We joined more than 12,000 visitors herded into the London ExCel centre this week for Microsoft's annual Decoded Conference, which was focused on all things Azure.
Read on to find out what's on the horizon for Microsoft's partner network. Here's our top five takeaways:
1) Rising cloud trends
According to Mark Russonivich, Microsoft's CTO of Azure, partners should view artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) as key cloud trends that will soon transform their businesses.
"The heart of digital transformation is a data feedback loop. So looking at data coming from customers, systems and buildings and processing it, then taking action on that data to refine your systems, the customer experience and products to make them better," he said. "And the faster you can do that, the more you can understand the signals that are coming in. The better you can do that, the more effective your digital transformation will be."
He added that a key part of that is ML and AI, and that partners should take note.
Microsoft now offers over 20 cognitive API categories to infuse applications with intelligence, covering areas such as facial recognition, speech analysis, and sentiment analysis (enabling customers to be notified of negative tweets about their business, for example).
2) Adapt to multiple compliance laws with Azure stack
Julia White, corporate VP of Azure and security marketing at Microsoft, called on partners to go hybrid with Microsoft Azure stack - an extension that essentially runs as an on-premise service.
"Other vendors may see hybrid as a transitory state - we have a very different view, which is around an enduring approach to hybrid, and one that is end to end, from identity to platform to data to security and management," White said.
"From a platform perspective, we are doing something revolutionary in delivering the Azure stack which is taking a stamp of the public cloud and enabling it to run in a small footprint locally."
White (pictured) said a primary benefit for partners and customers alike is that it enables them to adapt to varying data compliance laws across the world without having to create multiple applications or systems.
"There are some places where we don't have a local datacentre, so Azure stack enables you to run with literally any compliance or privacy requirement by having [your applications] run local in the location in that country, wherever that might be," she added.
White cited EY, which uses Azure to run its global auditing system but in the regions where there are restrictions in moving financial data outside that country, it uses Azure stack.
3) Mixed-reality opportunities
Microsoft told partners that the tech giant's vision for integrating Microsoft 365, Microsoft HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality, and 3D capabilities will help them to enable their own customers to complete projects faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Delivering the keynote, Lorraine Bardeen, general manager of Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Experiences said:
"Mixed-reality experiences will help businesses and their employees complete crucial tasks faster, safer, more efficiently, and create new ways to connect to customers and partners."
Microsoft highlighted opportunities such as remote engineers being able to view a project "through the eyes" of another employee on site, and being able to "annotate" on top of the real-time images, speeding up completion times and lowering costs.
Bardeen announced that Microsoft will be expanding its HoloLens headset into new European markets, in addition to the 10 current countries where it is already available.
The new markets are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
4) Daisy - "don't be Kodak"
As a guest speaker, Daisy CEO Neil Muller warned the channel not to view the cloud as a product, but as a transformation in the way businesses should do business. Citing the example of Kodak's failure to adapt to digital photography in the 90s, Muller advised delegates "let's not have our own Kodak moment."
"Cloud is a way of working. It's a fundamental business change and doing so requires cultural change, which must be driven and managed from the top," Muller said.
He added that many of his own customers are increasingly becoming aware that they shouldn't be left behind by the cloud revolution.
"With our customers, interest in Azure is exploding and I can back that up with some facts… Last year, 30 per cent of our customers said they had a digital strategy. Twelve months on, now that's 60 per cent. Moreover, 80 per cent of that 60 per cent said they had a cloud-first digital strategy."
5) 200,000 sq ft datacentres in the palm of your hand
Karin Strauss, senior researcher at Microsoft Research, insisted that this was not an outlandish claim.
With a straight face she explained that Microsoft is investing in storing data in synthetic DNA, in response to the current trend of decreasing storage capacity.
"In 2018, we will be able to store about 18 per cent of all data generated. By 2030 that will shrink to three per cent and by 2040 it is expected to be half of one per cent, and this is worrying.
"We at Microsoft started to look at how to store more data in the Digital Universe [Microsoft's moniker for the total amount of data generated globally]."
Delegates reacted with "oohs" when Strauss pointed to a photo of a pencil head being projected onto conference screens, and declared that researchers have been able to store 10TB of data in a similar-sized dot.
According to Microsoft, in the future, a 200,000 sq ft datacentre today will one day be the size of two dice.
Strauss conceded that DNA storage is still in its research infancy but said that Microsoft is leading its development.
"We have stored 400 megabytes of data and can fully recover it. We've encoded books, the declaration of human rights, music videos, the database of seeds stored in the Human Vault, and jazz songs. Four hundred megabytes may not seem a lot, but every mainstream storage method went through this process," Strauss said.
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