Microsoft Inspire 2018 – My view and the key highlights

by | Aug 6, 2018

Inspire was slightly different this year as Microsoft combined the gathering of Partners from around the globe with an event for Microsoft staff too, making the total number of people descending on Las Vegas around 40,000.

What I really enjoy is that Inspire always provides a platform for like-minded partners to engage with each other and Microsoft – having so many Microsoft people around this year really added to the ability to make new and important contacts.

We all come together in a single location, away from home and immerse ourselves in all things Microsoft, be that building partner relationships, hearing about strategy or learning what the latest and future technologies have to offer. Here are my key highlights.

Compute & intelligence delivering value, right where customers need it

This is my 6th year of attending the conference and it is interesting to see the shift in culture at Microsoft.

When Steve Ballmer led the business, it was an extremely ‘rar rar rar’ sales organisation that delivered technology.  Today, with CEO Satya Nadella at the reins, Microsoft is a technology company focused on driving customer value.

This focus on putting the customer first, creates a fantastic platform for partners like Circyl to deliver great solutions and outcomes for our customers.

What is clear, is that there is an enormous opportunity for everyone to achieve great things through the use of appropriate technology – an opportunity set to grow. Today, tech spend equates to 5% of world GDP, but by 2030 it is expected to double to 10%.

Microsoft’s vision is clear – they want to develop a ubiquitous computing platform that allows compute and intelligence to deliver value, right where customers need it most.

Satya Nadella summed it up like this:

“Essentially wherever there is data, compute will migrate to data. We are taking Azure to Azure Stack, to Azure IoT Edge, to Azure Sphere. This is that one ubiquitous distributed computing fabric.  One programming model that is event-driven, serverless, so you can write an application that truly works across all of this.”

Microsoft were keen to point out that Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge is not the future, but the here and now. The data produced by sensors and sensor fabrics for instance has to be collected and processed to enable us to make sense of it and drive real world impact.

This is where ubiquitous computing comes into play, not just in the cloud but also at the edge in order to make real-time decisions.

Who will win the fight for the Public Cloud?

Microsoft’s joined-up strategy i.e., the ubiquitous distributed computing fabric Satya referred to, will in my view, be a key differentiator in the fight for the Public Cloud market.

The competition with AWS and Google is strong and Microsoft knows it.  The next 12 months will see the biggest players gearing up to compete for that all-important market share and consumption.

Microsoft recently announced their big win with US giant Walmart in the retail space.  Walmart aims to use Microsoft’s Public Cloud to innovate faster and better manage costs, with a whole series of cloud innovation projects in the pipeline.

A big tick for Microsoft, although some would argue that Walmart has turned to a strategic partnership with Microsoft in response to Amazon’s ever-growing retail presence, which would make them competitors.

Sustainable Datacenters

One story that Microsoft shared at the conference was their green, sustainable and renewable energy strategy.
Microsoft is working with pioneers in marine energy and using technology from submarines to develop self-sufficient underwater datacenters that can deliver lightning-quick cloud services to coastal cities.

An experimental, shipping-container-size prototype is processing workloads on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Something to help differentiate Microsoft from the competition, whilst demonstrating its appetite for rapid change.

Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Most technology companies have AI as part of their strategic vision and Microsoft is no different.  But Microsoft’s big competitive advantage is the platform they can weave it into.

Microsoft want us to use AI across tools, apps and platforms to make everyone more productive and more mobile.  The goal is for their technology to help free up an hour of everyone’s day; to work more or play more is your choice.

Everybody wants to talk about the cool new AI tools, cognitive services, etc., but without data, using the new fancy AI technologies will allow you make mistakes with greater confidence ever than before. Building an effective data estate is key to customer success.

Microsoft showed a video of a customer interacting with PowerBI using Cortana i.e., asking questions using natural language. For example; “Will I be able to achieve my total revenue budget for the month?”

Cortana replies with the result. Very impressive on first viewing, but only if the data is accurate and modelled correctly, will you get an accurate answer.

Also, I think Microsoft are taking the subject of AI very seriously. It’s like they have brought it on themselves to be responsible for distilling the right ethics around usage, security, privacy, etc., which is good to see.

In conclusion, this was a great conference and it again helped me realise that being in IT is more exciting today than in the whole of my career in IT over the past 28 years.

Why? The pace of change, the maturity of technology and the readiness of our customers to adapt and accept technology and data in particular are the competitive advantage they are all seeking over their competitors – you snooze, you lose was never more appropriate.