What you need to know from Microsoft Ignite 2021

By the Blueprint Team

The current business landscape requires finding more and better ways for teams to collaborate while working remotely. During its Ignite 2021 conference, Microsoft made some big announcements for Teams, which come less than six months after the improvements announced at the last Ignite conference in September.

But internal Teams upgrades are not the only way Microsoft is expanding its footprint in technology enabling remote work. Assuming workplaces will soon need to transition to a hybrid in-person/work-from-home model, Microsoft planted its flag as the leading technology provider for modern collaborative workplaces with its own smart hardware for conference rooms and the mixed reality platform – Microsoft Mesh.

New Features in Microsoft Teams

The most recent additions to Microsoft Teams focus on external collaboration, meetings and digital events and webinars.

Teams Connect: Now in private preview, organizations can leverage the collaboration capabilities that Teams provides, including chat, meetings and real-time document co-authoring, both internally and externally while maintaining control over how users access data and information. Through a shared channel, organizations can seamlessly collaborate with customers, partners, suppliers or any other external party. This will be made generally available later this year.   

Webinars: Microsoft has expanded Teams’ capabilities to allow users to organize interactive webinars for those inside and outside an organization with up to 1,000 attendees. The Webinars offer custom registration, rich presentation options, host controls such as the ability to disable attendee chat and video and post-event reporting. If a webinar grows to over 1,000 attendees, Teams can scale to accommodate a 10,000-person view-only broadcast experience. Teams will soon also have the ability to export webinar contacts directly from Teams into Dynamics 365 Marketing to engage with audiences before, during and after events.   

PowerPoint Live in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft PowerPoint Live in Microsoft Teams: To help remove the awkwardness that can happen with sharing screens during at Teams meeting – and encourage interaction – the new presentation mode for Teams allows presenters to lead meetings with notes, slides, the meeting chat and participants all in a single view. This feature then allows other meeting goers to personalize their experience by navigating the content at their own pace. There will soon be different types of presenter modes, including “Standout,” which overlays the speaker on top of the shared content.  

Microsoft Teams Intelligent Speaker: To help deliver a more inclusive meeting experience for all participants regardless of geographic locations, Microsoft is equipping meeting rooms with technology to better facilitate collaboration. In addition to certifying audio and video hardware optimized for Microsoft Team meetings (Dell Video Conferencing Monitor and Poly Studio P21), Microsoft has launched its own intelligent speaker. This speaker can identify and differentiate the voices of up to 10 people talking in a Microsoft Teams Room, helping attendees better follow along or capture action items. It also applies those names and profiles to the meeting transcript. This is in private preview until later in 2021.  

Security: Teams will support end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for one-to-one Teams calls so organizations can help customers meet their security and compliance requirements. Invite-only meeting controls are coming in March to ensure only intended participants join a meeting. Soon a feature to disable video will also be generally available in an effort to limit potential disruptions.

Introducing Microsoft Mesh

Microsoft Mesh Hologrpahic Conferencing

Perhaps the biggest drop during Ignite this year was Microsoft’s new mixed-reality platform Microsoft Mesh, which “powers collaborative experiences with a feeling of presence,” Microsoft said. Users are meant to feel like they are physically present regardless of geographical location because they can connect to a meeting as an avatar or holographic versions of themselves.

People can interact with 3D content or engage with one another through Mesh-enabled apps across any platform or device, not just HoloLens, but also smartphones, tablets, PCs and other virtual reality headsets, Microsoft said.

“I can join a birthday celebration with my extended family in India, interacting as if we were physically together without any screens between us,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during his Keynote speech kicking off the event on March 2. “Or I can meet my colleagues on the other side of the world, collaborating as though we were in the same room, again, with no screen mediating our interactions. It’s pretty mind-boggling to imagine, but this is the future we’re building.”

