Microsoft Inspire 2018 - a week in the desert

Writing this post on my way back from Microsoft Inspire 2018 - this year held in Las Vegas, Nevada. In July.

It’s hard to describe the heat unless you’ve been to a desert before, but it’s 40+ degrees in the summer, all day. Weather aside, it’s been a great week and I thought it worth sharing a few thoughts on the conference overall.

Core messages

Microsoft call Keynote speeches "Corenotes" and the messaging was, as is typical for them under Satya’s leadership, focused on making the world a better place. This perhaps sounds a little cheesy when written down, but you can see they believe it and are really putting their words into action globally.

If you’ve read Hit Refresh(or my blog post here) you’ll be familiar with his message of empathy. This permeates through the whole business and leads to a pitch style which is very much atypical of a large technology company. I’m often asked about the differences between major cloud providers, and I will sometimes reply that customers buy into the vision of a company - and the Microsoft vision of empathy, AI, ubiquitous computing, and making the world a better place is a strong one.

There were other repeat themes for those familiar with the "new" Microsoft - such as the need for a digital Geneva Convention, and discussion on the possibilities of a hippocratic oath for those developing AI solutions.

There was an interesting set of case studies with Carlsberg who were using a whole host of Microsoft tech to innovate in their business. This included both the "enterprise" (a migration of SAP to Azure), and the "innovative" (Azure ML for predicting flavour outcomes from subtle ingredient changes in brewing recipes).

Financial Year 2019 for Microsoft appears more focused on "tuning" than "major change", which is sensible following a few years of more radical adjustment. Major themes are targeting enterprise accounts, customer retention and diversity. That final point is worth a note.

Diversity, you say?

Stereotypically, this was a pretty male event in terms of attendees. I attended several smaller breakout sessions, and one thing really stood out – the number of women that work for Microsoft in a broad range of roles. They put most people to shame, and must be congratulated for their efforts in this space.

What about the tech?

The technical themes pushed were perhaps not new - but were now supported with more real-world use cases. You can expect to hear lots more about the intelligent edge, IoT, and ubiquitous computing from Microsoft in the coming months. I think the intelligent edge may be where Azure Stack comes into its own. As a technology for private cloud, I’m not excited by it in the context of Cloudreach, but in the context of local compute where needed for processing data and making decisions swiftly, I am sold. If you’re not familiar withAzure Sphere, it’s definitely worth a look too in the same realm.

They were pretty aggressive in terms of focus on making sure they "own" Windows and SQL workloads in the cloud. There’s a number of programmes in place now, basically designed to make Microsoft workloads much cheaper when running on Azure - and some cunning marketing around offering (for free) longer security patch coverage for older software when running in Azure, which is a great idea. As per a few tech conferences I have attended, there was also a healthy appetite for beating Oracle in the database game…("this will be 10x cheaper" being one of the lines I could quote).

My favourite demos once again revolved around the use of Hololens for augmented reality. Hololens Remote Assistdoes look genuinely interesting for the medium term if the technology becomes more widespread, especially in the service/maintenance industries. It’s also worth looking at the partner developed solution HoloBeam, which may remind you of Star Trek….

Vegas, baby! Must have been crazy!

Not this year, for me at least. A total of zero dollars gambled. I’m told it will be here again next year, so perhaps I’ll warm up my Blackjack skills for next summer.

The final CoreNote on Wednesday included an entire stadium of people on their feet singing "With a Little Help From My Friends" - and indeed a standing ovation for Satya when he came on later (not singing!). Were the audience Inspired? I think it’s fair to say "yes".

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