Earlier this month, Microsoft hosted an annual two day partner conference, Future Decoded, in London. Here are my personal thoughts on what I saw.
Divided into two days, the “business day” and the “technical day”, with a variety of speakers from companies such as Arsenal Football Club, Virgin Atlantic, the MoD, and PRS for Music. Martha Lane Fox (lastminute.com), Seb Coe and Professor Brian Cox completed the celebrity line-up over the two days.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s big announcement during his keynote was the plan to launch of two new data centres in the UK, one near London and another elsewhere in the UK, in 2016.
Microsoft’s existing data centres for northern Europe are in Ireland and the Netherlands. The UK data centres will, of course, allow more sensitive data to reside in the UK for those companies or government organisations who can’t or won’t have their data held elsewhere.
Aside from the major keynotes, there were several interesting smaller presentations. Of particular interest was a talk from PRS for Music, who have been through a period of rapid organisational change, including a new office geared around today’s way of working – Wi-Fi available everywhere, hot desks, flexible working and enhanced collaboration. Technologies such as Office 365 obviously played a part of in delivery of their vision.
On to the second, technical day, the sessions took on more technical flavour and particularly interesting was MVP Aidan Finn’s session on Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V and Azure.
Firstly, Aidan discussed the issue of trust, particularly in the context of Microsoft Azure where your VM is running in Microsoft’s data centre. Microsoft has now has the concept of a “shielded virtual machine”, enabled by the addition of a virtual TPM (trusted platform module) into the hypervisor. VMs are encrypted at rest, and even live migration traffic is encrypted while VMs are moved from host to host. This really goes some considerable way to protecting the virtual machines from inspection, theft and tampering by service operators.
Some enhancements to NIC teaming options also will provide more flexible use of network interfaces. Storage Spaces Direct (“shared nothing” storage, relying on local storage and fast networking) is definitely something to look out for in the next release. Finally, upgrading a cluster is set to become a lot simpler. This barely scratches the surface on the advancement Microsoft has made in Hyper-V.
Moving on to Office 365 application deployment, a move to align the Office release cycle with Windows 10’s update cycle is welcome purely because it makes the release cycle predictable. In essence, Current Branch for Business allows enterprise customers to lag behind the bleeding edge and avoid the pain often suffered by early adopters. As we move from a world where desktop software, in particular, in larger organisations is no longer updated only when a new desktop PC arrives to one where software is continuously updated, predictability really does help.
I had a great discussion with Microsoft’s Amy Nicholson about the new BBC micro:bit -- a tiny, cheap and simple computer designed to help youngsters start coding and to extend the computer literacy work the BBC did in the early 80s. As someone who cut his teeth on the original BBC Micro, this is close to my heart and for a long time I’ve felt that getting started with coding is now too complex – selecting editors, compilers, debuggers, libraries and setting up the environment before you can even write that first “Hello World” program.
I’m really impressed by what Microsoft has contributed to the micro:bit project with its Block Editor and TouchDevelop – you’re clearly writing real code but in a way that is approachable for someone new to coding.
The micro:bit has primitive hardware by today’s standards (the display consists of 25 LEDs, for example), but it does include an accelerometer. Student Ross Lowe confidently delivered a superb demo that made full use of the hardware by implementing a game of rock paper scissors.
Microsoft’s contribution to the micro:bit came from Microsoft Research and several of the demos shown at Future Decoded had their origins in Microsoft’s research division. A demo of Project Oxford, for example, showed AI technologies being used to recognise faces, facial expressions (happy, sad, angry, etc), and another talk on the AI technologies behind Xbox and the Kinect motion sensor really demonstrated the variety of academic research going on within Microsoft.
A slightly whimsical use of technology was a cocktail maker called Makr Shakr, which allows you to get your cocktail prepared by a bright pink robotic arm.
All in all, a great event with plenty to take in.