Microsoft will be integrating Mesh with Microsoft Teams to further enable the hybrid work world. Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow and lead developer of the HoloLens, demonstrated how Mesh and HoloLens can be integrated into Teams to make those tuning in to a meeting from home or elsewhere feel as though they are there in person.

“This has been the dream for mixed reality, the idea from the very beginning. You can actually feel like you’re in the same place with someone sharing content,” Kipman said in a Microsoft story about the new tool. “We want to bring everyone into the same ‘room’ so they can bounce things off of each other and have that human connection.”

Over time, the company said it expects customers will be able to choose from a growing set of Microsoft Mesh-enabled applications built by external developers and partners, not just integrations with Teams and Dynamics 365.

Real-time insights with Azure Percept

Microsoft Azure Percept Devices

This is a family of devices and services now available in preview that power real-time insights at the edge through hardware accelerators integrated with Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services. This new secure platform is designed to help customers build, apply and operate artificial intelligence models in lower-power edge cameras and audio devices regardless of the customer’s coding expertise. This platform enables uses like object detection, shelf analytics anomaly detection and keyword spotting at the edge. Think a production company detecting a defective item as it’s going down a conveyor belt and pulling it before it gets shipped out to a customer.

Azure Percept works out of the box with Azure AI, Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning and Azure Live Video Analytics, and is integrated with Azure IoT services.  Check out Microsoft’s announcement, Azure Percept: Edge intelligence from silicon to service.

Advancements in Azure

While Percept was the flashier Azure announcement, Microsoft is always working to make Azure more useful and powerful so its customers and partners can innovate with data. At Ignite, the company announced many other new features and updates “to unlock the power of the cloud,” as Microsoft put it.

Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes: Now generally available, this allows organizations to connect, manage and govern any Kubernetes cluster across datacenters, multicloud and edge from Azure. Customers can deploy a common set of Kubernetes configurations to all their clusters, right from the Azure Portal, consistently and at scale. Azure Arc also enables developers to centrally code and deploy applications securely to any Kubernetes cluster in any location using GitOps.

Azure Arc-enabled machine learning: Now in preview, customers can innovate with Azure Machine Learning to target any Kubernetes cluster for model training, on-premises, in multicloud and at the edge. Organizations can leverage their existing Kubernetes infrastructure investments to lower cost and increase operational efficiency as they extend machine learning to run close to where the data lives and autoscale compute anywhere. In addition, Azure Arc provides management, consistency and reliability so that all resources can be managed through a single unified pane. With a simple one-click deployment of the machine learning agent, data scientists and developers can build models using familiar tools in Azure Machine Learning, without having to learn Kubernetes.

Azure Synapse Pathway: Simplify and accelerate the migration from a legacy or cloud data warehouse to Azure Synapse Analytics by providing automated translation of existing business logic. Azure Synapse is a limitless analytics service that brings together data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data analytics to provide real-time data insights. This downloadable tool enables customers to access resources such as SQL Server, Netezza and Snowflake, with Teradata, BigQuery, Redshift and others coming soon.

Azure Purview: This unified data governance service that facilitates the mapping and control of organizational data no matter where it resides received multiple updates. In preview is the new ability to automatically scan and classify data residing in AWS Simple Storage Services (S3), SAP ECC, SAP S4/HANA and Oracle Database. Azure Purview’s ability to scan Azure Synapse Analytics workspaces is now also available in preview. With this update, customers can discover and govern data across their serverless and dedicated SQL pools in Azure Synapse workspaces.

Azure Cognitive Search: This AI-powered cloud search service for mobile and web app development now has semantic search capabilities for developers to deliver search results based on user intent rather than just keywords. The new search uses natural language models, concept matching, synonym search and other techniques for to improve the relevance and ranking of search results. With a new connector, users can also explore SharePoint content within Azure Cognitive Search.

You can watch recordings off all Microsoft sessions and learn about all the features and capabilities announced during this year’s Ignite session here. Both Microsoft and Blueprint’s goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today’s market. Blueprint is here to partner with you on that journey.

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