protecting the private features e.g. names.
Responsible AI will continue to be a hot topic. Already, we are seeing specific consulting needs to help not only with the tool set (as Microsoft is providing for) but also the policy creation and governance definitions.
Containers par excellence
Computing across data centres and the multi-cloud is fast becoming a reality as developers continue to adopt micro-service architecture based on containers and orchestrated by the Kubernetes platform. In preview, Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes allows customers to inventory, organize, manage and govern their Kubernetes clusters at scale from Azure. This means a single team can feasibly manage containerised solutions across on-premise, Azure and AWS. Furthermore, there have been ongoing noises on Microsoft moving its Logic Apps (integration orchestration) platform into the Azure Functions runtime, meaning we could soon see the core gambit of the modern Microsoft Integration platform available for on-premise workloads.
Microsoft continues to make inroads into merging its various frameworks. The .Net Core and .Net Framework will come together ultimately in the .net 6.0 timeframe (announced at the previous build). This will enable all developers to target a wide area of platforms with the option of lightweight componentry. The new UI experience with MAUI –a single framework based on Xamarin will be used to build out mobile and desktop applications.
These initiatives simply mean, more developers can target more of the ecosystem and ultimately produce more – increasing developer velocity.
There were other announcements like The Fluid Framework being open sourced. This platform will allow developers to build individual components (e.g a graph on revenue) that automatically updates everywhere it is used. These fluid components can live in documents, mails, Teams, presentations and the rest of the 365 landscape.
There is significant investment into the IoT toolchain and new capabilities at the edge such as the beginnings of Azure Cognitive services running containerised locally, as some services are now Generally Available (GA) in containers. The continued investment in Digital Twins for example now allows the promulgation of models beyond buildings and assets and into processes. These processes, when connected with the IoT platform and the updated Azure Maps with capabilities for private (indoor) mapping enables exciting new scenarios such as live environment and business modelling.
The conference was a continued expression of the upwards trend that of Microsoft winning with developers. Microsoft continues to build developer confidence by providing open and robust frameworks, platforms and opportunity. If you want a comprehensive summary of all the announcements, head on over to the Build Book of news: https://news.microsoft.com/build-2020-book-of-news/