Microsoft Build was held in May 2020 as a 2-day online event. They announced a lot of stuff, and I’ll share the things that really grabbed my attention this blog post. If you want the entire list of announcements, you should really consult the Microsoft Build 2020 Book of News.

From face-to-face to in-person event in 8 weeks

Microsoft Build 2020 is a great example of an in-person event turned virtual. Microsoft seems to have hit many of the suggestions I made in a previous post about designing virtual events: take time to redesign, make your conference available to audience who couldn’t attend previous in-person conferences, design interactivity, think differently about place and time.

I was amazed when Jeramiah Dooley (Microsoft) told us that the Microsoft Build team designed, built, and executed the event in 8 weeks. He pointed me to a video featuring Bob Bejan, Microsoft CVP of Global Events who shared some great insights from that design sprint to make Microsoft Build a virtual conference.

95% of the presenters were remote, and that alone presented technical challenges. He reflected that the team realized that “this ability for people to watch tv and absorb a lot more info is a fundamental difference. Because you’re doing this in a cinematic approach versus theatrical approach… time compresses. You’ve got to think of time in a different way”. More in this video:

There are many reasons the virtual event worked. First, they didn’t just lift and shift the face-to-face programming into Microsoft Teams. They produced an online, digital event. It wasn’t just execs and subject matter experts connecting to a webinar platform from their home offices. The event went on for 2 straight days, hosted by teams around the globe as the event followed the sun. My friend Sonia Cuff (Microsoft) was the host in Australia!

The hosts interacted in real-time with attendees via social media boards. One example I saw was a Microsoft veteran explaining another host about the four-heads (foreheads?) book, and someone tweeted a picture of it.

Finally, you could follow and participate with the show from so many vantage points: the official event platform, twitter, twitch, even watch parties. I think that Microsoft did an amazing job designing and executing a virtual conference!

Now, let’s get to the conference itself.

Microsoft Build – Not Just for Devs

While Microsoft Build is the primary conference for Microsoft developers, it would be a mistake for infrastructure people to ignore this conference. Check out these announcements, while they will empower developers, the infrastructure teams are going to have to make them enterprise production ready. If you don’t keep up with what is coming, how will you be able to support your developers?

Here is a quick look at the announcements that really caught my eye. I could write a blog series on each of them, so here is a synopsis of each.

Infrastructure-specific:

  • Azure-Arc Enabled Kubernetes preview was announced. It allows an admin to attach and configure Kubernetes clusters whether they are inside or outside of Azure. When attached, the cluster appears in the Azure portal with an Azure Resource Manager ID and Managed Identity. The current supported scenarios are connecting Kubernetes outside Azure for inventory, grouping, and tagging, using GitOps-based configuration management to deploy apps, using Azure monitor to view and maintain clusters, and applying Azure policies.
    This is preview only, so not for production just yet. But it seems obvious that we’re moving away from the client-server method of creating applications, and the data center itself is becoming the unit of measurement.
  • GPU partitioning with AMD GPUs availability was announced on 3/16/2020 but rolled up into the Build announcements. The announcement of virtual machines with GPU powered by SR-IOV (Single Root I/O Virtualization) is focused on powering VDI desktops with full graphics. This is a nice (VMware-based) explanation of how VMs handle SR-IOV.
    The new Azure VMs announced are the NVv4 series powered by AMD Radeon Instinct MI25 GPUS and EPYC Rome CPUs. The documentation page provides sizing and bandwidth information. The new VMs will work with all the major VDI software packages. Since this new offering gives customers a way to right-size the GPUs and a different option in GPU hardware providers, it seems like there should be cost savings as well.
  • Azure SQL Edge preview was announced. It is aimed at solving the problem of developing IoT solutions when the data sources may be connected then disconnected (new IoT devices) or in well-protected legacy data silos. Added to these fundamental roadblocks are things like security and building on (or for) unfamiliar platforms.
    Azure SQL Edge is a edge database platform that will allow applications to work when offline, ingesting and aggregating time-series data from IoT sensors, detect anomalies, filter events, apply business rules, run ML to determine and execute appropriate action. It also allows seamless connection to other ecosystems (cloud or private datacenters) to integrate data into existing data lakes or share ML model learnings for model retraining.
    Since its built on the same codebase as SQL Server and Azure SQL, application developers who have used these development tools will be able to reuse code and their own skills to build edge applications.
    This is one to keep your eyes on, I know I’m going to be on the lookout for some good blog posts from my SQL Server friends. I wonder if they’ve figured a way to do virtual SQL Saturdays yet?
  • Azure AI Supercomputer was a pretty cool announcement. Built with OpenAI, it is being used to train Microsoft’s AI models. Microsoft plans to make the models and resources available to all via Azure AI Services and Github. The goal is to provide broad models for basic services that data scientists can then build interesting and creative things.
    For the supercomputing nerds, Microsoft’s supercomputer is a single system with more than 285,000 cores, 10,000 GPUs, and 400 gigabits of network connectivity for each GPU server. Microsoft says when matched with the TOP500 list, their supercomputer is comparable to number 5 (TAAC).

Real Talk

Microsoft did a great job of designing and executing an engaging virtual conference when they couldn’t host the annual conference face-to-face, and they did it in 8 weeks! Although this conference is aimed at developers, many of the announcements are actually infrastructure announcements.

Developers are going to need a robust platform as the norm for application building shifts to a very distributed model. Conference like this help infrastructure teams understand how that platform needs to be built and are a great place to learn what’s coming so that you can have collaborative planning conversations with your development teams.

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